The Belgian Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins
VI. At the Church
Several days passed quietly by in the little village of Meer. The sun shone, and the wind blew, and the rains fell upon the peaceful fields, just as if nothing whatever had happened. Each day was filled to the brim with hard work. With the help of the Twins, Mother Van Hove kept the garden free of weeds and took care of the stock. She even threshed the wheat herself with her husband's flail, and stored the grain away in sacks ready for the mill. Each evening, when the work was done, the three went down the village street together. One evening, just at dusk, they found nearly the whole village gathered in front of the priest's house next to the church. Leon, the Burgomeister's oldest boy, had been to Malines that day and had brought back a paper.
The priest was reading from it to the anxious group gathered about him. "Oh, my children," he was saying, as Mother Van Hove and the Twins joined the group, "there is, no doubt, need for courage, but where is there a Belgian lacking in that? Even Julius Caesar, two thousand years ago, found that out! The bravest of all are the Belgians, he said then, and it is none the less true to-day! The Germans have crossed our eastern frontier. It is reported that they are already burning towns and killing the inhabitants if they resist. God knows what may be before us. Our good King Albert has asked Parliament to refuse the demands of the Germans. In spite of their solemn treaty with us, they demand that we permit them to cross Belgium to attack France. To this our brave King and Parliament will never consent; no true Belgian would wish them to. There is, then, this choice either to submit absolutely to the invasion of our country, or to defend it! The army is already in the field."
There was a moment of heavy silence as he finished speaking. Then the voice of the Burgomeister's wife was heard in the stillness. "Oh, Mynheer Pastoor," she said to the priest, "what shall we do? There is no place to go to we have no refuge!"
"God is our refuge and strength, my children," said the priest, lifting his eyes to heaven. "We have no other! You must stay here, and if the terrible Germans come, hide yourselves away as best you can, until they have passed by. Do not anger them by resisting. Bow your heads to the storm and have faith in God that it may soon pass over." He turned and led the way toward the little church as he spoke. "Come," he said, "let us pray before God's holy altar, and if the enemy comes, seek refuge in the church itself. Surely even the Germans will respect the sanctuary."
Solemnly the people filed into the little church, lighted only by the candles on the altar, and knelt upon the hard floor. The priest left them there, praying silently, while he went to put on the robes of his offices. Then once more he appeared before the altar, and led the kneeling congregation in the litany.
"From war and pestilence and sudden death, Good Lord, deliver us," he prayed at last, and all the people responded with a fervent "Amen."
That night, when she put her children to bed, Mother Van Hove fastened a chain with a locket upon it about Marie's neck. "Listen, ma Mie," she said, "and you, too, my little Jan. God only knows what may be before us. This locket contains my picture. You must wear it always about your neck, and remember that your mother's name is Leonie Van Hove, and your father's name is Georges Van Hove. If by any chance--which God forbid--we should become separated from one another, keep the locket on your neck, and our names in your memory until we meet again; for if such a thing should happen, do not doubt that I should find you, though I had to swim the sea to do it! For you, my Jan, I have no locket, but you are a man, a brave man, now! You must take care of yourself and your sister, too, if need should arise, and above all, remember this--only the brave are safe. Whatever happens, you must remember that you are Belgians, and be brave!"
The children clung to her, weeping, as she finished. "There, there," she said soothingly: "I had to tell you this so you would be ready to do your best and not despair, whatever might happen, but be sure, my lambs, nothing shall harm you if I can help it, and nothing shall separate us from one another if God so wills. Now, go to sleep!"
She kissed them tenderly, and, quite comforted, they nestled down in their beds and soon were asleep. She herself slept but little that night. Long after the children were quiet, she sat alone on the kitchen step in the darkness with Fidel by her side, and listened to the faint sounds of distant guns, and watched the red light in the sky, which told her of the burning of Louvain.