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WHERE THE CHEESES COME FROM
"WHAT a jumble of ships and houses! I shouldn't think you would know whether you were going into a house or aboard ship, when you open the front door," said Theodore, one fine summer's day, when the cousins were strolling about Amsterdam, on their way to pay the promised visit to Mynheer Van der Veer.
Others besides Theodore might think the same thing, for Amsterdam really grew up out of the water. The houses are, for the most part, built on wooden piles; and there are as many canals as there are streets, and big ships move about between the buildings in the most wonderful manner.
They found Mynheer Van der Veer smoking his meerschaum pipe at his warehouse on one of the principal canals. He was glad indeed to see his little friends of the tulip-garden, as he called them, and showed them all around the big establishment. They saw the big ships that were anchored right at his door, and the bales and boxes being loaded into their holds from the very windows of the warehouse itself. He showed them the coffees and sugars and spices which other ships had brought from the Dutch East Indies, which as you all know are around on the other side of the world. Holland owns some of the richest islands in the world, many of them larger than Holland itself. One of these islands is Java, where the fine Java coffee comes from, and this is one of the reasons why the Dutch always have such good coffee, and drink so much of it.
Mynheer gave them all nice spices to taste, and was amused at the faces they made at some hot peppery things they were eager to try.
After this he took them to his fine, tall house that faced on another canal, where there were long rows of other tall houses, all built of tiny bricks and as neat as pins. All of them were as much alike, in their outside appearance at least, as a row of pins, too. Here the children met the portly Mevrouw Van der Veer in her rustling silk dress, who gave them a warm welcome.
She had just come in from a walk, and on the top of her beautiful lace cap with its gold ornaments she wore a very fashionable modern hat.
"Oh," thought Wilhelmina, "why does she spoil her fine cap like that?" But you see many Dutch ladies who combine the old and the new styles in just that way.
They all sat in Mevrouw's fine parlour, with its shining waxed floor, which was filled with beautiful things from all parts of the world. There was furniture of teak-wood from India, wonderfully carved, and rare china and porcelain from China and Japan. Exquisite silk curtains hung at the windows, and embroidered screens cut off any possible draughts.
These rare things had been brought from time to time in Mynheer's ships, as they were homeward bound from these far-off countries.
Mevrouw sat before a little table laden with silver and fine china, and poured coffee for them from a big silver coffee-pot, and gave them many kinds of nice Dutch cakes to eat; and when she said good-bye she promised Mynheer Joost that she would come some day and see his tulip-garden herself.
"Why was that small looking-glass fastened outside of one of the upper windows?" asked Theodore, as they left Mynheer Van der Veer's house.
"Many of these Dutch houses have these little mirrors fastened before the windows at such an angle that by merely looking in it from the inside, one may see who is at the front door," said his cousin; "and then, too, the ladies can sit by the window, sewing or reading, and can amuse themselves by watching what is going on in the street below, without troubling to look out of the window."
"I should hate to have to wear a dress like that," said Wilhelmina, looking at two young girls who were passing by. It did look strange, for one half of their dress was red and the other half black.
"They are the girls from the orphanage, and this is the uniform that they all must wear," said Mynheer Joost.
"Now Theodore must see some of the pictures of our great painters," he continued, as he led the young folks toward the splendid picture-gallery, where they strolled through what seemed to them miles of rooms and corridors, all hung with beautiful and valuable pictures, for little Holland has had some of the greatest artists the world has ever known, and some day, if you care about pictures, -- and you certainly should,- you will want to go there and see them for yourself.
After this they did a great deal more sightseeing, and Mynheer showed them the "Exchange," where the business of the city is carried on, and told them that there was one week in the year when the boys of Amsterdam were allowed to use the "Exchange" for a playground.
This was a reward for the good deed of some brave boys of long ago, when the Spaniards were plotting to capture the city. The boys, it seems, first discovered the secret, and went and informed the authorities, who were thus able to defend their city from attack.
"This," said Mynheer, "was the case when I was young, and I suppose the boys are still allowed the same privilege."
Our little folk were glad enough to take their seats on the deck of the little steamboat which was to take them to Alkmaar, the centre of the cheese-trade of North Holland.
"Whew! but we have done a lot of tramping about to-day; oh, my poor feet! "said Pieter, as he stretched himself out on a bench.
"Father, haven't you got something for us to eat ill your pocket?" asked Wilhelmina, coaxingly.
Mynheer smiled, and from away down in the depths of his pocket, he drew forth a big loaf of gingerbread. The children munched away at this favourite Dutch delicacy, and amused themselves by watching the people who were making the journey with them.
There were two fat old women, sitting side by side and knitting away as if for their lives. They nodded their heads every time they spoke, which made their long gold corkscrew ornaments in their caps bob up and down, and each had her feet on a little foot-stove as if it were midwinter. There were two little girls with their father, who looked like little dolls, in short red dresses, with dark green waists and short sleeves, and pretty aprons embroidered in many coloured silks, and many gold chains, and earrings reaching nearly down to their shoulders. They had a solid gold head-piece under their caps. The man had on velvet knickerbockers, nearly as broad as they were long, and two great silver rosettes fastened in his belt. There were big silver buttons on his jacket, and his cap must have been over a foot high.
The little girls were very shy, but when Wilhelmina offered them some of her gingerbread they soon made friends, and the three were soon chatting away like old acquaintances.
"Aren't they gorgeous?" whispered Pieter. "They are from the little island of Marken, near here, in the Zuyder Zee, and have on all their holiday clothes."
The island of Marken is like a big bowl, Mynheer told them, for all of it but the rim is lower than the waters which surround it. The rim is a high stone wall which was built to keep the water out. Everybody who lives there keeps a boat tied to their gate or door in order that they may have some means of escape if the wall should ever break.
"Just think of it! I should never sleep nights, if I lived there, for fear of waking up and finding myself floating about in the water. I should think the Dutch would be the most nervous people in the world, instead of the most placid," said Theodore.
"That danger does not often happen," said Mynheer. "But look how beautifully carved their shoes are. The men do it themselves during the long winter evenings, and take great pride in their work."
The little steamer puffed along the North Sea Canal, by which the big ships come right up to Amsterdam. All kinds of queer tub-like boats, with big brown sails, tanned to preserve them from the damp, passed them, and soon they turned into the river Zaan.
"There is Zaandam," said Mynheer; "they say that most of the people who live there are millionaires. It is a wealthy little town."
"You would not think so from the looks of the houses," remarked Pieter; "they seem mostly to be small brick cottages of one story, with a tiny yard in front."
As the steamer glides along, between green meadows as fiat as one's hand, they could see on all sides innumerable windmills. The boys tried to count them, but soon gave up the task. It is said that there are over six hundred of them in this one short stretch of country.
"Why are some of the windmills built on top of the houses?" asked Theodore.
"For the reason that they are made to turn the machinery which is situated in the buildings below," said Mynheer; "not all the windmills are used for pumping water, by any means."
They were now in the midst of the cheese country, one of the richest sections of Holland. There were everywhere to be seen trim little villas and neat farmhouses, while the meadows were full of the curiously marked black and white cows called "Holsteins." These are the favourite cows throughout Holland for furnishing the milk for the famous butter and cheeses of the country.
They were at Alkmaar before they knew it. The two old women, who had never stopped knitting for a moment, picked up their little foot-stoves and waddled off; Wilhelmina bade her little Marken friends good-bye; and Mynheer's party hurried off' to a little inn on the market-place, for the sun was setting and the children said they were nearly starved, in spite of the gingerbread which they had eaten.
Outside the inn was a row of fat, sleepy-looking old men sitting on a long bench, watching a game of "skittles" which was going on in the square, for both "grown-ups" and children usually play their games in the village square. Each had his long pipe and a glass of" schnapps "just under his part of the bench, and when he wanted a drink all he had to do was to reach down and get it. Not one of them said a word; they just sat there and looked, and smoked and drank.
In a cosy room, with a floor of red bricks, neatly covered with sand, a rosy-cheeked girl soon set out a real Dutch supper for our hungry little travellers.
There was cold sausage, potato salad, fresh herrings, and a strange dish made of buttermilk and buckwheat-flour, all boiled together and flavoured with green herbs. The Joost family thought it delicious, but Theodore said that it would take him some time to get used to it, and preferred the big loaves of rye-bread filled with raisins. As for cheeses, there was no end to the different kinds- and all of them excellent; while to wind up with, there was a delicious hot gingerbread and good coffee. Did it keep them awake? No, indeed, they dropped off to sleep in a moment, inside their big cupboard-beds, that had doors to them, instead of curtains, which made them look more like boxes than ever.
"Just come and look out the window, Theodore," said Pieter early the next morning. He was at the window and Theodore was out of bed in a moment and beside him.
"Why the whole square is filled with cheeses," he cried. So it was, for this was market-day, when the farmers--" boeren," they are called--from all the country roundabout bring in their cheeses to sell them in the market-place.
The boys scrambled into their clothes, and in a few minutes were walking among the great piles of cheeses. There were all kinds and shapes and sizes, -- cheeses that looked like great red balls, yellow cheeses, white cheeses, green cheeses, fiat, round, square and all sizes.
"I didn't suppose there were as many cheeses in the world," said Theodore, looking around him. "And the wagons, too, aren't they fine; they look as gay as circus wagons."
And so they did, for they were painted every colour under the sun; some of them even had flowers painted upon them; and they were all shapes, too; some were curved like shells, and others looked not unlike a boat on wheels.
"Let us see what is going on over there, where there is such a crowd of people," said Pieter, as he led the way to the other side of the square.
Here was the Weighing-House, where the cheeses were being weighed on funny old-fashioned scales, which looked as though they had been in use hundreds of years. The buyers, too, were testing the cheeses. They would taste a cheese and cut a small plug out of it to see if it were of good quality, and then they would put the plug back in place again, when the cheese, to all appearances, looked as it did before.
The bargaining over the cheeses took a long time, for the farmers are very careful to make a good deal for themselves, and they will not be hurried; and generally, when they are on their way home again, they look very well satisfied with themselves, and as contented as the portly Vrouw sitting beside them, or the "kinder," as they call the children, playing about in the bottom of the wagon.
"I don't suppose you boys have given up eating breakfast," a voice behind them said, and turning they saw Mynheer Joost.
"Wilhelmina and I have already had ours, so hurry up with yours, and then come down to the canal; we are going to see the cheeses loaded on to the boats."
Along the canal were drawn up the boats, with their brown sails, and steamers and barges and all kinds of craft. When the boys appeared again, they all stopped to watch a pile of round, red cheeses which were piled up like shot, ready to be loaded.
A man picked one up in either hand and tossed them to another man, who was standing beside the ship's hatch; and he, in turn, tossed them to another who was down in the hold and who was stacking them up in neat rows.
"I'd like to play that kind of ball; it looks as easy as can be," said Pieter. "It's not as easy as you think," said his father; "just pick up one of these cheeses, and try its weight."
Pieter tried and so did Theodore; but they thought better of it as a game, and the cheese man himself laughed at their unsuccessful efforts to grasp a cheese in one hand.
"Just look at our hands," exclaimed Theodore, after they had finished handling the cheeses; "they are quite red."
"That is the red colouring matter which is put on the outside to preserve them," said Mynheer.
"Now we will take a walk around the town, and then make our way back to Amsterdam," said Mynheer Joost; "and we will stop by the way at Edam, and you can see the little town which gives the name to these red cheeses."
During the dinner at Edam, a happy idea struck Mynheer Joost. "Children," he said, "how would you like to have a ride in a 'trekschuit,' or passenger barge? There is one leaving here for Volendam in half an hour, the landlord of the inn tells me, and if you are ready, we will go out and hunt it up."
"Oh, that will be great fun," cried the twins in one breath.
There are few of these old-time conveyances left in Holland, and it was as much a novelty for them as for Theodore.
You will see from the picture what an odd sort of a passenger craft the "trekschuit" really is. There is one man pulling it, while another walks behind and steers it by the big tiller, which he handles from the shore in the same manner that he would if he were on board.
The children stood in the bows among the big brass milk-cans and butter baskets of the market-women, and said they knew just how comfortable the fat Dutchmen feel, as they sit on their "tjalks," and let their women and children draw them about.
The next day found our little friends home again, planning other good times.
Soon the time came, however, when Theodore must leave his Dutch cousins and go back to America. The twills were nearly brokenhearted at the very idea of it; for they had become as fond of Theodore as if he were a brother. Wilhelmina wept, and said she didn't see why Theodore could not stay for St. Nicholas; and Pieter himself had to wink hard to keep back the tears.
But Theodore consoled them by telling them that he would come again and spend a winter with them, so as to see a real Dutch Christmas, which, strange to say, is celebrated on the feast of good St. Nicholas, which comes on the sixth of December. Then they would have skating and all kinds of winter sports together, which, to tell the truth, are the favourite amusements of our little Dutch cousins.
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