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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter37)

2006-09-08 21:33

  Chapter 37. The Father's Return

  That evening Raff Brinker felt so much better that he insisted upon sitting up for a while on the rough high-backed chair by the fire. For a few moments there was quite a commotion in the little cottage. Hans was all-important on the occasion, for his father was a heavy man and needed something firm to lean upon. The dame, though none of your fragile ladies, was in such a state of alarm and excitement at the bold step they were taking in lifting him without the meester's orders that she came near pulling her husband over, even while she believed herself to be his main prop and support.

  "Steady, vrouw, steady," panted Raff. "Have I grown old and feeble, or is it the fever makes me thus helpless?"

  "Hear the man!"——Dame Brinker laughed——"talking like any other Christian! Why, you're only weak from the fever, Raff. Here's the chair, all fixed snug and warm. Now, sit thee down——hi-di-didy——there we are!"

  With these words Dame Brinker let her half of the burden settle slowly into the chair. Hans prudently did the same.

  Meanwhile Gretel flew about generally, bringing every possible thing to her mother to tuck behind the father's back and spread over his knees. Then she twitched the carved bench under his feet, and Hans kicked the fire to make it brighter.

  The father was sitting up at last. What wonder that he looked about him like one bewildered. "Little Hans" had just been almost carrying him. "The baby" was over four feet long and was demurely brushing up the hearth with a bundle of willow wisps. Meitje, the vrouw, winsome and fair as ever, had gained at least fifty pounds in what seemed to him a few hours. She also had some new lines in her face that puzzled him. The only familiar things in the room were the pine table that he had made before he was married, the Bible upon the shelf, and the cupboard in the corner.

  Ah! Raff Brinker, it was only natural that your eyes should fill with hot tears even while looking at the joyful faces of your loved ones. Ten years dropped from a man's life are no small loss; ten years of manhood, of household happiness and care; ten years of honest labor, of conscious enjoyment of sunshine and outdoor beauty, ten years of grateful life——one day looking forward to all this; the next, waking to find them passed and a blank. What wonder the scalding tears dropped one by one upon your cheek!

  Tender little Gretel! The prayer of her life was answered through those tears. She LOVED her father silently at that moment. Hans and his mother glanced silently at each other when they saw her spring toward him and throw her arms about his neck.

  "Father, DEAR Father," she whispered, pressing her cheek close to his, "don't cry. We are all here."

  "God bless thee," sobbed Raff, kissing her again and again. "I had forgotten that!"

  Soon he looked up again and spoke in a cheerful voice. "I should know her, vrouw," he said, holding the sweet young face between his hands and gazing at it as though he were watching it grow. "I should know her. The same blue eyes and the lips, and ah! me, the little song she could sing almost before she could stand. But that was long ago," he added, with a sigh, still looking at her dreamily. "Long ago; it's all gone now."

  "Not so, indeed," cried Dame Brinker eagerly. "Do you think I would let her forget it? Gretel, child, sing the old song thou hast known so long!"

  Raff Brinker's hand fell wearily and his eyes closed, but it was something to see the smile playing about his mouth as Gretel's voice floated about him like incense.

  It was a simple air; she had never known the words.

  With loving instinct she softened every note, until Raff almost fancied that his two-year-old baby was once more beside him.

  As soon as the song was finished, Hans mounted a wooden stool and began to rummage in the cupboard.

  "Have a care, Hans," said Dame Brinker, who through all her poverty was ever a tidy housewife. "Have a care, the wine is there at your right and the white bread beyond it."

  "Never fear, Mother," answered Hans, reaching far back on an upper shelf. "I shall do no mischief."

  Jumping down, he walked toward his father and placed an oblong block of pine wood in his hands. One of its ends was rounded off, and some deep cuts had been made on the top.

  "Do you know what that is, Father?" asked Hans.

  Raff Brinker's face brightened. "Indeed I do, boy! It is the boat I was making you yest——alack, not yesterday, but years ago."

  "I have kept it ever since, Father. It can be finished when your hand grows strong again."

  "Yes, but not for you, my lad. I must wait for the grandchildren. Why, you are nearly a man. Have you helped your mother through all these years?"

  "Aye and bravely," put in Dame Brinker.

  "Let me see," muttered the father, looking in a puzzled way at them all, "how long is it since the night when the waters were coming in? 'Tis the last I remember."

  "We have told thee true, Raff. It was ten years last Pinxter week."

  "Ten years——and I fell then, you say? Has the fever been on me ever since?"

  Dame Brinker scarcely knew how to reply. Should she tell him all? Tell him that he had been an idiot, almost a lunatic? The doctor had charged her on no account to worry or excite his patient.

  Hans and Gretel looked astonished.

  "Like enough, Raff," she said, nodding her head and raising her eyebrows. "When a heavy man like thee falls on his head, it's hard to say what will come——but thou'rt well NOW, Raff. Thank the good Lord!"

  The newly awakened man bowed his head.

  "Aye, well enough, mine vrouw," he said after a moment's silence, "but my brain turns somehow like a spinning wheel. It will not be right till I get on the dikes again. When shall I be at work, think you?"

  "Hear the man!" cried Dame Brinker, delighted, yet frightened, too, for that matter. "We must get him on the bed, Hans. Work indeed!"

  They tried to raise him from the chair, but he was not ready yet.

  "Be off with ye!" he said with something like his old smile (Gretel had never seen it before). "Does a man want to be lifted about like a log? I tell you before three suns I shall be on the dikes again. Ah! There'll be some stout fellows to greet me. Jan Kamphuisen and young Hoogsvliet. They have been good friends to thee, Hans, I'll warrant."

  Hans looked at his mother. Young Hoogsvliet had been dead five years. Jan Kamphuisen was in the jail at Amsterdam.

  "Aye, they'd have done their share no doubt," said Dame Brinker, parrying the inquiry, "had we asked them. But what with working and studying, Hans has been busy enough without seeking comrades."

  "Working and studying," echoed Raff, in a musing tone. "Can the youngsters read and cipher, Meitje?"

  "You should hear them!" she answered proudly. "They can run through a book while I mop the floor. Hans there is as happy over a page of big words as a rabbit in a cabbage patch; as for ciphering——"

  "Here, lad, help a bit," interrupted Raff Brinker. "I must get me on the bed again."

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