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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter20)

2006-09-08 21:27

  Chapter 20. Jacob Poot Changes the Plan

  The last note died away in the distance. Our boys, who in their vain efforts to keep up with the boat had felt that they were skating backward, turned to look at one another.

  "How beautiful that was!" exclaimed Van Mounen.

  "Just like a dream!"

  Jacob drew close to Ben, giving his usual approving nod, as he spoke. "Dat ish goot. Dat ish te pest vay. I shay petter to take to Leyden mit a poat!"

  "Take a boat!" exclaimed Ben in dismay. "Why, man, our plan was to SKATE, not to be carried like little children."

  "Tuyfels!" retorted Jacob. "Dat ish no little——no papies——to go for poat!"

  The boys laughed but exchanged uneasy glances. It would be great fun to jump on an iceboat, if they had a chance, but to abandon so shamefully their grand undertaking——who could think of such a thing?

  An animated discussion arose at once.

  Captain Peter brought his party to a halt.

  "Boys," said he, "it strikes me that we should consult Jacob's wishes in this matter. He started the excursion, you know."

  "Pooh!" sneered Carl, throwing a contemptuous glance at Jacob. "Who's tired? We can rest all night in Leyden."

  Ludwig and Lambert looked anxious and disappointed. It was no slight thing to lose the credit of having skated all the way from Broek to the Hague and back again, but both agreed that Jacob should decide the question.

  Good-natured, tired Jacob! He read the popular sentiment at a glance.

  "Oh, no," he said in Dutch. "I was joking. We will skate, of course."

  The boys gave a delighted shout and started on again with renewed vigor.

  All but Jacob. He tried his best not to seem fatigued and, by not saying a word, saved his breath and energy for the great business of skating. But in vain. Before long, the stout body grew heavier and heavier——the tottering limbs weaker and weaker. Worse than all, the blood, anxious to get as far as possible from the ice, mounted to the puffy, good-natured cheeks, and made the roots of his thin yellow hair glow into a fiery red.

  This kind of work is apt to summon vertigo, of whom good Hans Anderson writes——the same who hurls daring young hunters from the mountains or spins them from the sharpest heights of the glaciers or catches them as they tread the stepping-stones of the mountain torrent.

  Vertigo came, unseen, to Jacob. After tormenting him awhile, with one touch sending a chill from head to foot, with the next scorching every vein with fever, she made the canal rock and tremble beneath him, the white sails bow and spin as they passed, then cast him heavily upon the ice.

  "Halloo!" cried Van Mounen. "There goes Poot!"

  Ben sprang hastily forward.

  "Jacob! Jacob, are you hurt?"

  Peter and Carl were lifting him. The face was white enough now. It seemed like a dead face——even the good-natured look was gone.

  A crowd collected. Peter unbuttoned the poor boy's jacket, loosened his red tippet, and blew between the parted lips.

  "Stand off, good people!" he cried. "Give him air!"

  "Lay him down," called out a woman from the crowd.

  "Stand him upon his feet," shouted another.

  "Give him wine," growled a stout fellow who was driving a loaded sled.

  "Yes! yes, give him wine!" echoed everybody.

  Ludwig and Lambert shouted in concert, "Wine! Wine! Who has wine?"

  A sleepy-headed Dutchman began to fumble mysteriously under the heaviest of blue jackets, saying as he did so, "Not so much noise, young masters, not so much noise! The boy was a fool to faint like a girl."

  "Wine, quick!" cried Peter, who, with Ben's help, was rubbing Jacob from head to foot.

  Ludwig stretched forth his hand imploringly toward the Dutchman, who, with an air of great importance, was still fumbling beneath the jacket.

  "DO hurry! He will die! Has anyone else any wine?"

  "He IS dead!" said an awful voice from among the bystanders.

  This startled the Dutchman.

  "Have a care!" he said, reluctantly drawing forth a small blue flask. "This is schnapps. A little is enough."

  A little WAS enough. The paleness gave way to a faint flush. Jacob opened his eyes, and, half bewildered, half ashamed, feebly tried to free himself from those who were supporting him.

  There was no alternative, now, for our party but to have their exhausted comrade carried, in some way, to Leyden. As for expecting him to skate anymore that day, the thing was impossible. In truth, by this time each boy began to entertain secret yearnings toward iceboats, and to avow a Spartan resolve not to desert Jacob. Fortunately a gentle, steady breeze was setting southward. If some accommodating schipper would but come along, matters would not be quite so bad after all.

  Peter hailed the first sail that appeared. The men in the stern would not even look at him. Three drays on runners came along, but they were already loaded to the utmost. Then an iceboat, a beautiful, tempting little one, whizzed past like an arrow. The boys had just time to stare eagerly at it when it was gone. In despair, they resolved to prop up Jacob with their strong arms, as well as they could, and take him to the nearest village.

  At that moment a very shabby iceboat came in sight. With but little hope of success Peter hailed at it, at the same time taking off his hat and flourishing it in the air.

  The sail was lowered, then came the scraping sound of the brake, and a pleasant voice called from the deck, "What now?"

  "Will you take us on?" cried Peter, hurrying with his companions as fast as he could, for the boat as "bringing to" some distance ahead. "Will you take us on?"

  "We'll pay for the ride!" shouted Carl.

  The man on board scarcely noticed him except to mutter something about its not being a trekschuit. Still looking toward Peter, he asked, "How many?"

  "Six."

  "Well, it's Nicholas's Day——up with you! Young gentleman sick?" He nodded toward Jacob.

  "Yes——broken down. Skated all the way from Broek," answered Peter. "Do you go to Leyden?"

  "That's as the wind says. It's blowing that way now. Scramble up!"

  Poor Jacob! If that willing Mrs. Poot had only appeared just then, her services would have been invaluable. It was as much as the boys could do to hoist him into the boat. All were in at last. The schipper, puffing away at his pipe, let out the sail, lifted the brake, and sat in the stern with folded arms.

  "Whew! How fast we go!" cried Ben. "This is something like! Feel better, Jacob?"

  "Much petter, I tanks you."

  "Oh, you'll be as good as new in ten minutes. This makes a fellow feel like a bird."

  Jacob nodded and blinked his eyes.

  "Don't go to sleep, Jacob, it's too cold. You might never wake up, you know. Persons often freeze to death in that way."

  "I no sleep," said Jacob confidently, and in two minutes he was snoring.

  Carl and Ludwig laughed.

  "We must wake him!" cried Ben. "It is dangerous, I tell you——Jacob! Ja-a-c——"

  Captain Peter interfered, for three of the boys were helping Ben for the fun of the thing.

  "Nonsense! Don't shake him! Let him alone, boys. One never snores like that when one's freezing. Cover him up with something. Here, this cloak will do. Hey, schipper?" and he looked toward the stern for permission to use it.

  The man nodded.

  "There," said Peter, tenderly adjusting the garment, "let him sleep. He will be as frisky as a lamb when he wakes. How far are we from Leyden, schipper?"

  "Not more'n a couple of pipes," replied a voice, rising from smoke like the genii in fairy tales (puff! puff!). "Likely not more'n one an' a half"——puff! puff!——"if this wind holds." Puff! puff! puff!

  "What is the man saying, Lambert?" asked Ben, who was holding his mittened hands against his cheeks to ward off the cutting air.

  "He says we're about two pipes from Leyden. Half the boors here on the canal measure distance by the time it takes them to finish a pipe."

  "How ridiculous."

  "See here, Benjamin Dobbs," retorted Lambert, growing unaccountably indignant at Ben's quiet smile. "See here, you've a way of calling every other thing you see on THIS side of the German ocean 'ridiculous.' It may suit YOU, this word, but it doesn't suit ME. When you want anything ridiculous, just remember your English custom of making the Lord Mayor of London, at his installation, count the nails in a horseshoe to prove HIS LEARNING."

  "Who told you we had any such custom as that?" cried Ben, looking grave in an instant.

  "Why, I KNOW it, no use of anyone telling me. It's in all the books——and it's true. It strikes me," continued Lambert, laughing in spite of himself, "that you have been kept in happy ignorance of a good many ridiculous things on YOUR side of the map."

  "Humph!" exclaimed Ben, trying not to smile. "I'll inquire into that Lord Mayor business when I get home. There must be some mistake. B-r-r-roooo! How fast we're going. This is glorious!"

  It was a grand sail, or ride, I scarcely know which to call it; perhaps FLY would be the best word, for the boys felt very much as Sinbad did when, tied to the roc's leg, he darted through the clouds; or as Bellerophon felt when he shot through the air on the back of his winged horse Pegasus.

  Sailing, riding, or flying, whichever it was, everything was rushing past, backward, and before they had time to draw a deep breath, Leyden itself, with its high, peaked roofs, flew halfway to meet them.

  When the city came in sight, it was high time to waken the sleeper. That feat accomplished, Peter's prophecy came to pass. Master Jacob was quite restored and in excellent spirits.

  The schipper made a feeble remonstrance when Peter, with hearty thanks, endeavored to slip some silver pieces into his tough brown palm.

  "Ye see, young master," said he, drawing away his hand, "the regular line o' trade's ONE thing, and a favor's another."

  "I know it," said Peter, "but those boys and girls of yours will want sweets when you get home. Buy them some in the name of Saint Nicholas."

  The man grinned. "Aye, true enough, I've young 'uns in plenty, a clean boatload of them. You are a sharp young master at guessing."

  This time the knotty hand hitched forward again, quite carelessly, it seemed, but its palm was upward. Peter hastily dropped in the money and moved away.

  The sail came tumbling down. Scrape, scrape went the brake, scattering an ice shower round the boat.

  "Good-bye, schipper!" shouted the boys, seizing their skates and leaping from the deck one by one. "Many thanks to you!"

  "Good-bye! good-b——Hold! Here! Stop! I want my coat."

  Ben was carefully assisting his cousin over the side of the boat.

  "What is the man shouting about? Oh, I know, you have his wrapper round your shoulders."

  "Dat ish true," answered Jacob, half jumping, half tumbling down upon the framework, "dat ish vot make him sho heavy."

  "Made YOU so heavy, you mean, Poot?"

  "Ya, made you sho heavy——dat ish true," said Jacob innocently as he worked himself free of the big wrapper. "Dere, now you hands it mit him, straits way, and tells him I vos much tanks for dat."

  "Ho! for an inn!" cried Peter as they stepped into the city. "Be brisk, my fine fellows!"

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