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terrible fights in the streets and the market-squares, belabouring each other with heavy sticks and stones, and that their fights often assumed so alarming a character, that the watchmen of the town had to interfere, and drag two or three of the ringleaders before the magistrate.' The greater number of the boys at school were generally Catholics ; but this would not have caused so serious a disturbance, had it not been that the Catholic fathers generally favoured the Spaniards. The Protestant and patriotic boys were always in the minority, but they felt strongly for the good cause. They incessantly taunted the others with being the enemies of their country, and were always ready at any moment of the day to give battle to their opponents.
In those days, moreover, there were plenty of other things to stir boys' hearts. As Amsterdam lies on the shore of a large bay, the merchant-vessels were enabled to come right up to the town, and anchor alongside the quay, which was lined by the houses of the merchants; and as the town was intersected by numerous canals into which these vessels could be dragged, there was scarcely a merchant who did not have his own ships loading or unloading in front of his door, at which he could sit and look while taking his breakfast or dinner. Now, as many of the skippers and their sailors were right patriotic fellows, whatever their masters may have been, they generally carried two or three small guns in their vessel, and each man was armed with arquebuss and cutlass. When the
Spaniards in Amsterdam saw these arms, and asked what they were for, the skippers were bound to answer that they were' bought as a protection against the pirates; and such, no doubt, was the case, for the North Sea and the Channel swarmed with the pirates of Dunkerque and Ostend. But when the Spaniards had turned their backs, and Heemskerk with his boycomrades crept on board, the skipper, knowing them to be patriotric fellows, would tell quite another tale : how he had attacked a Spanish vessel in the Zuyder Zee, taken it, and sold it in the nearest port for the benefit of the Prince of Orange and the good cause; or how he had filled his vessel with bread and meat and cheese, and under cover of the night sailed into some town which was besieged by the Spaniards, the inhabitants being reduced to eat cats and dogs. And they would then hear of such horrible cruelties done by the foreign soldiers to their friends in other towns, that their blood would boil in their veins, and they promised each other to avenge these wrongs as soon as they were old enough to carry arms.
Nothing certain is known about the earlier years of Van Heemskerk; but we may be very sure that after he left school he would either become a soldier, in the army of the Prince of Orange, or, what was more likely, go to sea in one of the merchant vessels that sailed from Amsterdam. The first that we hear of him is in the year 1595, when he was twenty-seven years old, and went with an expedition to the North Pole. “To the North Pole?' you will say. What in
the world did he go there for ? That surely is not a place for merchant-ships to go to.' I acknowledge that it was a queer place to go to, but it was a splendid expedition nevertheless. It came about in this wise. The Spanish King had gone from bad to worse. Seeing that he could not kill the little Dutchman, or get him out of his tub, he became most cruel and wicked. He sent into the country a strong army under the cruel Duke of Alva, who killed, and robbed, and imprisoned everybody who would not pay him great sums of money and go to the Roman Catholic Church. Then he sent a wretched man to the Prince of Orange, who had sold all his estates and his silver to help the country, and when that wretched man had murdered the prince, the king paid him 5,000l. as a reward, or would have done it had he not been seized and executed by the Dutch.
When that did not help him he took away all the Dutch ships he could find on the seas, or in the ports all over the world. This you may imagine was a great blow to the Dutch. There are no coal-mines, or iron-mines, or gold-mines in Holland as in other countries; and the people are, therefore, compelled to live by trade. Lying close to the sea, their ships could sail all over the world, and bring coffee, spices, silk, ivory, timber, and a host of other things to Amsterdam and other cities, where they were sold to the French, Germans, and Russians who came to Holland to buy them. Now these things had to be fetched from countries far away. From America, and Africa,
at this map
from Italy, Turkey, Greece, and Egypt; but whenever the Dutch came close to Spain there was sure to be some great Spanish galleon, the crew of which quietly seized them, threw all the sailors overboard, and took the ship away. For some time the people of Holland were very despondent, for they feared they were all going to be ruined. Presently, howéver, some of them looked at the map, and rubbed their hands with delight. Why,' they said, 'we need not go past Spain to get to China or America. Look
There is a large sea above Norway, where nobody has ever been yet. Now, there is no doubt that this sea goes somewhere; and if the earth is round, and we sail far enough, we must at last get out on the other side, and get that way to China and America. We will provide the ships. Who will go and try this new route?' They needed not to ask very long. There were plenty of men to risk their lives in this undertaking, for everybody felt that the existence of the country was at stake.
On the 2nd of July, 1595, a small fleet of seven vessels, the largest of which was only a cutter of one hundred tons, set sail from Texel for the Arctic regions, determined to find their way to China. The fleet was led by the "Greyhound' of Amsterdam. The captain was William Barends, a most courageous and experienced seaman, and the super-cargo, or commissioner on behalf of the Amsterdam merchants, was our old friend Jacob van Heemskerk.
On the 19th of August they arrived safely in the
Straits of Waygatz, but the hopes which had inspired them seemed to sink at the sight of the land. They went on shore, but not a person was to be seen. There was nothing but snow and ice, glittering in the sun, and surrounding them on all sides. It floated on the water in thin sheets, it covered the land, it seemed even to fill the heavens. They had before landing seen some figures ashore, but when they approached the spot they found nothing but a few sledges, loaded with reindeer skins and leather bags full of oil—the owners having fled in terror. In order to allay the fears of the natives they left everything untouched, put some bread and cheese by the side of the sledges, and returned to their ships. This had the desired effect. Next day, when they went on shore, a whole party in sledges drawn by reindeer came to meet them, and, having got out, approached them with many smiles and curtsies, which betokened friendship. Happily there was amongst the crew one man who could speak the native language, and who put many questions to them. One amongst the Samoyedes, for that was the name of the people, told him of many countries and rivers, and described how, if they sailed far enough, they could get from a cold sea into a warm sea until they reached a new land. The savages, who were dressed in skins, received many presents, and they parted the best of friends.
This information was exactly what Heemskerk and his friends wanted, and they consequently returned to their ships in very high spirits, determined to make