On a windy day the chairs must be of great use; but in heat they seem to me too vertical and too hard. One must, however, either sit in them or lie upon sand. There is not a pebble on the whole coast: indeed there is not a pebble in Holland. Life after lying upon sand can become to some of us a burden almost too difficult to bear; but the Dutch holiday-maker does not seem to find it so. As for the children, they are truly in Paradise. There can be no sand better to dig in than that of Scheveningen; and they dig in it all day. A favourite game seems to be to surround the parental sentry-boxes with a fosse. Every family has its castle, and every castle its moat.
I have been twice to Scheveningen, and on each occasion I acquired beneath its glittering magnitude a sense of depression. That leaven of tenderness which every collection of human beings must have was harder to find at Scheveningen than anywhere in Holland—everything was so ordered, so organised, for pleasure, pleasure at any price, pleasure almost at the point of the bayonet.
But on the second occasion one little incident saved the day—an encounter with a strolling bird-fancier who dealt in Black-Headed Mannikins. Two of these tiny brisk birds, in their Quaker black and brown, sat upon his cane to attract purchasers. They fluttered to his finger, perched on his hat, simulated death in the palm of his hand, and went through other evolutions with the speed of thought and the bright spontaneous alacrity possible only to a small loyal bird. These, however, were not for sale: these were decoys; the saleable birds lay, packed far too close, in little wooden boxes in the man’s bag. And Scheveningen to me means no longer a mile of palaces, no longer a “hot huddle of humanity” on the sand among myriad sentry-boxes: its symbol is just two Black-Headed Mannikins.
From the Curhaus it is better to return to the Hague by electric tram along the new road. Save for passing a field where the fishwives of Scheveningen in their blue shawls spread and mend their nets, this road is dull and suburban; but from it, when the light is failing, a view of Scheveningen’s domes and spires may be gained which, softened and made mysterious by the gloaming, translates the chief watering-place of Holland into an Eastern city of romance.
The fishwives of Scheveningen, I am told, carry the art of petticoat wearing to a higher point than any of their sisters. The appearance of the homing fleet in the offing is a signal for as many as thirty of these garments to be put on as a mark of welcome to a returning husband.
Probably no shore anywhere in the world has been so often painted as that of Scheveningen—ever since the painting of landscape seemed a worthy pursuit. James Maris’ pictures of Scheveningen’s wet sand, grey sea, and huge flat-bottomed ships must run into scores; Mesdag’s too. Perhaps it was the artists that prevailed on the fishermen to wear crimson knickerbockers—the note of warm colour that the scene demands.