Dutch girls are modest and generally quiet, but they have very glad eyes. For a few moments it was hard to decide whether Hilda, Rychie, or Katrinka felt the most happy.
Annie Bouman was also on the canal, looking even prettier than the other maidens in her graceful peasant's costume. But she did not mingle with Rychie's party; neither did she look unusually happy.
The one she liked most to see was not among the newcomers. Indeed, he was not upon the canal at all. She had not been near Broek before, since the Eve of Saint Nicholas, for she was staying with her sick grandmother in Amsterdam and had been granted a brief resting spell, as the grandmother called it, because she had been such a faithful little nurse night and day.
Annie had devoted her resting-spell to skating with all her might toward Broek and back again, in the hope of meeting her mother on the canal, or, it might be, Gretel Brinker. Not one of them had she seen, and she must hurry back without even catching a glimpse of her mother's cottage, for the poor helpless grandmother, she knew, was by this time moaning for someone to turn her upon her cot.
Where can Gretel be? thought Annie as she flew over the ice; she can almost always steal a few moments from her work at this time of day. Poor Gretel! What a dreadful thing it must be to have a dull father! I should be woefully afraid of him, I know--so strong, and yet so strange!
Annie had not heard of his illness. Dame Brinker and her affairs received but little notice from the people of the place.
If Gretel had not been known as a goose girl, she might have had more friends among the peasantry of the neighborhood. As it was, Annie Bouman was the only one who did not feel ashamed to avow herself by word and deed the companion of Gretel and Hans.
When the neighbors' children laughed at her for keeping such poor company, she would simply flush when Hans was ridiculed, or laugh in a careless, disdainful way, but to hear little Gretel abused always awakened her wrath.