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- By Pike and Dyke: A Tale of the Rise of the Dutch Republic - 1/64 -
MY DEAR LADS,
In all the pages of history there is no record of a struggle so unequal, so obstinately maintained, and so long contested as that by which the men of Holland and Zeeland won their right to worship God in their own way, and also -- although this was but a secondary consideration with them -- shook off the yoke of Spain and achieved their independence. The incidents of the contest were of a singularly dramatic character. Upon one side was the greatest power of the time, set in motion by a ruthless bigot, who was determined either to force his religion upon the people of the Netherlands, or to utterly exterminate them. Upon the other were a scanty people, fishermen, sailors, and agriculturalists, broken up into communities with but little bond of sympathy, and no communication, standing only on the defensive, and relying solely upon the justice of their cause, their own stout hearts, their noble prince, and their one ally, the ocean. Cruelty, persecution, and massacre had converted this race of peace loving workers into heroes capable of the most sublime self sacrifices. Women and children were imbued with a spirit equal to that of the men, fought as stoutly on the walls, and died as uncomplainingly from famine in the beleaguered towns. The struggle was such a long one that I have found it impossible to recount all the leading events in the space of a single volume; and, moreover, before the close, my hero, who began as a lad, would have grown into middle age, and it is an established canon in books for boys that the hero must himself be young. I have therefore terminated the story at the murder of William of Orange, and hope in another volume to continue the history, and to recount the progress of the war, when England, after years of hesitation, threw herself into the fray, and joined Holland in its struggle against the power that overshadowed all Europe, alike by its ambition and its bigotry. There has been no need to consult many authorities. Motley in his great work has exhausted the subject, and for all the historical facts I have relied solely upon him.
Yours very sincerely, G. A. HENTY
THE "GOOD VENTURE"
Rotherhithe in the year of 1572 differed very widely from the Rotherhithe of today. It was then a scattered village, inhabited chiefly by a seafaring population. It was here that the captains of many of the ships that sailed from the port of London had their abode. Snug cottages with trim gardens lay thickly along the banks of the river, where their owners could sit and watch the vessels passing up and down or moored in the stream, and discourse with each other over the hedges as to the way in which they were handled, the smartness of their equipage, whence they had come, or where they were going. For the trade of London was comparatively small in those days, and the skippers as they chatted together could form a shrewd guess from the size and appearance of each ship as to the country with which she traded, or whether she was a coaster working the eastern or southern ports.
Most of the vessels, indeed, would be recognized and the captains known, and hats would be waved and welcomes or adieus shouted as the vessels passed. There was something that savoured of Holland in the appearance of Rotherhithe; for it was with the Low Countries that the chief trade of England was carried on; and the mariners who spent their lives in journeying to and fro between London and the ports of Zeeland, Friesland, and Flanders, who for the most part picked up the language of the country, and sometimes even brought home wives from across the sea, naturally learned something from their neighbours. Nowhere, perhaps, in and about London were the houses so clean and bright, and the gardens so trimly and neatly kept, as in the village of Rotherhithe, and in all Rotherhithe not one was brighter and more comfortable than the abode of Captain William Martin.
It was low and solid in appearance; the wooden framework was unusually massive, and there was much quaint carving on the beams. The furniture was heavy and solid, and polished with beeswax until it shone. The fireplaces were lined with Dutch tiles; the flooring was of oak, polished as brightly as the furniture. The appointments from roof to floor were Dutch; and no wonder that this was so, for every inch of wood in its framework and beams, floor and furniture, and had been brought across from Friesland by William Martin in his ship, the Good Venture. It had been the dowry he received with his pretty young wife, Sophie Plomaert.
Sophie was the daughter of a well-to-do worker in wood near Amsterdam. She was his only daughter, and although he had nothing to say against the English sailor who had won her heart, and who was chief owner of the ship he commanded, he grieved much that she should leave her native land; and he and her three brothers determined that she should always bear her former home in her recollection. They therefore prepared as her wedding gift a facsimile of the home in which she had been born and bred. The furniture and framework were similar in every particular, and it needed only the insertion of the brickwork and plaster when it arrived. Two of her brothers made the voyage in the Good Venture, and themselves put the framework, beams, and flooring together, and saw to the completion of the house on the strip of ground that William Martin had purchased on the bank of the river.
Even a large summer house that stood at the end of the garden was a reproduction of that upon the bank of the canal at home; and when all was completed and William Martin brought over his bride she could almost fancy that she was still at home near Amsterdam. Ever since, she had once a year sailed over in her husband's ship, and spent a few weeks with her kinsfolk. When at home from sea the great summer house was a general rendezvous of William Martin's friends in Rotherhithe, all skippers like himself, some still on active service, others, who had retired on their savings; not all, however, were fortunate enough to have houses on the river bank; and the summer house was therefore useful not only as a place of meeting but as a lookout at passing ships.
It was a solidly built structure, inclosed on the land side but open towards the river, where, however, there were folding shutters, so that in cold weather it could be partially closed up, though still affording a sight of the stream. A great Dutch stove stood in one corner, and in this in winter a roaring fire was kept up. There were few men in Rotherhithe so well endowed with this world's goods as Captain Martin. His father had been a trader in the city, but William's tastes lay towards the sea rather than the shop, and as he was the youngest of three brothers he had his way in the matter. When he reached the age of twenty-three his father died, and with his portion of the savings William purchased the principal share of the Good Venture, which ship he had a few months before come to command.
When he married he had received not only his house but a round sum of money as Sophie's portion. With this he could had he liked have purchased the other shares of the Good Venture; but being, though a sailor, a prudent man, he did not like to put all his eggs into one basket, and accordingly bought with it a share in another ship. Three children had been born to William and Sophie Martin -- a boy and two girls. Edward, who was the eldest, was at the time this story begins nearly sixteen. He was an active well built young fellow, and had for five years sailed with his father in the Good Venture. That vessel was now lying in the stream a quarter of a mile higher up, having returned from a trip to Holland upon the previous day. The first evening there had been no callers, for it was an understood thing at Rotherhithe that a captain on his return wanted the first evening at home alone with his wife and family; but on the evening of the second day, when William Martin had finished his work of seeing to the unloading of his ship, the visitors began to drop in fast, and the summer house was well nigh as full as it could hold. Mistress Martin, who was now a comely matron of six-and-thirty, busied herself in seeing that the maid and her daughters, Constance and Janet, supplied the visitors with horns of home brewed beer, or with strong waters brought from Holland for those who preferred them.
"You have been longer away than usual, Captain Martin," one of the visitors remarked.
"Yes," the skipper replied. "Trade is but dull, and though the Good Venture bears a good repute for speed and safety, and is seldom kept lying at the wharves for a cargo, we were a week before she was chartered. I know not what will be the end of it all. I verily believe that no people have ever been so cruelly treated for their conscience' sake since the world began; for you know it is not against the King of Spain but against the Inquisition that the opposition has been made. The people of the Low Countries know well enough it would be madness to contend against the power of the greatest country in Europe, and to this day they have borne, and are bearing, the cruelty to which they are exposed in quiet despair, and without a thought of resistance to save their lives. There may have been tumults in some of the towns, as in Antwerp, where the lowest part of the mob went into the cathedrals and churches and destroyed the shrines and images; but as to armed resistance to the Spaniards, there has been none.
"The first expeditions that the Prince of Orange made into the country were composed of German mercenaries, with a small body of exiles. They were scarce joined by any of the country folk. Though, as you know, they gained one little victory, they were nigh all killed and cut to pieces. So horrible was the slaughter perpetrated by the soldiers of the tyrannical Spanish governor Alva, that when the Prince of Orange again marched into the country not a man joined him, and he had to fall back without accomplishing anything. The people seemed stunned by despair. Has not the Inquisition condemned the whole of the inhabitants of the Netherlands -- save only a few persons specially named -- to death as heretics? and has not Philip confirmed the decree, and ordered it to be carried into instant execution without regard to age or sex? Were three millions of men, women, and children ever before sentenced to death by one stroke of the pen, only because they refused to change their religion? Every day there are hundreds put to death by the orders of Alva's Blood Council, as it is called, without even the mockery of a trial."
There was a general murmur of rage and horror from the assembled party.
"Were I her queen's majesty," an old captain said, striking his fist on the table, "I would declare war with Philip of Spain tomorrow, and would send every man who could bear arms to the Netherlands to aid the people to free themselves from their tyrants.
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