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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter34)

2006-09-08 21:32

  Chapter 34. The Awakening

  An angel could not have entered the cottage more noiselessly. Gretel, not daring to look at anyone, slid softly to her mother's side.

  The room was very still. She could hear the old doctor breathe. She could almost hear the sparks as they fell into the ashes on the hearth. The mother's hand was very cold, but a burning spot glowed on her cheek, and her eyes were like a deer's——so bright, so sad, so eager.

  At last there was a movement upon the bed, very slight, but enough to cause them all to start. Dr. Boekman leaned eagerly forward.

  Another movement. The large hands, so white and soft for a poor man's hand, twitched, then raised itself steadily toward the forehead.

  It felt the bandage, not in a restless, crazy way but with a questioning movement that caused even Dr. Boekman to hold his breath.

  "Steady! Steady!" said a voice that sounded very strange to Gretel. "Shift that mat higher, boys! Now throw on the clay. The waters are rising fast; no time to——"

  Dame Brinker sprang forward like a young panther.

  She seized his hands and, leaning over him, cried, "Raff! Raff, boy, speak to me!"

  "Is it you, Meitje?" he asked faintly. "I have been asleep, hurt, I think. Where is little Hans?"

  "Here I am, Father!" shouted Hans, half mad with joy. But the doctor held him back.

  "He knows us!" screamed Dame Brinker. "Great God! He knows us! Gretel! Gretel! Come, see your father!"

  In vain Dr. Boekman commanded "Silence!" and tried to force them from the bedside. He could not keep them off.

  Hans and the mother laughed and cried together as they hung over the newly awakened man. Gretel made no sound but gazed at them all with glad, startled eyes. Her father was speaking in a faint voice.

  "Is the baby asleep, Meitje?"

  "The baby!" echoed Dame Brinker. "Oh, Gretel, that is you! And he calls Hans 'little Hans.' Ten years asleep! Oh, mynheer, you have saved us all. He has known nothing for ten years! Children, why don't you thank the meester?"

  The good woman was beside herself with joy. Dr. Boekman said nothing, but as his eye met hers, he pointed upward. She understood. So did Hans and Gretel.

  With one accord they knelt by the cot, side by side. Dame Brinker felt for her husband's hand even while she was praying. Dr. Boekman's head was bowed; the assistant stood by the hearth with his back toward them.

  "Why do you pray?" murmured the father, looking feebly from the bed as they rose. "Is it God's day?"

  It was not Sunday; but his vrouw bowed her head——she could not speak.

  "Then we should have a chapter," said Raff Brinker, speaking slowly and with difficulty. "I do not know how it is. I am very, very weak. Mayhap the minister will read it to us."

  Gretel lifted the big Dutch Bible from its carved shelf. Dr. Boekman, rather dismayed at being called a minister, coughed and handed the volume to his assistant.

  "Read," he murmured. "These people must be kept quiet or the man will die yet."

  When the chapter was finished, Dame Brinker motioned mysteriously to the rest by way of telling them that her husband was asleep.

  "Now, jufvrouw," said the doctor in a subdued tone as he drew on his thick woolen mittens, "there must be perfect quiet. You understand. This is truly a most remarkable case. I shall come again tomorrow. Give the patient no food today," and, bowing hastily, he left the cottage, followed by his assistant.

  His grand coach was not far away; the driver had kept the horses moving slowly up and down by the canal nearly all the time the doctor had been in the cottage.

  Hans went out also.

  "May God bless you, mynheer!" he said, blushing and trembling. "I can never repay you, but if——"

  "Yes, you can," interrupted the doctor crossly. "You can use your wits when the patient wakes again. This clacking and sniveling is enough to kill a well man, let alone one lying on the edge of his grave. If you want your father to get well, keep 'em quiet."

  So saying, Dr. Boekman, without another word, stalked off to meet his coach, leaving Hans standing there with eyes and mouth wide open.

  Hilda was reprimanded severely that day for returning late to school after recess, and for imperfect recitations.

  She had remained near the cottage until she heard Dame Brinker laugh, until she had heard Hans say, "Here I am, Father!" And then she had gone back to her lessons. What wonder that she missed them! How could she get a long string of Latin verbs by heart when her heart did not care a fig for them but would keep saying to itself, "Oh, I am so glad! I am so glad!"

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