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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter25)

2006-09-08 21:29

  Chapter 25. Leyden

  The boys met at the museum and were soon engaged in examining its extensive collection of curiosities, receiving a new insight into Egyptian life, ancient and modern. Ben and Lambert had often visited the British Museum, but that did not prevent them from being surprised at the richness of the Leyden collection. There were household utensils, wearing apparel, weapons, musical instruments, sarcophagi, and mummies of men, women, and cats, ibexes, and other creatures. The richness of the Leyden collection They saw a massive gold armlet that had been worn by an Egyptian king at a time when some of these same mummies, perhaps, were nimbly treading the streets of Thebes; and jewels and trinkets such as Pharaoh's daughter wore, and the children of Israel borrowed when they departed out of Egypt.

  There were other interesting relics, from Rome and Greece, and some curious Roman pottery which had been discovered in digging near The Hague——relics of the days when the countrymen of Julius Caesar had settled there. Where have they not settled? I for one would hardly be astonished if relics of the ancient Romans should someday be found deep under the grass growing around the Bunker Hill monument.

  When the boys left this museum, they went to another and saw a wonderful collection of fossil animals, skeletons, birds, minerals, precious stones, and other natural specimens, but as they were not learned men, they could only walk about and stare, enjoy the little knowledge of natural history they possessed, and wish with all their hearts they had acquired more. Even the skeleton of the mouse puzzled Jacob. What wonder? He was not used to seeing the cat-fearing little creatures running about in their bones——and how could he ever have imagined their necks to be so queer?

  Besides the Museum of Natural History, there was Saint Peter's Church to be visited, containing Professor Luzac's memorial, and Boerhaave's monument of white and black marble, with its urn and carved symbols of the four ages of life, and its medallion of Boerhaave, adorned with his favorite motto, Simplex sigillum veri. They also obtained admittance to a tea garden, which in summer was a favorite resort of the citizens and, passing naked oaks and fruit trees, ascended to a high mound which stood in the center. This was the site of a round tower now in ruins, said by some to have been built by Hengist the Anglo-Saxon king, and by others to have been the castle of one of the ancient counts of Holland.

  As the boys walked about on the top of its stone wall, they could get but a poor view of the surrounding city. The tower stood higher when, more than two centuries ago, the inhabitants of beleaguered Leyden shouted to the watcher on its top their wild, despairing cries, "Is there any help? Are the waters rising? What do you see?"

  And for months he could only answer, "No help. I see around us nothing but the enemy."

  Ben pushed these thoughts away and, resolutely looking down into the bare tea garden, filled it in imagination with gay summer groups. He tried to forget old battle clouds, and picture only curling wreaths of tobacco smoke rising from among men, women, and children enjoying their tea and coffee in the open air. But a tragedy came in spite of him.

  Poot was bending over the edge of the high wall. It would be just like him to grow dizzy and tumble off. Ben turned impatiently away. If the fellow, with his weak head, knew no better than to be venturesome, why, let him tumble. Horror! What mean that heavy, crashing sound?

  Ben could not stir. He could only gasp. "Jacob!"

  "Jacob!" cried another startled voice and another. Ready to faint, Ben managed to turn his head. He saw a crowd of boys on the edge of the wall opposite, but Jacob was not there!

  "Good heavens!" he cried, springing forward, "where is my cousin?"

  The crowd parted. It was only four boys, after all. There sat Jacob in their midst, holding his sides and laughing heartily.

  "Did I frighten you all?" he said in his native Dutch. "Well, I will tell you how it was. There was a big stone lying on the wall and I put my——my foot out just to push it a little, you see, and the first thing I knew, down went the stone all the way to the bottom and left me sitting here on top with both my feet in the air. If I had not thrown myself back at that moment, I certainly should have rolled over after the stone. Well, it is no matter. Help me up, boys."

  "You're hurt!" said Ben, seeing a shade of seriousness pass over his cousin's face as they lifted him to his feet.

  Jacob tried to laugh again. "Oh, no——I feels a little hurt ven I stant up, but it ish no matter."

  The monument to Van der Werf in the Hooglandsche Kerk was not accessible that day, but the boys spent a few pleasant moments in the Stadhuis or town hall, a long irregular structure somewhat in the Gothic style, uncouth in architecture but picturesque from age. Its little steeple, tuneful with bells, seemed to have been borrowed from some other building and hastily clapped on as a finishing touch.

  Ascending the grand staircase, the boys soon found themselves in a rather gloomy apartment, containing the masterpiece of Lucas van Leyden, or Hugens, a Dutch artist born three hundred and seventy years ago, who painted well when he was ten years of age and became distinguished in art when only fifteen. This picture, called the Last Judgment, considering the remote age in which it was painted, is truly a remarkable production. The boys, however, were less interested in tracing out the merits of the work than they were in the fact of its being a triptych——that is, painted on three divisions, the two outer ones swung on hinges so as to close, when required, over the main portion.

  The historical pictures of Harel de Moor and other famous Dutch artists interested them for a while, and Ben had to be almost pulled away from the dingy old portrait of Van der Werf.

  The town hall, as well as the Egyptian Museum, is on the Breedstraat, the longest and finest street in Leyden. It has no canal running through it, and the houses, painted in every variety of color, have a picturesque effect as they stand with their gable ends to the street; some are very tall with half their height in their step-like roofs; others crouch before the public edifices and churches. Being clean, spacious, well-shaded, and adorned with many elegant mansions, it compares favorably with the finery portions of Amsterdam. It is kept scrupulously neat. Many of the gutters are covered with boards that open like trapdoors, and it is supplied with pumps surmounted with shining brass ornaments kept scoured and bright at the public cost. The city is intersected by numerous water roads formed by the river Rhine, there grown sluggish, fatigued by its long travel, but more than one hundred and fifty stone bridges reunite the dissevered streets. The same world-renowned river, degraded from the beautiful, free-flowing Rhine, serves as a moat from the rampart that surrounds Leyden and is crossed by drawbridges at the imposing gateways that give access to the city. Fine broad promenades, shaded by noble trees, border the canals and add to the retired appearance of the houses behind, heightening the effect of scholastic seclusion that seems to pervade the place.

  Ben, as he scanned the buildings on the Rapenburg Canal, was somewhat disappointed in the appearance of the great University of Leyden. But when he recalled its history——how, attended with all the pomp of a grand civic display, it had been founded by the Prince of Orange as a tribute to the citizens for the bravery displayed during the siege; when he remembered the great men in religion, learning, and science who had once studied there and thought of the hundreds of students now sharing the benefits of its classes and its valuable scientific museums——he was quite willing to forego architectural beauty, though he could not help feeling that no amount of it could have been misplaced on such an institution.

  Peter and Jacob regarded the building with an even deeper, more practical interest, for they were to enter it as students in the course of a few months.

  "Poor Don Quixote would have run a hopeless tilt in this part of the world," said Ben after Lambert had been pointing out some of the oddities and beauties of the suburbs. "It is all windmills. You remember his terrific contest with one, I suppose."

  "No," said Lambert bluntly.

  "Well, I don't, either, that is, not definitely. But there was something of that kind in his adventures, and if there wasn't, there should have been. Look at them, how frantically they whirl their great arms——just the thing to excite the crazy knight to mortal combat. It bewilders one to look at them. Help me to count all those we can see, Van Mounen. I want a big item for my notebook." And after a careful reckoning, superintended by all the party, Master Ben wrote in pencil, "Saw, Dec., 184——, ninety-eight windmills within full view of Leyden."

  He would have been glad to visit the old brick mill in which the painter Rembrandt was born, but he abandoned the project upon learning that it would take them out of their way. Few boys as hungry as Ben was by this time would hesitate long between Rembrandt's home a mile off and tiffin close by. Ben chose the latter.

  After tiffin, they rested awhile, and then took another, which, for form's sake, they called dinner. After dinner the boys sat warming themselves at the inn; all but Peter, who occupied the time in another fruitless search for Dr. Boekman.

  This over, the party once more prepared for skating. They were thirteen miles from The Hague and not as fresh as when they had left Broek early on the previous day, but they were in good spirits and the ice was excellent.

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