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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter16)

2006-09-08 21:26

  Chapter 16. Haarlem——The Boys Hear Voices

  Refreshed and rested, our boys came forth from the coffeehouse just as the big clock in the square, after the manner of certain Holland timekeepers, was striking two with its half-hour bell for half-past two.

  The captain was absorbed in thought, at first, for Hans Brinker's sad story still echoed in his ears. Not until Ludwig rebuked him with a laughing "Wake up, grandfather!" did he reassume his position as gallant boy-leader of his band.

  "Ahem! this way, young gentlemen!"

  They were walking through the city, not on a curbed sidewalk, for such a thing is rarely to be found in Holland, but on the brick pavement that lay on the borders of the cobblestone carriage-way without breaking its level expanse.

  Haarlem, like Amsterdam, was gayer than usual, in honor of Saint Nicholas.

  A strange figure was approaching them. It was a small man dressed in black, with a short cloak. He wore a wig and a cocked hat from which a long crepe streamer was flying.

  "Who comes here?" cried Ben. "What a queer-looking object."

  "That's the aanspreeker," said Lambert. "Someone is dead."

  "Is that the way men dress in mourning in this country?"

  "Oh, no! The aanspreeker attends funerals, and it is his business, when anyone dies, to notify all the friends and relatives."

  "What a strange custom."

  "Well," said Lambert, "we needn't feel very badly about this particular death, for I see another man has lately been born to the world to fill up the vacant place."

  Ben stared. "How do you know that?"

  "Don't you see that pretty red pincushion hanging on yonder door?" asked Lambert in return.


  "Well, that's a boy."

  "A boy! What do you mean?"

  "I mean that here in Haarlem, whenever a boy is born, the parents have a red pincushion put out at the door. If our young friend had been a girl instead of a boy, the cushion would have been white. In some places they have much more fanciful affairs, all trimmed with lace, and even among the very poorest houses you will see a bit of ribbon or even a string tied on the door latch——"

  "Look!" screamed Ben. "There IS a white cushion at the door of that double-joined house with the funny roof."

  "I don't see any house with a funny roof."

  "Oh, of course not," said Ben. "I forgot you're a native, but all the roofs are queer to me, for that matter. I mean the house next to that green building."

  "True enough, there's a girl! I tell you what, captain," called out Lambert, slipping easily into Dutch, "we must get out of this street as soon as possible. It's full of babies! They'll set up a squall in a moment."

  The captain laughed. "I shall take you to hear better music than that," he said. "We are just in time to hear the organ of Saint Bavon. The church is open today."

  "What, the great Haarlem organ?" asked Ben. "That will be a treat indeed. I have often read of it, with its tremendous pipes, and its vox humana *{An organ stop which produces an effect resembling the human voice.} that sounds like a giant singing."

  "The same," answered Lambert van Mounen.

  Peter was right. The church was open, though not for religious services. Someone was playing upon the organ. As the boys entered, a swell of sound rushed forth to meet them. It seemed to bear them, one by one, into the shadows of the building.

  Louder and louder it grew until it became like the din and roar of some mighty tempest, or like the ocean surging upon the shore. In the midst of the tumult a tinkling bell was heard; another answered, then another, and the storm paused as if to listen. The bells grew bolder; they rang out loud and clear. Other deep-toned bells joined in; they were tolling in solemn concert——ding, dong! ding, dong! The storm broke forth with redoubled fury, gathering its distant thunder. The boys looked at each other but did not speak. It was growing serious. What was that? WHO screamed? WHAT screamed——that terrible, musical scream? Was it man or demon? Or was it some monster shut up behind that carved brass frame, behind those great silver columns——some despairing monster begging, screaming for freedom! it was the vox humana!

  At last an answer came——soft, tender, loving, like a mother's song. The storm grew silent; hidden birds sprang forth filling the air with glad, ecstatic music, rising higher and higher until the last faint note was lost in the distance.

  The vox humana was stilled, but in the glorious hymn of thanksgiving that now arose, one could almost hear the throbbing of a human heart. What did it mean? That man's imploring cry should in time be met with a deep content? That gratitude would give us freedom? To Peter and Ben it seemed that the angels were singing. Their eyes grew dim, and their souls dizzy with a strange joy. At last, as if borne upward by invisible hands, they were floating away on the music, all fatigue forgotten, and with no wish but to hear forever those beautiful sounds, when suddenly Van Holp's sleeve was pulled impatiently and a gruff voice beside him asked, "How long are you going to stay here, captain, blinking at the ceiling like a sick rabbit? It's high time we started."

  "Hush!" whispered Peter, only half aroused.

  "Come, man! Let's go," said Carl, giving the sleeve a second pull.

  Peter turned reluctantly. He would not detain the boys against their will. All but Ben were casting rather reproachful glances upon him.

  "Well, boys," he whispered, "we will go. Softly now."

  "That's the greatest thing I've seen or heard since I've bee in Holland!" cried Ben enthusiastically, as soon as they reached the open air. "It's glorious!"

  Ludwig and Carl laughed slyly at the English boy's wartaal, or gibberish. Jacob yawned, and Peter gave Ben a look that made him instantly feel that he and Peter were not so very different after all, though one hailed from Holland and the other from England. And Lambert, the interpreter, responded with a brisk "You may well say so. I believe there are one or two organs nowadays that are said to be as fine; but for years and years this organ of Saint Bavon was the grandest in the world."

  "Do you know how large it is?" asked Ben. "I noticed that the church itself was prodigiously high and that the organ filled the end of the great aisle almost from floor to roof."

  "That's true," said Lambert, "and how superb the pipes looked——just like grand columns of silver. They're only for show, you know. The REAL pipes are behind them, some big enough for a man to crawl through, and some smaller than a baby's whistle. Well, sir, for size, the church is higher than Westminster Abbey, to begin with, and, as you say, the organ makes a tremendous show even then. Father told me last night that it is one hundred and eight feet high, fifty feet wide, and has over five thousand pipes. It has sixty-four stops——if you know what they are, I don't——and three keyboards."

  "Good for you!" said Ben. "You have a fine memory. MY head is a perfect colander for figures. They slip through as fast as they're poured in. But other facts and historical events stay behind——that's some consolation."

  "There we differ," returned Van Mounen. "I'm great on names and figures, but history, take it altogether, seems to me to be the most hopeless kind of jumble."

  Meantime Carl and Ludwig were having a discussion concerning some square wooden monuments they had observed in the interior of the church. Ludwig declared that each bore the name of the person buried beneath, and Carl insisted that they had no names but only the heraldic arms of the deceased painted on a black ground, with the date of the death in gilt letters.

  "I ought to know," said Carl, "for I walked across to the east side, to look for the cannonball Mother told me was embedded there. It was fired into the church, in the year fifteen hundred and something, by those rascally Spaniards, while the services were going on. There it was in the wall, sure enough, and while I was walking back, I noticed the monuments. I tell you, they haven't the sign of a name on them."

  "Ask Peter," said Ludwig, only half convinced.

  "Carl is right," replied Peter, who, though conversing with Jacob, had overheard their dispute. "Well, Jacob, as I was saying, Handel, the great composer, chanced to visit Haarlem and, of course, he at once hunted up this famous organ. He gained admittance and was playing upon it with all his might when the regular organist chanced to enter the building. The man stood awestruck. He was a good player himself, but he had never heard such music before. 'Who is there?' he cried. 'If it is not an angel or the devil, it must be Handel!' When he discovered that it WAS the great musician, he was still more mystified! 'But how is this?' he said. 'You have done impossible things——no ten fingers on earth can play the passages you have given. Human fingers couldn't control all the keys and stops!' 'I know it,' said Handel coolly, 'and for that reason, I was forced to strike some notes with the end of my nose.' Donder! just think how the old organist must have stared!"

  "Hey! What?" exclaimed Jacob, startled when Peter's animated voice suddenly became silent.

  "Haven't you heard me, you rascal?" was the indignant rejoinder.

  "Oh, yes——no. The fact is, I heard you at first. I'm awake now, but I do believe I've been walking beside you half asleep," stammered Jacob, with such a doleful, bewildered look on his face that Peter could not help laughing.

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