THE ZUYDER ZEE

WE reached the Zuyder Zee, out of a canal, at Monnikendam, which is a
respectably picturesque townlet and the port of embarkation for Marken,
the alleged jewel of the Zuyder Zee, the precious isle where the customs
and the costumes of a pure age are mingled with the prices of New
York for the instruction of tourists. We saw Marken, but only from the
mainland, a long, serrated silhouette on the verge. The skipper said
that Marken was a side-show and a swindle, and a disgrace to his native
country. So I decided to cut it out of the program, and be the owner
of the only foreign yacht that had cruised in the Zuyder Zee without
visiting Marken. My real reason was undoubtedly that the day’s program
had been upset by undue lolling in the second-hand shops of Monnikendam.
Thus we sailed due north for Hoorn, secretly fearing that at Marken
there might be something lovely, unforgetable, that we had missed.

The Zuyder is a sea agreeable to sail upon, provided you don’t mind
rain, and provided your craft does not draw more than about six feet.
It has the appearance of a sea, but we could generally touch the bottom
with our sounding-pole; after all, it is not a sea, but a submerged
field. The skipper would tell inclement stories of the Zuyder Zee under
ice, and how he had crossed it on foot between Enkhuizen and Stavoren,
risking his life for fun; and how he had been obliged to recross it the
next day, with more fatigue, as much risk, and far less fun, because
there was no other way home. We ourselves knew it only as a ruffled
and immense pond, with a bracing atmosphere and the silhouettes of
diminished trees and houses sticking up out of its horizons here and
there. When these low silhouettes happen to denote your destination,
they have the strange faculty of receding from your prow just as fast as
you sail toward them, a magic sea of an exquisite monotony; and when you
arrive anywhere, you are so surprised at having overtaken the silhouette
that your arrival is a dream, in the unreal image of a city.

The one fault of Hoorn is that it is not dead.

We navigated the Zuyder Zee in order to see dead cities, and never
saw one. Hoorn is a delightful vision for the eye–beautiful domestic
architecture, beautiful warehouses, beautiful towers, beautiful
water-gate, beautiful aniline colors on the surface of dreadful canals.
If it were as near to London and Paris as Bruges is, it would be
inhabited exclusively by water-colorists. At Hoorn I went mad, and did
eight sketches in one day, a record which approaches my highest break
at billiards. Actually, it is inhabited by cheese-makers and dealers. No
other town, not even Chicago, can possibly contain so many cheeses
per head of the population as Hoorn. At Hoorn I saw three men in blue
blouses throwing down spherical cheeses in pairs from the second story
of a brown and yellow and green warehouse into a yellow cart. One man
was in the second story, one in the first, and one in the cart. They
were flinging cheeses from hand to hand when we arrived and when we
left, and they never dropped a cheese or ceased to fling. They flung
into the mysterious night, when the great forms of little cargo-steamers
floated soundless over romance to moor at the dark quays, and the long,
white English steam-yacht, with its two decks, and its chef and its
flulfy chambermaid, and its polished mahogany motor-launch, and its
myriad lights and gleams, glided to a berth by the water-tower, and
hung there like a cloud beyond the town, keeping me awake half the night
while I proved to myself that I did not really envy its owner and that
the Velsa was really a much better yacht.

[Illustraion: 0070]

The recondite enchantment of Hoorn was intensified by the fact that the
English tongue was not current in it. I met only one Dutchman there who
spoke it even a little, a military officer. Being on furlough, he was
selling cigars in a cigar shop on behalf of his parents. Oh, British
army officer! Oh, West Point Academy! He told me that officers of the
Dutch army had to be able to speak English, French, and German. Oh,
British army officer! Oh, West Point Academy! But he did not understand
the phrase “East Indian cigar.” He said there were no such cigars in
his parents’ shop. When I said “Sumatra,” he understood, and fetched
his mother. When I said that I desired the finest cigars in Hoorn,
his mother put away all the samples already exhibited and fetched his
father. The family had begun to comprehend that a serious customer had
strayed into the shop. The father, in apron, with a gesture of solemnity
and deference went up-stairs, and returned in majesty with boxes of
cigars that were warm to the touch. “These are the best?”

“These are the best.” I bought. They were threepence apiece.

A mild, deliciously courteous family, recalling the tobacco-selling
sisters at Zieriksee, and a pair of tobacconist brothers in the
Kalver-Straat, Amsterdam, whose politeness and soft voices would have
atoned for a thousand Schiedams. The Hutch middle and upper classes have
adorable manners. It was an ordeal to quit the soothing tobacco shop for
the terrors of the long, exposed Iloorn High Street, infested, like
too many Hutch streets, by wolves and tigers in the outward form of
dogs–dogs that will threaten you for a milt and then bite, in order
to prove that they are of the race that has always ended by expelling
invaders with bloodshed.

I was safer in the yacht’s dinghy, on a surface of aniline hues, though
the odors were murderous, and though for two hours, while I sketched,
three violent young housewives were continually splashing buckets into
the canal behind me as they laved and scrubbed every separate stone
on the quay. If canals were foul, streets were as clean as
table-tops–cleaner.

The other cities of the Zuyder Zee were not more dead than Hoorn, though
Enkhuizen, our next port, was more tranquil, possibly because we arrived
there on a Saturday evening. Enkhuizen, disappointing at the first
glance, exerts a more subtle fascination than Iloorn. However, I
remember it as the place where we saw another yacht come in, the owner
steering, and foul the piles at the entrance. My skipper looked at his
owner, as if to say, “You see what owners do when they take charge.” I
admitted it.

We crossed from Enkhuizen to Stavoren in bad weather, lost the dinghy
and recovered it, and nearly lost the yacht, owing to the cook having
taken to his bunk without notice when it was imperative to shorten sail
in a jiffy. The last that I heard of this cook was that he had become
an omnibus conductor. Some people are born to rise, and the born omnibus
conductor will reach that estate somehow. He was a pleasant, sad young
man, and himself painted in water-colors.

[Illustration: 0076]

I dare say that at Stavoren we were too excited to notice the town;
but I know that it was a busy port. Lemmer also was busy, a severely
practical town, with a superb harbor-master, and a doctor who cured the
cook. We were disappointed with Kampen, a reputed beauty-spot, praised
even by E. V. Lucas, who never praises save on extreme provocation.
Kampen has architecture,–wonderful gates,–but it also has the crudest
pavements in Holland, and it does not smile hospitably, and the east
wind was driving through it, and the rain. The most agreeable corner
of Kampen was the charcoal-heated saloon of the yacht. We left Kampen,
which perhaps, after all, really was dead, on September 21. The morning
was warm and perfect. I had been afloat in various countries for seven
weeks continuously, and this was my first warm, sunny morning. In three
hours we were at the mouth of the tiny canal leading to Elburg. I was
steering.

“Please keep the center of the channel,” the skipper enjoined me.

I did so, but we grounded. The skipper glanced at me as skippers are
privileged to glance at owners, but I made him admit that we were within
half an inch of the mathematical center of the channel. We got a line on
to the pier, and hauled the ship off the sand by brute force. When I had
seen El-burg, I was glad that this incident had occurred; for Elburg is
the pearl of the Zuyder. Where we, drawing under four feet, grounded at
high water in mid-channel, no smart, deep-draft English yacht with chefs
and chambermaids can ever venture. And assuredly tourists will not go
to Elburg by train. Elburg is safe. Therefore I feel free to mention the
town.

Smacks were following one another up the canal for the week-end
surcease, and all their long-colored _weins_ (vanes) streamed in the
wind against the blue sky. And the charm of the inefficient canal was
the spreading hay-fields on each side, with big wagons, and fat horses
that pricked up their ears (doubtless at the unusual sight of our blue
ensign), and a young mother who snatched her rolling infant from the hay
and held him up to behold us. And then the skipper was excited by the
spectacle of his aged father’s trading barge, unexpectedly making for
the same port, with his mother, brother, and sister on deck–the crew!
Arrived in port, we lay under the enormous flank of this barge, and the
skipper boarded his old home with becoming placidity.

The port was a magnificent medley of primary colors, and the beautiful
forms of boats, and the heavy curves of dark, drying sails, all dom
nated by the toeing streaming in the hot sunshine. Every few minutes a
smack arrived, and took its appointed place for Sunday. The basin seemed
to be always full and always receptive. Nothing lacked for perfect
picturesqueness, even to a little ship-repairing yard, and an
establishment for raddling sails stretched largely out on green grass.
The town was separated from the basin by a narrow canal and a red-brick
water-gate. The main street ran straight away inland, and merged into an
avenue of yellowish-green trees. At intervals straight streets branched
off at right angles from the main. In the center of the burg was a
square. Everywhere rich ancient roofs, gables, masonry, and brickwork in
Indian reds and slaty-blues; everywhere glimpses of courtyards precisely
imitated from the pictures of Pieter de Hooch. The interior of the
church was a picture by Bosboom. It had a fine organ-case, and a
sacristan out of a late novel by Huysmans.

The churchyard was a mass of tall flowers.

The women’s costumes here showed a difference, the gilt casque being
more visibly divided into two halves. All bodices were black, all
skirts blue. Some of the fishermen make majestic figures, tall, proud,
commanding, fit adversaries of Alva; in a word, exemplifications of the
grand manner. Their salutes were sometimes royal.

The gaiety of the color; the distinction of the forms; the strange
warmth; the completeness of the entity of the town, which seemed to
have been constructed at one effort; the content of the inhabitants,
especially the visible, unconscious gladness of the women at the return
of their mariners; the urbanity of everybody–all these things helped
to produce a comfortable and yet disconcerting sensation that the old,
unreformed world was not quite ripe for utter destruction.

All day until late in the evening smacks ceased not to creep up the
canal. The aspect of the basin altered from minute to minute, with
disastrous effect on water-colorists. In the dusk we ferreted In
a gloomy and spellbound second-hand shop, amid dozens of rococo
wall-clocks, and bought a few little things. As we finally boarded the
yacht in the dark, we could see a group of sailors in a bosky arbor
bending over a table on which was a lamp that harshly lighted their
grave faces. They may have thought that they were calculating and
apportioning the week’s profits; but in reality they were playing at
masterpieces by Rembrandt.

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