Netherlands - Flushing
( Originally Published 1922 )
Middelburg once more—The Flushing baths-Shrimps and chivalry—A Dutch boy—Charles V, at Souburg—Flushing and the Spanish yoke —Philip and William the Silent—The capture of Brill—A far-reaching drunken impulse—Flushing's independence—Admiral, de Ruyter—England's Revenge—The Middelburg kermis—The aristocracy of avoirdupois—The end.
IT is wiser I think to stay at Middelburg and visit Flushing from there than to stay at Flushing. One may go by train or tram. In hot weather the steam-tram is the better way, for then one can go direct to the baths and bathe in the stillest arm of the sea that I know. Here I bathed on the hottest day of last year, 1904, among merry albeit considerable water nymphs and vivacious men. These I found afterwards should have dwelt in the water for ever, for they emerged, dried and dressed, from the machines, something less than ordinary Batavians. perhaps carried disillusionment also.
For safe bathing the Flushing baths could not well be excelled, but I never knew shore so sandy. To rid one's self of sand is almost an impossibility. With each step it over-tops one's boots.
Returning to Middelburg from Flushing one evening, in the steam-tram, we found ourselves in a compartment filled with happy country people, most of them making for the kermis, then in full swing in the Middelburg market place. A pedlar of shrimps stood by the door retailing little pennyworths, and nothing would do but the countryman opposite me must buy some for his sweetheart. When he had bought them he was for emptying them in her lap, but I tendered the wrapper of my book just in time : an act of civility which brought out all his native friendliness. He offered us shrimps, one by one, first peeling them with kindly fingers of extraordinary blackness, and we ate enough to satisfy him that we meant well : and then just as we reached Middelburg, he gave me a cigar and walked all the way to the Abbey with me, watching me smoke it. It was an ordeal ; but I hope, for the honour of England, that I carried it through successfully and convinced him that an Englishman knows what to do with courtesy when he finds it.
In the same tram and on the very next seat to us was the pleasantest little boy that I think I ever saw : a perfect miniature Dutchman, with wide black trousers terminating in a point, pearl buttons, a tight black coat, a black hat, and golden neck links after the Zeeland habit. He was perhaps four, plump and red and merry, and his mother, who nursed his baby sister, was immensely proud of him. Some one pressed a twopenny bit into his hand as he left the car, and I watched him telling the great news to half a dozen of the women who were waiting by the side of the road, while his face shone like the setting sun.
They got off at Souburg, the little village between Flushing and Middelburg where Charles V. was living in 1556, after his abdication, before he sailed for his last home. It is odd to have two such associations with Souburg—the weary emperor putting off the purple, and the little Dutch boer bursting jollily through black velvet.
Flushing played a great part in the great war. It was from Flushing that Charles V. sailed in 1556 ; from Flushing that Philip II. sailed in 1559 ; neither to return. It was Flushing that heard Philip's farewell to William of Orange, which in the light of after events may be called the declaration of war that was to release the Netherlands from the tyranny of Spain and Rome. " As Philip was proceeding on board the ship which was to bear him for ever from the Netherlands, his eyes lighted upon the Prince. His displeasure could no longer be restrained. With angry face he turned upon him, and bitterly reproached him for having thwarted all his plans by means of his secret intrigues. William replied with humility that everything which had taken place had been done through the regular and natural movements of the states. Upon this the King, boiling with rage, seized the Prince by the wrist, and, shaking it violently, exclaimed in Spanish, ' No los estados, ma vos, vos, vos ! '—Not the estates, but you, you, you !-repeating thrice the word ' vos,' which is as disrespectful and uncourteous in Spain as ' toi ' in French."
That was 26th August, 1559. Philip's fleet consisted of ninety ships, victualled, among other articles, with fifteen thousand capons, and laden with such spoil as tapestry and silks, much of which had to be thrown overboard in a storm to lighten the labouring vessels. It seemed at one time as if the fleet must founder, but Philip reached Spain in safety, and hastened to celebrate his escape, and emphasise his policy of a universal religion, by an extensive auto daft.
Flushing did not actually begin the war, in 1572, after the capture of Brill at the mouth of the Maas, by the Water Beggars under De la Marck, but it was the first town to respond to that invitation of revolt against Alva and Spain. The foundations of the Dutch Republic may have been laid at Brill, but it was the moral support of Flushing that established them.
The date of the capture of Brill was April 1st, and Alva, who was then at Brussels, suffered tortures from the Belgian wits. The word Brill, by a happy chance, signifies spectacles, and a couplet was sung to the effect that On April Fool's Day Duke Alva's spectacles were stolen away; while, says Motley, a caricature was circulated depicting Alva's spectacles being removed from his nose by De la Marck, while the Duke uttered his habitual comment "'Tis nothing. 'Tis nothing."
What, however, began as little more than the desperate deed of some hungry pirates, to satisfy their immediate needs, was soon turned into a very far-reaching " some-thing," by the action of Flushing, whose burghers, under the Seigneur de Herpt, on hearing the news of the rebellion of Brill, drove the Spanish garrison from the town. A number of Spanish ships chancing to arrive on the same day, bringing reinforcements, were just in time to find the town in arms. Had they landed, the whole revolt might have been quelled, but a drunken loafer of the town, in return for a pot of beer, offered to fire a gun at the fleet from the ramparts. He was allowed to do so, and without a word the fleet fell into a panic and sailed away. The day was won. It might almost be said that that shot—that pot of beer—secured the freedom of the Netherlands. Let this be remembered when John Barleycorn is before his many judges.
A little later Brill sent help, and Flushing's independence was secure. Motley describes this band of assistants in a picturesque passage :—
"The expedition seemed a fierce but whimsical masquerade. Every man in the little fleet was attired in the gorgeous vestments of the plundered churches, in gold-embroidered cassocks, glittering mass-garments, or the more sombre cowls and robes of Capuchin friars. So sped the early standard bearers of that ferocious liberty which had sprung from the fires in which all else for which men cherish their fatherland had been consumed. So swept that resolute but fantastic band along the placid estuaries of Zeeland, waking the stagnant waters with their wild beggar songs and cries of vengeance.
That vengeance found soon a distinguished object. Pacheco, the chief engineer of Alva, who had accompanied the Duke in his march from Italy, who had since earned a world-wide reputation as the architect of the Antwerp citadel, had been just despatched in haste to Flushing to complete the fortress whose construction had been so long delayed. Too late for his work, too soon for his safety, the ill-fated engineer had arrived almost at the same moment with Treslong and his crew. He had stepped on shore, entirely ignorant of all which had transpired, expecting to be treated with the respect due to the chief commandant of the place, and to an officer high in the confidence of the Governor-general. He found himself surrounded by an indignant and threatening mob. The unfortunate Italian understood not a word of the opprobrious language ad-dressed to him, but he easily comprehended that the authority of the Duke was overthrown.
" Observing De Ryk, a distinguished partisan officer and privateersman of Amsterdam, whose reputation for bravery and generosity was known to him, he approached him, and drawing a seal ring from his finger kissed it, and handed it to the rebel chieftain. By this dumb-show he gave him to understand that he relied upon his honor for the treatment due to a gentleman. De Ryk understood the appeal, and would willingly have assured him, at least, a soldier's death, but he was powerless to do so. He arrested him, that he might be protected from the fury of the rabble ; but Treslong, who now commanded in Flushing, was especially incensed against the founder of the Antwerp citadel, and felt a ferocious desire to avenge his brother's murder upon the body of his destroyer's favourite.
"Pacheco was condemned to be hanged upon the very day of his arrival. Having been brought forth from his prison, he begged hard but not abjectly for his life. He offered a heavy ransom, but his enemies were greedy for blood, not for money. It was, however, difficult to find an executioner. The city hangman was absent, and the prejudice of the country and the age against the vile profession had assuredly not been diminished during the five horrible years of Alva's administration. Even a condemned murderer, who lay in the town gaol, refused to accept his life in recompence for performing the office. It should never be said, he observed, that his mother had given birth to a hangman. When told, however, that the intended victim was a Spanish officer, the malefactor consented to the task with alacrity, on condition that he might after-wards kill any man who taunted him with the deed.
" Arrived at the foot of the gallows, Pacheco complained bitterly of the disgraceful death designed for him. He protested loudly that he came of a house as noble as that of Egmont or Hoorn, and was entitled to as honourable an execution as theirs had been. ' The sword ! the sword ! ' he frantically exclaimed, as he struggled with those who guarded him. His language was not understood, but the name of Egmont and Hoorn inflamed still more highly the rage of the rabble, while his cry for the sword was falsely interpreted by a rude fellow who had happened to possess himself of Pacheco's rapier, at his capture, and who now paraded himself with it at the gallows foot. 'Never fear for your sword, Señor,' cried this ruffian ; 'your sword is safe enough, and in good hands. Up the ladder with you, Senor; you have no further use for your sword.' Pacheco, thus outraged, submitted to his fate. He mounted the ladder with a steady step, and was hanged between two other Spanish officers.
"So perished miserably a brave soldier, and one of the most distinguished engineers of his time ; a man whose character and accomplishments had certainly merited for him a better fate. But while we stigmatize as it deserves the atrocious conduct of a few Netherland partisans, we should remember who first unchained the demon of inter-national hatred in this unhappy land, nor should it ever be forgotten that the great leader of the revolt, by word, proclamation, example, by entreaties, threats, and condign punishment, constantly rebuked and, to a certain extent, restrained the sanguinary spirit by which some of his followers disgraced the noble cause which they had espoused."
Flushing's hero is De Ruyter, whose rope-walk wheel we saw at Middelburg, and whose truculent lineaments have so often frowned at us from the walls of picture gallery and stadhuis throughout the country—almost without exception from the hand of Ferdinand Bol, or a copyist.
Scratch a sea-dog and you find a pirate; De Ruyter, who stands in stone for all time by Flushing harbour, lacking the warranty of war would have been a Paul Jones beyond eulogy. You can see it in his strong brows, his determined mouth, his every line. It is only two hundred and thirty-seven years, only seven generations, since he was in the Thames with his fleet, and London was panic-stricken. No enemy has been there since. The English had their revenge in 1809, when they bombarded Flushing and reduced it to only a semblance of what it had been. Among the beautiful buildings which our cannon balls destroyed was the ancient stadhuis. Hence it is that Flushing's stadhuis today is a mere recent upstart.
Flushing does little to amuse its visitors after the sun has left the sea ; and we were very glad of the excuse offered by the Middelburg kermis to return to our inland city each afternoon. The Middelburg kermis is a particularly merry one. The stalls and roundabouts fill the market square before the stadhuis, packed so closely that the revolving horses nearly carry the poffertje restaurants round with them. The Dutch roundabouts, by the way, still, like the English, retain horses : they have not, like the French, as I noticed at three fairs in and about Paris last autumn, taken to pigs and rabbits.
I examined the Middelburg kermis very thoroughly. Few though the exhibits were, they included two fat women. Their booths stood on opposite sides of the square, dl the fun of the fair between them. In the west was Mlle. Jeanne ; in the east the Princess Sexiena. Jeanne was French, Sexiena came from the Fatherland. Both, though rivals, used the same poster : a picture of a lady, enormous, décolletée, highly-coloured, stepping into a fiacre, to the cocher's intense alarm. Before one inspected the rival giantesses this community of advertisement had seemed to be a mistake ; after, its absurdity was only too apparent, for although the Princess was colossal, Mlle. Jeanne was more so. Mlle. Jeanne should therefore have employed an artist to make an independent allurement.
Both also displayed outside the booths a pair of corsets, but here, I fancy, the advantage was with Mlle. Jeanne, although such were the distractions of the square that it was difficult to keep relative sizes in mind as one crossed it.
We visited the Princess first and found her large enough. She gasped on a dais—it was the hottest week of the year. She was happy, she said, except in such warmth. She was not married : Princes had sighed for her in vain. She rode a bicycle, she assured us, and enjoyment in the incredulity of her hearers was evidently one of her pleasures. Her manager listened impatiently, for our conversation interrupted his routine ; he then took his oath that she was not padded, and bade her exhibit her leg. She did so, and it was like the mast of a ship.
I dropped five cents into her plate and passed on to Mlle. Jeanne. The Princess had been large enough ; Mlle. Jeanne was larger. She wore her panoply of flesh less like a flower than did her rival. Her expression was less placid ; she panted distressfully as she fanned her bulk. But in conversation she relaxed. She too was happy, except in such heat. She neither rode a bicycle nor walked—save two or three steps. As her name indicated, she too was unmarried, although, her manager interjected, few wives could make a better omelette. But men are cowards, and such fortresses very formidable.
As we talked, the manager, who had entered the booth as blasé an entrepreneur as the Continent holds, showed signs of animation. In time he grew almost enthusiastic and patted Mlle.'s arms with pride. He assisted her to exhibit her leg quite as though its glories were also his. The Princess's leg had been like the mast of a ship ; this was like the trunk of a Burnham beech.
And here, at Flushing, we leave the country. I should have liked to have steamed down the Scheldt to Antwerp on one of the ships that continually pass, if only to be once more among the friendly francs with their notice-able purchasing power, and to saunter again through the Plantin Museum among the ghosts of old printers, and to stand for a while in the Museum before Van Eyck's delicious monochrome of Saint Barbara. But it must not be. This is not a Belgian book, but a Dutch book ; and here it ends.