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But we were
both rather doubtful. My curiosity was aroused, and she was expecting
the news from me; for this reason, therefore, I put the question to my
courteous guide at Delft. It may be imagined with what impatience I
awaited his reply.

"Sir," answered the Dutchman after a moment's reflection, "I can only
give you this reply: in Holland we have a proverb which says that the
maids are the cross of our lives."

I was completely discouraged.

"First of all," he continued, "the annoyance of living in a large
house is, that we are obliged to keep two servants, one for the
kitchen and one for cleaning, since it is almost impossible, with the
mania they have of washing the very air, that one servant can do both
things. Then they have an unquenchable thirst for liberty: they insist
on staying out till ten in the evening and on having an entire holiday
every now and then. Moreover, their sweethearts must be allowed in the
house, or they come to fetch them; we must let them dance in the
streets, and they are up to all sorts of mischief during the Kirmess
festival. Moreover, when they are discharged we are obliged to wait
until they choose to go, and sometimes they delay for months. Add to
this account, wages amounting to ninety or a hundred florins a year,
as well as the payment of a certain percentage on all the bills the
master pays, tips from all invited guests, and all sorts of especial
presents of dress-goods and money from the master, and, above all and
always, patience, patience, patience!"

I had heard enough to speak with authority to my mother, and I turned
the conversation to a less distressing subject.

On passing a side street I observed a lady approach a door, read a
piece of paper attached to it, make a gesture of distress, and pass
on. A moment later another woman who was passing, also paused, read
it, and went on. I asked my companion for an explanation, and he told
me of a very curious Dutch custom. On that piece of paper was written
the notice that a certain sick person was worse. In many towns of
Holland, when any one is ill, the family posts such a bulletin on the
door every day, so that friends and acquaintances are not obliged to
enter the house to learn the news. This form of announcement is
adopted on other occasions also. In some towns they announce the birth
of a child by tying to the door a ball covered with red silk and lace,
for which the Dutch word signifies a proof of birth. If the child is a
girl, a piece of white paper is attached; if twins are born, the lace
is double, and for some days after the appearance of the symbol a
notice is posted to the effect that the mother and child are well and
have passed a good night, or the contrary if it is otherwise. At one
time, when there was the announcement of a birth on a door the
creditors of the family were not allowed to knock for nine days; but I
believe this custom has died out, although it must have had the
beneficent virtue of promoting an increase in the population.

[Illustration: Old Delft.]

In that short walk through the streets of Delft I met some gloomy
figures like those I had noticed at Rotterdam, without being able to
determine whether they were priests, magistrates, or gravediggers, for
in their dress and appearance they bore a certain resemblance to
all three. They wore three-cornered hats, with long black veils which
reached to the waist, swallow-tailed black coats, short black
breeches, black stockings, black cloaks, buckled shoes, and white
cravats and gloves, and they held in their hands sheets of paper
bordered with black. My companion explained to me that they were
called _aanspreckers_, an untranslatable Dutch word, and that their
duty was to bear the information of deaths to the relatives and
friends of the defunct and to make the announcement through the
streets. Their dress differs in some particulars in the various
provinces and also according to the religious faith of the deceased.
In some towns they wear immense hats _ la_ Don Basilio. They are
generally very neat, and are sometimes dressed with a care that
contrasts strangely with their business as messengers of death, or, as
a traveller defines them, living funeral letters.

We noticed one of these men who had stopped in front of a house, and
my companion drew my attention to the fact that the shutters were
partly closed, and observed that there must be some one dead there. I
asked who it was. "I do not know," he replied, "but, to judge from the
shutters, it cannot be any near relative to the master of the house."
As this method of arguing seemed rather strange to me, he explained
that in Holland when any one dies in a family they shut the windows
and one, two, or three of the divisions of the folding shutters
accordingly as the relationship is near or distant. Each section of
shutter denotes a degree of relationship. For a father or mother they
close all but one, for a cousin they close one only, for a brother
two, and so on. It appears that the custom is very old, and it still
continues, because in that country no custom is discontinued for
caprice; nothing is changed unless the alteration becomes a matter of
serious importance, and unless the Hollanders have been more than
persuaded that such a change is for the better.

I should like to have seen at Delft the house where was the tavern of
the artist Steen, where he probably passed those famous debauches
which have given rise to so many questions among his biographers. But
my host told me that nothing was known about it. However, apropos of
painters, he gave me the pleasing information that I was in the part
of Holland, bounded by Delft, the Hague, the sea, the town of Alkmaar,
the Gulf of Amsterdam, and the ancient Lake of Haarlem, which might be
called the fatherland of Dutch painting, both because the greatest
painters were born there, and because it presented such singularly
picturesque effects that the artists loved and studied it devotedly. I
was therefore in the bosom of Holland, and when I left Delft, I was
going into its very heart.

Before leaving I again glanced hastily over the military arsenal,
which occupies a large building, and which originally served as a
warehouse to the East India Company. It is in communication with an
artillery workshop and a great powder-magazine outside of the town. At
Delft there still remains the great polytechnic school for engineers,
the real military academy of Holland, for from it come forth the
officers of the army that defends the country from the sea, and these
young warriors of the dykes and locks, about three hundred in number,
are they who give life to the peaceful town of Grotius.

As I was stepping into the vessel which was to bear me to the Hague,
my Dutch friend described the last of those students' festivals at
Delft which are celebrated once in five years. It was one of those
pageants peculiar to Holland, a sort of historical masquerade like a
reflection of the magnificence of the past, serving to remind the
people of the traditions, the personages, and illustrious events of
earlier times. A great cavalcade represented the entrance into
Arnheim, in 1492, of Charles of Egmont, Duke of Gelderland, Count of
Zutphen. He belonged to that family of Egmont which in the person of
the noble and unfortunate Count Lamoral gave the first great martyr of
Dutch liberty to the axe of the Duke of Alva. Two hundred students on
richly caparisoned horses, clothed in armor, decorated with mantles
embroidered with coats of arms, with waving plumes and large swords
proudly brandished, formed the retinue of the Duke of Gelderland. Then
came halberdiers, archers, and foot-soldiers dressed in the pompous
fashion of the fifteenth century; bands played, the city blazed with
lights, and through its streets flowed an immense crowd, which had
come from every part of Holland to enjoy this splendid vision of a
distant age.


The boat that was to carry me to the Hague was moored near a bridge,
in a little basin formed by the canal which leads from Delft to the
Hague, and shaded by trees on the bank like a garden lake.

The boats that carry passengers from town to town are called in Dutch
_trekschuiten_. The _trekschuit_ is the traditional boat, as
emblematic of Holland as is the gondola of Venice. Esquiros defined it
as "the genius of ancient Holland floating on the waters;" and, in
fact, any one who has not travelled in a _trekschuit_ is not
acquainted with Dutch life under its most original and poetic aspect.

It is a large boat, almost entirely covered with a cabin shaped like a
stage-coach and divided into two compartments--the division near the
prow being for second-class passengers, and that near the poop for
first-class. An iron pole with a ring at the end is fastened to the
prow, through which a long rope is passed; this is tied at one end
near the rudder and at the other end is fastened a tow-horse, which is
ridden by a boatman. The windows of the cabin have white curtains; the
walls and doors are painted. In the compartment for first-class
passengers there are cushioned seats, a little table with books, a
cupboard, a mirror; everything is neat and bright. In putting down my
valise I allowed some ashes from my cigar to fall under the table; a
minute later, when I returned, these had disappeared.

I was the only passenger, and did not have to wait long; the boatman
made a sign, the tow-boy mounted his horse, and the _trekschuit_ began
to glide gently down the canal.

It was about an hour past noon and the sun was shining brightly, but
the boat passed along in the shade. The canal is bordered by two rows
of linden trees, elms, willows, and high hedges on either side, which
hide the country. It seemed as though we were sailing across a forest.
At every curve we saw green enclosed views in the distance, with
windmills here and there on the bank. The water was covered with a
carpet of aquatic plants, and in some parts strewn with white flowers,
with iris, water-lilies, and the water-lentil. The high green hedge
bordering the canal was broken here and there, allowing a glimpse, as
if through a window, of the far-off horizon of the champaign; then the
walls would close again in an instant.

Every now and then we encountered a bridge.

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