White-capped, rosy-checked, bare-armed Tine had rung that bell for this group of painters for two years past—ever since Mynheer Boudier of the Bellevue over the way, who once claimed her services, had reproved Johann, the porter, for blocking up with the hotel trunks that part of the sidewalk over which the steamboat captain slid his gangplank. Thereupon Tine slipped her pretty little feet into her white sabots—she and Johann have been called in church since—and walked straight over to the Holland Arms. Johann now fights the steamboat captain, backed not only by the landlord of the Arms, who rubs his hands in glee over the possession of two of his competitor’s best servants, but by the whole coterie of painters whose boots Johann blacks, whose kits be packs and unpacks, whose errands he runs; while Tine, no less loyal and obliging, darns their stockings, mends their clothes, sews on buttons, washes brushes, stretches canvases, waits on table, rings the dinner-bell, and with her own hands scrubs every square inch of visible surface inside and out of this quaint old inn in this sleepy old town of Dort-on-the-Maas—side-walks, windows, cobbles—clear to the middle of the street, her ruddy arms bare to the elbow, her sturdy, blue-yarn-stockinged legs thrust into snow-white sabots to keep her trim feet from the wet and slop.
Built in 1620, this inn of the Holland Arms—so the mildewed brick in the keystone over the arch of the doorway says—and once the home of a Dutchman made rich by the China trade, whose ships cast anchor where Fop Smit’s steamboats now tie up (I have no interest in the Line); a grimy, green-moulded, lean-over front and moss-covered, sloping-roof sort of an inn, with big beams supporting the ceilings of the bedrooms; lumbering furniture blackened with the smoke of a thousand pipes flanking the walls of the coffee-room; bits of Delft a century old lining the mantel; tiny panes of glass with here and there a bull’s-eye illumining the squat windows; rows of mugs with pewter tops crowding the narrow shelves beside the fireplace, and last, and by no means least, a big, bulky sun-moon-and-stars clock, with one eye always open, which strikes the hours as if it meant to beat the very life out of them.
But there is something more in this coffee-room— something that neither Mynheer Boudier of the Bellevue nor any other landlord in any other hostelry, great or small, up and down the Maas, can boast. This is the coffee-room picture gallery—free to whoever comes.
It began with a contribution from the first impecunious painter in payment of an overdue board-bill, his painting being hung on a nail beside the clock. Now; all over the walls—above the sideboard with its pewter plates and queer mugs; over the mantel holding the Delft, and between the squat windows—are pinned, tacked, pasted and hung—singly and in groups—sketches in oil, pastel, water color, pencil and charcoal, many without frames and most of them bearing the signature of some poor, stranded painter, preceded by the suggestive line, “To my dear friend, the landlord”—silent reminders all of a small cash balance which circumstances quite beyond their control had prevented their liquidating at the precise hour of their departure.