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A Sanctuary of Trees
by [?]

“Excellent wine, Herr Baron,” said the prince, who, like his comrade, drank profusely of t
he best in the cellar. “Your Rudesheimer Berg ’94 is kolossal. Very friendly of you to save it for us. We Germans know good wine. What?”

“You have that reputation,” answered the baron.

“And say,” added the count, “let us have a couple of bottles more, dear landlord. You can put it in the bill.”

“I shall do so,” said the baron gravely. “It shall be put in the bill with other things.”

“But why,” drawled the prince, “does la Baronne never favor us with her company? Still very attractive–musical probably–here is a piano–want good German music–console homesickness.”

“Madame is indisposed,” answered the baron quietly, “but you may be sure she regrets your absence from home.”

The officers looked at each other with half-tipsy, half-angry eyes. They suspected a jest at their expense, but could not quite catch it.

“Impudence,” muttered the count, who was the sharper of the two when sober.

“No,” said the prince, “it is only stupidity. These Walloons have no wit.”

“Come,” he added, turning to the baron, “we sing you a good song of fatherland–show how gemuthlich we Germans are. You Belgians have no word for that. What?”

He sat down to the piano and pounded out “Deutschland ueber Alles,” singing the air in a raucous voice, while Ludra added a rumbling bass.

“What do you think of that? All Germans can sing. Gemuthlich. What?”

“You are right,” said the baron, with downcast eyes. “We Belgians have no word for that. It is inexpressible–except in German. I bid you good night.”

For nearly a fortnight this condition of affairs continued. The baron endured it as best he could, obeying scrupulously the military regulations which necessity laid upon him, and taking his revenge only in long thoughts and words of polite sarcasm which he knew would not be understood. The baroness worked hard at the housekeeping, often cooking and cleaning with her own hands, and rejoicing secretly with her husband over the rare news that came from their daughter in England, from their boy at the front in West Flanders. Sometimes, when the coast was clear, husband and wife walked together under the beech-trees and talked in low tones of the time when the ravenous beast should no more go up on the land.

The two noble officers performed their routine duties, found such amusement as they could in neighboring villages and towns, drank deep at night, and taxed their ingenuity to invent small ways of annoying their hosts, for whom they felt the contemptuous dislike of the injurer for the injured. They were careful, however, to keep their malice within certain bounds, for they knew that the baron was in favor with the commandant of the district.

One morning the baron and his wife, looking from their window in a wing of the house, saw with surprise and horror a score or more of German soldiers assembled beside the beech-avenue, with axes and saws, preparing to begin work.

“What are they going to do there?” cried he in dismay, and hurried down to the dining-room, where the officers sat at breakfast, giving orders to an attentive corporal.

“A thousand pardons, Highness,” interrupted the baron; “forgive my haste. But surely you are not going to cut down my avenue of beeches?”

“Why not?” said the prince, swinging around in his chair. “They are good wood.”

“But, sir,” stammered the baron, trembling with excitement, “those trees–they are an ancient heritage of the house–planted by my grandfather a century ago–an old possession–spare them for their age.”

“You exaggerate,” sneered the prince. “They are not old. I have on my hunting estate in Thuringia oaks five hundred years old. These trees of yours are mere upstarts. Why shouldn’t they be cut? What?”

“But they are very dear to us,” pleaded the baron earnestly. “We all love them, my wife and children and I. To us they are sacred. It would be harsh to take them from us.”

“Baron,” said the prince, with suave malice, “you miss the point. We Germans are never harsh. But we are practical. My soldiers need exercise. The camps need wood. Do you see? What?”

“Certainly,” answered the poor baron, humbling himself in his devotion to his trees. “Your Highness makes the point perfectly clear–the need of exercise and wood. But there is plenty of good timber in the forest and the park–much easier to cut. Cannot your men get their wood and their exercise there, and spare my dearest trees?”