Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates/Looking for Work

Looking for Work


Luxuries unfit us for returning to hardships easily endured before. The wooden runners squeaked more than ever. It was as much as Hans could do to get on with the clumsy old things; still, he did not regret that he had parted with his beautiful skates, but resolutely pushed back the boyish trouble that he had not been able to keep them just a little longer, at least until after the race.

Mother surely will not be angry with me, he thought, for selling them without her leave. She has had care enough already. It will be full time to speak of it when I take home the money.

Hans went up and down the streets of Amsterdam that day, looking for work. He succeeded in earning a few stivers by assisting a man who was driving a train of loaded mules into the city, but he could not secure steady employment anywhere. He would have been glad to obtain a situation as porter or errand boy, but though he passed on his way many a loitering shuffling urchin, laden with bundles, there was no place for him. Some shopkeepers had just supplied themselves; others needed a trimmer, more lightly built fellow (they meant better dressed but did not choose to say so); others told him to call again in a month or two, when the canals would probably be broken up; and many shook their heads at him without saying a word.

At the factories he met with no better luck. It seemed to him that in those great buildings, turning out respectively such tremendous quantities of woolen, cotton, and linen stuffs, such world-renowned dyes and paints, such precious diamonds cut from the rough, such supplies of meal, of bricks, of glass and china--that in at least one of these, a strong-armed boy, able and eager to work, could find something to do. But no--nearly the same answer met him everywhere. No need of more hands just now. If he had called before Saint Nicholas's Day they might have given him a job as they were hurried then; but at present they had more boys than they needed. Hans wished they could see, just for a moment, his mother and Gretel. He did not know how the anxiety of both looked out from his eyes, and how, more than once, the gruffest denials were uttered with an uncomfortable consciousness that the lad ought not be turned away. Certain fathers, when they went home that night, spoke more kindly than usual to their youngsters, from memory of a frank, young face saddened at their words, and before morning one man actually resolved that he would instruct his head man Blankert to set the boy from Broek at something if he should come in again.

But Hans knew nothing of all this. Toward sundown he started on his return to Broek, uncertain whether the strange, choking sensation in his throat arose from discouragement or resolution. There was certainly one more chance. Mynheer van Holp might have returned by this time. Master Peter, it was reported, had gone to Haarlem the night before to attend to something connected with the great skating race. Still, Hans would go and try.

Fortunately Peter had returned early that morning. He was at home when Hans reached there and was just about starting for the Brinker cottage.

"Ah, Hans!" he cried as the weary boy approached the door. "You are the very one I wished to see. "You are the very one I wished to see. Come in and warm yourself."

After tugging at his well-worn hat, which always WOULD stick to his head when he was embarrassed, Hans knelt down, not by way of making a new style of oriental salute, nor to worship the goddess of cleanliness who presided there, but because his heavy shoes would have filled the soul of a Broek housewife with horror. When their owner stepped softly into the house, they were left outside to act as sentinels until his return.

Hans left the Van Holp mansion with a lightened heart. Peter had brought word from Haarlem that young Brinker was to commence working upon the summer-house doors immediately. There was a comfortable workshop on the place and it was to be at his service until the carving was done.

Peter did not tell him that he had skated all the way to Haarlem for the purpose of arranging this plan with Mynheer van Holp. It was enough for him to see the glad, eager look rise on young Brinker's face.

"I THINK I can do it," said Hans, "though I have never learned the trade."

"I am SURE you can," responded Peter heartily. "You will find every tool you require in the workshop. It is nearly hidden yonder by that wall of twigs. In summer, when the hedge is green, one cannot see the shop from here at all. How is your father today?"

"Better, mynheer. He improves every hour."

"It is the most astonishing thing I ever heard of. That gruff old doctor is a great fellow after all."

"Ah, mynheer," said Hans warmly, "he is more than great. He is good. But for the meester's kind heart and great skill my poor father would yet be in the dark. I think, mynheer," he added with kindling eyes, "surgery is the very noblest science in the world!"

Peter shrugged his shoulders. "Very noble it may be, but not quite to my taste. This Dr. Boekman certainly has skill. As for his heart--defend me from such hearts as his!"

"Why do you say so, mynheer?" asked Hans.

Just then a lady slowly entered from an adjoining apartment. It was Mevrouw van Holp arrayed in the grandest of caps and the longest of satin aprons ruffled with lace. She nodded placidly as Hans stepped back from the fire, bowing as well as he knew how.

Peter at once drew a high-backed oaken chair toward the fire, and the lady seated herself. There was a block of cork on each side of the chimney place. One of these he placed under his mother's feet.

Hans turned to go.

"Wait a moment, if you please, young man," said the lady. "I accidentally overheard you and my son speaking, I think, of my friend Dr. Boekman. You are right, young man. Dr. Boekman has a very kind heart. You perceive, Peter, that we may be quite mistaken in judging a person solely by his manners, though a courteous deportment is by no means to be despised."

"I intended no disrespect, mother," said Peter, "but surely one has no right to go growling and snarling through the world as they say he does."

"They say. Ah, Peter, 'they' means everybody or nobody. Surgeon Boekman has had a great sorrow. Many years ago he lost his only child under very painful circumstances. A fine lad, except that he was a thought too hasty and high-spirited. Before then Gerard Boekman was one of the most agreeable gentlemen I ever knew."

So saying, Mevrouw van Holp, looking kindly upon the two boys, rose, and left the room with the same dignity with which she had entered.

Peter, only half convinced, muttered something about "the sin of allowing sorrow to turn all one's honey into gall" as he conducted his visitor to the narrow side door. Before they parted, he advised Hans to keep himself in good skating order, "for," he added, "now that your father is all right, you will be in fine spirits for the race. That will be the prettiest skating show ever seen in this part of the world. Everybody is talking of it; you are to try for the prize, remember."

"I shall not be in the race, mynheer," said Hans, looking down.

"Not in the race! Why not, indeed!" And immediately Peter's thoughts swept on a full tide of suspicion toward Carl Schummel.

"Because I cannot, mynheer," answered Hans as he bent to slip his feet into his big shoes.

Something in the boy's manner warned Peter that it would be no kindness to press the matter further. He bade Hans good-bye, and stood thoughtfully watching him as he walked away.

In a minute Peter called out, "Hans Brinker!"

"Yes, mynheer."

"I'll take back all I said about Dr. Boekman."

"Yes, mynheer."

Both were laughing. But Peter's smile changed to a look of puzzled surprise when he saw Hans kneel down by the canal and put on the wooden skates.

"Very queer," muttered Peter, shaking his head as he turned to go into the house. "Why in the world doesn't the boy wear his new ones?"