Patriotic pieces from the Great War/The Miscreant


By permission of the author

It was a slender Belgian lad,
A child to make a father glad,
Negligent, he stood beside
The highway, stretching white and wide;
Thence had come but yesterday
The Uhlans riding on their way;
And now was heard, in steady beat,
A rising sound of marching feet.
They came, a mass of gray pulsating,
Steady-moving, palpitating,
On with unrelenting tread:
Spiked the helmet on each head,
Straight each gun, each eye, each stride,
Each belt, each knapsack coincide,
A bayonet rattled at each side.

The word rang, "Halt," and at the sound
The rifle butts thud on the ground.
"Come here, my boy," the Captain cried,
"Last night, a certain Belgian died;
And why, would'st know? that Belgian lied.
Now, tell me, thou, and tell me true—
Lest such a fate befall thee, too—
Look squarely at me, hold thee still:
Lie Belgian troops on yonder hill?"
The boy nor flinched nor caught his breath,
He knew a glorious lie meant death,
But looked the Captain in the eye
And said, "Nay, none are there, or nigh."
The conclusion of my story
Comes from a letter amatory,
Which one Fritz, in school-boy hand,
Wrote Gretchen in the Fatherland.

"Wouldst believe it, Gretchen, that boy lied;
The little traitor! he defied
Our Kaiser and the German race!
Dear me! that thoughts so black and base
Should harbor in so sweet a face!"

And then Fritz told in close detail,
With many an expletive and wail,
How his company was mauled
By Belgian guns. What else he scrawled,
I spare the reader, both his fight
And courtship. He concludes:

"That night
We stood that boy against a wall,—
It was a church, as I recall.
He would not let us bind his eyes
Or tie his hands. We looked for cries,
For tears and pleadings for reprieve;
But not a word said he, save 'Vive
La Belgique!' Now could mind conceive
Act more un-German! Could one believe
Such guilt to Kaiser and to God!
'Twas I, dear, led the shooting squad.
We fired—we all are steady-eyed—
And so the little miscreant died."

Thus wrote Fritz, in school-boy hand,
To Gretchen in the Fatherland.
If such be miscreants, what would I,
Or thou do, so to live, so die?

As for Fritz, there is no pother;
That precious piece of "cannon-fodder"
Was shot while looting with red hand:
And Gretchen weeps in the Fatherland.