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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter36)

2006-09-08 21:32

  Chapter 36. A New Alarm

  When Dr. Boekman called the next day at the Brinker cottage, he could not help noticing the cheerful, comfortable aspect of the place. An atmosphere of happiness breathed upon him as he opened the door. Dame Brinker sat complacently knitting beside the bed, her husband was enjoying a tranquil slumber, and Gretel was noiselessly kneading rye bread on the table in the corner.

  The doctor did not remain long. He asked a few simple questions, appeared satisfied with the answers, and after feeling his patient's pulse, said, "Ah, very weak yet, jufvrouw. Very weak, indeed. He must have nourishment. You may begin to feed the patient. Ahem! Not too much, but what you do give him let it be strong and of the best."

  "Black bread, we have, mynheer, and porridge," replied Dame Brinker cheerily. "They have always agreed with him well."

  "Tut, tut!" said the doctor, frowning. "Nothing of the kind. He must have the juice of fresh meat, white bread, dried and toasted, good Malaga wine, and——ahem! The man looks cold. Give him more covering, something light and warm. Where is the boy?"

  "Hans, mynheer, has gone into Broek to look for work. He will be back soon. Will the meester please be seated?

  Whether the hard polished stool offered by Dame Brinker did not look particularly tempting, or whether the dame herself frightened him, partly because she was a woman, and partly because an anxious, distressed look had suddenly appeared in her face, I cannot say. Certain it is that our eccentric doctor looked hurriedly about him, muttered something about "an extraordinary case," bowed, and disappeared before Dame Brinker had time to say another word.

  Strange that the visit of their good benefactor should have left a cloud, yet so it was. Gretel frowned, an anxious, childish frown, and kneaded the bread dough violently without looking up. Dame Brinker hurried to her husband's bedside, leaned over him, and fell into silent but passionate weeping.

  In a moment Hans entered.

  "Why, Mother," he whispered in alarm, "what ails thee? Is the father worse?"

  She turned her quivering face toward him, making no attempt to conceal her distress.

  "Yes. He is starving——perishing. A meester said it."

  Hans turned pale.

  "What does this mean, Mother? We must feed him at once. Here, Gretel, give me the porridge."

  "Nay!" cried his mother, distractedly, yet without raising her voice. "It may kill him. Our poor fare is too heavy for him. Oh, Hans, he will die——the father will DIE, if we use him this way. He must have meat and sweet wine and a dekbed. Oh, what shall I do, what shall I do?" she sobbed, wringing her hands. "There is not a stiver in the house."

  Gretel pouted. It was the only way she could express sympathy just then. Her tears fell one by one into the dough.

  "Did the meester say he MUST have these things, Mother?" asked Hans.

  "Yes, he did."

  "Well, Mother, don't cry, HE SHALL HAVE THEM. I shall bring meat and wine before night. Take the cover from my bed. I can sleep in the straw."

  "Yes, Hans, but it is heavy, scant as it is. The meester said he must have something light and warm. He will perish. Our peat is giving out, Hans. The father has wasted it sorely, throwing it on when I was not looking, dear man."

  "Never mind, Mother," whispered Hans cheerfully. "We can cut down the willow tree and burn it, if need be, but I'll bring home something tonight. There MUST be work in Amsterdam, though there's none in Broek. Never fear, Mother, the worst trouble of all is past. We can brave anything now that the father is himself again."

  "Aye!" sobbed Dame Brinker, hastily drying her eyes. "That is true indeed."

  "Of course it is. Look at him, Mother, how softly he sleeps. Do you think God would let him starve, just after giving him back to us? Why, Mother, I'm as SURE of getting all the father needs as if my pocket were bursting with gold. There, now, don't fret." And, hurriedly kissing her, Hans caught up his skates and slipped from the cottage.

  Poor Hans! Disappointed in his morning's errand, half sickened with this new trouble, he wore a brave look and tried to whistle as he tramped resolutely off with the firm intention of mending matters.

  Want had never before pressed so sorely upon the Brinker family. Their stock of peat was nearly exhausted, and all the flour in the cottage was in Gretel's dough. They had scarcely cared to eat during the past few days, scarcely realized their condition. Dame Brinker had felt so sure that she and the children could earn money before the worst came that she had given herself up to the joy of her husband's recovery. She had not even told Hans that the few pieces of silver in the old mitten were quite gone.

  Hans reproached himself, now, that he had not hailed the doctor when he saw him enter his coach and drive rapidly away in the direction of Amsterdam.

  Perhaps there is some mistake, he thought. The meester surely would have known that meat and sweet wine were not at our command; and yet the father looks very weak——he certainly does. I MUST get work. If Mynheer van Holp were back from Rotterdam, I could get plenty to do. But Master Peter told me to let him know if he could do aught to serve us. I shall go to him at once. Oh, if it were but summer!

  All this time Hans was hastening toward the canal. Soon his skates were on, and he was skimming rapidly toward the residence of Mynheer van Holp.

  "The father must have meat and wine at once," he muttered, "but how can I earn the money in time to buy them today? There is no other way but to go, as I PROMISED, to Master Peter. What would a gift of meat and wine be to him? When the father is once fed, I can rush down to Amsterdam and earn the morrow's supply."

  Then came other thoughts——thoughts that made his heart thump heavily and his cheeks burn with a new shame. It is BEGGING, to say the least. Not one of the Brinkers has ever been a beggar. Shall I be the first? Shall my poor father just coming back into life learn that his family has asked for charity——he, always so wise and thrifty? "No," cried Hans aloud, "better a thousand times to part with the watch."

  I can at least borrow money on it, in Amsterdam! he thought, turning around. That will be no disgrace. I can find work at once and get it back again. Nay, perhaps I can even SPEAK TO THE FATHER ABOUT IT!

  This last thought made the lad dance for joy. Why not, indeed, speak to the father? He was a rational being now. He may wake, thought Hans, quite bright and rested——may tell us the watch is of no consequence, to sell it of course! And Hans almost flew over the ice.

  A few moments more and the skates were again swinging from his arm. He was running toward the cottage.

  His mother met him at the door.

  "Oh, Hans!" she cried, her face radiant with joy, "the young lady has been here with her maid. She brought everything——meat, jelly, wine, and bread——a whole basketful! Then the meester sent a man from town with more wine and a fine bed and blankets for the father. Oh! he will get well now. God bless them!"

  "God bless them!" echoed Hans, and for the first time that day his eyes filled with tears.

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