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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter43)

2006-09-08 21:38

  Chapter 43. A Discovery

  The next sun brought a busy day to the Brinkers. In the first place the news of the thousand guilders had, of course, to be told to the father. Such tidings as that surely could not harm him. Then while Gretel was diligently obeying her mother's injunction to "clean the place fresh as a new brewing," Hans and the dame sallied forth to revel in the purchasing of peat and provisions.

  Hans was careless and contented; the dame was filled with delightful anxieties caused by the unreasonable demands of ten thousand guilders' worth of new wants that had sprung up like mushrooms in a single night. The happy woman talked so largely to Hans on their way to Amsterdam and brought back such little bundles after all that he scratched his bewildered head as he leaned against the chimney piece, wondering whether "Bigger the pouch, tighter the string" was in Jacob Cats, and therefore true, or whether he had dreamed it when he lay in a fever.

  "What thinking on, Big-eyes?" chirruped his mother, half reading his thoughts as she bustled about, preparing the dinner. "What thinking on? Why, Raff, would ye believe it, the child thought to carry half Amsterdam back on his head. Bless us! He would have bought us as much coffee as would have filled this fire pot. 'No, no, my lad,' says I. 'No time for leaks when the ship is rich laden.' And then how he stared——aye——just as he stares this minute. Hoot, lad, fly around a mite. Ye'll grow to the chimney place with your staring and wondering. Now, Raff, here's your chair at the head of the table, where it should be, for there's a man to the house now——I'd say it to the king's face. Aye, that's the way——lean on Hans. There's a strong staff for you! Growing like a weed, too, and it seems only yesterday since he was toddling. Sit by, my man, sit by."

  "Can you call to mind, vrouw, "said Raff, settling himself cautiously in the big chair, "the wonderful music box that cheered your working in the big house at Heidelberg?"

  "Aye, that I can," answered the dame. "Three turns of a brass key and the witchy thing would send the music fairly running up and down one's back. I remember it well. But, Raff"——growing solemn in an instant——"you would never throw our guilders away for a thing like that?"

  "No, no, not I, vrouw, for the good Lord has already given me a music box without pay."

  All three cast quick, frightened glances at one another and at Raff. Were his wits on the wing again?

  "Aye, and a music box that fifty pouchful would not buy from me," insisted Raff. "And it's set going by the turn of a mop handle, and it slips and glides around the room, everywhere in a flash, carrying the music about till you'd swear the birds were back again."

  "Holy Saint Bavon!" screeched the dame. "What's in the man?"

  "Comfort and joy, vrouw, that's what's in him! Ask Gretel, ask my little music box Gretel if your man has lacked comfort and joy this day."

  "Not he, Mother," laughed Gretel. "He's been MY music box, too. We sang together half the time you were gone."

  "Aye, so," said the dame, greatly relieved. "Now, Hans, you'll never get through with a piece like that, but never mind, chick, thou'st had a long fasting. Here, Gretel, take another slice of the sausage. It'll put blood in your cheeks."

  "Oh! Oh, Mother," laughed Gretel, eagerly holding forth her platter. "Blood doesn't grow in girls' cheeks——you mean roses. Isn't it roses, Hans?"

  While Hans was hastily swallowing a mammoth mouthful in order to give a suitable reply to this poetic appeal, Dame Brinker settled the matter with a quick, "Well, roses or blood, it's all one to me, so the red finds its way on your sunny face. It's enough for mother to get pale and weary-looking without——"

  "Hoot, vrouw," spoke up Raff hastily, "thou'rt fresher and rosier this minute than both our chicks put together."

  This remark, though not bearing very strong testimony to the clearness of Raff's newly awakened intellect, nevertheless afforded the dame immense satisfaction. The meal accordingly went on in the most delightful manner.

  After dinner the affair of the watch was talked over and the mysterious initials duly discussed.

  Hans had just pushed back his stool, intending to start at once for Mynheer van Holp's, and his mother had risen to put the watch away in its old hiding place, when they heard the sound of wheels upon the frozen ground.

  Someone knocked at the door, opening it at the same time.

  "Come in," stammered Dame Brinker, hastily trying to hide the watch in her bosom. "Oh, is it you, mynheer! Good day! The father is nearly well, as you see. It's a poor place to greet you in, mynheer, and the dinner not cleared away."

  Dr. Boekman scarcely noticed the dame's apology. He was evidently in haste.

  "Ahem!" he exclaimed. "Not needed here, I perceive. The patient is mending fast."

  "Well he may, mynheer," cried the dame, "for only last night we found a thousand guilders that's been lost to us these ten years."

  Dr. Boekman opened his eyes.

  "Yes, mynheer," said Raff. "I bid the vrouw tell you, though it's to be held a secret among us, for I see you can keep your lips closed as well as any man."

  The doctor scowled. He never liked personal remarks.

  "Now, mynheer," continued Raff, "you can take your rightful pay. God knows you have earned it, if bringing such a poor tool back to the world and his family can be called a service. Tell the vrouw what's to pay, mynheer. She will hand out the sum right willingly."

  "Tut, tut!" said the doctor kindly. "Say nothing about money. I can find plenty of such pay any time, but gratitude comes seldom. That boy's thank-you," he added, nodding sidewise toward Hans, was pay enough for me."

  "Like enough ye have a boy of your own," said Dame Brinker, quite delighted to see the great man becoming so sociable.

  Dr. Boekman's good nature vanished at once. He gave a growl (at least, it seemed so to Gretel), but made no actual reply.

  "Do not think the vrouw meddlesome, mynheer," said Raff. "She has been sore touched of late about a lad whose folks have gone away——none knows where——and I had a message for them from the young gentleman."

  "The name was Boomphoffen," said the dame eagerly. "Do you know aught of the family, mynheer?"

  The doctor's reply was brief and gruff.

  "Yes. A troublesome set. They went long since to America."

  "It might be, Raff," persisted Dame Brinker timidly, "that the meester knows somebody in that country, though I'm told they are mostly savages over there. If he could get the watch to the Boomphoffens with the poor lad's message, it would be a most blessed thing."

  "Tut, vrouw, why pester the good meester, and dying men and women wanting him everywhere? How do ye know ye have the true name?"

  "I'm sure of it," she replied. "They had a son Lambert, and there's an L for Lambert and a B for Boomphoffen, on the back, though, to be sure, there's an odd J, too, but the meester can look for himself."

  So saying, she drew forth the watch.

  "L.J.B.!" cried Dr. Boekman, springing toward her.

  Why attempt to describe the scene that followed? I need only say that the lad's message was delivered to his father at last, delivered while the great surgeon was sobbing like a little child.

  "Laurens! My Laurens!" he cried, gazing with yearning eyes at the watch as he held it tenderly in his palm. "Ah, if I had but known sooner! Laurens a homeless wanderer——great heaven! He may be suffering, dying at this moment! Think, man, where is he? Where did my boy say that the letter must be sent?"

  Raff shook his head sadly.

  "Think!" implored the doctor. Surely the memory so lately awakened through his aid could not refuse to serve him in a moment like this.

  "It is all gone, mynheer," sighed Raff.

  Hans, forgetting distinctions of rank and station, forgetting everything but that his good friend was in trouble, threw his arms around the doctor's neck.

  "I can find your son, mynheer. If alive, he is SOMEWHERE. The earth is not so very large. I will devote every day of my life to the search. Mother can spare me now. You are rich, mynheer. Send me where you will."

  Gretel began to cry. It was right for Hans to go, but how could they ever live without him?"

  Dr. Boekman made no reply, neither did he push Hans away. His eyes were fixed anxiously upon Raff Brinker. Suddenly he lifted the watch and, with trembling eagerness, attempted to open it. Its stiffened spring yielded at last; the case flew open, disclosing a watch paper in the back bearing a group of blue forget-me-nots. Raff, seeing a shade of intense disappointment pass over the doctor's face, hastened to say, "There was something else in it, mynheer, but the young gentleman tore it out before he handed it to me. I saw him kiss it as he put it away."

  "It was his mother's picture," moaned the doctor. "She died when he was ten years old. Thank God! The boy had not forgotten! Both dead? It is impossible!" he cried, starting up. "My boy is alive. You shall hear his story. Laurens acted as my assistant. By mistake he portioned out the wrong medicine for one of my patients——a deadly poison——but it was never administered, for I discovered the error in time. The man died that day. I was detained with other bad cases until the next evening. When I reached home my boy was gone. Poor Laurens!" sobbed the doctor, breaking down completely. "Never to hear from me through all these years. His message disregarded. Oh, what he must have suffered!"

  Dame Brinker ventured to speak. Anything was better than to see the meester cry.

  "It is a mercy to know the young gentleman was innocent. Ah, how he fretted! Telling you, Raff, that his crime was like unto murder. It was sending the wrong physic that he meant. Crime indeed! Why, our own Gretel might have done that! Like enough the poor young gentleman heard that the man was dead——that's why he ran, mynheer. He said, you know, Raff, that he never could come back to Holland again, unless"——she hesitated——"ah, your honor, ten years is a dreary time to be waiting to hear from——"

  "Hist, vrouw!" said Raff sharply.

  "Waiting to hear"——the doctor groaned——"and I, like a fool, sitting stubbornly at home, thinking that he had abandoned me. I never dreamed, Brinker, that the boy had discovered the mistake. I believed it was youthful folly, ingratitude, love of adventure, that sent him away. My poor, poor Laurens!"

  "But you know all, now, mynheer," whispered Hans. "You know he was innocent of wrong, that he loved you and his dead mother. We will find him. You shall see him again, dear meester."

  "God bless you!" said Dr. Boekman, seizing the boy's hand. "It may be as you say. I shall try——I shall try——and, Brinker, if ever the faintest gleam of recollection concerning him should come to you, you will send me word at once?"

  "Indeed we will!" cried all but Hans, whose silent promise would have satisfied the doctor even had the others not spoken.

  "Your boy's eyes," he said, turning to Dame Brinker, "are strangely like my son's. The first time I met him it seemed that Laurens himself was looking at me."

  "Aye, mynheer," replied the mother proudly. "I have marked that you were much drawn to the child."

  For a few moments the meester seemed lost in thought, then, arousing himself, he spoke in a new voice. "Forgive me, Raff Brinker, for this tumult. Do not feel distressed on my account. I leave your house today a happier man than I have been for many a long year. Shall I take the watch?"

  "Certainly, you must, mynheer. It was your son's wish."

  "Even so," responded the doctor, regarding his treasure with a queer frown, for his face could not throw off its bad habits in an hour, "even so. And now I must be gone. No medicine is needed by my patient, only peace and cheerfulness, and both are here in plenty. Heaven bless you, my good friends! I shall ever be grateful to you."

  "May Heaven bless you, too, mynheer, and may you soon find the young gentleman," said Dame Brinker earnestly, after hurriedly wiping her eyes upon the corner of her apron.

  Raff uttered a hearty, "Amen!" and Gretel threw such a wistful, eager glance at the doctor that he patted her head as he turned to leave the cottage.

  Hans went out also.

  "When I can serve you, mynheer, I am ready."

  "Very well, boy," replied Dr. Boekman with peculiar mildness. "Tell them, within, to say nothing of what has just happened. Meantime, Hans, when you are with his father, watch his mood. You have tact. At any moment he may suddenly be able to tell us more."

  "Trust me for that, mynheer."

  "Good day, my boy!" cried the doctor as he sprang into his stately coach.

  Aha! thought Hans as it rolled away, the meester has more life in him than I thought.

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