Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates/The Thousand Guilders
The Thousand Guilders
None seeing the humble supper eaten in the Brinker cottage that night would have dreamed of the dainty repast hidden away nearby. Hans and Gretel looked rather wistfully toward the cupboard as they drank their cupful of water and ate their scanty share of black bread; but even in thought they did not rob their father.
"He relished his supper well," said Dame Brinker, nodding sidewise toward the bed, "and fell asleep the next moment. Ah, the dear man will be feeble for many a day. He wanted sore to sit up again, but while I made show of humoring him and getting ready, he dropped off. Remember that, my girl, when you have a man of your own (and many a day may it be before that comes to pass), remember that you can never rule by differing; 'humble wife is husband's boss.' Tut! tut! Never swallow such a mouthful as that again, child. Why, I could make a meal off two such pieces. What's in thee, Hans? One would think there were cobwebs on the walls."
"Oh, no, Mother, I was only thinking--"
"Thinking about what? Ah, no use asking," she added in a changed tone. "I was thinking of the same a while ago. Well, it's no blame if we DID look to hear something by this time about the thousand guilders but not a word--no--it's plain enough he knows naught about them."
Hans looked up anxiously, dreading lest his mother should grow agitated, as usual, when speaking of the lost money, but she was silently nibbling her bread and looking with a doleful stare toward the window.
"Thousand guilders," echoed a faint voice from the bed. "Ah, I am sure they have been of good use to you, vrouw, through the long years when your man was idle."
The poor woman started up. These words quite destroyed the hope that of late had been glowing within her.
"Are you awake, Raff?" she faltered.
"Yes, Meitje, and I feel much better. Our money was well saved, vrouw, I was saying. Did it last through all those ten years?"
"I--I--have not got it, Raff, I--" She was going to tell him the whole truth when Hans lifted his finger warningly and whispered, "Remember what the meester told us. The father must not be worried."
"Speak to him, child," she answered, trembling.
Hans hurried to the bedside.
"I am glad you are feeling better," he said, leaning over his father. "Another day will see you quite strong again."
"Aye, like enough. How long did the money last, Hans? I could not hear your mother. What did she say?"
"I said, Raff," stammered Dame Brinker in great distress, "that it was all gone."
"Well, well, wife, do not fret at that; one thousand guilders is not so very much for ten years and with children to bring up. . .but it has helped to make you all comfortable. Have you had much sickness to bear?"
"No, no," sobbed Dame Brinker, lifting her apron to her eyes.
"Tut, tut, woman, why do you cry?" said Raff kindly. "We will soon fill another pouch when I am on my feet again. Lucky I told you all about it before I fell."
"Told me what, man?"
"Why, that I buried the money. In my dream just now, it seemed that I had never said aught about it."
Dame Brinker started forward. Hans caught her arm.
"Hist! Mother," he whispered, hastily leading her away, "we must be very careful." Then, while she stood with clasped hands waiting in breathless anxiety, he once more approached the cot. Trembling with eagerness he said, "That was a troublesome dream. Do you remember WHEN you buried the money, Father?"
"Yes, my boy. It was just before daylight on the same day I was hurt. Jan Kamphuisen said something, the sundown before, that made me distrust his honesty. He was the only one living besides Mother who knew that we had saved a thousand guilders, so I rose up that night and buried the money--blockhead that I was ever to suspect an old friend!"
"I'll be bound, Father," pursued Hans in a laughing voice, motioning to his mother and Gretel to remain quiet, "that you've forgotten where you buried it."
"Ha! ha! Not I, indeed. But good night, my son, I can sleep again."
Hans would have walked away, but his mother's gestures were not to be disobeyed. So he said gently, "Good night, Father. Where did you say you buried the money? I was only a little one then."
"Close by the willow sapling behind the cottage," said Raff Brinker drowsily.
"Ah, yes. North side of the tree, wasn't it, Father?"
"No, the south side. Ah, you know the spot well enough, you rogue. Like enough you were there when your mother lifted it. Now, son, easy. Shift this pillow so. Good night."
"Good night, Father!" said Hans, ready to dance for joy.
The moon rose very late that night, shining in, full and clear, at the little window, but its beams did not disturb Raff Brinker. He slept soundly; so did Gretel. As for Hans and his mother, they had something else to do.
After making a few hurried preparations, they stole forth with bright, expectant faces, bearing a broken spade and a rusty implement that had done many a day's service when Raff was a hale worker on the dikes.
It was so light out of doors that they could see the willow tree distinctly. The frozen ground was hard as stone, but Hans and his mother were resolute. Their only dread was that they might disturb the sleepers in the cottage.
"This ysbreeker is just the thing, Mother," said Hans, striking many a vigorous blow, "but the ground has set so firm it'll be a fair match for it."
"Never fear, Hans," she answered, watching him eagerly. "Here, let me try awhile."
They soon succeeded in making an impression. One opening and the rest was not so difficult.
Still they worked on, taking turns and whispering cheerily to one another. Now and then Dame Brinker stepped noiselessly over the threshold and listened, to be certain that her husband slept.
"What grand news it will be for him," she said, laughing, "when he is strong enough to bear it. How I should like to put the pouch and the stocking, just as we find them, all full of money, near him this blessed night, for the dear man to see when he wakens."
"We must get them first, Mother," panted Hans, still tugging away at his work.
"There's no doubt of that. They can't slip away from us now," she answered, shivering with cold and excitement as she crouched beside the opening. "Like enough we'll find them stowed in the old earthen pot I lost long ago."
By this time Hans, too, began to tremble, but not with cold. He had penetrated a foot deep for quite a space on the south side of the tree. At any moment they might come upon the treasure. Meantime the stars winked and blinked at each other as if to say, "Queer country, this Holland! How much we do see, to be sure!"
"Strange that the dear father should have put it down so woeful deep," said Dame Brinker in rather a provoked tone. "Ah, the ground was soft enough then, I warrant. How wise of him to mistrust Jan Kamphuisen, and Jan in full credit at the time. Little I thought that handsome fellow with his gay ways would ever go to jail! Now, Hans, let me take a turn. It's lighter work, d'ye see, the deeper we go? I'd be loath to kill the tree, Hans. Will we harm it, do you think?"
"I cannot say," he answered gravely.
Hour after hour, mother and son worked on. The hole grew larger and deeper. Clouds began to gather in the sky, throwing elfish shadows as they passed. Not until moon and stars faded away and streaks of daylight began to appear did Meitje Brinker and Hans look hopelessly into each other's faces.
They had searched the ground thoroughly, desperately, all round the tree; south, north, east, west. THE HIDDEN MONEY WAS NOT THERE!