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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter28)

2006-09-08 21:30

  Chapter 28. Through the Hague

  The picture gallery in the Maurits Huis, *{A building erected by Prince Maurice of Nassau.} one of the finest in the world, seemed to have only flashed by the boys during a two-hour visit, so much was there to admire and examine. As for the royal cabinet of curiosities in the same building, they felt that they had but glanced at it, though they were there nearly half a day. It seemed to them that Japan had poured all her treasures within its walls. For a long period Holland, always foremost in commerce, was the only nation allowed to have any intercourse with Japan. One can well forego a journey to that country if he can but visit the museum at The Hague.

  Room after room is filled with collections from the Hermit Empire——costumes peculiar to various ranks and pursuits, articles of ornament, household utensils, weapons, armor, and surgical instruments. There is also an ingenious Japanese model of the Island of Desina, the Dutch factory in Japan. It appears almost as the island itself would if seen through a reversed opera glass and makes one feel like a Gulliver coming unexpectedly upon a Japanese Lilliput. There you see hundreds of people in native costumes, standing, kneeling, stooping, reaching——all at work, or pretending to be——and their dwellings, even their very furniture, spread out before you, plain as day. In another room a huge tortoiseshell dollhouse, fitted up in Dutch style and inhabited by dignified Dutch dolls, stands ready to tell you at a glance how people live in Holland.

  Gretel, Hilda, Katrinka, even the proud Rychie Korbes would have been delighted with this, but Peter and his gallant band passed it by without a glance. The war implements had the honor of detaining them for an hour; such clubs, such murderous krits, or daggers, such firearms, and, above all, such wonderful Japanese swords, quite capable of performing the accredited Japanese feat of cutting a man in two at a single stroke!

  There were Chinese and other Oriental curiosities in the collection. Native historical relics, too, upon which our young Dutchmen gazed very soberly, though they were secretly proud to show them to Ben.

  There was a model of the cabin at Saardam in which Peter the Great lived during his short career as ship-builder. Also, wallets and bowls——once carried by the "Beggar" Confederates, who, uniting under the Prince of Orange, had freed Holland from the tyranny of Spain; the sword of Admiral van Speyk, who about ten years before had perished in voluntarily blowing up his own ship; and Van Tromp's armor with the marks of bullets upon it. Jacob looked around, hoping to see the broom which the plucky admiral fastened to his masthead, but it was not there. The waistcoat which William Third *{William, Prince of Orange, who became king of England, was a great-grandson of William the Silent, Prince of Orange, who was murdered by Geraerts (or Gerard) July 10, 1584.} of England wore during the last days of his life, possessed great interest for Ben, and one and all gazed with a mixture of reverence and horror-worship at the identical clothing worn by William the Silent *{see above} when he was murdered at Delft by Balthazar Geraerts. A tawny leather doublet and plain surcoat of gray cloth, a soft felt hat, and a high neck-ruff from which hung one of the "Beggars'" medals——these were not in themselves very princely objects, though the doublet had a tragic interest from its dark stains and bullet holes. Ben could readily believe, as he looked upon the garments, that the Silent Prince, true to his greatness of character, had been exceedingly simple in his attire. His aristocratic prejudices were, however, decidedly shocked when Lambert told him of the way in which William's bride first entered The Hague.

  "The beautiful Louisa de Coligny, whose father and former husband both had fallen at the massacre of St. Bartholomew, was coming to be fourth wife to the Prince, and of course," said Lambert, "we Hollanders were too gallant to allow the lady to enter the town on foot. No, sir, we sent——or rather my ancestors did——a clean, open post-wagon to meet her, with a plank across it for her to sit upon!"

  "Very gallant indeed!" exclaimed Ben, with almost a sneer in his polite laugh. "And she the daughter of an admiral of France."

  "Was she? Upon my word, I had nearly forgotten that. But, you see, Holland had very plain ways in the good old time; in fact, we are a very simple, frugal people to this day. The Van Gend establishment is a decided exception, you know."

  "A very agreeable exception, I think," said Ben.

  "Certainly, certainly. But, between you and me, Mynheer van Gend, though he has wrought his own fortunes, can afford to be magnificent and yet be frugal."

  "Exactly so," said Ben profoundly, at the same time stroking his upper lip and chin, which latterly he believed had been showing delightful and unmistakable signs of coming dignities.

  While tramping on foot through the city, Ben often longed for a good English sidewalk. Here, as in the other towns, there was no curb, no raised pavement for foot travelers, but the streets were clean and even, and all vehicles were kept scrupulously within a certain tract. Strange to say, there were nearly as many sleds as wagons to be seen, though there was not a particle of snow. The sleds went scraping over the bricks or cobblestones, some provided with an apparatus in front for sprinkling water, to diminish the friction, and some rendered less musical by means of a dripping oil rag, which the driver occasionally applied to the runners.

  Ben was surprised at the noiseless way in which Dutch laborers do their work. Even around the warehouses and docks there was no bustle, no shouting from one to another. A certain twitch of the pipe, or turn of the head, or, at most, a raising of the hand, seemed to be all the signal necessary. Entire loads of cheeses or herrings are pitched from cart or canalboat into the warehouses without a word; but the passerby must take his chance of being pelted, for a Dutchman seldom looks before or behind him while engaged at work.

  Poor Jacob Poot, who seemed destined to bear all the mishaps of the journey, was knocked nearly breathless by a great cheese, which a fat Dutchman was throwing to a fellow laborer, but he recovered himself, and passed on without evincing the least indignation. Ben professed great sympathy upon the occasion, but Jacob insisted that it was "notting."

  "Then why did you screw your face so when it hit you?"

  "What for screw mine face?" repeated Jacob soberly. "Vy, it vash de——de——"

  "That what?" insisted Ben maliciously.

  "Vy, de-de-vat you call dis, vat you taste mit de nose?"

  Ben laughed. "Oh, you mean the smell."

  "Yesh. Dat ish it," said Jacob eagerly. "It wash de shmell. I draw mine face for dat!"

  "Ha! ha!" roared Ben. "That's a good one. A Dutch boy smell a cheese! You can never make me believe THAT!"

  "Vell, it ish no matter," replied Jacob, trudging on beside Ben in perfect good humor. "Vait till you hit mit cheese——dat ish all."

  Soon he added pathetically, "Penchamin, I no likes to be call Tuch——dat ish no goot. I bees a Hollander."

  Just as Ben was apologizing, Lambert hailed him.

  "Hold up! Ben, here is the fish market. There is not much to be seen at this season. But we can take a look at the storks if you wish."

  Ben knew that storks were held in peculiar reverence in Holland and that the bird figured upon the arms of the capital. He had noticed cart wheels placed upon the roofs of Dutch cottages to entice storks to settle upon them; he had seen their huge nests, too, on many a thatched gable roof from Broek to The Hague. But it was winter now. The nests were empty. No greedy birdlings opened their mouths——or rather their heads——at the approach of a great white-winged thing, with outstretched neck and legs, bearing a dangling something for their breakfast. The long-bills were far away, picking up food on African shores, and before they would return in the spring, Ben's visit to the land of dikes would be over.

  Therefore he pressed eagerly forward, as Van Mounen led the way through the fish market, anxious to see if storks in Holland were anything like the melancholy specimens he had seen in the Zoological Gardens of London.

  It was the same old story. A tamed bird is a sad bird, say what you will. These storks lived in a sort of kennel, chained by the feet like felons, though supposed to be honored by being kept at the public expense. In summer they were allowed to walk about the market, where the fish stalls were like so many free dining saloons to them. Untasted delicacies in the form of raw fish and butcher's offal lay about their kennels now, but the city guests preferred to stand upon one leg, curving back their long necks and leaning their heads sidewise, in a blinking reverie. How gladly they would have changed their petted state for the busy life of some hardworking stork mother or father, bringing up a troublesome family on the roof of a rickety old building where flapping wind-mills frightened them half to death every time they ventured forth on a frolic!

  Ben soon made up his mind, and rightly, too, that The Hague with its fine streets and public parks shaded with elms, was a magnificent city. The prevailing costume was like that of London or Paris, and his British ears were many a time cheered by the music of British words. The shops were different in many respects from those on Oxford Street and the Strand, but they often were illumined by a printed announcement that English was "spoken within." Others proclaimed themselves to have London stout for sale, and one actually promised to regale its customers with English roast beef.

  Over every possible shop door was the never-failing placard, TABAK TE KOOP (tobacco to be sold). Instead of colored glass globes in the windows, or high jars of leeches, the drugstores had a gaping Turk's head at the entrance——or, if the establishment was particularly fine, a wooden mandarin entire, indulging in a full yawn.

  Some of these queer faces amused Ben exceedingly; they seemed to have just swallowed a dose of physic, but Van Mounen declared he could not see anything funny about them. A druggist showed his sense by putting a Gaper before his door, so that his place would be known at once as an apotheek and that was all there was to it.

  Another thing attracted Ben——the milkmen's carts. These were small affairs, filled with shiny brass kettles, or stone jars, and drawn by dogs. The milkman walked meekly beside his cart, keeping his dog in order, and delivering the milk to customers. Certain fish dealers had dogcarts, also, and when a herring dog chanced to meet a milk dog, he invariably put on airs and growled as he passed him. Sometimes a milk dog would recognize an acquaintance before another milk cart across the street, and then how the kettles would rattle, especially if they were empty! Each dog would give a bound and, never caring for his master's whistle, insist upon meeting the other halfway. Sometimes they contented themselves with an inquisitive sniff, but generally the smaller dog made an affectionate snap snap at the larger one's ear, or a friendly tussle was engaged in by way of exercise. Then woe to the milk kettles, and woe to the dogs!

  The whipping over, each dog, expressing his feelings as best as he could, would trot demurely back to his work.

  If some of these animals were eccentric in their ways, others were remarkably well behaved. In fact, there was a school for dogs in the city, established expressly for training them. Ben probably saw some of its graduates. Many a time he noticed a span of barkers trotting along the street with all the dignity of horses, obeying the slightest hint of the man walking briskly beside them. Sometimes, when their load was delivered, the dealer would jump in the cart and have a fine drive to his home beyond the gates of the city; and sometimes, I regret to say, a patient vrouw would trudge beside the cart with a fish basket upon her head and a child in her arms——while her lord enjoyed his drive, carrying no heavier burden than a stumpy clay pipe, the smoke of which mounted lovingly into her face.

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