IT is strange that all the greatest and holiest words of the Church,--those prayers and creeds and hymns which are the eternal inheritance of all Christian men,--should have been written by unknown authors. None can say who drew up the Apostles' Creed; none can venture to name the writer of that called from S. Athanasius. So of the Te Deum,--so also of that world-famous Veni Creator Spiritus. Yes: and I might go further still, and say,--so of the LORD'S Prayer itself. It might have pleased Him Who spake as never man spake, to deliver to His Apostles a prayer, His own in every way, never before used, nor heard till then. But it was not so. He chose certain petitions from the public prayers of the Jews, and wove them, as it were, together, into the perfect model of all supplications.
And now I put the two side by side,--the Creed and the Prayer; the Creed that has been clung to, suffered for, died for,--the Prayer that from every hut and palace of the Christian world goes up hourly like incense to the Throne on high; and one word in common to both. "Our FATHER, which art in Heaven." "I believe in GOD the FATHER Almighty."
So it ever is, that Faith and Love go together. The word FATHER is a part of that Catholic Faith touching the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity, which except a man keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish ever-lastingly. True. But not less is it the word of all love, of all care, of all watchful tenderness, of that providence which ordereth all things in heaven and in earth.
Now hear a story of that care and love.
Drop, drop, drop,--drip, drip, drip,--a hope-lessly, helplessly, wet afternoon. All that July day one unbroken, unmottled sweep of cloud had stretched across the sky. You might have painted the landscape with chalk and ashes. Over rich pasture and sluggish canal, over the Zuyder Zee and the German Ocean, the same dull, wearisome, unvaried shadow. For our scene lies in Holland; and it opens in the little village of Muiden, a league from Amsterdam, and on the borders of the great inland sea.
When the sun comes out again, its long street of low white houses, with their formal garden plots, and still more formal trees, will look pretty enough. Now the same dull rain confuses all;--the place seems deserted;--a boy may oc-casionally cross the road on some errand, a drenched fowl may occasionally be seen in the lane that runs down to yonder white farm; and then they retire, and again leave the place to its desolation. That high bank to the north, which shuts out all view of the Zuyder Zee, is the great dyke on the strength of which depends the very existence of the surrounding country. It is towards it that I am going to take you; for our business lies at the cottage yonder which nestles at its foot, close to the enormous sluice gates that command the tides.
A neat little place it is to be sure; like the rest, low and whitewashed, save that there is a broad yellow band of paint round the windows. The walk through the garden is paved with brick, now slippery and shining with the wet; the garden itself is laid out in square, or star-shaped, or octagonal beds, neatly trimmed with box; there is a yew tree on each side of the outer gate, the one bearing the form of a lion rampant, the other intended to represent a pea-cock with spread tail; and, in the green moat that surrounds the whole, good Gerard van Kampen,--for that is the name of the owner,--has erected one of those buildings, half ship, half summer-house, where Dutchmen are wont to enjoy their pipes till sunset, and then leave the apartment to the possession of frogs and typhus. A well-to-do man is Master Gerard, keeper of the sluice gates, near which he lives, and owner of five or six acres of the best land in the Sticht. How the whole country, as we go in, seems choked with water! ditches over-brimming, furrows turned into currentless rivu-lets, every horse-hoof or patten mark in the road proving the saturation of the earth. It is enough to remind one of Butler's verses:
"They always ply the pump, and never think
They can be safe but at the rate they sink;
They live as if they had been run aground,
And when they die are cast away and drown'd.
A land that rides at anchor, and is moor'd;
In which men do not live, but go aboard."
Let us go in and see what the interior of the cottage can show us.
A comfortable little kitchen indeed; the fire just sufficient to make the great pot that hangs over it simmer; the fireplace lined with blue and white tiles, intended to represent Scripture history, as indeed after a sort they do. There is Isaac bound and lying upon the altar, while Abraham levels at him a monstrous blunder-buss, into the pan of which the angel is about to empty a jug of water. There is the Judg-ment of Solomon,--the King is attired in a full-bottomed wig, while the officer wears the habit of the Amsterdam burgher guard. There is the marriage of Tobias, celebrated by a gentle-man in ruff and bands. As to the dresser, its pewter dishes glitter like silver; the red tiles of the floor look as if it were an impossibility that a speck of dirt should ever have fallen on them, while the great black oak table, with its curiously carved legs, shines with a bright-ness that suggests hours and years of patient rubbing, and generations of deceased house-maids. There are one or two engravings, such as they are! the burgomaster of Leyden offer-ing his body for the food of the enraged and famishing multitude, but declaring that he had sworn not to surrender the town to the Span-iards, and that by GOD'S grace he would keep his oath; the murder of William of Orange, by Balthazar Geraarts; and a portrait of the then Stadtholder, afterwards William III. of England.
But it is too bad to have been so long in describing the room, and as yet to have said nothing of its young mistress, who is working by the fireside. Elsje van Kampen is the old Waterwarden's only child; her mother died at her birth; and she has indeed been a sunbeam in that little house. Rather tall, with the fair brow, and fair complexion, and blue eyes of her country, there is a brightness in her eye, and an archness in her smile, which saves her from the besetting fault of the beauties of Holland, tame-ness, and insipidity. But now her face is rather sad, and well it may be. Her lot is thrown in very troublous times; distress and danger are gathering round her; three-fourths of Holland are in the hands of the enemy, and two or three days at farthest may send the tide of war into Muiden itself. There is a step on the garden walk; she starts up, and the door opens,--a tall strongly-built man enters, throws off his dripping cloak, and folds her in his arms.
"It is too true," is the reply. "The French are in full advance on Naarden. They say the place cannot hold out a day, and then--it is our turn."
"And what do you mean to do?"
"I stay here, French or no French. It shall never be said that old Gerard van Kampen left his post without orders. But you must to Amsterdam, and that by to-morrow at latest."
"But, father, I cannot leave you here; I will not, indeed. If it is your duty to stand by the sluices, it is mine to stay with you."
"You must not think of it, Elsje. The French soldiers are devils in human form. I have heard of doings of theirs at Woerden, which make one's blood run cold. Go you must, and that by day-light to-morrow; and I shall step out and hold counsel with the rest how we may best send the women there, by land or by sea. By noon to-morrow there must be nothing but men in the place."
I must stop a moment to explain as briefly as may be how affairs then stood in Holland. Louis XIV., claiming the United Provinces in right of his wife, as a portion of the Spanish monarchy, poured an army of 170,000 men, under Conde, Turenne, and Luxembourg, from the south-east. Guelderland, Overyssel, and the Province of Utrecht were overrun. The city of Utrecht opened its gates. Town after town, fortress after fortress was captured; scarcely an hour but brought intelligence to Louis, then keeping his court in a villa in the pleasant vil-lage of Ducbergen, of some new conquest. His ally, our Charles II., was straining an exhausted exchequer to equip a fleet capable of matching that of De Ruyter; and the terms--if terms they can be called--which were proposed to the Dutch, almost involved their annihilation as a separate people. William of Orange had an army, such as it was, of 70,000 men, but the greater part had never been under fire, and the whole were demoralised by surrender upon surrender, and retreat after retreat The allies at-tempted to bribe him to desert the cause of his country, by offering him the independent crown of the province of Holland. "You cannot hope," said they, "otherwise to escape seeing the ruin of the United Provinces." "That," he replied, "lies in my own hands; I shall die in the last ditch before that ruin comes."
Grieved, terrified, perplexed, Gerard was a true Hollander in one respect; he never lost his appetite. Little taste had poor Elsje for her supper that evening; but her father seating him-self with great deliberation at the table, and for-tifying himself by his accustomed dram, com-menced a fearful attack on the good brown bread and well cured bacon which adorned it, cutting slice after slice of both one and the other, re-plenished his tankard more than once, and con-cluding his repast with a still vigorous assault on the Purmerend cheese.
"Come, Elsje," he said, "you must keep up your spirits--and be glad that we have a refuge so near at hand. How long Amsterdam itself will be safe, GOD only knows; but it is safe at least as yet: your good aunt will be glad to give you a home, I know, till I find lodgings for us both there."
"It is you I am thinking of, father. If those terrible French come here,--what will become of you?"
"I shall be safe enough, child; I'll warrant you that I have taken care of myself before. When they are fairly on the road to Naarden, I shall be off on that to Amsterdam: but there are reasons why, till that, my post is here.--Get what things you want together, and remember that you will most likely never see again what you leave behind.--I dare say I shall be out for a couple of hours."
* * * * * *
Now at that same time, and not so very far from that same place, there was one who was thinking,--oh how fondly and anxiously!--of Elsje. And good right had Egbert Vandenvelde to let his thoughts wander to the cottage that lay at the dyke side, and the fireplace with its Scriptural tiles, and the dear mistress of both. For was she not his own affianced bride?--And, when peace should be made, was he not to bring her back to his snug little farm near Weesp, to be the sunshine there that she had been in the cottage of her birth? But not now was he in that farm.--There had been heavy firing all day from the north-east: night had closed in; but still the roar and the flash of the French cannon startled the darkness. It was understood that Naarden was at the last extremity; all day long the road to Amsterdam had been thronged with flyers:--and now, close under the huge church of S. Laurence, some of the bravest hearts in the little town were assem-bled, and held anxious debate as to the possi-bility of any defence. Egbert Vandenvelde was among them. The night had cleared. It was chilly after the rain, and a fire, hastily kindled in the market-place, threw fantastic shadows on the tall brick tower of the church, and the stepped gables, and the quaint barge-boards of the surrounding houses.
Suddenly, the sound of a horse-hoof on the Naarden road. Five minutes suffice to bring in the rider, and to tell the news. Naarden had fallen. At that very moment the atrocities of Woerden were being acted all over again. De-fence? who could dream of defence?--By this time to-morrow Muiden will be in the hands of the French: by this time the day after to-mor-row, Amsterdam itself.
Muiden!--and Egbert idle at Weesp?--He had a treasure there more precious in his eyes than all the ingots in the Stadhuis of Amster-dam. He would ride at once. His horse was in the little inn of the town; it bore the sign of the Roode Leeuw, and a huge red monster dangled and creaked, backwards and forwards, over the entrance arch. Let others take what care they would of horses, or money, or goods, he would see Elsje and Gerard at Amsterdam, as fast as human energy could carry them thither.
It is nearly midnight. He rides out of the little town. Now there is not sight nor sound, save a ruddy glow to the north-east. No! that is not the break of day, though day will break in that quarter. It is the glare of the flames, even then rioting through miserable Naarden, and lighting up scenes which a man could hardly believe to exist on this side hell. Across rich pasture and promising barley-fields, over polder and fen, still he presses onward, traversing that low flat slip of land protected only by the dyke from the waters of the Zuyder Zee.
* * * * * *
"Master Kampen! Master Kampen!"
The old man was in his first sleep. There had been a long and anxious consultation. Everything was prepared for flight. Men, women, and children were to start for Amsterdam at the dawn of day.
"Master Kampen! Master Kampen!"--and a heavy hand shook the cottage door.
The lattice opened above. "Who is there? and what do you want?"
"An order from the States. Come down at once."
The old man is standing in the doorway, and has broken the seal of the envelope. "What! open the dyke gates?"
"It was so carried at ten o'clock in the Stadhuis. 'Let the sea have the country rather than the French!' was in every one's mouth."
"Then I must go and get assistance: we shall want twenty men at least. GOD help this miserable country!"
"So He will, Master Gerard, if we help ourselves. Have with you to the village."
* * * * * *
All is expectation on the edge of the dyke. Before you, the calm waters of the Zuyder Zee, rippling in the moonshine. Behind you the rich fertile pastures of South Holland and the Sticht of Utrecht. At your feet that wonderful erection of timber, beams of thirty inch oak, braced with cross riveters, and studded with massy nails: flood-gates hanging on a mountainous mass of Norwegian granite--bolts and bars, and under-girders,--the very triumph of the carpenter's art. Men, and women, and children on the great dyke: closer to the gates, Gerard van Kampen, a ponderous mallet in his hand,--the village blacksmith and his men with crowbars, and the sturdiest youngsters of the village with pickaxes and spades and mattocks.
"At it again, lads!" shouted the Warden of the Dyke; "GOD have mercy on the man who is on Diemermeer polder now!"
"Amen," said a venerable old man who stood by. "In half an hour it will be twelve feet under water."
"Twelve, Master Van Heist?--Work away, lads,--a good fifteen. So I say again, GOD have mercy on the man who is there."
You ought to say Amen to that prayer, dear Elsje; you have the deepest interest in that polder. For even now its thick mist is rising above Egbert Vandenvelde, and forming in the moonlight such a halo round his head as that with which we encircle the glorified.
The brave dyke resists stubbornly. There is heaving, and pushing, and hammering; mighty strokes are rained down on staple and bar: axes and hatchets bite fiercely on upright and cross beam: saws cut into the heart of the English oak: but the great mass quivers not yet.
"It will be daylight before we are through," said Gerard van Kampen. "Try again, lads, with a will!"
A wild confusion of clamour and strokes,--yes, it trembles now. More than one huge timber has given its terrible death-groan. More than one staple has been snapped in two. It shakes in good earnest. Here and there a little cata-ract of water gushes out, through the wounds of the erection. "Now,--stand back, all! Back; Philip van Erckel! It is going!"
One terrible struggle of the yet palpitating timbers, and then, with a roar like ten thousand wild beasts, the Zuyder Zee leaps through the breach. A stream, forty feet broad and twenty feet deep, rushes into the country. Down go cottages and hayricks; carts and cattle and the wreck of farms are dashed along by the flood: the land is as the Garden of Eden before it, and behind it a foaming waste of waters. The dyke sides crumble away; it is as though the Zuyder Zee were pouring itself at once over the land; women and children shriek with terror: even the boldest of the men look ghastly white in the moonshine.
And the roar of that water proclaims to the Great Monarch, "Thus far shalt thou come, but no further!"
* * * * * *
Egbert Vandenvelde is half way across Diemermeer polder. His spirited little pony has borne him stoutly on. Suddenly, he grows restive, turns from the road to the right, will obey neither rein nor spur, takes the bit in his teeth, and starts off at full gallop.
"Why, what ails the beast now?" said the rider. And vigorously he plied both whip and spur, and right heartily he pulled the rein; it was like trying to stop the wind. On, on, on still.
They are out of the polder. To the right are the ruins of a castle, capping a rise of the softest turf. Thither the brave little horse gallops, and there, at the summit, he stops.
"Why, the beast is bewitched!" again exclaims the rider.
What is that dull distant roar,--like the wind on a stormy day upon a wooded hill? The air is perfectly calm; and there is neither hill nor wood to the north.
A singular, fearful noise. A rushing now, rather than a roar.
And what is that glare through the moon's haze on the polder?
It is water.
Now he sees the truth. The Zuyder Zee is let loose. Marsh and lowland will be blotted out from the continent; will the rise of the Castle of Zelst still peer above the inland sea?
Yes; doubtless the Angel that stood in the way of Balaam as an adversary, stood in the path of the rider now as a friend. And often and often, in the long summer evenings, would Egbert and Elsje Vandenvelde be asked by their children for the story of how they cut the great dyke at Muiden, and how the good little pony would go to the Castle of Zelst.
And this story of that never-failing providence of our FATHER, which ordereth all things in Heaven and earth, is strictly true.