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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter41)

2006-09-08 21:37

  Chapter 41. The Fairy Godmother

  The sun had gone down quite out of sight when our hero——with a happy heart but with something like a sneer on his countenance as he jerked off the wooden "runners"——trudged hopefully toward the tiny hutlike building, known of old as the "idiot's cottage."

  Duller eyes than his would have discerned two slight figures moving near the doorway.

  That gray well-patched jacket and the dull blue skirt covered with an apron of still duller blue, that faded close-fitting cap, and those quick little feet in their great boatlike shoes, they were Gretel's of course. He would have known them anywhere.

  That bright coquettish red jacket, with its pretty skirt, bordered with black, that graceful cap bobbing over the gold earrings, that dainty apron, and those snug leather shoes that seemed to have grown with the feet——why if the Pope of Rome had sent them to him by express, Hans could have sworn they were Annie's.

  The two girls were slowly pacing up and down in front of the cottage. Their arms were entwined, of course, and their heads were nodding and shaking as emphatically as if all the affairs of the kingdom were under discussion.

  With a joyous shout Hans hastened toward them.

  "Huzza, girls, I've found work!"

  This brought his mother to the cottage door.

  She, too, had pleasant tidings. The father was still improving. He had been sitting up nearly all day and was now sleeping as Dame Brinker declared, "Just as quiet as a lamb."

  "It is my turn now, Hans," said Annie, drawing him aside after he had told his mother the good word from Mynheer van Holp. "Your skates are sold, and here's the money."

  "Seven guilders!" cried Hans, counting the pieces in astonishment. "Why, that is three times as much as I paid for them."

  "I cannot help that," said Annie. "If the buyer knew no better, that is not our fault."

  Hans looked up quickly.

  "Oh, Annie!"

  "Oh, Hans!" she mimicked, pursing her lips, and trying to look desperately wicked and unprincipled.

  "Now, Annie, I know you would never mean that! You must return some of this money."

  "But I'll not do any such thing," insisted Annie. "They're sold, and that's an end of it." Then, seeing that he looked really pained, she added in a lower tone, "Will you believe me, Hans, when I say that there has been no mistake, that the person who bought your skates INSISTED upon paying seven guilders for them?"

  "I will," he answered, and the light from his clear blue eyes seemed to settle and sparkle under Annie's lashes.

  Dame Brinker was delighted at the sight of so much silver, but when she learned that Hans had parted with his treasures to obtain it, she sighed and then exclaimed, "Bless thee, child! That will be a sore loss for thee!"

  "Here, Mother," said the boy, plunging his hands far into his pocket, "here is more——we shall be rich if we keep on!"

  "Aye, indeed," she answered, eagerly reaching forth her hand. Then, lowering her voice, added, "We SHOULD be rich but for that Jan Kamphuisen. He was at the willow tree years ago, Hans. Depend upon it!"

  "Indeed, it seems likely," sighed Hans. "Well, Mother, we must give up the money bravely. It is certainly gone. The father has told us all he knows. Let us think no more about it."

  "That's easy saying, Hans. I shall try, but it's hard and my poor man wanting so many comforts. Bless me! How girls fly about! They were here but this instant. Where did they run to?"

  "They slipped behind the cottage," said Hans, "like enough to hide from us. Hist! I'll catch them for you! They both can move quicker and softer than yonder rabbit, but I'll give them a good start first."

  "Why, there IS a rabbit, sure enough. Hold, Hans, the poor thing must have been in sore need to venture from its burrow in this bitter weather. I'll get a few crumbs for it within."

  So saying, the good woman bustled into the cottage. She soon came out again, but Hans had forgotten to wait, and the rabbit, after taking a cool survey of the premises, had scampered off to unknown quarters. Turning the corner of the cottage, Dame Brinker came upon the children. Hans and Gretel were standing before Annie, who was seated carelessly upon a stump.

  "That is as good as a picture!" cried Dame Brinker, halting in admiration of the group. "Many a painting have I seen at the grand house at Heidelberg not a whit prettier. My two are rough chubs, Annie, but YOU look like a fairy."

  "Do I?" laughed Annie, sparkling with animation. "Well, then, Gretel and Hans, imagine I'm your godmother just paying you a visit. Now I'll grant you each a wish. What will you have, Master Hans?"

  A shade of earnestness passed over Annie's face as she looked up at him; perhaps it was because she wished from the depths of her heart that for once she could have a fairy's power.

  Something whispered to Hans that, for a moment, she was more than mortal. "I wish," said he solemnly, "that I could find something I was searching for last night!"

  Gretel laughed merrily. Dame Brinker moaned. "Shame on you, Hans!" And she went wearily into the cottage.

  The fairy godmother sprang up and stamped her foot three times.

  "Thou shalt have thy wish," said she. "Let them say what they will." Then, with playful solemnity, she put her hand in her apron pocket and drew forth a large glass bead. "Bury this," said she, giving it to Hans, "where I have stamped, and ere moonrise thy wish shall be granted."

  Gretel laughed more merrily than ever.

  The godmother pretended great displeasure.

  "Naughty child," said she, scowling terribly. "In punishment for laughing at a fairy, THY wish shall not be granted."

  "Ha!" cried Gretel in high glee, "better wait till you're asked, godmother. I haven't made any wish!"

  Annie acted her part well. Never smiling, through all their merry laughter, she stalked away, the embodiment of offended dignity.

  "Good night, fairy!" they cried again and again.

  "Good night, mortals!" she called out at last as she sprang over a frozen ditch and ran quickly homeward.

  "Oh, isn't she just like flowers——so sweet and lovely!" cried Gretel, looking after her in great admiration. "And to think how many days she stays in that dark room with her grandmother. Why, brother Hans! What is the matter? What are you going to do?"

  "Wait and see!" answered Hans as he plunged into the cottage and came out again, all in an instant, bearing the spade and ysbreeker in his hands. "I'm going to bury my magic bead!"

  Raff Brinker still slept soundly. His wife took a small block of peat from her nearly exhausted store and put it upon the embers. Then opening the door, she called gently, "Come in, children."

  "Mother! Mother! See here!" shouted Hans.

  "Holy Saint Bavon!" exclaimed the dame, springing over the doorstep. "What ails the boy!"

  "Come quick, Mother," he cried in great excitement, working with all his might and driving in the ysbreeker at each word. "Don't you see? THIS is the spot——right here on the south side of the stump. Why didn't we think of it last night? THE STUMP is the old willow tree——the one you cut down last spring because it shaded the potatoes. That little tree wasn't here when Father. . .Huzza!"

  Dame Brinker could not speak. She dropped on her knees beside Hans just in time to see him drag forth THE OLD STONE POT!

  He thrust in his hand and took out a piece of brick, then another, then another, then the stocking and the pouch, black and moldy, but filled with the long-lost treasure!

  Such a time! Such laughing! Such crying! Such counting after they went into the cottage! It was a wonder that Raff did not waken. His dreams were pleasant, however, for he smiled in his sleep.

  Dame Brinker and her children had a fine supper, I can assure you. No need of saving the delicacies now.

  "We'll get Father some nice fresh things tomorrow," Dame Brinker said as she brought forth cold meat, wine, bread, and jelly, and placed them on the clean pine table. "Sit by, children, sit by."

  That night Annie fell asleep wondering whether it was a knife Hans had lost and thinking how funny it would be if he should find it, after all.

  Hans had scarcely closed his eyes before he found himself trudging along a thicket; pots of gold were lying all around, and watches and skates, and glittering beads were swinging from every branch.

  Strange to say, each tree, as he approached it, changed into a stump, and on the stump sat the prettiest fairy imaginable, clad in a scarlet jacket and a blue petticoat.

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