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- Lysbeth, A Tale Of The Dutch - 1/87 -

Etext prepared by John Bickers, and Dagny,

Lysbeth, A Tale Of The Dutch By H. Rider Haggard

First Published 1901.






In token of the earnest reverence of a man of a later generation for his character, and for that life work whereof we inherit the fruits to-day, this tale of the times he shaped is dedicated to the memory of one of the greatest and most noble-hearted beings that the world has known; the immortal William, called the Silent, of Nassau.


There are, roughly, two ways of writing an historical romance--the first to choose some notable and leading characters of the time to be treated, and by the help of history attempt to picture them as they were; the other, to make a study of that time and history with the country in which it was enacted, and from it to deduce the necessary characters.

In the case of "Lysbeth" the author has attempted this second method. By an example of the trials, adventures, and victories of a burgher family of the generation of Philip II. and William the Silent, he strives to set before readers of to-day something of the life of those who lived through perhaps the most fearful tyranny that the western world has known. How did they live, one wonders; how is it that they did not die of very terror, those of them who escaped the scaffold, the famine and the pestilence?

This and another--Why were such things suffered to be?--seem problems worth consideration, especially by the young, who are so apt to take everything for granted, including their own religious freedom and personal security. How often, indeed, do any living folk give a grateful thought to the forefathers who won for us these advantages, and many others with them?

The writer has sometimes heard travellers in the Netherlands express surprise that even in an age of almost universal decoration its noble churches are suffered to remain smeared with melancholy whitewash. Could they look backward through the centuries and behold with the mind's eye certain scenes that have taken place within these very temples and about their walls, they would marvel no longer. Here we are beginning to forget the smart at the price of which we bought deliverance from the bitter yoke of priest and king, but yonder the sword bit deeper and smote more often. Perhaps that is why in Holland they still love whitewash, which to them may be a symbol, a perpetual protest; and remembering stories that have been handed down as heirlooms to this day, frown at the sight of even the most modest sacerdotal vestment. Those who are acquainted with the facts of their history and deliverance will scarcely wonder at the prejudice.







The time was in or about the year 1544, when the Emperor Charles V. ruled the Netherlands, and our scene the city of Leyden.

Any one who has visited this pleasant town knows that it lies in the midst of wide, flat meadows, and is intersected by many canals filled with Rhine water. But now, as it was winter, near to Christmas indeed, the meadows and the quaint gabled roofs of the city lay buried beneath a dazzling sheet of snow, while, instead of boats and barges, skaters glided up and down the frozen surface of the canals, which were swept for their convenience. Outside the walls of the town, not far from the Morsch poort, or gate, the surface of the broad moat which surrounded them presented a sight as gay as it was charming. Just here one of the branches of the Rhine ran into this moat, and down it came the pleasure-seekers in sledges, on skates, or afoot. They were dressed, most of them, in their best attire, for the day was a holiday set apart for a kind of skating carnival, with sleighing matches, such games as curling, and other amusements.

Among these merry folk might have been seen a young lady of two or three and twenty years of age, dressed in a coat of dark green cloth trimmed with fur, and close-fitting at the waist. This coat opened in front, showing a broidered woollen skirt, but over the bust it was tightly buttoned and surmounted by a stiff ruff of Brussels lace. Upon her head she wore a high-crowned beaver hat, to which the nodding ostrich feather was fastened by a jewelled ornament of sufficient value to show that she was a person of some means. In fact, this lady was the only child of a sea captain and shipowner named Carolus van Hout, who, whilst still a middle-aged man, had died about a year before, leaving her heiress to a very considerable fortune. This circumstance, with the added advantages of a very pretty face, in which were set two deep and thoughtful grey eyes, and a figure more graceful than was common among the Netherlander women, caused Lysbeth van Hout to be much sought after and admired, especially by the marriageable bachelors of Leyden.

On this occasion, however, she was unescorted except by a serving woman somewhat older than herself, a native of Brussels, Greta by name, who in appearance was as attractive as in manner she was suspiciously discreet.

As Lysbeth skated down the canal towards the moat many of the good burghers of Leyden took off their caps to her, especially the young burghers, one or two of whom had hopes that she would choose them to be her cavalier for this day's fete. Some of the elders, also, asked her if she would care to join their parties, thinking that, as she was an orphan without near male relations, she might be glad of their protection in times when it was wise for beautiful young women to be protected. With this excuse and that, however, she escaped from them all, for Lysbeth had already made her own arrangements.

At that date there was living in Leyden a young man of four or five and twenty, named Dirk van Goorl, a distant cousin of her own. Dirk was a native of the little town of Alkmaar, and the second son of one of its leading citizens, a brass founder by trade. As in the natural course of events the Alkmaar business would descend to his elder brother, their father appointed him to a Leyden firm, in which, after eight or nine years of hard work, he had become a junior partner. While he was still living, Lysbeth's father had taken a liking to the lad, with the result that he grew intimate at the house which, from the first, was open to him as a kinsman. After the death of Carolus van Hout, Dirk had continued to visit there, especially on Sundays, when he was duly and ceremoniously received by Lysbeth's aunt, a childless widow named Clara van Ziel, who acted as her guardian. Thus, by degrees, favoured with such ample opportunity, a strong affection had sprung up between these two young people, although as yet they were not affianced, nor indeed had either of them said a word of open love to the other.

This abstinence may seem strange, but some explanation of their self- restraint was to be found in Dirk's character. In mind he was patient, very deliberate in forming his purposes, and very sure in carrying them out. He felt impulses like other men, but he did not give way to them. For two years or more he had loved Lysbeth, but being somewhat slow at reading the ways of women he was not quite certain that she loved him, and above everything on earth he dreaded a rebuff. Moreover he knew her to be an heiress, and as his own means were still humble, and his expectations from his father small, he did not feel justified in asking her in marriage until his position was more assured. Had the Captain Carolus still been living the case would have been different, for then he could have gone to him. But he was dead, and Dirk's fine and sensitive nature recoiled from the thought that it might be said of him that he had taken advantage of the inexperience of a kinswoman in order to win her fortune. Also deep down in his mind he had a sincerer and quite secret reason for reticence, whereof more in its proper place.

Thus matters stood between these two. To-day, however, though only with diffidence and after some encouragement from the lady, he had asked leave to be his cousin's cavalier at the ice fete, and when she consented, readily enough, appointed the moat as their place of meeting. This was somewhat less than Lysbeth expected, for she wished his escort through the town. But, when she hinted as much, Dirk explained that he would not be able to leave the works before three o'clock, as the metal for a large bell had been run into the casting, and he must watch it while it cooled.

So, followed only by her maid, Greta, Lysbeth glided lightly as a bird down the ice path on to the moat, and across it, through the narrow cut, to the frozen mere beyond, where the sports were to be held and the races run. There the scene was very beautiful.

Lysbeth, A Tale Of The Dutch - 1/87

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