English > ESL Library Index

Online Literature Library
Great literature free and accessible for everyone.


THE TWINS TALES - CONTENTS



IX

OFF FOR ANTWERP

For several days the children stayed with the little old woman in
her tiny cottage on the edge of the river. Each morning they
crossed the bridge and stationed themselves by the Antwerp road
to watch the swarm of sad-faced Belgians as they hurried through
Boom on their way to the frontier and to safety in Holland. Each
day they hoped that before the sun went down they should see
their mother among the hurrying multitudes, but each day brought
a fresh disappointment, and each night the little old woman
comforted them with fresh hope for the morrow.

"You see, my darlings," said she, "it may take a long time and
you may have to go a long way first, but I feel in my bones that
you will find her at last. And of course, if you do, every step
you take is a step toward her, no matter how far round you go."

Jan and Marie believed every word that Granny said. How could
they help it when she had been so good to them! Her courage and
faith seemed to make an isle of safety about her where the
children rested in perfect trust. They saw that neither guns nor
Germans nor any other terror could frighten Granny. In the midst
of a thousand alarms she calmly went her accustomed way, and
every one who met her was the better for a glimpse of the brave
little brown face under its snowy cap. Early each morning she
rose with the larks, covered the bottom of her barrow with clean
white sand, and placed in it the live eels which had been caught
for her and brought to the door by small boys who lived in the
neighborhood. Then, when she had wakened the Twins, and the three
had had their breakfast together, away she would trudge over the
long, dusty road to Malines, wheeling the barrow. with its
squirming freight in front of her.

Jan and Marie helped her all they could. They washed the dishes
and swept the floor of the tiny cottage and made everything tidy
and clean before they went to take up their stand beside the
Antwerp road. When the shadows grew long in the afternoon, how
glad they were to see the sturdy little figure come trudging home
again! Then they would run to meet her, and Jan would take the
wheelbarrow from her tired hands and wheel it for her over the
bridge to the little cottage under the willow trees on the other
side of the river.

Then Marie's work was to clean the barrow, while Jan pulled weeds
in the tiny garden back of the house, and Granny got supper
ready. Supper-time was the best of all, for every pleasant
evening they ate at a little table out of doors under the willow
trees.

One evening, when supper had been cleared away, they sat there
together, with Fidel beside them, while Granny told a wonderful
tale about the King of the Eels who lived in a crystal palace at
the bottom of the river.

"You can't quite see the palace," she said, "because, when you
look right down into it, the water seems muddy. But sometimes,
when it is still, you can see the Upside-Down Country where the
King of the Eels lives. There the trees all grow with their heads
down and the sky is 'way, 'way below the trees. You see the sky
might as well be down as up for the eels. They aren't like us,
just obliged to crawl around on the ground without ever being
able to go up or down at all. The up-above sky belongs to the
birds and the down-below sky belongs to the fishes and eels. And
I am not sure but one is just as nice as the other."

Marie and Jan went to the river, and, getting down on their hands
and knees, looked into the water.

"We can't see a thing!" they cried to Granny.

"You aren't looking the right way," she answered. "Look across it
toward the sunset."

"Oh! Oh!" cried Marie, clasping her hands; "I see it! I see the
down-below sky, and it is all red and gold!"

"I told you so," replied Granny triumphantly. "Lots of folks
can't see a thing in the river but the mud, when, if you look at
it the right way, there is a whole lovely world in it. Now, the
palace of the King of the Eels is right over in that direction
where the color is the reddest. He is very fond of red, is the
King of the Eels. His throne is all made of rubies, and he makes
the Queen tie red bows on the tails of all the little eels."

Jan and Marie were still looking with all their eyes across the
still water toward the sunset and trying to see the crystal
palace of the eels, when suddenly from behind them there came a
loud "Hee-haw, hee-haw." They jumped, and Granny jumped, too, and
they all looked around to see where the sound came from. There,
coming slowly toward them along the tow-path on the river-bank,
was an old brown mule. She was pulling a low, green river-boat by
a towline, and a small boy, not much bigger than Jan, was driving
her. On the deck of the boat there was a little cabin with white
curtains in the tiny windows and two red geraniums in pots
standing on the sills. From a clothesline hitched to the rigging
there fluttered a row of little shirts, and seated on a box near
by there was a fat, friendly looking woman with two small
children playing by her side. The father of the family was busy
with the tiller.

"There come the De Smets, as sure as you live!" cried Granny,
rising from the wheelbarrow, where she had been sitting. "I
certainly am glad to see them." And she started at once down the
river to meet the boat, with Jan and Marie and Fidel all
following.

"Ship ahoy!" she cried gayly as the boat drew near. The boy who
was driving the mule grinned shyly. The woman on deck lifted her
eyes from her sewing, smiled, and waved her hand at Granny, while
the two little children ran to the edge of the boat; and held out
their arms to her.

"Here we are again, war or no war!" cried Mother De Smet, as the
boat came alongside. Father De Smet left the tiller and threw a
rope ashore. "Whoa!" cried the boy driving the mule. The mule
stopped with the greatest willingness, the boy caught the rope
and lifted the great loop over a strong post on the river-bank,
and the "Old Woman" for that was the name of the boat was in
port.

Soon a gangplank was slipped from the boat to the little wooden
steps on the bank, and Mother De Smet, with a squirming baby
under each arm, came ashore. "I do like to get out on dry land
and shake my legs a bit now and then," she said cheerfully as she
greeted Granny. "On the boat I just sit still and grow fat!"

"I shake my legs for a matter of ten miles every day," laughed
Granny. "That's how I keep my figure!"

Mother De Smet set the babies down on the grass, where they
immediately began to tumble about like a pair of puppies, and she
and Granny talked together, while the Twins went to watch the
work of Father De Smet and the boy, whose name was Joseph.

"I don't know whatever the country is coming to," said Mother De
Smet to Granny. "The Germans are everywhere, and they are taking
everything that they can lay their hands on. I doubt if we ever
get our cargo safe to Antwerp this time. We've come for a load of
potatoes, but I am very much afraid it is going to be our last
trip for some time. The country looks quiet enough as you see it
from the boat, but the things that are happening in it would
chill your blood."

"Yes," sighed Granny; "if I would let it, my old heart would
break over the sights that I see every day on my way to Malines.
But a broken heart won't get you anywhere. Maybe a stout heart
will."

"Who are the children you have with you?" asked Mother De Smet.

Then Granny told her how she had found Jan and Marie, and all the
rest of the sad story. Mother De Smet wiped her eyes and blew her
nose very hard as she listened.

"I wouldn't let them wait any longer by the Antwerp road,
anyway," she said when Granny had finished. "There is no use in
the world in looking for their mother to come that way. She was
probably driven over the border long ago. You just leave them
with me to-morrow while you go to town. 'Twill cheer them up a
bit to play with Joseph and the babies."

"Well, now," said Granny, "if that isn't just like your good
heart!"

And that is how it happened that, when she trudged off with her
barrow the next morning, the Twins ran down to the boat and spent
the day rolling on the grass with the babies, and helping Father
De Smet and Joseph to load the boat with bags of potatoes which
had been brought to the dock in the night by neighboring farmers.

When Granny came trundling her barrow home in the late afternoon,
she found the children and their new friends already on the best
of terms; and that night, after the Twins were in bed, she went
aboard the "Old Woman" and talked for a long time with Father and
Mother De Smet. No one will ever know just what they said to each
other, but it must be that they talked about the Twins, for when
the children awoke the next morning, they found Granny standing
beside their bed with their clothes all nicely washed and ironed
in her hands.

"I'm not going to town this morning with my eels," she said as
she popped them out of bed. "I'm going to stay at home and see
you off on your journey!" She did not tell them that things had
grown so terrible in Malines that even she felt it wise to stay
away.

"Our journey!" cried the Twins in astonishment. "What journey?"

"To Antwerp," cried Granny. "Now, you never thought a chance like
that would come to you, I'm sure, but some people are born lucky!
You see the De Smets start back today, and they are willing to
take you along with them!"

"But we don't want to leave you, dear, dear Granny!" cried the
Twins, throwing their arms about her neck.

"And I don't want you to go, either, my lambs," said Granny;
"but, you see, there are lots of things to think of. In the first
place, of course you want to go on hunting for your mother. It
may be she has gone over the border; for the Germans are already
in trenches near Antwerp, and our army is nearer still to Antwerp
and in trenches, too. There they stay, Father De Smet says, for
all the world, like two tigers, lying ready to spring at each
other's throats. He says Antwerp is so strongly fortified that
the Germans can never take it, and so it is a better place to be
in than here. The De Smets will see that you are left in safe
hands, and I'm sure your mother would want you to go." The
children considered this for a moment in silence.

At last Jan said, "Do you think Father De Smet would let me help
drive the mule?"

"I haven't a doubt of it," said Granny.

"But what about Fidel, our dear Fidel?" cried Marie.

"I tell you what I'll do;" said Granny. "I'll take care of Fidel
for you! You shall leave him here with me until you come back
again! You see, I really need good company, and since I can't
have you, I know you would be glad to have Fidel stay here to
protect me. Then you'll always know just where he is."

She hurried the children into their clothes as she talked, gave
them a good breakfast, and before they had time to think much
about what was happening to them, they had said good-bye to
Fidel, who had to be shut in the cottage to keep him from
following the boat, and were safely aboard the "Old Woman" and
slowly moving away down the river. They stood in the stern of the
boat, listening to Fidel's wild barks, and waving their hands,
until Granny's kind face was a mere round speck in the distance.

 


Many Thanks for Using the ESL Literature Library from 1-language.com.


Copyright © 2013 All rights reserved.