Concerning Stavoren there is now but one thing to say, and no writer on Holland has had the temerity to avoid saying it. That thing is the story of the widow and the sandbank. It seems that at Stavoren in its palmy days was a wealthy widow shipowner, who once gave instructions to one of her captains, bound for a foreign port, that he should bring back the most valuable and precious thing to be found there, in exchange for the outward cargo. The widow expected I know not what—ivory, perhaps, or peacocks, or chrysoprase—and when the captain brought only grain, she was so incensed that, though the poor of Stavoren implored her to give it them, she bade him forthwith throw it overboard. This he did, and the corn being cursed there sprang up on that spot a sandbank which gradually ruined the harbour and the town. The bank is called The Widow’s Corn to this day.
It was near Stavoren that M. Havard engaged in a pleasant and improving conversation with a lock-keeper who had fought with France, and from him learned some curious things about Friesland customs. I quote a little: “When a wife has given birth to a boy and added a son to Friesland, all her female friends come to see her and drink in her room the brandewyn, which is handed round in a special cup or goblet. Each woman brings with her a large tart, all of which are laid out in the room—sometimes they number as many as thirty. The more there are and the finer the cakes the better, because that proves the number of friends. A few days later the new-born Frieslander is taken to church, all the girls from twelve years old accompanying the child and carrying it each in turn. As soon as they reach the church the child is handed to the father, who presents it for baptism. Not a girl in the place would renounce her right to take part in the little procession, for it is a subject of boasting when she marries to be able to say, ‘I have accompanied this and that child to its baptism’. Besides, it is supposed to ensure happiness, and that she in her turn will have a goodly number of little ones.
“‘Well and how about betrothals?’ ’Ah! ha! that’s another thing. The girl chooses the lad. You know the old proverb, ’There are only two things a girl chooses herself—her potatoes and her lover’. You can well imagine how such things begin. They see each other at the kermis, or in the street, or fields. Then one fine day the lad feels his heart beating louder than usual. In the evening he puts on his best coat, and goes up to the house where the girl lives.
“The father and mother give him a welcome, which the girls smile at, and nudge each other. No one refers to the reason for his visit, though of course it is well known why he is there. At last, when bedtime comes, the children retire—even the father and mother go to their room—and the girl is left alone at the fireside with the young man.