The Farm that Ran away and Came Back
by William Elliot Griffis
There was once a Dutchman, who lived in the province called Drenthe.
Because there was a row of little trees on his farm, his name was Ryer
Van Boompjes; that is, Ryer of the Little Trees. After a while, he moved
to the shore of the Zuyder Zee and into Overijssel. Overijssel means
over the Ijssel River. There he bought a new farm, near the village of
Blokzyl. By dyking and pumping, certain wise men had changed ten acres,
of sand and heath, into pasture and land for plowing. They surrounded it
on three sides with canals. The fourth side fronted on the Zuyder Zee.
Then they advertised, in glowing language, the merits of the new land
and Ryer Van Boompjes bought it and paid for his real estate. He was as
proud as a popinjay of his island and he ruled over it like a Czar or a
A few years before, Ryer had married a "queezel," as the Dutch call
either a nun, or a maid who is no longer young. At this date, when our
story begins, he had four blooming, but old-fashioned children, with
good appetites. They could eat cabbage and potatoes, rye bread and
cheese, by the half peck, and drink buttermilk by the quart. In
addition, Ryer owned four horses, six cows, two dogs, some roosters and
hens, a flock of geese, two dozen ducks, and a donkey.
Yet although Ryer was rich, as wealth is reckoned in Drenthe, whence he
had come, he was greedy for more. He skimped the food of his animals. So
much did he do this, that his neighbors declared that they had seen him
put green spectacles on his cows and the donkey. Then he mixed straws
and shavings with the hay to make the animals think they were eating
When he ploughed, he drove his horses close to the edge next to the
water, so as to make use of every half inch of land. When sometimes bits
of fen land, from his neighbor's farms, got loose and floated on the
water, Ryer felt he was in luck. He would go out at night, grapple the
boggy stuff and fasten it to his own land.
After this had happened several times, and Ryer had added a half acre to
his holdings, his greed possessed him like a bad fairy. He began to
steal the land on the other side of the Zuyder Zee. In the course of
time, he became a regular land thief. Whenever he saw, or heard of, a
floating bit of territory, he rowed his boat after it by night. Before
morning, aided by wicked helpers, who shared in the plunder, and were in
his pay, he would have the bog attached to his own farm.
All this time, he hardly realized that his ill-gotten property, now
increased to twelve acres or more, was itself a very shaky bit of real
estate. In fact, it was not real at all. His wife one day told him so,
for she knew of her mean husband's trickery.
About this time, heavy rains fell, for many days, and without ceasing,
until all the region was reduced to pulp and the country seemed afloat.
The dykes appeared ready to burst. Thousands feared that the land had an
attack of the disease called val (fall) and that the soil would sink
under the waves as portions of the realm had done before, in days long
Yet none of this impending trouble worried Ryer, whose greed grew by
what it fed upon. In fact, the first day the sun shone again, quickly
drying up parts of his farm, he had two horses harnessed up for work.
Then he drove them so near the edge of the ditch that plough, man, and
horses tumbled, and down they went, into the shiny mess of mud and
At this moment, also, the water, from below the bottom of the Zuyder
Zee, welled up, in a great wave, like a mushroom, and the whole of
Ryer's soggy estate was on the point of breaking loose and seemed ready
to float away.
The stingy fellow, as he fell overboard, bumped his head so hard on the
plough beam, that he lay senseless for a half hour. He would certainly
have been drowned, had not Pete, his stout son, who was not far away,
and had seen the tumble, ran to the house, launched a boat and rowed
quickly to the spot, where he had last seen his father. Grabbing his
daddy by the collar, he hauled him, half dead, into the boat. Between
his bump and his fright, and the cold bath, old Ryer was a long time
coming to his wits. With filial piety, Pete kept on rubbing the paternal
hands and restoring the circulation.
All this, however, took a long time, even an hour or more. When his
father was able to sit up and talk, Pete started to row back to the
little wharf in front of his home.
But where was it,—the farm, with the house and fields? Whither had they
gone? Ryer was too mystified to get his bearings, but Pete knew the
points of the compass. Yet his father's farm was not there. He looked at
the shore of Overijssel, which he had left. Instead of the old, straight
lines of willow trees, with the church spire beyond, there was a hollow
and empty place. It looked as if a giant, as big as the world itself,
had bitten out a piece of land and swallowed it down. Dumbfounded,
father and son looked, the one at the other, but said nothing, for there
was nothing to say.
Meanwhile, what had become of the farm and "the Queezel," as the
neighbors still called her—that is, the mother with the children. These
good people soon saw that they were floating off somewhere. The mainland
was every moment receding further into the distance. In fact, the farm
was moving from Overijssel northward, towards Friesland. One by one, the
church spires of the village near by faded from sight.
But when the wind changed from south to west, they seemed as if on a
ship, with sails set, and to be making due west, for North Holland. The
younger children, so far from being afraid, clapped their hands in glee.
They thought it great fun to ferry across the big water, which they had
so long seen before their eyes. Their stingy father had never owned a
carriage, or allowed the horses to be ridden. He always made his family
walk to church. Whether it were to the sermon, in the morning, or to
hear the catechism expounded by the Domine, in the afternoon, all the
family had to tramp on their wooden shoes there and back.
As for the floating farm, the cows could not understand it. They mooed
piteously, while the donkey brayed loudly. At night, and day after day,
no one could attend properly to the animals, to see that they were fed
and given water. One always sees a big tub in the middle of a Dutch
pasture field. Neither ducks, nor geese, nor chickens minded it in the
least, but the thirsty cattle and horses, at the end of the first day,
had drunk the tub dry. None of the dumb brutes, even if they had not
been afraid of being drowned, could drink from the Zuyder Zee, for it
was chiefly sea water, that is, salt, or at least brackish.
Occasionally this errant farm, that had thus broken loose, passed by
fishermen, who wondered at so much land thus adrift. Yet they feared to
hail, and go on board, lest the owners might think them intruding.
Others thought it none of their business, supposing some crazy fellow
was using his farm as a ship, to move his lands, goods and household,
and thus save expense. In some of the villages, the runaway farm was
descried from the tops of the church towers. Then, it furnished a
subject for chat and gossip, during three days, to the women, as they
milked the cows, or knitted stockings. To the men, also, while they
smoked, or drank their coffee, it was a lively topic.
"There were real people on it and a house and stables," said the sexton
of a church, who declared that he had seen this new sort of a flying
Dutchman. It was the usual sight—"cow, dog, and stork," and then he
quoted the old Dutch proverb.
At last, after several days, and when Ryer and his son were nearly
finished, with fatigue and fright, in trying to row their boat to catch
up with the runaway farm, they finally reached a village across the
Zuyder Zee, in North Holland, where rye bread and turnips satisfied
their hunger and they had waffles for dessert. Their small change went
quickly, and then the two men were at their wit's end to know what
further to do.
By this time, out on the floating farm, the mother and children were
wild with fear of starving. All the food for the cattle had been eaten
up, the dog had no meat, the cat no milk, and the stork had run out of
its supply of frogs. There was no sugar or coffee, and neither rye nor
currant-bread, or sliced sausage or wafer-thin cheese for any one; but
only potatoes and some barley grain. Happily, however, in drifting
within sight of the village of Osterbeek, the mother and the children
noticed that the east wind was freshening. Soon they descried the tops
of the church towers of North Holland. The smell of cows and cheese and
of burning peat fires from the chimneys made both animals and human
beings happy, as the wind blew the island westward to the village.
Curiously enough, this was the very place at which, by hard rowing, Ryer
and Pete had also arrived. Father and son were sitting in the hotel
parlor, with their eyes down on the sandy floor, wondering how they were
to pay for their next sandwich and coffee, for their money was all gone.
At that moment, a small boy clattered over the bricks in his klomps. He
kicked these off, at the door, and rushed into the room. He had on his
yellow baggy trousers and his hair, of the same color, was cut level
with his ears. Half out of breath, he announced the coming, afloat, of
what looked like a combination of farm and menagerie. A house, a woman,
some girls, a dog, a cat, and a stork were on it and afloat.
At once, old man Ryer, still stiff from his long, cold bath, hobbled
out, and Pete ran before him. Yes, it was mother, the children and all
the animals! For the first time in his life, the mean old sinner felt
his heart thumping, in grateful emotion, under his woolen jacket, with
its two gold buttons. Something like real religion had finally oozed out
from under his crusted soul.
A whole convoy of boys, fishermen, farmers, and a fat vrouw or two,
volunteered to go out and tow the runaway farm to the village wharf.
They succeeded in grappling the float and held it fast by ropes tied to
a horse post.
That night all were happy. The farm was made fast by another rope put
round the town pump. Then the villagers all went to bed. They were happy
in having rescued a runaway farm, and they expected a good "loon"
(reward) from the rich old Ryer, who, in the barroom, had talked big
about his wealth.
As for the Van Boompjes, in order to save a landlord's bill for beds,
they slept in their house, on board the farm, amid the lowing of their
cattle that called out, in their own way, for more fodder; while the
people in the village wondered at roosters crowing out on the water, and
evidently the barn-yard birds were frightened.
And so they were; for, before midnight, when all other creatures were
asleep, and not even a mouse was stirring on land, whether hard fast, or
floating, the west wind rose mightily and blew to a terrific gale.
In a moment, the tow lines, that held the vagrant farm to the village
pump and horse post, snapped. The Van Boompjes estate left the wharf and
was driven, at a furious rate, across the Zuyder Zee. For several hours,
like a ship under full sail, it was pushed westward by the wind. Yet so
soundly did all sleep, man and wife, children and hens, that none
awakened during this strange voyage. Even the roosters, after their
first concert, held in their voices.
Suddenly, and as straight as if steered by a skilled pilot, the Van
Boompjes farm, now an accomplished traveller, after its many adventures,
shot into its old place. This took place with such violence, that Ryer
Van Boompjes and his wife were both thrown out of bed. The cows were
knocked over in the stable. The dog barked, supposing some one had
kicked him. One old rooster, jostled off his perch, set up a tremendous
crowing, that brought some of the early risers out to rub their eyes and
see what was going on.
"Hemel en aard, bliksem en regen" (Heaven and earth, lightning and
rain), they cried, "the old farm is back in its place."
In fact, the Van Boompjes real estate was snugly fitted once more to the
mainland, and again in the niche it had left. It had struck so hard,
that a ridge of raised sod, five inches high, marked the place of
junction. At least twenty fishes and wriggling eels were smashed in the
From that day forth the conscience of Van Boompjes returned, and he
actually became an honest man. He sawed off, from time to time, portions
of his big farm, and returned them home, with money paid as interest, to
the owners. He found out all the mynheers, whose bits of land had
drifted off. He sent a tidy sum of gold to the village in North Holland,
where his farm had been moored, for a few hours. With a good conscience,
he went to church and worshipped. His action, at each of the two
collections, which Dutch folks always take up on Sundays, was noticed
and praised as a sure and public sign of the old sinner's true
repentance. When the deacons, with their white gloves on, poked under
his nose their black velvet bags, hung at the end of fishing poles, ten
feet long, this man, who had been for years a skinflint, dropped in a
silver coin each time.
On the farm, all the animals, from duck to stork, and from dog to ox,
now led happier lives. In the family, all declared that the behavior of
the farm and the wind of the Zuyder Zee had combined to make a new man
and a delightful father of old Van Boompjes. He lived long and happily
and died greatly lamented.