THE session was of short duration, and we all drew a long breath when it ended.
Much to Oom Kees’ delight we left Middelburg in The Broomstick and made a straight voyage under sunny skies to Rotterdam. This gave Lou and Lois an opportunity to see the Maas from Dordrecht to the port of South Holland a water trip that should be made by every one who would see the busy life of that river, and the approach to Rotterdam. It is an open page of Industry all the way, and as we passed one shipbuilding yard after the other along the entire route, and heard the continuous ring of rivet and bolt and the hammers on the anvils, we realized the immense place that such work occupies in this Industrial Age. Indeed, that one long day seemed removed a century from Middelburg and its towers, the contrast between the river and island life was so marked.
At Rotterdam, by the Maas-Kade, we took leave of our noble craft and its faithful crew. The broomstick was hauled down and given to Neeltje as a souvenir. To our surprise and delight, for we had missed him during the last week more than we had cared to express, Ben came down to meet us and rescue Bizzy, and we had a little supper on board to celebrate the successful end of our Odyssey in Dutch waters before taking the late train for The Hague.
It was a merry party, and every one at his best. James and I were, of course, in the secret, but it was a grand surprise for the others. It seems Neeltje had had her round blue Dutch eyes very wide open since the girls had joined us, and, after the Captain came, had decided in her own mind that a parting symposium supper would be the place to extend her congratulations, symbolically, in the form of an engagement cake, to the Captain and Lois! It seems that her slow Dutch mind, after seeing the young lady’s decided preference for the Captain and her neglect of the young American gentleman, conceived the idea that an early international marriage was in prospect, and she desired to show her appreciation of the fact by offering to the happy couple this delicate little congratulation in the shape of a betrothal cake.
Lois had been so shamelessly open in her preference for the Captain’s company at first, that I told James it would serve her right to be just a little bit embarrassed, and that I would let Neeltje do as she pleased, without undeceiving her until the end of the feast. In any case, I knew our good vrouw would not be disappointed in an engagement, at least, for that last evening at Middelburg had brought about the desired consummation on the Captain’s part, and made Lou just about the happiest woman of forty in the world. She and I sat up till three on that morning, talking it all over, as women will, and Long John kept us company with all his merry bells which, Lou confided to me, seemed the first time she heard them to be forerunners of her own marriage bells! Think of that for sentiment at two score! James had determined to announce the engagement at this little farewell supper, and Ben’s coming so unexpectedly added to our enjoyment of the complication. James rubbed his hands in his glee.
“I’ll get even with that little minx!” he declared, as he took a private view of the cake.
“I doubt if you can,” I replied, and turned to watch her drape the Stars and Stripes, that had waved so proudly at our masthead, into a kind of canopy at one end of the cabin table. Lou was arranging the Nether-lands colors above the Captain’s seat. I had contributed my mite in Dutch roses and lilies such roses as one seldom sees out of Holland; for the whole land is a veritable rose garden in June and July, and only those who have seen the great rose trees, with their hundreds of blossoms, in the gardens of Middelburg, or the hedges of white lilies about the vegetable gardens near Souburg on the way to Flushing, can form an idea of the luxuriant growth of these special flowers that grace the Nether-lands.
Of course we had toasts for every one and everything: Our Flag and our President, and our Land, and the Queen of the Netherlands, and The Broomstick by the way, the name of that worthy craft was “Martha, Middelburg,” and we always spoke of her to others as “The Martha Middelburg.” When we arrived at this toast, of course Oom Kees, the nephew-captain and his wife, Neeltje, were summoned, and toasts drunk to one and all. It was then Neeltje presented her cake deco-rated with the Dutch and American colors flying from a sugar-mast that was set in a sugar-tjalk and two fat Dutch sugar Cupids were poling the boat through a sea of frosting! It was a masterpiece. Oom Kees was not to be outdone, and laid before Lois and Lou and me little bouquets cut by his own jackknife out of turnips, carrots, and beetsall made into lilies, roses, and pinks!
Lois began to blush, as the cake was placed before her and she saw significant looks exchanged between Oom Kees and Ben. Her cheeks rivalled the beet-rose in her bouquet as she caught the merry twinkle in the Captain’s eye. Then James rose and gave, “The Dutch Army.” We all came to our feet, and the Captain responded like the true hearted gentleman and brave officer that he is: “The Stars and Stripes and” (looking straight at Lou) “the one I love who was born under them!”
“Now, I call that fine!” James exclaimed, joyfully, getting hold of both his hands and wringing them hard; then confusion reigned for ten minutes. In the end, when something like order came out of this joyful chaos, and we could hear ourselves think between the mad yelps of the two dogsto poor Lump, Lois had given a bone tied with the Netherlands. colors, and another, tied with our red, white, and blue, to Bizzy we enlightened our crew, and the cake was cut with great rejoicing.
“Now, Lou,” said James, as he took his piece of cake from her, “you’ll have to live under these colors here-after;” he touched the tiny Dutch pennant on the sugar-tjalk.
“No, James, I shall always sail `under two flags,’” said Lou, her face fairly radiant with happiness.
“A brave answer,” said the Captain, smiling at her. Then he turned to Lois. “And you, Miss Lois, how will it be with you ?”
“Only the Stars and Stripes for me,” she said, proudly, and rather earnestly for her, “for I love them, and everything beneath them.”
She saw at once she had made a slip, for Ben was sitting directly under the draped banner. But she only held her head a little higher. The Captain, however, leaned half over the table, and with his true-hearted daring, said pleasantly:
“Does that apply in the present instance, Miss Lois ? If so, Mr. Hardon is as happy a man as I am.”
The dear man! He had read that girl like an open book from the beginning ! I think we all held our breath for a moment till the answer came. I took one look at Ben and saw that he was white to the lips, and Lois’ cheeks like the lily at her breast. But she answered steadily, looking the Captain squarely in the eyes: “It is perfectly true what I said, but it does not of necessity make Mr. Hardon happy in the same way that you are.”
“That’s right, Lois, stick by your colors, little girl,” said James, heartily, to relieve the situation, and pro-posed that we go up on deck and chain up the dogs! Now wasn’t that like a man ? But I couldn’t blame him, for they gave us no peace after Neeltje brought them in.
We had another welcome that night on reaching The Hague and The Stork’s Nest. Our Tryntje and Anna Engelina were at the station to meet us and our werkvrouw at the house. Lou declared she would rent that house, if possible, and remain there after her marriage as long as the Captain was stationed in The Hague. Within ten minutes Lois and Anna Engelina were fast friends.
” James,” I said, when, late that night, we had our first minute to talk things over, “do you think she meant it ?”
“Meant it? Of course she did! She knew it was then or never with her happiness. She knows Ben well enough to understand that her answer was a life or death one for him, and that he would put up with no more nonsense.”
“But he’s so quiet and undemonstrative, you never can tell how he takes things. No one would ever know he cared so.”
“Umph! You don’t know Ben,” was the usual reply; and I changed the subject, for James’ answers were getting to be slightly monotonous, and I made the statement in my first sentence that there was no monotony in our lives. “Well, the Captain is just grand. Who would ever have thought of his seeing through all her manoeuvring in that fashion!”
“The Captain’s a brick, and I shall be only too happy to introduce him as a relation in America. By the way, has Lou said anything about their being married here? You know I’m due at home by the middle of next month, and I can’t wait for a Dutch wedding even; then there are the papers and all that rigmarole.”
“No; Lou told me last night that she wanted to be married in America, and would wait till the Captain came over in the spring.”
“That shows her common sense. What are you going to do to-morrow with them all ?”
“Lou and Lois want to go out to the Peace Conference Palace in the Forest.”
“We’ll make up the party early, and I guess Ben will join us.”
” Wild horses couldn’t keep him at home after last night,” I said, perhaps a little too emphatically, for James answered:
“Umph! You don’t know Ben.” And, hearing this, I subsided once and for all.
I don’t know whether James will get the award for the designs for the new Peace Conference buildings for The Hague or not. But neither he nor any other man can do anything better than the House in the Forest, huis ten Bosch, as the Dutch call it, where the first Peace Conference was held. It is very beautiful there in summer. The great trees of the forest make a green twilight of the whole place, and the vÿver, or pond, in their midst looks like a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The House itself is filled with art treasures, and yet with all its magnificence it has a home look. We were admiring the great Orange Room where the Peace Representatives met a fitting place for so high a mission and the noble series of paintings by Jordaens that apotheosize Peace, when I noticed that Ben and Lois were missing. They were gone but a few minutes; then they made their appearance and we had only to look into their faces to read the result of another Peace Conference at The Hague!
Oh, but James and I were glad at that outcome!
“It was worth coming to Holland for, wasn’t it, James ?” I whispered, when I got the chance.
“Yes; and it’ll be worth coming again just to see the Captain and Lou in The Stork’s Nest,” he said, heartily; and I perceived his esteem for the Captain to be still on the increase.
“And we must come again, James, just to see those floating gardens of Aalsmeer once more, mustn’t we ?” “Yes; and the Middelburg Stadhuis ”
I interrupted him: “Goodness, James, we shall have to come again to go all over it again, sha’n’t we ?” “That’s about the way it looks now, little mother.”
There were tears when we left The Stork’s Nesttears in Tryntje’s dark eyes and Anna Engelina’s blue ones. There was a suspicion of moisture in the Captain’s own, as we sailed away from Rotterdam just three days after that last Peace Conference at The Hague. But we whispered to him to be of good cheer; we should see him again in the spring, in America, and there we would welcome him with The Star Spangled Banner and “Oranje boven!”
He smiled at that, and murmured, reverently baring his head: “Ja, Oranje boven!”
As we passed the Hoek of Holland we watched the last line of dunes fade away and blend with the horizon. We knew at last what lay behind them all the beauty, all the glory, all the struggle, all the toil. Brave little Land!