Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates/The Beleaguered Cities

391300Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates — The Beleaguered CitiesMary Mapes Dodge

The Beleaguered Cities


"This open square before us," said Lambert, as he and Ben walked on together, "is pretty in summer, with its shady trees. They call it the Ruine. Years ago it was covered with houses, and the Rapenburg Canal, here, ran through the street. Well, one day a barge loaded with forty thousand pounds of gunpowder, bound for Delft, was lying alongside, and the bargemen took a notion to cook their dinner on the deck, and before anyone knew it, sir, the whole thing blew up, killing lots of persons and scattering about three hundred houses to the winds."

"What!" exclaimed Ben. "Did the explosion destroy three hundred houses!"

"Yes, sir, my father was in Leyden at the time. He says it was terrible. The explosion occurred just at noon and it was like a volcano. All this part of the town was on fire in an instant, buildings tumbling down and men, women, and children groaning under the ruins. The king himself came to the city and acted nobly, Father says, staying out in the streets all night, encouraging the survivors in their efforts to arrest the fire and rescue as many as possible from under the heaps of stone and rubbish. Through his means a collection for the benefit of the sufferers was raised throughout the kingdom, besides a hundred thousand guilders paid out of the treasury. Father was only nineteen years old then. It was in 1807, I believe, but he remembers it perfectly. A friend of his, Professor Luzac, was among the killed. They have a tablet erected to his memory, in Saint Peter's Church, farther on--the queerest thing you ever saw, with an image of the professor carved upon it, representing him just as he looked when he was found after the explosion."

"What a strange idea! Isn't Boerhaave's monument in Saint Peter's also?"

"I cannot remember. Perhaps Peter knows."

The captain delighted Ben by saying that the monument was there and that he thought they might be able to see it during the day.

"Lambert," continued Peter, "ask Ben if he saw Van der Werf's portrait at the town hall last night?"

"No," said Lambert, "I can answer for him. It was too late to go in. I say, boys, it is really wonderful how much Ben knows. Why, he has told me a volume of Dutch history already. I'll wager he has the siege of Leyden at his tongue's end."

"His tongue must burn, then," interposed Ludwig, "for if Bilderdyk's account is true, it was a pretty hot affair."

Ben was looking at them with an inquiring smile.

"We are speaking of the siege of Leyden," explained Lambert.

"Oh, yes," said Ben, eagerly, "I had forgotten all about it. This was the very place. Let's give old Van der Werf three cheers. Hur--"

Van Mounen uttered a hasty "Hush!" and explained that, patriotic as the Dutch were, the police would soon have something to say if a party of boys cheered in the street at midday.

"What? Not cheer Van der Werf?" cried Ben, indignantly. "One of the greatest chaps in history? Only think! Didn't he hold out against those murderous Spaniards for months and months? There was the town, surrounded on all sides by the enemy; great black forts sending fire and death into the very heart of the city--but no surrender! Every man a hero--women and children, too, brave and fierce as lions, provisions giving out, the very grass from between the paving stones gone--till people were glad to eat horses and cats and dogs and rats. Then came the plague--hundreds dying in the streets--but no surrender! Then when they could bear no more, when the people, brave as they were, crowded about Van der Werf in the public square begging him to give up, what did the noble old burgomaster say? 'I have sworn to defend this city, and with God's help, I MEAN TO DO IT! If my body can satisfy your hunger, take it, and divide it among you, but expect no surrender so long as I am alive.' Hurrah! hur--"

Ben was getting uproarious; Lambert playfully clapped his hand over his friend's mouth. The result was one of those quick India-rubber scuffles fearful to behold but delightful to human nature in its polliwog state.

"Vat wash te matter, Pen?" asked Jacob, hurrying forward.

"Oh! nothing at all," panted Ben, "except that Van Mounen was afraid of starting an English riot in this orderly town. He stopped my cheering for old Van der--"

"Ya! ya--it ish no goot to sheer--to make te noise for dat. You vill shee old Van der Does's likeness mit te Stadhuis."

"See old Van der Does? I thought it was Van der Werf's picture they had there."

"Ya," responded Jacob, "Van der Werf--vell, vot of it! Both ish just ash goot--"

"Yes, Van der Does was a noble old Dutchman, but he was not Van der Werf. I know he defended the city like a brick, and--"

"Now vot for you shay dat, Penchamin? He no defend te city mit breek, he fight like goot soltyer mit his guns. You like make te fun mit effrysinks Tutch."

"No! No! No! I said he defended the city LIKE a brick. That is very high praise, I would have you understand. We English call even the Duke of Wellington a brick."

Jacob looked puzzled, but his indignation was already on the ebb.

"Vell, it ish no matter. I no tink, before, soltyer mean breek, but it ish no matter."

Ben laughed good-naturedly, and seeing that his cousin was tired of talking in English, he turned to his friend of the two languages.

"Van Mounen, they say the very carrier pigeons that brought news of relief to the besieged city are somewhere here in Leyden. I really should like to see them. Just think of it! At the very height of the trouble, if the wind didn't turn and blow in the waters, and drown hundreds of Spaniards and enable the Dutch boats to sail in right over the land with men and provisions to the very gates of the city. The pigeons, you know, did great service, in bearing letters to and fro. I have read somewhere that they were reverently cared for from that day, and when they died, they were stuffed and placed for safekeeping in the town hall. We must be sure to have a look at them."

Van Mounen laughed. "On that principle, Ben, I suppose when you go to Rome you'll expect to see the identical goose who saved the capitol. But it will be easy enough to see the pigeons. They are in the same building with Van der Werf's portrait. Which was the greater defense, Ben, the siege of Leyden or the siege of Haarlem?"

"Well," replied Ben thoughtfully, "Van der Werf is one of my heroes. We all have our historical pets, you know, but I really think the siege of Haarlem brought out a braver, more heroic resistance even, than the Leyden one; besides, they set the Leyden sufferers an example of courage and fortitude, for their turn came first."

"I don't know much about the Haarlem siege," said Lambert, "except that it was in 1573. Who beat?"

"The Spaniards," said Ben. "The Dutch had stood out for months. Not a man would yield nor a woman, either, for that matter. They shouldered arms and fought gallantly beside their husbands and fathers. Three hundred of them did duty under Kanau Hesselaer, a great woman, and brave as Joan of Arc. All this time the city was surrounded by the Spaniards under Frederic of Toledo, son of that beauty, the Duke of Alva. Cut off from all possible help from without, there seemed to be no hope for the inhabitants, but they shouted defiance over the city walls. They even threw bread into the enemy's camps to show that they were not afraid of starvation. Up to the last they held out bravely, waiting for the help that never could come--growing bolder and bolder until their provisions were exhausted. Then it was terrible. In time, hundreds of famished creatures fell dead in the streets, and the living had scarcely strength to bury them. At last they made the desperate resolution that, rather than perish by lingering torture, the strongest would form a square, placing the weakest in the center, and rush in a body to their death, with the faint chance of being able to fight their way through the enemy. The Spaniards received a hint of this, and believing that there was nothing the Dutch would not dare to do, they concluded to offer terms."

"High time, I should think."

"Yes, with falsehood and treachery they soon obtained an entrance into the city, promising protection and forgiveness to all except those whom the citizens themselves would acknowledge as deserving of death."

"You don't say so!" said Lambert, quite interested. "That ended the business, I suppose."

"Not a bit of it," returned en, "for the Duke of Alva had already given his son orders to show mercy to none."

"Ah! That was where the great Haarlem massacre came in. I remember now. You can't wonder that the Hollanders dislike Spain when you read of the way they were butchered by Alva and his hosts, though I admit that our side sometimes retaliated terribly. But as I have told you before, I have a very indistinct idea of historical matters. Everything is confusion--from the flood to the battle of Waterloo. One thing is plain, however, the Duke of Alva was about the worst specimen of a man that ever lived."

"That gives only a faint idea of him," said Ben, "but I hate to think of such a wretch. What if he HAD brains and military skill, and all that sort of thing! Give me such men as Van der Werf, and-- What now?"

"Why," said Van Mounen, who was looking up and down the street in a bewildered way. "We've walked right past the museum, and I don't see the boys. Let us go back."