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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter30)

2006-09-08 21:30

  Chapter 30. Homeward Bound

  On Monday morning, bright and early, our boys bade farewell to their kind entertainers and started on their homeward journey.

  Peter lingered awhile at the lion-guarded door, for he and his sister had many parting words to say.

  As Ben saw them bidding each other good-bye, he could not help feeling that kisses as well as clocks were wonderfully alike everywhere. The English kiss that his sister Jenny had given him when he left home had said the same thing to him that the Vrouw van Gend's Dutch kiss said to Peter. Ludwig had taken his share of the farewell in the most matter-of-fact manner possible, and though he loved his sister well, had winced a little at her making such a child of him as to put an extra kiss "for mother" upon his forehead.

  He was already upon the canal with Carl and Jacob. Were they thinking about sisters or kisses? Not a bit of it. They were so happy to be on skates once more, so impatient to dart at once into the very heart of Broek, that they spun and wheeled about like crazy fellows, relieving themselves, meantime, by muttering something about "Peter and donder" not worth translating.

  Even Lambert and Ben, who had been waiting at the street corner, began to grow impatient.

  The captain joined them at last and they were soon on the canal with the rest.

  "Hurry up, Peter," growled Ludwig. "We're freezing by inches——there! I knew you'd be the last after all to get on your skates."

  "Did you?" said his brother, looking up with an air of deep interest. "Clever boy!"

  Ludwig laughed but tried to look cross, as he said, "I'm in earnest. We must get home sometime this year."

  "Now, boys," cried Peter, springing up as he fastened the last buckle. "There's a clear way before us! We will imagine it's the grand race. Ready! One, two, three, start!"

  I assure you that very little was said for the first half hour. They were six Mercuries skimming the ice. In plain English, they were lightning. No——that is imaginary too. The fact is, one cannot decide what to say when half a dozen boys are whizzing past at such a rate. I can only tell you that each did his best, flying, with bent body and eager eyes, in and out among the placid skates on the canal, until the very guard shouted to them to "Hold up!" This only served to send them onward with a two-boy power that startled all beholders.

  But the laws of inertia are stronger even than canal guards.

  After a while Jacob slackened his speed, then Ludwig, then Lambert, then Carl.

  They soon halted to take a long breath and finally found themselves standing in a group gazing after Peter and Ben, who were still racing in the distance as if their lives were at stake.

  "It is very evident," said Lambert at he and his three companions started up again, "that neither of them will give up until he can't help it."

  "What foolishness," growled Carl, "to tire themselves at the beginning of the journey! But they're racing in earnest——that's certain. Halloo! Peter's flagging!"

  "Not so!" cried Ludwig. "Catch him being beaten!"

  "Ha! ha!" sneered Carl. "I tell you, boy, Benjamin is ahead."

  Now, if Ludwig disliked anything in this world, it was to be called a boy——probably because he was nothing else. He grew indignant at once.

  "Humph, what are YOU, I wonder. There, sir! NOW look and see if Peter isn't ahead!"

  "I think he IS," interposed Lambert, "but I can't quite tell at this distance."

  "I think he isn't!" retorted Carl.

  Jacob was growing anxious——he always abhorred an argument——so he said in a coaxing tone, "Don't quarrel——don't quarrel!"

  "Don't quarrel!" mocked Carl, looking back at Jacob as he skated. "Who's quarreling? Poot, you're a goose!"

  "I can't help that," was Jacob's meek reply. "See! they are nearing the turn of the canal."

  "NOW we can see!" cried Ludwig in great excitement.

  "Peter will make it first, I know."

  "He can't——for Ben is ahead!" insisted Carl. "Gunst! That iceboat will run over him. No! He is clear! They're a couple of geese, anyhow. Hurrah! they're at the turn. Who's ahead?"

  "Peter!" cried Ludwig joyfully.

  "Good for the captain!" shouted Lambert and Jacob.

  And Carl condescended to mutter, "It IS Peter after all. I thought, all the time, that head fellow was Ben."

  This turn in the canal had evidently been their goal, for the two racers came to a sudden halt after passing it.

  Carl said something about being "glad that they had sense enough to stop and rest," and the four boys skated on in silence to overtake their companions.

  All the while Carl was secretly wishing that he had kept on with Peter and Ben, as he felt sure he could easily have come out winner. He was a very rapid, though by no means a graceful, skater.

  Ben was looking at Peter with mingled vexation, admiration, and surprise as the boys drew near.

  They heard him saying in English, "You're a perfect bird on the ice, Peter van Holp. The first fellow that ever beat me in a fair race, I can tell you!"

  Peter, who understood the language better than he could speak it, returned a laughing bow at Ben's compliment but made no further reply. Possibly he was scant of breath at the time.

  "Now, Penchamin, vat you do mit yourself? Get so hot as a fire brick——dat ish no goot," was Jacob's plaintive comment.

  "Nonsense!" answered Ben. "This frosty air will cool me soon enough. I am not tired."

  "You are beaten, though, my boy," said Lambert in English, "and fairly too. How will it be, I wonder, on the day of the grand race?"

  Ben flushed and gave a proud, defiant laugh, as if to say, "This was mere pastime. I'm DETERMINED to beat then, come what will!"

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