"You can," said Jan, as he struggled into his clothes, and twisted himself nearly in two trying to do up the buttons in the back; "you can, but I must do a man's work! I will go out and feed the pig and catch old Pier and hitch him to the cart," he said importantly. "I must finish the wheat harvest to-day."
"Ho!" said Marie. "You will spill the pig-feed all over yourself ! You are such a messy boy ! "
"I guess I can do it just as well as [Page 52] you can make coffee," said Jan with spirit. "You've never made coffee in your life ! "
"I've watched Mother do it lots of times," said Marie. "I'm sure I can do it just the same way."
"All right, let's see you do it, then," said Jan. And he strode out of the room with his hands in his pockets, taking as long steps as his short legs would permit.
When she was dressed and washed, Marie ran to the pump and filled the kettle. Then she stirred the embers of the fire in the kitchen and put on fresh coal. She set the kettle on to boil and only slopped a little water on her apron in doing so. Then she put the dishes on the table.
Meanwhile she heard no sound from Jan. She went to the kitchen door and looked out. Jan had already let out the fowls, and was just in the act of feeding the pig. He had climbed up on the fence around the pigpen, and by dint of great effort had succeeded in lifting the heavy pail of feed to the top of it. He was now trying to let it down [Page 53]
on the other side and pour the contents into the trough, but the pig was greedy, and the moment the pail came within reach, she stuck her nose and her fore feet into it. This added weight was too much for poor Jan; down went the pail with a crash into the trough, and Jan himself tumbled suddenly forward, his feet flew out behind, and he [Page 54] was left hanging head down, like a jackknife, over the fence !
It was just at this moment that Marie came to the door, and when she saw Jan balancing on the fence and kicking out wildly with his feet, she screamed with laughter.
Jan was screaming, too, but with pain and indignation. "Come here and pick me off this fence !" he roared; "it's cutting me in two ! Oh, Mother ! Mother !"
Marie ran to the pigpen as fast as she could go. She snatched an old box by the stable as she ran, and, placing it against the fence, seized one of Jan's feet, which were still waving wildly in the air, and planted it firmly on the box.
"Oh ! Oh !" laughed Marie, as Jan reached the ground once more. "If you could only have seen yourself, Jan ! You would have laughed, too ! Instead of pouring the pig-feed on to yourself, you poured yourself on to the pig-feed ! "
"I don't see anything to laugh at," said [Page 55]
Jan with dignity, "it might have happened to any man."
"Anyway, you'll have to get the pail again," said Marie, wiping her eyes. "That greedy pig will bang it all to pieces, if you leave it in the pen."
"I can't reach it," said Jan.
"Yes, you can," said Marie. "I'll hold your legs so you won't fall in, and you can [Page 56] fish for it with a stick." She ran for a stick to poke with, while Jan bravely mounted the box again, and, firmly anchored by Marie's grasp upon his legs, he soon succeeded in rescuing the pail.
"Anyway, I guess I've fed the pig just as well as you have made the coffee," he said, as he handed it over to Marie.
"Oh, my sakes!" cried Marie; "I forgot all about the coffee !" And she ran back to the kitchen, to find that the kettle had boiled over and put the fire out.
Jan stuck his head in the door, just as she got the bellows to start the fire again. "What did I tell you !" he shouted, running out his tongue derisively.
"Scat !" said Marie, shaking the bellows at him, and Jan sauntered away toward the pasture with Pier's halter over his arm.
Pier had been eating grass for two nights and a day without doing any work, and it took Jan some time to catch him and put the halter over his head. When at last he [Page 57] returned from the pasture, red and tired, but triumphant, leading Pier, Marie and her mother had already finished their breakfast.
"Look what a man we have !" cried Mother Van Hove as Jan appeared. "He has caught Pier all by himself."
"He lifted me clear off my feet when I put his halter on," said Jan proudly, "but I hung on and he had to come ! "
"Marie," cried her mother, "our Jan has earned a good breakfast ! Cook an egg for him, while I hitch Pier to the cart. Then, while he and I work in the field, you can put the house in order. There is only one more load to bring in, and we can do that by ourselves."
By noon the last of the wheat had been garnered, and this time Jan drove Pier home, while his mother sat on the load. In the afternoon the three unloaded the wagon and stowed the grain away in the barn to be threshed; and when the long day's work was over, and they had eaten their simple supper of bread and milk, [Page 58] Mother Van Hove and the children went together down the village street to see their neighbors and hear the news, if there should be any.
There were no daily papers in Meer, and now there were no young men to go to the city and bring back the gossip of the day, as there had used to be. The women, with their babies on their arms, stood about in the street, talking quietly and sadly among themselves. On the doorsteps a few old men lingered together over their pipes. Already the bigger boys were playing soldier, with paper caps on their heads, and sticks for guns. The smaller children were shouting and chasing each other through the little street of the village. Jan and Marie joined in a game of blindman's buff, while Mother Van Hove stopped with the group of women.
"If we only knew what to expect !" sighed the Burgomeister's wife, as she shifted her baby from one arm to the other. "It seems as if we should know better what [Page 59]
to do. In a day or two I shall send my big boy Leon to the city for a paper. It is hard to wait quietly and know nothing."
"Our good King and Queen doubtless know everything," said the wife of Boer Maes. "They will do better for us than we could do for ourselves, even if we knew all that they do."
"And there are our own brave men, [Page 60] besides," added Mother Van Hove. "We must not forget them ! We are not yet at war. I pray God we may not be, and that we shall soon see them come marching home again to tell us that the trouble, whatever it is, is over, and that we may go on living in peace as we did before."
"It seems a year since yesterday," said the Burgomeister's wife.
"Work makes the time pass quickly," said Mother Van Hove cheerfully. "Jan and I got in the last of our wheat to-day. He helped me like a man."
"Who will thresh it for you ?" asked the wife of Boer Maes.
"I will thresh it myself, if need be," said Mother Van Hove with spirit. "My good man shall not come home and find the farmwork behind if I can help it." And with these brave words she said goodnight to the other women, called Jan and Marie, and turned once more down the street toward the little house on the edge of the village. Far across the peaceful twilight fields came [Page 61] the sound of distant bells. "Hark !" said Mother Van Hove to the Twins– "the cathedral bells of Malines ! And they are playing ' The Lion of Flanders ! '"
sang the bells, and, standing upon the threshold of her little home, with head held proudly erect, Mother Van Hove lifted her voice and joined the words to the melody. "They will never conquer him, the old Lion of Flanders, so long as he has claws !" she sang, and the Twins, looking up into her brave and inspired face, sang too.