Open main menu

Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 134.djvu/701

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
695
PICTURES IN HOLLAND, ON AND OFF CANVAS.

this lay a chain of sixty-two forts, occupying the land held by the Spaniards, who were four times the number of those coming to the rescue; a sanguinary and desperate action took place, but after breaking through these obstacles a third dyke still kept out the water. At length after a series of violent "amphibious skirmishes" this defence was carried and the dyke broken down; but again they were doomed to disappointment, the wind was east, and the water spreading over so large a surface was reduced to a mere film of nine inches, too shallow for the ships — which required from eighteen to twenty — to sail over, and the fleet remained motionless.

William had by this time somewhat recovered, and as soon as he was able to stand he came on board, when the mere sight of him revived the spirits of the forces. The besieged were now at their last gasp; they knew that the fleet had sailed, and guessed at its progress by the burning villages, but they knew also that the wind was contrary and that it could not advance to their help. Bread, malt-cake, and horseflesh had disappeared, even the leaves were stripped from the trees and eaten; mothers dropped down dead with dead children in their arms; a dreadful disorder like the plague carried off from six thousand to eight thousand persons; yet still the people resolutely held out. At last a party of the most fainthearted surrounded the burgomaster, Adrian van der Wirt, and demanded a surrender. "My life is at your disposal," said the heroic chief; "I can die but once, but I tell you I have made an oath to hold the city. It is a fate more horrible than famine to fall into the hands of the Spaniards. Take my body if it can be of any use to you, but expect no surrender while I am alive." The discontent was stayed, but still there seemed no hope of relief. "It were as easy to pluck the stars out of heaven as Leyden out of our hands," cried the Spaniards, jubilantly.

But the Lord sent a great wind, and it blew the waves furiously on the shore and across the ruined dykes, and the floods rose on the panic-stricken Spaniards, a thousand of whom were drowned, and the flotilla of barges sailed in at midnight over the waves amidst the storm and darkness. A fierce naval battle was fought amongst the branches of the great orchards and the chimney-stacks of half submerged farmhouses; the enemy's vessels were soon sunk, and on swept the fleet; and when they approached some shallows, the Zeelanders dashed into the sea and by sheer strength shouldered every vessel through. Before they could reach the town, however, there still remained the great fortress of Lammen, swarming with soldiers and bristling with artillery, which could not be left behind, while the town might still be starved before it could be reduced. At dead of night, however, the panic-stricken Spaniards fled, and to the surprise of the patriots, in the morning all were gone; and the fleet rowed in through the canals, the quays lined with the famishing people to whom bread was thrown as they passed along amidst the tears of the population. As soon as the brave admiral Borson stepped on shore, a solemn procession repaired to the great church, nearly every living soul within the walls joining, where after a prayer had been offered up the whole vast multitude joined in a great thanksgiving hymn. But the emotion was too deep; they soon broke down, and the multitude wept like children. And on the day following the relief, when the north-west wind had done its work, behold, it shifted suddenly to the east, and again a tempest arose and blew back the waves whence they came, so that the land had rest, and the people were able once more to rebuild their dykes and restore the drowned fields. The whole story reads like a chapter in the history of the "chosen people."

The prince, though still scarcely convalescent, appeared in the town next day; and as one proof of the gratitude of Holland for the heroism of its people, the University was then founded at Leyden.

We had passed the spire of an insignificant village on the right — "Ryswyk, where the Treaty was signed between the Empire, England, France, Holland, and Spain in 1697," said the guide-book oracularly. What was the treaty about? I know that we knew once, but this does not much mend the matter. I feel as if I were being examined in Russell's "Modern Europe" and my information found very shaky. "What was the treaty to settle?" I appeal to the "intelligent man," of whom one is perennially in search in any new place, but here even he is at fault. "Madame, je ne puis vous en rien dire, je n'ai pas été à Ryswyc." What a comfort it would be if the not having been at a place would honorably clear one at an examination! "What are the dates of the two sieges of Vienna?" "Sir, I cannot say; I have never been at Vienna." "What were the bases of the treaty of Utrecht?" "Mr. Professor, how should