Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge

Typed by Ng E-Ching HANS BRINKER OR THE SILVER SKATES BY MARY MAPES DODGE To my father James J. Mapes this book is dedicated in gratitude and love Preface This little work aims to combine the instructive features of a book of travels with the interest of a domestic tale. Throughout its pages the descriptions
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  • 1865
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Typed by Ng E-Ching



To my father
James J. Mapes
this book is dedicated
in gratitude and love


This little work aims to combine the instructive features of a book of travels with the interest of a domestic tale. Throughout its pages the descriptions of Dutch localities, customs, and general characteristics have been given with scrupulous care. Many of its incidents are drawn from life, and the story of Raff Brinker is founded strictly upon fact.

While acknowledging my obligations to many well-known writers on Dutch history, literature, and art, I turn with especial gratitude to those kind Holland friends who, with generous zeal, have taken many a backward glance at their country for my sake, seeing it as it looked twenty years ago, when the Brinker home stood unnoticed in sunlight and shadow.

Should this simple narrative serve to give my young readers a just idea of Holland and its resources, or present true pictures of its inhabitants and their every-day life, or free them from certain current prejudices concerning that noble and enterprising people, the leading desire in writing it will have been satisfied.

Should it cause even one heart to feel a deeper trust in God’s goodness and love, or aid any in weaving a life, wherein, through knots and entanglements, the golden thread shall never be tarnished or broken, the prayer with which it was begun and ended will have been answered.



Amsterdam, July 30, 1873


If you all could be here with me today, what fine times we might have walking through this beautiful Dutch city! How we should stare at the crooked houses, standing with their gable ends to the street; at the little slanting mirrors fastened outside of the windows; at the wooden shoes and dogcarts nearby; the windmills in the distance; at the great warehouses; at the canals, doing the double duty of streets and rivers, and at the singular mingling of trees and masts to be seen in every direction. Ah, it would be pleasant, indeed! But here I sit in a great hotel looking out upon all these things, knowing quite well that not even the spirit of the Dutch, which seems able to accomplish anything, can bring you at this moment across the moment. There is one comfort, however, in going through these wonderful Holland towns without you–it would be dreadful to have any of the party tumble into the canals; and then these lumbering Dutch wagons, with their heavy wheels, so very far apart; what should I do if a few dozen of you were to fall under THEM? And, perhaps, one of the wildest of my boys might harm a stork, and then all Holland would be against us! No. It is better as it is. You will be coming, one by one, as years go on, to see the whole thing for yourselves.

Holland is as wonderful today as it was when, more than twenty years ago, Hans and Gretel skated on the frozen Y. In fact, more wonderful, for every day increases the marvel of its not being washed away by the sea. Its cities have grown, and some of its peculiarities have been washed away by contact with other nations; but it is Holland still, and always will be–full of oddity, courage and industry–the pluckiest little country on earth. I shall not tell you in this letter of its customs, its cities, its palaces, churches, picture galleries and museums–for these are described in the story–except to say that they are here still, just the same, in this good year 1873, for I have seen them nearly all within a week.

Today an American boy and I, seeing some children enter an old house in the business part of Amsterdam, followed them in–and what do you think we found? An old woman, here in the middle of summer, selling hot water and fire! She makes her living by it. All day long she sits tending her great fires of peat and keeping the shining copper tanks above them filled with water. The children who come and go carry away in a curious stone pail their kettle of boiling water and their blocks of burning peat. For these they give her a Dutch cent, which is worth less than half of one of ours. In this way persons who cannot afford to keep a fire burning in hot weather may yet have their cup of tea or coffee and bit of boiled fish and potato.

After leaving the old fire woman, who nodded a pleasant good-bye to us, and willingly put our stivers in her great outside pocket, we drove through the streets enjoying the singular sights of a public washing day. Yes, in certain quarters of the city, away from the canals, the streets were lively with washerwomen hard at work. Hundreds of them in clumsy wooden shoes, with their tucked-up skirts, bare arms, and close-fitting caps, were bending over tall wooden tubs that reached as high as their waists–gossiping and rubbing, rubbing and gossiping–with perfect unconcern, in the public thoroughfare, and all washing with cold water instead of using hot, as we do. What a grand thing it would be for our old fire woman if boiling water were suddenly to become the fashion on these public washing days!

And now goodbye. Oh! I must tell you one more thing. We found today in an Amsterdam bookstore this story of Hans Brinker told in Dutch. It is a queer-looking volume, beautifully printed, and with colored pictures, but filled with such astounding words that it really made me feel sorry for the little Hollanders who are to read them.

Good-bye again, in the touching words of our Dutch translator with whom I’m sure you’ll heartily agree: Toch ben ik er mijn landgenooten dank baar voor, die mijn arbeid steeds zoo welwillend outvangen en wier genegenheid ik voortdurend hoop te verdienen.

Yours affectionately,
The Author.


Hans and Gretel
The Silver Skates
Hans and Gretel Find a Friend
Shadows in the Home
Hans Has His Way
Introducing Jacob Poot and His Cousin The Festival of Saint Nicholas
What the Boys Saw and Did in Amsterdam Big Manias and Little Oddities
On the Way to Haarlem
A Catastrophe
Haarlem–The Boys Hear Voices
The Man with Four Heads
Friends in Need
On the Canal
Jacob Poot Changes the Plan
Mynheer Kleef and His Bill of Fare
The Red Lion Becomes Dangerous
Before the Court
The Beleaguered Cities
The Palace in the Wood
The Merchant Prince and the Sister-Princess Through the Hague
A Day of Rest
Homeward Bound
Boys and Girls
The Crisis
Gretel and Hilda
The Awakening
Bones and Tongues
A New Alarm
The Father’s Return
The Thousand Guilders
Looking for Work
The Fairy Godmother
The Mysterious Watch
A Discovery
The Race
Joy in the Cottage
Mysterious Disappearance of Thomas Higgs Broad Sunshine

Hans and Gretel

On a bright December morning long ago, two thinly clad children were kneeling upon the bank of a frozen canal in Holland.

The sun had not yet appeared, but the gray sky was parted near the horizon, and its edges shone crimson with the coming day. Most of the good Hollanders were enjoying a placid morning nap. Even Mynheer von Stoppelnoze, that worthy old Dutchman, was still slumbering “in beautiful repose”.

Now and then some peasant woman, poising a well-filled basket upon her head, came skimming over the glassy surface of the canal; or a lusty boy, skating to his day’s work in the town, cast a good-natured grimace toward the shivering pair as he flew along.

Meanwhile, with many a vigorous puff and pull, the brother and sister, for such they were, seemed to be fastening something to their feet–not skates, certainly, but clumsy pieces of wood narrowed and smoothed at their lower edge, and pierced with holes, through which were threaded strings of rawhide.

These queer-looking affairs had been made by the boy Hans. His mother was a poor peasant woman, too poor even to think of such a thing as buying skates for her little ones. Rough as these were, they had afforded the children many a happy hour upon the ice. And now, as with cold, red fingers our young Hollanders tugged at the strings–their solemn faces bending closely over their knees–no vision of impossible iron runners came to dull the satisfaction glowing within.

In a moment the boy arose and, with a pompous swing of the arms and a careless “Come on, Gretel,” glided easily across the canal.

“Ah, Hans,” called his sister plaintively, “this foot is not well yet. The strings hurt me on last market day, and now I cannot bear them tied in the same place.”

“Tie them higher up, then,” answered Hans, as without looking at her he performed a wonderful cat’s cradle step on the ice.

“How can I? The string is too short.”

Giving vent to a good-natured Dutch whistle, the English of which was that girls were troublesome creatures, he steered toward her.

“You are foolish to wear such shoes, Gretel, when you have a stout leather pair. Your klompen *{Wooden shoes.} would be better than these.”

“Why, Hans! Do you forget? The father threw my beautiful new shoes in the fire. Before I knew what he had done, they were all curled up in the midst o the burning peat. I can skate with these, but not with my wooden ones. Be careful now–“

Hans had taken a string from his pocket. Humming a tune as he knelt beside her, he proceeded to fasten Gretel’s skate with all the force of his strong young arm.

“Oh! oh!” she cried in real pain.

With an impatient jerk Hans unwound the string. He would have cast it on the ground in true big-brother style, had he not just then spied a tear trickling down his sister’s cheek.

“I’ll fix it–never fear,” he said with sudden tenderness, “but we must be quick. The mother will need us soon.”

Then he glanced inquiringly about him, first at the ground, next at some bare willow branches above his head, and finally at the sky, now gorgeous with streaks of blue, crimson, and gold.

Finding nothing in any of these localities to meet his need, his eye suddenly brightened as, with the air of a fellow who knew what he was about, he took off his cap and, removing the tattered lining, adjusted it in a smooth pad over the top of Gretel’s worn-out shoe.

“Now,” he cried triumphantly, at the same time arranging the strings as briskly as his benumbed fingers would allow, “can you bear some pulling?”

Gretel drew up her lips as if to say, “Hurt away,” but made no further response.

In another moment they were all laughing together, as hand in hand they flew along the canal, never thinking whether the ice would bear them or not, for in Holland ice is generally an all-winter affair. It settles itself upon the water in a determined kind of way, and so far from growing thin and uncertain every time the sun is a little severe upon it, it gathers its forces day by day and flashes defiance to every beam.

Presently, squeak! squeak! sounded something beneath Hans’ feet. next his strokes grew shorter, ending oftimes with a jerk, and finally, he lay sprawling upon the ice, kicking against the air with many a fantastic flourish.

“Ha! ha!” laughed Gretel. “That was a fine tumble!” But a tender heart was beating under her coarse blue jacket, and even as she laughed, she came, with a graceful sweep, close to her prostrate brother.

“Are you hurt, Hans? Oh, you are laughing! Catch me now!” And she darted away, shivering no longer, but with cheeks all aglow and eyes sparkling with fun.

Hans sprang to his feet and started in brisk pursuit, but it was no easy thing to catch Gretel. Before she had traveled very far, her skates, too, began to squeak.

Believing that discretion was the better part of valor, she turned suddenly and skated into her pursuer’s arms.

“Ha! ha! I’ve caught you!” cried Hans.

“Ha! ha! I caught YOU,” she retorted, struggling to free herself.

Just then a clear, quick voice was heard calling, “Hans! Gretel!”

“It’s the mother,” said Hans, looking solemn in an instant.

By this time the canal was gilded with sunlight. The pure morning air was very delightful, and skaters were gradually increasing in numbers. It was hard to obey the summons. But Gretel and Hans were good children; without a thought of yielding to the temptation to linger, they pulled off their skates, leaving half the knots still tied. Hans, with his great square shoulders and bushy yellow hair, towered high above his blue-eyed little sister as they trudged homeward. He was fifteen years old and Gretel was only twelve. He was a solid, hearty-looking boy, with honest eyes and a brow that seemed to bear a sign GOODNESS WITHIN just as the little Dutch zomerhuis *{Summer house} wears a motto over its portal. Gretel was lithe and quick; her eyes had a dancing light in them, and while you looked at her cheek the color paled and deepened just as it does upon a bed of pink and white blossoms when the wind is blowing.

As soon as the children turned from the canal, they could see their parents’ cottage. Their mother’s tall form, arrayed in jacket and petticoat and close-fitting cap, stood, like a picture, in the crooked frame of the doorway. Had the cottage been a mile away, it would still have seemed near. In that flat country every object stands out plainly in the distance; the chickens show as distinctly as the windmills. Indeed, were it not for the dikes and the high banks of the canals, one could stand almost anywhere in middle Holland without seeing a mound or a ridge between the eye and the “jumping-off place.”

None had better cause to know the nature of these same dikes than Dame Brinker and the panting youngsters now running at her call. But before stating WHY, let me ask you to take a rocking-chair trip with me to that far country where you may see, perhaps for the first time, some curious things that Hans and Gretel saw every day.


Holland is one of the queerest countries under the sun. It should be called Odd-land or Contrary-land, for in nearly everything it is different from the other parts of the world. In the first place, a large portion of the country is lower than the level of the sea. Great dikes, or bulwarks, have been erected at a heavy cost of money and labor to keep the ocean where it belongs. On certain parts of the coast it sometimes leans with all its weight against the land, and it is as much as the poor country can do to stand the pressure. Sometimes the dikes give way or spring a leak, and the most disastrous results ensue. They are high and wide, and the tops of some of them are covered with buildings and trees. They have even fine public roads on them, from which horses may look down upon wayside cottages. Often the keels of floating ships are higher than the roofs of the dwellings. The stork clattering to her young on the house peak may feel that her nest is lifted far out of danger, but the croaking frog in neighboring bulrushes is nearer the stars than she. Water bugs dart backward and forward above the heads of the chimney swallows, and willow trees seem drooping with shame, because they cannot reach as high as the reeds nearby.

Ditches, canals, ponds, rivers, and lakes are everywhere to be seen. High, but not dry, they shine in the sunlight, catching nearly all the bustle and the business, quite scorning the tame fields stretching damply beside them. One is tempted to ask, “Which is Holland–the shores or the water?” The very verdure that should be confined to the land has made a mistake and settled upon the fish ponds. In fact, the entire country is a kind of saturated sponge or, as the English poet, Butler, called it,

A land that rides at anchor, and is moor’d, In which they do not live, but go aboard.

Persons are born, live, and die, and even have their gardens on canal-boats. Farmhouses, with roofs like great slouched hats pulled over their eyes, stand on wooden legs with a tucked-up sort of air, as if to say, “We intend to keep dry if we can.” Even the horses wear a wide stool on each hoof as if to lift them out of the mire. In short, the landscape everywhere suggests a paradise for ducks. It is a glorious country in summer for barefoot girls and boys. Such wading! Such mimic ship sailing! Such rowing, fishing, and swimming! Only think of a chain of puddles where one can launch chip boats all day long and never make a return trip! But enough. A full recital would set all young America rushing in a body toward the Zuider Zee.

Dutch cities seem at first sight to be a bewildering jungle of houses, bridges, churches, and ships, sprouting into masts, steeples, and trees. In some cities vessels are hitched like horses to their owners’ doorposts and receive their freight from the upper windows. Mothers scream to Lodewyk and Kassy not to swing on the garden gate for fear they may be drowned! Water roads are more frequent there than common roads and railways; water fences in the form of lazy green ditches enclose pleasure-ground, farm, and garden.

Sometimes fine green hedges are seen, but wooden fences such as we have in America are rarely met with in Holland. As for stone fences, a Dutchman would lift his hands with astonishment at the very idea. There is no stone there, except for those great masses of rock that have been brought from other lands to strengthen and protect the coast. All the small stones or pebbles, if there ever were any, seem to be imprisoned in pavements or quite melted away. Boys with strong, quick arms may grow from pinafores to full beards without ever finding one to start the water rings or set the rabbits flying. The water roads are nothing less than canals intersecting the country in every direction. These are of all sizes, from the great North Holland Ship Canal, which is the wonder of the world, to those which a boy can leap. Water omnibuses, called trekschuiten, *{Canal boats. Some of the first named are over thirty feet long. They look like green houses lodged on barges and are drawn by horses walking along the bank of the canal. The trekschuiten are divided into two compartments, first and second class, and when not too crowded, the passengers make themselves quite at home in them; the men smoke, the women knit or sew, while children play upon the small outer deck. Many of the canal boats have white, yellow, or chocolate-colored sails. This last color is caused by a tanning preparation which is put on to preserve them.} constantly ply up and down these roads for the conveyance of passengers; and water drays, called pakschuyten, are used for carrying fuel and merchandise. Instead of green country lanes, green canals stretch from field to barn and from barn to garden; and the farms, or polders, as they are termed, are merely great lakes pumped dry. Some of the busiest streets are water, while many of the country roads are paved with brick. The city boats with their rounded sterns, gilded prows, and gaily painted sides, are unlike any others under the sun; and a Dutch wagon, with its funny little crooked pole, is a perfect mystery of mysteries.

“One thing is clear,” cries Master Brightside, “the inhabitants need never be thirsty.” But no, Odd-land is true to itself still. Notwithstanding the sea pushing to get in, and the lakes struggling to get out, and the overflowing canals, rivers, and ditches, in many districts there is no water fit to swallow; our poor Hollanders must go dry or drink wine and beer or send far into the inland to Utrecht and other favored localities for that precious fluid older than Adam yet younger than the morning dew. Sometimes, indeed, the inhabitants can swallow a shower when they are provided with any means of catching it; but generally they are like the albatross-haunted sailors in Coleridge’s famous poem “The Ancient Mariner.” They see

Water, Water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink!

Great flapping windmills all over the country make it look as if flocks of huge sea birds were just settling upon it. Everywhere one sees the funniest trees, bobbed into fantastical shapes, with their trunks painted a dazzling white, yellow, or red. Horses are often yoked three abreast. Men, women, and children go clattering about in wooden shoes with loose heels; peasant girls who cannot get beaux for love, hire them for money to escort them to the kermis, *{Fair.} and husbands and wives lovingly harness themselves side by side on the bank of the canal and drag their pakschuyts to market.

Another peculiar feature of Holland is the dune, or sand hill. These are numerous along certain portions of the coast. Before they were sown with coarse reed grass and other plants, to hold them down, they used to send great storms of sand over the inland. So, to add to the oddities, the farmers sometimes dig down under the surface to find their soil, and on windy days DRY SHOWERS (of sand) often fall upon fields that have grown wet under a week of sunshine.

In short, almost the only familiar thing we Yankees can meet with in Holland is a harvest song which is quite popular there, though no linguist could translate it. Even then we must shut our eyes and listen only to the tune, which I leave you to guess.

Yanker didee dudel down
Didee dudel lawnter;
Yankee viver, voover, vown,
Botermelk and Tawnter!

On the other hand, many of the oddities of Holland serve only to prove the thrift and perseverance of the people. There is not a richer or more carefully tilled garden spot in the whole world than this leaky, springy little country. There is not a braver, more heroic race than its quite, passive-looking inhabitants. Few nations have equalled it in important discoveries and inventions; none has excelled it in commerce, navigation, learning, and science–or set as noble examples in the promotion of education and public charities; and none in proportion to its extent has expended more money or labor upon public works.

Holland has its shining annals of noble and illustrious men and women; its grand, historic records of patience, resistance, and victory; its religious freedom; its enlightened enterprise; its art, music, and literature. It has truly been called “the battlefield of Europe”; as truly may we consider it the asylum of the world, for the oppressed of every nation have there found shelter and encouragement. If we Americans, who after all are homeopathic preparations of Holland stock, can laugh at the Dutch, and call them human beavers and hint that their country may float off any day at high tide, we can also feel proud, and say they have proved themselves heroes and that their country will not float off while there is a Dutchman left to grapple it.

There are said to be at least ninety-nine hundred large windmills in Holland, with sails ranging from eighty to one hundred and twenty feet long. They are employed in sawing timber, beating hemp, grinding, and many other kinds of work; but their principal use is for pumping water from the lowlands into the canals, and for guarding against the inland freshets that so often deluge the country. Their yearly cost is said to be nearly ten million dollars. The large ones are of great power. The huge circular tower, rising sometimes from the midst of factory buildings, is surmounted with a smaller one tapering into a caplike roof. This upper tower is encircled at its base with a balcony, high above which juts the axis turned by its four prodigious ladder-back sails.

Many of the windmills are primitive affairs, seeming sadly in need of Yankee “improvements,” but some of the new ones are admirable. They are constructed so that by some ingenious contrivance they present their fans, or wings, to the wind in precisely the right direction to work with the requisite power. In other words, the miller may take a nap and feel quite sure that his mill will study the wind and make the most of it, until he wakens. Should there be but a slight current of air, every sail will spread itself to catch the faintest breath, but if a heavy “blow” should come, they will shrink at its touch, like great mimosa leaves, and only give it half a chance to move them.

One of the old prisons of Amsterdam, called the Rasphouse, because the thieves and vagrants who were confined there were employed in rasping logwood, had a cell for the punishment of lazy prisoners. In one corner of this cell was a pump, and in another, an opening through which a steady stream of water was admitted. The prisoner could take his choice, either to stand still and be drowned or to work for dear life at the pump and keep the flood down until his jailer chose to relieve him. Now it seems to me that, throughout Holland, nature has introduced this little diversion on a grand scale. The Dutch have always been forced to pump for their very existence and probably must continue to do so to the end of time.

Every year millions of dollars are spent in repairing dikes and regulating water levels. If these important duties were neglected, the country would be uninhabitable. Already dreadful consequences, as I have said, have followed the bursting of these dikes. Hundreds of villages and towns have from time to time been buried beneath the rush of waters, and nearly a million persons have been destroyed. One of the most fearful inundations ever known occurred in the autumn of the year 1570. Twenty-eight terrible floods had before that time overwhelmed portions of Holland, but this was the most terrible of all. The unhappy country had long been suffering under Spanish tyranny; now, it seemed, the crowning point was given to its troubles. When we read Motley’s history of the rise of the Dutch republic, we learn to revere the brave people who have endured, suffered, and dared so much.

Mr. Motley, in his thrilling account of the great inundation, tells us how a long-continued and violent gale had been sweeping the Atlantic waters into the North Sea, piling them against the coasts of the Dutch provinces; how the dikes, taxed beyond their strength, burst in all directions; how even the Hand-bos, a bulwark formed of oaken piles, braced with iron, moored with heavy anchors, and secured by gravel and granite, was snapped to pieces like thread; how fishing boats and bulky vessels floating up into the country became entangled among the trees or beat in the roofs and walls of dwellings, and how, at last, all Friesland was converted into an angry sea. “Multitudes of men, women, children, of horses, oxen, sheep, and every domestic animal, were struggling in the waves in every direction. Every boat and every article which could serve as a boat was eagerly seized upon. Every house was inundated; even the graveyards gave up their dead. The living infant in his cradle and the long-buried corpse in his coffin floated side by side. The ancient flood seemed about to be renewed. Everywhere, upon the tops of trees, upon the steeples of churches, human beings were clustered, praying to God for mercy and to their fellow men for assistance. As the storm at last was subsiding, boats began to ply in every direction, saving those who were struggling in the water, picking fugitives from roofs and treetops, and collecting the bodies of those already drowned.” No less than one hundred thousand human beings had perished in a few hours. Thousands upon thousands of dumb creatures lay dead upon the waters, and the damage to property was beyond calculation.

Robles, the Spanish governor, was foremost in noble efforts to save life and lessen the horrors of the catastrophe. He had previously been hated by the Dutch because of his Spanish or Portuguese blood, but by his goodness and activity in their hour of disaster, he won all hearts to gratitude. He soon introduced an improved method of constructing the dikes and passed a law that they should in future be kept up by the owners of the soil. There were fewer heavy floods from this time, though within less than three hundred years, six fearful inundations swept over the land.

In the spring there is always great danger of inland freshets, especially in times of thaw, because the rivers, choked with blocks of ice, overflow before they can discharge their rapidly rising waters into the ocean. Adding to this that the sea chafes and presses against the dikes, it is no wonder that Holland is often in a state of alarm. The greatest care is taken to prevent accidents. Engineers and workmen are stationed all along in threatened places, and a close watch is kept up night and day. When a general signal of danger is given, the inhabitants all rush to the rescue, eager to combine against their common foe. As, everywhere else, straw is supposed to be of all things the most helpless in the water, of course, in Holland, it must be rendered the mainstay against a rushing tide. Huge straw mats are pressed against the embankments, fortified with clay and heavy stone, and once adjusted, the ocean dashes against them in vain.

Raff Brinker, the father of Gretel and Hans, had for years been employed upon the dikes. It was at the time of a threatened inundation, when in the midst of a terrible storm, in darkness and sleet, the men were laboring at a weak spot near the Veermyk sluice, that he fell from the scaffolding and became insensible. From that hour he never worked again; though he lived on, mind and memory were gone.

Gretel could not remember him otherwise than as the strange, silent man whose eyes followed her vacantly whichever way she turned, but Hans had recollections of a hearty, cheerful-voiced father who was never tired of bearing him upon his shoulder and whose careless song still seemed echoing near when he lay awake at night and listened.

The Silver Skates

Dame Brinker earned a scant support for her family by raising vegetables, spinning, and knitting. Once she had worked on board the barges plying up and down the canal and had occasionally been harnessed with other women to the towing rope of a pakschuyt plying between Broek and Amsterdam. But when Hans had grown strong and large, he had insisted on doing all such drudgery in her place. Besides, her husband had become so very helpless of late that he required her constant care. Although not having as much intelligence as a little child, he was yet strong of arm and very hearty, and Dame Brinker had sometimes great trouble in controlling him.

“Ah! children, he was so good and steady,” she would sometimes say, “and as wise as a lawyer. Even the burgomaster would stop to ask him a question, and now, alack! he doesn’t know his wife and little ones. You remember the father, Hans, when he was himself–a great brave man–don’t you?”

“Yes, indeed, Mother, he knew everything and could do anything under the sun–and how he would sing! Why, you used to laugh and say it was enough to set the windmills dancing.”

“So I did. Bless me! how the boy remembers! Gretel, child, take that knitting needle from your father, quick; he’ll get it in his eyes maybe; and put the shoe on him. His poor feet are like ice half the time, but I can’t keep ’em covered, all I can do–” And then, half wailing, half humming, Dame Brinker would sit down and fill the low cottage with the whirr of her spinning wheel.

Nearly all the outdoor work, as well as the household labor, was performed by Hans and Gretel. At certain seasons of the year the children went out day after day to gather peat, which they would stow away in square, bricklike pieces, for fuel. At other times, when homework permitted, Hans rode the towing-horses on the canals, earning a few stivers *{A stiver is worth about two cents of our money.} a day, and Gretel tended geese for the neighboring farmers.

Hans was clever at carving in wood, and both he and Gretel were good gardeners. Gretel could sing and sew and run on great, high homemade stilts better than any other girl for miles around. She could learn a ballad in five minutes and find, in its season, any weed or flower you could name; but she dreaded books, and often the very sight of the figuring board in the old schoolhouse would set her eyes swimming. Hans, on the contrary, was slow and steady. The harder the task, whether in study or daily labor, the better he liked it. Boys who sneered at him out of school, on account of his patched clothes and scant leather breeches, were forced to yield him the post of honor in nearly every class. It was not long before he was the only youngster in the school who had not stood at least ONCE in the corner of horrors, where hung a dreaded whip, and over it this motto: “Leer, leer! jou luigaart, of dit endje touw zal je leeren!” *{Learn! learn! you idler, or this rope’s end shall teach you.}

It was only in winter that Gretel and Hans could be spared to attend school, and for the past month they had been kept at home because their mother needed their services. Raff Brinker required constant attention, and there was black bread to be made, and the house to be kept clean, and stockings and other things to be knitted and sold in the marketplace.

While they were busily assisting their mother on this cold December morning, a merry troop of girls and boys came skimming down the canal. There were fine skaters among them, and as the bright medley of costumes flitted by, it looked from a distance as though the ice had suddenly thawed and some gay tulip bed were floating along on the current.

There was the rich burgomaster’s daughter Hilda van Gleck, with her costly furs and loose-fitting velvet sack; and, nearby, a pretty peasant girl, Annie Bouman, jauntily attired in a coarse scarlet jacket and a blue skirt just short enough to display the gray homespun hose to advantage. Then there was the proud Rychie Korbes, whose father, Mynheer van Korbes, was one of the leading men of Amsterdam; and, flocking closely around her, Carl Schummel, Peter and Ludwig van Holp, Jacob Poot, and a very small boy rejoicing in the tremendous name of Voostenwalbert Schimmelpenninck. There were nearly twenty other boys and girls in the party, and one and all seemed full of excitement and frolic.

Up and down the canal within the space of a half mile they skated, exerting their racing powers to the utmost. Often the swiftest among them was seen to dodge from under the very nose of some pompous lawgiver or doctor who, with folded arms, was skating leisurely toward the town; or a chain of girls would suddenly break at the approach of a fat old burgomaster who, with gold-headed cane poised in air, was puffing his way to Amsterdam. Equipped in skates wonderful to behold, with their superb strappings and dazzling runners curving over the instep and topped with gilt balls, he would open his fat eyes a little if one of the maidens chanced to drop him a curtsy but would not dare to bow in return for fear of losing his balance.

Not only pleasure seekers and stately men of note were upon the canal. There were workpeople, with weary eyes, hastening to their shops and factories; market women with loads upon their heads; peddlers bending with their packs; bargemen with shaggy hair and bleared faces, jostling roughly on their way; kind-eyed clergymen speeding perhaps to the bedsides of the dying; and, after a while, groups of children with satchels slung over their shoulders, whizzing past, toward the distant school. One and all wore skates except, indeed, a muffled-up farmer whose queer cart bumped along on the margin of the canal.

Before long our merry boys and girls were almost lost in the confusion of bright colors, the ceaseless motion, and the gleaming of skates flashing back the sunlight. We might have known no more of them had not the whole party suddenly come to a standstill and, grouping themselves out of the way of the passersby, all talked at once to a pretty little maiden, whom they had drawn from the tide of people flowing toward the town.

“Oh, Katrinka!” they cried in one breath, “have you heard of it? The race–we want you to join!”

“What race?” asked Katrinka, laughing. “Don’t all talk at once, please, I can’t understand.”

Everyone panted and looked at Rychie Korbes, who was their acknowledged spokeswoman.

“Why,” said Rychie, “we are to have a grand skating match on the twentieth, on Mevrouw van Gleck’s birthday. It’s all Hilda’s work. They are going to give a splendid prize to the best skater.”

“Yes,” chimed in half a dozen voices,” a beautiful pair of silver skates–perfectly magnificent–with, oh! such straps and silver bells and buckles!”

“WHO said they had bells?” put in a small voice of the boy with the big name.

“I say so, Master Voost,” replied Rychie.

“So they have”; “No, I’m sure they haven’t”; “OH, how can you say so?”; “It’s an arrow”; “And Mynheer van Korbes told MY mother they had bells”–came from the excited group, but Mynheer Voostenwalbert Schimmelpenninck essayed to settle the matter with a decisive “Well, you don’t any of you know a single thing about it; they haven’t a sign of a bell on them, they–“

“Oh! oh!” and the chorus of conflicting opinions broke forth again.

“The girls’ pair is to have bells,” interposed Hilda quietly, “but there is to be another pair for the boys with an arrow engraved upon the sides.”

“THERE! I told you so!” cried nearly all the youngsters in one breath.

Katrinka looked at them with bewildered eyes.

“Who is to try?” she asked.

“All of us,” answered Rychie. “It will be such fun! And you must, too, Katrinka. But it’s schooltime now, we will talk it all over at noon. Oh! you will join, of course.”

Katrinka, without replying, made a graceful pirouette and laughing out a coquettish, “Don’t you hear the last bell? Catch me!” darted off toward the schoolhouse standing half a mile away on the canal.

All started, pell-mell, at this challenge, but they tried in vain to catch the bright-eyed, laughing creature who, with golden hair streaming in the sunlight, cast back many a sparkling glance of triumph as she floated onward.

Beautiful Katrinka! Flushed with youth and health, all life and mirth and motion, what wonder thine image, ever floating in advance, sped through one boy’s dreams that night! What wonder that it seemed his darkest hour when, years afterward, thy presence floated away from him forever.

Hans and Gretel Find a Friend

At noon our young friends poured forth from the schoolhouse, intent upon having an hour’s practice upon the canal.

They had skated but a few moments when Carl Schummel said mockingly to Hilda, “There’s a pretty pair just coming upon the ice! The little ragpickers! Their skates must have been a present from the king direct.”

“They are patient creatures,” said Hilda gently. “It must have been hard to learn to skate upon such queer affairs. They are very poor peasants, you see. The boy has probably made the skates himself.”

Carl was somewhat abashed.

“Patient they may be, but as for skating, they start off pretty well, only to finish with a jerk. They could move well to your new staccato piece, I think.”

Hilda laughed pleasantly and left him. After joining a small detachment of the racers and sailing past every one of them, she halted beside Gretel, who, with eager eyes, had been watching the sport.

“What is your name, little girl?”

“Gretel, my lady,” answered the child, somewhat awed by Hilda’s rank, though they were nearly of the same age, “and my brother is called Hans.”

“Hans is a stout fellow,” said Hilda cheerily, “and seems to have a warm stove somewhere within him, but YOU look cold. You should wear more clothing, little one.”

Gretel, who had nothing else to wear, tried to laugh as she answered, “I am not so very little. I am past twelve years old.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon. You see, I am nearly fourteen, and so large for my age that other girls seem small to me, but that is nothing. Perhaps you will shoot up far above me yet, but not unless you dress more warmly, though. Shivering girls never grow.”

Hans flushed as he saw tears rising in Gretel’s eyes.

“My sister has not complained of the cold, but this is bitter weather, they all say.” And he looked sadly upon Gretel.

“It is nothing,” said Gretel. “I am often warm–too warm when I am skating. You are good, jufvrouw, *{Miss; young lady (pronounced yuffrow). In studied or polite address it would be jongvrowe (pronounced youngfrow).} to think of it.”

“No, no,” answered Hilda, quite angry at herself. “I am careless, cruel, but I meant no harm. I wanted to ask you–I mean, if–” And here Hilda, coming to the point of her errand, faltered before the poorly clad but noble-looking children she wished to serve.

“What is it, young lady?” exclaimed Hans eagerly. “If there is any service I can do, any–“

“Oh, no, no,” laughed Hilda, shaking off her embarrassment. “I only wished to speak to you about the grand race. Why do you not join it? You both can skate well, and the ranks are free. Anyone may enter for the prize.”

Gretel looked wistfully at Hans, who, tugging at his cap, answered respectfully.

“Ah, jufvrouw, even if we could enter, we could skate only a few strokes with the rest. Our skates are hard wood, you see”–holding up the sole of his foot–“but they soon become damp, and then they stick and trip us.”

Gretel’s eyes twinkled with fun as she thought of Hans’s mishap in the morning, but she blushed as she faltered out timidly, “Oh, no, we can’t join, but may we be there, my lady, on the great day to look on?”

“Certainly,” answered Hilda, looking kindly into the two earnest faces and wishing from her heart that she had not spent so much of her monthly allowance for lace and finery. She had but eight kwartjes *{A kwartje is a small silver coin worth one-quarter of a guilder, or ten cents in American currency.} left, and they would buy but one pair of skates, at the furthest.

Looking down with a sigh at the two pairs of feet so very different in size, she asked:

“Which of you is the better skater?”

“Gretel,” replied Hans promptly.

“Hans,” answered Gretel in the same breath.

Hilda smiled.

“I cannot buy you each a pair of skates, or even one good pair, but here are eight kwartjes. Decide between you which stands the best chance of winning the race, and buy the skates accordingly. I wish I had enough to buy better ones. Good-bye!” And, with a nod and a smile, Hilda, after handing the money to the electrified Hans, glided swiftly away to rejoin her companions.

“Jufvrouw! Jufvrouw van Gleck!” called Hans in a loud tone, stumbling after her as well as he could, for one of his skate strings was untied.

Hilda turned and, with one hand raised to shield her eyes from the sun, seemed to him to be floating through the air, nearer and nearer.

“We cannot take this money,” panted Hans, “though we know your goodness in giving it.”

“Why not, indeed?” asked Hilda, flushing.

“Because,” replied Hans, bowing like a clown but looking with the eye of a prince at the queenly girl, “we have not earned it.”

Hilda was quick-witted. She had noticed a pretty wooden chain upon Gretel’s neck.

“Carve me a chain, Hans, like the one your sister wears.”

“That I will, lady, with all my heart. We have whitewood in the house, fine as ivory; you shall have one tomorrow.” And Hans hastily tried to return the money.

“No, no,” said Hilda decidedly. “That sum will be but a poor price for the chain.” And off she darted outstripping the fleetest among the skaters.

Hans sent a long, bewildered gaze after her; it was useless, he felt, to make any further resistance.

“It is right,” he muttered, half to himself, half to his faithful shadow, Gretel. “I must work hard every minute, and sit up half the night if the mother will let me burn a candle, but the chain shall be finished. We may keep the money, Gretel.”

“What a good little lady!” cried Gretel, clapping her hands with delight. “Oh! Hans, was it for nothing the stork settled on our roof last summer? Do you remember how the mother said it would bring us luck and how she cried when Janzoon Kolp shot him? And she set it would bring him trouble. But the luck has come to us at last! Now, Hans, if the mother sends us to town tomorrow, you can buy the skates in the marketplace.”

Hans shook his head. “The young lady would have given us the money to buy skates, but if I EARN it, Gretel, it shall be spent for wool. You must have a warm jacket.”

“Oh!” cried Gretel in real dismay, “not buy the skates? Why, I am not often cold! Mother says the blood runs up and down in poor children’s veins, humming, ‘I must keep ’em warm! I must keep ’em warm.’

“Oh, Hans,” she continued with something like a sob, “don’t say you won’t buy the skates. It makes me feel just like crying. Besides, I want to be cold. I mean, I’m real, awful warm–so now!”

Hans looked up hurriedly. He had a true Dutch horror or tears, or emotion of any kind, and most of all, he dreaded to see his sisters’ blue eyes overflowing.

“Now, mind,” cried Gretel, seeing her advantage, “I’ll feel awful if you give up the skates. I don’t want them. I’m not so stingy as that; but I want YOU to have them, and then when I get bigger, they’ll do for me–oh–count the pieces, Hans. Did you ever see so many!”

Hans turned the money thoughtfully in his palm. Never in all his life had he longed so intensely for a pair of skates, for he had known of the race and had fairly ached for a chance to test his powers with the other children. He felt confident that with a good pair of steel runners he could readily outdistance most of the boys on the canal. Then, too, Gretel’s argument was plausible. On the other hand, he knew that she, with her strong but lithe little frame, needed but a week’s practice on good runners to make her a better skater than Rychie Korbes or even Katrinka Flack. As soon as this last thought flashed upon him, his resolve was made. If Gretel would not have the jacket, she should have the skates.

“No, Gretel,” he answered at last, “I can wait. Someday I may have money enough saved to buy a fine pair. You shall have these.”

Gretel’s eyes sparkled, but in another instant she insisted, rather faintly, “The young lady gave the money to YOU, Hans. I’d be real bad to take it.”

Hans shook his head resolutely as he trudged on, causing his sister to half skip and half walk in her effort to keep beside him. By this time they had taken off their wooden “rockers” and were hastening home to tell their mother the good news.

“Oh! I know!” cried Gretel in a sprightly tone. “You can do this. You can get a pair a little too small for you, and too big for me, and we can take turns and use them. Won’t that be fine?” Gretel clapped her hands again.

Poor Hans! This was a strong temptation, but he pushed it away from him, brave-hearted fellow that he was.

“Nonsense, Gretel. You could never get on with a big pair. You stumbled about with these, like a blind chicken, before I curved off the ends. No, you must have a pair to fit exactly, and you must practice every chance you can get, until the twentieth comes. My little Gretel shall win the silver skates.”

Gretel could not help laughing with delight at the very idea.

“Hans! Gretel!” called out a familiar voice.

“Coming, Mother!”

They hastened toward the cottage, Hans still shaking the pieces of silver in his hand.

On the following day there was not a prouder nor a happier boy in all Holland than Hans Brinker as he watched his sister, with many a dexterous sweep, flying in and out among the skaters who at sundown thronged the canal. A warm jacket had been given her by the kind-hearted Hilda, and the burst-out shoes had been cobbled into decency by Dame Brinker. As the little creature darted backward and forward, flushed with enjoyment and quite unconscious of the many wondering glances bent upon her, she felt that the shining runners beneath her feet had suddenly turned earth into fairyland while “Hans, dear, good Hans!” echoed itself over and over again in her grateful heart.

“By den donder!” exclaimed Peter van Holp to Carl Schummel, “but that little one in the red jacket and patched petticoat skates well. Gunst! She has toes on her heels and eyes in the back of her head! See her! It will be a joke if she gets in the race and beats Katrinka Flack, after all.”

“Hush! not so loud!” returned Carl, rather sneeringly. “That little lady in rags is the special pet of Hilda van Gleck. Those shining skates are her gift, if I make no mistake.”

“So! so!” exclaimed Peter with a radiant smile, for Hilda was his best friend. “She has been at her good work there too!” And Mynheer van Holp, after cutting a double figure eight on the ice, to say nothing of a huge P, then a jump and an H, glided onward until he found himself beside Hilda.

Hand in hand, they skated together, laughingly at first, then staidly talking in a low tone.

Strange to say, Peter van Holp soon arrived at a sudden conviction that his little sister needed a wooden chain just like Hilda’s.

Two days afterwards, on Saint Nicholas’s Eve, Hans, having burned three candle ends and cut his thumb into the bargain, stood in the marketplace at Amsterdam, buying another pair of skates.

Shadows in the Home

Good Dame Brinker! As soon as the scanty dinner had been cleared away that noon, she had arrayed herself in her holiday attire in honor of Saint Nicholas. It will brighten the children, she thought to herself, and she was not mistaken. This festival dress had been worn very seldom during the past ten years; before that time it had done good service and had flourished at many a dance and kermis, when she was known, far and wide, as the pretty Meitje Klenck. The children had sometimes been granted rare glimpses of it as it lay in state in the old oaken chest. Faded and threadbare as it was, it was gorgeous in their eyes, with its white linen tucker, now gathered to her plump throat and vanishing beneath the trim bodice of blue homespun, and its reddish-brown skirt bordered with black. The knitted woolen mitts and the dainty cap showing her hair, which generally was hidden, made her seem almost like a princess to Gretel, while Master Hans grew staid and well-behaved as he gazed.

Soon the little maid, while braiding her own golden tresses, fairly danced around her mother in an ecstasy of admiration.

“Oh, Mother, Mother, Mother, how pretty you are! Look, Hans! Isn’t it just like a picture?”

“Just like a picture,” assented Hans cheerfully. “JUST like a picture–only I don’t like those stocking things on the hands.”

“Not like the mitts, brother Hans! Why, they’re very important. See, they cover up all the red. Oh, Mother, how white your arm is where the mitt leaves off, whiter than mine, oh, ever so much whiter. I declare, Mother, the bodice is tight for you. You’re growing! You’re surely growing!”

Dame Brinker laughed.

“This was made long ago, lovey, when I wasn’t much thicker about the waist than a churn dasher. And how do you like the cap?” she asked, turning her head from side to side.

“Oh, EVER so much, Mother. It’s b-e-a-u-tiful! See, the father is looking!”

Was the father looking? Alas! only with a dull stare. His vrouw turned toward him with a start, something like a blush rising to her cheeks, a questioning sparkle in her eye. The bright look died away in an instant.

“No, no.” She sighed. “He sees nothing. Come, Hans”–and the smile crept faintly back again–“don’t stand gaping at me all day, and the new skates waiting for you at Amsterdam.”

“Ah, Mother,” he answered, “you need so many things. Why should I buy skates?”

“Nonsense, child. The money was given to you on purpose, or the work was–it’s all the same thing. Go while the sun is high.”

“Yes, and hurry back, Hans!” laughed Gretel. “We’ll race on the canal tonight, if the mother lets us.”

At the very threshold he turned to say, “Your spinning wheel wants a new treadle, Mother.”

“You can make it, Hans.”

“So I can. That will take no money. But you need feathers and wool and meal, and–“

“There, there! That will do. Your silver cannot buy everything. Ah! Hans, if our stolen money would but come back on this bright Saint Nicholas’s Eve, how glad we would be! Only last night I prayed to the good saint–“

“Mother!” interrupted Hans in dismay.

“Why not, Hans? Shame on you to reproach me for that! I’m as true a Protestant, in sooth, as any fine lady that walks into church, but it’s no wrong to turn sometimes to the good Saint Nicholas. Tut! It’s a likely story if one can’t do that, without one’s children flaring up at it–and he the boys’ and girls’ own saint. Hoot! Mayhap the colt is a steadier horse than the mare?”

Hans knew his mother too well to offer a word in opposition when her voice quickened and sharpened as it did now (it was often sharp and quick when she spoke of the missing money), so he said gently, “And what did you ask of good Saint Nicholas, Mother?”

“Why, never to give the thieves a wink of sleep till they brought it back, to be sure, if he has the power to do such things, or else to brighten our wits that we might find it ourselves. Not a sight have I had of it since the day before the dear father was hurt–as you well know, Hans.”

“That I do, Mother,” he answered sadly, “though you have almost pulled down the cottage in searching.”

“Aye, but it was of no use,” moaned the dame. “‘HIDERS make best finders.'”

Hans started. “Do you think the father could tell aught?”

“Aye, indeed,” said Dame Brinker, nodding her head. “I think so, but that is no sign. I never hold the same belief in the matter two days. Mayhap the father paid it off for the great silver watch we have been guarding since that day. But, no–I’ll never believe it.”

“The watch was not worth a quarter of the money, Mother.”

“No, indeed, and your father was a shrewd man up to the last moment. He was too steady and thrifty for silly doings.”

“Where did the watch come from, I wonder,” muttered Hans, half to himself.

Dame Brinker shook her head and looked sadly toward her husband, who sat staring blankly at the floor. Gretel stood near him, knitting.

“That we shall never know, Hans. I have shown it to the father many a time, but he does not know it from a potato. When he came in that dreadful night to supper, he handed the watch to me and told me to take good care of it until he asked for it again. Just as he opened his lips to say more, Broom Klatterboost came flying in with word that the dike was in danger. Ah! The waters were terrible that Pinxter-week! My man, alack, caught up his tools and ran out. That was the last I ever saw of him in his right mind. He was brought in again by midnight, nearly dead, with his poor head all bruised and cut. The fever passed off in time, but never the dullness–THAT grew worse every day. We shall never know.”

Hans had heard all this before. More than once he had seen his mother, in hours of sore need, take the watch from its hiding place, half resolved to sell it, but she had always conquered the temptation.

“No, Hans,” she would say, “we must be nearer starvation than this before we turn faithless to the father!”

A memory of some such scene crossed her son’s mind now, for, after giving a heavy sigh, and flipping a crumb of wax at Gretel across the table, he said, “Aye, Mother, you have done bravely to keep it–many a one would have tossed it off for gold long ago.”

“And more shame for them!” exclaimed the dame indignantly. “I would not do it. Besides, the gentry are so hard on us poor folks that if they saw such a thing in our hands, even if we told all, they might suspect the father of–“

Hans flushed angrily.

“They would not DARE to say such a thing, Mother! If they did, I’d. . .”

He clenched his fist and seemed to think that the rest of his sentence was too terrible to utter in her presence.

Dame Brinker smiled proudly through her tears at this interruption.

“Ah, Hans, thou’rt a true, brave lad. We will never part company with the watch. In his dying hour the dear father might wake and ask for it.”

“Might WAKE, Mother!” echoed Hans. “Wake–and know us?”

“Aye, child,” almost whispered his mother, “such things have been.”

By this time Hans had nearly forgotten his proposed errand to Amsterdam. His mother had seldom spoken so familiarly to him. He felt himself now to be not only her son, but her friend, her adviser:

“You are right, Mother. We must never give up the watch. For the father’s sake we will guard it always. The money, though, may come to light when we least expect it.”

“Never!” cried Dame Brinker, taking the last stitch from her needle with a jerk and laying the unfinished knitting heavily upon her lap. “There is no chance! One thousand guilders–and all gone in a day! One thousand guilders. Oh, what ever DID become of them? If they went in an evil way, the thief would have confessed it on his dying bed. he would not dare to die with such guilt on his soul!”

“He may not be dead yet,” said Hans soothingly. “Any day we may hear of him.”

“Ah, child,” she said in a changed tone, “what thief would ever have come HERE? It was always neat and clean, thank God, but not fine, for the father and I saved and saved that we might have something laid by. ‘Little and often soon fills the pouch.’ We found it so, in truth. Besides, the father had a goodly sum already, for service done to the Heernocht lands, at the time of the great inundation. Every week we had a guilder left over, sometimes more; for the father worked extra hours and could get high pay for his labor. Every Saturday night we put something by, except the time when you had the fever, Hans, and when Gretel came. At last the pouch grew so full that I mended an old stocking and commenced again. Now that I look back, it seems that the money was up to the heel in a few sunny weeks. There was great pay in those days if a man was quick at engineer work. The stocking went on filling with copper and silver–aye, and gold. You may well open your eyes, Gretel. I used to laugh and tell the father it was not for poverty I wore my old gown. And the stocking went on filling, so full that sometimes when I woke at night, I’d get up, soft and quiet, and go feel it in the moonlight. Then, on my knees, I would thank our Lord that my little ones could in time get good learning, and that the father might rest from labor in his old age. Sometimes, at supper, the father and I would talk about a new chimney and a good winter room for the cow, but my man had finer plans even than that. ‘A big sail,’ says he, ‘catches the wind–we can do what we will soon,’ and then we would sing together as I washed my dishes. Ah, ‘a smooth wind makes an easy rudder.’ Not a thing vexed me from morning till night. Every week the father would take out the stocking and drop in the money and laugh and kiss me as we tied it up together. Up with you, Hans! There you sit gaping, and the day a-wasting!” added Dame Brinker tartly, blushing to find that she had been speaking too freely to her boy. “It’s high time you were on your way.”

Hans had seated himself and was looking earnestly into her face. He arose and, in almost a whisper, asked, “Have you ever tried, Mother?”

She understood him.

“Yes, child, often. But the father only laughs, or he stares at me so strange that I am glad to ask no more. When you and Gretel had the fever last winter, and our bread was nearly gone, and I could earn nothing, for fear you would die while my face was turned, oh! I tried then! I smoothed his hair and whispered to him soft as a kitten, about the money–where it was, who had it? Alack! He would pick at my sleeve and whisper gibberish till my blood ran cold. At last, while Gretel lay whiter than snow, and you were raving on the bed, I screamed to him–it seemed as if he MUST hear me–‘Raff, where is our money? Do you know aught of the money, Raff? The money in the pouch and the stocking, in the big chest?’ But I might as well have talked to a stone. I might as–“

The mother’s voice sounded so strange, and her eye was so bright, that Hans, with a new anxiety, laid his hand upon her shoulder.

“Come, Mother,” he said, “let us try to forget this money. I am big and strong. Gretel, too, is very quick and willing. Soon all will be prosperous with us again. Why, Mother, Gretel and I would rather see thee bright and happy than to have all the silver in the world, wouldn’t we, Gretel?”

“The mother knows it,” said Gretel, sobbing.


Dame Brinker was startled at her children’s emotion; glad, too, for it proved how loving and true they were.

Beautiful ladies in princely homes often smile suddenly and sweetly, gladdening the very air around them, but I doubt if their smile be more welcome in God’s sight than that which sprang forth to cheer the roughly clad boy and girl in the humble cottage. Dame Brinker felt that she had been selfish. Blushing and brightening, she hastily wiped her eyes and looked upon them as only a mother can.

“Hoity! Toity! Pretty talk we’re having, and Saint Nicholas’s Eve almost here! What wonder the yarn pricks my fingers! Come, Gretel, take this cent, *{The Dutch cent is worth less than half of an American cent.} and while Hans is trading for the skates you can buy a waffle in the marketplace.”

“Let me stay home with you, Mother,” said Gretel, looking up with eyes that sparkled through their tears. “Hans will buy me the cake.”

“As you will, child, and Hans–wait a moment. Three turns of this needle will finish this toe, and then you may have as good a pair of hose as ever were knitted (owning the yarn is a grain too sharp) to sell to the hosier on the Harengracht. *{A street in Amsterdam.} That will give us three quarter-guilders if you make good trade; and as it’s right hungry weather, you may buy four waffles. We’ll keep the Feast of Saint Nicholas after all.”

Gretel clapped her hands. “That will be fine! Annie Bouman told me what grand times they will have in the big houses tonight. But we will be merry too. Hans will have beautiful new skates–and then there’ll be the waffles! Oh! Don’t break them, brother Hans. Wrap them well, and button them under your jacket very carefully.”

“Certainly,” replied Hans, quite gruff with pleasure and importance.

“Oh! Mother!” cried Gretel in high glee, “soon you will be busied with the father, and now you are only knitting. Do tell us all about Saint Nicholas!”

Dame Brinker laughed to see Hans hang up his hat and prepare to listen. “Nonsense, children,” she said. “I have told it to you often.”

“Tell us again! Oh, DO tell us again!” cried Gretel, throwing herself upon the wonderful wooden bench that her brother had made on the mother’s last birthday. Hans, not wishing to appear childish, and yet quite willing to hear the story, stood carelessly swinging his skates against the fireplace.

“Well, children, you shall hear it, but we must never waste the daylight again in this way. Pick up your ball, Gretel, and let your sock grow as I talk. Opening your ears needn’t shut your fingers. Saint Nicholas, you must know, is a wonderful saint. He keeps his eye open for the good of sailors, but he cares most of all for boys and girls. Well, once upon a time, when he was living on the earth, a merchant of Asia sent his three sons to a great city, called Athens, to get learning.”

“Is Athens in Holland, Mother?” asked Gretel.

“I don’t know, child. Probably it is.”

“Oh, no, Mother,” said Hans respectfully. “I had that in my geography lessons long ago. Athens is in Greece.”

“Well,” resumed the mother, “what matter? Greece may belong to the king, for aught we know. Anyhow, this rich merchant sent his sons to Athens. While they were on their way, they stopped one night at a shabby inn, meaning to take up their journey in the morning. Well, they had very fine clothes–velvet and silk, it may be, such as rich folks’ children all over the world think nothing of wearing–and their belts, likewise, were full of money. What did the wicked landlord do but contrive a plan to kill the children and take their money and all their beautiful clothes himself. So that night, when all the world was asleep, he got up and killed the three young gentlemen.”

Gretel clasped her hands and shuddered, but Hans tried to look as if killing and murder were everyday matters to him.

“That was not the worst of it,” continued Dame Brinker, knitting slowly and trying to keep count of her stitches as she talked. “That was not near the worst of it. The dreadful landlord went and cut up the young gentlemen’s bodies into little pieces and threw them into a great tub of brine, intending to sell them for pickled pork!”

“Oh!” cried Gretel, horror-stricken, though she had often heard the story before. Hans was still unmoved and seemed to think that pickling was the best that could be done under the circumstances.

“Yes, he pickled them, and one might think that would have been the last of the young gentlemen. But no. That night Saint Nicholas had a wonderful vision, and in it he saw the landlord cutting up the merchant’s children. There was no need of his hurrying, you know, for he was a saint, but in the morning he went to the inn and charged the landlord with murder. Then the wicked landlord confessed it from beginning to end and fell down on his knees, begging forgiveness. He felt so sorry for what he had done that he asked the saint to bring the young masters to life.”

“And did the saint do it?” asked Gretel, delighted, well knowing what the answer would be.

“Of course he did. The pickled pieces flew together in an instant, and out jumped the young gentlemen from the brine tub. They cast themselves at the feet of Saint Nicholas, and he gave them his blessing, and–oh! mercy on us, Hans, it will be dark before you get back if you don’t start this minute!”

By this time Dame Brinker was almost out of breath and quite out of commas. She could not remember when she had seen the children idle away an hour of daylight in this manner, and the thought of such luxury quite appalled her. By way of compensation she now flew about the room in extreme haste. Tossing a block of peat upon the fire, blowing invisible fire from the table, and handing the finished hose to Hans, all in an instant. . .

“Comes, Hans,” she said as her boy lingered by the door. “What keeps thee?”

Hans kissed his mother’s plump cheek, rosy and fresh yet, in spite of all her troubles.

“My mother is the best in the world, and I would be right glad to have a pair of skates, but”–and as he buttoned his jacket he looked, in a troubled way, toward a strange figure crouching by the hearthstone–“if my money would bring a meester *{Doctor (dokter in Dutch), called meester by the lower class.} from Amsterdam to see the father, something might yet be done.”

“A meester would not come, Hans, for twice that money, and it would do no good if he did. Ah, how many guilders I once spent for that, but the dear, good father would not waken. It is God’s will. Go, Hans, and buy the skates.”

Hans started with a heavy heart, but since the heart was young and in a boy’s bosom, it set him whistling in less than five minutes. His mother had said “thee” to him, and that was quite enough to make even a dark day sunny. Hollanders do not address each other, in affectionate intercourse, as the French and Germans do. But Dame Brinker had embroidered for a Heidelberg family in her girlhood, and she had carried its thee and thou into her rude home, to be used in moments of extreme love and tenderness.

Therefore, “What keeps thee, Hans?” sang an echo song beneath the boy’s whistling and made him feel that his errand was blest.

Hans Has His Way

Broek, with its quiet, spotless streets, its frozen rivulets, its yellow brick pavements and bright wooden houses, was nearby. It was a village where neatness and show were in full blossom, but the inhabitants seemed to be either asleep or dead.

Not a footprint marred the sanded paths where pebbles and seashells lay in fanciful designs. Every window shutter was tightly closed as though air and sunshine were poison, and the massive front doors were never opened except on the occasion of a wedding, a christening, or a funeral.

Serene clouds of tobacco smoke were floating through hidden corners, and children, who otherwise might have awakened the place, were studying in out-of-the-way corners or skating upon the neighboring canal. A few peacocks and wolves stood in the gardens, but they had never enjoyed the luxury of flesh and blood. They were made out of boxwood hedges and seemed to be guarding the grounds with a sort of green ferocity. Certain lively automata, ducks, women, and sportsmen, were stowed away in summer houses, waiting for the spring-time when they could be wound up and rival their owners in animation; and the shining tiled roofs, mosaic courtyards, and polished house trimmings flashed up a silent homage to the sky, where never a speck of dust could dwell.

Hans glanced toward the village, as he shook his silver kwartjes and wondered whether it were really true, as he had often heard, that some of the people of Broek were so rich that they used kitchen utensils of solid gold.

He had seen Mevrouw van Stoop’s sweet cheeses in market, and he knew that the lofty dame earned many a bright silver guilder in selling them. But did she set the cream to rise in golden pans? Did she use a golden skimmer? When her cows were in winter quarters, were their tails really tied up with ribbons?

These thoughts ran through his mind as he turned his face toward Amsterdam, not five miles away, on the other side of the frozen Y. *{Pronounced eye, an arm of the Zuider Zee.} The ice upon the canal was perfect, but his wooden runners, so soon to be cast aside, squeaked a dismal farewell as he scraped and skimmed along.

When crossing the Y, whom should he see skating toward him but the great Dr. Boekman, the most famous physician and surgeon in Holland. Hans had never met him before, but he had seen his engraved likeness in many of the shop windows in Amsterdam. It was a face that one could never forget. Thin and lank, though a born Dutchman, with stern blue eyes, and queer compressed lips that seemed to say “No smiling permitted,” he certainly was not a very jolly or sociable-looking personage, nor one that a well-trained boy would care to accost unbidden.

But Hans WAS bidden, and that, too, by a voice he seldom disregarded–his own conscience.

“Here comes the greatest doctor in the world,” whispered the voice. “God has sent him. You have no right to buy skates when you might, with the same money, purchase such aid for your father!”

The wooden runners gave an exultant squeak. Hundreds of beautiful skates were gleaming and vanishing in the air above him. He felt the money tingle in his fingers. The old doctor looked fearfully grim and forbidding. Hans’s heart was in his throat, but he found voice enough to cry out, just as he was passing, “Mynheer Boekman!”

The great man halted and, sticking out his thin underlip, looked scowling about him.

Hans was in for it now.

“Mynheer,” he panted, drawing close to the fierce-looking doctor, “I knew you could be none other than the famous Boekman. I have to ask a great favor–“

“Hump!” muttered the doctor, preparing to skate past the intruder. “Get out of the way. I’ve no money–never give to beggars.”

“I am no beggar, mynheer,” retorted Hans proudly, at the same time producing his mite of silver with a grand air. “I wish to consult you about my father. He is a living man but sits like one dead. He cannot think. His words mean nothing, but he is not sick. He fell on the dikes.”

“Hey? What?” cried the doctor, beginning to listen.

Hans told the whole story in an incoherent way, dashing off a tear once or twice as he talked, and finally ending with an earnest “Oh, do see him, mynheer. His body is well–it is only his mind. I know that this money is not enough, but take it, mynheer. I will earn more, I know I will. Oh! I will toil for you all my life, if you will but cure my father!”

What was the matter with the old doctor? A brightness like sunlight beamed from his face. His eyes were kind and moist; the hand that had lately clutched his cane, as if preparing to strike, was laid gently upon Hans’s shoulder.

“Put up your money, boy, I do not want it. We will see your father. It’s hopeless, I fear. How long did you say?”

“Ten years, mynheer,” sobbed Hans, radiant with sudden hope.

“Ah! a bad case, but I shall see him. Let me think. Today I start for Leyden, to return in a week, then you may expect me. Where is it?”

“A mile south of Broek, mynheer, near the canal. It is only a poor, broken-down hut. Any of the children thereabout can point it out to your honor,” added Hans with a heavy sigh. “They are all half afraid of the place; they call it the idiot’s cottage.”

“That will do,” said the doctor, hurrying on with a bright backward nod at Hans. “I shall be there. A hopeless case,” he muttered to himself, “but the boy pleases me. His eye is like my poor Laurens’s. Confound it, shall I never forget that young scoundrel!” And, scowling more darkly than ever, the doctor pursued his silent way.

Again Hans was skating toward Amsterdam on the squeaking wooden runners; again his fingers tingled against the money in his pocket; again the boyish whistle rose unconsciously to his lips.

Shall I hurry home, he was thinking, to tell the good news, or shall I get the waffles and the new skates first? Whew! I think I’ll go on!

And so Hans bought the skates.

Introducing Jacob Poot and His Cousin

Hans and Gretel had a fine frolic early on that Saint Nicholas’s Eve. There was a bright moon, and their mother, though she believed herself to be without any hope of her husband’s improvement, had been made so happy at the prospect of the meester’s visit, that she yielded to the children’s entreaties for an hour’s skating before bedtime.

Hans was delighted with his new skates and, in his eagerness to show Gretel how perfectly they “worked,” did many things upon the ice that caused the little maid to clasp her hands in solemn admiration. They were not alone, though they seemed quite unheeded by the various groups assembled upon the canal.

The two Van Holps and Carl Schummel were there, testing their fleetness to the utmost. Out of four trials Peter van Holp had won three times. Consequently Carl, never very amiable, was in anything but a good humor. He had relieved himself by taunting young Schimmelpenninck, who, being smaller than the others, kept meekly near them without feeling exactly like one of the party, but now a new thought seized Carl, or rather he seized the new thought and made an onset upon his friends.

“I say, boys, let’s put a stop to those young ragpickers from the idiot’s cottage joining the race. Hilda must be crazy to think of it. Katrinka Flack and Rychie Korbes are furious at the very idea of racing with the girl; and for my part, I don’t blame them. As for the boy, if we’ve a spark of manhood in us, we will scorn the very idea of–“

“Certainly we will!” interposed Peter van Holp, purposely mistaking Carl’s meaning. “Who doubts it? No fellow with a spark of manhood in him would refuse to let in two good skaters just because they were poor!”

“Carl wheeled about savagely. “Not so fast, master! And I’d thank you not to put words in other people’s mouths. You’d best not try it again.”

“Ha, ha!” laughed little Voostenwalbert Schimmelpenninck, delighted at the prospect of a fight, and sure that, if it should come to blows, his favorite Peter could beat a dozen excitable fellows like Carl.

Something in Peter’s eye made Carl glad to turn to a weaker offender. He wheeled furiously upon Voost.

“What are you shrieking about, you little weasel? You skinny herring you, you little monkey with a long name for a tail!”

Half a dozen bystanders and byskaters set up an applauding shout at this brave witticism; and Carl, feeling that he had fairly vanquished his foes, was restored to partial good humor. He, however, prudently resolved to defer plotting against Hans and Gretel until some time when Peter should not be present.

Just then, his friend, Jacob Poot, was seen approaching. They could not distinguish his features at first, but as he was the stoutest boy in the neighborhood, there could be no mistaking his form.

“Hello! Here comes Fatty!” exclaimed Carl. “And there’s someone with him, a slender fellow, a stranger.”

“Ha! ha! That’s like good bacon,” cried Ludwig. “A streak of lean and a streak of fat.”

“That’s Jacob’s English cousin,” put in Master Voost, delighted at being able to give the information. “That’s his English cousin, and, oh, he’s got such a funny little name–Ben Dobbs. He’s going to stay with him until after the grand race.”

All this time the boys had been spinning, turning, rolling, and doing other feats upon their skates, in a quiet way, as they talked, but now they stood still, bracing themselves against the frosty air as Jacob Poot and his friend drew near.

“This is my cousin, boys,” said Jacob, rather out of breath. “Benjamin Dobbs. He’s a John Bull and he’s going to be in the race.”

All crowded, boy-fashion, about the newcomers. Benjamin soon made up his mind that the Hollanders, notwithstanding their queer gibberish, were a fine set of fellows.

If the truth must be told, Jacob had announced his cousin as Penchamin Dopps, and called his a Shon Pull, but as I translate every word of the conversation of our young friends, it is no more than fair to mend their little attempts at English. Master Dobbs felt at first decidedly awkward among his cousin’s friends. Though most of them had studied English and French, they were shy about attempting to speak either, and he made very funny blunders when he tried to converse in Dutch. He had learned that vrouw meant wife; and ja, yes; and spoorweg, railway; kanaals, canals; stoomboot, steamboat; ophaalbruggen, drawbridges; buiten plasten, country seats; mynheer, mister; tweegevegt, duel or “two fights”; koper, copper; zadel, saddle; but he could not make a sentence out of these, nor use the long list of phrases he had learned in his “Dutch dialogues.” The topics of the latter were fine, but were never alluded to by the boys. Like the poor fellow who had learned in Ollendorf to ask in faultless German, “Have you seen my grandmother’s red cow?” and, when he reached Germany, discovered that he had no occasion to inquire after that interesting animal, Ben found that his book-Dutch did not avail him as much as he had hoped. He acquired a hearty contempt for Jan van Gorp, a Hollander who wrote a book in Latin to prove that Adam and Eve spoke Dutch, and he smiled a knowing smile when his uncle Poot assured him that Dutch “had great likeness mit Zinglish but it vash much petter languish, much petter.”

However, the fun of skating glides over all barriers of speech. Through this, Ben soon felt that he knew the boys well, and when Jacob (with a sprinkling of French and English for Ben’s benefit) told of a grand project they had planned, his cousin could now and then put in a ja, or a nod, in quite a familiar way.

The project WAS a grand one, and there was to be a fine opportunity for carrying it out; for, besides the allotted holiday of the Festival of Saint Nicholas, four extra days were to be allowed for a general cleaning of the schoolhouse.

Jacob and Ben had obtained permission to go on a long skating journey–no less a one than from Broek to The Hague, the capital of Holland, a distance of nearly fifty miles! *{Throughout this narrative distances are given according to our standard, the English statute mile of 5,280 feet. The Dutch mile is more than four times as long as ours.}

“And now, boys,” added Jacob, when he had told the plan, “who will go with us?”

“I will! I will!” cried the boys eagerly.

“And so will I,” ventured little Voostenwalbert.

“Ha! ha!” laughed Jacob, holding his fat sides and shaking his puffy cheeks. “YOU go? Such a little fellow as you? Why, youngster, you haven’t left off your pads yet!”

Now, in Holland very young children wear a thin, padded cushion around their heads, surmounted with a framework of whalebone and ribbon, to protect them in case of a fall; and it is the dividing line between babyhood and childhood when they leave it off. Voost had arrived at this dignity several years before; consequently Jacob’s insult was rather to great for endurance.

“Look out what you say!” he squeaked. “Lucky for you when you can leave off YOUR pads–you’re padded all over!”

“Ha! ha!” roared all the boys except Master Dobbs, who could not understand. “Ha! ha!”–and the good-natured Jacob laughed more than any.

“It ish my fat–yaw–he say I bees pad mit fat!” he explained to Ben.

So a vote was passed unanimously in favor of allowing the now popular Voost to join the party, if his parents would consent.

“Good night!” sang out the happy youngster, skating homeward with all his might.

“Good night!”

“We can stop at Haarlem, Jacob, and show your cousin the big organ,” said Peter van Holp eagerly, “and at Leyden, too, where there’s no end to the sights; and spend a day and night at the Hague, for my married sister, who lives there, will be delighted to see us; and the next morning we can start for home.”

“All right!” responded Jacob, who was not much of a talker.

Ludwig had been regarding his brother with enthusiastic admiration.

“Hurrah for you, Pete! It takes you to make plans! Mother’ll be as full of it as we are when we tell her we can take her love direct to sister Van Gend. My, but it’s cold,” he added. “Cold enough to take a fellow’s head off his shoulders. We’d better go home.”

“What if it is cold, old Tender-skin?” cried Carl, who was busily practicing a step he called the “double edge.” “Great skating we should have by this time, if it was as warm as it was last December. Don’t you know that if it wasn’t an extra cold winter, and an early one into the bargain, we couldn’t go?”

“I know it’s an extra cold night anyhow,” said Ludwig. “Whew! I’m going home!”

Peter van Holp took out a bulgy gold watch and, holding it toward the moonlight as well as his benumbed fingers would permit, called out, “Halloo! It’s nearly eight o’clock! Saint Nicholas is about by this time, and I, for one, want to see the little ones stare. Good night!”

“Good night!” cried one and all, and off they started, shouting, singing, and laughing as they flew along.

Where were Gretel and Hans?

Ah, how suddenly joy sometimes comes to an end!

They had skated about an hour, keeping aloof from the others, quite contented with each other, and Gretel had exclaimed, “Ah, Hans, how beautiful! How fine! To think that we both have skates! I tell you, the stork brought us good luck!”–when they heard something!

It was a scream–a very faint scream! No one else upon the canal observed it, but Hans knew its meaning too well. Gretel saw him turn white in the moonlight as he busily tore off his skates.

“The father!” he cried. “He has frightened our mother!” And Gretel ran after him toward the house as rapidly as she could.

The Festival of Saint Nicholas

We all know how, before the Christmas tree began to flourish in the home life of our country, a certain “right jolly old elf,” with “eight tiny reindeer,” used to drive his sleigh-load of toys up to our housetops, and then bounded down the chimney to fill the stockings so hopefully hung by the fireplace. His friends called his Santa Claus, and those who were most intimate ventured to say “Old Nick.” It was said that he originally came from Holland. Doubtless he did, but, if so, he certainly, like many other foreigners, changed his ways very much after landing upon our shores. In Holland, Saint Nicholas is a veritable saint and often appears in full costume, with his embroidered robes, glittering with gems and gold, his miter, his crosier, and his jeweled gloves. Here Santa Claus comes rollicking along, on the twenty-fifth of December, our holy Christmas morn. But in Holland, Saint Nicholas visits earth on the fifth, a time especially appropriated to him. Early on the morning of the sixth, he distributes his candies, toys, and treasures, then vanishes for a year.

Christmas Day is devoted by the Hollanders to church rites and pleasant family visiting. It is on Saint Nicholas’s Eve that their young people become half wild with joy and expectation. To some of them it is a sorry time, for the saint is very candid, and if any of them have been bad during the past year, he is quite sure to tell them so. Sometimes he gives a birch rod under his arm and advises the parents to give them scoldings in place of confections, and floggings instead of toys.

It was well that the boys hastened to their abodes on that bright winter evening, for in less than an hour afterward, the saint made his appearance in half the homes of Holland. He visited the king’s palace and in the selfsame moment appeared in Annie Bouman’s comfortable home. Probably one of our silver half-dollars would have purchased all that his saintship left at the peasant Bouman’s; but a half-dollar’s worth will sometimes do for the poor what hundreds of dollars may fail to do for the rich; it makes them happy and grateful, fills them with new peace and love.

Hilda van Gleck’s little brothers and sisters were in a high state of excitement that night. They had been admitted into the grand parlor; they were dressed in their best and had been given two cakes apiece at supper. Hilda was as joyous as any. Why not? Saint Nicholas would never cross a girl of fourteen from his list, just because she was tall and looked almost like a woman. On the contrary, he would probably exert himself to do honor to such an august-looking damsel. Who could tell? So she sported and laughed and danced as gaily as the youngest and was the soul of all their merry games. Her father, mother, and grandmother looked on approvingly; so did her grandfather, before he spread his large red handkerchief over his face, leaving only the top of his skullcap visible. This kerchief was his ensign of sleep.

Earlier in the evening all had joined in the fun. In the general hilarity there had seemed to be a difference only in bulk between grandfather and the baby. Indeed, a shade of solemn expectation, now and then flitting across the faces of the younger members, had made them seem rather more thoughtful than their elders.

Now the spirit of fun reigned supreme. The very flames danced and capered in the polished grate. A pair of prim candles that had been staring at the astral lamp began to wink at other candles far away in the mirrors. There was a long bell rope suspended from the ceiling in the corner, made of glass beads netted over a cord nearly as thick as your wrist. It is generally hung in the shadow and made no sign, but tonight it twinkled from end to end. Its handle of crimson glass sent reckless dashes of red at the papered wall, turning its dainty blue stripes into purple. Passersby halted to catch the merry laughter floating, through curtain and sash, into the street, then skipped on their way with a startled consciousness that the village was wide-awake. At last matters grew so uproarious that the grandsire’s red kerchief came down from his face with a jerk. What decent old gentleman could sleep in such a racket! Mynheer van Gleck regarded his children with astonishment. The baby even showed symptoms of hysterics. It was high time to attend to business. Madame suggested that if they wished to see the good Saint Nicholas, they should sing the same loving invitation that had brought him the year before.

The baby stared and thrust his fist into his mouth as mynheer put him down upon the floor. Soon he sat erect and looked with a sweet scowl at the company. With his lace and embroideries and

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