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THE TWINS TALES - CONTENTS




VII

THE TIDAL WAVE OF
GERMANS

The next morning dawned bright and clear, and Mother Van Hove and
the Twins went about their work as usual. The sunshine was so
bright, and the whole countryside looked so peaceful and fair, it
was impossible to believe that the terrors of the night could be
true.

"To-day we must begin to gather the potatoes," said Mother Van
Hove after breakfast. "Jan, you get the fork and hoe and put them
in the wagon, while I milk the cow and Marie puts up some bread
and cheese for us to take to the field." She started across the
road to the pasture, with Fidel at her heels, as she spoke. In an
instant she was back again, her eyes wide with horror. "Look!
Look!" she cried.

The dazed children looked toward the east as she pointed. There
in the distance, advancing like a great tidal wave, was a long
gray line of soldiers on horseback. Already they could hear the
sound of music and the throb of drums; already the sun glistened
upon the shining helmets and the cruel points of bayonets. The
host stretched away across the plain as far as the eye could
reach, and behind them the sky was thick with the smoke of fires.

"The church! the church!" cried Mother Van Hove. "No, there is
not time. Hide in here, my darlings. Quickly! Quickly!"

She tore open the door of the earth-covered vegetable cellar as
she spoke, and thrust Jan and Marie inside. Fidel bolted in after
them. "Do not move or make a sound until all is quiet again," she
cried as she closed the door.

There was not room for her too, in the cellar, and if there had
been, Mother Van Hove would not have taken it, for it was
necessary to close the door from the outside. This she did,
hastily, throwing some straw before it. Then she rushed into the
house and, snatching up her shining milk-pans, flung them upon
the straw, as if they were placed there to be sweetened by the
sun. No one would think to look under a pile of pans for hidden
Belgians, she felt sure.

Nearer and nearer came the hosts, and now she could hear the
sound of singing as from ten thousand brazen throats,
"Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles," roared the mighty chorus,
and in another moment the little village of Meer was submerged in
the terrible gray flood.

At last, after what seemed to the imprisoned children like a year
of darkness and dread, and of strange, terrifying noises of all
kinds, the sound of horses' hoofs and marching feet died away in
the distance, and Jan ventured to push open the door of the
cavern a crack, just intending to peep out. Immediately there was
a crash of falling tinware. Jan quickly drew back again into the
safe darkness and waited. As nothing further happened, he peeped
out again. This time Fidel, springing forward, flung the doors
wide open, and dashed out into the sunshine with a joyous bark.

In a moment more Jan and Marie also crawled out of their hiding-
place after him. For an instant, as they came out into the
daylight, it seemed to the children as if they had awakened from
a dreadful dream. There stood the farmhouse just as before, with
the kitchen door wide open and the sun streaming in upon the
sanded floor. There were only the marks of many feet in the soft
earth of the farmyard, an empty pigpen, and a few chicken
feathers blowing about the hen house, to show where the invaders
had been and what they had carried away with them. Jan and Marie,
followed by Fidel, ran through the house. From the front door,
which opened on the road; they could see the long gray line
sweeping across the fields toward Malines.

"The storm has passed, cried Marie, sobbing with grief, "just as
Mynheer Pastoor said it would! Mother! Mother, where are you?"
They ran from kitchen to bedroom and back again, their terror
increasing at every step, as no voice answered their call. They
searched the cellar and the loft; they looked in the stable and
barn, and even in the dog-house. Their mother was nowhere to be
found!

"I know where she must be," cried Jan, at last. "You know Mynheer
Pastoor said, if anything happened, we should hide in the
church." Led by this hope, the two children sped, hand in hand,
toward the village. "Bel is gone!" gasped Jan, as they passed the
pasture bars. " Pier, too," sobbed Marie. Down the whole length
of the deserted village street they flew, with Fidel following
close at their heels. When they came to the little church, they
burst open the door and looked in. The cheerful sun streamed
through the windows, falling in brilliant patches of light upon
the floor, but the church was silent and empty. It was some time
before they could realize that there was not a human being but
themselves in the entire village; all the others had been driven
away like sheep, before the invading army. When at last the
terrible truth dawned upon them, the two frightened children sat
down upon the church steps in the silence, and clung, weeping, to
each other. Fidel whined and licked their hands, as though he,
too, understood and felt their loneliness.

"What shall we do? What shall we do?" moaned Marie.

"There's nobody to tell us what to do," sobbed Jan. "We must just
do the best we can by ourselves."

"We can't stay here alone!" said Marie.

"But where can we go?" cried Jan. There's no place for us to go
to!"

For a few minutes the two children wept their hearts out in utter
despair, but hope always comes when it is most needed, and soon
Marie raised her head and wiped her eyes.

"Don't you remember what Mother said when she put the locket on
my neck, Jan?" she asked. "She said that she would find us, even
if she had to swim the sea! She said no matter what happened we
should never despair, and here we are despairing as hard as ever
we can."

Jan threw up his chin, and straightened his back. "Yes," he said,
swallowing his sobs, "and she said I was now a man and must take
care of myself and you."

"What shall we do, then?" asked Marie.

Jan thought hard for a moment. Then he said: "Eat! It must be
late, and we have not had a mouthful to-day."

Marie stood up. "Yes," said she; "we must eat. Let us go back
home."

The clock in the steeple struck eleven as the two children ran
once more through the deserted street and began a search for food
in their empty house.

They found that the invaders had been as thorough within the
house as without. Not only had they carried away the grain which
their mother had worked so hard to thresh, but they had cleaned
the cupboard as well. The hungry children found nothing but a few
crusts of bread, a bit of cheese, and some milk in the cellar,
but with these and two eggs, which Jan knew where to look for in
the straw in the barn, they made an excellent breakfast. They
gave Fidel the last of the milk, and then, much refreshed, made
ready to start upon a strange and lonely journey the end of which
they did not know. They tied their best clothes in a bundle,
which Jan hung upon a stick over his shoulder, and were just
about to leave the house, when Marie cried out, "Suppose Mother
should come back and find us gone!"

"We must leave word where we have gone, so she will know where to
look for us, of course," Jan answered capably.

"Yes, but how?" persisted Marie. "There's no one to leave word
with!"

This was a hard puzzle, but Jan soon found a way out. "We must
write a note and pin it up where she would be sure to find it,"
he said.

"The very thing," said Marie.

They found a bit of charcoal and a piece of wrapping-paper, and
Jan was all ready to write when a new difficulty presented
itself. "What shall I say?" he said to Marie. "We don't know
where we are going!"

"We don't know the way to any place but Malines," said Marie; "so
we'll have to go there, I suppose."

"How do you spell Malines?" asked Jan, charcoal in hand.

"Oh, you stupid boy!" cried Marie. "M-a-l-i-n-e-s, of course!"

Jan put the paper down on the kitchen floor and got down before
it on his hands and knees. He had not yet learned to write, but
he managed to print upon it in great staggering letters:--

"DEAR MOTHER

WE HAVE GONE TO MALINES TO FIND YOU.

JAN AND MARIE."

This note they pinned upon the inside of the kitchen door.

"Now we are ready to start," said Jan; and, calling Fidel, the
two children set forth. They took a short cut from the house
across the pasture to the potato-field. Here they dug a few
potatoes, which they put in their bundle, and then, avoiding the
road, slipped down to the river, and, following the stream, made
their way toward Malines.

It was fortunate for them that, screened by the bushes and trees
which fringed the bank of the river, they saw but little of the
ruin and devastation left in the wake of the German hosts. There
were farmers who had tried to defend their families and homes
from the invaders. Burning houses and barns marked the places
where they had lived and died. But the children, thinking only
of their lost mother, and of keeping themselves as much out of
sight as possible in their search for her, were spared most of
these horrors. Their progress was slow, for the bundle was heavy,
and the river path less direct than the road, and it was
nightfall before the two little waifs, with Fidel at their heels,
reached the well-remembered Brussels gate.

Their hearts almost stopped beating when they found it guarded by
a German soldier. "Who goes there?" demanded the guard gruffly,
as he caught sight of the little figures.

"If you please, sir, it's Jan and Marie," said Jan, shaking in
his boots.

"And Fidel, too," said Marie.

The soldier bent down and looked closely at the two tear-stained
little faces. It may be that some remembrance of other little
faces stirred within him, for he only said stiffly, "Pass, Jan
and Marie, and you, too, Fidel." And the two children and the dog
hurried through the gate and up the first street they came to,
their bundle bumping along behind them as they ran.

The city seemed strangely silent and deserted, except for the
gray-clad soldiers, and armed guards blocked the way at
intervals. Taught by fear, Jan and Marie soon learned to slip
quietly along under cover of the gathering darkness, and to dodge
into a doorway or round a corner, when they came too near one of
the stiff, helmeted figures.

At last, after an hour of aimless wandering, they found
themselves in a large, open square, looking up at the tall
cathedral spires. A German soldier came suddenly out of the
shadows, and the frightened children, scarcely knowing what they
did, ran up the cathedral steps and flung themselves against the
door. When the soldier had passed by, they reached cautiously up,
and by dint of pulling with their united strength succeeded at
last in getting the door open. They thrust their bundle inside,
pushed Fidel in after it, and then slipped through themselves.
The great door closed behind them on silent hinges and they were
alone in the vast stillness of the cathedral. Timidly they crept
toward the lights of the altar, and, utterly exhausted, slept
that night on the floor near the statue of the Madonna, with
their heads pillowed on Fidel's shaggy side.

 


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