WHEN Mother Van Hove returned from the pasture, fifteen minutes later, her orders had all been carried out. Pier was in the pasture, the hens were shut up for the night, and the pig, which had been squealing with hunger, was now grunting with satisfaction over her evening meal; Fidel was gnawing a bone, and Father Van Hove was already washing his hands at the pump, beside the kitchen door.
"You are all good children," said the mother as she set down her brimming pail and took her turn at the wash-basin and the soap. "Jan and Marie, have you washed your hands ? "
"I have," called Marie from the kitchen, "and supper is ready and the table set." [Page 22]
"I washed my hands in the canal this morning," pleaded Jan. "Won't that do ?"
"You ate your lunch this noon, too," answered his mother promptly. "Won't that do ? Why do you need to eat again when you have already eaten twice today? "
"Because I am hungry again," answered Jan.
"Well, you are also dirty again," said his mother, as she put the soap in his hands and wiped her own on the clean towel which Marie handed her from the door. She cleaned her wooden shoes on the bundle of straw which lay for the purpose beside the kitchen door; then she went inside and took her place opposite Father Van Hove at the little round oaken table by the window.
Marie was already in her chair, and in a moment Jan joined them with a beaming smile and a face which, though clean in the middle, showed a gray border from ear to ear. [Page 23]
"If you don't believe I'm clean, look at the towel !" he said, holding it up.
"Oh, my heart !" cried his mother, throwing up her hands. "I declare there is but one creature in all God's world that cares nothing for cleanliness ! Even a pig has some manners if given half a chance, but boys !" She seized the grimy towel and held it up despairingly for Father Van Hove to see "He's just wet his face and [Page 24] wiped all the dirt off on the towel. The Devil himself is not more afraid of holy water than Jan Van Hove is of water of any kind !" she cried.
"Go and wash yourself properly, Janke," said his father sternly, and Jan disappeared through the kitchen door. Sounds of vigorous pumping and splashing without were heard in the kitchen, and when Jan appeared once more, he was allowed to take his place at the supper-table with the family.
Father Van Hove bowed his head, and the Twins and their mother made the sign of the cross with him, as he began their grace before meat. "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen," prayed Father Van Hove. "Hail, Mary, full of Grace." Then, as the prayer continued, the mother and children with folded hands and bowed heads joined in the petition: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death, Amen." A clatter of [Page 25] spoons followed the grace, and Mother Van Hove's good buttermilk pap was not long in disappearing down their four hungry throats.
The long day in the open air had made the children so sleepy they could scarcely keep their eyes open through the meal. "Come, my children," said their mother briskly, as she rose from the table, "pop into bed, both of you, as fast as you can go. You are already half asleep! Father, you help them with their buttons, and hear them say their prayers, while I wash up these dishes and take care of the milk." She took a candle from the chimney-piece as she spoke, and started down cellar with the skimmer. When she came back into the kitchen once more, the children were safely tucked in bed, and her husband was seated by the kitchen door with his chair tipped back against the wall, smoking his evening pipe. Mother Van Hove cleared the table, washed the dishes, and brushed the crumbs from the tiled floor. Then she [Page 26]
spread the white sand once more under the table and in a wide border around the edge of the room, and hung the brush outside the kitchen door.
Father Van Hove smoked in silence as she moved about the room. At last he said [Page 27] to her, "Léonie, did you hear what our neighbor Maes said to-night as we were talking in the road ? "
"No," said his wife, "I was hurrying home to get supper."
"Maes said there are rumors of a German army on our frontier," said Father Van Hove.
His wife paused in front of him with her hands on her hips. "Who brought that story to town?" she demanded.
"Jules Verhulst," answered her husband.
"Jules Verhulst!" sniffed Mother Van Hove with disdain. "He knows more things that are n't so than any man in this village. I would n't believe anything on his say-so ! Besides, the whole world knows that all the Powers have agreed that Belgium shall be neutral ground, and have bound themselves solemnly to protect that neutrality. I learned that in school, and so did you."
"Yes," sighed Father Van Hove. "I learned it too, and surely no nation can have [Page 28] anything against us ! We have given no one cause for complaint that I know of."
"It's nonsense," said his wife with decision. "Belgium is safe enough so far as that goes, but one certainly has to work hard here just to make ends meet and get food for all the hungry mouths ! They say it is different in America; there you work less and get more, and are farther away from meddlesome neighboring countries besides. I sometimes wish we had gone there with my sister. She and her husband started with no more than we have, and now they are rich – at least they were when I last heard from them; but that was a long time ago," she finished.
"Well," said Father Van Hove, as he stood up and knocked the ashes from his pipe, "it may be that they have more money and less work, but I've lived here in this spot ever since I was born, and my father before me. Somehow I feel I could never take root in any other soil. I'm content with things as they are." [Page 29]
"So am I, for the matter of that," said Mother Van Hove cheerfully, as she put Fidel outside and shut the door for the night. Then, taking the candle from the chimney-piece once more, she led the way to the inner room, where the Twins were already soundly sleeping.