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THE LAND OF DIKES AND WINDMILLS
THEODORE wanted to learn to speak Dutch, and so every morning, after they had eaten their breakfast of coffee, rye bread, and butter, with either herrings or cheese, away he went with the twins across the meadows to the schoolhouse in the centre of the village.
After dinner Theodore and Pieter helped about in the tulip-gardens, while Wilhelmina and Mevrouw polished and dusted and rubbed things, and made butter in the great wooden and china churn.
On the weekly holiday the three children would take long walks, or perhaps a ride on the steam street-cars, or trams, which puffed through the village; or they would ride their bicycles, for this is a favourite pastime with the Dutch, whose flat straight roads are always so excellently kept.
"Where shall we go to-day?" asked Pieter, as they started out for a walk one afternoon.
"Theodore has not seen Haarlem yet," said Wilhelmina. "Let's walk there and come back on the steam-tram."
"That makes me feel as if I were at home. We have a Harlem, too, which is a part of New York City. I suppose it was named after your city. Let's go by all means, and I will take some pictures," said Theodore, slinging his camera over his shoulder, and away they went in high spirits.
The children were soon walking along a shady road by the side of the canal. As far as they could see, in any direction, stretched the bulb-gardens blazing with colour of all kinds. Dotted everywhere about were windmills of all sizes, their sails gleaming white in the sunlight as they went round and round.
On either side of the road were neat little villas, with trim gardens before them. As Pieter told them, these were the summer homes of the well-to-do people who live in the cities. Everybody who can, has one of these villas, where they can come during the hot weather, and they especially like to have one near Haarlem, because the beautiful gardens roundabout make the country seem so gay and bright.
"This is the one which belongs to Mynheer Van der Veer," said Wilhelmina. "I think it is the most beautiful of them all." And so it was, according to Dutch taste. The young people stopped to look at it admiringly.
For a Dutch home it was very large, because it had two stories. The entire front was painted in half a dozen different colours to represent as many different coloured stones, all arranged in a fanciful pattern.
The window-blinds were a bright pea-green, and the framework a delicate pink. The door was a dark green with a fine brass knocker in the centre, and a brass railing, shining like gold, ran down on either side of the white steps. The roof was of bright red tiles, which glistened in the sun, and what do you think was on the highest point of the gable? A china cat, coloured like life, and standing with its back up, just as though it were ready to spring upon another cat! Over the doorway was painted the motto: "Buiten Zorg," which means "Without a Care."
What really amused the party most were the queer figures which stood around in the garden.
"See that funny old fellow over by the pond, shaking his head; you might think he was alive," said Theodore. "He looks like a Turk with a big turban."
"That," said Pieter, "is an automaton, which can be wound up so as to nod his head. And look, there is another figure near him, a funny old woman, who keeps turning around, as if she got tired of seeing the gentleman with the turban. Those ducks swimming about on the pond are made to move in the same way."
The summer villa gardens are usually filled with these queer mechanical contrivances. I suppose it amuses the rich old burghers to watch them as they sit smoking their long pipes and taking their ease in their little summer-houses on the hot days. Mynheer Van der Veer was very proud of his collection and took great care of' them. When a shower came up he would put an open umbrella over each one, which made them look funnier still, and when it rained very hard, he would pick them up bodily and carry them into the house; then when the sun shone again, out would come the funny little figures too.
"Why is the little summer-house in the corner of the garden built over the canal?" asked Theodore.
"I really don't know," said Pieter; "they always are, and no villa is complete in its appointments without one. There is where Mynheer and Mevrouw sit in the afternoon and have their coffee and 'koejes.' Mynheer sits and smokes and dozes and Mevrouw does embroidery."
The flower-beds were all arranged in regular shapes; the walks were made of several kinds of coloured sands which were arranged to form regular patterns. The trees were not allowed to grow as they pleased. Dear me, no! They were trimmed in shapes and forms too, and some of the tree-trunks were even painted. But all was very clean and proper, and every leaf looked as though it was frequently dusted and washed.
"Well, I should not dare to move about in that garden for fear I should put something out of order," said Theodore. "It wouldn't do for American children to play in, with those fine patterns in the sand and all the rest. They would certainly disappear in a short time."
"So they would here, as well," laughed Pieter. "But they are kept up only for show, and everybody uses a side-entrance except on grand occasions."
"Oh, there is a family of storks on that house!" called out Wilhelmina; "look, Pieter, aren't they lucky people who live there?"
Sure enough, on the top of the chimney was a mass of straw, and in the midst of it stood two tall storks. This was their nest, and Papa and Mamma Stork were waiting for the young Stork family to come out of their shells. Papa Stork stood on one leg and cocked his head down to the children as much as to say: "Don't you wish that we were living at your house?"; for storks must know as well as anybody how much they are thought of in Holland. The good people of that country build little platforms over their chimneys just so that a stork couple that are looking for a place to begin housekeeping will see it and say to themselves: "Here's a nice flat place on which to build our nest."
It is considered very lucky indeed for a stork family to come to live on one's chimney-top.
"We thought one was coming to live at our house last year," said Wilhelmina, "but they must have made up their minds to go elsewhere, and I was so sorry."
"And they build on churches, too," cried Theodore. "Look, there's a nest on the roof of that church. I had been thinking that it was a bundle of sticks, and wondering how it got up there."
"The storks have built there for many years, and they seem to like the highest places they can find," said Pieter. "There is a law to protect the storks, and to forbid any injury being done to them, so you see they can have a better time than most birds."
"Look, Pieter, there are big ships over there in the middle of that green meadow; how ever did they get there? Bless my stars!" said Theodore, "I do believe they are sailing over the grass."
"Oh, Theodore, you are so funny! "laughed Wilhelmina; "of course they are on the water; there is a canal over there where you are looking."
"Well, I can't see it," persisted Theodore, who thought his eyes were playing him tricks.
"That's because our canals are higher than the land about them," said Pieter. "You must know that we are very economical with our dry land; there is nothing we prize so much, because we have so little of it; and there is no people in the world who have worked so hard for theirs as the Dutch, not only to get it in the first place, but to keep it afterward.
"Once all this country about here was either a marsh or covered by water. The land could not be allowed to go to waste like that, and so great walls of mud and stone, called dikes, were built. Canals were run here, there, and everywhere, and the waters which covered the lowlands were pumped into these canals and so drained off. The new land' was practically a new area added to the small territory of Holland, and where once was nothing but salt marsh and water-flooded meadows are now cities and towns and houses and lovely gardens.
"As one walks along many of the canal banks in Holland, one is often overlooking the roof-tops of the houses below."
"Why," said Theodore, "if we tried, we might look right down that man's chimney, and see what they are cooking for dinner; the road is on a level with the roof."
"Yes, our roads, too, are often built on dikes; this keeps them hard and dry," said Pieter. "You may judge as to how wide some of these dikes are, for on this particular one there is not only a road, but a row of trees on either side of it as well. Some are so broad that there are houses, and even villages, on top of them. The reclaimed lands lying between the dikes are called 'polders,' and thousands of acres of the richest part of Holland have been made in this way. Some day, too, it is planned that the whole of the Zuyder Zee will be planted and built over with gardens and houses."
"That is just like finding a country," said Theodore, "but hasn't it all cost a lot of money?"
"Yes, indeed," answered Pieter, "and not only that, but millions of 'gulden' have still to be spent every year to fight the waters back again."
Pieter also told Theodore that many of the great windmills which he saw were used to pump off the surplus water which drained through from the canals. So many of these canals are there in Holland that the country is cut up by them like a checker-board. They are of all sizes, from a tiny ditch to others big enough for large ships to sail upon.
There are not only these inland dikes, which protect the canals and the lands lying between, but there are great sea-walls of sand and rock to keep the sea itself in place, otherwise it would come rushing over the lowlands and drown half the country. Even that is not the end of the matter. Thousands and thousands of men have to watch these dikes day and night, for one little leak might be the means of flooding miles of country, and washing away many homes and lives. When the cry is heard, "The dike is breaking!" every man, woman, and child must go and help do their share toward fighting back the water.
"Well, I am proud of my Dutch blood," said Theodore; "they are a splendid little people to work as they do, and they have had a hard fight to keep their heads above water. I wonder if that saying didn't first come from a Dutchman!"
"Perhaps that is the reason that we Dutch people talk so little," said Pieter; "we have to think and work so hard all the time to keep what we have."
"Well," said Theodore," Holland is a wonderful country; it is wholly unlike any other place."
"Tell the story, Pieter," said Wilhelmina, "of the time when the people cut the dikes and let in the water to save themselves from the enemy."
"That's a long story, and we must save it for another time," said Pieter, "until after Theodore has seen Leyden, for it was there that it happened."
This talk on Dutch history came to a sudden stop as Pieter called out: "Look out, Theodore, or you will get drenched," and the children had only time to dodge a big bucket of water that a fat Vrouw was tossing up on her windows. "You have not yet learned, Theodore, that a Dutch woman will not stop her washing and cleaning for any one," laughed Pieter, as they left the angry Vrouw shaking her mop at them.
"I have seen Vrouw Huytens, our neighbour,'' said Pieter, "scrubbing her house-front in a heavy rain, holding an umbrella over herself at the same time."
I suppose the idea of cleanliness comes from the fact that the Dutch have so much water handy; they say that when a Dutch Vrouw cannot find anything else to do, she says," Let's wash something."
It was Saturday, the great cleaning day, and the housewives were washing down the doors and blinds and the sides of the houses with big mops, until everything shone brilliantly in the sunlight; the white door-steps, and even the tree-trunks and the red brick walks were not forgotten. They would dip up the water from the canals and dash it over the pavements with a reckless disregard for passers-by.
As the children entered the town matters grew worse. Everywhere were happy Dutch folk of all ages, swashing clean water about over everything, until Theodore finally said: "The next time I come out on cleaning-up day I shall wear a waterproof. I wonder the Dutch people don't grow web-footed, like ducks.
I'M GOING TO SNAP-SHOT ONE OF THEM WITH MY CAMERA
"You don't know how strange it looks to me to see carts drawn by dogs," he continued. "I'm going to snap-shot one of them with my camera."
All along the road rattled the little carts drawn by dogs, for dogs are used a great deal in both Holland and Belgium in place of horses.
"Don't you have them in America?" asked Wilhelmina, in curious wonderment.
"No, indeed," said Theodore. "How people would stare to see the baker deliver his bread in one of our cites or towns from a little cart drawn by dogs."
"Most of the vegetables from the farms roundabout are brought into town in this way," said Pieter.
"And there is a man and a dog pulling side by side; what would they say to that at home, I wonder," said Theodore.
"Yes, some of our poor ' boers,' or farmers, have only one dog, and he must be helped. But there is a vegetable-cart with three fine dogs harnessed to it. Often there are four or five dogs to a cart," said Pieter, "and they can draw big loads, too, I can tell you; and they are as intelligent as human beings.
"You see that big black dog knows that the brown one is not doing his share of the work, so he keeps his eye on him and gives him a sharp bite every once and again to keep him up to the mark."
"Is that a milk-cart?" asked Theodore, as he sighted a sort of a chariot with three great polished brass cans in it, all shining, like everything else that is Dutch. "See, while the master is serving his customer, the dog just lies down in his harness and rests; that is where he is better off than a pony would be under the same circumstances. Think of a pony lying down every time he stopped."
At this speech of Theodore's, Wilhelmina was much amused.
"A pony could not shield himself from the sun by crawling under the cart, either," said Pieter. "See, there is one who has crawled under his cart while he is waiting, and is taking a comfortable nap. You may be sure, however, if any stranger attempted to take anything from his cart, he would become very wide awake, and that person would be very sorry for it, for the dogs guard their master's property faithfully."
By this time our party was well into town. They saw the "Groote Markt," or big market-place, and the Groote Kerk. Every Dutch town has a great market-place, and generally the Groote Kerk, or big church, stands in it, as well as the town hall. It is here, too, that the principal business of the town is transacted.
The children walked along the canals, which are the main streets in Dutch towns and cities, and Theodore never grew tired of looking at the queer houses, always with their gable ends to the street.
"What on earth does that mean?" said Theodore, stopping to read a sign on the cellar-door of a small house, m,, Water and Fire to Sell."
"Oh," said Pieter, "that is where the poor people can go and buy for a tiny sum some boiling water and a piece of red-hot peat, with which to cook their dinner. It is really cheaper for them than to keep a fire all the day in their own houses. Peat is generally sold for this purpose instead of coal or wood, for it is not so costly."
By this time the young cousins were quite ready to take the steam-tram home, and were hungry enough for the good supper which they knew Mevrouw Joost had prepared for them.
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