Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates/On the Way to Haarlem

On the Way to Haarlem


On approaching the door of the farmhouse the boys suddenly found themselves in the midst of a lively domestic scene. A burly Dutchman came rushing out, closely followed by his dear vrouw, and she was beating him smartly with her long-handled warming pan. The expression on her face gave our boys so little promise of a kind reception that they prudently resolved to carry their toes elsewhere to be warmed.

The next cottage proved to be more inviting. Its low roof of bright red tiles extended over the cow stable that, clean as could be, nestled close to the main building. A neat, peaceful-looking old woman sat at one window, knitting. At the other could be discerned part of the profile of a fat figure that, pipe in mouth, sat behind the shining little panes and snowy curtain. In answer to Peter's subdued knock, a fair-haired, rosy-cheeked lass in holiday attire opened the upper half of the green door (which was divided across the middle) and inquired their errand.

"May we enter and warm ourselves, jufvrouw?" asked the captain respectfully.

"Yes, and welcome" was the reply as the lower half of the door swung softly toward its mate. Every boy, before entering, rubbed long and faithfully upon the rough mat, and each made his best bow to the old lady and gentleman at the window. Ben was half inclined to think that these personages were automata like the moving figures in the garden at Broek; for they both nodded their heads slowly, in precisely the same way, and both went on with their employment as steadily and stiffly as though they worked by machinery. The old man puffed, puffed, and his vrouw clicked her knitting needles, as if regulated by internal cog wheels. Even the real smoke issuing from the motionless pipe gave no convincing proof that they were human.

But the rosy-cheeked maiden. Ah, how she bustled about. How she gave the boys polished high-backed chairs to sit upon, how she made the fire blaze as if it were inspired, how she made Jacob Poot almost weep for joy by bringing forth a great square of gingerbread and a stone jug of sour wine! How she laughed and nodded as the boys ate like wild animals on good behavior, and how blank she looked when Ben politely but firmly refused to take any black bread and sauerkraut! How she pulled off Jacob's mitten, which was torn at the thumb, and mended it before his eyes, biting off the thread with her whit teeth, and saying "Now it will be warmer" as she bit; and finally, how she shook hands with every boy in turn and, throwing a deprecating glance at the female automaton, insisted upon filling their pockets with gingerbread!

All this time the knitting needles clicked on, and the pipe never missed a puff.

When the boys were fairly on their way again, they came in sight of the Zwanenburg Castle with its massive stone front, and its gateway towers, each surmounted with a sculptured swan.

"Halfweg, *{Halfway.} boys," said Peter, "off with your skates."

"You see," explained Lambert to his companions, "the Y and the Haarlem Lake meeting here make it rather troublesome. The river is five feet higher than the land, so we must have everything strong in the way of dikes and sluice gates, or there would be wet work at once. The sluice arrangements are supposed to be something extra. We will walk over them and you shall see enough to make you open your eyes. The spring water of the lake, they say, has the most wonderful bleaching powers of any in the world; all the great Haarlem bleacheries use it. I can't say much upon that subject, but I can tell you ONE thing from personal experience."

"What is that?"

"Why, the lake is full of the biggest eels you ever saw. I've caught them here, often--perfectly prodigious! I tell you they're sometimes a match for a fellow; they'd almost wriggle your arm from the socket if you were not on your guard. But you're not interested in eels, I perceive. The castle's a big affair, isn't it?"

"Yes. What do those swans mean? Anything?" asked Ben, looking up at the stone gate towers.

"The swan is held almost in reverence by us Hollanders. These give the building its name--Zwanenburg, swan castle. That is all I know. This is a very important spot; for it is here that the wise ones hold council with regard to dike matters. The castle was once the residence of the celebrated Christian Brunings."

"What about HIM?" asked Ben.

"Peter could answer you better than I," said Lambert, "if you could only understand each other, or were not such cowards about leaving your mother tongues. But I have often heard my grandfather speak of Brunings. He is never tired of telling us of the great engineer--how good he was and how learned and how, when he died, the whole country seemed to mourn as for a friend. He belonged to a great many learned societies and was at the head of the State Department intrusted with the care of the dikes and other defences against the sea. There's no counting the improvements he made in dikes and sluices and water mills and all that kind of thing. We Hollanders, you know, consider our great engineers as the highest of public benefactors. Brunings died years ago; they've a monument to his memory in the cathedral of Haarlem. I have seen his portrait, and I tell you, Ben, he was right noble-looking. No wonder the castle looks so stiff and proud. It is something to have given shelter to such a man!"

"Yes, indeed," said Ben. "I wonder, Van Mounen, whether you or I will ever give any old building a right to feel so proud. Heigh-ho! There's a great deal to be done yet in this world and some of us, who are boys now, will have to do it. Look to your shoe latchet, Van. It's unfastened.