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THE BAND COMPETITION
GERARD had a happy smile on his face one morning soon after the adventure in the Kooter. It was the first time since that unhappy day. He had great news for his friends at the Beguinage. There was to be a "concours," or competition, of bands from all over the country to be held at Ghent, and prizes had been offered by the Burgomaster, and Mynheer Porbus, the great musician, had offered one for the best boys' band.
Gerard had already called a meeting of the " Leuw van Vlaanderen " to decide what was to be done. Among those present was fat, red-faced Karel, who blew the big horn, and Bernard, the trombone player, and little Boons, who beat the big drum. Hubert was also there, and a number of others who were just ordinary, good-natured little Flemish boys. All the members of the band were for entering thecompetition, save Hubert alone, who mocked at the idea.
"Why, Jan Trynk's band has a better chance of winning than we," he said contemptuously. Now every one knew that Jan Trynk's band was the worst in the whole neighborhood and Gerard and his fellows became very indignant.
"Why, ducks couldn't keep time to their music," said Bernard, jealous of their own fine playing.
"If each will only do his best and always be on hand for the practising I don't see why we shouldn't stand as good a chance of winning the prize as any other of the boys' bands," declared Gerard, valiantly.
The boys knew that this was largely meant for Hubert, who could really play well, but was too lazy to work hard and shirked his practice every chance he could.
Finally it was decided that the Leuw van Vlaanderen should compete for the prize offered the young people's bands. There was a chance to win not only a medal but a sum of money as well. Never did Gerard work so hard. He was up at the earliest gleam of daylight so as to be able to get his regular duties over the sooner that he might have an extra hour for practising. He drilled and drilled his little company with untiring energy and patience. He hunted up laggards and would take no excuses for absence. Twice a day they must meet for practice, after the midday meal, and again in the evening when the day's work was done.
"Gerard will be the death of us," gasped little, round fat Karel, the horn-blower, one afternoon. "I am blown to pieces," he added, wiping his hot perspiring face.
"He will make himself ill, I fear, if he goes on like this," Vrouw Maes said to Aunt Ursula at market one morning, as she was sitting under a big umbrella with her baskets of vegetables piled up around her and Hugo sleeping on his piece of carpet beside the cart.
"Gerard is ambitious. It is a good sign in so young a lad. He is healthy and strong and I think he will continue to do his work as well as before, and even if he does not get the prize for his band the stimulus of having tried for it will be of use to him in the future," said Aunt Ursula by the way of encouragement to Gerard's mother. Aunt Ursula was a good friend to Gerard and always stood up for him.
"I know he will win the prize," exclaimed little Helda, who really thought no one could play like Gerard, and had great faith in his leadership of the band.
Helda and her aunt had just come from the flower-market, and Helda carried a lovely basket of blossoms. They were intended to help decorate the church of the Beguinage on the following Sunday. There are most beautiful gardens around Ghent, and acres of green-houses where rare flowers are grown under glass.
At last the great day came. Gerard's band was to meet in the Kooter of their little village and take the tramway into Ghent. Long before the appointed hour the boys were all in their places, scrubbed and brushed until their little, round faces fairly shone, and dressed in their Sunday best with their instruments all nicely polished. The village folk shouted good luck to them as they left.
At the Beguinage Helda was almost as excited as if she were to play in the band herself. She and Aunt Ursula started early for the Kooter in order to get good places.
The stands on which the bands were to play had been erected in the middle of the square and nearby there were seats for the Burgomaster and the Judges. Everywhere Belgian flags were flying and garlands of flowers and bright-colored streamers were hung from the trees which bordered the square.
Helda and her aunt found good places in a row of chairs nearest the band-stand. It was great fun for Helda to watch the crowd as it gathered. Every one was in his best holiday suit and wore his, or her, best, smiling, holiday countenance.
Around the edge of the Kooter there were many little booths, all gaily decorated, which sold cold drinks and sweets and food of various kinds.
Soon the various bands began to gather. They marched up with banners and flags flying in the breeze, and fifes and drums making a terrific noise. As the friends of each particular band would recognize it they would set up a great Hip! hip! hurrah! in Flemish, cheering until they were hoarse.
Soon the young people's bands began to arrive on the scene. Helda was craning her neck in every direction trying to find Gerard's band among them. "Child, you will tire yourself out before the music begins," chided Aunt Ursula, though actually she was almost as excited as Helda herself.
"Here they come!" cried Helda, jumping up on her chair that she might see better.
The little band was marching bravely across the Kooter, its standard bearer at the fore, holding aloft their yellow banner, which, as it waved in the breeze, showed a big red lion and the words: "Leuw van Vlaanderen" in big letters.
"Oh! are not Gerard and the boys splendid?" cried Helda, clapping her hands.
The crowd in the Kooter gave an extra cheer as Gerard and his band came up, for the boys were the youngest of any who were to compete that day. The boys of our little band, too, were mostly poor boys and were not able to have nice bright uniforms like many of the others. All they could afford in the way of a decoration was a sash of ribbon of the Belgian colors, red, yellow and black; but they all wore well polished shoes, in place of their every-day sabots.
The members of some of the other bands smiled rather contemptuously at the get-up of Gerard and his allies while one set of young fellows, all rigged out in fine new green uniforms with red facings and gold buttons, snickered and nudged one another significantly. This particular boys' band had a long row of medals hung from the top of their banner, which they had won in previous competitions.
The little "Lions of Flanders" did not care a bit for the sneers. "Wait and see who can play the best; that will be the real test," they said to themselves over and over again. What difference did it make if there was but one silver medal hanging from their banner (that which they had won from Jan Trynk's band) there was room for all the more. Gerard felt that they had put their very best efforts into the practising and that they would surely win unless something went wrong; and when little boys and girls feel that way about a thing they are usually right.
The Burgomaster and the judges took their seats on the platform and the Kooter was so crowded with people that one could scarcely breathe freely. Some one got up and made a long speech, and, finally, the Burgomaster rose and gave the signal for the music to begin.
Band after band in gay uniforms mounted the platform in turn. There was a great blowing of trumpets and beating of drums, followed by a great clapping of hands and "bravos" in Flemish as each band finished its performance.
Gerard's band being the youngest, came last, but, in a way, this was to their advantage. They looked a fine lot of sturdy little fellows in their grey linen blouses and peaked caps as Gerard marshalled them into place, their Lion of Flanders flag in their midst.
They gave a military salute to the Burgomaster and judges and began tuning up. Most of the boys were a bit nervous and Karel blew out his horn so many times that Bernard nudged him and told him to stop or the people would think he was a bellows.
At last Gerard gave the signal with his baton and with a triumphal burst the band began to play one of the most popular Flemish airs. Never had they played better. Never had Gerard led his band with such a fiery determination. Such a round of applause as greeted them when they had finished; it was the loudest of the day!
There was a long wait while the judges put their heads together and compared notes. Helda grasped her aunt's hand tightly, and even Aunt Ursula herself was manifestly anxious. Gerard breathed hard, but did not dare look towards where his mother and little Saskia were sitting. Would the judges never get through talking and nodding their heads so seriously?
At last the Burgomaster arose. You could have heard a leaf stir. Then he slowly put on his glasses and glanced at a paper in his hand and began to slowly read out the names of the prize-winners. There was a gold medal to be awarded, one of silver and one of bronze. The grown-up bands came first, of course, and each name was received with cheers from its friends, and some growls, too, from the dissatisfied ones. Finally the Burgomaster reached the juvenile bands.
"It is with great pleasure," he began pompously, -- "Oh! how slowly he talks," cried out Helda, softly -- "it is with much pleasure -- ahem -- that I announce to you here from this platform that the gold medal, and an additional cash prize of fifty francs, for the boys' bands, has been awarded to the youngest of our 'Circles,' the 'Leuw van Vlaanderen.' "
Gerard was as if rooted to the spot where he stood, but some one gave him a push forward toward the platform and he managed to stammer out a simple "Thank you," to the Burgomaster, and make a low bow to the judges. The Burgomaster handed him their hard-earned prize, and somehow or other Gerard got back to his place when the boys flung themselves upon him in great joy, all laughing and talking.
Then Gerard became conscious that his mother and Saskia and Helda and Aunt Ursula were surrounding him, all laughing and crying at the same time.
Wasn't Gerard a hero! Well, you may be sure of it. He was the happiest little boy in all Flanders at that moment. The judges called up all the members of the little band and shook hands with them. On the stand was a tall man with long black hair flung back from his forehead who patted Gerard on the shoulder and said that it was easy to see that he was a born musician. Some one told him afterwards that this was the great violinist from Brussels. With bands trembling with joy Gerard fastened the medal on the banner where it hung proudly above the Red Lion.
When they started for home Gerard was surprised to find that Hubert was not there, and though he looked around everywhere for him he could not be found, so they were obliged to leave without him.
The truth was Hubert felt so miserable and jealous when he saw Gerard, his rival, walk up to receive the medal from the Burgomaster and the congratulations of the judges, that he slipped away so that he might hide his anger and disappointment.
Hubert's pride in his music had helped him to play through his part well, but he could bear Gerard's triumph no longer, for he knew, as did everyone, that the real credit for the band's excellent performance belonged to its little leader.
Gerard knew exactly what was the matter when he found Hubert missing, and it almost spoiled his pleasure for a moment, but in the excitement of getting the tram back to their village and the congratulations of his friends Hubert was forgotten.
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