DURING our winter in The Hague we had three enjoyments which James called “chronic”: One was the Vÿver and Vÿverberg in the centre of the city, another our fishing-village of Scheveningen, and the third the beautiful Old Scheveningen Road.
The Vÿver and its surroundings have been for two centuries a classic of The Hague. It has been painted more times than any other portion of the Netherlands, with the exception of Scheveningen. We never tired of it, whether we saw it by sunshine, by moonlight, in morning mists or at sundown. It is unique of its kind, and its evolution from the “pond” through two centuries may be traced in the paintings of the Gemeente, or Municipal, Museum of The Hague which stands on the corner of the Korte Vyverberg. The whole setting of this Vyver is very beautiful; add to this that the buildings all about are rich in the history and the making of history, that they are connected with the names of some of its greatest men, John and Cornelius de Witt and Van Olden Barneveld, and one readily understands why it appeals both to the eye and the imagination. The grouping and setting are shown in the title-page vignette; but the effect of color on the waters, on the island in the middle, on the roofs of the Binnenhof buildings, must be seen in order to realize why this locality has become a classic.
We used to stand on the Korte Vyverberg and look down the length of the Vyver at sunset. In the distance, against the deep crimson of Holland’s winter skies, the tower of the Groote Kerk showed like a delicate etching, the anatomy of the trees on the island and along the Lange Vyverberg could be traced against the glowing heavens, line for line, in branch and twig. The roofs of the old buildings of the Binnenhof were touched here and there with deep crimson shadows. Here and there a window-pane caught the reflection and flashed a signal from the Parliament buildings, and the swans graced the rose-pink waters with their whiteness.
In the early spring the effect was almost unreal, so extraordinarily beautiful was the play of lights and shadows upon and among the tender green of the young foliage. The island was a green mist, the waters a reflection of white cloud-mottled heavens; the white façades of the houses on the Korte Vyverberg seemed to shimmer with the reflected light from the pond, the storks on the island lifted their white-gray wings, as a lady lifts her draperies from the street, and tiptoed in their dainty “red shoon” of nature’s make along the green-set tiny shore.
It was but a step to the Gevangenpoort, or Prison Gate, the first gate of the Netherlands through which we entered into the history of this wonderful land, into a conception of what it has cost the land to stand where it does as a national entity. The prison with the “bloody hand” in stone at Antwerp, and the Prison Gate in The Hague stand for eighty years of martyrdom, national and individual. These two and the “Grande Place” in front of the Hôtel de Ville at Brussels, where proud Egmont and. Horn went to the scaffold, still speak of history with no uncertain sound.
James and I saw in all these “Motley illustrated,” and realized how he could write as he did of this nation and its achievements. The Gevangenpoort contains all the cruel instruments of the Spanish inquisition, save the Iron Virgin, and brings one into close personal touch with those two patriot brothers, John and Cornelius de Witt. There is nothing left in the Netherlands that speaks so loudly of Holland’s history in those times that tried men’s souls as this old prison. Shut yourself into one of the cells for the condemned, and relive something of the horror of a living death, then count the thousands that suffered in truth and for the truth! I know of no spot in Europe where history is so powerfully brought home to one as here. Of the architecture of these remarkable buildings, or poorts, throughout the Netherlands, James says and I am sure he is authority that when a comprehensive history of Dutch architecture shall have been written, it will be time enough to go into detail. Until then one may consult, if he will, the various writers on Holland who have endeavored to convey to their readers some idea of the architecture which is Holland’s alone; and with this all is said.
Our other chronic pleasure was the Oude Scheveningsche Weg. It was always beautiful, always satisfying, and the life along its various thoroughfares of tramway and roadway, omnibus-filled and overflowing with Scheveningen white caps and fish baskets, bicycle path, sidewalk and riding path, always interesting and never disappointing. On Sunday it was our delight to walk along its length together with the crowds of sailors and sailors’ lassies. About New Year’s, when all the fisher-men make it a point to be at home with their families, the avenue was alive with them, and their unique costumes they don their best for holidays made a continuous stream of color from the lodge entrance to the very shore itself. I never tired of watching the independent swing of their multiple petticoats, the sheen of their rich silk aprons, the wonderful colors in their one-patterned cloaks, the superb carriage of their white-coifed heads. We rejoiced in the sober courtships that we saw begin with Christmas under the green-branched trees, or in the “little Scheveningen woods,” and end about April with a betrothal in the marriage room of the renovated old Stadhuis near the Groote Kerk.
We tried the opera, not once but several times; then we gave that up; it was no recreation and made us homesick. No German operas are given in German, and I heard but one Wagner opera, Tannhiuser, while there. It was given in Dutch, and the Elizabeth destroyed all illusion, for she must have weighed fully two hundred and fifty, and her white draperies were sufficiently voluminous to fill a dry-goods show window. We tried La Petite Bohème by an Italian company containing a remarkable tenor. It was given in a new building, the “Art and Science Building,” which is modern enough to be provided with a fire-escape. I was startled one afternoon in early spring, after leaving a symphony concert which had been given in this building, to see a file of stately mynheers and mevrouwen descending the walls of the building, by means of the new skeleton fire-escapes, thus setting the public seal of their approval on this innovation. I shall never forget that special performance nor the performance by the Italian troupe.
The building is large, with three galleries and a rectangular floor-space; it accommodates, I should judge, about three thousand. When we entered the lights were dim, but we discerned that the floor-space had a few occupants only; the first gallery, for which we had tickets, ‘ditto. Above us there were more, and the third loft it was nothing but that was filled to over-flowing with Italians! The troupe was Italian, and every Italian far and near had made it a test of patriotism to be present.
How they enjoyed that opera! And how we enjoyed their enthusiasm! How the whole loft hissed for quiet if so much as a sepulchral whisper was heard from the thin ranks of the first-class ticket holders! How they cheered the heroine to the echo was no misnomer in the great empty hall! How they wept and sobbed over the pathos of the death scene! How they almost fell over the rail in their endeavors to obtain a last view of the tenor as they clapped and stamped and “bravoed” him into the wings! But the last scene proved almost too much for us both. The hero, long, thin, curly-locked, and dressed in black, wept into a handkerchief as large as a small tea-doily, and with every drop of his head into the cloth something like an answering sob shook the loft. When with frantic haste he hauled and pulled and wrestled with a small typical Dutch bedstead until he finally placed it in the middle of the bare stage, and the heroine settled her draperies upon it, the tension in the Italian contingent could be felt, and there was audible a deep sigh. It was all so real to the emotional, warm-hearted sons of the South! And we were willing to shiver through the entire performancethere is no heat for first, second, or third class in Holland, even in February — and see our breath mist before our very eyes, for the sake of enjoying their enjoyment. The singing was fairly good, the acoustics and ventilation poor.
The Royal Opera House is the favorite with the good people of The Hague. It is sufficiently conservative to suit them. I mean not only as to the operas presented, but as to the arrangements for exit and entrance for safety in case of fire. It is always crowded, for one reason, it is the fashion. Every woman who can provide herself with a season ticket does so at the risk, I was told, in many cases of going without a third meal. The result is one sees the same faces night after night. They affect French opera, and the Italian operas are given also in French. A consultation of the programs for a month will show the repetition of such old acquaintances as Martha, Faust, Mignon. What we should call questionable French opera is often presented. There is one Mephistopheles on the stage whom I have never seen equalled for acting, and whose compass and beauty of voice are remarkable. Of the others little can be said. The Hague remains, despite its population of more than two hundred and fifty thousand, provincial in most respects. The opera, the opera house, and the patronage show this, as well as the dimly lighted streets and the only recent introduction of a few lines of electric trams.
It may not be amiss to give a fact or two about this special opera house, so beloved by the dwellers in The Hague. And they are what James calls “personally conducted facts,” our own experience.
A tax is paid on the seats besides the price of the tickets. James said that ought to insure our being shown to our seats by ushers, but this proved a vain supposition. James hung up his coat and I my wraps in a narrow corridor indifferently lighted. He paid the fee the woman demanded, and asked for an usher. There was no usher for us. An employee opened a narrow door and motioned us in. We motioned to him to show us seats. He shook his head and shut the door on us. The lights in the house were down ; the curtain had just been rung up in Faust. We felt our way down a steep flight of steps to a level of the floor which, like all else in Holland, appeared to be considerably below sea level. In the crowded house we discerned ahead of us two vacant chairs and we made for them, past a phalanx of solid womanhood that did not budge one inch for us. They proved to be our numbers. There were no aisles; no proper exits; no marks by which, in the darkness, we could have found our way out, or distinguish door from wall. It was one packed human mass from floor to ceiling. There was no ventilation, and the temperature, owing to the many people and hermetically sealed interior, about eighty degrees. If it had not been for Marcoux’s magnificent voice I wonder that our country has not heard him in some of our great centres we would have worked our laborious passage out again, and been thankful to escape with our lives.
As it was,we remained through the wearisome “pause” to the end, and, during the fifteen minutes that it lasted, had the doubtful pleasure of reading a rhyme painted in large letters on the asbestos drop-curtain, which exhorted us in case of fire to keep cool, go out on the street, and remember that we were on a level with it.
“Now I call that the finest kind of irony that has ever come in my way,” said James, as we left the fire-trap at a quarter of twelve; “to put hundreds of human beings into that puddler’s pit where a panic would mean certain death to most of us, and admonish us in poetry from an asbestos curtain, that can’t burn, to `keep cool and clear out, because the street is near at hand.’ That out-Dutches the Dutch! How do they expect us to get out ? There are no exits except those cattle drives of doors reached by a two-foot wide step-ladder! We’ll try the balcony next time.” And we tried it to our entire satisfaction, for we thereby proved that Dutch Royal Opera Houses are not the places for honest Americans who value their lives.
Thomas Mignon was to be given on request. We scented the presence of the court in that announcement and secured the best seats to be had in the second balcony. The season ticket holders preempt the house on such occasions. We climbed two steep flights, turned into a blind landing, toiled up a third winding flight and deposited our wraps in a corridor lighted by one flaring gas jet. The balconies are divided into what James called “box stalls.” Each stall is provided with some twelve seats tier above tier. Every seat was occupied and people sitting on the steps. Fancy that! No possible exit to right or left. It was a case as James grumbled into my ear from his seat behind me of paying your money to take your choice of a leap over the balustrade into the orchestra seats, or of climbing the steep ascent behind us on the shoulders of other men and women, only to be wedged at last into a two and a half foot door-way from which there was a “blind exit.” He is not often nervous in public places and never in real crises, but he was that evening.
It was a gala night for the house, and the audience was in full Dutch dress. A moment before the curtain was rung up the house rose as one to greet their queen as she entered led the royal box. I had already had a certain kind of presentation at court, and her features were not unfamiliar. I sat there nearly opposite to her for three hours, and I had time to study the face of this young royal ruler. The face had always interested me as I had seen it in photographs, it was so full of life and the joy of living. At eighteen she was a beauty. At twenty-six she has aged nearly twenty years from that youth. It is sad, pathetic almost, to see such a change; for to the young, life’s cup should be brimmed to overflowing. This is the “divine right” of youth. Poor little queen! Too young to bear the burdens of a royal name and what it entails! My Scheveningen mother with her two baby girls and six months’ boy, with the scant two dollars and a half for her fisher-husband’s eleven days of toil on the great North Sea, possesses treasures for which you would give all your riches, your castles and palaces, to make them yours. God pity the woman in the queen!
I have no knowledge of the actual state of mind of the loyal Dutch in the anomalous position in which their kingdom is placed by the present circumstances of their royal house of Orange-Nassau; but, from what I gathered from the speech of a few wise men, young and old, and from the trend of the public mind as reflected in the daily press, I may venture to predict that, in case the direct succession of the House of Orange-Nassau should fail, the Dutch Republic will be no longer an idle name or a memory of the past. The United Provinces of the Netherlands must fulfil their destiny whether or no, as must every other nation. Republican in spirit they have ever been, republican in name they may still become, but never in the lifetime of their beloved queen. May it be a long one, and full of good works among her people !
After our exit from the opera, James sighed for the “fleshpots of Egypt”: the cosy supper at Young’s which we used to enjoy because with us such treats were necessarily rare. He found the poor beer, the poorer coffee, the poorest of poor buns, which were provided downstairs for the material refreshment in the exhausting “pause,” an unworthy substitute for the home delicacies of soft-shelled crab, etc. After trying this “diversion” of opera going in Holland several times, I urged him to give it up. It actually made him blue. I tried to have him see some fun in the stolid crowds that, after dinner, promenaded up and down the Lange Poten, but his usually keen sense of humor failed to be whetted by this diversion also. In this case I laid it to the mist and darkness. But he said he couldn’t see common sense, not to mention fun, in my wanting to entice him to “go with the procession”; no shops lighted, no cafés illuminated, no sidewalk, everybody in the middle of the narrow street, a dark, silent, moving throng tramping back and forth for what ? Just to tramp because their great-grandfathers happened to tramp there before them! And so on.
I found this method of killing time for James a useless one, so wisely gave it up, and indulged him by going twice as often to the shore, where he was never tired of walking or riding, for riding there was. We had that pleasure many times; a good mount and a brisk gallop up and down the hard sand floor of the North Sea when the tide was out, the wind fresh in our faces, the waves crisping afar, and the Dutch cavalry on the distant strand manoeuvring with great show of charging the retreating waves and retreating from the advancing ones, was a real tonic. They made a pretty show on the beach, these small divisions of cavalry, detachments from the standing army of the Netherlands, and they, together with the shining brass milk cans, the gay carts and the Scheveningen fishwives, often brightened our avenue as they jolted and rattled through it with their empty gun-carriages.
I ventured to ask the Captain, an acquaintance whom we had made through letters of introduction, the size of the standing army, and could hardly keep my countenance when he informed me, “About four thousand.” He added that the raw recruits in the spring would increase the number to twenty, and they could call upon a trained reserve of two hundred thousand. After-wards, when I recalled the fact that, until recently, our great United States had done very well with twenty-four thousand, I was sorry I had felt an inclination to laugh. His statement agreed perfectly with a newspaper paragraph in regard to the camps provided for the sufferers from the floods which occurred later in the spring; it ran: A detachment of troops has been sent to the spot consisting of one officer, two under officers and ten men.
Evidently it is not quantity but quality that tells with nations as with individuals when it comes to prowess in arms. The small Dutch army continues to manoeuvre on land and in water, like amphibians, and to practise its evolutions like any other body of bold defenders. It sends its officers and men to India, to the Spice Islands, to all its foreign dependencies, and the men return broadened by contact with other civilizations, and work as leaven in their native land. Were the Netherlands ever threatened with foreign invasion, not a man, woman, or child but would resist to the death. This is the brave little land’s surest defense.
But for one diversion James was always ready, after I had introduced him to it. There is a fascinating winkel, or corner shop, on Prinse Straat, all glass window and immaculate tiling. A range of curious construction is set against one wall, and a man and woman attend to it. The man in white duck sits on a stool beside a pewter tub and ladles out of it a spoonful of a certain mixture, He pours it upon a large iron mould and the substance comes out in a half-dozen waffles. They are unlike any-thing but themselves, and once James had a taste of them, he could never have enough. No day was too dark, no weather too inclement, no work so pressing as to prevent his accepting my frequent invitation to the “wafflewinkel” for the pleasant sake of eating them with poffertje additions. Take a tray of sand and dimple it with drops of water, and you will have in miniature the mould of a poffertje iron. The poffertje itself is a round puffy fritter.
Many an afternoon in the dark the delicacies are made only from four to six we have stood at the clear-shining window and watched the waffle-chef at his fascinating work. An American or any other waffle has not even a speaking acquaintance with the genuine Dutch article as manufactured in the corner Winkel. It would need a Charles Lamb’s descriptive powers of “suckling” and “crackling” to catalogue their excellence. They are crisp, melting, tender, succulent, I think, at least they gave me that impression, it might have been the thin syrup added to them, and wholly digestible. At all the little and big kermesses there are poffertje and waffle booths, both well patronized. But there are waffles and waffles, poffertjes and poffertjes, and those in the shop on Prinse Straat are as superior to all others, as a Delmonico lunch is superior to one served over the counter of a Fourth Avenue restaurant. After we had watched the fascinating process for a while, James would exclaim, “That’s mine!” and rush in to the small, dark, back room, furnished with two tables and a few chairs, and order that special lot.
He never had to be cajoled into a trip to Rotterdam to see the impressive mass of old St. Lawrence’s tower from that special corner of the Groote Kerkplein diagonally opposite the Street of the Tower, where stands the tiny old house with the fruit-postal-and-candy winkel on the first floor. We saw it once at noon when a multitude of doves came down into the irregular Place to be fed. The air was aflutter with them; the roof of the nave, that sloped to the Place, white with them; the steep gable of the tiny winkel was alive with them, and there were bright sunshine and blue sky an exceptional winter day to perfect the picture. Only Venice, and its Piazza at dove-feeding time, can equal this.
We were not loath to walk afterwards to the noble windmill on the Coolvest, or over to the Boompjes, the old-time “little trees” on the Maas Quay from which one may see half the riches of South Holland on the water. We used to run into the Boymans Museum for the sake of looking at those two canvases by Ary Scheffer Count Eberhard and his son and to find the few by our favorites, Israëls, Mesdag and Maris. We liked always to give a special greeting to that fine, small boy by Jan van Scorel, the great predecessor of Rembrandt.
With Amsterdam distant only forty-five minutes by express we found it not taxing to go over for a few hours and enjoy the glories of the Ryks. Perhaps there was a walk afterwards along busy Kalver Straat, and a stepping aside from all the rush and roar of the metropolitan life into the lovely Begynenhof, unheeded by many, because unknown. I recall one day in April when we were there, and the noise and confusion of Kalver Straat, the Dam and Damrak, drove us into this oasis of rest and quiet beauty. You will find it, if you look for it; and you may enter from Kalver Straat and make your exit by the Spui, or vice versa. No noise of traffic penetrates into these courts which are in the very heart of the commercial district. The old church, the quaint houses, the ancient pump in the middle of the court, if it can be said to have a middle, the entrance like a close, and the exit through a portal, all invest this one spot with a charm not easy to define.
This church is now Protestant, but there is hidden away behind a common house exterior on another side of the court a little Catholic chapel. A common street entrance to a steep flight of stairs gives one no hint of the beauty within the baize doors. The stairs gave upon the gallery of the chapel. There was no one there but our two selves. Oh, the perfect peace of that lovely interior!
Where was the commerce ? Where the daily strife for gain ? Where the sound of the money-changers ? The sunlight brightened everything; the exquisite candelabra, the hanging gold lamp, the quaint pulpit. Below, near the altar on which the tapers were dimmed by the sun-light, a nun was making ready the Repository, for it was Holy Week. She was moving softly about her reverential work of love, as, I doubt not, the Sisters of St. Begga moved about intent on the same holy errand centuries ago.
One can understand the staying power of the Catholic cult when one happens to witness such a scene as this. I could have knelt at the feet of that “Mother Mary,” so warm and human and sympathetic was this little chapel after the barren, whitewashed, chill and dreary wastes of the Groote Kerks and the Oude Kerks that seem to have missed their calling since the introduction into them of another form of worship.
But all honor to the Dutch people and their leaders that such a service can take place in the heart of Amster-dam to-day! That the fiery furnace, seven times heated, of the never-to-be-forgotten Inquisition, through which they were made to pass, left them refined into toleration, at last, of all religions, and caused them to grant perfect freedom of worship to one and all believers in their midst.
Would that our revered Pilgrim Fathers had from the first taken this lesson to heart!
The social functions were few and far between, but so thoroughly Dutch in character that I may be pardoned for recording what otherwise would be trivial personalities.
I have mentioned a “kind of presentation at court.” This statement, if I left it unfinished, might lead to the supposition that I was a welcome member of the court circles while in the capital of the Netherlands. This is so far from the truth that it becomes a matter of conscience to make an explanation. An American, an acquaintance of ours, was anticipating a “presentation at court” through the mediation of a lady in waiting to the queen during the week in Amsterdam which by custom and law the crowned head of the Netherlands must pass there once a year. At least, that is the way the lady made the statement to me. I reported it to James. Now, whether my husband was a little piqued because his wife had no friends at court to make her known to the queen because he really has a very good opinion of his wife and wants her to have “the best” with “the best “or whether, as I half suspect, he was laughing at my suddenly developed imperialistic tendencies and wanted to cure me of any flights into the higher latitudes of Dutch royalty, I cannot say, for I do not know. But I am inclined to think the latter motive was the true one for his action. I only know for a fact that one morning in December he looked up from the newspaper and said:
“Come with me, Persis, and I will present you at court, that is, all the court at which you will have an opportunity to shine during our winter in The Hague.”
I was surprised, but asked no questions, as I was willing to be surprised further, and I hoped pleasantly. James took me down the Old Scheveningen Road that even on that dark chill day, looked inviting; for the grass, wherever it showed, was emerald green, and the great tree trunks moss-green; the huge brass milk cans on the tiny carts looked like shining gold, the riding path was lively with riders, and the white caps of the peasants everywhere in evidence. We went on down Zee Straat and stopped long enough to take a look at our Utrecht poulterer’s shop. We leaned a moment on the bridge by the Scheveningscheveer, or ferry, where one sees a pretty bit of the old-time ‘s Gravenhage, another name for The Hague, and then on down the Noord Einde to the square opposite the palace which is the winter residence of the queen.
A few people were gathered there, and James took his stand, with me at his side, by the pediment of the equestrian statue of William the Silent. It was a silent crowd that little by little gathered with us! There was no chat, no jest, no greeting, no fussing about, no blowing on cold fingers, for the day was chilly, no stamping of feet for warmth nothing but a dead silence. I at once guessed the reason of this gathering: the queen was expected in from her country place, Het Loo, near Apeldoorn, and a portion of her loyal subjects were foregathering to welcome her. I realized then that this was to be my presentation at court, and in my own mind began to consider ways and means to reward James for his trifling thus with me. But I said no word. Neither did he. The shadow of William the Silent was upon us, or would have been if there had been any sun.
A few police in top-heavy helmets paced back and forth keeping the line, which scarcely wavered an inch, from the square. Now and then an officer pranced and caracoled up the street. Meanwhile we were kept back from the thoroughfare of the Noord Einde which runs through the square and was open to traffic. Old Dutch ladies with umbrella and dog took as usual the middle of the street and kept the right of way; handcarts of all kinds trundled after them; grocers’ boys on bicycles, their huge baskets mounted in front of them, coke carts, milk carts, vegetable carts, dog carts, now and then an automobile, a squad of police, urbaines, passed by us, but no voice was heard! Two puppies, even, that were rolling over and over in a tangled snarl, failed to growl. The crowd increased to perhaps three hundred. They had waited already three-quarters of an hour in the cold. At last there was a movement, a craning of short necks, the sounding of a postilion’s horn. No, it was only a fishwife. The crowd settled back again. A hackney coach drove up to the palace loaded with all sorts of luggage. A lackey came out. Another cab and another and another followed, all loaded with parcels and traps of every description. Some modest, plain-looking people got out and entered the palace.
After a procession of this sort, together with the vendors’ carts, had held the Noord Einde for fifteen minutes, a modest carriage drove up with a footman and coachman. The necks craned again. The queen and her consort had come, and heads were bared with much the same gesture as at funeral obsequies; but not a word, not a cheer, not one wave of a handkerchief, except my own! There was a bow without a smile from the occupants of the carriage, and the palace doors closed behind the royal pair. The Dutch put on their hats and still stood from the force of inertia. An Englishwoman, who stood beside me during the long wait, turned to me and said: “If that had been our king we should have yelled. Did you ever see the like ?” And I answered truthfully that I never had. Now every one knows the loyalty of the Dutch to their queen and their love for her, but no one would ever have suspected it from that chilly reception. I was told afterwards that the queen dislikes any demonstration on the part of her people. Speaking as an extremely private individual, who does not pretend to criticise royalty of any kind, it would seem more politic at least to encourage a little heat of enthusiasm among the Dutch. There is little enough in the whole land the climate, heredity, and history for the past three hundred years are against it; but, oh! if she could but know how a good hearty ringing cheer would have warmed her heart on that chilly day when she came back to the capital in which she dislikes to dwell! If she could hear that sound often she might live on its loving strength through many a trial, present and future.
This was my only presentation at court. James asked me how I liked it.
“I haven’t been half so much bored as I should be in Amsterdam; besides, this function has saved the expense of a court dress. So you’re in pocket by it, my dear. Let’s go in and have a chocolate to warm us through.”
There was little after this in the way of “society.” But we attended the masked ball of the winter given by members of the gentry and nobility a private affair to which we were bidden by our new and helpful acquaintance, the Captain of La Haye, as we called him between ourselves; a man whom it was not only a pleasure to know but one whom we would have liked to reckon among the five or six friends we may count upon. We were privileged to make that friendship afterwards, and were glad to know so sturdy a Dutchman who showed us the finest traits of the Dutch character at our own fireside. As an artistic affair the bal masque’ was beyond anything we could offer in our own country. The costumes were real costumes, and we realized these people had many generations of ancestors from which to draw upon in the matter of detail in dress. It was a brilliant affair, and for once I had the pleasure of seeing “high Dutch life” amuse itself in its own way.
We enjoyed most the quiet little dinners at home, with the Captain to tell us so much of interest concerning his own country. We could hardly wait for the spring to roam a bit and see something of what he told us. He was a nature lover, and his country’s soft beauty and harmonious coloring satisfied him more than the grandeurs of other lands.
Perhaps the greatest trial to our nerves was the Week of Sundays. From Christmas, of which the Dutch until recent years have made little as a fête, and only now is the English custom of “trees” beginning to obtain among them, until the third of January the whole city appeared as if in mourning. Five days out of the seven were called Sundays and treated as regular holy days. A stock of provisions had to be laid in, milk, bread, etc., for three days. There is no selling. The shops are closed. There is no singing in the churches to mark the day, and no decorations. The working people do not work; the leisure class wear away the time. Scheveningen alone became towards New Year’s uproarious but Scheveningen is Scheveningen, and although no kermess is held, the license of the kermess prevails. James saw a sailor mounted on a cow’ faring down Keizer Straat, and the drunkenness was pronounced to that extent that the police were doubled. It was the only time that a woman might not go at night the length and breadth of The Hague and its fishing suburb with impunity. The whole population is for three hundred and sixty days in the year so decorous, that when once it gives the reins to its idea of having “a good time” one must expect surprises of an unusual kind. Our New Year’s reception, for instance, was something never to be forgotten.
At nine o’clock our first caller made his appearance dressed in white duck trousers and white cotton gloves. He sent in his card. It read: A happy New Year to you from those Without Work. A promising beginning! He received the regulation gift which Anna Engelina informed me was a kwartje, ten cents. He had something also from James, who was vexed with me for conforming to so mean a custom as the gift of a kwartje on New Year’s! “For heaven’s sake, Persis, give the poor devils enough to live on for one day at least!” he said, and followed the man out to give him something more substantial
After that we had a continuous stream of callers until four in the afternoon. Every one sent in his or her card with good wishes expressed in every conceivable way. These cards were mostly printed with the name of the caller. I received my werkvrouw in this way, my butcher’s man, my butter-boy, my milkman and baker, my grocer-boy, my cokeman, my other fuel man, my poultry-girl, the street sweeper, the man who attends to the water mains, the postman who brought letters, the postman who brought packages, the postman who brought papers there is a division of labor in Dutchland the man who brought the daily paper, and so forth and so on. I can’t remember them all. I only know I sat in my dining-room with a stream of kwartjes dribbling out of my purse and that James sneaked out of the front door they all are privileged to call at that on reception days and handed out guldens till about twelve, when his small change gave out and he began to see, although he would not acknowledge it, that I was right in keeping within the bounds of custom, for he soon realized there was no immediate prospect of an end.
After the regular callers had ceased to send in their cards, we had a raid of beggars. From five o’clock on, they pressed their wild appealing faces, most of them women and girls, some children and men, against the great window-pane in the dining-room, sometimes as many as four at once, and begged and begged until James put on his coat and fled to the beach. He said he “needed exercise,” but it was because he could not bear the sight of those faces and hands that would not be denied. It is the one day when the so-called proletariat is privileged.
The Dutch, like every other nation, has its own industrial questions to regulate and settle, and it is confronted like other lands with serious situations which are beyond the wisdom of man to control.
I held no other large reception during my residence in the Dutch capital. James said one was enough for him.