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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter42)

2006-09-08 21:38

  Chapter 42. The Mysterious Watch

  Something else than the missing guilders was brought to light on the day of the fairy godmother's visit. This was the story of the watch that for ten long years had been so jealously guarded by Raff's faithful vrouw. Through many an hour of sore temptation she had dreaded almost to look upon it, lest she might be tempted to disobey her husband's request. It had been hard to see her children hungry and to know that the watch, if sold, would enable the roses to bloom in their cheeks again. "But nay," she would exclaim, "Meitje Brinker is not one to forget her man's last bidding, come what may."

  "Take good care of this, mine vrouw," he had said as he handed it to her——that was all. No explanation followed, for the words were scarcely spoken when one of his fellow workmen rushed into the cottage, crying, "Come, man! The waters are rising! You're wanted on the dikes."

  Raff had started at once, and that was the last Dame Brinker saw of him in his right mind.

  On the day when Hans was in Amsterdam looking for work, and Gretel, after performing her household labors, was wandering in search of chips, twigs, anything that could be burned, Dame Brinker with suppressed excitement had laid the watch in her husband's hand.

  "It wasn't in reason," as she afterward said to Hans, "to wait any longer, when a word from the father would settle all. No woman living but would want to know how he came by that watch." Raff Brinker turned the bright polished thing over and over in his hand, then he examined the bit of smoothly ironed black ribbon fastened to it. He seemed hardly to recognize it. At last he said, "Ah, I remember this! Why, you've been rubbing it, vrouw, till it shines like a new guilder."

  "Aye," said Dame Brinker, nodding her head complacently.

  Raff looked at it again. "Poor boy!" he murmured, then fell into a brown study.

  This was too much for the dame. "'Poor boy!'" she echoed, somewhat tartly. "What do you think I'm standing here for, Raff Brinker, and my spinning awaiting, if not to hear more than that?"

  "I told ye all, long since," said Raff positively as he looked up in surprise.

  "Indeed, and you never did!" retorted the vrouw.

  "Well, if not, since it's no affair of ours, we'll say no more about it," said Raff, shaking his head sadly. "Like enough while I've been dead on the earth, all this time, the poor boy's died and been in heaven. He looked near enough to it, poor lad!"

  "Raff Brinker! If you're going to treat me this way, and I nursing you and bearing with you since I was twenty-two years old, it's a shame. Aye, and a disgrace," cried the vrouw, growing quite red and scant of breath.

  Raff's voice was feeble yet. "Treat you WHAT way, Meitje?"

  "What way," said Dame Brinker, mimicking his voice and manner. "What way? Why, just as every woman in the world is treated after she's stood by a man through the worst, like a——"

  "Meitje!"

  Raff was leaning forward with outstretched arms. His eyes were full of tears.

  In an instant Dame Brinker was at his feet, clasping his hands in hers.

  "Oh, what have I done! Made my good man cry, and he not back with me four days! Look up, Raff! Nay, Raff, my own boy, I'm sorry I hurt thee. It's hard not to be told about the watch after waiting ten years to know, but I'll ask thee no more, Raff. Here, we'll put the thing away that's made the first trouble between us, after God just gave thee back to me."

  "I was a fool to cry, Meitje," he said, kissing her, "and it's no more than right that ye should know the truth. But it seemed as if it might be telling the secrets of the dead to talk about the matter."

  "Is the man——the lad——thou wert talking of dead, think thee?" asked the vrouw, hiding the watch in her hand but seating herself expectantly on the end of his long foot bench.

  "It's hard telling," he answered.

  "Was he so sick, Raff?"

  "No, not sick, I may say; but troubled, vrouw, very troubled."

  "Had he done wrong, think ye?" she asked, lowering her voice.

  Raff nodded.

  "MURDER?" whispered the wife, not daring to look up.

  "He said it was like to that, indeed."

  "Oh! Raff, you frighten me. Tell me more, you speak so strange and you tremble. I must know all."

  "If I tremble, mine vrouw, it must be from the fever. There is no guilt on my soul, thank God!"

  "Take a sip of this wine, Raff. There, now you are better. It was like to a crime, you were saying."

  "Aye, Meitje, like to murder. THAT he told me himself. But I'll never believe it. A likely lad, fresh and honest-looking as our own youngster but with something not so bold and straight about him."

  "Aye, I know," said the dame gently, fearing to interrupt the story.

  "He came upon me quite suddenly," continued Raff. "I had never seen his face before, the palest, frightenedest face that ever was. He caught me by the arm. 'You look like an honest man,' says he."

  "Aye, he was right in that," interrupted the dame emphatically.

  Raff looked somewhat bewildered.

  "Where was I, mine vrouw?"

  "The lad took hold of your arm, Raff," she said, gazing at him anxiously.

  "Aye, so. The words come awkward to me, and everything is like a dream, ye see."

  "S-stut! What wonder, poor man." She sighed, stroking his hand. "If ye had not had enough for a dozen, the wit would never have come to ye again. Well, the lad caught me by the arm and said ye looked honest. (Well he might!) What then? Was it noontime?

  "Nay, before daylight——long before early chimes."

  "It was the same day you were hurt," said the dame. "I know it seemed that you went to your work in the middle of the night. You left off where he caught your arm, Raff."

  "Yes," resumed her husband, "and I can see his face this minute——so white and wild-looking. 'Take me down this river a way,' says he. I was working then, you'll remember, far down on the line, across from Amsterdam. I told him I was no boatman. 'It's an affair of life and death,' says he. 'Take me on a few miles. Yonder skiff is not locked, but it may be a poor man's boat and I'd be loath to rob him!' (The words might differ some, vrouw, for it's all like a dream.) Well, I took him down——it might be six or eight miles——and then he said he could run the rest of the way on shore. I was in haste to get the boat back. Before he jumped out, he says, sobbing-like, 'I can trust you. I've done a thing——God knows I never intended it——but the man is dead. I must fly from Holland."

  "What was it? Did he say, Raff? Had he been shooting at a comrade, as they do down at the University at Gottingen?"

  "I can't recall that. Mayhap he told me, but it's all like a dream. I said it wasn't for me, a good Hollander, to cheat the laws of my country by helping him off that way, but he kept saying, 'God knows I am innocent!' And he looked at me in the starlight as fair, now, and clear-eyed as our little Hans might——and I just pulled away faster."

  "It must have been Jan Kamphuisen's boat," remarked Dame Brinker dryly. "None other would have left his oars out that careless."

  "Aye, it was Jan's boat, sure enough. The man will be coming in to see me Sunday, likely, if he's heard, and young Hoogsvliet too. Where was I?"

  "Where were you? Why, not very far, forsooth——the lad hadn't yet given ye the watch——alack, I misgive whether he came by it honestly!"

  "Why, vrouw," exclaimed Raff Brinker in an injured tone. "He was dressed soft and fine as the prince himself. The watch was his own, clear enough."

  "How came he to give it up?" asked the dame, looking uneasily at the fire, for it needed another block of peat.

  "I told ye just now," he answered with a puzzled air.

  "Tell me again," said Dame Brinker, wisely warding off another digression.

  "Well, just before jumping from the boat, he says, handing me the watch, 'I'm flying from my country as I never thought I could. I'll trust you because you look honest. Will you take this to my father——not today but in a week——and tell him his unhappy boy sent it, and tell him if ever the time comes that he wants me to come back to him, I'll brave everything and come. Tell him to send a letter to——to'——there, the rest is all gone from me. I CAN'T remember where the letter was to go. Poor lad, poor lad!" resumed Raff, sorrowfully, taking the watch from his vrouw's lap as he spoke. "And it's never been sent to his father to this day."

  "I'll take it, Raff, never fear——the moment Gretel gets back. She will be in soon. What was the father's name, did you say? Where were you to find him?"

  "Alack!" answered Raff, speaking very slowly. "It's all slipped me. I can see the lad's face and his great eyes, just as plain——and I remember his opening the watch and snatching something from it and kissing it——but no more. All the rest whirls past me; there's a sound like rushing waters comes over me when I try to think."

  "Aye. That's plain to see, Raff, but I've had the same feeling after a fever. You're tired now. I must get ye straight on the bed again. Where IS the child, I wonder?"

  Dame Brinker opened the door, and called, "Gretel! Gretel!"

  "Stand aside, vrouw," said Raff feebly as he leaned forward and endeavored to look out upon the bare landscape. "I've half a mind to stand beyond the door just once."

  "Nay, nay." She laughed. "I'll tell the meester how ye tease and fidget and bother to be let out in the air; and if he says it, I'll bundle ye warm tomorrow and give ye a turn on your feet. But I'm freezing you with this door open. I declare if there isn't Gretel with her apron full, skating on the canal like wild. Why, man," she continued almost in a scream as she slammed the door, "thou'rt walking to the bed without my touching thee! Thou'lt fall!"

  The dame's thee proved her mingled fear and delight, even more than the rush which she made toward her husband. Soon he was comfortably settled under the new cover, declaring, as his vrouw tucked him in snug and warm, that it was the last daylight that should see him abed.

  "Aye! I can hope it myself," laughed Dame Brinker, "now you have been frisking about at that rate." As Raff closed his eyes, the dame hastened to revive her fire, or rather to dull it, for Dutch peat is like a Dutchman, slow to kindle, but very good at a blaze once started. Then, putting her neglected spinning wheel away, she drew forth her knitting from some invisible pocket and seated herself by the bedside.

  "If you could remember the man's name, Raff," she began cautiously, "I might take the watch to him while you're sleeping. Gretel can't but be in soon."

  Raff tried to think but in vain.

  "Could it be Boomphoffen?" suggested the dame. "I've heard how they've had two sons turn out bad——Gerard and Lambert?"

  "It might be," said Raff. "Look if there's letters on the watch; that'll guide us some."

  "Bless thee, man," cried the happy dame, eagerly lifting the watch. "Why, thou'rt sharper than ever! Sure enough. Here's letters! L.J.B. That's Lambert Boomphoffen, you may depend. What the J is for I can't say, but they used to be grand kind o' people, high-feathered as fancy fowl. Just the kind to give their children all double names, which isn't Scripture, anyway."

  "I don't know about that, vrouw. Seems to me there's long mixed names in the holy Book, hard enough to make out. But you've got the right guess at a jump. It was your way always," said Raff, closing his eyes. "Take the watch to Boompkinks and try."

  "Not Boompkinks. I know no such name; it's Boomphoffen."

  "Aye, take it there."

  "Take it there, man! Why the whole brood of them's been gone to America these four years. But go to sleep, Raff, you look pale and out of strength. It'll al come to you, what's best to do, in the morning.

  "So, Mistress Gretel! Here you are at last!"

  Before Raff awoke that evening, the fairy godmother, as we know, had been in the cottage, the guilders were once more safely locked in the big chest, and Dame Brinker and the children were faring sumptuously on meat and white bread and wine.

  So the mother, in the joy of her heart, told them the story of the watch as far as she deemed it prudent to divulge it. It was no more than fair, she thought, that the poor things should know after keeping the secret so safe ever since they had been old enough to know anything.

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