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Gerard Our Little
Belgian Cousin

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GERARD and his little band had now to decide how they should spend their prize money. Every day Gerard had a new plan. He asked advice from Helda and Aunt Ursula each time he brought the milk, and proposed the wildest things imaginable. One was that they should build a club-house: Karel suggested that they should get uniforms with the money, but when they came to figure it out they found they could only buy about two uniforms and a half so that was manifestly unpractical, while as for the club-house that was even more nearly impossible.

One serious-minded boy did suggest that they should lay in a stock of music, but all vetoed that motion. Even Gerard admitted that they ought to have some "real fun" with the money. So matters stood one evening when the boys had gathered to play their favorite game of ball in the little Kooter of the village. The little Flemish boys play their game with a ball something like a tennis ball, which they knock about from one to another, using a wooden bat with a kind of gauntlet fitted over the hand like a glove, in fact the boys call the bat the gant, which means glove. Even very young Belgian boys become very skilful at the game.

Hubert was playing this evening for the first time in some days, but Gerard, for some reason or another, was not present.

In the midst of the game Gerard came flying up and called out breathlessly, "What do you think, boys, I have a chance to earn some money with my violin. The school-master," he went on excitedly, "has just been to the farm and he says that they want me to play for them to dance at the big Kermesse which is to be held at Ostend next month.

"It all came about through one of the judges at the competition. He lives at Ostend. The school-master knows him," went on Gerard, "and when he heard I could play the violin and wanted to make some money so as to study he said that perhaps he could help me."

Gerard's little friends were as pleased as himself, all except Hubert, who seemed to be paying no attention at all, but who went on knocking the ball blindly about, when, finally with an impatient mutter, he stalked away with a black look on his face.

"Now, boys, here's a good way to spend our prize money," exclaimed Karel. "We will all go down to the Kermesse with Gerard. That will be having some fun with the money, will it not?" The little fellows all clapped their hands and agreed that it would.

A Kermesse is a great fair held out of doors. Every town and village in Belgium has its own special Kermesse and the people make a great holiday of the occasion, with dancing, merrymaking and all kinds of games.

Helda and Aunt Ursula were as pleased as Gerard himself when they heard the news and listened with the greatest interest while Gerard rattled away of the wonderful things he was going to do with the money he was to earn.

Perhaps if the people at the Kermesse liked his music he would be able to play at other Kermesses and thus make a great deal more money, and then he could buy another dog, for Hugo was getting old now. Then, too, they could have a better and a bigger cart. Perhaps, too, he might in time be able to play at concerts, as did the school-master, and then, maybe, he would be earning enough money to be able to hire some one to help his mother on the farm, in which case, Gerard went on with shining eyes, he might even be able to go to the great city of Brussels where one can study the violin better than anywhere else in  the world, and take lessons of the great violin master there.

"Oh, Aunt Ursula, why can't we go to the Kermesse, too?" cried Helda with enthusiasm. "Dear child, you must know I can not leave my work here, and as much as I should be glad to give you the pleasure of seeing the Kermesse it is impossible," and Aunt Ursula looked really sorry, for she did not like to disappoint her little niece.

Gerard whistled and sang all through his work that morning; he was busier than usual, too, for he had lingered along his route telling the news to all his friends, so it was nearly dark when he got back home and went up to his room.

He was tired, but still, as was his habit, he went to get his violin for a few minutes' practice. He went to the chest where it was kept and opened the case when, to his astonishment, he saw that his beloved violin was gone. His first thought was that his mother or Saskia had taken it down stairs, but his heart misgave him as he flew down to the living room.

No, neither his mother nor Saskia had touched the violin. They searched the house all over, turning out every corner, but could discover no trace of the instrument. Some one must have stolen it when they were all away from the house. Vrouw Maes never locked up her house while they were at work on the farm, nor did her neighbors, for they were all honest folk in the neighborhood, and never before had anything been missed.

Poor Gerard was in despair. He kept on looking in the most unlikely places, never heeding his mother's entreaties that he should wait until morning. At last he gave up hope and flung himself on his mother's bed and wept. There was not much sleep at the farm that night. Bad news flies fast, and before noon all the neighbors had heard of Gerard's loss. The little band held an indignation meeting and organized a search themselves, but with no success. Whoever could have done such a mean act? It could only have been some one who knew the way about the house. But why should he have taken only the violin? It must have been some one with a spite against Gerard himself.

"Where's Hubert?" suddenly asked Karel, as the boys stood in a group debating the matter. For the first time they realized that he had not been seen for two days. The boys looked at each other. The same thought came to all of them. Could it have been Hubert? They well knew how jealous he was of Gerard and his music.

A few minutes later Karel was back with a sober look on his merry little face. At Hubert's house he had been told that Hubert had gone early that morning to Tournai, to stay a week with an uncle of his who was a weaver in a carpet factory. This looked strange, and the boys began to whisper among themselves. Things began to look black for Hubert.

As for poor Gerard, he was sitting at home in the courtyard his head buried in his hands, his only company the dogs. They were wondering, no doubt, what was the matter with their little master. But Gerard took no notice of them, he could not bear even to have any one talk to him. His only thought was that now he would not be able to play at the Kermesse, nor at any other time, for how would he ever be able to get enough money to buy another violin? All his chances of earning money were lost.

"It was Hubert. We are sure it was Hubert," declared Karel, who had come over to try and cheer Gerard up.

Gerard shook his head. "I don't believe it," he said. "Hubert may not have liked me, but I am sure he would never have done me an injury like this." But, as he spoke, he remembered the milk inspection and Saskia's suspicions, and it set him to thinking. Could Hubert really have taken the violin? What difference did it make who had taken the violin? The violin was gone.

Things soon fell back into their usual routine, except that Gerard did not laugh nor whistle at his work any more. The boys talked of it when they met, but the subject was gradually dropped because they saw it hurt Gerard to even think about it.

One hot afternoon Gerard was sitting beside the canal that ran back of the farm, idly watching a tall white bird hovering over the water. It was a heron who with his long bill was trying to spear a fish for his supper. A noise disturbed the bird, and Gerard, looking up, saw Hubert walking along the opposite bank. He evidently did not see Gerard, but went on until he came near a bridge when, throwing off his clothes, he dived down into the water. He did this several times, for, like Gerard, he was as much at his ease in the water as a frog.

Gerard had just made up his mind to go and speak to him when just as Hubert dived again he struck his head on one of the bridge timbers.

As fast as he could Gerard ran towards the spot where Hubert had gone down, and kicking off his sabots and throwing down his coat and cap he leaped into the canal and, as Hubert rose for the second time, caught him and with much effort drew him to the bank.

Gerard and the bridge-tender dragged the unconscious Hubert up the steep canal bank and carried him to Vrouw Maes' house. Some one rushed for a doctor. Some one else for Hubert's folks. The neighbors all came running in to help, and it was several hours before Hubert was brought around to his senses. He was put in Gerard's attic room, and Vrouw Maes nursed him as if he were her own boy. Gerard was the hero of the hour. Hubert would undoubtedly have drowned but for him. Only a hardy little Flemish head could have stood such a knock, but Hubert mended rapidly. As soon as the doctor would allow it Hubert begged to be taken to his own home. He seemed grateful for all that the Maes family had done for him, but they saw he was anxious to get away.

Shortly after Hubert returned home he sent word to Gerard to come to see him. Gerard found him lying on a sofa by the window alone.

"I asked them all to go out of the room," said Hubert, looking up at Gerard as he stood beside him." I have something to tell you that I couldn't mention in your house; you have all been so good to me.

"Gerard," he went on, "come closer; it was I who took your violin. I climbed into the attic window when no one was about. I was so angry that I did not know what I was doing. I only knew that I could not bear to have you play at the Kermesse.

"But I did not injure the violin. I did not know what to do with it after I had taken it so I stole into the cow-shed and hid it away up under the eaves. You will find it there just above the white cow's stall. It must be safe. Nobody would ever think of looking for it there."

Gerard stood speechless. His relief was so great that he could have hugged Hubert. He forgot the wrong which had been done him, and was only conscious that he had his violin back.

"I might as well tell you everything," Hubert went on quickly, before Gerard could speak. "It was I, too, who put the water in the milk on the day of the inspection. I went into the dairy the evening before and put the water in the empty jugs. Saskia nearly caught me. I wanted to injure you, and now I hate myself every time I think of it. But here," he said, taking a little bag out of his blouse, "is the money for the fine you had to pay. I saved it up. I always meant to tell you about it some day and pay it back."

"No, no, Hubert," cried Gerard, who probably felt worse for Hubert than Hubert did for himself, "I won't take it. Don't you know that the Jufvrouw Ursula paid the fine?"

"Never mind; take it anyway. It will make up for some of the harm that I have done you and I will tell the milk inspector all about it, too. You may tell your mother and sister, but you will not tell the boys, will you?" asked Hubert, anxiously.

"I will not tell anybody but my mother," declared Gerard stoutly. "And it will make no difference between us; you can come back in the band and everything will be just the same as it used to be," he went on, for Gerard was a generous little boy.

"No, no, I know the boys suspect me," muttered Hubert: "I am going away. I am going to Tournai to live with my uncle and learn to become a carpet weaver. You have been a better friend to me than I deserve. Now go away, Gerard, and find the violin." With these words Hubert buried his face in his pillow.

Gerard tried to make Hubert take back his money, but the latter only shook his head and motioned for him to go.

As soon as Gerard arrived home he rushed to the cow-house and astonished the white cow so calmly chewing her cud by climbing up over her head. There, tucked in under the eaves, and hidden by the straw, was his beloved instrument.

True to his promise to Hubert Gerard told nobody but his mother. He merely explained to every one that his violin had been found, and that whoever had taken it had only intended to play a prank on him.

When Hubert was well enough he took Gerard and went and confessed his fault to the milk inspector. It might have gone hard with Hubert had not Gerard begged so earnestly that the authorities let him off with a good scolding. So the inspector gave it out that some enemy had watered the milk and that the Maes family were in no way to blame for it. Thus Gerard cleared himself without harm to his companion.

The members of the band may have had their suspicions when Hubert left the neighborhood, but they were loyal and kept things to themselves. Aunt Ursula asked no questions, only telling the little milk-man again and again how glad she was that he had found his violin. Gerard very much wished that he could pay back to Aunt Ursula the money she had so kindly given him, but that would be telling, so he gave it to his mother to spend as she thought best.

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