The seller gnaws his cigar, the buyer asks him what he asks. The buyer makes an offer. The seller refuses. The buyer increases it. The seller either refuses or accepts. In accepting, or drawing near acceptance, he extends his hand, which the buyer strikes once, and then pausing, strikes again. Apparently two such movements clench the bargain; but I must confess to being a bad guide here, for I could find no absolute rule to follow. The whole process of Alkmaar chaffering is exceedingly perplexing and elusive. Otherwise the buyer walks away to other cheeses, the seller by no means unconscious of his movements. A little later he returns, and then as likely as not his terms are accepted, unless another has been beforehand with him and bought the lot.
Not until half-past ten strikes may the weighing begin. At that hour the many porters suddenly spring into activity and hasten to the Weigh House with their loads, which are ticketed off by the master of the scales.
The scene is altogether very Dutch and very interesting; and one should make a point of crossing the canal to get a general view of the market, with the river craft in the foreground, the bustling dealers behind, and above all the elaborate tower and facade of the Weigh House.
Alkmaar otherwise is not of great interest. It has a large light church, bare and bleak according to custom, with very attractive green curtains against its whitewash, in which, according to the author of Through Noord-Holland, is a tomb containing “the entrails of Count Florence the Fifth”. Here also is a model of one of De Ruyter’s ships. Alkmaar also possesses a charming Oude Mannen en Oude Vrouwen Huis (or alms house, as we say) with white walls and a very pretty tower; quiet, pleasant streets; and on its outskirts a fine wood called the Alkmaarder Hout.
In the Museum, which is not too interesting, is a picture of the siege of Alkmaar, an episode of which the town has every right to be proud. It was the point of attack by the Duke of Alva and his son after the conquest of Haarlem—that hollow victory for Spain which was more costly than many defeats. Philip had issued a decree threatening the total depopulation of Holland unless its cities submitted to the charms of his attractive religion. The citizens of Alkmaar were the first to defy this proclamation. Once again Motley comes to our aid with his vivid narrative: “The Spaniards advanced, burned the village of Egmont to the ground as soon as the patriots had left it, and on the 21st of August Don Frederic, appearing before the walls, proceeded formally to invest Alkmaar. In a few days this had been so thoroughly accomplished, that, in Alva’s language, ’it was impossible for a sparrow to enter or go out of the city’. The odds were somewhat unequal. Sixteen thousand veteran troops constituted the besieging force. Within the city were a garrison of eight hundred soldiers, together with thirteen hundred burghers, capable of bearing arms. The rest of the population consisted of a very few refugees, besides the women and children. Two thousand one hundred able-bodied men, of whom only about one-third were soldiers, to resist sixteen thousand regulars!