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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter14)

2006-09-08 21:25

  Chapter 14. Hans

  Donder and Blixin!" cried Carl angrily, before the party had skated twenty yards from the city gates, "if here isn't that wooden-skate ragamuffin in the patched leather breeches. That fellow is everywhere, confound him! We'll be lucky," he added, in as sneering a tone as he dared to assume, "if our captain doesn't order us to halt and shake hands with him."

  "Your captain is a terrible fellow," said Peter pleasantly, "but this is a false alarm, Carl. I cannot spy your bugbear anywhere among the skaters. Ah, there he is! Why, what is the matter with the lad?"

  Poor Hans! His face was pale, his lips compressed. He skated like one under the effects of a fearful dream. Just as he was passing, Peter hailed him:

  "Good day, Hans Brinker!"

  Hans's countenance brightened at once. "Ah, mynheer, is that you? It is well we meet!"

  "Just like his impertinence," hissed Carl Schummel, darting scornfully past his companions, who seemed inclined to linger with their captain.

  "I am glad to see you, Hans," responded Peter cheerfully, "but you look troubled. Can I serve you?"

  "I have a trouble, mynheer," answered Hans, casting down his eyes. Then, lifting them again with almost a happy expression, he added, "But it is Hans who can help Mynheer van Holp THIS time."

  "How?" asked Peter, making, in his blunt Dutch way, no attempt to conceal his surprise.

  "By giving you THIS, mynheer." And Hans held forth the missing purse.

  "Hurrah!" shouted the boys, taking their cold hands from their pockets to wave them joyfully in the air. But Peter said "Thank you, Hans Brinker" in a tone that made Hans feel as if the king had knelt to him.

  The shout of the delighted boys had reached the muffled ears of the fine young gentleman who, under a full pressure of pent-up wrath, was skating toward Amsterdam. A Yankee boy would have wheeled about at once and hastened to satisfy his curiosity. But Carl only halted, and, with his back toward his party, wondered what on earth had happened. There he stood, immovable, until, feeling sure that nothing but the prospect of something to eat could have made them hurrah so heartily, he turned and skated slowly toward his excited comrades.

  In the meantime Peter had drawn Hans aside from the rest.

  "How did you know it was my purse?" he asked.

  "You paid me three guilders yesterday, mynheer, for making the whitewood chain, telling me that I must buy skates."

  "Yes, I remember."

  "I saw your purse then. It was of yellow leather."

  "And where did you find it today?"

  "I left my home this morning, mynheer, in great trouble, and as I skated, I took no heed until I stumbled against some lumber, and while I was rubbing my knee I saw your purse nearly hidden under a log."

  "That place! Ah, I remember now. Just as we were passing it I pulled my tippet from my pocket and probably flipped out the purse at the same time. It would have been gone but for you, Hans. Here"——pouring out the contents——"you must give us the pleasure of dividing the money with you."

  "No, mynheer," answered Hans. He spoke quietly, without pretence or any grace of manner, but Peter, somehow, felt rebuked, and put the silver back without a word.

  I like that boy, rich or poor, he thought to himself, then added aloud, "May I ask about this trouble of yours, Hans?"

  "Ah, mynheer, it is a sad case, but I have waited here too long. I am going to Leyden to see the great Dr. Boekman."

  "Dr. Boekman!" exclaimed Peter in astonishment.

  "Yes, mynheer, and I have not a moment to lose. Good day!"

  "Stay, I am going that way. Come, my lads! Shall we return to Haarlem!"

  "Yes," cried the boys, eagerly——and off they started.

  "Now," said Peter, drawing near Hans, both skimming the ice so easily and lightly as they skated on together that they seemed scarcely conscious of moving. "We are going to stop at Leyden, and if you are going there only with a message to Dr. Boekman, cannot I do the errand for you? The boys may be too tired to skate so far today, but I will promise to see him early tomorrow if he is to be found in the city."

  "Ah, mynheer, that would be serving me indeed; it is not the distance I dread but leaving my mother so long."

  "Is she ill?"

  "No, mynheer. It is the father. You may have heard it, how he has been without wit for many a year——ever since the great Schlossen Mill was built; but his body has been well and strong. Last night the mother knelt upon the hearth to blow the peat (it is his only delight to sit and watch the live embers, and she will blow them into a blaze every hour of the day to please him). Before she could stir, he sprang upon her like a giant and held her close to the fire, all the time laughing and shaking his head. I was on the canal, but I heard the mother scream and ran to her. The father had never loosened his hold, and her gown was smoking. I tried to deaden the fire, but with one hand he pushed me off. There was no water in the cottage or I could have done better, and all that time he laughed——such a terrible laugh, mynheer, hardly a sound, but all in his face. I tried to pull her away, but that only made it worse. Then——it was dreadful, but could I see the mother burn? I beat him——beat him with a stool. He tossed me away. The gown was on fire.! I WOULD put it out. I can't remember well after that. I found myself upon the floor, and the mother was praying. It seemed to me that she was in a blaze, and all the while I could hear that laugh. Gretel flew to the closet and filled a porringer with the food he liked and put it upon the floor. Then, mynheer, he left the mother and crawled to it like a little child. She was not burned, only a part of her clothing. Ah, how kind she was to him all night, watching and tending him. He slept in a high fever, with his hands pressed to his head. The mother says he has done that so much of late, as though he felt pain there. Ah, mynheer, I did not mean to tell you. If the father was himself, he would not harm even a kitten."

  For a moment the two boys moved on in silence.

  "It is terrible," said Peter at last. "How is he today?"

  "Very sick, mynheer."

  "Why go for Dr. Boekman, Hans? There are others in Amsterdam who could help him, perhaps. Boekman is a famous man, sought only by the wealthiest, and they often wait upon him in vain."

  "He PROMISED, mynheer, he promised me yesterday to come to the father in a week. But now that the change has come, we cannot wait. We think the poor father is dying. Oh, mynheer, you can plead with him to come quick. He will not wait a whole week and our father dying, the good meester is so kind."

  "SO KIND!" echoed Peter in astonishment. "Why, he is known as the crossest man in Holland!"

  "He looks so because he has no fat and his head is busy, but his heart is kind, I know. Tell the meester what I have told you, mynheer, and he will come."

  "I hope so, Hans, with all my heart. You are in haste to turn homeward, I see. Promise me that should you need a friend, you will go to my mother in Broek. Tell her I bade you see her. And, Hans Brinker, not as a reward, but as a gift, take a few of these guilders."

  Hans shook his head resolutely.

  "No, no, mynheer. I cannot take it. If I could find work in Broek or at the South Mill, I would be glad, but it is the same story everywhere——'Wait until spring'".

  "It is well you speak of it," said Peter eagerly, "for my father needs help at once. Your pretty chain pleased him much. He said, 'That boy has a clean cut; he would be good at carving.' There is to be a carved portal to our new summer house, and father will pay well for the job."

  "God is good!" cried Hans in sudden delight. "Oh, mynheer, that would be too much joy. I have never tried big work, but I can do it. I know I can."

  "Well, tell my father you are the Hans Brinker of whom I spoke. He will be glad to serve you."

  Hans stared in honest surprise.

  "Thank you, mynheer."

  "Now, captain," shouted Carl, anxious to appear as good humored as possible, by way of atonement, "here we are in the midst of Haarlem, and no word from you yet. We await your orders, and we're as hungry as wolves."

  Peter made a cheerful answer, and turned hurriedly to Hans.

  "Come, get something to eat, and I will detain you no longer.'

  What a quick, wistful look Hans threw upon him! Peter wondered that he had not noticed before that the poor boy was hungry.

  "Ah, mynheer, even now the mother may need me, the father may be worse——I must not wait. May God care for you." And, nodding hastily, Hans turned his face homeward and was gone.

  "Come, boys," sighed Peter, "now for our tiffin!"

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