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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter17)

2006-09-08 21:26

  Chapter 17. The Man with Four Heads

  After leaving the church, the boys stopped nearby in the open marketplace, to look at the bronze statue of Laurens Janszoon Coster, who is believed by the Dutch to have been the inventor of printing. This is disputed by those who award the same honor to Johannes Gutenberg of Mayence; while many maintain that Faustus, a servant of Coster, stole his master's wooden types on a Christmas eve, when the latter was at church, and fled with his booty and his secret, to Mayence. Coster was a native of Haarlem, and the Hollanders are naturally anxious to secure the credit of the invention for their illustrious townsman. Certain it is that the first book he printed is kept by the city in a silver case wrapped in silk and is shown with great caution as a precious relic. It is said that he first conceived the idea of printing from cutting his name upon the bark of a tree and afterward pressing a piece of paper upon the characters.

  Of course, Lambert and his English friend fully discussed this subject. They also had a rather warm argument concerning another invention. Lambert declared that the honor of giving both the telescope and the microscope to the world lay between Metius and Jansen, both Hollanders, while Ben as stoutly insisted that Roger Bacon, an English monk of the thirteenth century, "wrote out the whole thing, sir, perfect descriptions of microscopes and telescopes, too, long before either of those other fellows was born."

  On one subject, however, they both agreed: that the art of curing and pickling herrings was discovered by William Beukles of Holland, and that the country did perfectly right in honoring him as a national benefactor, for its wealth and importance had been in a great measure due to its herring trade.

  "It is astonishing," said Ben, "in what prodigious quantities those fish are found. I don't know how it is here, but on the coast of England, off Yarmouth, the herring shoals have been known to be six and seven feet deep with fish."

  "That is prodigious, indeed," said Lambert, "but you know your herring is derived from the German heer, an army, on account of a way the fish have of coming in large numbers.'

  Soon afterward, while passing a cobbler's shop, Ben exclaimed, "Halloo! Lambert, here is the name of one of your greatest men over a cobbler's stall! Boerhaave. If it were only Herman Boerhaave instead of Hendrick, it would be complete."

  Lambert knit his brows reflectively, as he replied, "Boerhaave, Boerhaave! The name is perfectly familiar; I remember, too, that he was born in 1668, but the rest is all gone, as usual. There have been so many famous Hollanders, you see, that it is impossible for a fellow to know them all. What was he? Did he have two heads? Or was he one of your great, natural swimmers like Marco Polo?"

  "He had FOUR heads," answered Ben, laughing, "for he was a great physician, naturalist, botanist, and chemist. I am full of him just now, for I read his life a few weeks ago."

  "Pour out a little, then," said Lambert, "only walk faster or we shall lose sight of the other boys."

  "Well," resumed Ben, quickening his pace and looking with great interest at everything going on in the crowded street, "this Dr. Boerhaave was a great anspewker."

  "A great WHAT?" roared Lambert.

  "Oh, I beg pardon. I was thinking of that man over there with the cocked hat. He's an anspewker, isn't he?"

  "Yes. He's an aanspreeker, if that is what you mean to say. But what about your friend with the four heads?"

  "Well, as I was going to say, the doctor was left a penniless orphan at sixteen without education or friends——"

  "Jolly beginning!" interposed Lambert.

  "Now, don't interrupt. He was a poor friendless orphan at sixteen, but he was so persevering and industrious, so determined to gain knowledge, that he made his way, and in time became one of the most learned men of Europe. All the——what is that?"

  "Where? What do you mean?"

  "Why, that paper on the door opposite. Don't you see? Two or three persons are reading it. I have noticed several of these papers since I've been here."

  "Oh, that's only a health bulletin. Somebody in the house is ill, and to prevent a steady knocking at the door, the family write an account of the patient's condition on a placard and hang it outside the door, for the benefit of inquiring friends——a very sensible custom, I'm sure. Nothing strange about it that I can see. Go on, please. You said, 'All the'——and there you left me hanging."

  "I was going to say," resumed Ben, "that all the——all the——how comically persons do dress here, to be sure! Just look at those men and women with their sugarloaf hats. And see this woman ahead of us with a straw bonnet like a scoop shovel tapering to a point in the back. Did ever you see anything so funny? And those tremendous wooden shoes, too——I declare, she's a beauty?"

  "Oh, they are only back-country folk," said Lambert, rather impatiently. "You might as well let old Boerhaave drop or else shut your eyes."

  "Ha! ha! Well, I was GOING to say, all the big men of his day sought out this great professor. Even Peter the Great, when he came over to Holland from Russia to learn shipbuilding, attended his lectures regularly. By that time Boerhaave was professor of medicine and chemistry and botany in the University at Leyden. He had grown to be very wealthy as a practicing physician, but he used to say that the poor were his best patients because God would be their paymaster. All Europe learned to love and honor him. In short, he became so famous that a certain mandarin of China addressed a letter to 'the illustrious Boerhaave, physician in Europe,' and the letter found its way to him without any difficulty."

  "My goodness! That is what I call being a public character. The boys have stopped. How now, Captain van Holp, where next?"

  "We propose to move on," said Van Holp. "There is nothing to see at this season in the Bosch. The Bosch is a noble wood, Benjamin, a grand park where they have most magnificent trees, protected by law. Do you understand?"

  "Ya!" nodded Ben as the captain proceeded.

  "Unless you all desire to visit the Museum of Natural History, we may go on the grand canal again. If we had more time it would be pleasant to take Benjamin up the Blue Stairs."

  "What are the Blue Stairs, Lambert?" asked Ben.

  "They are the highest point of the Dunes. You have a grand view of the ocean from there, besides a fine chance to see how wonderful these dunes are. One can hardly believe that the wind could ever heap up sand in so remarkable a way. But we have to go through Bloemendal to get there, not a very pretty village, and some distance from here. What do you say?"

  "Oh, I am ready for anything. For my part, I would rather steer direct for Leyden, but we'll do as the captain says——hey, Jacob?"

  "Ya, dat ish goot," said Jacob, who felt decidedly more like taking a nap than ascending the Blue Stairs.

  The captain was in favor of going to Leyden.

  "It's four long miles from here. Full sixteen of your English miles, Benjamin. We have no time to lose if you wish to reach there before midnight. Decide quickly, boys——Blue Stairs or Leyden?"

  "Leyden," they answered, and were out of Haarlem in a twinkling, admiring the lofty, towerlike windmills and pretty country seats as they left the city behind them.

  "If you really wish to see Haarlem," said Lambert to Ben, after they had skated awhile in silence, "you should visit it in summer. It is the greatest place in the world for beautiful flowers. The walks around the city are superb; and the 'wood' with its miles of noble elms, all in full feather, is something to remember. You need not smile, old fellow, at my saying 'full feather.' I was thinking of waving plumes and got my words mixed up a little. But a Dutch elm beats everything; it is the noblest tree on earth, Ben——if you except the English oak."

  "Aye," said Ben solemnly, "IF you except the English oak." And for some moments he could scarcely see the canal because Robby and Jenny kept bobbing in the air before his eyes.

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