Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates/Introducing Jacob Poot and His Cousin

391284Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates — Introducing Jacob Poot and His CousinMary Mapes Dodge

Introducing Jacob Poot and His Cousin


Hans and Gretel had a fine frolic early on that Saint Nicholas's Eve. There was a bright moon, and their mother, though she believed herself to be without any hope of her husband's improvement, had been made so happy at the prospect of the meester's visit, that she yielded to the children's entreaties for an hour's skating before bedtime.

Hans was delighted with his new skates and, in his eagerness to show Gretel how perfectly they "worked," did many things upon the ice that caused the little maid to clasp her hands in solemn admiration. They were not alone, though they seemed quite unheeded by the various groups assembled upon the canal.

The two Van Holps and Carl Schummel were there, testing their fleetness to the utmost. Out of four trials Peter van Holp had won three times. Consequently Carl, never very amiable, was in anything but a good humor. He had relieved himself by taunting young Schimmelpenninck, who, being smaller than the others, kept meekly near them without feeling exactly like one of the party, but now a new thought seized Carl, or rather he seized the new thought and made an onset upon his friends.

"I say, boys, let's put a stop to those young ragpickers from the idiot's cottage joining the race. Hilda must be crazy to think of it. Katrinka Flack and Rychie Korbes are furious at the very idea of racing with the girl; and for my part, I don't blame them. As for the boy, if we've a spark of manhood in us, we will scorn the very idea of--"

"Certainly we will!" interposed Peter van Holp, purposely mistaking Carl's meaning. "Who doubts it? No fellow with a spark of manhood in him would refuse to let in two good skaters just because they were poor!"

"Carl wheeled about savagely. "Not so fast, master! And I'd thank you not to put words in other people's mouths. You'd best not try it again."

"Ha, ha!" laughed little Voostenwalbert Schimmelpenninck, delighted at the prospect of a fight, and sure that, if it should come to blows, his favorite Peter could beat a dozen excitable fellows like Carl.

Something in Peter's eye made Carl glad to turn to a weaker offender. He wheeled furiously upon Voost.

"What are you shrieking about, you little weasel? You skinny herring you, you little monkey with a long name for a tail!"

Half a dozen bystanders and byskaters set up an applauding shout at this brave witticism; and Carl, feeling that he had fairly vanquished his foes, was restored to partial good humor. He, however, prudently resolved to defer plotting against Hans and Gretel until some time when Peter should not be present.

Just then, his friend, Jacob Poot, was seen approaching. They could not distinguish his features at first, but as he was the stoutest boy in the neighborhood, there could be no mistaking his form.

"Hello! Here comes Fatty!" exclaimed Carl. "And there's someone with him, a slender fellow, a stranger."

"Ha! ha! That's like good bacon," cried Ludwig. "A streak of lean and a streak of fat."

"That's Jacob's English cousin," put in Master Voost, delighted at being able to give the information. "That's his English cousin, and, oh, he's got such a funny little name--Ben Dobbs. He's going to stay with him until after the grand race."

All this time the boys had been spinning, turning, rolling, and doing other feats upon their skates, in a quiet way, as they talked, but now they stood still, bracing themselves against the frosty air as Jacob Poot and his friend drew near.

"This is my cousin, boys," said Jacob, rather out of breath. "Benjamin Dobbs. He's a John Bull and he's going to be in the race."

All crowded, boy-fashion, about the newcomers. Benjamin soon made up his mind that the Hollanders, notwithstanding their queer gibberish, were a fine set of fellows.

If the truth must be told, Jacob had announced his cousin as Penchamin Dopps, and called his a Shon Pull, but as I translate every word of the conversation of our young friends, it is no more than fair to mend their little attempts at English. Master Dobbs felt at first decidedly awkward among his cousin's friends. Though most of them had studied English and French, they were shy about attempting to speak either, and he made very funny blunders when he tried to converse in Dutch. He had learned that vrouw meant wife; and ja, yes; and spoorweg, railway; kanaals, canals; stoomboot, steamboat; ophaalbruggen, drawbridges; buiten plasten, country seats; mynheer, mister; tweegevegt, duel or "two fights"; koper, copper; zadel, saddle; but he could not make a sentence out of these, nor use the long list of phrases he had learned in his "Dutch dialogues." The topics of the latter were fine, but were never alluded to by the boys. Like the poor fellow who had learned in Ollendorf to ask in faultless German, "Have you seen my grandmother's red cow?" and, when he reached Germany, discovered that he had no occasion to inquire after that interesting animal, Ben found that his book-Dutch did not avail him as much as he had hoped. He acquired a hearty contempt for Jan van Gorp, a Hollander who wrote a book in Latin to prove that Adam and Eve spoke Dutch, and he smiled a knowing smile when his uncle Poot assured him that Dutch "had great likeness mit Zinglish but it vash much petter languish, much petter."

However, the fun of skating glides over all barriers of speech. Through this, Ben soon felt that he knew the boys well, and when Jacob (with a sprinkling of French and English for Ben's benefit) told of a grand project they had planned, his cousin could now and then put in a ja, or a nod, in quite a familiar way.

The project WAS a grand one, and there was to be a fine opportunity for carrying it out; for, besides the allotted holiday of the Festival of Saint Nicholas, four extra days were to be allowed for a general cleaning of the schoolhouse.

Jacob and Ben had obtained permission to go on a long skating journey--no less a one than from Broek to The Hague, the capital of Holland, a distance of nearly fifty miles! *{Throughout this narrative distances are given according to our standard, the English statute mile of 5,280 feet. The Dutch mile is more than four times as long as ours.}

"And now, boys," added Jacob, when he had told the plan, "who will go with us?"

"I will! I will!" cried the boys eagerly.

"And so will I," ventured little Voostenwalbert.

"Ha! ha!" laughed Jacob, holding his fat sides and shaking his puffy cheeks. "YOU go? Such a little fellow as you? Why, youngster, you haven't left off your pads yet!"

Now, in Holland very young children wear a thin, padded cushion around their heads, surmounted with a framework of whalebone and ribbon, to protect them in case of a fall; and it is the dividing line between babyhood and childhood when they leave it off. Voost had arrived at this dignity several years before; consequently Jacob's insult was rather to great for endurance.

"Look out what you say!" he squeaked. "Lucky for you when you can leave off YOUR pads--you're padded all over!"

"Ha! ha!" roared all the boys except Master Dobbs, who could not understand. "Ha! ha!"--and the good-natured Jacob laughed more than any.

"It ish my fat--yaw--he say I bees pad mit fat!" he explained to Ben.

So a vote was passed unanimously in favor of allowing the now popular Voost to join the party, if his parents would consent.

"Good night!" sang out the happy youngster, skating homeward with all his might.

"Good night!"

"We can stop at Haarlem, Jacob, and show your cousin the big organ," said Peter van Holp eagerly, "and at Leyden, too, where there's no end to the sights; and spend a day and night at the Hague, for my married sister, who lives there, will be delighted to see us; and the next morning we can start for home."

"All right!" responded Jacob, who was not much of a talker.

Ludwig had been regarding his brother with enthusiastic admiration.

"Hurrah for you, Pete! It takes you to make plans! Mother'll be as full of it as we are when we tell her we can take her love direct to sister Van Gend. My, but it's cold," he added. "Cold enough to take a fellow's head off his shoulders. We'd better go home."

"What if it is cold, old Tender-skin?" cried Carl, who was busily practicing a step he called the "double edge." "Great skating we should have by this time, if it was as warm as it was last December. Don't you know that if it wasn't an extra cold winter, and an early one into the bargain, we couldn't go?"

"I know it's an extra cold night anyhow," said Ludwig. "Whew! I'm going home!"

Peter van Holp took out a bulgy gold watch and, holding it toward the moonlight as well as his benumbed fingers would permit, called out, "Halloo! It's nearly eight o'clock! Saint Nicholas is about by this time, and I, for one, want to see the little ones stare. Good night!"

"Good night!" cried one and all, and off they started, shouting, singing, and laughing as they flew along.

Where were Gretel and Hans?

Ah, how suddenly joy sometimes comes to an end!

They had skated about an hour, keeping aloof from the others, quite contented with each other, and Gretel had exclaimed, "Ah, Hans, how beautiful! How fine! To think that we both have skates! I tell you, the stork brought us good luck!"--when they heard something!

It was a scream--a very faint scream! No one else upon the canal observed it, but Hans knew its meaning too well. Gretel saw him turn white in the moonlight as he busily tore off his skates.

"The father!" he cried. "He has frightened our mother!" And Gretel ran after him toward the house as rapidly as she could.