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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter7)

2006-09-08 21:21

  Chapter 7. Hans Has His Way

  Broek, with its quiet, spotless streets, its frozen rivulets, its yellow brick pavements and bright wooden houses, was nearby. It was a village where neatness and show were in full blossom, but the inhabitants seemed to be either asleep or dead.

  Not a footprint marred the sanded paths where pebbles and seashells lay in fanciful designs. Every window shutter was tightly closed as though air and sunshine were poison, and the massive front doors were never opened except on the occasion of a wedding, a christening, or a funeral.

  Serene clouds of tobacco smoke were floating through hidden corners, and children, who otherwise might have awakened the place, were studying in out-of-the-way corners or skating upon the neighboring canal. A few peacocks and wolves stood in the gardens, but they had never enjoyed the luxury of flesh and blood. They were made out of boxwood hedges and seemed to be guarding the grounds with a sort of green ferocity. Certain lively automata, ducks, women, and sportsmen, were stowed away in summer houses, waiting for the spring-time when they could be wound up and rival their owners in animation; and the shining tiled roofs, mosaic courtyards, and polished house trimmings flashed up a silent homage to the sky, where never a speck of dust could dwell.

  Hans glanced toward the village, as he shook his silver kwartjes and wondered whether it were really true, as he had often heard, that some of the people of Broek were so rich that they used kitchen utensils of solid gold.

  He had seen Mevrouw van Stoop's sweet cheeses in market, and he knew that the lofty dame earned many a bright silver guilder in selling them. But did she set the cream to rise in golden pans? Did she use a golden skimmer? When her cows were in winter quarters, were their tails really tied up with ribbons?

  These thoughts ran through his mind as he turned his face toward Amsterdam, not five miles away, on the other side of the frozen Y. *{Pronounced eye, an arm of the Zuider Zee.} The ice upon the canal was perfect, but his wooden runners, so soon to be cast aside, squeaked a dismal farewell as he scraped and skimmed along.

  When crossing the Y, whom should he see skating toward him but the great Dr. Boekman, the most famous physician and surgeon in Holland. Hans had never met him before, but he had seen his engraved likeness in many of the shop windows in Amsterdam. It was a face that one could never forget. Thin and lank, though a born Dutchman, with stern blue eyes, and queer compressed lips that seemed to say "No smiling permitted," he certainly was not a very jolly or sociable-looking personage, nor one that a well-trained boy would care to accost unbidden.

  But Hans WAS bidden, and that, too, by a voice he seldom disregarded——his own conscience.

  "Here comes the greatest doctor in the world," whispered the voice. "God has sent him. You have no right to buy skates when you might, with the same money, purchase such aid for your father!"

  The wooden runners gave an exultant squeak. Hundreds of beautiful skates were gleaming and vanishing in the air above him. He felt the money tingle in his fingers. The old doctor looked fearfully grim and forbidding. Hans's heart was in his throat, but he found voice enough to cry out, just as he was passing, "Mynheer Boekman!"

  The great man halted and, sticking out his thin underlip, looked scowling about him.

  Hans was in for it now.

  "Mynheer," he panted, drawing close to the fierce-looking doctor, "I knew you could be none other than the famous Boekman. I have to ask a great favor——"

  "Hump!" muttered the doctor, preparing to skate past the intruder. "Get out of the way. I've no money——never give to beggars."

  "I am no beggar, mynheer," retorted Hans proudly, at the same time producing his mite of silver with a grand air. "I wish to consult you about my father. He is a living man but sits like one dead. He cannot think. His words mean nothing, but he is not sick. He fell on the dikes."

  "Hey? What?" cried the doctor, beginning to listen.

  Hans told the whole story in an incoherent way, dashing off a tear once or twice as he talked, and finally ending with an earnest "Oh, do see him, mynheer. His body is well——it is only his mind. I know that this money is not enough, but take it, mynheer. I will earn more, I know I will. Oh! I will toil for you all my life, if you will but cure my father!"

  What was the matter with the old doctor? A brightness like sunlight beamed from his face. His eyes were kind and moist; the hand that had lately clutched his cane, as if preparing to strike, was laid gently upon Hans's shoulder.

  "Put up your money, boy, I do not want it. We will see your father. It's hopeless, I fear. How long did you say?"

  "Ten years, mynheer," sobbed Hans, radiant with sudden hope.

  "Ah! a bad case, but I shall see him. Let me think. Today I start for Leyden, to return in a week, then you may expect me. Where is it?"

  "A mile south of Broek, mynheer, near the canal. It is only a poor, broken-down hut. Any of the children thereabout can point it out to your honor," added Hans with a heavy sigh. "They are all half afraid of the place; they call it the idiot's cottage."

  "That will do," said the doctor, hurrying on with a bright backward nod at Hans. "I shall be there. A hopeless case," he muttered to himself, "but the boy pleases me. His eye is like my poor Laurens's. Confound it, shall I never forget that young scoundrel!" And, scowling more darkly than ever, the doctor pursued his silent way.

  Again Hans was skating toward Amsterdam on the squeaking wooden runners; again his fingers tingled against the money in his pocket; again the boyish whistle rose unconsciously to his lips.

  Shall I hurry home, he was thinking, to tell the good news, or shall I get the waffles and the new skates first? Whew! I think I'll go on!

  And so Hans bought the skates.

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