"For King, For Law and Liberty"
A T the gate they were met by an officer, who at once took command of the company. There was only a moment for hasty good-byes before the order to march was given, and the women and children watched the little column stride bravely away up the street toward the armory, where the uniforms and arms were kept. They followed at a little distance and took up their station across the street from the great doors through which the men had disappeared. There was little talking among them. Only the voice of the priest could be heard now and then, as he said a few words to one and another of the waiting women. It was still so early in the morning that the streets of the city were not yet filled with people going to work. Only those, like themselves, concerned with the sad business of war were abroad.
To Jan and Marie the long wait seemed endless, but at last the doors of the armory sprang open; there was a burst of martial music, and a band playing the national hymn appeared. "For King, for law and liberty!" thrilled the bugles, and amidst the waving of flags, and the cheers of the people, who had now begun to fill the streets, a regiment of soldiers marched away toward the north. Jan and Marie stood with their mother on the edge of the sidewalk, eagerly scanning every face as the soldiers passed, and at last Jan shouted, "I see Father! I see Father!"
Mother Van Hove lifted her two children high in her arms for him to see, but Father Van Hove could only smile a brave good-bye as he marched swiftly past.
"No tears, my children!" cried the priest; "let them see no tears! Send them away with a smile!" And, standing on the edge of the sidewalk, he made the sign of the cross and raised his hand in blessing, as the troops went by.
For a time Mother Van Hove and the children ran along the sidewalk, trying to keep pace with the soldiers, but their quick strides were too much for the Twins, and it was not long before Marie said, breathlessly, "My legs are too short! I—can't—run—so—fast!"
"I—can't—too!" gasped Jan. Mother Van Hove stopped short at once, and the three stood still, hand in hand, and watched the soldiers until they turned a corner and disappeared from sight through the Antwerp gate of the city.
They were quite alone, for the other women and children had gone no farther than the armory, and were already on their homeward way to Meer. Now for the first time Mother Van Hove gave way to grief, and Jan and Marie wept with her; but it was only for a moment. Then she wiped her eyes, and the Twins' too, on her apron, and said firmly: "Come, my lambs! Tears will not bring him back! We must go home now as fast as we can. There is need there for all that we can do! You must be the man of the house now, my Janke, and help me take your father's place on the farm; and Marie must be our little house-mother. We must be as brave as soldiers, even though we cannot fight."
"I think I could be braver if I had some breakfast," sobbed Janke.
Mother Van Hove struck her hands together in dismay. "I never once thought of food!" she cried, "and I haven't a red cent with me! We cannot buy a breakfast! We must just go hungry until we get home! But soldiers must often go hungry, my little ones. We must be as brave as they. Come, now. I will be the captain! Forward—march!"
Jan and Marie stiffened their little backs, as she gave the word of command, and, shoulder to shoulder, they marched down the street toward the city gate to the martial refrain, "Le Roi, la loi, la liberte," which Mother Van Hove hummed for them under her breath.
It was a long way back to the little farm-house, and when at last the three weary pilgrims reached it, they were met by an indignant chorus of protests from all the creatures which had been left behind. Bel was lowing at the pasture bars, the pig was squealing angrily in her pen, the rooster had crowed himself hoarse, and Fidel, patient Fidel, was sitting on guard at the back door.
Mother Van Hove flew into the kitchen the moment she reached the house, and in two minutes Jan and Marie were seated before a breakfast of bread and milk.
Then she fed the pig, let out the hens, and gave Fidel a bone which she had saved for him from the soup. Last of all, she milked the cow, and when this was done, and she had had a cup of coffee herself, the clock in the steeple struck twelve.
Even Mother Van Hove's strength was not equal to work in the harvest-field that day, but she stowed the load of wheat which had been brought home the night before in the barn, and, after the chores were done at night, she and the Twins went straight to bed and slept as only the very weary can, until the sun streamed into their windows in the morning.