The long-beaked curlew that flashes overhead with hoarse, raucous news of the sea looks down at this hour on pleasant and curious sights as he wings his swift circle above the Scheveningen neighborhood. The placid village of twisted alleys, of innumerable “Tabak te Koop” signs, of queer little gabled houses and unpainted fishermen’s huts, has emptied its good folk into its narrow main street which, fickle of name, starts out as KeizerStraat, almost immediately becomes Willem-Straat, and within a moment is the Oud-Weg. Here one sees in actual life the fascinating things he has marveled over in the canvases of Teniers, Jan Steen, and Gerard Dou, – good Dutch vrows supper-marketing. There they go, ballooning along, bargaining and bustling from shop to shop, storing capacious hampers with game and cheeses, and every grim line in their faces shouts a challenge to the shopmen to best them by so much as a stuiver if they can. From time to time, quaint little children like sturdy Dutch toys escape from the press and clatter off home, with an air of vast responsibility, hugging in both arms a brown loaf of bread a yard long.
How it recalls the bright pages of “Hans Brinker”; and as you catch a glimpse of the broad canal down the street it is natural enough to speculate upon the probability of Gretel’s winning another pair of silver skates before you get back to Scheveningen next summer.
In the meadows back of the village women in blue shawls are drying and mending fishing-nets, nor do they so much as raise their heads as the yellow, double-decked tramway car rumbles past on its trip to The Hague. If all seats are occupied the car will display a large sign marked ” Vol,” and rattle along oblivious to appeals from any and all who ask to get on. It is but three scant miles to the beautiful capital of Holland and the tramway makes it in ten minutes – a notable concession by leisurely Holland to the time-saving spirit of the age, in view of other days when they devoted a halfhour to making the same journey by canal barge. The broad, smooth highway that the yellow car follows is, as every one knows, one of the favorite roads of Europe. As the curlew looks down, between five and six o’clock of any bright summer afternoon, he is sure to find it thronged with handsome equipages and to see gay companies in each little wayside inn that peeps out from the deep shade of the noble trees. The desired touch of the foreign and unusual is supplied to the visitor in the scores of heavy carts drawn by frisking, barking dogs; in the ever-present windmills beating the air with long, awkward arms; and in dozens of storks that cock their wise heads over the edges of their nests and regard the passing show with philosophic amusement, patient as the old apple-women of Amsterdam. _
The Scheveningen Boscla is one of the most delightful woods imaginable. It is national property, and no private park could be more beautifully kept up. A ball would roll with perfect smoothness down its driveways of crushed gravel, and even Ireland would be taxed to equal the vivid greenness of its lawns. This whole fair forest is studded with villas of the aristocracy and even of royalty. Their wide verandas and orchards and flowery lawns move the most contented to envy a Hollander the comfort he takes in his zomerhuis. To know the Bosch rightly it must be walked through; and the more leisurely and the oftener, the better. It is not only a lovely woodland set with charming homes, but everything a fine forest should be. The green and coppery beeches, the hardy oaks and elms, and the living embroidery of bright flowers perfume the air with delicate odors; and the wind in the lofty tops makes sweet and haunting music. Deep down in the clear mirror of the canals, splotches of broad leaf shadows lazily float and dapple like drowsy fishes. Through the deep foliage you catch occasional glimpses of open, sunny meadows, with cows contentedly grazing; and you come to revel in every vague and tranquil sensation.
In the midst of this beautiful forest, two centuries and a half ago, the best-beloved and most widely read of Holland’s poets-the venerable Jacob Cats-composed his madrigals and moral fables, and so passed the last eight years of his eventful career. Rembrandt loved and painted him, and a monument stands to his memory in his native town of Brouwershaven. They say his books are in every peasants’ hut and his verses in every peasant’s heart. His cottage was at Zorgvliet, a few steps from Scheveningen, near where the Queen Mother now has her summer home, and there in the garden of the Cafe de la Promenade they will show you the old stone table at which he wrote, with the hole he cut in it for his inkstand.
Wild game throng the wooded inner dunes. Partridges, hares, and rabbits abound in the underbrush, and the polder meadows yield the finest grade of mallard ducks. The pines and firs are resonant with the calls of cuckoos, pheasants, and nightingales. Farmers clear patches of ground to serve as finch flats, which they call vinkie baans; and there, in the autumn, they snare chaffinches which they sell for a cent apiece, to be used as a garnishment in serving other game.
As you look out across the Scheveningen dunes and watch the day declining, stirring thoughts come trooping to mind of the gallant scenes these bleak shores have witnessed. Off yonder, two centuries and a half ago, fell the brave Tromp, hero of thirty-three sea fights. On the bridge of his lofty-sterned Brederode he died, as every true warrior longs to die, in the foremost thick of the fray. “I am done; but keep up a good heart;” were his last words as they carried him into his cabin. Next day they brought his body to these shores and bore it away to lie in the old gray church at Delft beside the revered William the Silent. “The bravest are the tenderest,” and his war-hardened sailors were not ashamed to weep as heartily for him as the little children, fifty years before, had wept in the streets for the great William. Half a dozen years later a shouting multitude thronged this beach and waved a bon voyage to Charles II of England as he sailed homeward to his recovered throne, to restore a licentious court and renew such royal revels as had already cost England a revolution. Another dozen years roll around, and Scheveningen looks on while the fleets of France and England are battered to wreckage by the cannon of Holland’s pet hero, the intrepid De RPuyter. A century or so more, and once again this village is the storm centre of Holland’s hopes and fears as William Frederick I eludes the pursuing French troops and a little Scheveningen fishing-smack bears the whole royal family away in safety to Germany. And when he came back in triumph, twenty years later, it was at Scheveningen that he landed, and at the very spot where yonder gray obelisk now stands in commemoration.
And now through chilly mists the sun, a vast bloated orange, settles down into the glowing wastes of the desolate North Sea. The roaring surf spreads glittering carpets far up the beach. It has suddenly become a region of placid power and glory, something quite other than the fabled home of monsters and terrors, of tempest and shipwreck. That vessel in the offing, with the black hull and the crimson sails, may be the very Flying Dutchman’s own; but still you would like to be on it and so much nearer the sinking sun. The sky is astounding; like a glorified Holland! There you see cloud-island s more wonderful than Walcheren; gray wastes that beggar the Zuyder Zee; sky dunes that stretch beyond Helder or the Hook; meadows more gorgeous than the tulip fields of Haarlem; celestial flora more pure and palpitating than any fairest, faintest bloom in any rarest, dimmest glade throughout the whole woodland of The Hague. It is Holland in excelsis.