Littell's Living Age/Volume 175/Issue 2258/A Visit in a Dutch Country House - Part I

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A few words of explanation as to my visit. Having been invited over to Holland by some dear Dutch friends and distant cousins, to renew old pleasant impressions of their country home near Haarlem, I left England in this last, most beautiful, September of 1884.

Coming dizzily on deck at Flushing about 6.30 A.M., a glorious sun, and a good breakfast at the station, revived every one. Off by a rather slow but safe express, in a comfortable red-plush-lined carriage, I looked out of the window sleepily to see if I remembered it all, i.e., the general view of the country. First impressions are the most striking, they say. Mine were slightly confused. A green land, with pollards on its leas; long beds of river grass waving tall plumed heads by the canals for miles, or mowed down and stacked for thatching; bright little cottages, and small children in tight nightcaps and sabots. Peasants stopping their ploughs to look at the train, and wearing flat caps, blue shirts, and black corduroys. We are now in a land of blouses and caps. Along raised grassy dykes, long green carts are being briskly pulled by pairs of long-tailed horses. I always like these carts, with their carved rail tilting up picturesquely behind, and the short, green prow in front which the driver guides this side or that, while the harness replaces shafts. About Middelburg, little white houses nestle cosily under such enormous red-peaked roofs that the green landscape fairly glows. And now, twice, the sea seems to close in upon our narrow causeway, while flat green meadows so merge with low grey waters that in the distance one can hardly distinguish between them. We are passing through the islands of Zeeland.

We stop at Rosendaal, the junction for Brussels; pretty Dordrecht, with its villas in tiny gardens, containing water, willows, bridges, and summer-houses, in half an acre; and Rotterdam, all bustle and brightness, big streets, wide waters — a town for commerce rather than residence. Then a great grassy plain for miles, intersected regularly by brimming little water-trenches and covered with herds of black-and-white cattle. My eyes desire a red cow and are seldom if ever gratified. Cuyp painted them — why are there none now? Thick woods ring the horizon; that means the Hague. Then more fat pastures follow; Leyden, with its soldiers and students at the station, being a mere interlude.

This plain reminds me of children playing at Noah's ark on a green tablecloth, and dotting their animals over it. But the view is never unbounded here, as on a prairie, however. Holland has many woods, and these snugly bound and intersect the wide meads, while village spires seem always rising out of the trees, and small windmills (for pumping up water from the ditches) turn red sails. A line of roofs breaks the plain, and head and shoulders over these rises a square mass, like a hen brooding over her chickens — an old mother watching her children. It is the sight that always meets one from afar in coming within sight of Haarlem town — it is Haarlem Cathedral.

It is only a quarter past eleven as we steam into the station. And there is Hugo C—— waiting to greet me — kindest of cousins and most hospitable of hosts. His English-looking family omnibus is waiting with a useful-looking pair of bays. Mounting the box beside him — for he likes driving himself — we are off through the bright, quaint little town. Haarlem makes one seem to have stepped back a century or two, with its narrow, paved streets, gabled house-fronts with curious façades; quiet canals along which the gentry live, with high trees clipped in a screen before their doors; the old marketplace and cathedral. Passing all these, we drive partly through the famous wood.

Amsterdam is a town for commerce, rich merchants, heavy dinners, and some stiff old country families who cling in winter to their town houses. The Hague is gay, nineteenth century, somewhat cosmopolitan. But Haarlem, the Dutch say, is where people live "who have nothing to do." The description is pleasantly meant, and if not true in all cases, is so in that of my friend's. And now our brick-paved road goes out towards the country, among pretty villas, bright with flowers, of course, in this flower-loving land, and shady with trees. We are soon nearing our destination, and my visit has fairly begun.

Lindenroede (Lime Lawn) is a good specimen of an ordinary Dutch country house. Square and white, with its green shutters, and raised terrace in front, it stands close to the highroad, as do all its neighbors, behind its gravel sweep. What is almost as universal, too, it is bright and fresh with paint, shaded by fine trees. Even before coming in sight of the house itself I greeted its stork's nest, standing as of old in the meadow across the road, in full view of the windows. Most country houses around have one just so placed; a shallow box on the top of a high pole. Some, worse luck! are deserted. The Lindenroede storks had three young ones this year, but it is the second week in September and they are all flown southwards already.

As the carriage turned in at the open gates, Jacqueline, my host's young married daughter, was sitting working on the terrace. (This is not her real name any more than others herein given of Lindenroede and its inmates; but if the names are fictitious, not so anything else in this truthful little description of a country-house visit in Holland. I simply jotted down what we did and saw day by day, aided by nearly everybody in the house.) Jacqueline then came down the steps with the sunniest "cousin's" welcome in the world. The "cousinship," by the way, dates from some time about the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes — no matter for that, when folk are not only kith but kind. The second breakfast, corresponding more to a French déjeuner than our lunch, was just ready, it being half past twelve o'clock. So, after washing off the dust of the journey — and the very Sahara cannot be worse than the sand which drove in at the train windows along from the Hague, threatening to silt me up alive, — down I came. The very dining-room has an old friend's air from pleasant memories. There is the thick Deventer carpet — how handsome those carpets are, and how well they wear! it is a pity we do not know them better. Through the windows we look, on the one hand out at the noble standard chestnuts in the lawn behind the house; on the other side, through the folding-doors set wide open into the hall, and the plate-glass front door of the latter — likely enough open, too — the view of the road beyond the trees (a view so usual, I might almost call it indispensable, in Holland) is secured while we are at meals. "And now, you see, here are the Dutch dishes, you remember," says Hugo hospitably. Yes, I remember the usual roast veal, the excellent mashed and buttered potatoes, the cold pancakes — this last a truly national sweet. Lunch over, we adjourn, as in general, to the terrace. There sitting against the house wall, where outdoor chairs and a table make an alfresco drawing-room, we chat and watch the vehicles go by, while waves of the hand are exchanged with friends. Then one carriage turns in, that of Hugo's sister and brother-in-law. I remember their fine old house well, since "last time" I was here, with its moat all round, except at what answered to a drawbridge (indeed, answering better), a solid gravelled approach. And their kitchen garden, too; with all the espalier fruit-trees trained into furniture shapes of tables, sofas, and pianos, and those on the wall in loyally regal names. But their visit over, with kindly assurances I look "not in the least as if after crossing the sea" — fatigue drives me to take a nap before unpacking and six o'clock dinner.

Meanwhile, the interior of a Dutch gentleman's house and household may be described.

Of the inmates I will only say that there is mine host first, who has more true friends than almost any man; his daughter, who does the honors of his house in summer — every winter he travels afar — and her husband. There is also the latter's sister, on a visit here, nicknamed the "Princess." And lastly, the youngest son of the house, whom we may call the "Irrepressible," while his pretty fiancée generally joins us.

There is much in the house too significant of its owner's yearly travels, and taste, to be exclusively Dutch. His own study and his daughter's boudoir up-stairs are quite Oriental with spoil from the bazaars of Cairo and Algiers, and from the Holy Land. The passage-way and staircase are hung with blue Damascus tiles. And the pleasant large bedrooms on either side the single corridor up-stairs are fitted up with French furniture and cretonnes draped in the latest Parisian fashion. But down-stairs there is something more distinctive in the pale-green-painted dining-room, namely, most curious drinking-glasses engraved with all manner of family scenes; also fine sets of old china behind the glass oval cupboards recessed in the wall. Out of this dining-room, there is a little solemn, satin drawing-room, with cabinets full of mine host's collected curios, but where nobody ever comes. And next this is a little ante-room full of palms and greenery, not much used either. But then comes the favorite sitting-room of the house, opening out of the hall and the serre; the "antique room," an excellent specimen of what several other Dutch gentlemen also have — or aim to have, for it necessitates, perhaps, years of careful collection and selection. It is a nearly exact representation of an old-fashioned silting-room, such as you shall see in interiors by Nicolas Maes. The Dutch are intensely conservative; loving their forefathers' ways and traditions, and treasuring their family heirlooms of old blue Oriental china, old native delft, carvings, brasses, fine engraved glasses, and notably, their old silver. This room, as several others I saw, would give an impressionist the idea of brown-ness, brightened by brasses and blue china. Dark-brown are the high wainscot, the panelled ceiling, carved chimneypiece, and the beautiful old Cordovan leather wall-hangings stamped in faded gold; brown also the carved stiff furniture and its cushions. But the gleam of old brass chandeliers and sconces brightens the gloom, many of the latter set round the wainscot ledge being of strange shapes an antiquarian would vainly covet. And besides, the usual brass fire-irons hung up on either side the old tiled fireplace are some less known in England; a brass repoussé box holding dried hemp-stalks to light candles, great snuffers, and a long blow-pipe for the fire, also useful in extinguishing candles placed high. Two heavy brass handles depend also from the high chimney-board, their use puzzling me. "What are they for?" "Why, for old gentlemen to hold by when lifting up one foot to warm their toes!" explained Hugo cheerily. "Our ancestors were heavy, you see, and could not stand long on one leg without support."

After the brasses the blue china relieves the eye in the rich sombreness of the room. Big jars, and lesser porcelain of all shapes, are ranged on the wainscot and all about the room; with queer deft plaques showing sea-pieces, and shaving dishes with nicks to hold the victim's neck. From a general impression coming to details, two objects in the room strike the eye before all the other furniture by their excessive size. The first is a nobly massive walnut press, to hold the family linen and best china. The second a huge Bible on a stand, the Book dwarfing all other light mundane literature in the room by its size and solemnity. This handsome armoire for the housekeeper's treasures is a pride and prime necessity in all the Dutch houses I have seen. And nearly all of them possess also, as downstairs in the servants' room at Lindenroede, handsome carved mangles, and screw-presses for keeping table linen always flat and tidy, these being sometimes so ornamental as to stand in the dining-room. But the antique room, has some rarer curios, such as a carved board and roller-pin, date 1650, for mangling small fine things I was told, and hanging near it from the wainscot a very ancient deep-cut yard measure.

Lastly, amongst old spinning-wheels, and some Hindeloopen furniture of great age, painted with (of course) Biblical scenes gaudily, are some square wooden boxes standing about on the floor, carved all over and pierced at the top. These are foot-stoves, still used by some ladies, with a chafing-dish of hot charcoal or peat embers placed inside. Hugo took up one in fine brass, delicately opened-worked. "This was my grandmother's stove; she used to carry it to church with the handle over her arm." These "stoves," as they are called, are universally used in Holland. The churches are full of coarse ones for footstools; you see the same in the peasants' houses, in the bathing-boxes at Zaandvoort, with some old bathing-woman's savory stew keeping hot over them in the especial house upon wheels that is her home by day, and that of her progeny; and a small urchin in sabots sitting on one in winter to warm himself while munching a carrot or an apple is a frequently funny little sight. Smaller carved ones are used by the people to keep the teapot brewing, and in the nurseries of rich people are useful for hot milk and other infantile wants. "We always use one for our children, with a spiritus lampas inside," explained the Princess to me, speaking of her small brothers and sister. Not to take an inventory of all Lindenroede house, I will only add that the kitchen is a pleasant sight, its walls glistening with tiles and bright with coppers and brass; and that in the garret is stored away one of the carved and gilded small sledges, so curiously painted, that one sees in curiosity shops in Amsterdam or the Hague. It is waiting for a hard winter — there has been no frost to speak of for two or three years past.

Come outside the house and you shall see Dutch pleasure-grounds. The lawn is perfectly flat, of course, but — what some English who imagine Holland a vast plain studded with a few pollards, do not understand — the trees are so fine and so many, they bound the view and keep one's thoughts from much noticing the level ground. A brown piece of water, shaded by weeping willows, winds through the trees till bounded by a little rise topped by a small temple. Every country house around is sure to have such a piece of water, larger or smaller; and many have a similar little temple. But this being far down in the grounds, is rather to please the eye from a distance than for a philosophic retreat. A love of solitary seclusion is about the last idea, it seems to me, in most Dutch minds. Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy" would be quite out of favor with my cheerful-minded acquaintance. They love, as I said, to sit out on their verandahs or terraces, or balconies, within view of the king's highway, and those who pass thereby. Not content even with this, a previous generation built the old-fashioned pavilions one still sees here and there on the road, with large glass windows often reaching to the ground, "to see and to be seen," though the house door is only a stone's throw distant. In these one will often see families sitting of an afternoon round the central table, with perhaps some newspapers, and beverages. The Lindenroede summer-house beside the gate has been long taken away, however. To return to the temple, the thick coppice around it is half smothered with wild hops, bending in graceful green tassels; jays and magpies are chattering overhead among the tall trees. To right and left, sandy paths wind through the wood; and near the house lies a large kitchen garden with long rows of vineries, etc.; still nearer a bright little flower-plot and the orangery, where the big plants in tubs that stand about on the lawn are housed in winter.

Having described the house, as to the Dutch manner of life, — well, Lindenroede was Liberty Hall. Breakfast, to begin with, was ready at eight o'clock for the master of the house, and often still waiting at ten o'clock for the younger (male) scions. This is easy, for a mahogany bucket lined with metal and containing peat embers in which a brass kettle is kept singing, is always placed beside every Dutch breakfast-table; and appears at chance five o'clock teas too, and after dinner in the drawing-room. The kettle-bucket in Holland is the most characteristic object I can think of. At this breakfast one only eats bread and butter, adding sometimes to the latter thin slices of gingerbread, which is very good; or a wafer of rye bread. Concerning the latter, there are very few things I don't like in Holland; but, without a shadow of doubt, I detest rye bread. Eggs are boiled, if some one cares for them, in the kettle. The old-fashioned way was by means of a small sort of landing-net in which they were first popped; the newer one is to have wire or silver draining-spoons to lift them out. But the young men of the family going off to business in Haarlem do not even trouble the tea and bread and butter, much less the eggs. About a small cupful of milk and a wafer of rye bread, often nothing but a hasty glance at the morning papers, and they are off, smiling, with bon jours to the ladies left behind. And bon jour is echoed back to the husband bound for the law court, with viel plaisir (much pleasure) added to the Irrepressible soon to become a Benedick, who is off to the Hague to see races, or the Downs to try sporting-dogs in a chasse, and who will send notes at night to an English acquaintance on le sport in Holland, to be published in the Field. Many men whose business is in Amsterdam, but who have houses in Haarlem for economy and quiet, will go to their offices and work till 1 or 2 P.M. without food.

The womankind left behind do odds and ends of work and writing, then lure out the master of the house from his Oriental study to find ripe figs in the beautiful big kitchen garden, and try the grapes sunning on the south wall. Or else we gather roses and arrange them, or take out work and books to the "tent," a little wooden arbor facing the small flower-garden embosomed in trees. The books are always English Tauchnitz volumes, or French novels; mostly the latter. Or again, we perhaps cross the road to a pleasant wood belonging to Hugo's brother-in-law and sister, whose demesne ranges with Lindenroede, so closely indeed, that, but for a rustic bridge over a water trench green with duckweed and shaded by willows, the sandy shrubbery paths would seem to intermingle. The wood rises agreeably in little ups and downs, once, no doubt, sand-hills ages ago. Down in a sunny hollow lies a pond full of water-lilies. We seat ourselves above on a bench shaded by a coppice, burning red with dying maple-leaves here and there, while surely that flash of living blue over the water down there was a kingfisher; and close by a rabbit pops out on the turf and sits unheeding our talk. Even putting aside chat about old acquaintances made in past visits on both sides across the water, my Dutch friends had plenty to talk about. Jacqueline and her husband had lately been in London; and, of course, to Paris in the spring previously to see theatres and buy dresses and have a "good time," which is a yearly necessity if not a more frequent one. And there was some talk about a possible trip soon to Constantinople and back by Vienna. Hugo, who had spent last winter travelling in Spain, was bound in November for Asia Minor — taking Paris and Cannes first on his way. The Irrepressible and his fiancée were consulting upon Algiers for their honeymoon. The Princess lastly, after a short season in London, had spent the rest of the summer wandering in the Salzkammergut. And outside the household, almost every one I met seemed to go to the Riviera in spring, and to German watering-places in summer. They say the air is heavy in Holland; certainly on first coming one sleeps very sound. Perhaps, after a time in these lowlands, higher, bracing air would be needed.

Coming back for déjeuner at half past twelve we would read the Figaro or other high literature on the terrace, or write letters till, at three o'clock, the landau would be at the door.

"Would you like to see a silver wedding?" Hugo asked me one day. "Our neighbors, the M——s, are holding theirs; and as this is their reception day we must go, like all their acquaintance, to see the presents and pay our respects." We drove off therefore that afternoon, each "drest in their Sunday best," to a country-seat of which the translated name is Greendale and Woodbeck. It belonged formerly to the English Hope family. The Roman Catholic Church at Heemstede was adorned with flags as we passed; so was the priest's house and the turnpike. Passing in at the gates of a large, closely wooded demesne, the lodge, then the gardener's house, and further on the stables, all set down among the trees, were likewise gay with flags and green wreaths. Some distance from the house was a large solitary pavilion in the wood, built to play billiards in, I was told. Carriages were passing and repassing on the drive as we approached, and the gravel sweep was all enclosed with wreaths of greenery, and had flags and three triumphal arches exactly as for a first wedding. The festivities, in the same way, are supposed to last a fortnight, during which time the green decorations are kept up. The visitors congratulated their host and hostess, who received them in a room where the presents, mostly of silver, were laid out, and each fresh set of guests, after a few minutes' stay, came away. In the evening there were to be an illumination of Chinese lamps in the grounds and fireworks for the peasantry, with sack races and other such diversions.

Then we drove on, for more visits, along the brick-paved road shaded by trees, past smiling cottages so snug and tidy they seemed to promise happy interiors. It will be understood that always on either side of the said road runs an open water-ditch instead of any hedges, walls, or banks; and looking over this ditch into the green, level meadows beyond, dotted with piebald cows, one must further imagine smaller water trenches again (always full), dividing the general green plain into separate portions. But here, near Haarlem, the country-seats are so many, that woods constantly break in closely on the uniformity of the level, whilst bright white villas, seldom far apart, greet us along the road from behind their short green lawns. Here and there, very often indeed, we come on canals by the roadside, these being just broader water ditches. Sometimes, when there has been a strong wind, and the sluices have been opened, they are cleanly brown enough; but often, too often! they are grass-green with duckweed, though there is life enough on them of mud-boats and barges and such-like crafts. By the way, it was a wonder to me that there are so few ducks on these same canals, in spite of the famous dictum of canards, canaux, and the third unkind word. Often, instead of duckweed, the water is reddish with some other equally small aquatic plant, the effect being picturesque enough in coloring. One little picture of this very day I remember vividly, of two beautiful snowy goats lying on the green bank of just such a reddish canal; it was bordered with reeds, and overhung by willows and alder. Contrary to preconceived ideas, there are as many goats in this country as sheep and ducks are missing. After visiting a neighbor, owning one of the noble beech avenues which abound here, stretching in long tunnels of deep gloom to a little arch of light far down, we turned homewards by fresh woods and pastures new. At home, we could already see from the gate the Irrepressible and his pretty fiancée, awaiting us on the terrace, as also Jongherr R., with pleasant-looking bottles upon the table, suggestive of wines and minerva water. After the heat of the afternoon, refreshment was grateful, and five o'clock tea is as yet new-fashioned in Holland. The young men drove off presently in a fly to the club in town, for an hour before six o'clock dinner; which I mention only because England, being club-land essentially, is apt to imagine that other people have few or no clubs, and so wonder what men do with themselves. People generally ask as to another country, "What sort of food did you have?" Well, to choose out the most genuinely Dutch dishes, we had, perhaps, potato purée, or bouillon, flavored with chervil, and containing balls of veal forcemeat. The fish might be soles, or plaice, but, to give me kindly a more national delicacy, we had water bass from the canals sometimes. These are about the size of our trout, and are served up, half-a-dozen or so, in a deep dish, swimming in the water they are boiled in, flavored with "flat-leaved parsley." (The English name for this plant I cannot say, it being strange to me; but my cousin Hugo declared it unknown to us.) Water bass are eaten with thin sandwiches of rye bread; but without the latter, and the bread and butter only, I thought them excellent. Another night we had a jack, done Dutch fashion. When boiled, all the small bones were removed, and the fish chopped up and mixed with butter, pepper, onions, and savory herbs. Then, rolled back into fish-like shape, the jack is browned, bread-crumbed, and eaten always with salad. It was really very good. Next came generally roast or stewed veal or beef, mutton being so poor it is rarely eaten. For vegetables, invariably potatoes, excellently cooked with butter; and besides those we likewise use boiled endives and bread-crumbed cabbage. Partridges followed, sometimes au choux; or other game. Wild ducks were plentiful, and some neighbors had just had an early dawn's sport, out in the dunes, getting ninety-four birds to four guns. "Not so bad, but still not very good," said the Irrepressible. Of sweets and savories I need give no hints, because they were mostly of French origin. Dessert over, both ladies and gentlemen return together to the drawing-room for coffee, which is drunk in the smallest and most precious of handleless old blue china. Such a set with us would be behind a glass case. Then come liqueurs — cognac and aniseed, the latter being a favorite. The gentlemen went out this warm evening to smoke their cigarettes on the terrace for a little while. Then they dropped in again to the cheery antique room for chat and tea. The mahogany peat-bucket and its kettle had been placed by the footman, as usual, beside the table, and very old Chinese little teacups, almost as valuable as the blue porcelain, were ranged on a wooden tray truly Dutch. It was one of the finest specimens of a kind eagerly sought after by curio-hunters, being excellently painted in oils, showing the interior of an old house, Teniers-like, the thick edge being gilded. There was a great demand for English ghost stories that evening. After careful inquiries, I do not believe Holland boasts one genuine, respectable family ghost. The jongherr alone of my hearers had any reverence for the supernatural. Him I name to mention that there are but three classes of nobility here, that of jongherr, then baron, and, highest, count. The Dutch are very simple as to titles, and never address their friends as M. le baron, or comte.

"Every one knows they are barons or counts, so it would be thought affected or snobbish to call them so," Hugo explained. "Servants may sometimes use the phrase, but as often say only mynheer. Of course, peasants speaking to each other of their landlords would say 'the count,' or 'the baron,' that is all."

Before we said good-night, the tea and coffee-cups were all washed on the tray by our lady of the house, and dried with a fine napkin, as were the teaspoons, which were replaced in a satin-lined glass case. Then the footman being rung for, they were all locked again in the armoire. This washing of the cups is one of the good old customs against which it must be owned the younger generation grumble. "Your ladies do not have this trouble!" "But," interpose the elders, "English people do not use every day such old c ups worth from £1 to £3 each." "Hé!" sigh the young folk, "we would rather then use common services like the English. Of what use is it to have plenty of servants, if we must do their work?" Old-fashioned Dutch people go further, I am told, washing up themselves knives, forks, and plates — no matter how many their servants —looking over all the linen from the wash, and pulling out any lace edges themselves. But this I never saw.

Coming down stairs rather early another glorious morning, in came the master of the house cheerily from the fresh outside air. "Good-morning to you, ladies. I have just been to your uncle's already to congratulate him — it is his birthday." In the course of the day all the rest likewise went to congratulate and several more birthdays happening during my visit, all were equally remembered by troops of friends as by relations. Some presents are perhaps given, and the gardener would send in what I may call a cushion of flowers, carefully arranged as a table centre-piece. Just as our little breakfast was ended, Jacqueline called to me, "Look! there is the aanspreker. Do you remember him? I wonder who is dead!" I saw a strange figure going swiftly to the servants' side door. A tall man dressed in lugubrious black small-clothes, and silver-buckled shoes, black deep-flapped coat and waistcoat, his head crowned by a three-cornered hat and long weepers. He carried some papers, for his duty is to go round the neighborhood and announce all deaths. This time it was no one of importance. Another curious old custom relates to births, and the towns of Haarlem and Medemblik alone own with pride its right. In 1573, when the Spaniards took Haarlem after its famous siege, they sent notice that all houses wherein lay a mother and new-born babe should have their knockers muffled in white for a month, and so escape sacking. Thenceforth births in Haarlem are celebrated by what has now become an ornament on the doors, called a klopper. Hugo brought forth their family one to show me. A square of lace with his coat of arms finely embroidered and edged with exquisite old Mechlin. This is lined white for a girl, half in pink for a boy. Fastened over wood, it was hung out by day, and carefully goffered again at night. The Jews — the plague here of all curio-fanciers — scenting out every bit of old silver, lace, china, or carving in cottage or family seat — came sniffing around his klopper with vainly large offers for the Mechlin when last it was hung out.

Several mornings we used to start early for Zaandvoort in the coureuse, or stanhope —Jacqueline driving us along the straight road, bordered by trees, through the downs, or dunes. These lie like a troubled sea of sand-hills all along the coast, covered with sparse green and coppice. They are divided into shootings, said to be fair as to partridges and pheasants, and very good for wild duck and rabbits. Lonely and sheltered, with fresh sea-air and sweet copse scents, the downs are pleasant to ramble in through a summer's day, taking one's lunch in a basket, as the Lindenroede household do. Near the coast, sandy tracts are carefully and anxiously planted with coarse grass-tufts, each only a foot apart, for this grass binding the loose sand against cruel winds forms the bulwark of the land. Zaandvoort is the smaller, quieter rival of fashionable Scheveningen, a few miles down the coast; and all the pleasanter to my mind for being so much less frequented. Passing through the old fishing-village with its wooden houses, we leave the coureuse, and go down on the deep sands. Here sitting in big basket seats, like porters' chairs, to keep off the wind, we watch the low, grey sea; the big fishing-smacks called pincks hauled up ashore[1] with their wooden fins, and their blue pennons flying; the fishwives with their lace caps and curved straw bonnets, peculiar to themselves, and long aprons, with a stripe atop always of a different stuff, why, no one knoweth. The fishermen wear blue shirts, and crimson serge trousers, often rolled up to the knee, as they go about barelegged; and there are, too, bathing-machines and bobbing bathers in dismal sack-like dresses to see; and little Dutch children playing about with their English or Swiss nurses. The talk around is wonderfully polyglot. The Dutch use their own language by nature; but almost as often speak, and they assure me think, in French, from habit, their second nature. To know it is a polite necessity, like having a visiting-dress; and only old-fashioned people would dream of sending invitations otherwise than in French, and indeed many more familiar letters. As to English, I can remember no one of our acquaintance who did not know it a little, many, like my kinsfolk, excellently well, and they like to "practise" on all occasions. Most know German, too; some, perhaps, Italian.

Driving home in time to dress for dinner, most likely some neighbors pay an evening visit afterwards, and stay chatting till nine or ten o'clock. In summer this is the favorite hour for callers, and the terrace is gay with laughter and voices in the warm evenings. But it was getting dark now to stroll out from Haarlem, or the environs. One day we saw a peasants' wedding passing the gate, a procession bound on the gala drive that follows the civil and religious ceremony. There were fifteen to eighteen little yellow-varnished gigs (or chaises, as they call them), the whips and the plaited long manes and tails of the horses adorned with ribbons and flowers; an orange horse-cloth hanging behind the gig. First came the best-man and bridesmaid; next the happy pair in a more ornamental "tilbury" than the following pairs. Each man drives on the left side with his right arm round his maiden's waist, taking "toll" at all bridges, and throwing sugarplums at the gazers in the villages. The old folk follow four together in larger covered yellow chaises shaped like poke bonnets with glass sides. N. B. "Some little tilburys have caps, too," Jacqueline remarks to me, "but these are only for married people! No unmarried peasant girl or boy ventures to drive in such." The peasants end their drive with a dinner somewhere, and diversions. But as the latter are the same as at a servant's wedding, I can describe them for both. At Lindenroede, the last servant's wedding was minus the peasants' drive; but a party was given in the long glass orangery for them. Here they sang, danced, with laughter and noise; ate cakes and drank their favorite persico. (A drink in which pounded peach-kernels is the chief ingredient.) The family come out to watch them, and then the favourite dance, a kind of kiss-in-the-ring, is sure to begin. Joining hands in a circle, all dance round one in the middle, singing the old song beginning, —

          Daar ging een Pater langs de kant,
          En het was in de Mei.

the whole being translated as follows: —

          There went a friar along the way,
          And it was in the May!
          It was in the May so gay,
          And it was in the May!

          Come, father, give your nun a kiss,
          Six times you sure may have that bliss,
     Six times is not seven! seven is not eight!
          Oh how sweet are this maiden's lips!

At the last verse the man in the middle kneels on one knee, and calling out a girl to sit on his raised knee, kisses her several times, then retires. She, in turn, calls out another swain who likewise kneels and kisses her; and so the dancing, singing ring goes noisily on. This pastime is amongst the "good old customs" recognized by all; and even young people of good family, of school boy and girl ages, indulge in it at festive seasons.

When Sunday morning comes, we drive into the French church at Haarlem; disregarding the glorious sounds of the cathedral organ reaching us even outside as we pass through the old market-place. No the Dutch service and sermon in there is too prosily long. Our church is small, whitewashed, and bare to ugliness. The few ladies sit on chairs in the middle, the fewer men in pent-house pews around. A cantique or two, a little évangile, a long prayer made by the black-gowned minister, and a longer sermon, ended by a glass of water, forms the service. Add also, that for the collection two black velvet tasselled nightcaps, with peaks, are handed round at the end of long poles. Inside one peak is written église, on the other pauvres. Church over, we get warmed driving back in the cheery sunlight to lunch. In the afternoon the large carriage and pair of horses takes us all for an hour's drive through the woods of pretty Bloemendaal or Overween, full of charming villas inhabited by rich Amsterdam merchants or retired Java planters. Then about four we turn — like all the carriages of the neighborhood — towards Haarlem Wood. "Sunday afternoon in the wood" is a Haarlem sight. In one of the open spaces of the old wood, which is one of the chief beauties of the town, a band plays opposite the club or societeit. The verandah and enclosed lawn of the latter are crowded thickly with members and their families, sitting round little tables, some with various refreshments, all talking gaily. "The repose of Vere de Vere," the passionless expression and half-extinguished voices of which our high society has been accused lately by a Gallic observer, are not fashionable here. Dutch stolidity or phlegm is, I think, true of the lower classes; but added to good humor and cheerfulness. Carriages with well-dressed people stand about in the shade. Through the wood come likewise all manner of little peasant gigs, and larger farmers' hooded chaises from the fen-lands of the dried lake. Here and there are women with curious head-gear, among many — too many, of late years — without costume. Silver and gold skull-caps covered with lace, from Friesland; other caps with pinned-up lappets and all manner of queer pins of gold-twisted wire and diamond sparks; forehead ornaments, coral beads; enormous winged muslin caps from down beyond Leyden. And prettiest of all, the orphan girls of Haarlem, who wear black skirts, snowy kerchiefs, with coquettishly modest muslin caps, long white mittens, and short sleeves, one crimson, the other dark blue. (The Amsterdam orphan girls wear a similar dress, but one side of their skirts is crimson, the other black.) Even in winter they go bonnetless; but then the maid-servants will go shopping also with only their clear muslin caps on their heads. Some of the horses in the carriages are very handsome. Here in a young cousin's dog-cart, comes an English chestnut who, after winning prizes at home, carries all before him in Holland. His master goes yearly to England; and Yorkshire and the lslington shows see him regularly. In a field beyond the wood, a tent is pitched, and a pigeon-match — shooting at clay pigeons — going on. We recognize from afar various gentlemen from the country round, and some lady friends, then we turn homewards towards five o'clock.

Life, on the whole, goes comfortably and cheerily in the Haarlem neighborhood, if quietly. There were a good many country-house dinners going on during my visit, and a few tennis parties; though tennis is not made the rage and accomplishment it is in England. Most people were straying home from various German watering-places; and many of those who had country-seats would nevertheless go into town, the Hague, or Amsterdam, for some winter months. In Haarlem, what the Princess called la petite vie en ville was fast approaching; when, unless a hard frost stirred every one's pulses, there would most likely be few amusements except some dinners, and perhaps a rare subscription ball. The Hague, however, at an hour's distance, has a gay season of its own. And there people, as in all capitals, give themselves airs, form cliques, and set cancans and gossip afloat. Nevertheless, though wherever human nature is — being as it is! — some scandals and heart-burnings will arise, yet the Dutch affirm that social life among them is far more moral, purer, and happier than in France firstly, or secondly in England, of late years.


Notes[edit]

  1. Pink was an old name in Shakespeare's days for a small vessel.
    "This pink is one of Cupid's carriers: clap on more sail, pursue."
    (Merry Wives of Windsor.)