Stories of Childhood by Various


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Page 1

Nello and Patrasche were left all alone in the world.

They were friends in a friendship closer than brotherhood. Nello was a
little Ardennois,--Patrasche was a big Fleming. They were both of the
same age by length of years, yet one was still young, and the other was
already old. They had dwelt together almost all their days; both were
orphaned and destitute, and owed their lives to the same hand. It had
been the beginning of the tie between them, their first bond of
sympathy; and it had strengthened day by day, and had grown with their
growth, firm and indissoluble, until they loved one another very greatly.

Their home was a little hut on the edge of a little village,--a Flemish
village a league from Antwerp, set amidst flat breadths of pasture and
corn-lands, with long lines of poplars and of alders bending in the
breeze on the edge of the great canal which ran through it. It had about
a score of houses and homesteads, with shutters of bright green or
sky-blue, and roofs rose-red or black and white, and walls whitewashed
until they shone in the sun like snow. In the centre of the village
stood a windmill, placed on a little moss-grown slope; it was a landmark
to all the level country round. It had once been painted scarlet, sails
and all, but that had been in its infancy, half a century or more
earlier, when it had ground wheat for the soldiers of Napoleon; and it
was now a ruddy brown, tanned by wind and weather. It went queerly by
fits and starts, as though rheumatic and stiff in the joints from age,
but it served the whole neighborhood, which would have thought it almost
as impious to carry grain elsewhere, as to attend any other religious
service than the mass that was performed at the altar of the little old
gray church, with its conical steeple, which stood opposite to it, and
whose single bell rang morning, noon, and night with that strange,
subdued, hollow sadness which every bell that hangs in the Low Countries
seems to gain as an integral part of its melody.

Within sound of the little melancholy clock almost from their birth
upward, they had dwelt together, Nello and Patrasche, in the little hut
on the edge of the village, with the cathedral spire of Antwerp rising
in the northeast, beyond the great green plain of seeding grass and
spreading corn that stretched away from them like a tideless, changeless
sea. It was the hut of a very old man, of a very poor man,--of old Jehan
Daas, who in his time had been a soldier, and who remembered the wars
that had trampled the country as oxen tread down the furrows, and who
had brought from his service nothing except a wound, which had made him
a cripple.

When old Jehan Daas had reached his full eighty, his daughter had died
in the Ardennes, hard by Stavelot, and had left him in legacy her
two-year-old son. The old man could ill contrive to support himself, but
he took up the additional burden uncomplainingly, and it soon became
welcome and precious to him. Little Nello--which was but a pet
diminutive for Nicolas--throve with him, and the old man and the little
child lived in the poor little hut contentedly.

It was a very humble little mud-hut indeed, but it was clean and white
as a sea-shell, and stood in a small plot of garden-ground that yielded
beans and herbs and pumpkins. They were very poor, terribly poor,--many
a day they had nothing at all to eat. They never by any chance had
enough; to have had enough to eat would have been to have reached
paradise at once. But the old man was very gentle and good to the boy,
and the boy was a beautiful, innocent, truthful, tender-natured
creature; and they were happy on a crust and a few leaves of cabbage,
and asked no more of earth or Heaven; save indeed that Patrasche should
be always with them, since without Patrasche where would they have been?

For Patrasche was their alpha and omega; their treasury and granary;
their store of gold and wand of wealth; their bread-winner and minister;
their only friend and comforter. Patrasche dead or gone from them, they
must have laid themselves down and died likewise. Patrasche was body,
brains, hands, head, and feet to both of them: Patrasche was their very
life, their very soul. For Jehan Daas was old and a cripple, and Nello
was but a child; and Patrasche was their dog.

A dog of Flanders,--yellow of hide, large of head and limb, with
wolf-like ears that stood erect, and legs bowed and feet widened in the
muscular development wrought in his breed by many generations of hard
service. Patrasche came of a race which had toiled hard and cruelly from
sire to son in Flanders many a century,--slaves of slaves, dogs of the
people, beasts of the shafts and the harness, creatures that lived
straining their sinews in the gall of the cart, and died breaking their
hearts on the flints of the streets.

Patrasche had been born of parents who had labored hard all their days
over the sharp-set stones of the various cities and the long, shadowless,
weary roads of the two Flanders and of Brabant. He had been born to no
other heritage than those of pain and of toil. He had been fed on curses
and baptized with blows. Why not? It was a Christian country, and
Patrasche was but a dog. Before he was fully grown he had known the
bitter gall of the cart and the collar. Before he had entered his
thirteenth month he had become the property of a hardware-dealer, who
was accustomed to wander over the land north and south, from the blue
sea to the green mountains. They sold him for a small price, because he
was so young.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Fri 28th Feb 2020, 13:27