Hans Turns Sailor
S Hans turned away from the quay his heart was lighter than it had been for many a day. He straightened up, and no longer sought all the narrower by-ways as he had long grown used to doing; but beginning to feel already like an honest man, he walked boldly down the chief streets of the city. And though now and then people glanced at him and drew away from him, he looked straight ahead, his mind busy with plans for the future.
He crossed the Grande Place, and presently, as he passed the doorway of the cathedral of Saint Sauveur, he saw an old woman crouching against the wall and begging for alms. With a sudden impulse he thrust his hand into the pocket where lay the silver pieces Father Deaf-and-Blind had paid for the stolen cup, and drawing them out he dropped them into the old woman's lap, and hastened on before she could speak for amazement.
When he got back to his hut it was almost dusk. He made a fire with the last bit of wood, and ate the last crusts of bread he could find in the cupboard; and then, filled with thoughts of the next day, and saying over to himself with a sort of pleased surprise, "I am really going to be a sailor again! I am going to the sea!" he went to sleep and slept soundly until daybreak.
As soon as Hans awakened he remembered what he was to do, and so he made himself as tidy as he could; which was not much, to be sure, but still he looked a little less unkempt than usual. Just before he started out, he happened to put his hand in his pocket and there was still the porringer! He quickly drew away his fingers from it as if it burned them—but then again he put back his hand and took out the little dish.
He scowled a little as he looked at the troublesome porringer and remembered that after he had left old Father Deaf-and-Blind the morning before, he had meant to take it back as soon as dark fell and leave it on the doorstep where he had found it. He was annoyed that his mind had been so full of his new plans that he had forgotten all about it when night came, and now he knew he would not have time to hunt up the little yellow house, even if he wanted to restore the porringer by daylight and run the risk of having to make explanation of his act.
So holding it a moment uncertainly, presently he walked over to the empty cupboard and stood it up at the back of the shelf. He thought that when he came back at the end of the week, he would see about taking it to the little house. Then he pulled the door shut behind him, and leaving the hut set out for the quay.
At the end of a week the fishing vessel was again moored in the old canal of Bruges. The catch had been good, and there was a great chattering among the fish-wives who came to buy the fish as they were unloaded from the vessel. By and by, a group of them caught sight of Hans, who was busily helping carry the cargo to shore.
"Look!" they cried, pointing their fingers at him, "There is Hans the Robber! We have missed him for a whole week! So he has turned sailor again! Ho! Ho! Hans, Hans! Didst thou rob the captain of that coat?"
"No!" said Captain Helmgar, who was close by and listening sharply to their wagging tongues, "No! Hush your clamor! I gave him the coat myself, and he is the best sailor that ever trod yonder deck!" and he waved his hand toward the vessel beside him.
Now, Captain Helmgar quickly understood from the fish-wives' talk that Hans had indeed borne a bad name, as he had suspected the day he had first talked with him. But, nevertheless, he determined to give him a fair chance to earn an honest living. In the week Hans had been on the vessel he had proven a fine sailor and had worked hard and faithfully; and Captain Helmgar thought it a shame not to help him if he was really trying to do better. So, when he paid him his wages for the week's work, he shook him heartily by the hand and told him that he had done well, and that the next day they would set out again and that he would expect Hans to go with them. "And you might as well live on the boat while you work for me," added Captain Helmgar kindly, "for perhaps you have no home of your own."
"No," said Hans, "I have none; nothing but an old tumbledown hut that I would be glad never to see again!" But just then he remembered the porringer, which had quite passed out of his mind in the busy week of the new life he had begun. He felt that he must get it if it was still where he had left it; for though he considered that the little dish had caused him no end of bother, he had not given up the idea of taking it back where it belonged.
So turning again to Captain Helmgar, he said, "It is only a miserable place, the old hut, but there is something there I must get before I come to stay on the boat."
"Very well," replied the captain, "go and get whatever you want; but be sure and be back by afternoon, for there will be plenty of work here to get ready for sailing to-morrow."
As Hans started off down the street he decided that this was as good a time as any to hunt for the little yellow house; for if he could slip away from the fishing vessel for a little while that evening, as he hoped, he wanted to know exactly where the house stood so he need waste no time finding it.
So he threaded his way through the maze of cobble-paved streets as nearly as he could remember in the direction he had gone on the night before Christmas. At last he turned into The Little Street Of The Holy Ghost, and, looking down it, yes, he was certain this was the one for which he was searching.
Slackening his steps, as he walked slowly along he kept looking out for the little house, which he had passed hurriedly that Christmas eve and without especially noticing it; though he remembered that it stood on a corner, and he felt sure he would know it again.
Before long he came to it, and, sure enough, he knew it at once. There was the wooden step on which the porringer had stood, and Karen, with her little shawl pinned about her shoulders, was sweeping it. As Hans walked slowly by, suddenly he stopped and said to Karen, "What is thy name, little girl?"
Karen timidly lifted her blue eyes to his, and "Karen, sir," she answered simply.
"Hast thou any brothers or sisters?" continued Hans.
"No, sir," said Karen wonderingly, "there is no one but Grandmother and me. Did you want to see Grandmother?"
"No, no," muttered Hans hastily; and then, feeling that he must make some excuse for his questions, "I was only hunting where some one lives," he added, and with an awkward bow to the little girl he passed hurriedly on; though in doing so his keen eyes had noticed Grandmother at the window bending over her lace-pillow.
"So," he said to himself, "that is the child the porringer belongs to; and her Grandmother is a lace-maker!" And again shame came to him because he had taken the gift he felt sure had been meant for the little blue-eyed girl.
He went on to the old tumbledown hut and pushed open the door. No one had disturbed the place since he had left it; indeed, it had been deserted when Hans had taken possession of it, and since then no one had dared molest it. The hut looked very bare and forlorn as Hans stepped into it, and there was really nothing in it that he cared to take with him; that is, nothing but the little porringer, which still stood back in the dusty corner of the old cupboard. As he lifted it down and looked at it, he fancied that Emschen smiled up at him happily from between the rose-trees of the bowl; and he tucked it very carefully into the pocket of the decent coat Captain Helmgar had given him.
"Then he went back, retracing his steps all the way till he reached The Little Street Of The Holy Ghost. When again he came to the yellow house the door was closed; and he had half a notion that he would hurriedly set the porringer down on the step, even if it was daylight.
But as he glanced up at the two little windows, there were Grandmother and Karen, and he could not do it right under their eyes!
Hans frowned; it seemed as if he never could get rid of this last bit of stolen property. For though he really wanted to give the porringer back to Karen, he could not bring himself to take it to her and tell her he had stolen it; nor could he bear to have her see him leave it on the step and guess that he had been a thief.
So there seemed nothing left for him to do but to carry it on to the fishing vessel and put it in the locker where he kept his few clothes, and then wait for evening or some other chance to restore it. But the chance did not come that evening, for Captain Helmgar had many things for the sailors to do on the vessel, and so Hans had to put off taking home the porringer till some other time when he would return to Bruges.
And the odd part about it all was that the longer Hans had the little porringer near him, the more attached to it he grew, and the more he came to hate the thought of giving it up! He kept it in his locker, and every day he looked at it until he became almost superstitious about it. Sometimes the little girl in it made him think of Karen, but more often it was Emschen, and always when he tried hard to do well he thought the face smiled at him but when sometimes at first the work seemed hard and he would half think of going back to his old robber life, then the little girl in the porringer looked so sad and mournful that Hans always gave over those half formed ideas and kept honestly on, doing his work so well that Captain Helmgar came more and more to trust and depend upon him.