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It means getting up at 5, but Dina, in
the usual big white-skirted cap, is ready
with hot coffee and eggs, and before 6 the
bell, beaten to some elusive time on the
steam tram engine, sounds in the cool
morning air.
Not many passengers, as we rattle along
the one road of the village, with its row
of tall, trained elms, bordering the broad,
quiet canal. The sun is just coming up
through the faint mist. Men in blue blouses
work stooping in the fields or in the long,
straight ditches (beneath the stumpy pollard
willows), that were all summer a glory
of water weeds, a frog haunt, a hunting-
ground for the ducks that string out from
the big flax barn that lays its hundred feet
of length along the roadside. In these
ditches the workers lay the bundles of
seeded flax, and, scooping up the mud,
weight them down for their soaking.
Middeldyk now, and wait 20 minutes for
our first connection, but it's early. We
take a cow on board the next tram, and
on again. The old lady next us, being out
for the day, wears a black bonnet, with
long black strings over the white cap; she
looks sympathetic because we are travelling
with a rheumatic foot and a crutch, and, in
dumb show, we having but little Dutch,
disapproves the so early cigar and pipe, and
appeals to her husband. That is he opposite,
with the keen old, lined face, and
the black silk peaked cap. He, too,
shakes his head gravely, and after a minute
with the passing suspicion of a twinkle of
the eye, draws from a side pocket his own
lovely brown pipe.
Rotterdam at last, eight miles in the hour,
but on time. And now for our next connection.
No cab, not even a man with a
baggage truck; can't even get a lift- so it's
hobble; and how rough the pitched foot
way. Up to the first branch of the Maas,
where the crowded wharves stretch like the
two sides of a giant street. The bridge is
swung. Another delay, but there is a
little tug taking people across in the meanwhile.
Then for the horse-tram over the
bigger bridge, but, bless my soul, they
haven't started yet, so on again, up
the steps of the Beurs station, and we've missed
a connection that never was (mem., to say
something about the time table). There'll
be another train soon, but our tickets are
for the state line, and we want to go by
Haarlem, having an idea. The officials
smile, and we smile, and, quite naturally, a
Hollander speaks English, and helps things,
so that is put right. We camp in the great
waitingroom, and have some more breakfast.
But who is this speaking? I remember;
it's the barber at that place, Schoonhoven,
two hours by steamer up the "Lek,"
who, being like every fourth person there,
lso a silver worker, brought out his wares
and made us extravagant. Still, the hatpins
are very charming. Two of them are
for you, Agnes. They'll do for a wedding
bonnet; they go so well with white. We
have a limited chat and he takes his two
nice girls on by the next train back to
their school. Hat raising and Goeten dag,
Have we never done with difficulties?
The young Queen is opening her Parliament
at the Hague to-day and the train is so
crowded it won't hold us all. A silver
talisman showing in the palm of the hand
and all is well. The compartment empties
at the Hague, the conductor comes and
smiles, and we get no one else in, and so
a cigar. Extravagance again, at something
under ald(?).
Plain, plain, parcelled out by narrow
streaks of water; windmills, and to the west
the dunes of the coast over by Katwyk;
by tulip famed Haarlem, where are now
gorgeous begonias by the acre, the soil more
sandy here. Now Amsterdam. Down
through the subway, out into the great station
plain, and first to Burgomaster Six
house; but our programme is an hour late
and there are already two batches waiting
to be taken round. We must 'cut' this,
but there is greater ahead, and we still have
an idea. Another tram and the great
Rijks Museum. The first hall on the left,
with its ancient carved cabinets, tempts
us almost unwilling, for there is something
Up and past the presentation pictures,
and the big van Holst, they don't matter
yet, to the stairway at the left; a turn, a
great room, and then the Rembrandt, "The
Night Watch." The picture known from
boyhood. The expression of all the North.
Is it as good as you thought? Every bit.
Like that great etching of it? Infinitely
finer. Photographs? Don't speak of them.
There is an old French wood-cut which you
and I, Prof. know well; that suggests it.
There is the picture everybody knows -
the dark man in the centre, the refined
figure in cream and buff, dressed like himself,
elegantly, carefully, passing just in
front. As we look through a peep of sunlight
falls on the canvas. Shutters are
quietly moved, and again there is no surface;
so moves the light on nature. You look,
and look; it envelopes you in its atmospehere;
it seems to throw out a shawl on
each side of you as you peer through and
through; and there is no end. Some people
pass between you- they are like the figures
in a cinematograph - but you are watching
the real thing. You try to store up, and
remember how the personages are placed,
how composed; but it is like a moving
crowd, you can fix the man running forward
with hand on the muzzle of his gun; the
man to the right with the drum; the fairylike
child in white ; the boy running off with
the helmet over his head not arranged; it
happened so. Look and look again; it's
something to see this for the first time!
How full of light it all is, and with so much
of low tone, how light it is painted; why,
that man in red running forward is nearly
all in rich shadow, yet scarcely darker than
the stained wood of the frame, with all the
light on it.
You can only fill a cup. Shall we go.
Still, one more.
A few minutes at those cabinets and their
carvings, and we are dragged away again
by the idea. To eat is to descend, but we
lunch. With "The Night Watch" intervening;
which the busy crowd on the Dam,
still with figures of the picture coming
between. And now the station again, and
"the idea" will work, for there is time, and
we can ...(?) stop at Haarlem, and see Frans
Hals, the artist with the mysterious lapse
from the history of 20 whole years, who emerged, and, being 80 years old, painted
works held to be amongst his finest and
most vigorous.
You know the "Laughing Cavalier" at
the Wallace, "The Man With a Jug" at S.K.
What shall we see here? Entering the old
hall the rain is dripping, the carillon
sounds from the great church opposite the
mere ...sity(?) is intense. Along and up
some steps, more old rooms and paintings
and, farthest of all, the Hals.
The "Cavalier". There are dozens in these
guild pictures all as fine, and, perhaps, more
easily painted. Men as they were snapshotted
with the momentary look of a flirting
expression. You have been told, you
have heard, but they outrun expectation.
They are astonishing, and the artist imposes
himself on you.
The drawing is as certain as the painting
the eves might move with such suggestion
are they given; so simple and seemingly
easy, there's no mystery, all just put
down one rich colour against another
slashed doublet, wash, or flag, the yellow
is not paint but the silk itself. The decorated
sword guards with their lights and
reflections are put on as a very skilled
hand might draw them with a pencil point
on paper.
The guide-books will give the history
and date of the different canvases. Some
characters reappear at an interval of
years; you see the octogenarian work, and
in each the artist seemed to know and do
all that he wished. Take some of the
hands so actual and alive in their place. If
seen separately, you might think them
Hals, because there seems no style or
manner of any painter about them.
The bell rings.
After all this, the train is a rest. At
Rotterdam is night-time; the horse-tram
jingles past the canals where the painted
or polished barges rest their bluff bows
in a friendly way on the street. The
bridge is all right this time. We make
two of the crowd at the Stoom-tram waiting
room. There's a busy time with the
hot coffee and the beers. We are among
the white caps again. That middle-aged
looking mother, with the two children, was
a young model ten years ago. She sees
us, and waves a delighted hand. We are
getting with friends again.
Quiet at Rijsoord; the trees dark against
the sky; on the water wavy, gold columns
of light from the dining-room windows.
Dina is ready with supper and chocolate.
Yes my girl, and a chair for two very tired
But what a day-Rembrandt and Hals,
Hals and Rembrandt. Most loved Rembrandt.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.) Saturday 15 December 1906