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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter47)

2006-09-08 21:39

  Chapter 47. Broad Sunshine

  One snowy day in January Laurens Boekman went with his father to pay his respects to the Brinker family.

  Raff was resting after the labors of the day; Gretel, having filled and lighted his pipe, was brushing every speck of ash from the hearth; the dame was spinning; and Hans, perched upon a stool by the window, was diligently studying his lessons. It was a peaceful, happy household whose main excitement during the past week had been the looking forward to this possible visit from Thomas Higgs.

  As soon as the grand presentation was over, Dame Brinker insisted upon giving her guests some hot tea; it was enough to freeze anyone, she said, to be out in such crazy, blustering weather. While they were talking with her husband she whispered to Gretel that the young gentleman's eyes and her boy's were certainly as much alike as four beans, to say nothing of a way they both had of looking as if they were stupid and yet knew as much as a body's grandfather.

  Gretel was disappointed. She had looked forward to a tragic scene, such as Annie Bouman had often described to her, from storybooks; and here was the gentleman who came so near being a murderer, who for ten years had been wandering over the face of the earth, who believed himself deserted and scorned by his father——the very young gentleman who had fled from his country in such magnificent trouble, sitting by the fire just as pleasant and natural as could be!

  To be sure, his voice had trembled when he talked with her parents, and he had met his father's look with a bright kind of smile that would have suited a dragon-killer bringing the waters of perpetual youth to his king, but after all, he wasn't at all like the conquered hero in Annie's book. He did not say, lifting his arm toward heaven, "I hereby swear to be forever faithful to my home, my God, and my country!" which would have been only right and proper under the circumstances.

  All things considered, Gretel was disappointed. Raff, however, was perfectly satisfied. The message was delivered. Dr. Boekman had his son safe and sound, and the poor lad had done nothing sinful after all, except in thinking that his father would have abandoned him for an accident. To be sure, the graceful stripling had become rather a heavy man. Raff had unconsciously hoped to clasp that same boyish hand again, but all things were changed to Raff, for that matter. So he pushed back every feeling but joy as he saw father and son sitting side by side at his hearthstone. Meantime, Hans was wholly occupied in the thought of Thomas Higgs's happiness in being able to be the meester's assistant again, and Dame Brinker was sighing softly to herself, wishing that the lad's mother were alive to see him——such a fine young gentleman as he was——and wondering how Dr. Boekman could bear to see the silver watch getting so dull. He had worn it ever since Raff handed it over, that was evident. What had he done with the gold one he used to wear?

  The light was shining full upon Dr. Boekman's face. How contented he looked; how much younger and brighter than formerly. The hard lines were quite melting away. He was laughing as he said to the father, "Am I not a happy man, Raff Brinker? My son will sell out his factory this month and open a warehouse in Amsterdam. I shall have all my spectacle cases for nothing."

  Hans started from his reverie. "A warehouse, mynheer! And will Thomas Higgs——I mean, is your son not to be your assistant again?"

  A shade passed over the meester's face, but he brightened with an effort as he replied, "Oh, no, Laurens has had quite enough of that. He wishes to be a merchant."

  Hans appeared so surprised and disappointed that his friend asked good-naturedly, "Why so silent, boy? Is it any disgrace to be a merchant?"

  "N-not a disgrace, mynheer," stammered Hans, "but——"

  "But what?"

  "Why, the other calling is so much better," answered Hans, "so much nobler. I think, mynheer," he added with enthusiasm, "that to be a surgeon, to cure the sick and crippled, to save human life, to be able to do what you have done for my father, is the grandest thing on earth."

  The doctor was regarding him sternly. Hans felt rebuked. His cheeks were flushed; hot tears were gathering under his lashes.

  "It is an ugly business, boy, this surgery," said the doctor, still frowning at Hans. "It requires great patience, self-denial, and perseverance."

  "I am sure that it does," cried Hans. "It calls for wisdom, too, and a reverence for God's work. Ah, mynheer, it may have its trials and drawbacks, but you do not mean what you say. It is great and noble, not ugly! Pardon me, mynheer. It is not for me to speak so boldly."

  Dr. Boekman was evidently displeased. He turned his back on the boy and conferred aside with Laurens. Meanwhile the dame scowled a terrible warning at Hans. These great people, she knew well enough, never like to hear poor folk speak up so pertly.

  The meester turned around.

  "How old are you, Hans Brinker?"

  "Fifteen, mynheer," was the startled reply.

  "Would you like to become a physician?"

  "Yes, mynheer," answered Hans, quivering with excitement.

  "Would you be willing, with your parents' consent, to devote yourself to study, to go to the university, and, in time, be a student in my office?"

  "Yes, mynheer."

  "You would not grow restless, think you, and change your mind just as I had set my heart upon preparing you to be my successor?"

  Hans's eyes flashed.

  "No, mynheer, I would not change."

  "You may believe him there," cried the dame, who could remain quiet no longer. "Hans is like a rock when once he decides, and as for study, mynheer, the child has almost grown fast to his books of late. He can jumble off Latin already, like any priest!"

  The doctor smiled. "Well, Hans, I see nothing to prevent us from carrying out this plan, if your father agrees."

  "Ahem," said Raff, too proud of his boy to be very meek. "The fact is, mynheer, I prefer an active, out-of-door life, myself. But if the lad's inclined to study for a meester, and he'd have the benefit of your good word to push him on in the world, it's all one to me. The money's all that's wanting, but it mightn't be long, with two strong pair of arms to earn it, before we——"

  "Tut, tut!" interrupted the doctor. "If I take your right-hand man away, I must pay the cost, and glad enough will I be to do it. It will be like having TWO sons, eh, Laurens? One a merchant and the other a surgeon. I shall be the happiest man in Holland! Come to me in the morning, Hans, and we will arrange matters at once."

  Hans bowed assent. He dared not trust himself to speak.

  "And, Brinker," continued the doctor, "my son Laurens will need a trusty, ready man like you, when he opens his warehouse in Amsterdam, someone to oversee matters, and see that the lazy clowns round about the place do their duty. Someone to——Why don't you tell him yourself, you rascal!"

  This last was addressed to the son and did not sound half as fierce as it looks in print. The rascal and Raff soon understood each other perfectly.

  "I'm loath to leave the dikes," said the latter, after they had talked together awhile, "but it is such a good offer, mynheer, I'd be robbing my family if I let it go past me."

  Take a long look at Hans as he sits there staring gratefully at the meester, for you shall not see him again for many years.

  And Gretel——ah, what a vista of puzzling work suddenly opens before her! Yes, for dear Hans's sake she will study now. If he really is to be a meester, his sister must not shame his greatness.

  How faithfully those glancing eyes shall yet seek for the jewels that lie hidden in rocky schoolbooks! And how they shall yet brighten and droop at the coming of one whom she knows of now only as the boy who wore a red cap on that wonderful day when she found the silver skates in her apron!

  But the doctor and Laurens are going. Dame Brinker is making her best curtsy. Raff stands beside her, looking every inch a man as he grasps the meester's hand. Through the open cottage door we can look out upon the level Dutch landscape, all alive with the falling snow.

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