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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 row 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."
"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.
"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's 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 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 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 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
Father Van Hove smoked in silence as she moved about the room. At
last he said to her, "Leonie, 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 aren't so than any man in this village. I
wouldn'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 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."
"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