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"ISN'T it nice that Theodore has come in time for the Kermis?" said Wilhelmina, as the cousins were packing the flowers into the big baskets for the market, early one morning.
"What is a Kermis?" asked Theodore, all curiosity at once.
"It is a great fair, and generally lasts a week," said Pieter.
These fairs are held in many of the Dutch towns and cities. Booths are put up in the Groote Markt and on the streets, where the sale of all kinds of things is carried on. There are games and merrymakings, and dances, and singing, and fancy costumes, and much more to make them novel to even the Dutch themselves.
"There is to be a Kermis at Rotterdam shortly," said Pieter, "and the father has promised to take us all."
For a time the children talked about nothing but the Kermis, until at last the great day came, and they all found themselves on the train which was taking them to Rotterdam.
As they drew near the city it was easy to see that everybody was going to the Kermis, and was thinking of nothing else. The roads were crowded with all kinds of queer vehicles and gay costumes. There were the big country wagons, of strange shapes, and painted in bright colours. In them were piled the whole family, -- grandparents, mother, father, aunts, uncles, and cousins. There were the dogs, too, drawing their little carts, and trying to keep up with the big wagons, panting bravely along with their tongues hanging out, as much as to say, "We are not going to let the horses get there first, just because we are little."
There were men and women on bicycles, the women with their caps and streamers flapping in the wind like white wings, and their half-dozen skirts filling out like a balloon, as they pedalled rapidly along.
It was just twelve o'clock as our party left the station, and the bells were ringing gaily, which was the signal for the opening of the Kermis.
"My, but isn't this a jam!" gasped Theodore, who found himself wedged in between the market-baskets of two fat Vrouws.
"It is, indeed," said Mynheer Joost, "and we must not lose sight of one another. Now, Wilhelmina, you keep between Theodore and Pieter, while the mother and I will go ahead to open the way."
There was no use trying to hurry,--Dutch folk do not hurry, even to a Kermis, -- so our party just let themselves be pushed slowly along until they reached the Groote Markt.
Here things were really getting lively. All around the great square were booths or stalls, where one could buy almost anything they were likely to want. Flags were flying everywhere, and from booth to booth were stretched garlands of flowers and streamers of ribbons. In the centre of the market-square a band of music was playing, and couples were trying to dance in spite of the rough cobblestone pavement and the jostling of the crowd which was watching them.
"You can see now, Theodore, just how your Dutch cousins really look, for there are folk here from all over the country, and all in their best holiday dress," said Mynheer Joost. "That group of little girls, with those high sleeves that come nearly to the tops of their heads, and with extra large skirts, are from Zealand.''
"I see a woman with two or three caps on her head, and a big, black straw hat on top of them," said Theodore.
"She is from Hindeloopen; and there, too, are a number of fisherwomen, wearing huge straw hats, which look like big baskets."
There were other women wearing beautiful flowered silk shawls, and the sun glistened on the gold ornaments which dangled from their white caps as their owners danced up and down between the long lines of booths, holding each other's hands.
People were already crowding around the booths, buying their favourite dainties to eat, which at once reminded the young people that they, too, were hungry.
"What will you have, Theodore, 'pofferties' or 'oliebollen'?" asked Pieter.
"Oh, what names!" laughed Theodore. "How can I tell? Show them to me first." "Of course Theodore must eat the 'pofferties,' for that is the real Kermis cake," said Mynheer Joost, and led the way to a booth where a woman with a big, flapping cap and short sleeves was standing, dipping ladlefuls of batter from a big wooden bowl, and dropping them into hollowed-out places in a big pan, which was placed on an open fire before her.
As soon as they were cooked, another woman piled them nicely up, one on top of another, with butter and sugar between, and, with a smile, set a big plateful before the children, who made them disappear in short order.
"Why, they are buckwheat cakes, just like ours at home!" said Theodore, in the midst of his first mouthful; "and they are fine, too. Now let us try the other thing with the funny name," he continued.
"There they are, in that box," said Pieter, as he pointed to some fritters, made in the shape of little round balls.
"Oh, 'oliebollen' aren't half so nice as waffles; let us have them instead," said Wilhelmina.
"I think I agree with Wilhelmina," said Theodore; "the ' oliebollen' seem to be taking a bath in oil," he continued, shaking his head doubtfully.
"Oh, try one, anyhow," said Pieter. "You must not miss any of the Kermis cakes."
"Well, they taste better than they look," said Theodore, as he swallowed one of the greasy little balls.
"How would you like a raw herring, now, to give you an appetite for your dinner?" asked Pieter, as they passed the fish-stalls, which were decorated with festoons of fish that looked, at a little distance, like strings of white flags waving in the breeze.
"Not for me, thank you," answered his cousin, "but just look at all those people eating them as if they enjoyed them; and dried fish and smoked fish, too, and all without any bread."
After the waffles had been found and eaten, the young people became much interested in watching a group of men trying to break a cake. The cake was placed over a hollowed out place in a large log of wood, and whoever could break the cake in halves with a blow of his stick won the cake, or what was left of it. The thing sounds easy, but it proved more difficult than would have seemed possible.
"Let us eat an 'ellekoek' together, Pieter; there they are," and Wilhelmina pointed to what looked like yards and yards of ribbon hanging from one of the booths. The children forthwith bought a length, which was measured off for them just as if it really were ribbon, and Wilhelmina put one end in her mouth and Pieter the other end in his. The idea is to eat this ribbon cake without touching it with the hands or without its breaking. This Wilhelmina and Pieter managed to do in spite of much laughter, and gave each other a hearty kiss when they got to the middle of it.
AT THE KERMIS
"Well," said Theodore, "I should think that a Kermis was for the purpose of eating cakes."
The market-place became gayer and gayer. A crowd of people would lock arms and form a long line, and then go skipping and dancing along between the booths, singing and trying to capture other merrymakers in order to make them join their band.
"Look out, Theodore, or this line will catch you," laughed Pieter, who jumped out of the way, pulling Wilhelmina after him.
The first thing Theodore knew, a gay crowd had circled around him and made him a prisoner, calling out to him to come and keep Kermis with them. But Theodore was not to be captured so easily; he had not become proficient in gymnastics for nothing, so he simply ran up to a short little fellow, and putting his hands on his shoulders, vaulted clean over him, to the amazement of the crowd and the delight of the twins.
The fun lasted long into the night, but Mynheer Joost took his little party to their hotel early in the evening, for the fun was growing somewhat boisterous; besides, they had a long day ahead of them for the morrow.
Mevrouw and Jan were going back by the train, but Mynheer and the children had brought their bicycles with them, and were going to cycle back a part of the way. The children were looking forward to this with as much pleasure as they had to any feature of the Kermis. And so they went to bed and dreamed of cakes, miles long, that wiggled about like long snakes.
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