Bergen-op-Zoom has its place in history; but it is a dull town in fact. Nor has it beautiful streets, with the exception of that which leads to the old Gevangenpoort with its little painted towers. I must confess that I did not like Bergen-op-Zoom. It seemed to me curiously inhospitable and critical; which was of course a wrong attitude to take up towards a countryman of Grimston and Redhead; Who are Grimston and Redhead? I seem to hear the reader asking. Grimston and Redhead were two members of the English garrison when the Prince of Parma besieged Bergen-op-Zoom in 1588, and it was their cunning which saved the town. Falling intentionally into the Prince’s hands they affected to inform him of the vulnerability of the defences, and outlined a scheme by which his capture of a decisive position was practically certain. Having been entrusted with the conduct of the attack, they led his men, by preconcerted design, into an ambush, with the result that the siege was raised.
All being fair in love and war one should, I suppose, be at the feet of these brave fellows; but I have no enthusiasm for that kind of thing. At the same time there is no doubt that the Dutch ought to, and therefore I am the more distressed by Bergen-op-Zoom’s rudeness to our foreign garb.
Bergen had seen battle before the siege, for when it was held by the Spanish, at the beginning of the war, a naval engagement was held off it in the Scheldt, between the Spanish fleet and the Beggars of the Sea, whom we are about to meet. The victory was to the Beggars. Later, in 1747, Bergen was besieged again, this time by the French and much more fiercely than by the Spaniards.
From Bergen-op-Zoom we went to Tholen, passing the whitest of windmills on the way. Tholen is an odd little ancient town gained by a tramway and a ferry. Head-dresses here, as at Bois le Duc, are very much over-decorated with false flowers; but in a little shop in one of the narrow and deserted streets we found some very pretty lace. We found, also on the edge of the town, a very merry windmill; and we had lunch at an inn window which commanded the harnessing of the many market carts, into every one of which climbed a stolid farmer and a wife brimming with gossip.
In the returning steam-tram from Tholen to Bergen-op-Zoom was a Dutch maiden. So typical was she that she might have been a composite portrait of all Dutch girls of eighteen—smooth fair features, a very clear complexion, prim clothes. A friend getting in too, she talked; or rather he talked, and she listened, and agreed or dissented very quietly, and I had the pleasure of watching how admirably adapted is the Dutch feminine countenance for the display of the nuances of emotion, the enregistering of every thought. Expression after expression flitted across her face and mouth like the alternate shadow and sun in the Weald on a breezy April day. A French woman’s many vivacious and eloquent expressions seem to come from within; but the Dutch present a placid sensitised surface on which their companions’ conversation records the most delicate tracery. This girl’s little reluctant smiles were very charming, and we were at Bergen-op-Zoom again before I knew it.