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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter29)

2006-09-08 21:30

  Chapter 29. A Day of Rest

  The sight-seeing came to an end at last, and so did our boys' visit to The Hague. They had spent three happy days and nights with the Van Gends, and, strange to say, had not once, in all that time, put on skates. The third day had indeed been one of rest. The noise and bustle of the city was hushed; sweet Sunday bells sent blessed, tranquil thoughts into their hearts. Ben felt, as he listened to their familiar music, that the Christian world is one, after all, however divided by sects and differences it may be. As the clock speaks everyone's native language in whatever land it may strike the hour, so church bells are never foreign if our hearts but listen.

  Led on by these clear voices, our party, with Mevrouw van Gend and her husband, trod the quiet but crowded streets, until they came to a fine old church in the southern part of the city.

  The interior was large and, notwithstanding its great stained windows, seemed dimly lighted, though the walls were white and dashes of red and purple sunshine lay brightly upon pillar and pew.

  Ben saw a few old women moving softly through the aisles, each bearing a high pile of foot stoves which she distributed among the congregation by skillfully slipping out the under one, until none were left. It puzzled him that mynheer should settle himself with the boys in a comfortable side pew, after seating his vrouw in the body of the church, which was filled with chairs exclusively appropriated to the women. But Ben was learning only a common custom of the country.

  The pews of the nobility and the dignitaries of the city were circular in form, each surrounding a column. Elaborately carved, they formed a massive base to their great pillars standing out in bold relief against the blank, white walls beyond. These columns, lofty and well proportioned, were nicked and defaced from violence done to them long ago; yet it seemed quite fitting that, before they were lost in the deep arches overhead, their softened outlines should leaf out as they did into richness and beauty.

  Soon Ben lowered his gaze to the marble floor. It was a pavement of gravestones. Nearly all the large slabs, of which it was composed, marked the resting places of the dead. An armorial design engraved upon each stone, with inscription and date, told whose form as sleeping beneath, and sometimes three of a family were lying one above the other in the same sepulcher.

  He could not help but think of the solemn funeral procession winding by torchlight through those lofty aisles and bearing its silent burden toward a dark opening whence the slab had been lifted, in readiness for its coming. It was something to think that his sister Mabel, who died in her flower, was lying in a sunny churchyard where a brook rippled and sparkled in the daylight and waving trees whispered together all night long; where flowers might nestle close to the headstone, and moon and stars shed their peace upon it, and morning birds sing sweetly overhead.

  Then he looked up from the pavement and rested his eyes upon the carved oaken pulpit, exquisitely beautiful in design and workmanship. He could not see the minister——though, not long before, he had watched him slowly ascending its winding stair——a mild-faced man wearing a ruff about his neck and a short cloak reaching nearly to the knee.

  Meantime the great church had been silently filling. Its pews were somber with men and its center radiant with women in their fresh Sunday attire. Suddenly a soft rustling spread through the pulpit. All eyes were turned toward the minister now appearing above the pulpit.

  Although the sermon was spoken slowly, Ben could understand little of what was said; but when the hymn came, he joined in with all his heart. A thousand voices lifted in love and praise offered a grander language than he could readily comprehend.

  Once he was startled, during a pause in the service, by seeing a little bag suddenly shaken before him. It had a tinkling bell at its side and was attached to a long stick carried by one of the deacons of the church. Not relying solely upon the mute appeal of the poor boxes fastened to the columns near the entrance, this more direct method was resorted to, of awakening the sympathies of the charitable.

  Fortunately Ben had provided himself with a few stivers, or the musical bag must have tinkled before him in vain.

  More than once, a dark look rose on our English boy's face that morning. He longed to stand up and harangue the people concerning a peculiarity that filled him with pain. Some of the men wore their hats during the service or took them off whenever the humor prompted, and many put theirs on in the church as soon as they arose to leave. No wonder Ben's sense of propriety was wounded; and yet a higher sense would have been exercised had he tried to feel willing that Hollanders should follow the customs of their country. But his English heart said over and over again, "It is outrageous! It is sinful!"

  There is an angel called Charity who would often save our hearts a great deal of trouble if we would but let her in.

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