The Belgian Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins
If I were to tell you all the strange new sights that Jan and Marie saw, and all the things they did in England, it would make this book so big you could not hold it up to read it, so I must skip all about the great house in the southern part of England where they next found themselves. This house was the great country place of a very rich man, and when the war broke out he had given it to be used as a shelter for homeless Belgians. There were the most wonderful woods and parks on the estate, and miles of beautiful drives. There were great gardens and stables and hothouses; and the house was much bigger and finer than any Jan and Marie had ever seen in all their lives. It seemed to them as if they had suddenly been changed into a prince and princess by some fairy wand. They were not alone in all this splendor; other lost little Belgian children were there, and there were lost parents, too, and it seemed such a pity that the lost parents and the lost children should not be the very ones that belonged together, so that every one could be happy once more. However, bad as it was, it was so much better than anything they had known since the dreadful first night of the alarm that Jan and Marie became almost happy again.
At night they and the other homeless children slept in little white cots set all in a row in a great picture gallery. They were given new clothes, for by this time even their best ones were quite worn out, and every day they had plenty of good plain food to eat. Every day more Belgians came, and still more, until not only the big house, but the stable and outbuildings were all running-over full of homeless people. One day, after they had been in this place for two or three weeks, Jan and Marie were called into the room where sat the sweet-faced lady whose home they were in. It was like an office, and there were several other persons there with her.
The sweet-faced lady spoke to them. "Jan and Marie," she said, "how would you like to go to live with a dear lady in America who would love you, and take care of you, so you need never be lonely and sad again?"
"But our mother!" gasped Marie, bursting into tears. "We have not found her!"
"You will not lose her any more by going to America," said the lady, "for, you see, we shall know all about you here, and if your mother comes, we shall be able to tell her just where to find you. Meanwhile you will be safe and well cared for, far away from all the dreadful things that are happening here."
"It is so far away!" sobbed Marie.
Jan said nothing; he was busy swallowing lumps in his own throat.
"You see, dears," the lady said gently, "you can be together there, for this woman has no children of her own, and is willing to take both of you. That does not often happen, and, besides, she is a Belgian; I know you will find a good home with her."
"You're sure we could be together?" asked Jan.
"Yes," said the lady.
"Because," said Jan, "Mother said I must take care of Marie."
"And she said she'd find us again if she had to swim the sea," said Marie, feeling of her locket and smiling through her tears.
"She won't have to swim," said the lady. "We will see to that! If she comes here, she shall go for you in a fine big ship, and so that's all settled." She kissed their woebegone little faces. "You are going to start to-morrow," she said. "The good captain of the ship has promised to take care of you, so you will not be afraid, and I know you will be good children."
It seemed like a month to Jan and Marie, but it was really only seven days later that they stood on the deck of the good ship Caspian, as it steamed proudly into the wonderful harbor of New York. It was dusk, and already the lights of the city sparkled like a sky full of stars dropped down to earth. High above the other stars shone the great torch of "Liberty enlightening the World." "Oh," gasped Marie, as she gazed, "New York must be as big as heaven. Do you suppose that is an angel holding a candle to light us in?"
Just then the captain came to find them, and a few minutes later they walked with him down the gangplank, right into a pair of outstretched arms. The arms belonged to Madame Dujardin, their new mother. "I should have known them the moment I looked at them, even if they hadn't been with the captain," she cried to her husband, who stood smiling by her side. "Poor darlings, your troubles are all over now! Just as soon as Captain Nichols says you may, you shall come with us, and oh, I have so many things to show you in your new home!"
She drew them with her to a quieter part of the dock, while her husband talked with the captain, and then, when they had bidden him good-bye, they were bundled into a waiting motor car and whirled away through miles of brilliantly lighted streets and over a wonderful bridge, and on and on, until they came to green lawns, and houses set among trees and shrubs, and it seemed to the children as if they must have reached the very end of the world. At last the car stopped before a house standing some distance back from the street in a large yard, and the children followed their new friends through the bright doorway of their house.
Madame Dujardin helped them take off their things in the pleasant hallway, where an open fire was burning, and later, when they were washed and ready, she led the way to a cheerful dining room, where there was a pretty table set for four. There were flowers on the table, and they had chicken for supper, and, after that, ice cream! Jan and Marie had never tasted ice cream before in their whole lives! They thought they should like America very much.
After supper their new mother took them upstairs and showed them two little rooms with a bathroom between. One room was all pink and white with a dear little white bed in it, and she said to Marie, "This is your room, my dear." The other room was all in blue and white with another dear little white bed in it, and she said to Jan, "This is your room, my dear." And there were clean white night-gowns on the beds, and little wrappers with gay flowered slippers, just waiting for Jan and Marie to put them on.
"Oh, I believe it is heaven!" cried Marie, as she looked about the pretty room. Then she touched Madame Dujardin's sleeve timidly. "Is it all true?" she said. "Shan't we wake up and have to go somewhere else pretty soon?"
"No, dear," said Madame Dujardin gently. "You are going to stay right here now and be happy."
"It will be a very nice place for Mother to find us in," said Jan. "She will come pretty soon now, I should think."
"I hope she may," said Madame Dujardid, tears twinkling in her eyes.
"I'm sure she will," said Marie. "You see everybody is looking for her. There's Granny, and Mother and Father De Smet, and Joseph, and the people in Rotterdam, and the people in England, too; and then, besides, Mother is looking for herself, of course!"
"She said she would surely find us even if she had to swim the sea," added Jan.