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Gerard Our Little
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GERARD and his little friends began to make their preparations for going to the Kermesse. Their parents had all given their consent as soon as they learned that the school-master had promised to go with the boys to see that they did not get into mischief.
Helda was the only one who had any troubles left. She, too, wanted very much to go to the Kermesse. How could it be managed? She knew that it was useless to worry Aunt Ursula about it, but the good lady knew well what Helda had on her mind, for though she was usually as lively and chirpy as a bird she now went about with a very thoughtful and sad face. Aunt Ursula said nothing, thinking it better to let Helda find a way out of her difficulty herself.
After much thought Helda wrote a very blotty, but nice, little letter to her family asking why her papa and mamma would not like to go to the Kermesse and take her along, too. She then carefully directed the envelope to Mynheer Shorel, Bruges, and dropped it into the letter box by the great gate of the Beguinage.
But alas! Papa Shorel wrote back and said that while he would like nothing better than to give his little daughter pleasure and that he and her mamma would enjoy seeing a Kermesse again but -- and it was a big BUT -- he was just in the midst of curing the flax and Helda would know how busy they all were, and that neither he nor her mamma could think of leaving home just at the present time.
Helda sighed. Yes, it was so. She had forgotten how very busy every one was at the time of drying out the flax before it was put away in the big storage lofts behind the house.
Helda's mother reread the letter and smiled over it and thoughtfully set about to work out a plan. Helda's brother, Dirk, was soon coming home from Antwerp, and he might stop on his way and take his little sister for a day to the Kermesse. This decided, Vrouw Shorel wrote a letter to Dirk and a letter to Helda, and you can imagine what a happy little girl Helda was when she learned how it had all been arranged.
Just before the Kermesse Dirk came. He had grown so tall and looked to Helda so like a grown man, and he probably felt that he was one too, though he was only fifteen. Helda thought he was a wonderful brother as she listened to his tales about Antwerp, the fine old city, with its beautiful old cathedral with its tall tower and the old buildings and the valuable pictures. Ships come and go from every port of the world to the very city gates. Helda listened attentively as Dirk told of the great warehouses and the wealthy merchants and valuable cargoes from over-seas that were piled up on the quays. Dirk himself had walked between piles of ivory tusks of elephants, out of which all sorts of ivory things were carved, and had seen bales and bales of rubber from the great African forests.
Dirk said that when he had finished school he was going to work in the office of one of the great Antwerp merchants who dealt in rubber. "These merchants of Antwerp are rich men," said Dirk. "I am going to be a merchant in Antwerp myself some day, and Helda, you can come and live with me and keep house for me," finished up the big boy, grandly. And, of course, Helda said she would, and forgot for the time all about her wish to become a Beguine.
On the day of the Kermesse there were no laggards at the train that was to take them to Ostend. The little band had clubbed together to share all the expenses and buy the tickets. The train was crowded with holiday-makers for the Kermesse at Ostend was always a very popular event, the city being situated right on the sea. It was with some little difficulty that all our little friends found seats but finally they were all placed. Dirk and Helda with Saskia, whom Helda had brought with them. Gerard hugged his violin case in his arms, and the rest of the boys, with freshly scrubbed faces and in their best clothes, fairly brimmed over with glee.
It was not long before they were at Ostend. Everything was very gay, everywhere were garlands and flags flying. Booths were set up on either side of the streets and there were tents for the dancers in the middle of all the Kooters. Already there were such crowds swinging up and down the streets that the children found if hard to make their way and keep together. Gerard would never have been able to find his way but for the help of the school-master, who piloted him to the tent where he was to play for the dancing. Here Gerard was installed on a high wooden seat half hidden in the greenery and bunting and soon began to play to let the people know that the dancing was about to commence. He felt a little strange at first, especially when his friend the school-master had to hurry away to look after the rest of the parry, but as soon as he drew his bow across the violin all his shyness left him and he played away so merrily that the couples at once began to come into the tent and take their places on the sand-strewn floor.
Meanwhile, after listening to Gerard for a time, Dirk and Helda and Saskia joined hands to keep from becoming separated and wandered about just bent on having a good time. There were the usual amusements to be found at a Belgian Kermesse, merry-go-rounds, shooting galleries, places where fortunes were told, noisy mechanical melodeons grinding out popular Flemish airs, and everywhere were stacks and stacks of brown gingerbread.
It all seemed very marvellous to the children. Dirk was at first a little high and mighty, and tried to tell them how much better it was all done in Antwerp, but he soon forgot his dignity and entered into all the fun with as much glee as did Helda and Saskia.
When it was time for luncheon they went back for Gerard, who was then released from his duties until later on in the afternoon.
The whole party gathered on the beach where they ate the lunch which they had brought with them, and afterwards walked up and down the Digue, a splendid promenade, or walk, which runs for more than a mile along the shore, lined on one side by magnificent villas and hotels.
The best part of the day for the children was when the Archery Clubs began their practice. There are numbers of clubs of archers in Belgium to-day, as there have been for long years, for, in the old days, the Belgian archers were a famous body of fighters. They defended their country from invasion for hundreds of years.
"Are they not fine?" exclaimed Helda, as the archers were drawn up on the shooting field before their targets.
The archers wore green jerkins, or belted-in coats, leather knee breeches and buskins, and little bonnets, or caps, of green, with a feather on one side, were set jauntily on their heads. Each archer carried a long bow just like the bows with which the ancient archers were equipped, and slung over the shoulder was a leather case, or quiver, which held the arrows.
By this time Gerard was playing to a much bigger crowd than in the morning. Presently he saw a tall man with long black hair brushed back from the forehead watching him from the other side of the tent. It was the same man who had been beside the Burgomaster at the band competition.
When the dance was finished the tall man walked over to Gerard and said, "So you are a violinist as well as the leader of a band, my little man. Who taught you to play the violin?"
Gerard then told him of his struggles to become a musician and how he loved music, and how it was the dream of his life to be able to study under the great master at Brussels.
The man's rather severe face softened as the little boy poured out his story.
"You must have the chance," he said, when Gerard had finished his tale. "You play better than you know, my little fellow."
He then took a card out of his pocket and wrote something on it and handed it to Gerard. Gerard gasped when he read the name on the card. It was that of the great violinist of Brussels. Not only the best in Belgium, but one of the best in the world.
"You know that name, eh? " continued the tall man with half a smile.
Did Gerard know it? Did not every music lover in Belgium know it?
"Well, you must come to me in Brussels and I will see that you become the violinist that you wish to be. It will cost you nothing, and I can soon put you in the way of earning money. Now talk it over at home. The directions on the card will tell you how to find me when you are ready to come to Brussels. No, don't thank me" -- as Gerard began to stammer -- "I am always looking for boys such as you. I see they are waiting for you to begin again, so good-by for the present, and don't forget."
Before Gerard could utter a word the tall man had gone. Gerard was dazed. How he went on playing he never knew. Was this really he, little Gerard Maes? Was it not all a dream?
How the school-master ever managed to get his little charges together again is difficult to tell, but it was finally accomplished and at dusk the weary but happy little party of young folks found themselves on the train homeward bound.
Some had their pockets stuffed with knickknacks which they had bought. Dirk had a walking stick and Helda had bought a gingerbread lion for Aunt Ursula. Karel had cut his thumb on a wonderful knife he had bought, and every one had more or less sticky fingers and faces.
It was a sleepy lot that finally separated to go to their homes that night, but Gerard and his mother sat up very late talking seriously together.
Did Gerard's dream come true? Yes, it did. Gerard did go to Brussels to study with the great violinist who had befriended him, and Aunt Ursula loaned him enough money so that his mother might hire some one to help her in his stead.
Gerard studied diligently in Brussels under his master, and worked so hard that he was soon able to play at important concerts when he commenced to make money seriously.
The very first money that he earned he sent to Aunt Ursula to repay her loan, and he was soon able to send some to his mother, too, but the first time that he had any left over for himself he bought a fine, young, strong dog for the cart so that good, faithful old Hugo could rest from his long hard work and sleep on a mat before the door and do nothing, like a real house dog.
Little Helda's dream came true, too. She made great progress in her work and became a maker of beautiful lace like Aunt Ursula, so that the visitors who came to buy lace of the Groot Jufvrouw almost always chose some from the stock made by Helda.
And you will be glad to know that the little band prospered under Karel's leadership, and that Hubert became an excellent carpet weaver and a fine young fellow.
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