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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter32)

2006-09-08 21:31

  Chapter 32. The Crisis

  While the boys are nursing their fatigue, we will take a peep into the Brinker cottage.

  Can it be that Gretel and her mother have not stirred since we saw them last? That the sick man upon the bed has not even turned over? It was four days ago, and there is the sad group just as it was before. No, not precisely the same, for Raff Brinker is paler; his fever is gone, though he knows nothing of what is passing. Then they were alone in the bare, clean room. Now there is another group in an opposite corner.

  Dr. Boekman is there, talking in a low tone with a stout young man who listens intently. The stout young man is his student and assistant. Hans is there also. He stands near the window, respectfully waiting until he shall be accosted.

  "You see, Vollenhoven," said Dr. Boekman, "it is a clear case of——" And here the doctor went off into a queer jumble of Latin and Dutch that I cannot conveniently translate.

  After a while, as Vollenhoven looked at him rather blankly, the learned man condescended to speak to him in simpler phrase.

  "It is probably like Rip Donderdunck's case," he exclaimed in a low, mumbling tone. "He fell from the top of Voppelploot's windmill. After the accident the man was stupid and finally became idiotic. In time he lay helpless like yon fellow on the bed, moaned, too, like him, and kept constantly lifting his hand to his head. My learned friend Von Choppem performed an operation upon this Donderdunck and discovered under the skull a small dark sac, which pressed upon the brain. This had been the cause of the trouble. My friend Von Choppem removed it——a splendid operation! You see, according to Celsius——" And here the doctor again went off into Latin.

  "Did the man live?" asked the assistant respectfully.

  Dr. Boekman scowled. "That is of no consequence. I believe he died, but why not fix your mind on the grand features of the case? Consider a moment how——" And he plunged into Latin mysteries more deeply than ever.

  "But mynheer," gently persisted the student, who knew that the doctor would not rise to the surface for hours unless pulled at once from his favorite depths. "Mynheer, you have other engagements today, three legs in Amsterdam, you remember, and an eye in Broek, and that tumor up the canal."

  "The tumor can wait," said the doctor reflectively. "That is another beautiful case——a beautiful case! The woman has not lifted her head from her shoulder for two months——magnificent tumor, sir!"

  The doctor by this time was speaking aloud. He had quite forgotten where he was.

  Vollenhoven made another attempt.

  "This poor fellow on the bed, mynheer. Do you think you can save him?"

  "Ah, indeed, certainly," stammered the doctor, suddenly perceiving that he had been talking rather off the point. "Certainly, that is——I hope so."

  "If anyone in Holland can, mynheer," murmured the assistant with honest bluntness, "it is yourself."

  The doctor looked displeased, growled out a tender request for the student to talk less, and beckoned Hans to draw near.

  This strange man had a great horror of speaking to women, especially on surgical matters. "One can never tell," he said, "what moment the creatures will scream or faint." Therefore he explained Raff Brinker's case to Hans and told him what he believed should be done to save the patient.

  Hans listened attentively, growing red and pale by turns and throwing quick, anxious glances toward the bed.

  "It may KILL the father——did you say, mynheer?" he exclaimed at last in a trembling whisper.

  "It may, my boy. But I have a strong belief that it will cure and not kill. Ah! If boys were not such dunces, I could lay the whole matter before you, but it would be of no use."

  Hans looked blank at this compliment.

  "It would be of no use," repeated Dr. Boekman indignantly. "A great operation is proposed, but one might as well do it with a hatchet. The only question asked is, 'Will it kill?'"

  "The question is EVERYTHING to us, mynheer," said Hans with tearful dignity.

  Dr. Boekman looked at him in sudden dismay.

  "Ah! Exactly so. You are right, boy, I am a fool. Good boy. One does not wish one's father killed——of course I am a fool."

  "Will he die, mynheer, if this sickness goes on?"

  "Humph! This is no new illness. The same thing growing worse ever instant——pressure on the brain——will take him off soon like THAT," said the doctor, snapping his fingers.

  "And the operation MAY save him," pursued Hans. "How soon, mynheer, can we know?"

  Dr. Boekman grew impatient.

  "In a day, perhaps, an hour. Talk with your mother, boy, and let her decide. My time is short."

  Hans approached his mother; at first, when she looked up at him, he could not utter a syllable; then, turning his eyes away, he said in a firm voice, "I must speak with the mother alone."

  Quick little Gretel, who could not quite understand what was passing, threw rather an indignant look at Hans and walked away.

  "Come back, Gretel, and sit down," said Hans, sorrowfully.

  She obeyed.

  Dame Brinker and her boy stood by the window while the doctor and his assistant, bending over the bedside, conversed together in a low tone. There was no danger of disturbing the patient. He appeared like one blind and deaf. Only his faint, piteous moans showed him to be a living man. Hans was talking earnestly, and in a low voice, for he did not wish his sister to hear.

  With dry, parted lips, Dame Brinker leaned toward him, searching his face, as if suspecting a meaning beyond his words. Once she gave a quick, frightened sob that made Gretel start, but, after that, she listened calmly.

  When Hans ceased to speak, his mother turned, gave one long, agonized look at her husband, lying there so pale and unconscious, and threw herself on her knees beside the bed.

  Poor little Gretel! What did all this mean? She looked with questioning eyes at Hans; he was standing, but his head was bent as if in prayer——at the doctor. He was gently feeling her father's head and looked like one examining some curious stone——at the assistant. The man coughed and turned away——at her mother. Ah, little Gretel, that was the best you could do——to kneel beside her and twine your warm, young arms about her neck, to weep and implore God to listen.

  When the mother arose, Dr. Boekman, with a show of trouble in his eyes, asked gruffly, "Well, jufvrouw, shall it be done?"

  "Will it pain him, mynheer?" she asked in a trembling voice.

  "I cannot say. Probably not. Shall it be done?"

  "It MAY cure him, you said, and——mynheer, did you tell my boy that——perhaps——perhaps. . ." She could not finish.

  "Yes, jufvrouw, I said the patient might sink under the operation, but we hope it may prove otherwise." He looked at his watch. The assistant moved impatiently toward the window. "Come, jufvrouw, time presses. Yes or no?"

  Hans wound his arm about his mother. It was not his usual way. He even leaned his head against her shoulder.

  "The meester awaits an answer," he whispered.

  Dame Brinker had long been head of her house in every sense. Many a time she had been very stern with Hans, ruling him with a strong hand and rejoicing in her motherly discipline. NOW she felt so weak, so helpless. It was something to feel that firm embrace. There was strength even in the touch of that yellow hair.

  She turned to her boy imploringly.

  "Oh, Hans! What shall I say?"

  "Say what God tells thee, Mother," answered Hans, bowing his head.

  One quick, questioning prayer to Heaven rose from the mother's heart.

  The answer came.

  She turned toward Dr. Boekman.

  "It is right, mynheer. I consent."

  "Humph!" grunted the doctor, as if to say, "You've been long enough about it." Then he conferred a moment with his assistant, who listened with great outward deference but was inwardly rejoicing at the grand joke he would have to tell his fellow students. He had actually seen a tear in "old Boekman's" eye.

  Meanwhile Gretel looked on in trembling silence, but when she saw the doctor open a leather case and take out one sharp, gleaming instrument after another, she sprang forward.

  "Oh, Mother! The poor father meant no wrong. Are they going to MURDER him?"

  "I do not know, child," screamed Dame Brinker, looking fiercely at Gretel. "I do not know."

  "This will not do, jufvrouw," said Dr. Boekman sternly, and at the same time he cast a quick, penetrating look at Hans. "You and the girl must leave the room. The boy may stay."

  Dame Brinker drew herself up in an instant. Her eyes flashed. Her whole countenance was changed. She looked like one who had never wept, never felt a moment's weakness. Her voice was low but decided. "I stay with my husband, mynheer."

  Dr. Boekman looked astonished. His orders were seldom disregarded in this style. For an instant his eye met hers.

  "You may remain, jufvrouw," he said in an altered voice.

  Gretel had already disappeared.

  In one corner of the cottage was a small closet where her rough, boxlike bed was fastened against the wall. None would think of the trembling little creature crouching there in the dark.

  Dr. Boekman took off his heavy coat, filled an earthen basin with water, and placed it near the bed. Then turning to Hans he asked, "Can I depend upon you, boy?"

  "You can, mynheer."

  "I believe you. Stand at the head, here——your mother may sit at your right——so." And he placed a chair near the cot.

  "Remember, jufvrouw, there must be no cries, no fainting."

  Dame Brinker answered him with a look.

  He was satisfied.

  "Now, Vollenhoven."

  Oh, that case with the terrible instruments! The assistant lifted them. Gretel, who had been peering with brimming eyes through the crack of the closet door, could remain silent no longer.

  She rushed frantically across the apartment, seized her hood, and ran from the cottage.

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