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THE TWINS TALES - CONTENTS




III

THE ALARM

For some time the little village of Meer slept quietly in the
moonlight. There was not a sound to break the stillness, except
once when Mother Van Hove's old rooster caught a glimpse of the
waning moon through the window of the chicken-house, and crowed
lustily, thinking it was the sun. The other roosters of the
village, wiser than he, made no response to his call, and in a
moment he, too, returned to his interrupted slumbers. But though
there was as yet no sound to tell of their approach, the moon
looked down upon three horsemen galloping over the yellow ribbon
of road from Malines toward the little village. Soon the sound of
the horses' hoofs beating upon the hardened earth throbbed
through the village itself, and Fidel sat up on the kitchen
doorstep, pricked up his ears, and listened. He heard the hoof-
beats and awakened the echoes with a sharp bark.

Mother Van Hove sat up in bed and listened; another dog barked,
and another, and now she, too, heard the hoof-beats. Nearer they
came, and nearer, and now she could hear a voice shouting. She
shook her husband. "Wake up!" she whispered in his ear,
"something is wrong! Fidel barks, and I hear strange noises
about. Wake up!"

"Fidel is crazy," said Father Van Hove sleepily. "He thinks some
weasel is after the chickens very likely. Fidel will attend to
it. Go to sleep."

He sank back again upon his pillows, but his wife seized his arm
and pulled him up.

"Listen!" she said. "Oh, listen! Weasels do not ride on
horseback! There are hoof-beats on the road!"

"Some neighbor returning late from Malines," said Father Van
Hove, yawning. "It does not concern us."

But his wife was already out of bed, and at the window. The
horsemen were now plainly visible, riding like the wind, and as
they whirled by the houses their shout thrilled through the quiet
streets of the village: "Burghers, awake! Awake! Awake!"

Wide awake at last, Father Van Hove sprang out of bed and hastily
began putting down his clothes. His wife was already nearly
dressed, and had lighted a candle. Other lights sparkled from the
windows of other houses. Suddenly the bell in the church-steeple
began to ring wildly, as though it, too, were shaken with a
sudden terror. "It must be a fire," said Father Van Hove.

Still fastening her clothing, his wife ran out of the door and
looked about in every direction. "I see no fire," she said, "but
the village street is full of people running to the square!
Hurry! Hurry! We must take the children with us; they must not be
left here alone."

She ran to wake the children, as she spoke, and, helped by her
trembling fingers, they, too, were soon dressed, and the four ran
together up the road toward the village church. The bell still
clanged madly from the steeple, and the vibrations seemed to
shake the very flesh of the trembling children as they clung to
their mother's hands and tried to keep up with their father's
rapid strides.

They found all the village gathered in front of the little town-
hall. On its steps stood the Burgomeister and the village priest,
and near them, still sitting astride his foam-flecked steed, was
one of the soldiers who had brought the alarm. His two companions
were already far beyond Meer, flying over the road to arouse the
villages which lay farther to the east. The church-bell suddenly
ceased its metallic clatter, and while its deep tones still
throbbed through the night air, the wondering and frightened
people crowded about the steps in breathless suspense.

The Burgomeister raised his hand. Even in the moonlight it could
be seen that he was pale. He spoke quickly. "Neighbors," he said,
"there is bad news! the German army is on our borders! It is
necessary for every man of military age and training to join the
colors at once in case the army is needed for defense. There is
not a moment to lose. This messenger is from headquarters. He
will tell you what you are to do."

The soldier now spoke for the first time. "Men of Belgium," he
cried, "your services are needed for your country and your King!
The men of Meer are to report at once to the army headquarters at
Malines. Do not stop even to change your clothing! We are not yet
at war, and our good King Albert still hopes to avert it by an
armed peace, but the neutrality of Belgium is at stake, and we
must be ready to protect it at any cost, and at an instant's
notice. Go at once to the Brussels gate of Malines. An officer
will meet you there and tell you what to do. I must ride on to
carry the alarm to Putte." He wheeled his horse as he spoke, and,
turning in his saddle, lifted his sword and cried, "Vive le Roi!"

"Vive le Roi! Vive la Belgique!" came in an answering shout from
the people of Meer, and he was gone.

There was a moment of stunned silence as he rode away; then a
sound of women weeping. The Burgomeister came down from the steps
of the town-hall, said farewell to his wife and children, and
took his place at the head of the little group of men which was
already beginning form in marching order. The priest moved about
among his people with words of comfort.

Father Van Hove turned to his wife, and to Jan and Marie, who
were clinging to her skirts. "It is only a bad dream, my little
ones," he said, patting their heads tenderly; "we shall wake up
some day. And you, my wife, do not despair! I shall soon return,
no doubt! Our good King will yet save us from war. You must
finish the harvest alone--but--" "Fall in!" cried the voice of
the Burgomeister, and Father Van Hove kissed his wife and
children and stepped forward.

Mother Van Hove bravely checked her rising sobs. "We shall go
with you to Malines, at any rate," she said firmly. And as the
little group of men started forward along the yellow road, she
and many more women and children of the village marched, away
with them in the gray twilight which precedes the coming of the
dawn. The priest went with his people, praying for them as he
walked, in a voice that shook with feeling.

The sky was red in the east and the larks were already singing
over the quiet fields when the men of Meer, followed by their
wives and children, presented themselves at the Brussels gate of
the city.

 


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