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Gerard Our Little
Belgian Cousin

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AUNT URSULA and Helda found Vrouw Maes in her vegetable garden hard at work gathering peas.

"Do not stop, I beg of you," said Aunt Ursula, as the good Vrouw came forward to greet her visitors. "I know you are busy gathering your vegetables for the market tomorrow. I will leave Helda here with Saskia and call for her on my way back after I have finished my errand."

"I will have a bowl of fresh milk ready for you then," said the Vrouw, putting down the heaping basketful of vegetables which she had been carrying.

"Let us find Gerard," said Saskia, as Aunt Ursula disappeared. 


Vrouw Maes' house was like most of the farmhouses of Flanders, so very low and flat that one could hardly see more than its red tiled roof above the level of the field until quite close. It was of red brick, covered with a yellow plaster, and with the dairy and cow-shed it surrounded a little courtyard which was paved with cobble stones. Here, in the courtyard, Gerard was busy mending the dogs' harness, while the dogs themselves lay near him half asleep.  Gerard jumped up surprised and pleased to see his little friend of the Beguinage, and the dogs also leaped about and wagged their tails in welcome, for they, too, recognized a friend in Helda.

"I am getting my harness in good shape for the inspection," said Gerard." Everything must be in good order then, you know."

"Where is the inspection to be?" asked Helda.

"In the Kooter, at six o'clock in the morning, just a week from to-day," answered Gerard.

"I should like to see it," said Helda. "I wonder if Aunt Ursula would take me."

There is one day in the year when all the milk carts of a certain district are inspected by the government officials and all milk jugs and dog-carts, you may be sure, are made to look their best on that day.

Helda was shown all about the place. She saw the little white guinea pigs in their hutch in one corner of the courtyard, and fed them carrots which Gerard gave her. She visited the long, low building where the cows were sheltered, each in a stall by itself, all whitewashed and kept very clean with plenty of fresh straw on the floor.

Helda visited the dairy, too, which was built partly underground. Here were the big crocks of milk standing in a sort of stone trough, with running water around them to keep the milk cool and fresh, while the brass jugs which were carried on the cart mornings were all standing in a row, with a polish as bright as hard rubbing could give them.

Gerard showed Helda where his band met for practice up in the low attic of the house, close under the red tiles of the roof, with great wooden beams overhead and only one small window in the gable.

Here were some heavy wooden benches and some roughly made stands to hold the music, and near the window, two old weather-stained sea-chests with rope handles, which had belonged to Gerard's great-uncle, who had been a captain of a fishing vessel that hailed from Nieuport, a little town on the Belgian coast, just over the border from France.

One end of the attic was curtained off and behind the curtain was Gerard's sleeping room. His cot stood in a corner under the eaves, and near it was a shelf that held the prize books which he had won at school, while above hung a tiny looking-glass of the kind that makes one's face look zig-zag. There were two or three fishing rods, a ball and the usual belongings which lumber up a boy's room.

Since there was no wash bowl or pitcher it is well to know that Gerard ran down in the morning and washed his face and hands by the side of the old stone well in the courtyard, and when he wanted a bath he took a swim in the canal which ran before the house.

Gerard's Sunday and holiday suit of clothes was kept carefully packed away in one of the sea-chests, and on top of the other rested Gerard's beloved violin.

"Oh, do play for us," cried Helda, as she spied the instrument.

"Yes, do play, brother," chimed in little Saskia, "you know Helda has never heard you."

Gerard took his violin tenderly from its case and slowly drew the bow across the strings once or twice and gave a turn or two to the keys when there suddenly burst forth a wonderful melody which echoed and re-echoed back from the rafters overhead.

Helda listened in amazement. She had never dreamed that Gerard Maes, who brought the milk each morning to the Beguinage, could play like that!

"Well done, Gerard," said a voice at the door as Gerard finished. "I am proud of you, and I prophesy great things for you some day," said Aunt Ursula, for it was she, having finished her errand, who was at the door. Gerard flushed with her praise, for he had a very high opinion of all that Aunt Ursula said.

"It is true, Gerard plays even better than did his father, but he must not neglect his work for his music as I am afraid he does sometimes," said Vrouw Maes, shaking her head.

"But of course you would like to have Gerard become famous," continued Aunt Ursula.

"Yes, truly, if it were possible," answered his mother. "He dreams night and day of going to the city to study, but I can not spare him from the farm just yet."

Gerard put away his violin with a sigh, and they all went down to the big front room of the house which was kept more for show than for use. There is always one room of this class in a Belgian house, and here all the best things are kept and visitors entertained.

A big, hooded chimney filled one side of the room and above it on the mantel there were some old china plates and bowls with queer painted landscapes. On the dresser and around the walls were a number of platters and jugs of finely embossed and polished copper.

Vrouw Maes brought in a jug of fresh milk, warm from the cow, and a dish of cakes, which are called the conques of Dinant, a sort of gingerbread cookie made only at Dinant in Belgium, or by folk who had formerly lived there, as had Vrouw Maes.

When Aunt Ursula and Helda left Gerard and Saskia walked with them as far as the tram. As they turned into the main road a big boy passed them, driving a cart loaded with vegetables and drawn by two dogs. There was not only as heavy a load as the poor dogs could stagger along with, but the boy had perched himself on top of all and was beating the poor dogs, who looked very thin and ill-kept, into a gallop.

"Oh! what a cruel boy, to beat his poor dogs like that," exclaimed Helda. "Oh! it is the boy who was fishing in the canal." She stopped suddenly and bit her lip.

"Stop that, Hubert," called out Gerard to the boy, his eyes aflame. "It's a shame for a great boy like you to ride on top of a heavy load like that and beat your dogs, too."

The boy only laughed until Aunt Ursula reproved him too, when he slid sulkily off his cart. Then catching sight of Helda he pointed his finger at her mockingly and called out: "Hello, cry-baby."

"Why, where have you ever seen Hubert before?" asked Gerard, surprised.

Helda blushed; she could not bear to think of that disgraceful day, and merely said that she had seen him fishing in the canal near the Beguinage.

"He is a bad boy," went on Gerard. " He treats his dogs so badly that he has had trouble with the officials more than once, and has already been fined."

"He does not like you, brother, one bit," said Saskia.

"No, I know he doesn't," answered Gerard, " and I am sorry, for he is a member of our band."

"How does that happen? " asked Helda, surprised. "If you do not like him why did you take him into your band? "

"Well, he is one of our best musicians, and he was one of our crowd, so you see he could not well have been left out," explained Gerard. "But none of us like him, he is so overbearing. Besides he has a grudge against me; I know it. for I made him stop ill-treating his dogs one day and the officials heard of it and got after him. I did not tell on him, though. I am not a tell-tale. But he thought I did, and has never forgotten it."

"The real reason is that he is jealous of you and wants to be the leader of the band himself," said Saskia wisely.

"I am sure he could not lead the band as well as you; he does not look as though he could do anything as nice as play the violin," said Helda, recalling the mud with which he had bespattered her dress.

"Well, for some reason, he has got a grudge against me, and I am afraid he will do me an ill turn some day," sighed Gerard, who was the least quarrelsome boy in all Flanders, and who would have liked to be friends with every one.

There was a tram awaiting when they got to the main road, and bidding good-by to their little friends Aunt Ursula and Helda were soon back to the Beguinage.

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