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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter22)

2006-09-08 21:28

  Chapter 22. The Red Lion Becomes Dangerous

  The boys were glad to find a blazing fire awaiting them upon their return to the Red Lion. Carl and his party were there first. Soon afterward Peter and Jacob came in. They had inquired in vain concerning Dr. Boekman. All they could ascertain was that he had been seen in Haarlem that morning.

  "As for his being in Leyden," the landlord of the Golden Eagle had said to Peter, "the thing is impossible. He always lodges here when in town. By this time there would be a crowd at my door waiting to consult him. Bah! People make such fools of themselves!"

  "He is called a great surgeon," said Peter.

  "Yes, the greatest in Holland. But what of that? What of being the greatest pill choker and knife slasher in the world? The man is a bear. Only last month on this very spot, he called me a PIG, before three customers!"

  "No!" exclaimed Peter, trying to look surprised and indignant.

  "Yes, master——A PIG," repeated the landlord, puffing at his pipe with an injured air. "Bah! If he did not pay fine prices and bring customers to my house, I would sooner see him in the Vleit Canal than give him lodging."

  Perhaps mine host felt that he was speaking too openly to a stranger, or it may be he saw a smile lurking in Peter's face, for he added sharply, "Come, now, what more do you wish? Supper? Beds?"

  "No, mynheer, I am but searching for Dr. Boekman."

  "Go find him. He is not in Leyden."

  Peter was not to be put off so easily. He succeeded in obtaining permission to leave a note for the famous surgeon, or rather, he BOUGHT from his amiable landlord the privilege of writing it there, and a promise that it should be promptly delivered when Dr. Boekman arrived. This accomplished, Peter and Jacob returned to the Red Lion.

  This inn had once been a fine house, the home of a rich burgher, but having grown old and shabby, it had passed through many hands, until finally it had fallen into the possession of Mynheer Kleef. He was fond of saying as he looked up at its dingy, broken walls, "Mend it and paint it, and there's not a prettier house in Leyden." It stood six stories high from the street. The first three were of equal breadth but of various heights, the last three were in the great, high roof, and grew smaller and smaller like a set of double steps until the top one was lost in a point. The roof was built of short, shining tiles, and the windows, with their little panes, seemed to be scattered irregularly over the face of the building, without the slightest attention to outward effect. But the public room on the ground floor was the landlord's joy and pride. He never said, "Mend it and paint it," there, for everything was in the highest condition of Dutch neatness and order. If you will but open your mind's eye, you may look into the apartment.

  Imagine a large, bare room, with a floor that seemed to be made of squares cut out of glazed earthen pie-dishes, first a yellow piece, then a red, until the whole looked like a vast checkerboard. Fancy a dozen high-backed wooden chairs standing around; then a great hollow chimney place all aglow with its blazing fire, reflected a hundred times in the polished steel firedogs; a tiled hearth, tiled sides, tiled top, with a Dutch sentence upon it; and over all, high above one's head, a narrow mantleshelf, filled with shining brass candlesticks, pipe lighters, and tinderboxes. Then see, in one end of the room, three pine tables; in the other, a closet and a deal dresser. The latter is filled with mugs, dishes, pipes, tankards, earthen and glass bottles, and is guarded at one end by a brass-hooped keg standing upon long legs. Everything is dim with tobacco smoke, but otherwise as clean as soap and sand can make it.

  Next, picture two sleepy, shabby-looking men, in wooden shoes, seated near the glowing fireplace, hugging their knees and smoking short, stumpy pipes; Mynheer Kleef walking softly and heavily about, clad in leather knee breeches, felt shoes, and a green jacket wider than it is long; then throw a heap of skates in the corner and put six tired well-dressed boys, in various attitudes, upon the wooden chairs, and you will see the coffee room of the Red Lion just as it appeared at nine o'clock upon the evening of December 6, 184——. For supper, gingerbread again, slices of Dutch sausage, rye bread sprinkled with anise seed, pickles, a bottle of Utrecht water, and a pot of very mysterious coffee. The boys were ravenous enough to take all they could get and pronounce it excellent. Ben made wry faces, but Jacob declared he had never eaten a better meal. After they had laughed and talked awhile, and counted their money by way of settling a discussion that arose concerning their expenses, the captain marched his company off to bed, led on by a greasy pioneer boy who carried skates and a candlestick instead of an ax.

  One of the ill-favored men by the fire had shuffled toward the dresser and was ordering a mug of beer, just as Ludwig, who brought up the rear, was stepping from the apartment. "I don't like that fellow's eye," he whispered to Carl. "He looks like a pirate or something of that kind."

  "Looks like a granny!" answered Carl in sleepy disdain.

  Ludwig laughed uneasily.

  "Granny or no granny," he whispered, "I tell you he looks just like one of those men in the voetspoelen."

  "Pooh!" sneered Carl, "I knew it. That picture was too much for you. Look sharp now, and see if yon fellow with the candle doesn't look like the other villain."

  "No, indeed, his face is as honest as a Gouda cheese. But, I say, Carl, that really was a horrid picture."

  "Humph! What did you stare at it so long for?"

  "I couldn't help it."

  By this time the boys had reached the "beautiful room with three beds in it." A dumpy little maiden with long earrings met them at the doorway, dropped them a curtsy, and passed out. She carried a long-handled thing that resembled a frying pan with a cover.

  "I am glad to see that," said Van Mounen to Ben.

  "What?"

  "Why, the warming pan. It's full of hot ashes; she's been heating our beds."

  "Oh, a warming pan, eh! Much obliged to her, I'm sure," said Ben, too sleepy to make any further comment.

  Meantime, Ludwig still talked of the picture that had made such a strong impression upon him. He had seen it in a shop window during their walk. It was a poorly painted thing, representing two men tied back to back, standing on shipboard, surrounded by a group of seamen who were preparing to cast them together into the sea. This mode of putting prisoners to death was called voetspoelen, or feet washing, and was practiced by the Dutch upon the pirates of Dunkirk in 1605; and again by the Spaniards against the Dutch, in the horrible massacre that followed the siege of Haarlem. Bad as the painting was, the expression upon the pirates' faces was well given. Sullen and despairing as they seemed, they wore such a cruel, malignant aspect that Ludwig had felt a secret satisfaction in contemplating their helpless condition. he might have forgotten the scene by this time but for that ill-looking man by the fire. Now, while he capered about, boylike, and threw himself with an antic into his bed, he inwardly hoped that the voetspoelen would not haunt his dreams.

  It was a cold, cheerless room; a fire had been newly kindled in the burnished stove and seemed to shiver even while it was trying to burn. The windows, with their funny little panes, were bare and shiny, and the cold waxed floor looked like a sheet of yellow ice. Three rush-bottomed chairs stood stiffly against the wall, alternating with three narrow wooden bedsteads that made the room look like the deserted ward of a hospital. At any other time the boys would have found it quite impossible to sleep in pairs, especially in such narrow quarters, but tonight they lost all fear of being crowded and longed only to lay their weary bodies upon the feather beds that lay lightly upon each cot. Had the boys been in Germany instead of Holland, they might have been covered, also, by a bed of down or feathers. This peculiar form of luxury was at that time adopted only by wealthy or eccentric Hollanders.

  Ludwig, as we have seen, had not quite lost his friskiness, but the other boys, after one or two feeble attempts at pillow firing, composed themselves for the night with the greatest dignity. Nothing like fatigue for making boys behave themselves!

  "Good night, boys!" said Peter's voice from under the covers.

  "Good night," called back everybody but Jacob, who already lay snoring beside the captain.

  "I say," shouted Carl after a moment, "don't sneeze, anybody. Ludwig's in a fright!"

  "No such thing," retorted Ludwig in a smothered voice. Then there was a little whispered dispute, which was ended by Carl saying, "For my part, I don't know what fear is. But you really are a timid fellow, Ludwig."

  Ludwig grunted sleepily, but made no further reply.

  It was the middle of the night. The fire had shivered itself to death, and, in place of its gleams, little squares of moonlight lay upon the floor, slowly, slowly shifting their way across the room. Something else was moving also, but the boys did not see it. Sleeping boys keep but a poor lookout. During the early hours of the night, Jacob Poot had been gradually but surely winding himself with all the bed covers. He now lay like a monster chrysalis beside the half-frozen Peter, who, accordingly, was skating with all his might over the coldest, bleakest of dreamland icebergs.

  Something else, I say, besides the moonlight, was moving across the bare, polished floor——moving not quite so slowly, but quite as stealthily.

  Wake up, Ludwig! The voetspoelen is growing real!

  No. Ludwig does not waken, but he moans in his sleep.

  Does not Carl hear it——Carl the brave, the fearless?

  No. Carl is dreaming of the race.

  And Jacob? Van Mounen? Ben?

  Not they. They, too, are dreaming of the race, and Katrinka is singing through their dreams——laughing, flitting past them; now and then a wave from the great organ surges through their midst.

  Still the thing moves, slowly, slowly.

  Peter! Captain Peter, there is danger!

  Peter heard no call, but in his dream, he slid a few thousand feet from one iceberg to another, and the shock awoke him.

  Whew! How cold he was! He gave a hopeless, desperate tug at the chrysalis in vain. Sheet, blanket, and spread were firmly wound around Jacob's inanimate form.

  Clear moonlight, he thought. We shall have pleasant weather tomorrow. Halloo! What's that?

  He saw the moving thing, or rather something black crouching upon the floor, for it had halted as Peter stirred.

  He watched in silence.

  Soon it moved again, nearer and nearer. It was a man crawling upon hands and feet!

  The captain's first impulse was to call out, but he took an instant to consider matters.

  The creeper had a shining knife in one hand. This was ugly, but Peter was naturally self-possessed. When the head turned, Peter's eyes were closed as if in sleep, but at other times, nothing could be keener, sharper than the captain's gaze.

  Closer, closer crept the robber. His back was very near Peter now. The knife was laid softly upon the floor. One careful arm reached forth stealthily to drag the clothes from the chair by the captain's bed——the robbery was commenced.

  Now was Peter's time! Holding his breath, he sprang up and leaped with all his strength upon the robber's back, stunning the rascal with the force of the blow. To seize the knife was but a second's work. The robber began to struggle, but Peter sat like a giant astride the prostrate form.

  "If you stir," said the brave boy in as terrible a voice as he could command, "stir but one inch, I will plunge this knife into your neck. Boys! Boys! Wake up!" he shouted, still pressing down the black head and holding the knife at pricking distance. "Give us a hand! I've got him!"

  The chrysalis rolled over, but made no other sign.

  "Up, boys!" cried Peter, never budging. "Ludwig! Lambert! Donder! Are you all dead?"

  Dead? Not they! Van Mounen and Ben were on their feet in an instant.

  "Hey! What now?" they shouted.

  "I've got a robber here," said Peter coolly. "Lie still, you scoundrel, or I'll slice your head off! Now, boys, cut out your bed cord——plenty of time——he's a dead man if he stirs."

  Peter felt that he weighed a thousand pounds. So he did, with that knife in his hand.

  The man growled and swore but dared not move.

  Ludwig was up by this time. He had a great jackknife, the pride of his heart, in his breeches pocket. It could do good service now. They bared the bedstead in a moment. It was laced backward and forward with a rope.

  "I'll cut it," cried Ludwig, sawing away at the knot. "Hold him tight, Peter!"

  "Never fear!" answered the captain, giving the robber a warning prick.

  The boys were soon pulling at the rope like good fellows. It was out at last——a long, stout piece.

  "Now, boys," commanded the captain, "lift up his rascally arms! Cross his hands over his back! That's right——excuse me for being in the way——tie them tight!"

  "Yes, and his feet too, the villain!" cried the boys in great excitement, tying knot after knot with Herculean jerks.

  The prisoner changed his tone.

  "Oh——oh!" he moaned. "Spare a poor sick man——I was but walking in my sleep."

  "Ugh!" grunted Lambert, still tugging away at the rope. "Asleep, were you? Well, we'll wake you up."

  The man muttered fierce oaths between his teeth, then cried in a piteous voice, "Unbind me, good young masters! I have five little children at home. By Saint Bavon I swear to give you each a ten-guilder piece if you will but free me!"

  "Ha! ha!" laughed Peter.

  "Ha! ha!" laughed the other boys.

  Then came threats, threats that made Ludwig fairly shudder, though he continued to bind and tie with redoubled energy.

  "Hold up, mynheer housebreaker," said Van Mounen in a warning voice. "That knife is very near your throat. If you make the captain nervous, there is no telling what may happen."

  The robber took the hint, and fell into a sullen silence.

  Just at this moment the chrysalis upon the bed stirred and sat erect.

  "What's the matter?" he asked, without opening his eyes.

  "Matter!" echoed Ludwig, half trembling, half laughing. "Get up, Jacob. Here's work for you. Come sit on this fellow's back while we get into our clothes, we're half perished."

  "What fellow? Donder!"

  "Hurrah for Poot!" cried all the boys as Jacob, sliding quickly to the floor, bedclothes and all, took in the state of affairs at a glance and sat heavily beside Peter on the robber's back.

  Oh, didn't the fellow groan then!

  "No use in holding him down any longer, boys," said Peter, rising, but bending as he did so to draw a pistol from the man's belt. "You see I've been keeping a guard over this pretty little weapon for the last ten minutes. It's cocked, and the least wriggle might have set it off. No danger now. I must dress myself. You and I, Lambert, will go for the police. I'd no idea it was so cold."

  "Where is Carl?" asked one of the boys.

  They looked at one another. Carl certainly was not among them.

  "Oh!" cried Ludwig, frightened at last. "Where is he? Perhaps he's had a fight with the robber and got killed."

  "Not a bit of it," said Peter quietly as he buttoned his stout jacket. "Look under the beds."

  They did so. Carl was not there.

  Just then they heard a commotion on the stairway. Ben hastened to open the door. The landlord almost tumbled in; he was armed with a big blunderbuss. Two or three lodgers followed; then the daughter, with an upraised frying pan in one hand and a candle in the other; and behind her, looking pale and frightened, the gallant Carl!

  "There's your man, mine host," said Peter, nodding toward the prisoner.

  Mine host raised his blunderbuss, the girl screamed, and Jacob, more nimble than usual, rolled quickly from the robber's back.

  "Don't fire," cried Peter, "he is tied, hand and foot. Let's roll him over and see what he looks like."

  Carl stepped briskly forward, with a bluster, "Yes. We'll turn him over in a way he won't like. Lucky we've caught him!"

  "Ha! ha!" laughed Ludwig. "Where were you, Master Carl?"

  "Where was I?" retorted Carl angrily. "Why, I went to give the alarm, to be sure!"

  All the boys exchanged glances, but they were too happy and elated to say anything ill-natured. Carl certainly was bold enough now. He took the lead while three others aided him in turning the helpless man.

  While the robber lay faceup, scowling and muttering, Ludwig took the candlestick from the girl's hand.

  "I must have a good look at the beauty," he said, drawing closer, but the words were no sooner spoken than he turned pale and started so violently that he almost dropped the candle.

  "The voetspoelen!" he cried! "Why, boys, it's the man who sat by the fire!"

  "Of course it is," answered Peter. "We counted out money before him like simpletons. But what have we to do with voetspoelen, brother Ludwig? A month in jail is punishment enough."

  The landlord's daughter had left the room. She now ran in, holding up a pair of huge wooden shoes. "See, father," she cried, "here are his great ugly boats. It's the man that we put in the next room after the young masters went to bed. Ah! It was wrong to send the poor young gentlemen up here so far out of sight and sound."

  "The scoundrel!" hissed the landlord. "He has disgraced my house. I go for the police at once!"

  In less than fifteen minutes two drowsy-looking officers were in the room. After telling Mynheer Kleef that he must appear early in the morning with the boys and make his complaint before a magistrate, they marched off with their prisoner.

  One would think the captain and his band could have slept no more that night, but the mooring has not yet been found that can prevent youth and an easy conscience from drifting down the river of dreams. The boys were much too fatigued to let so slight a thing as capturing a robber bind them to wakefulness. They were soon in bed again, floating away to strange scenes made of familiar things. Ludwig and Carl had spread their bedding upon the floor. One had already forgotten the voetspoelen, the race——everything; but Carl was wide-awake. He heard the carillons ringing out their solemn nightly music and the watchman's noisy clapper putting in discord at the quarter hours; he saw the moonshine glide away from the window and the red morning light come pouring in, and all the while he kept thinking, Pooh! what a goose I have made of myself!

  Carl Schummel, alone, with none to look or to listen, was not quite so grand a fellow as Carl Schummel strutting about in his boots.

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