Therefore he pressed eagerly forward, as Van Mounen led the way through the fish market, anxious to see if storks in Holland were anything like the melancholy specimens he had seen in the Zoological Gardens of London.
It was the same old story. A tamed bird is a sad bird, say what you will. These storks lived in a sort of kennel, chained by the feet like felons, though supposed to be honored by being kept at the public expense. In summer they were allowed to walk about the market, where the fish stalls were like so many free dining saloons to them. Untasted delicacies in the form of raw fish and butcher's offal lay about their kennels now, but the city guests preferred to stand upon one leg, curving back their long necks and leaning their heads sidewise, in a blinking reverie. How gladly they would have changed their petted state for the busy life of some hardworking stork mother or father, bringing up a troublesome family on the roof of a rickety old building where flapping wind-mills frightened them half to death every time they ventured forth on a frolic!
Ben soon made up his mind, and rightly, too, that The Hague with its fine streets and public parks shaded with elms, was a magnificent city. The prevailing costume was like that of London or Paris, and his British ears were many a time cheered by the music of British words. The shops were different in many respects from those on Oxford Street and the Strand, but they often were illumined by a printed announcement that English was "spoken within." Others proclaimed themselves to have London stout for sale, and one actually promised to regale its customers with English roast beef.
Over every possible shop door was the never-failing placard, TABAK TE KOOP (tobacco to be sold). Instead of colored glass globes in the windows, or high jars of leeches, the drugstores had a gaping Turk's head at the entrance--or, if the establishment was particularly fine, a wooden mandarin entire, indulging in a full yawn.
Some of these queer faces amused Ben exceedingly; they seemed to have just swallowed a dose of physic, but Van Mounen declared he could not see anything funny about them. A druggist showed his sense by putting a Gaper before his door, so that his place would be known at once as an apotheek and that was all there was to it.
Another thing attracted Ben--the milkmen's carts. These were small affairs, filled with shiny brass kettles, or stone jars, and drawn by dogs. The milkman walked meekly beside his cart, keeping his dog in order, and delivering the milk to customers. Certain fish dealers had dogcarts, also, and when a herring dog chanced to meet a milk dog, he invariably put on airs and growled as he passed him. Sometimes a milk dog would recognize an acquaintance before another milk cart across the street, and then how the kettles would rattle, especially if they were empty! Each dog would give a bound and, never caring for his master's whistle, insist upon meeting the other halfway. Sometimes they contented themselves with an inquisitive sniff, but generally the smaller dog made an affectionate snap snap at the larger one's ear, or a friendly tussle was engaged in by way of exercise. Then woe to the milk kettles, and woe to the dogs!
The whipping over, each dog, expressing his feelings as best as he could, would trot demurely back to his work.
If some of these animals were eccentric in their ways, others were remarkably well behaved. In fact, there was a school for dogs in the city, established expressly for training them. Ben probably saw some of its graduates. Many a time he noticed a span of barkers trotting along the street with all the dignity of horses, obeying the slightest hint of the man walking briskly beside them. Sometimes, when their load was delivered, the dealer would jump in the cart and have a fine drive to his home beyond the gates of the city; and sometimes, I regret to say, a patient vrouw would trudge beside the cart with a fish basket upon her head and a child in her arms--while her lord enjoyed his drive, carrying no heavier burden than a stumpy clay pipe, the smoke of which mounted lovingly into her face.