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PIETER AND WILHELMINA
WHAT do you think of a country where you can pick up sugar-plums along the road? Well, this was just what Pieter and Wilhelmina were going to do as, hand in hand, they flew up the road as fast as their little wooden shoes would let them, to meet a carriage which was rapidly approaching. Behind the carriage ran a crowd of children, laughing and tumbling over each other.
"Oh! they are throwing the 'suikers' now; run faster, Wilhelmina," panted Pieter; and, sure enough, as the carriage went by, a shower of candies fell all about them. One piece dropped right in Wilhelmina's mouth, which of course was open, because she had been running so hard. But there was no time to laugh, as the children were all scrambling hard to pick up the sweets. Then they tried to catch up with the carriage again, but it was nearly out of sight by this time, and so one by one the young folk stopped to count up their gains, and compare them with one another.
This was a wedding-party returning from church. In the carriage sat the bride and groom. The carriage sat high up on its two great wheels, and was gaudily painted and gaily decked with flowers and ribbons.
Pieter and Wilhelmina had been on the lookout for this bridal party with more than usual interest, for two relatives of the bride had come to their mother a few days before to invite her to the wedding ceremony, and the children thought these young men had looked very fine in their best clothes, with flowers stuck in the sides of their caps.
The bride had her arms full of candies, and, as was the custom, she threw them out to the children as they drove along. The little Dutch children call these candies "suikers." As you may imagine, this is a great treat for them, and accordingly the children of Holland take more of an interest in weddings than do the children of other countries.
"Put all the 'suikers' in my apron, Pieter," said Wilhelmina, "and let us go and show them to the mother," and the children quickly ran back home.
Wilhelmina and Pieter were twins, so it does not matter whether we say Wilhelmina or Pieter first, and they looked so much alike that when they stood together in the high grass by the side of the canal which ran in front of their home, it was hard to tell one from the other if it had not been for Pieter's cap.
They both had round, rosy faces, and round, blue eyes, and yellow hair, only you would not know that Wilhelmina had any hair at all, for it was completely hidden by her cap. They both wore little wooden shoes, and it was a marvel how fast they could run in-them, for they seem to be on the point of dropping off most of the time, but, strange to say, they never do.
Holland is the dearest little wee country in the world. Uncle Sam could put it in his vest pocket. It looks like a country just made to play in. Its houses are so small and trim, all set about with neat little gardens and trees, which look as if they had been cut out of wood, like the trees in the "Noah's arks." There are little canals and little bridges everywhere, and little towns scattered here and there all over the broad, fiat country. You could go to all of the principal cities of this little land in one day, and you can stand in one of the church towers and see over half the country at a glance. The only things that look big are the windmills.
What do you think of a garden gate without any fence? But this is just the sort of a gate that the twins entered when they arrived home. Instead of a fence there was a small canal which divided the garden from the road, and of course the gate was in the middle of a small bridge, otherwise how could they have got across the canal?
At the front door they both left their shoes on the steps outside, for Dutch people never think of bringing their dirty shoes into the house. Then they opened only half of the front door and went in. Many Dutch doors are made in two parts, the upper half remaining open most of the time, like a window, while the lower half is closed like an ordinary door.
"Oh, mamma, see what a lot of 'suikers' the bride threw to us," said Wilhelmina, running up to Mevrouw Joost, who was bustling about the china cupboard in the living-room.
"And she was such a pretty bride, too, with a lovely dress; and there were flowers twined all about the carriage, and a wreath on the horse's head, and long streamers of white ribbon wound around the whip," she continued breathlessly.
"And we got more 'suikers' than any one else," put in Pieter.
"Yes, it was a gay party. I saw them pass by the house," said Mevrouw Joost, smilingly, as she ate a "suiker."
"Baby Jan must have one too," said Wilhelmina, as she went over to play with the baby who was kicking and crowing in his great carved cradle near the window. Jan was the household pet, and there had been a great celebration when he was a week old.
All the friends of the Joost family were invited to come and see the baby, a red pin-cushion having been hung out beside the front door to let everybody know that there was a new baby boy within. When the guests arrived, they were given rusks to eat, a kind of sweet bread, covered with aniseed and sugar, called "muisjes," which really means "mice." Before, when the friends had come to pay their respects to Wilhelmina and Pieter, there had been two kinds of "muisjes." One had a sort of smooth white icing on the top, and that was Wilhelmina's, while Pieter's rusks had lumps of sugar sticking up all over them.
The Dutch are the nearest people in the world. They are always washing and rubbing and dusting things, and one could no more find a spider's web in Mevrouw Joost's home than they could a white elephant.
The floor of the living-room was made of tiny red bricks, waxed and polished until they shone like glass. There was much heavy oak furniture, beautifully carved; a big round table stood in the centre, and on one side was a great dresser or sideboard. The chairs were solid and big, with high backs and straw seats, and some of them were painted dark green, with curious little pictures and decorations also painted on them.
One end of the square room was filled by what looked like two big cupboards with heavy green curtains hanging in front of them, but one of the curtains was drawn partly back and one could see that they were two great beds instead, built into the wall just like cupboards. These were the "show-beds," and were not for constant use, but mostly for ornament.
Mevrouw Joost was very proud of these beds and kept them always made up with her very finest linen, trimmed with rich lace, and her most brilliantly coloured embroidered coverlids, the whole being piled so high that the beds nearly reached the ceiling. There was barely enough room on top for the two enormous eider-down pillows, with gay covers and lace ruffles, which lay on each of the beds and completed their furnishings.
Some Dutch houses have a separate room for these "show-beds," which we should call a parlour, but Mevrouw Joost had her" show-beds" where she could enjoy their magnificence every day.
She had her "show-room," too, but kept it most beautifully and tightly closed up, so that not a ray of light or a speck of dirt could come in, for it was only used on some great occasion.
Another side of the living-room was nearly filled by the huge fireplace, covered with square, blue Delft tiles, on each of which was a picture which told a story from the Bible. The ceiling was crossed with great beams of wood, and a wainscoting of wood went all around the room.
On the sideboard, on the shelves above the beds, and over the mantel were fine pieces of rare old Delft china, which is a beautiful deep blue. It is very rare now, and much prized by the Dutch Mevrouws. There was also a quantity of copper and brass jugs and pewter platters, while by the fireplace hung a big brass warming-pan, which is a great pan with a cover and a long handle. On a cold and damp winter's night Mevrouw Joost filled it with red-hot coals, and warmed the household beds by slipping it in and out between the sheets.
There were spotless white curtains at the tiny windows, and everything shone under the housewife's brisk rubbings.
Back of the sitting-room was the kitchen, with another big fireplace, in which was set the cooking-stove. Around the walls were many bright copper pans and pots of all kinds.
There were big brass jugs to hold milk, and kegs with brass hoops in which they stow away their butter. The Dutch are so fond of polishing things that they put brass on everything, it would seem, just for the joy of rubbing it afterward.
Many of the commoner things were made beautiful as well. The knife-handles were carved, and on many of the brass bowls and platters were graceful patterns. One would see a little cow carved on the big wooden butter-spoon, or a tiny windmill on the handle of a fork, while the great churn that stood in the corner of the kitchen had gay pictures painted upon it. From this you may judge what a pleasant and attractive room Mevrouw Joost's kitchen was.
"Why are you putting out all the best china and the pretty silver spoons, mother?" asked Wilhelmina.
"The tither is showing a visitor through the tulip-gardens. It is the great merchant, Mynheer Van der Veer, from Amsterdam. He has come to buy some of the choice plants, for he says truly there are no tulips in all Holland as fine as ours," and the good lady drew herself up with a pardonable pride, as she polished the big silver coffee-pot, which already shone so Wilhelmina might see her face in it like a mirror.
"Can I help you, mother?" asked Wilhelmina. She would have liked nothing better than to handle the dainty cups and saucers, but she knew well that her mother would not trust this rare old china to any hands but her own, for these cups and saucers had been handed down through many generations of her family, as had the quaint silver spoons with the long twisted handles, at the end of which were little windmills, ships, lions, and the like, all in silver.
"No, no, little one, you are only in the way; go out into the garden and tell your father not to delay too long or our guest will drink cold coffee," said Mevrouw, bustling about more than ever.
Wilhelmina was eager enough to see the great Mynheer, so she joined Pieter, who had already slipped out, and together they went toward the bulb-gardens, where Mynheer and their father were looking over the wonderful tulips.
Pieter and Wilhelmina lived in a quaint little house of one story only, built of very small red brick, with a roof of bright red tiles. The window-frames were painted white, and the window-blinds a bright blue, while the front door was bright green. There was a little garden in front, and the paths all followed tiny canals, which were spanned here and there by small bridges. In one corner was a pond, on which floated little toy ducks and fish, and it was great fun for the children to wind up the clockwork inside of these curious toys, and watch them move about as if they were alive. But on this afternoon the twins were thinking of other things, and kept on to the bulb-gardens. Here was a lovely sight, acres and acres of nothing but tulips of all colours, and hyacinths, and other bulbs which Mynheer Joost grew to send to the big flower markets of Holland and other countries as well; for, as Mevrouw Joost had said, their tulips were famous the world over. Mynheer Joost took great pains with his bulbs, and was able to grow many varieties which could not be obtained elsewhere.
The tulip is really the national flower of Holland, so the Dutch (as the people of Holland are called) are very fond of them, and you see more beautiful varieties here than anywhere else. Every Dutchman plants tulips in his garden, and there is a great rivalry between neighbours as to who can produce the most startling varieties in size and colour.
Pieter and Wilhelmina were never tired of hearing their father tell of the time all Holland went almost crazy over tulips. This was nearly three hundred years ago, after the tulip had just been brought to Holland, and was a much rarer flower than it is to-day, it got to be the fashion for every one to raise tulips, and they sold for large sums of money. Several thousands of "guldens" (a "gulden" is the chief Dutch coin) were paid for a single bulb. People sold their houses and lands to buy tulips, which they were able to sell again at a great profit. Everybody went wild over these beautiful flowers, rich and poor alike, men, women, and children. Everybody bought and sold tulips, and nobody thought or talked about anything but the price of tulips. At last the Dutch government put a stop to this nonsense, and down tumbled the prices of tulips.
In spite of this, the Dutch love for the flower still continued, and to-day one may see these great fields of tulips and hyacinths and other bulb-plants covering miles and miles of the surface of Holland, just as do wheat-fields in other lands.
There is a large and continually growing trade in these plants going on all over Holland, and Mynheer Joost was always able to sell his plants for as big a price as any others in the market. The principal tulip-gardens are in the vicinities of the cities of Leyden and Haarlem, and from where Wilhelmina and Pieter now stood, in the midst of their father's tulip-beds, they could see the tower of the Groote Kerk, or Great Church, of Haarlem.
Mynheer Joost sold a very rare variety, which only he knew how to grow, and which was named the "Joost;" it was almost pure black, with only a tiny red tip on each petal. It was the pride of his heart, and he often told the children that he hoped some day to be able to turn it into a pure black one; and then what a fortune it would bring them all! So Pieter and Wilhelmina watched its growth almost as carefully as did their father.
"There is Mynheer and the father now, looking at the' great tulip,'" said Pieter. This was the way they always spoke of this wonderful plant.
But Wilhelmina suddenly grew shy at the sight of the great man. "Come, let us hide," she said, and she tried to draw Pieter behind one of the large glass houses, in which were kept many of the rarer plants. But Pieter wanted to see Mynheer Van der Veer, the well-known merchant who owned so many big warehouses in Amsterdam, and also a tall, fine house on one of the "grachten" of that city, which is the name given to the canals.
Mynheer was a portly old gentleman, and was dressed much as would be a merchant in any great city; in a black suit and a silk hat, for the wealthy people of the big cities of Holland do not wear to-day the picturesque costumes of the country people. It is only in the country and small towns that one sees the quaint dress which often has changed but little from what it was hundreds of years ago. But the Joost family, like many another in the country, were very proud of their old-time dress, and would not have changed it for a modern costume for anything, and though Mynheer Joost was also a wealthy man, he was dressed in the same kind of clothes as those worn by his father and grandfather before him. He had on big, baggy trousers of dark blue velvet, coming only to the knee, and fastened at the waist with a great silver buckle; a tight-fitting vest or coat, with two rows of big silver buttons down the front, and around his neck was a gay-coloured handkerchief. On his head was a curious high cap, and on his feet the big wooden shoes, nicely whitened.
Each of the men were smoking big cigars, for the Dutch are great smokers, and are never without a pipe or cigar.
Mynheer Van der Veer had finished selecting his tulips, and now caught sight of the twins, who were standing shyly together, holding hands as usual, behind a mass of crimson and yellow tulips.
"Aha! these are your two young ones, my friend; they, too, are sturdy young plants.
"You look like one of your father's finest pink tulips, little one," he continued, patting Wilhelmina's pink cheeks.
You might not think it was a compliment to be called a tulip, but you must not forget what a high regard the Dutch have for these flowers. So Wilhelmina knew that she was receiving a great compliment, and grew pinker than ever, and entirely forgot the message which her mother had given her.
"And, Pieter, some day I suppose that you will be growing rare tulips like your father," said Mynheer, peering at the lad over the rims of his glasses.
"Pieter helps me greatly now, out of school hours, and Wilhelmina can pack blossoms for the market as well as our oldest gardener," said Mynheer Joost, who thought that there were no children in Holland the equal of his twins. "But you must let the Vrouw give you some of her cakes and coffee before you leave, Mynheer,'' he continued as he led the way back to the house.
The Dutch are very hospitable, and are never so happy as when they are giving their visitors nice things to eat and drink, and it would be considered very rude to refuse any of these good things; but then nobody wants to.
Mynheer Van der Veer was soon seated at the big oak table, which was covered with a linen cloth finely embroidered, and edged with deep ruffle of lace. On it were the plates of Delftware filled with many kinds of cakes and sweet biscuits, which the Dutch call "koejes;" besides, there were delicious sweet rusks, which Mevrouw Joost brought hot from the oven. Then she poured the hot water on to the coffee from a copper kettle which stood on a high copper stand by the side of the table. The silver coffee-pot itself stood on a porcelain stand at one end of the table, and under this stand was a tiny flame burning from an alcohol-lamp in order to keep the coffee warm.
There was no better coffee to be had in all Holland than Mevrouw Joost's, and how good it tasted, to be sure, out of the dainty china cups, -- real china, for they had been brought from the Far East by a great-uncle of the Joosts who had engaged in the trade with China at the time when there were nothing but sailing ships on the seas. After the coffee came brandied cherries, served in little glasses.
"When the young people come to Amsterdam again, Mynheer Joost, you must bring them to see me," said the merchant, "and perhaps the young man will want to leave even his tulips when he sees what is in the big warehouses."
The twins' eyes shone and they pinched each other with delight at the mere thought of a visit to the wonderful city house of the great merchant in wealthy Amsterdam, the largest city in their country.
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