Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates/What the Boys Saw and Did in Amsterdam

391286Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates — What the Boys Saw and Did in AmsterdamMary Mapes Dodge

What the Boys Saw and Did in Amsterdam


"Are we all here?" cried Peter, in high glee, as the party assembled upon the canal early the next morning, equipped for their skating journey. "Let me see. As Jacob has made me captain, I must call the roll. Carl Schummel, you here?"


"Jacob Poot!"


"Benjamin Dobbs!"


"Lambert van Mounen!"


"That's lucky! Couldn't get on without YOU, as you're the only one who can speak English. Ludwig van Holp!"


"Voostenwalbert Schimmelpenninck!"

No answer.

"Ah, the little rogue has been kept at home! Now, boys, it's just eight o'clock--glorious weather, and the Y is as firm as a rock. We'll be at Amsterdam in thirty minutes. One, two, three START!"

True enough, in less than half an hour they had crossed a dike of solid masonry and were in the very heart of the great metropolis of the Netherlands--a walled city of ninety-five islands and nearly two hundred bridges. Although Ben had been there twice since his arrival in Holland, he saw much to excite wonder, but his Dutch comrades, having lived nearby all their lives, considered it the most matter-of-course place in the world. Everything interested Ben: the tall houses with their forked chimneys and gable ends facing the street; the merchants' ware rooms, perched high up under the roofs of their dwellings, with long, armlike cranes hoisting and lowering goods past the household windows; the grand public buildings erected upon wooden piles driven deep into the marshy ground; the narrow streets; the canals crossing the city everywhere; the bridges; the locks; the various costumes; and, strangest of all, shops and dwellings crouching close to the fronts of the churches, sending their long, disproportionate chimneys far upward along the sacred walls.

If he looked up, he saw tall, leaning houses, seeming to pierce the sky with their shining roofs. If he looked down, there was the queer street, without crossing or curb--nothing to separate the cobblestone pavement from the footpath of brick--and if he rested his eyes halfway, he saw complicated little mirrors (spionnen) fastened upon the outside of nearly every window, so arranged that the inmates of the houses could observe all that was going on in the street or inspect whoever might be knocking at the door, without being seen themselves.

Sometimes a dogcart, heaped with wooden ware, passed him; then a donkey bearing a pair of panniers filled with crockery or glass; then a sled driven over the bare cobblestones (the runners kept greased with a dripping oil rag so that it might run easily); and then, perhaps, a showy but clumsy family carriage, drawn by the brownest of Flanders horses, swinging the whitest of snowy tails.

The city was in full festival array. Every shop was gorgeous in honor of Saint Nicholas. Captain Peter was forced, more than once, to order his men away from the tempting show windows, where everything that is, has been, or can be, thought of in the way of toys was displayed. Holland is famous for this branch of manufacture. Every possible thing is copied in miniature for the benefit of the little ones; the intricate mechanical toys that a Dutch youngster tumbles about in stolid unconcern would create a stir in our patent office. Ben laughed outright at some of the mimic fishing boats. They were so heavy and stumpy, so like the queer craft that he had seen about Rotterdam. The tiny trekschuiten, however, only a foot or two long, and fitted out, complete, made his heart ache. He so longed to buy one at once for his little brother in England. He had no money to spare, for with true Dutch prudence, the party had agreed to take with them merely the sum required for each boy's expenses and to consign the purse to Peter for safekeeping. Consequently Master Ben concluded to devote all his energies to sight-seeing and to think as seldom as possible of little Robby.

He made a hasty call at the Marine school and envied the sailor students their full-rigged brig and their sleeping berths swung over their trunks or lockers; he peeped into the Jews' Quarter of the city, where the rich diamond cutters and squalid old-clothesmen dwell, and wisely resolved to keep away from it; he also enjoyed hasty glimpses of the four principal avenues of Amsterdam--the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht, and Singel. These are semicircular in form, and the first three average more than two miles in length. A canal runs through the center of each, with a well-paved road on either side, lined with stately buildings. Rows of naked elms, bordering the canal, cast a network of shadows over its frozen surface, and everything was so clean and bright that Ben told Lambert it seemed to him like petrified neatness.

Fortunately the weather was cold enough to put a stop to the usual street flooding and window-washing, or our young excursionists might have been drenched more than once. Sweeping, mopping, and scrubbing form a passion with Dutch housewives, and to soil their spotless mansions is considered scarcely less than a crime. Everywhere a hearty contempt is felt for those who neglect to rub the soles of their shoes to a polish before crossing the doorsill; and in certain places visitors are expected to remove their heavy shoes before entering.

Sir William Temple, in his memoirs of "What Passed in Christendom from 1672 to 1679," tells a story of a pompous magistrate going to visit a lady of Amsterdam. A stout Holland lass opened the door, and told him in a breath that the lady was at home and that his shoes were not very clean. Without another word she took the astonished man up by both arms, threw him across her back, carried him through two rooms, set him down at the bottom of the stairs, seized a pair of slippers that stood there, and put them upon his feet. Then, and not until then, she spoke, telling him that his mistress was on the floor above, and that he might go up.

While Ben was skating with his friends upon the crowded canals of the city, he found it difficult to believe that the sleepy Dutchmen he saw around him, smoking their pipes so leisurely and looking as though their hats might be knocked off their heads without their making any resistance, were capable of those outbreaks that had taken place in Holland--that they were really fellow countrymen of the brave, devoted heroes of whom he had read in Dutch history.

As his party skimmed lightly along he told Van Mounen of a burial riot which in 1696 had occurred in that very city, where the women and children turned out, as well as the men, and formed mock funeral processions through the town, to show the burgomasters that certain new regulations, with regard to burying the dead would not be acceded to--how at last they grew so unmanageable and threatened so much damage to the city that the burgomasters were glad to recall the offensive law.

"There's the corner," said Jacob, pointing to some large buildings, where, about fifteen years ago, the great corn houses sank down in the mud. They were strong affairs and set up on good piles, but they had over seven million pounds of corn in them, and that was too much."

It was a long story for Jacob to tell, and he stopped to rest.

"How do you know there were seven million pounds in them?" asked Carl sharply. "You were in your swaddling clothes then."

"My father knows all about it" was Jacob's suggestive reply. Rousing himself with an effort, he continued, "Ben likes pictures. Show him some."

"All right," said the captain.

"If we had time, Benjamin," said Lambert van Mounen in English, "I should like to take you to the City Hall, or Stadhuis. There are building piles for you! It is built on nearly fourteen thousand of them, driven seventy feet into the ground. But what I wish you to see there is the big picture of Van Speyk blowing up his ship--great picture."

"Van WHO?" asked Ben.

"Van Speyk. Don't you remember? He was in the height of an engagement with the Belgians, and when he found that they had the better of him and would capture his ship, he blew it up, and himself, too, rather than yield to the enemy."

"Wasn't that Van Tromp?"

"Oh, no. Van Tromp was another brave fellow. They've a monument to him down at Delftshaven--the place where the Pilgrims took ship for America."

"Well, what about Van Tromp? He was a great Dutch admiral, wasn't he?"

"Yes, he was in more than thirty sea fights. He beat the Spanish fleet and an English one, and then fastened a broom to his masthead to show that he had swept the English from the sea. Takes the Dutch to beat, my boy!"

"Hold up!" cried Ben. "Broom or no broom, the English conquered him at last. I remember all about it now. He was killed somewhere on the Dutch coast in an engagement in which the English fleet was victorious. Too bad," he added maliciously, "wasn't it?"

"Ahem! Where are we?" exclaimed Lambert, changing the subject. "Halloo! The others are way ahead of us--all but Jacob. Whew! How fat he is! He'll break down before we're halfway."

Ben, of course, enjoyed skating beside Lambert, who, though a staunch Hollander, had been educated near London and could speak English as fluently as Dutch, but he was not sorry when Captain van Holp called out, "Skates off! There's the museum!"

It was open, and there was no charge on that day for admission. In they went, shuffling, as boys will when they have a chance, just to hear the sound of their shoes on the polished floor.

This museum is in fact a picture gallery where some of the finest works of the Dutch masters are to be seen, besides nearly two hundred portfolios of rare engravings.

Ben noticed, at once, that some of the pictures were hung on panels fastened to the wall with hinges. These could be swung forward like a window shutter, thus enabling the subject to be seen in the best light. The plan served them well in viewing a small group by Gerard Douw, called the "Evening School," enabling them to observe its exquisite finish and the wonderful way in which the picture seemed to be lit through its own windows. Peter pointed out the beauties of another picture by Douw, called "The Hermit," and he also told them some interesting anecdotes of the artist, who was born at Leyden in 1613.

"Three days painting a broom handle!" echoed Carl in astonishment, while the captain was giving some instances of Douw's extreme slowness of execution.

"Yes, sir, three days. And it is said that he spent five in finishing one hand in a lady's portrait. You see how very bright and minute everything is in this picture. His unfinished works were kept carefully covered and his painting materials were put away in airtight boxes as soon as he had finished using them for the day. According to all accounts, the studio itself must have been as close as a bandbox. The artist always entered it on tiptoe, besides sitting still, before he commenced work, until the slight dust caused by his entrance had settled. I have read somewhere that his paintings are improved by being viewed through a magnifying glass. He strained his eyes so badly with the extra finishing, that he was forced to wear spectacles before he was thirty. At forty he could scarcely see to paint, and he couldn't find a pair of glasses anywhere that would help his sight. At last, a poor old German woman asked him to try hers. They suited him exactly, and enabled him to go on painting as well as ever."

"Humph!" exclaimed Ludwig indignantly. "That was high! What did SHE do without them, I wonder?"

"Oh," said Peter, laughing, "likely she had another pair. At any rate she insisted upon his taking them. He was so grateful that he painted a picture of the spectacles for her, case and all, and she sold it to a burgomaster for a yearly allowance that made her comfortable for the rest of her days."

"Boys!" called Lambert in a loud whisper, "come look at this 'Bear Hunt.'"

It was a fine painting by Paul Potter, a Dutch artist of the seventeenth century, who produced excellent works before he was sixteen years old. The boys admired it because the subject pleased them. They passed carelessly by the masterpieces of Rembrandt and Van der Helst, and went into raptures over an ugly picture by Van der Venne, representing a sea fight between the Dutch and English. They also stood spellbound before a painting of two little urchins, one of whom was taking soup and the other eating an egg. The principal merit in this work was that the young egg-eater had kindly slobbered his face with the yolk for their entertainment.

An excellent representation of the "Feast of Saint Nicholas" next had the honor of attracting them.

"Look, Van Mounen," said Ben to Lambert. "Could anything be better than this youngster's face? He looks as if he KNOWS he deserves a whipping, but hopes Saint Nicholas may not have found him out. That's the kind of painting I like; something that tells a story."

"Come, boys!" cried the captain. "Ten o'clock, time we were off!"

They hastened to the canal.

"Skates on! Are you ready? One, two--halloo! Where's Poot?"

Sure enough, where WAS Poot?

A square opening had just been cut in the ice not ten yards off. Peter observed it and, without a word, skated rapidly toward it.

All the others followed, of course.

Peter looked in. They all looked in; then stared anxiously at each other.

"Poot!" screamed Peter, peering into the hole again. All was still. The black water gave no sign; it was already glazing on top.

Van Mounen turned mysteriously to Ben. // "DIDN'T HE HAVE A FIT ONCE?"

"My goodness! yes!" answered Ben in a great fright.

"Then, depend upon it, he's been taken with one in the museum!"

The boys caught his meaning. Every skate was off in a twinkling. Peter had the presence of mind to scoop up a capful of water from the hole, and off they scampered to the rescue.

Alas! They did indeed find poor Jacob in a fit, but it was a fit of sleepiness. There he lay in a recess of the gallery, snoring like a trooper! The chorus of laughter that followed this discovery brought an angry official to the spot.

"What now! None of this racket! Here, you beer barrel, wake up!" And Master Jacob received a very unceremonious shaking.

As soon as Peter saw that Jacob's condition was not serious, he hastened to the street to empty his unfortunate cap. While he was stuffing in his handkerchief to prevent the already frozen crown from touching his head, the rest of the boys came down, dragging the bewildered and indignant Jacob in their midst.

"The order to start was again given. Master Poot was wide-awake at last. The ice was a little rough and broken just there, but every boy was in high spirits.

"Shall we go on by the canal or the river?" asked Peter.

"Oh, the river, by all means," said Carl. "It will be such fun; they say it is perfect skating all the way, but it's much farther."

Jacob Poot instantly became interested.

"I vote for the canal!" he cried.

"Well, the canal it shall be," responded the captain, "if all are agreed."

"Agreed!" they echoed, in rather a disappointed tone, and Captain Peter led the way.

"All right, come on. We can reach Haarlem in an hour!"