Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates/Joy in the Cottage

Joy in the Cottage


Perhaps you were surprised to learn that Raff and his vrouw were at the skating race. You would have been more so had you been with them on the evening of that merry twentieth of December. To see the Brinker cottage standing sulkily alone on the frozen marsh, with its bulgy, rheumatic-looking walls and its slouched hat of a roof pulled far over its eyes, one would never suspect that a lively scene was passing within. Without, nothing was left of the day but a low line of blaze at the horizon. A few venturesome clouds had already taken fire, and others, with their edges burning, were lost in the gathering smoke.

A stray gleam of sunshine slipping down from the willow stump crept stealthily under the cottage. It seemed to feel that the inmates would give it welcome if it could only get near them. The room under which it hid was as clean as clean could be. The very cracks in the rafters were polished. Delicious odors filled the air. A huge peat fire upon the hearth sent flashes of harmless lightning at the somber walls. It played in turn upon the great leather Bible, upon Gretel's closet-bed, the household things upon their pegs, and the beautiful silver skates and the flowers upon the table. Dame Brinker's honest face shone and twinkled in the changing light. Gretel and Hans, with arms entwined, were leaning against the fireplace, laughing merrily, and Raff Brinker was dancing!

I do not mean that he was pirouetting or cutting a pigeon-wing, either of which would have been entirely too undignified for the father of a family. I simply affirm that while they were chatting pleasantly together Raff suddenly sprang from his seat, snapped his fingers, and performed two or three flourishes very much like the climax of a highland fling. Next he caught his vrouw in his arms and fairly lifted her from the ground in his delight.

"Huzza!" he cried. "I have it! I have it! It's Thomas Higgs. That's the name! It came upon me like a flash. Write it down, lad, write it down!"

Someone knocked at the door.

"It's the meester," cried the delighted dame. "Goede Gunst! How things come to pass!"

Mother and children came in merry collision as they rushed to open the door.

It was not the doctor, after all, but three boys, Peter van Holp, Lambert, and Ben.

"Good evening, young gentlemen," said Dame Brinker, so happy and proud that she would scarcely have been surprised at a visit from the king himself.

"Good evening, jufvrouw," said the trio, making magnificent bows.

Dear me, thought Dame Brinker as she bobbed up and down like a churn dasher, it's lucky I learned to curtsy at Heidelberg!

Raff was content to return the boys' salutations with a respectful nod.

"Pray be seated, young masters," said the dame as Gretel bashfully thrust a stool at them. "There's a lack of chairs as you see, but this one by the fire is at your service, and if you don't mind the hardness, that oak chest is as good a seat as the best. That's right, Hans, pull it out."

By the time the boys were seated to the dame's satisfaction, Peter, acting as a spokesman, had explained that they were going to attend a lecture at Amsterdam, and had stopped on the way to return Hans's strap.

"Oh, mynheer," cried Hans, earnestly, "it is too much trouble. I am very sorry."

"No trouble at all, Hans. I could have waited for you to come to your work tomorrow, had I not wished to call. And, Hans, talking of your work, my father is much pleased with it. A carver by trade could not have done it better. He would like to have the south arbor ornamented, also, but I told him you were going to school again."

"Aye!" put in Raff Brinker, emphatically. "Hans must go to school at once--and Gretel as well--that is true."

"I am glad to hear you say so," responded Peter, turning toward the father, "and very glad to know that you are again a well man."

"Yes, young master, a well man, and able to work as steady as ever, thank God!"

Here Hans hastily wrote something on the edge of a time-worn almanac that hung by the chimney-place. "Aye, that's right, lad, set it down. Figgs! Wiggs! Alack! Alack!" added Raff in great dismay, "it's gone again!"

"All right, Father," said Hans, "the name's down now in black and white. Here, look at it, father; mayhap the rest will come to you. If we had the place as well, it would be complete!" Then turning to Peter, he said in a low tone, "I have an important errand in town, mynheer, and if--"

"Wist!" exclaimed the dame, lifting her hands. "Not to Amsterdam tonight, and you've owned your legs were aching under you. Nay, nay--it'll be soon enough to go at early daylight."

"Daylight, indeed!" echoed Raff. "That would never do. Nay, Meitje, he must go this hour."

The vrouw looked for an instant as if Raff's recovery was becoming rather a doubtful benefit; her word was no longer sole law in the house. Fortunately the proverb "Humble wife is husband's boss" had taken deep root in her mind; even as the dame pondered, it bloomed.

"Very well, Raff," she said smilingly, "it is thy boy as well as mine. Ah! I've a troublesome house, young masters."

Just then Peter drew a long strap from his pocket.

Handing it to Hans he said in an undertone, "I need not thank you for lending me this, Hans Brinker. Such boys as you do not ask for thanks, but I must say you did me a great kindness, and I am proud to acknowledge it. I did not know," he added laughingly, "until fairly in the race, how anxious I was to win."

Hans was glad to join in Peter's laugh; it covered his embarrassment and gave his face a chance to cool off a little. Honest, generous boys like Hans have such a stupid way of blushing when you least expect it.

"It was nothing, mynheer," said the dame, hastening to her son's relief. "The lad's whole soul was in having you win the race, I know it was!"

This helped matters beautifully.

"Ah, mynheer," Hans hurried to say, "from the first start I felt stiff and strange on my feet. I was well out of it so long as I had no chance of winning."

Peter looked rather distressed.

"We may hold different opinions here. That part of the business troubles me. It is too late to mend it now, but it would be really a kindness to me if--"

The rest of Peter's speech was uttered so confidentially that I cannot record it. Enough to say, Hans soon started back in dismay, and Peter, looking very much ashamed, stammered out something to the effect that he would keep them, since he won the race, but it was "all wrong."

Here Van Mounen coughed, as if to remind Peter that lecture hour was approaching fast. At the same moment Ben laid something upon the table.

"Ah," exclaimed Peter, "I forgot my other errand. Your sister ran off so quickly today that Madame van Gleck had no opportunity to give her the case for her skates."

"S-s-t!" said Dame Brinker, shaking her head reproachfully at Gretel. "She was a very rude girl, I'm sure." Secretly she was thinking that very few women had such a fine little daughter."

"No, indeed"--Peter laughed--"she did exactly the right thing--ran home with her richly won treasures. Who would not? Don't let us detain you, Hans," he continued, turning around as he spoke, but Hans, who was eagerly watching his father, seemed to have forgotten their presence.

Meantime, Raff, lost in thought, was repeating, under his breath, "Thomas Higgs, Thomas Higgs, aye, that's the name. Alack! if I could but remember the place as well."

The skate case was elegantly made of crimson morocco, ornamented with silver. If a fairy had designed its delicate tracery, they could not have been more daintily beautiful. "For the Fleetest" was written upon the cover in sparkling letters. It was lined with velvet, and in one corner was stamped the name and address of the maker.

Gretel thanked Peter in her own simple way, then, being quite delighted and confused and not knowing what else to do, she lifted the case, carefully examining it in every part. "It's made by Mynheer Birmingham," she said after a while, still blushing and holding it before her eyes.

"Birmingham!" replied Lambert van Mounen, "that's the name of a place in England. Let me see it."

"Ha! ha!" He laughed, holding the open case toward the firelight. "No wonder you thought so, but it's a slight mistake. The case was made at Birmingham, but the maker's name is in smaller letters. Humph! They're so small, I can't read them."

"Let me try," said Peter, leaning over his shoulder. "Why, man, it's perfectly distinct. It's T-H--it's T--"

"Well!" exclaimed Lambert triumphantly, "if you can read it so easily, let's hear it, T-H, what?"

"T.H.-T.H. Oh! Why, Thomas Higgs, to be sure," replied Peter, pleased to be able to decipher it at last. Then, feeling that they had been acting rather unceremoniously, he turned to Hans.

Peter turned pale! What was the matter with the people? Raff and Hans had started up and were staring at him in glad amazement. Gretel looked wild. Dame Brinker, with an unlighted candle in her hand, was rushing about the room, crying, "Hans! Hans! Where's your hat? Oh, the meester! Oh the meester!"

"Birmingham! Higgs!" exclaimed Hans. "Did you say Higgs? We've found him! I must be off."

"You see, young masters." The dame was panting, at the same time snatching Hans's hat from the bed, "you see--we know him. He's our--no, he isn't. I mean--oh, Hans, you must go to Amsterdam this minute!"

"Good night, mynheers," panted Hans, radiant with sudden joy. "Good night. You will excuse me, I must go. Birmingham--Higgs--Higgs--Birmingham." And seizing his hat from his mother and his skates from Gretel he rushed from the cottage.

What could the boys think, but that the entire Brinker family had suddenly gone crazy!

They bade an embarrassed "Good evening," and turned to go. But Raff stopped them.

"This Thomas Higgs, young masters, is a--a person."

"Ah!" exclaimed Peter, quite sure that Raff was the most crazy of all.

"Yes, a person. A--ahem--a friend. We thought him dead. I hope it is the same man. In England, did you say?"

"Yes, Birmingham," answered Peter. "It must be Birmingham in England."

"I know the man," said Ben, addressing Lambert. "His factory is not four miles from our place. A queer fellow--still as an oyster--doesn't seem at all like an Englishman. I've often seen him--a solemn-looking chap, with magnificent eyes. He made a beautiful writing case once for me to give Jenny on her birthday. Makes pocketbooks, telescope cases, and all kinds of leatherwork."

As this was said in English, Van Mounen of course translated it for the benefit of all concerned, noticing meanwhile that neither Raff nor his vrouw looked very miserable, though Raff was trembling and the dame's eyes were swimming with tears.

You may believe that the doctor heard every word of the story, when later in the evening he came driving back with Hans. "The three young gentlemen have been gone some time," Dame Brinker said, "but like enough, by hurrying, it would be easy to find them coming out from the lecture, wherever that was."

"True," said Raff, nodding his head. "The vrouw always hits upon the right thing. It would be well to see the young English gentleman, mynheer, before he forgets all about Thomas Higgs. It's a slippery name, d'ye see? One can't hold it safe a minute. It come upon me sudden and strong as a pile driver, and my boy writ it down. Aye, mynheer, I'd haste to talk with the English lad. He's seen your son many a time--only to think on't!"

Dame Brinker took up the thread of the discourse.

"You'll pick out the lad quick enough, mynheer, because he's in company with Peter van Holp, and his hair curls up over his forehead like foreign folk's, and if you hear him speak, he talks of big and fast, only it's English, but that wouldn't be any hindrance to your honor."

The doctor had already lifted his hat to go. With a beaming face he muttered something about its being just like the young scamp to give himself a rascally English name, called Hans "my son," thereby making that young gentleman as happy as a lord, and left the cottage with very little ceremony, considering what a great meester he was.

The grumbling coachman comforted himself by speaking his mind as he drove back to Amsterdam. Since the doctor was safely stowed away in the coach and could not hear a word, it was a fine time to say terrible things of folks who hadn't no manner of feeling for nobody, and who were always wanting the horses a dozen times of a night.