As the boys skated onward, they saw a number of fine country seats, all decorated and surrounded according to the Dutchest of Dutch taste, but impressive to look upon, with their great, formal houses, elaborate gardens, square hedges, and wide ditches--some crossed by a bridge, having a gate in the middle to be carefully locked at night. These ditches, everywhere traversing the landscape, had long ago lost their summer film and now shone under the sunlight like trailing ribbons of glass.
The boys traveled bravely, all the while performing the surprising feat of producing gingerbread from their pockets and causing it to vanish instantly.
Twelve miles were passed. A few more long strokes would take them to The Hague, when Van Mounen proposed that they should vary their course by walking into the city through the Bosch.
"Agreed!" cried one and all--and their skates were off in a twinkling.
The Bosch is a grand park or wood, nearly two miles long, containing the celebrated House in the Wood--Huis in't Bosch--sometimes used as a royal residence.
The building, though plain outside for a palace, is elegantly furnished within and finely frescoed--that is, the walls and ceiling are covered with groups and designs painted directly upon them while the plaster was fresh. Some of the rooms are tapestried with Chinese silks, beautifully embroidered. One contains a number of family portraits, among them a group of royal children who in time were orphaned by a certain ax, which figures very frequently in European history. These children were painted many times by the Dutch artist Van Dyck, who was court painter to their father, Charles the First of England. Beautiful children they were. What a deal of trouble the English nation would have been spared had they been as perfect in heart and soul as they were in form!
The park surrounding the palace is charming, especially in summer, for flowers and birds make it bright as fairyland. Long rows of magnificent oaks rear their proud heads, conscious that no profaning hand will ever bring them low. In fact, the Wood has for ages been held as an almost sacred spot. Children are never allowed to meddle with its smallest twig. The ax of the woodman has never resounded there. Even war and riot have passed it reverently, pausing for a moment in their devastating way. Philip of Spain, while he ordered Dutchmen to be mowed down by hundreds, issued a mandate that not a bough of the beautiful Wood should be touched. And once, when in a time of great necessity the State was about to sacrifice it to assist in filling a nearly exhausted treasury, the people rushed to the rescue, and nobly contributed the required amount rather than that the Bosch should fall.
What wonder, then, that the oaks have a grand, fearless air? Birds from all Holland have told them how, elsewhere, trees are cropped and bobbed into shape--but THEY are untouched. Year after year they expand in unclipped luxuriance and beauty; their wide-spreading foliage, alive with song, casts a cool shade over lawn and pathway or bows to its image in the sunny ponds.