It was late in the afternoon of a long summer's day in Belgium.
Father Van Hove was still at work in the harvest-field, though
the sun hung so low in the west that his shadow, stretching far
across the level, green plain, reached almost to the little red-
roofed house on the edge of the village which was its home.
Another shadow, not so long, and quite a little broader,
stretched itself beside his, for Mother Van Hove was also in the
field, helping her husband to load the golden sheaves upon an old
blue farm-cart which stood near by.
Them were also two short, fat shadows which bobbed briskly about
over the green meadow as their owners danced among the wheat-
sheaves or carried handfuls of fresh grass to Pier, the, patient
white farm-horse, hitched to the cart. These gay shadows belonged
to Jan and Marie, sometimes called by their parents Janke and
Mie, for short. Jan and Marie were the twin son and daughter of
Father and Mother Van Hove, and though they were but eight years
old, they were already quite used to helping their father and
mother with the work of their little farm.
They knew how to feed the chickens and hunt the eggs and lead
Pier to water and pull weeds in the garden. In the spring they
had even helped sow the wheat and barley, and now in the late
summer they were helping to harvest the grain.
The children had been in the field since sunrise, but not all of
the long bright day had been given to labor. Early in the morning
their father's pitchfork had uncovered a nest of field mice, and
the Twins had made another nest, as much like the first as
possible, to put the homeless field babies in, hoping that their
mother would find them again and resume her interrupted
Then they had played for a long time in the tiny canal which
separated the wheat-field from the meadow, where Bel, their
black and white cow, was pastured. There was also Fidel, the dog,
their faithful companion and friend. The children had followed
him on many an excursion among the willows along the river-bank,
for Fidel might at any moment come upon the rabbit or water rat
which he was always seeking, and what a pity it would be for Jan
and Marie to miss a sight like that!
When the sun was high overhead, the whole family, and Fidel also,
had rested under a tree by the little river, and Jan and Marie
had shared with their father and mother the bread and cheese
which had been brought from home for their noon meal. Then they
had taken a nap in the shade, for it is a long day that begins
and ends with the midsummer sun. The bees hummed so drowsily in
the clover that Mother Van Hove also took forty winks, while
Father Van Hove led Pier to the river for a drink; and tied him
where he could enjoy the rich meadow grass for a while.
And now the long day was nearly over. The last level rays of the
disappearing sun glistened on the red roofs of the village, and
the windows of the little houses gave back an answering flash of
light. On the steeple of the tiny church the gilded cross shone
like fire against the gray of the eastern sky.
The village clock struck seven and was answered faintly by the
sound of distant chimes from the Cathedral of Malines, miles away
across the plain.
For some time Father Van Hove had been standing on top of the
load, catching the sheaves which Mother Van Hove tossed up to
him, and stowing them away in the farm-wagon, which was already
heaped high with the golden grain. As the clock struck, he paused
in his labor, took off his hat, and wiped his brow. He listened
for a moment to the music of the bells, glanced at the western
sky, already rosy with promise of the sunset, and at the weather-
cock above the cross on the church-steeple. Then he looked down
at the sheaves of wheat, still standing like tiny tents across
"It's no use, Mother," he said at last; "we cannot put it all in
to-night, but the sky gives promise of a fair day to-morrow, and
the weather-cock, also, points east. We can finish in one more
load; let us go home now."
"The clock struck seven," cried Jan. "I counted the strokes."
"What a scholar is our Janke!" laughed his mother, as she lifted
the last sheaf of wheat on her fork and tossed it at Father Van
Hove's feet. "He can count seven when it is supper-time! As for
me, I do not need a clock; I can tell the time of day by the ache
in my bones; and, besides that, there is Bel at the pasture bars
waiting to be milked and bellowing to call me."
"I don't need a clock either," chimed in Marie, patting her apron
tenderly; "I can tell time by my stomach. It's a hundred years
since we ate our lunch; I know it is."
"Come, then, my starvelings," said Mother Van Hove, pinching
Marie's fat cheek, "and you shall save your strength by riding
home on the load! Here, Ma mie, up you go!"
She swung Marie into the air as she spoke. Father Van Hove
reached down from his perch on top of the load, caught her in his
arms, and enthroned her upon the fragrant grain.
"And now it is your turn, my Janke!" cried Mother Van Hove, "and
you shall ride on the back of old Pier like a soldier going to
the wars!" She lifted Jan to the horse's back, while Father Van
Hove climbed down to earth once more and took up the reins.
Fidel came back dripping wet from the river, shook himself, and
fell in behind the wagon. "U—U!" cried Father Van Hove to old
Pier, and the little procession moved slowly up the cart-path
toward the shining windows of their red-roofed house.
The home of the Van Hoves lay on the very outskirts of the little
hamlet of Meer. Beside it ran a yellow ribbon of road which
stretched across the green plain clear to the city of Malines. As
they turned from the cart-path into the road, the old blue cart
became part of a little profession of similar wagons, for the
other men of Meer were also late in coming home to the village
from their outlying farms.
"Good-evening, neighbor," cried Father Van Hove to Father Maes,
whose home lay beyond his in the village. "How are your crops
"Never better," answered Father Maes; "I have more wheat to the
acre than ever before."
"So have I, thanks be to the good God;" answered Father Van Hove.
"The winter will find our barns full this year."
"Yes," replied Father Maes a little sadly; "that is, if we have
no bad luck, but Jules Verhulst was in the city yesterday and
heard rumors of a German army on our borders. It is very likely
only an idle tale to frighten the women and children, but Jules
says there are men also who believe it."
"I shall believe nothing of the sort," said Father Van Hove
stoutly. "Are we not safe under the protection of our treaty? No,
no, neighbor, there's nothing to fear! Belgium is neutral
"I hope you may be right," answered Father Maes, cracking his
whip, and the cart moved on.
Mother Van Hove, meanwhile, had hastened ahead of the cart to
stir up the kitchen fire and put the kettle on before the others
should reach home, and when Father Van Hove at last drove into
the farmyard, she was already on the way to the pasture bars with
her milk-pail on her arm. "Set the table for supper, ma Mie," she
called back, "and do not let the pot boil over! Jan, you may shut
up the fowls; they have already gone to roost."
"And what shall I do, Mother?" laughed Father Van Hove.
"You," she called back, "you may unharness Pier and turn him out
in the pasture for the night! And I'll wager I shall be back with
a full milk-pail before you've even so much as fed the pig, let
alone the other chores—men are so slow!" She waved her hand
gayly and disappeared behind the pasture bars, as she spoke.
"Hurry, now, my man," said Father Van Hove to Jan. "We must not
let Mother beat us! We will let the cart stand right there near
the barn, and to-morrow we can store the grain away to make room
for a new load. I will let you lead Pier to the pasture, while I
feed the pig myself; by her squeals she is hungry enough to eat
you up in one mouthful."
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics