Netherlands - An International Complication
( Originally Published 1906 )
THE Captain took advantage while at Alkmaar of its vicinity to Egmond aan Zee to pay a day's visit to a friend there, promising to rejoin us later when he should have his three weeks' furlough. James and I went by train to Hoorn, having given orders to The Broomstick's owner, the "nephew-captain" as we called him, to pick us up at that port. We followed this plan for two reasons: we wished to keep that perfect approach to Alkmaar free from anti-climax by avoiding the monotonous back-door water ways between Alkmaar and Hoorn; and we wanted to enter Hoorn by its inimitable port.
In the present age the traveller in the Netherlands must search far and wide, must in some instances mine for the remaining bits of genuine old Dutch setting in those havens, towns and hamlets which have been the delight as well as the despair of generations of artists. The Old Time is passing all too quickly in the presence of the inundating flood of the New which is pressing with overwhelming force against the various barriers and dykes, social, industrial, commercial and political, that for so long have guarded the homogeneous interests of the Dutch, and preserved intact the individuality of their water ways, towns and cities. Everywhere one can see that the Holland that Was is rapidly passing. In fifteen years, I venture to predict, a place like the Port of Hoorn, if preserved at all, will be one of the rare Meccas for all lovers of the old, inimitable Dutch life.
All over this land there has been subsidence and consequent leanings and totterings of noble towers and ancient walls. Note the list of the Old Church Tower at Delft; it is one of many. All over the land there is a constant rehabilitating process and its corollary, constant tearing down. One canal after another is filled in and becomes a barren space planted with young trees, or grassed over and set with flower-beds. The approaches to Weigh Houses, Fish Bridges, Market Places are, many of them, choked with sand in the same way, and the old landmarks are left stranded high and dry, looking lonely and out of place, in the midst of architectural incongruity. Ramparts have become shaded boulevards noisy with electric tram, or as wals, the Dutch word for the same, are converted into broad thoroughfares like the Nieuwe Z˙ds Voorburgwal in Amsterdam, which is an illustration of Progress in its seven-league boots. Home after home is being torn down either because the walls have been weakened by age, or in order to make room for new business blocks. The railway stations, which may be considered almost without the limits of city and town, and farthest distant from the water way traffic, will soon be centres for the new sections which are springing up in their neighborhood, hopelessly new, although lovely, with no single feature to connect them with the Holland that was. One almost fails to recognize on the walls of the galleries in paintings, etchings, or drawings of a generation since many of the present localities once so famous for their unique beauty. Small wonder we wanted to see Hoorn!
I took the opportunity, on the short train ride, to speak of my "tale" which I had been longing to unfold ever since we left Leyden. I approached the subject in a roundabout way.
"You're queer, James."
"As how ?" He was looking out of the window at an uninteresting stretch of country and did not turn his head.
"You've never said one word about what you must have known I've been longing to tell you ever since we were in Leyden."
"I knew if I waited long enough you would tell me of your own accord." This remark was so true I had no response ready. I tried another tack.
"Don't you want to know ?"
"On what ?"
"On what it is."
"Well, how are you going to know whether you want to know or not, unless you know what it is ?"
"I don't — I mean, I'm not."
"Now, James, you're not listening to a word I say. Will you look at me ?"
"On whether you're going to help me out of the scrape your enthusiasm got me into."
"Scrape ? There, I knew something was bothering you!" I exclaimed, triumphantly. "Out with it."
"You tell first." He turned to me then with such a whimsically perplexed and half-irritated look in those handsome eyes of his that I was moved to comfort him with something more substantial than words, but I refrained, for too much was at stake. Instead, I made a self-sacrifice
"No, James, you tell me. Mine can wait."
"That is just the trouble. If you hadn't lain low so long with your information, there wouldn't be such a complication now."
"Why, what is the matter, James ? Did you know that Cousins Lou and Lois were going to join us as soon as they can ? Really I couldn't say no to them; they are wild to see Holland." I knew I was giving in "all along the line," but James' tone and use of the word "complication" made me desperate.
"I suspected it from your actions," he replied.
"My actions!" I echoed in amazement. "I was not aware that I had comported myself otherwise than usual."
"Yes, your actions. You've been smiling to yourself in off moments, and mooning by yourself by the taffrail. Yesterday you encouraged the Captain to quote Dutch poetry for you although you couldn't understand five words out of ten. I know the signs," he said emphatically and with an increasing earnestness which bordered dangerously on severity; "you're planning a match." I felt the challenge conveyed in his manner and promptly accepted it.
"What if I am?" I demanded with an earnestness that matched his. I confess I resent at times too much mental telepathy between James and me. It is all well enough to be "one in soul," but this having "a single thought" is not always reassuring. "I shouldn't be a woman if I didn't enjoy match-making, even in Holland, where it's damp enough to quench all the smoking flax of sentiment the world contains. You know yourself that Lois is captivating— everybody finds her so. And she must be married sometime: it's her destiny as it was mine."
"Umph! Which one have you settled on ?"
"Really, James, this is premature. I'm not a friend of international marriages — but who knows ? If the Captain should prove as charming to others as he has to us —"
"Look here, Persis, now I'll have no nonsense. I'm in a deuce of a fix with Ben."
"What about Ben ?" I tried to ask innocently, but my husband read me — oh, read me through and through!
"What about Ben ?" (I do love to see James roused to righteous indignation; it is so becoming to his eyes. I tell him so afterwards.) "You know well enough what about Ben. Didn't you do all in your power last winter to throw those two together ? And didn't I tell you you were playing with fire ?"
"Where was the harm? Nobody was burnt that I know of; and Ben is such a splendid fellow he deserves some one as lovely as Lois —"
"And now you propose to throw the Captain into the same net, and let her play with both fellows at the same time ! Umph !"
"But Ben escaped apparently harmless for all I know. How about Lois ? My sympathies are with the woman every time."
"They are, are they ?" It was the nearest approach to a sneer I had ever heard in James' voice. "Lois can take care of herself; but here is a letter which Ben wrote before he cablegraphed and it has just been for-warded. It will prove an eye-opener even to you, if I'm not mistaken. The truth is Lois has turned him down, and if she is my cousin, I'll give her a piece of my mind when I see her. Ben's my friend, and I won't have him fooled with by any of my blood."
"Oh, James!" I confess I was appalled at the result of my winter's manoeuvring and the consequence of my rashly enthusiastic invitation to the girls. I call them that although, as I said, Cousin Lou is forty if she's a day.
"Yes, and what is more he writes me here that he's coming to be with us, alone — and forget it! He isn't going to do things by halves if he has been jilted by a girl with no conscience and little heart. I'll tell him he's well rid of her."
"Yes, and you've been planning to throw those two together again over here and use the Captain as a foil —" "Oh, James!"
"Yes, and I won't have Ben, or the Captain either, used in any such way. Ben has enough backbone to stand up to it all right on The Broomstick's deck; and the Captain is an all-round fine man. But these foreigners are mighty free with their pistols, especially the army men, and the first we know there'll be a nice little duel in the Haarlem woods, and as a result international complications of a mighty unpleasant sort for us all." He spoke moodily.
"Oh, James! I'll write to-night and tell them not to come; the letter will reach them at Lucerne —"
He interrupted me. "You'll do nothing of the sort. Let them come on now — the more the merrier," he added, grimly, "as we're in for it. I'm not going to have you make matters worse by intimating to the girl that Ben is so hard hit he can't bear her presence, not much! But I'll guarantee Ben can stand it if she can. You let things alone now. Persis, — you haven't said a word about Ben's coming to us, have you ?" he demanded with sudden suspicion.
"Not a word; not a hint, even."
"All the better for you," he grumbled. Then, with a twitch of his upper lip which is a sure sign of returning good humor with himself and his other half, he added: "You can write them to meet us at Dordrecht. We'll take Ben on at N˙megen. I propose to let the surprise party be on Miss Lois' side rather than Ben's."
" Just as you say, James," I answered, meekly. Where-upon he smiled in what I thought a peculiar manner.
When James is masterful I am always submissive, outwardly. In the present case I realized the gravity of this small international complication that confronted us and threatened to spoil our inward and outward harmony while in the Netherlands. But I kept my fears to myself and trusted to my intuitions, as a woman will when driven to the wall by an over-logical husband. These led me to conclusions diametrically opposed to those which James had reached along his line of reasoning; but he was in no mood to hear them just then, and I welcomed the sound of "Hoorn" from the guards. I felt sure the new environment was needed to distract his mind and turn his thoughts from this unexpected complication of the nations.