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List Of Contents | Contents of Last Days in a Dutch Hotel, by Howells
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thronged with new-comers, who spread out even over the many-tabled
esplanade before it; but it was in no wise demoralized.  That night we
sat down in multiplied numbers to a table d'hote of serenely unconscious
perfection; and we permanent guests--alas! we are now becoming transient,
too--were used with unfaltering recognition of our superior worth.  We
shared the respect which, all over Europe, attaches to establishment, and
which sometimes makes us poor Americans wish for a hereditary nobility,
so that we could all mirror our ancestral value in the deference of our
inferiors.  Where we should get our inferiors is another thing, but I
suppose we could import them for the purpose, if the duties were not too
great under our tariff.

We have not yet imported the idea of a European hotel in any respect,
though we long ago imported what we call the European plan.  No travelled
American knows it in the extortionate prices of rooms when he gets home,
or the preposterous charges of our restaurants, where one portion of
roast beef swimming in a lake of lukewarm juice costs as much as a
diversified and delicate dinner in Germany or Holland.  But even if there
were any proportion in these things the European hotel will not be with
us till we have the European portier, who is its spring and inspiration.
He must not, dear home-keeping reader, be at all imagined in the moral or
material figure of our hotel porter, who appears always in his shirt-
sleeves, and speaks with the accent of Cork or of Congo.  The European
portier wears a uniform, I do not know why, and a gold-banded cap, and he
inhabits a little office at the entrance of the hotel.  He speaks eight
or ten languages, up to certain limit, rather better than people born to
them, and his presence commands an instant reverence softening to
affection under his universal helpfulness.  There is nothing he cannot
tell you, cannot do for you; and you may trust yourself implicitly to
him.  He has the priceless gift of making each nationality, each
personality, believe that he is devoted to its service alone.  He turns
lightly from one language to another, as if he had each under his tongue,
and he answers simultaneously a fussy French woman, an angry English
tourist, a stiff Prussian major, and a thin-voiced American girl in
behalf of a timorous mother, and he never mixes the replies.  He is an
inexhaustible bottle of dialects; but this is the least of his merits, of
his miracles.

Our portier here is a tall, slim Dutchman (most Dutchmen are tall and
slim), and in spite of the waning season he treats me as if I were
multitude, while at the same time he uses me with the distinction due the
last of his guests.  Twenty times in as many hours he wishes me good-day,
putting his hand to his cap for the purpose; and to oblige me he wears
silver braid instead of gilt on his cap and coat.  I apologized yesterday
for troubling him so often for stamps, and said that I supposed he was
much more bothered in the season.

"Between the first of August and the fifteenth," he answered, "you cannot
think.  All that you can do is to say, Yes, No; Yes, No."  And he left me
to imagine his responsibilities.

I am sure he will hold out to the end, and will smile me a friendly
farewell from the door of his office, which is also his dining-room, as I
know from often disturbing him at his meals there.  I have no fear of the
waiters either, or of the little errand-boys who wear suits of sailor
blue, and touch their foreheads when they bring you your letters like so
many ancient sea-dogs.  I do not know why the elevator-boy prefers a suit
of snuff-color; but I know that he will salute us as we step out of his
elevator for the last time as unfalteringly as if we had just arrived at
the beginning of the summer.




IV

It is our last day in the hotel at Scheveningen, and I will try to recall
in their pathetic order the events of the final week.

Nothing has been stranger throughout than the fluctuation of the guests.
At times they have dwindled to so small a number that one must reckon
chiefly upon their quality for consolation; at other times they swelled
to such a tide as to overflow the table, long or short, at dinner, and
eddy round a second board beside it.  There have been nights when I have
walked down the long corridor to my seaward room through a harking
solitude of empty chambers; there have been mornings when I have come out
to breakfast past door-mats cheerful with boots of both sexes, and door-
post hooks where dangling coats and trousers peopled the place with a
lively if a somewhat flaccid semblance of human presence.  The worst was
that, when some one went, we lost a friend, and when some one came we
only won a stranger.

Among the first to go were the kindly English folk whose acquaintance we
made across the table the first night, and who took with them so large a
share of our facile affections that we quite forgot the ancestral
enmities, and grieved for them as much as if they had been Americans.
There have been, in fact, no Americans here but ourselves, and we have
done what we could with the Germans who spoke English.  The nicest of
these were a charming family from F-----, father and mother, and son and
daughter, with whom we had a pleasant week of dinners.  At the very first
we disagreed with the parents so amicably about Ibsen and Sudermann that
I was almost sorry to have the son take our modern side of the
controversy and declare himself an admirer of those authors with us.
Our frank literary difference established a kindness between us that was
strengthened by our community of English, and when they went they left us
to the sympathy of another German family with whom we had mainly our
humanity in common.  They spoke no English, and I only a German which
they must have understood with their hearts rather than their heads,
since it consisted chiefly of good-will.  But in the air of their sweet
natures it flourished surprisingly, and sufficed each day for praise of
the weather after it began to be fine, and at parting for some fond
regrets, not unmixed with philosophical reflections, sadly perplexed in
the genders and the order of the verbs: with me the verb will seldom
wait, as it should in German, to the end.  Both of these families, very
different in social tradition, I fancied, were one in the amiability
which makes the alien forgive so much militarism to the German nation,
and hope for its final escape from the drill-sergeant.  When they went,
we were left for some meals to our own American tongue, with a brief
interval of that English painter and his wife with whom we spoke, our
language as nearly like English as we could.  Then followed a desperate
lunch and dinner where an unbroken forest of German, and a still more
impenetrable morass of Dutch, hemmed us in.  But last night it was our
joy to be addressed in our own speech by a lady who spoke it as admirably
as our dear friends from F-----.  She was Dutch, and when she found we
were Americans she praised our historian Motley, and told us how his
portrait is gratefully honored with a place in the Queen's palace, The
House in the Woods, near Scheveningen.




V.

She had come up from her place in the country, four hours away, for the
last of the concerts here, which have been given throughout the summer by
the best orchestra in Europe, and which have been thronged every
afternoon and evening by people from The Hague.

One honored day this week even the Queen and the Queen Mother came down
to the concert, and gave us incomparably the greatest event of our waning
season.  I had noticed all the morning a floral perturbation about the
main entrance of the hotel, which settled into the form of banks of
autumnal bloom on either side of the specially carpeted stairs, and put
forth on the roof of the arcade in a crown, much bigger round than a
barrel, of orange-colored asters, in honor of the Queen's ancestral house
of Orange.  Flags of blue, white, and red fluttered nervously about in
the breeze from the sea, and imparted to us an agreeable anxiety not to
miss seeing the Queens, as the Dutch succinctly call their sovereign and
her parent; and at three o'clock we saw them drive up to the hotel.
Certain officials in civil dress stood at the door of the concert-room to
usher the Queens in, and a bareheaded, bald-headed dignity of military
figure backed up the stairs before them.  I would not rashly commit
myself to particulars concerning their dress, but I am sure that the
elder Queen wore black, and the younger white.  The mother has one of the
best and wisest faces I have seen any woman wear (and most of the good,
wise faces in this imperfectly balanced world are women's) and the
daughter one of the sweetest and prettiest.  Pretty is the word for her
face, and it showed pink through her blond veil, as she smiled and bowed
right and left; her features are small and fine, and she is not above the
middle height.

As soon as she had passed into the concert-room, we who had waited to see
her go in ran round to another door and joined the two or three thousand
people who were standing to receive the Queens.  These had already
mounted to the royal box, and they stood there while the orchestra played
one of the Dutch national airs.  (One air is not enough for the Dutch;
they must have two.)  Then the mother faded somewhere into the
background, and the daughter sat alone in the front, on a gilt throne,
with a gilt crown at top, and a very uncomfortable carved Gothic back.
She looked so young, so gentle, and so good that the rudest Republican
could not have helped wishing her well out of a position so essentially
and irreparably false as a hereditary sovereign's.  One forgot in the
presence of her innocent seventeen years that most of the ruling princes
of the world had left it the worse for their having been in it; at
moments one forgot her altogether as a princess, and saw her only as a
charming young girl, who had to sit up rather stiffly.

At the end of the programme the Queens rose and walked slowly out, while
the orchestra played the other national air.




VI.

I call them the Queens, because the Dutch do; and I like Holland so much
that I should hate to differ with the Dutch in anything.  But, as a
matter of fact, they are neither of them quite Queens; the mother is the
regent and the daughter will not be crowned till next year.

But, such as they are, they imparted a supreme emotion to our dying
season, and thrilled the hotel with a fulness of summer life.  Since they
went, the season faintly pulses and respires, so that one can just say
that it is still alive.  Last Sunday was fine, and great crowds came down
from The Hague to the concert, and spread out on the seaward terrace of
the hotel, around the little tables which I fancied that the waiters had
each morning wiped dry of the dew, from a mere Dutch desire of cleaning
something.  The hooded chairs covered the beach; the children played in
the edges of the surf and delved in the sand; the lovers wandered up into
the hollows of the dunes.

There was only the human life, however.  I have looked in vain for the
crabs, big and little, that swarm on the Long Island shore, and there are
hardly any gulls, even; perhaps because there are no crabs for them to
eat, if they eat crabs; I never saw gulls doing it, but they must eat
something.  Dogs there are, of course, wherever there are people; but
they are part of the human life.  Dutch dogs are in fact very human; and
one I saw yesterday behaved quite as badly as a bad boy, with respect to
his muzzle.  He did not like his muzzle, and by dint of turning
somersaults in the sand he got it off, and went frolicking to his master
in triumph to show him what he had done.




VII.

It is now the last day, and the desolation is thickening upon our hotel.
This morning the door-posts up and down my corridor showed not a single
pair of trousers; not a pair of boots flattered the lonely doormats.  In
the lower hall I found the tables of the great dining-room assembled, and
the chairs inverted on them with their legs in the air; but decently,
decorously, not with the reckless abandon displayed by the chairs in our
Long Island hotel for weeks before it closed.  In the smaller dining-room
the table was set for lunch as if we were to go on dining there forever;
in the breakfast-room the service and the provision were as perfect as
ever.  The coffee was good, the bread delicious, the butter of an
unfaltering sweetness; and the glaze of wear on the polished dress-coats
of the waiters as respectable as it could have been on the first day of
the season.  All was correct, and if of a funereal correctness to me, I
am sure this effect was purely subjective.

The little bell-boys in sailor suits (perhaps they ought to be spelled
bell-buoys) clustered about the elevator-boy like so many Roman sentinels
at their posts; the elevator-boy and his elevator were ready to take us
up or down at any moment.

The portier and I ignored together the hour of parting, which we had
definitely ascertained and agreed upon, and we exchanged some compliments
to the weather, which is now settled, as if we expected to enjoy it long
together.  I rather dread going in to lunch, however, for I fear the
empty places.




VIII.

All is over; we are off.  The lunch was an heroic effort of the hotel to
hide the fact of our separation.  It was perfect, unless the boiled beef
was a confession of human weakness; but even this boiled beef was
exquisite, and the horseradish that went with it was so mellowed by art
that it checked rather than provoked the parting tear.  The table d'hote
had reserved a final surprise for us; and when we sat down with the fear
of nothing but German around us, we heard the sound of our own speech
from the pleasantest English pair we had yet encountered; and the
travelling English are pleasant; I will say it, who am said by Sir Walter
Besant to be the only American who hates their nation.  It was really an
added pang to go, on their account, but the carriage was waiting at the
door; the 'domestique' had already carried our baggage to the steam-tram
station; the kindly menial train formed around us for an ultimate
'douceur', and we were off, after the 'portier' had shut us into our
vehicle and touched his oft-touched cap for the last time, while the
hotel facade dissembled its grief by architecturally smiling in the soft
Dutch sun.

I liked this manner of leaving better than carrying part of my own
baggage to the train, as I had to do on Long Island, though that, too,
had its charm; the charm of the whole fresh, pungent American life, which
at this distance is so dear.






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