About the middle of December he arrived at Amsterdam. The city gave him a splendid reception, and he was welcomed by the Earl of Albemarle in a very complimentary speech, pompous and flowery. The uncourteous tzar bluntly replied,
“I thank you heartily, though I don’t understand much of what you say. I learned my Dutch among ship-builders, but the sort of language you have spoken I am sure I never learned.”
Some of his old companions, who were ship-builders, and had acquired wealth, invited him to dine. They addressed him as “your majesty.” Peter cut them short, saying,
“Come, brothers, let us converse like plain and honest ship-carpenters.”
A servant brought him some wine. “Give me the jug,” said he laughing, “and then I can drink as much as I please, and no one can tell how much I have taken.”
He hastened to Zaandam, where he was received with the utmost joy by his old friends from whom he had parted nineteen years before. An old woman pressed forward to greet him.
“My good woman,” said the tzar, “how do you know who I am?”
“I am the widow,” she said, “of Baas Pool, at whose table your majesty so often sat nineteen years ago.”
The emperor kissed her upon the forehead and invited her to dine with him that very day. One of his first visits was to the little cottage, or rather hut, which he had occupied while residing there. The cottage is still carefully preserved, having been purchased in 1823 by the sister of the Emperor Alexander, and enclosed in another building with large arched windows. The room was even then regarded as sacred. In the center stood the oaken table and the three wooden chairs which constituted the furniture when Peter occupied it. The loft was ascended by a ladder which still remains.
With all the roughness of Peter’s exterior, he had always been a man of deep religious feelings, and through all his life was in habits of daily prayer. This loft had been his place of private devotion to which he daily ascended. Upon entering the cottage and finding every thing just as he had left it, the tzar was for a moment much affected. He ascended the ladder to his closet of prayer in the loft, and there remained alone with his God for a full half hour. Eventful indeed and varied had his life been since there, a young man of twenty-five, he had daily sought divine guidance.