Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates/A Catastrophe

A Catastrophe


It was nearly one o'clock when Captain van Holp and his command entered the grand old city of Haarlem. They had skated nearly seventeen miles since morning and were still as fresh as young eagles. From the youngest (Ludwig van Holp, who was just fourteen) to the eldest, no less a personage than the captain himself, a veteran of seventeen, there was but one opinion--that this was the greatest frolic of their lives. To be sure, Jacob Poot had become rather short of breath during the last mile of two, and perhaps he felt ready for another nap, but there was enough jollity in him yet for a dozen. Even Carl Schummel, who had become very intimate with Ludwig during the excursion, forgot to be ill-natured. As for Peter, he was the happiest of the happy and had sung and whistled so joyously while skating that the staidest passersby had smiled as they listened.

"Come, boys! It's nearly tiffin hour," he said as they neared a coffeehouse on the main street. "We must have something more solid than the pretty maiden's gingerbread"--and the captain plunged his hands into his pockets as if to say, "There's money enough here to feed an army!"

"Halloo!" cried Lambert. "What ails the man?"

Peter, pale and staring, was clapping his hands upon his breast and sides. He looked like one suddenly becoming deranged.

"He's sick!" cried Ben.

"No, he's lost something," said Carl.

Peter could only gasp, "The pocketbook with all our money in it--it's gone!"

For an instant all were too much startled to speak.

Carl at last came out with a gruff, "No sense in letting one fellow have all the money. I said so from the first. Look in your other pocket."

"I did. It isn't there."

"Open your underjacket."

Peter obeyed mechanically. He even took off his hat and looked into it, then thrust his hand desperately into every pocket.

"It's gone, boys," he said at last in a hopeless tone. "No tiffin for us, nor dinner, either. What is to be done? We can't get on without money. If we were in Amsterdam, I could get as much as we want, but there is not a man in Haarlem from whom I can borrow a stiver. Doesn't one of you know anyone here who would lend us a few guilders?"

Each boy looked into five blank faces. Then something like a smile passed around the circle, but it got sadly knotted up when it reached Carl.

"That wouldn't do," he said crossly. "I know some people here, rich ones, too, but father would flog me soundly if I borrowed a cent from anyone. He has 'An honest man need not borrow' written over the gateway of his summer house."

"Humph!" responded Peter, not particularly admiring the sentiment just at that moment.

The boys grew desperately hungry at once.

"It wash my fault," said Jacob, in a penitent tone, to Ben. "I say first, petter all de boys put zair pursh into Van Holp's monish."

"Nonsense, Jacob. You did it all for the best."

Ben said this in such a sprightly tone that the two Van Holps and Carl felt sure that he had proposed a plan that would relieve the party at once.

"What? what? Tell us, Van Mounen," they cried.

"He says it is not Jacob's fault that the money is lost--that he did it for the best when he proposed that Van Holp should put all of our money into his purse."

"Is that all?" said Ludwig dismally. "He need not have made such a fuss in just saying THAT. How much money have we lost?"

"Don't you remember?" said Peter. "We each put in exactly ten guilders. The purse had sixty guilders in it. I am the stupidest fellow in the world; little Schimmelpenninck would have made you a better captain. I could pommel myself for bringing such a disappointment upon you."

"Do it, then," growled Carl. "Pooh," he added, "we all know that it was an accident, but that doesn't help matters. We must have money, Van Holp--even if you have to sell your wonderful watch."

"Sell my mother's birthday present! Never! I will sell my coat, my hat, anything but my watch."

"Come, come," said Jacob pleasantly, "we are making too much of this affair. We can go home and start again in a day or two."

"YOU may be able to get another ten-guilder piece," said Carl, "but the rest of us will not find it so easy. If we go home, we stay home, you may depend."

Our captain, whose good nature had not yet forsaken him for a moment, grew indignant.

"Do you think that I will let you suffer for my carelessness?" he exclaimed. "I have three times sixty guilders in my strong box at home!"

"Oh, I beg your pardon," said Carl hastily, adding in a surlier tone, "Well, I see no better way than to go back hungry."

"I see a better plan than that," said the captain.

"What is it?" cried all the boys.

"Why, to make the best of a bad business and go back pleasantly and like men," said Peter, looking so gallant and handsome as he turned his frank face and clear blue eyes upon them that they caught his spirit.

"Ho for the captain!" they shouted.

"Now, boys, we may as well make up our minds, there's no place like Broek, after all--and that we mean to be there in two hours. Is that agreed to?"

"Agreed!" cried all as they ran to the canal.

"On with your skates! Are you ready? Here, Jacob, let me help you."

"Now. One, two, three, start!"

And the boyish faces that left Haarlem at that signal were nearly as bright as those that had entered it with Captain Peter half an hour before.