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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter4)

2006-09-08 21:20

  Chapter 4. Hans and Gretel Find a Friend

  At noon our young friends poured forth from the schoolhouse, intent upon having an hour's practice upon the canal.

  They had skated but a few moments when Carl Schummel said mockingly to Hilda, "There's a pretty pair just coming upon the ice! The little ragpickers! Their skates must have been a present from the king direct."

  "They are patient creatures," said Hilda gently. "It must have been hard to learn to skate upon such queer affairs. They are very poor peasants, you see. The boy has probably made the skates himself."

  Carl was somewhat abashed.

  "Patient they may be, but as for skating, they start off pretty well, only to finish with a jerk. They could move well to your new staccato piece, I think."

  Hilda laughed pleasantly and left him. After joining a small detachment of the racers and sailing past every one of them, she halted beside Gretel, who, with eager eyes, had been watching the sport.

  "What is your name, little girl?"

  "Gretel, my lady," answered the child, somewhat awed by Hilda's rank, though they were nearly of the same age, "and my brother is called Hans."

  "Hans is a stout fellow," said Hilda cheerily, "and seems to have a warm stove somewhere within him, but YOU look cold. You should wear more clothing, little one."

  Gretel, who had nothing else to wear, tried to laugh as she answered, "I am not so very little. I am past twelve years old."

  "Oh, I beg your pardon. You see, I am nearly fourteen, and so large for my age that other girls seem small to me, but that is nothing. Perhaps you will shoot up far above me yet, but not unless you dress more warmly, though. Shivering girls never grow."

  Hans flushed as he saw tears rising in Gretel's eyes.

  "My sister has not complained of the cold, but this is bitter weather, they all say." And he looked sadly upon Gretel.

  "It is nothing," said Gretel. "I am often warm——too warm when I am skating. You are good, jufvrouw, *{Miss; young lady (pronounced yuffrow). In studied or polite address it would be jongvrowe (pronounced youngfrow).} to think of it."

  "No, no," answered Hilda, quite angry at herself. "I am careless, cruel, but I meant no harm. I wanted to ask you——I mean, if——" And here Hilda, coming to the point of her errand, faltered before the poorly clad but noble-looking children she wished to serve.

  "What is it, young lady?" exclaimed Hans eagerly. "If there is any service I can do, any——"

  "Oh, no, no," laughed Hilda, shaking off her embarrassment. "I only wished to speak to you about the grand race. Why do you not join it? You both can skate well, and the ranks are free. Anyone may enter for the prize."

  Gretel looked wistfully at Hans, who, tugging at his cap, answered respectfully.

  "Ah, jufvrouw, even if we could enter, we could skate only a few strokes with the rest. Our skates are hard wood, you see"——holding up the sole of his foot——"but they soon become damp, and then they stick and trip us."

  Gretel's eyes twinkled with fun as she thought of Hans's mishap in the morning, but she blushed as she faltered out timidly, "Oh, no, we can't join, but may we be there, my lady, on the great day to look on?"

  "Certainly," answered Hilda, looking kindly into the two earnest faces and wishing from her heart that she had not spent so much of her monthly allowance for lace and finery. She had but eight kwartjes *{A kwartje is a small silver coin worth one-quarter of a guilder, or ten cents in American currency.} left, and they would buy but one pair of skates, at the furthest.

  Looking down with a sigh at the two pairs of feet so very different in size, she asked:

  "Which of you is the better skater?"

  "Gretel," replied Hans promptly.

  "Hans," answered Gretel in the same breath.

  Hilda smiled.

  "I cannot buy you each a pair of skates, or even one good pair, but here are eight kwartjes. Decide between you which stands the best chance of winning the race, and buy the skates accordingly. I wish I had enough to buy better ones. Good-bye!" And, with a nod and a smile, Hilda, after handing the money to the electrified Hans, glided swiftly away to rejoin her companions.

  "Jufvrouw! Jufvrouw van Gleck!" called Hans in a loud tone, stumbling after her as well as he could, for one of his skate strings was untied.

  Hilda turned and, with one hand raised to shield her eyes from the sun, seemed to him to be floating through the air, nearer and nearer.

  "We cannot take this money," panted Hans, "though we know your goodness in giving it."

  "Why not, indeed?" asked Hilda, flushing.

  "Because," replied Hans, bowing like a clown but looking with the eye of a prince at the queenly girl, "we have not earned it."

  Hilda was quick-witted. She had noticed a pretty wooden chain upon Gretel's neck.

  "Carve me a chain, Hans, like the one your sister wears."

  "That I will, lady, with all my heart. We have whitewood in the house, fine as ivory; you shall have one tomorrow." And Hans hastily tried to return the money.

  "No, no," said Hilda decidedly. "That sum will be but a poor price for the chain." And off she darted outstripping the fleetest among the skaters.

  Hans sent a long, bewildered gaze after her; it was useless, he felt, to make any further resistance.

  "It is right," he muttered, half to himself, half to his faithful shadow, Gretel. "I must work hard every minute, and sit up half the night if the mother will let me burn a candle, but the chain shall be finished. We may keep the money, Gretel."

  "What a good little lady!" cried Gretel, clapping her hands with delight. "Oh! Hans, was it for nothing the stork settled on our roof last summer? Do you remember how the mother said it would bring us luck and how she cried when Janzoon Kolp shot him? And she set it would bring him trouble. But the luck has come to us at last! Now, Hans, if the mother sends us to town tomorrow, you can buy the skates in the marketplace."

  Hans shook his head. "The young lady would have given us the money to buy skates, but if I EARN it, Gretel, it shall be spent for wool. You must have a warm jacket."

  "Oh!" cried Gretel in real dismay, "not buy the skates? Why, I am not often cold! Mother says the blood runs up and down in poor children's veins, humming, 'I must keep 'em warm! I must keep 'em warm.'

  "Oh, Hans," she continued with something like a sob, "don't say you won't buy the skates. It makes me feel just like crying. Besides, I want to be cold. I mean, I'm real, awful warm——so now!"

  Hans looked up hurriedly. He had a true Dutch horror or tears, or emotion of any kind, and most of all, he dreaded to see his sisters' blue eyes overflowing.

  "Now, mind," cried Gretel, seeing her advantage, "I'll feel awful if you give up the skates. I don't want them. I'm not so stingy as that; but I want YOU to have them, and then when I get bigger, they'll do for me——oh——count the pieces, Hans. Did you ever see so many!"

  Hans turned the money thoughtfully in his palm. Never in all his life had he longed so intensely for a pair of skates, for he had known of the race and had fairly ached for a chance to test his powers with the other children. He felt confident that with a good pair of steel runners he could readily outdistance most of the boys on the canal. Then, too, Gretel's argument was plausible. On the other hand, he knew that she, with her strong but lithe little frame, needed but a week's practice on good runners to make her a better skater than Rychie Korbes or even Katrinka Flack. As soon as this last thought flashed upon him, his resolve was made. If Gretel would not have the jacket, she should have the skates.

  "No, Gretel," he answered at last, "I can wait. Someday I may have money enough saved to buy a fine pair. You shall have these."

  Gretel's eyes sparkled, but in another instant she insisted, rather faintly, "The young lady gave the money to YOU, Hans. I'd be real bad to take it."

  Hans shook his head resolutely as he trudged on, causing his sister to half skip and half walk in her effort to keep beside him. By this time they had taken off their wooden "rockers" and were hastening home to tell their mother the good news.

  "Oh! I know!" cried Gretel in a sprightly tone. "You can do this. You can get a pair a little too small for you, and too big for me, and we can take turns and use them. Won't that be fine?" Gretel clapped her hands again.

  Poor Hans! This was a strong temptation, but he pushed it away from him, brave-hearted fellow that he was.

  "Nonsense, Gretel. You could never get on with a big pair. You stumbled about with these, like a blind chicken, before I curved off the ends. No, you must have a pair to fit exactly, and you must practice every chance you can get, until the twentieth comes. My little Gretel shall win the silver skates."

  Gretel could not help laughing with delight at the very idea.

  "Hans! Gretel!" called out a familiar voice.

  "Coming, Mother!"

  They hastened toward the cottage, Hans still shaking the pieces of silver in his hand.

  On the following day there was not a prouder nor a happier boy in all Holland than Hans Brinker as he watched his sister, with many a dexterous sweep, flying in and out among the skaters who at sundown thronged the canal. A warm jacket had been given her by the kind-hearted Hilda, and the burst-out shoes had been cobbled into decency by Dame Brinker. As the little creature darted backward and forward, flushed with enjoyment and quite unconscious of the many wondering glances bent upon her, she felt that the shining runners beneath her feet had suddenly turned earth into fairyland while "Hans, dear, good Hans!" echoed itself over and over again in her grateful heart.

  "By den donder!" exclaimed Peter van Holp to Carl Schummel, "but that little one in the red jacket and patched petticoat skates well. Gunst! She has toes on her heels and eyes in the back of her head! See her! It will be a joke if she gets in the race and beats Katrinka Flack, after all."

  "Hush! not so loud!" returned Carl, rather sneeringly. "That little lady in rags is the special pet of Hilda van Gleck. Those shining skates are her gift, if I make no mistake."

  "So! so!" exclaimed Peter with a radiant smile, for Hilda was his best friend. "She has been at her good work there too!" And Mynheer van Holp, after cutting a double figure eight on the ice, to say nothing of a huge P, then a jump and an H, glided onward until he found himself beside Hilda.

  Hand in hand, they skated together, laughingly at first, then staidly talking in a low tone.

  Strange to say, Peter van Holp soon arrived at a sudden conviction that his little sister needed a wooden chain just like Hilda's.

  Two days afterwards, on Saint Nicholas's Eve, Hans, having burned three candle ends and cut his thumb into the bargain, stood in the marketplace at Amsterdam, buying another pair of skates.

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