T THIS, THE little imps broke out into a titter that sounded like the cackle of a hen trying to tell she had laid an egg.
"Good for you! Serves the old schim right," said a good kabouter, who loved to help human beings. "Now, I'll tell you about his brother, who has a wife and baby. He feeds and clothes them well, and takes good care of his old mother.
"Almost every week he helps some poor little boy, or girl, that has no mother or father. I heard him say he wished he could take care of poor orphans. So, when he was asleep, at night, I whispered in his ear and made him dream.
"'Put away your coin where it won't get mouldy and show that a penny that keeps moving is not like a rolling stone that gathers no moss. Deliver it to the goldsmiths for interest and leave it in your will to increase, until it becomes a great sum. Then, long after you are dead, the money you have saved and left for the poor weesies (orphans) will build a house for them. It will furnish food and beds and pay for nurses that will care for them, and good women who will be like mothers. Other folks, seeing what you have done, will build orphan houses. Then we shall have a Wees House (orphan asylum) in every town. No child, without a father or mother, in all Holland, will have to cry for milk or bread. Don't let your penny mould.'
"The third brother, named Spill-penny, woke up on the same morning, with a headache. He remembered that he had spent his silver penny at the gin house, buying drinks for a lot of worthless fellows like himself. He and his wife, with little to eat, had to wear ragged clothes, and the baby had not one toy to play with. When his wife gently chided him, he ran out of the house in bad humor. Going to the tap room, he ordered a drink of what we call 'Dutch courage,' that is, a glass of gin, and drank it down. Then what do you think he did?"
"Tell us," cried the imps uproariously.
"He went into a clothing house, bought a suit of clothes, and had it 'charged.'"
"That's it. I've known others like him," said an old imp.
"Now it was kermiss day in the village, and all that afternoon and evening this spendthrift was roystering with his fellow 'zuip zaks' (boon companions). With them, it was 'always drunk, always dry.' Near midnight, being too full of gin, he stumbled in the gutter, struck his head on the curb, and fell down senseless.
"Her husband not coming home that night, the distracted wife went out early in the morning. She found several men lying asleep on the sidewalks or in the gutters. She turned each one over, just as she did buckwheat cakes on the griddle, to see if this man or that was hers. At last she discovered her worthless husband, but no shaking or pulling could awake him. He was dead.
"Now there was a covetous undertaker in town, who carted away the corpse, and then told the widow that she must spend much money on the funeral, in order to have her husband buried properly; or else, the tongues of the neighbors would wag. So the poor woman had to sell her cow, the only thing she had, and was left poorer than ever. That was the end of Spill-penny."
"A jolly story," cried the kabouters in chorus. "Served him right. Now tell us about Vrek the miser. Go on."
"Well, the saying 'Much coin, much care,' is hardly true of him, for I and my trusty helpers ran away with all he had. With his first silver penny he began to hoard his money. He has been hunting for years for that penny, but has not found it. It will be rather mouldy, should he find it, but that he never will."
"Why not?" asked a young imp.
"For a good reason. He would not pay his boatmen their wages. So they struck, and refused to work. When he tried to sail his own boat, it toppled over and sunk, and Vrek was drowned. His wife was saved the expenses of a funeral, for his carcass was never found, and the covetous undertaker lost a job."
"What of the third one?" they asked.
"Oh, Mynheer Eerlyk, you mean? No harm can come to him. Everybody loves him and he cares for the orphans. There will be no mouldy penny in his house."
Then the meeting broke up. The good kabouters were happy. The bad ones, the imps, were sorry to miss what they hoped would be a jolly story.
When a thousand years passed away and the age of newspapers and copper pennies had come, there were no descendants of the two brothers Spill-penny and Schim; but of Mynheer Eerlyk there were as many as the years that had flown since he made a will. In this document, he ordered that his money, in guilders of gold and pennies of silver, should remain at compound interest for four hundred years. In time, the ever increasing sum passed from the goldsmiths to the bankers, and kept on growing enormously. At last this large fortune was spent in building hundreds of homes for orphans.
According to his wish, each girl in the asylum dressed in clothes that were of the colors on the city arms. In Amsterdam, for example, each orphan child's frock is half red and half black, with white aprons, and the linen and lace caps are very neat and becoming to their rosy faces. In Friesland, where golden hair and apple blossom cheeks are so often seen with the white lace and linen, some one has called the orphan girls "Apples of gold in pictures of silver." Among the many glories of the Netherlands is her care for the aged and the orphans.
One of the thirty generations of the Eerlyks read one day in the newspaper:
"Last week, while digging a very deep canal, some workman struck his pickaxe against timbers that were black with age, and nearly as hard as stone. These, on being brought up, showed that they were the ribs of an ancient boat. Learned men say that there was once a river here, which long since dried up. All the pieces of the boat were recovered, and, under the skilful hands of our ship carpenters, have been put together and the whole vessel is now set up and on view in our museum."
"We'll go down to-morrow on our way home from school, and see the curiosity," cried one of the Eerlyk boys, clapping his hands.
"Wait," said his father, "there's more in the story.
"To-day, the janitor of the museum, while examining a wide crack in one of the ribs, which was covered with wax, picked this substance away. He poked his finger in the crack, and finding something soft, pulled it out. It was a rough leather purse, inside of which was a coin, mouldy with age and dark as the wood. Even after cleaning it with acid, it was hard to read what was stamped on it; but, strange to say, the face of the coin had left its impression on the leather, which had been covered with wax. From this, though the metal of the coin was black, and the mould thick on the coin, what they saw showed that it was a silver penny of the age of Charlemagne, or the ninth century."
"Charlemagne is French, father, but we call him Karel de Groot, or Charles the Great."
"Yes, my son. Don't you hear Karel's Klok (the curfew) sounding? 'Tis time for little folks to go to bed."