Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates/The Merchant Prince and the Sister-Princess

391303Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates — The Merchant Prince and the Sister-PrincessMary Mapes Dodge

The Merchant Prince and the Sister-Princess


Well might Peter feel that his sister's house was like an enchanted castle. Large and elegant as it was, a spell of quiet hung over it. The very lion crouching at its gate seemed to have been turned into stone through magic. Within, it was guarded by genii, in the shape of red-faced servants, who sprang silently forth at the summons of bell or knocker. There was a cat also, who appeared as knowing as any Puss-in-Boots, and a brass gnome in the hall whose business it was to stand with outstretched arms ready to receive sticks and umbrellas. Safe within the walls bloomed a Garden of Delight, where the flowers firmly believed it was summer, and a sparkling fountain was laughing merrily to itself because Jack Frost could not find it. There was a Sleeping Beauty, too, just at the time of the boys' arrival, but when Peter, like a true prince, flew lightly up the stairs and kissed her eyelids, the enchantment was broken. The princess became his own good sister, and the fairy castle just one of the finest, most comfortable houses of The Hague.

As may well be believed, the boys received the heartiest of welcomes. After they had conversed awhile with their lively hostess, one of the genii summoned them to a grand repast in a red-curtained room, where floor and ceiling shone like polished ivory, and the mirrors suddenly blossomed into rosy-cheeked boys as far as the eye could reach.

They had caviar now, and salmagundi, and sausage and cheese, besides salad and fruit and biscuit and cake. How the boys could partake of such a medley was a mystery to Ben, for the salad was sour, and the cake was sweet; the fruit was dainty, and the salmagundi heavy with onions and fish. But, while he was wondering, he made a hearty meal, and was soon absorbed in deciding which he really preferred, the coffee or the anisette cordial. It was delightful too--this taking one's food from dishes of frosted silver and liqueur glasses from which Titania herself might have sipped. The young gentleman afterward wrote to his mother that, pretty and choice as things were at home, he had never known what cut glass, china, and silver services were until he visited The Hague.

Of course, Peter's sister soon heard all of the boys' adventures. How they had skated over forty miles and seen rare sights on the way; how they had lost their purse and found it again. How one of the party had fallen and given them an excuse for a grand sail in an ice boat; how, above all, they had caught a robber and so, for a second time, saved their slippery purse.

"And now, Peter," said the lady when the story was finished, "you must write at once to tell the good people of Broek that your adventures have reached their height, that you and your fellow travelers have all been taken prisoners."

The boys looked startled.

"Indeed, I shall do no such thing," laughed Peter. "We must leave tomorrow at noon."

But the sister had already decided differently, and a Holland lady is not to be easily turned from her purpose. In short, she held forth such strong temptations and was so bright and cheerful and said so many coaxing and unanswerable things, both in English and Dutch, that the boys were all delighted when it was settled that they should remain at The Hague for at least two days.

Next the grand skating race was talked over; Mevrouw van Gend gladly promised to be present on the occasion. "I shall witness your triumph, Peter," she said, "for you are the fastest skater I ever knew."

Peter blushed and gave a slight cough as Carl answered for him.

"Ah, mevrouw, he is swift, but all the Broek boys are fine skaters--even the rag pickers," and he thought bitterly of poor Hans.

The lady laughed. "That will make the race all the more exciting," she said. "But I shall wish each of you to be the winner."

At this moment her husband Mynheer van Gend came in, and the enchantment falling upon the boys was complete.

The invisible fairies of the household at once clustered about them, whispering that Jasper van Gend had a heart as young and fresh as their own, and if he loved anything in this world more than industry, it was sunshine and frolic. They hinted also something about his having a hearty full of love and a head full of wisdom and finally gave the boys to understand that when mynheer said a thing, he meant it.

Therefore his frank "Well, now, this is pleasant," as he shook hands with them all, made the boys feel quite at home and as happy as squirrels.

There were fine paintings in the drawing room and exquisite statuary, and portfolios filled with rare Dutch engravings, besides many beautiful and curious things from China and Japan. The boys felt that it would require a month to examine all the treasures of the apartment.

Ben noticed with pleasure English books lying upon the table. He saw also over the carved upright piano, life-sized portraits of William of Orange and his English queen, a sight that, for a time, brought England and Holland side by side in his heart. William and Mary have left a halo round the English throne to this day, he the truest patriot that ever served an adopted country, she the noblest wife that ever sat upon a British throne, up to the time of Victoria and Albert the Good. As Ben looked at the pictures he remembered accounts he had read of King William's visit to The Hague in the winter of 1691. He who sang the Battle of Ivry had not yet told the glowing story of that day, but Ben knew enough of it to fancy that he could almost hear the shouts of the delighted populace as he looked from the portraits to the street, which at this moment was aglow with a bonfire, kindled in a neighboring square.

That royal visit was one never to be forgotten. For two years William of Orange had been monarch of a foreign land, his head working faithfully for England, but his whole heart yearning for Holland. Now, when he sought its shores once more, the entire nation bade him welcome. Multitudes flocked to The Hague to meet him--"Many thousands came sliding or skating along the frozen canals from Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Leyden, Haarlem, Delft."

  • {Macaulay's History of England.} All day long the festivities

of the capital were kept up, the streets were gorgeous with banners, evergreen arches, trophies, and mottoes of welcome and emblems of industry. William saw the deeds of his ancestors and scenes of his own past life depicted on banners and tapestries along the streets. At night superb fireworks were displayed upon the ice. Its glassy surface was like a mirror. Sparkling fountains of light sprang up from below to meet the glittering cascades leaping upon it. Then a feathery fire of crimson and green shook millions of rubies and emeralds into the ruddy depths of the ice--and all this time the people were shouting, "God bless William of Orange! Long live the king!" They were half mad with joy and enthusiasm. William, their own prince, their stadtholder, had become the ruler of three kingdoms; he had been victorious in council and in war, and now, in his hour of greatest triumph, had come as a simple guest to visit them. he king heard their shouts with a beating heart. It is a great thing to be beloved by one's country. His English courtiers complimented him upon his reception. "Yes," said he, "but the shouting is nothing to what it would have been if Mary had been with me!"

While Ben was looking at the portraits, Mynheer van Gend was giving the boys an account of a recent visit to Antwerp. As it was the birthplace of Quentin Matsys, the blacksmith who for love of an artist's daughter studied until he became a great painter, the boys asked their host if he had seen any of Matsys' works.

"Yes, indeed," he replied, and excellent they are. His famous triptych in a chapel of the Antwerp cathedral, with the Descent from the Cross on the center panel, is especially fine, but I confess I was more interested in his well."

"What well, mynheer?" asked Ludwig.

One in the heart of the city, near this same cathedral, whose lofty steeple is of such delicate workmanship that the French emperor said it reminded him of Mechlin lace. The well is covered with a Gothic canopy surmounted by the figure of a knight in full armor. It is all of metal and proves that Matsys was an artist at the forge as well as at the easel; indeed, his great fame is mainly derived from his miraculous skill as an artificer in iron."

Next, mynheer showed the boys some exquisite Berlin castings, which he had purchased in Antwerp. They were IRON JEWELRY, and very delicate--beautiful medallions designed from rare paintings, bordered with fine tracery and open work--worthy, he said, of being worn by the fairest lady of the land. Consequently the necklace was handed with a bow and a smile to the blushing Mevrouw van Gend.

Something in the lady's aspect, as she bent her bright young face over the gift, caused mynheer to say earnestly, "I can read your thoughts, sweetheart."

She looked up in playful defiance.

"Ah, now I am sure of them! You were thinking of those noblehearted women, but for whom Prussia might have fallen. I know it by that proud light in your eye."

"The proud light in my eye plays me false, then," she answered. "I had no such grand matter in my mind. To confess the simple truth, I was only thinking how lovely this necklace would be with my blue brocade."

"So, so!" exclaimed the rather crestfallen spouse.

"But I CAN think of the other, Jasper, and it will add a deeper value to your gift. You remember the incident, do you not, Peter? How when the French were invading Prussia and for lack of means the country was unable to defend itself against the enemy, the women turned the scale by pouring their plate and jewels into the public treasury--"

Aha! thought mynheer as he met his vrouw's kindling glance. The proud light is there now, in earnest.

Peter remarked maliciously that the women had still proved true to their vanity on that occasion, for jewelry they would have. If gold or silver were wanted by the kingdom, they would relinquish it and use iron, but they could not do without their ornaments.

"What of that?" said the vrouw, kindling again. "It is no sin to love beautiful things if you adapt your material to circumstances. All I have to say is, the women saved their country and, indirectly, introduced a very important branch of manufacture. Is not that so, Jasper?"

"Of course it is, sweetheart," said mynheer, "but Peter needs no word of mine to convince him that all the world over women have never been found wanting in their country's hour of trial, though"--(bowing to mevrouw)--"his own country women stand foremost in the records of female patriotism and devotion."

Then, turning to Ben, the host talked with him in English of the fine old Belgian city. Among other things he told the origin of its name. Ben had been taught that Antwerp was derived from ae'nt werf (on the wharf), but Mynheer van Gend gave him a far more interesting derivation.

It appears that about three thousand years ago, a great giant, named Antigonus, lived on the river Scheld, on the site of the present city of Antwerp. This giant claimed half the merchandise of all navigators who passed his castle. Of course, some were inclined to oppose this simple regulation. In such cases, Antigonus, by way of teaching them to practice better manners next time, cut off and threw into the river the rights hands of the merchants. Thus handwerpen (or hand-throwing), changed to Antwerp, came to be the name of the place. The escutcheon or arms of the city has two hands upon it; what better proof than this could one have of the truth of the story, especially when one wishes to believe it!

When Mynheer van Gend had related in two languages this story of Antwerp, he was tempted to tell other legends--some in English, some in Dutch; and so the moments, borne upon the swift shoulders of gnomes and giants, glided rapidly away toward bedtime.

It was hard to break up so pleasant a party, but the Van Gend household moved with the regularity of clockwork. There was no lingering at the threshold when the cordial "Good night!" was spoken. Even while our boys were mounting the stairs, the invisible household fairies again clustered around them, whispering that system and regularity had been chief builders of the master's prosperity.

Beautiful chambers with three beds in them were not to be found in this mansion. Some of the rooms contained two, but each visitor slept alone. Before morning, the motto of the party evidently was, "Every boy his own chrysalis," and Peter, at least, was not sorry to have it so.

Tired as he was, Ben, after noting a curious bell rope in the corner, began to examine his bedclothes. Each article filled him with astonishment--the exquisitely fine pillow spread trimmed with costly lace and embroidered with a gorgeous crest and initial, the dekbed cover (a great silk bag, large as the bed, stuffed with swan's down), and the pink satin quilts, embroidered with garlands of flowers. He could scarcely sleep for thinking what a queer little bed it was, so comfortable and pretty, too, with all its queerness. In the morning he examined the top coverlet with care, for he wished to send home a description of it in his next letter. It was a beautiful Japanese spread, marvelous in texture as well as in its variety of brilliant coloring, and worth, as Ben afterward learned, not less than three hundred dollars.

The floor was of polished wooden mosaic, nearly covered with a rich carpet bordered with thick black fringe. Another room displayed a margin of satinwood around the carpet. Hung with tapestry, its walls of crimson silk were topped with a gilded cornice which shot down gleams of light far into the polished floor.

Over the doorway of the room in which Jacob and Ben slept was a bronze stork that, with outstretched neck, held a lamp to light the guests into the apartment. Between the two narrow beds of carved whitewood and ebony, stood the household treasure of the Van Gends, a massive oaken chair upon which the Prince of Orange had once sat during a council meeting. Opposite stood a quaintly carved clothespress, waxed and polished to the utmost and filled with precious stores of linen; beside it a table holding a large Bible, whose great golden clasps looked poor compared with its solid, ribbed binding made to outlast six generations.

There was a ship model on the mantleshelf, and over it hung an old portrait of Peter the Great, who, you know, once gave the dockyard cats of Holland a fine chance to look at a king, which is one of the special prerogatives of cats. Peter, though czar of Russia, was not too proud to work as a common shipwright in the dockyards of Saardam and Amsterdam, that he might be able to introduce among his countrymen Dutch improvements in ship building. It was this willingness to be thorough even in the smallest beginnings that earned for him the title of Peter the Great.

Peter the little (comparatively speaking) was up first, the next morning; knowing the punctual habits of his brother-in-law, he took good care that none of the boys should oversleep themselves. A hard task he found it to wake Jacob Poot, but after pulling that young gentleman out of bed, and, with Ben's help, dragging him about the room for a while, he succeeded in arousing him.

While Jacob was dressing and moaning within him because the felt slippers, provided him as a guest, were too tight for his swollen feet, Peter wrote to inform their friends at Broek of the safe arrival of his party at The Hague. He also begged his mother to send word to Hans Brinker that Dr. Boekman had not yet reached Leyden but that a letter containing Hans's message had been left at the hotel where the doctor always lodged during his visits to the city. "Tell him, also," wrote Peter, "that I shall call there again, as I pass through Leyden. The poor boy seemed to feel sure that 'the meester' would hasten to save his father, but we, who know the gruff old gentleman better, may be confident he will do no such thing. It would be a kindness to send a visiting physician from Amsterdam to the cottage at once, if Jufvrouw *{In Holland, women of the lower grades of society do not take the title of Mrs. (or Mevrouw) when they marry, as with us. They assume their husbands' names but are still called Miss (Jufvrouw, pronounced Yuffrow).} Brinker will consent to receive any but the great king of the meesters, as Dr. Boekman certainly is.

"You know, Mother," added Peter, "that I have always considered Sister van Gend's house as rather quiet and lonely, but I assure you, it is not so now. He says we make him wish that he had a houseful of boys of his own. He has promised to let us ride on his noble black horses. They are gentle as kittens, he says, if one have but a firm touch at the rein. Ben, according to Jacob's account, is a glorious rider, and your son Peter is not a very bad hand at the business; so we two are to go out together this morning mounted like knights of old. After we return, Brother van Gend says he will lend Jacob his English pony and obtain three extra horses; and all of the party are to trot about the city in a grand cavalcade, led on by him. He will ride the black horse which Father sent him from Friesland. My sister's pretty roan with the long white tail is lame, and she will ride none other; else she would accompany us. I could scarcely close my eyes last night after Sister told me of the plan. Only the thought of poor Hans Brinker and his sick father checked me, but for that I could have sung for joy. Ludwig has given us a name already--the Broek Cavalry. We flatter ourselves that we shall make an imposing appearance, especially in single file. . . ."

The Broek Cavalry were not disappointed. Mynheer van Gend readily procured good horses; and all the boys could ride, though none was as perfect horsemen (or horseboys) as Peter and Ben. They saw The Hague to their hearts' content, and The Hague saw them--expressing its approbation loudly, through the mouths of small boys and cart dogs; silently, through bright eyes that, not looking very deeply into things, shone as they looked at the handsome Carl and twinkled with fun as a certainly portly youth with shaking cheeks rode past bumpetty, bumpetty, bump!

On their return, the boys pronounced the great porcelain stove in the family sitting room a decidedly useful piece of furniture, for they could gather around it and get warm without burning their noses or bringing on chilblains. It was so very large that, though hot elsewhere, it seemed to send out warmth by the houseful. Its pure white sides and polished brass rings made it a pretty object to look upon, notwithstanding the fact that our ungrateful Ben, while growing thoroughly warm and comfortable beside it, concocted a satirical sentence for his next letter, to the effect that a stove in Holland must, of course, resemble a great tower of snow or it wouldn't be in keeping with the oddity of the country.

To describe all the boys saw and did on that day and the next would render this little book a formidable volume indeed. They visited the brass cannon foundry, saw the liquid fire poured into molds, and watched the smiths, who, half naked, stood in the shadow, like demons playing with flame. They admired the grand public buildings and massive private houses, the elegant streets, and noble Bosch--pride of all beauty-loving Hollanders. The palace with its brilliant mosaic floors, its frescoed ceilings, and gorgeous ornaments, filled Ben with delight; he was surprised that some of the churches were so very plain--elaborate sometimes in external architecture but bare and bleak within with their blank, whitewashed walls.

If there were no printed record, the churches of Holland would almost tell her story. I will not enter into the subject here, except to say that Ben--who had read of her struggles and wrongs and of the terrible retribution she had from time to time dealt forth--could scarcely tread a Holland town without mentally leaping horror-stricken over the bloody stepping-stones of its history. He could not forget Philip of Spain nor the Duke of Alva even while rejoicing in the prosperity that followed the Liberation. He looked into the meekest of Dutch eyes for something of the fire that once lit the haggard faces of those desperate, lawless men who, wearing with pride the title of "Beggars," which their oppressors had mockingly cast upon them, became the terror of land and sea. In Haarlem he had wondered that the air did not still resound with the cries of Alva's three thousand victims. In Leyden his heart had swelled in sympathy as he thought of the long procession of scarred and famished creatures who after the siege, with Adrian van der Werf at their head, tottered to the great church to sing a glorious anthem because Leyden was free! He remembered that this was even before they had tasted the bread brought by the Dutch ships. They would praise God first, then eat. Thousands of trembling voices were raised in glad thanksgiving. For a moment it swelled higher and higher, then suddenly changed to sobbing--not one of all the multitude could sing another note. But who shall say that anthem, even to its very end, was not heard in heaven!

Here, in The Hague, other thoughts came to Ben--of how Holland in later years unwillingly put her head under the French yoke, and how, galled and lashed past endurance, she had resolutely jerked it out again. He liked her for that. What nation of any spirit, thought he, could be expected to stand such work, paying all her wealth into a foreign treasury and yielding up the flower of her youth under foreign conscription. It was not so very long ago, either, since English guns had been heard booming close by in the German Ocean; well--all the fighting was over at last. Holland was a snug little monarchy now in her own right, and Ben, for one, was glad of it. Arrived at this charitable conclusion, he was prepared to enjoy to the utmost all the wonders of her capital; he quite delighted Mynheer van Gend with his hearty and intelligent interest--so, in fact, did all the boys, for a merrier, more observant party never went sight-seeing.