It is these rivers that give Dort her peculiar charm. There is a little cafe on the quay facing the sunset where one may sit and lose oneself in the eternally interesting movement of the shipping. I found the town distracting under the incessant clanging of the tram bell (yet grass grows among the paving-stones between the rails); but there is no distraction opposite the sunset. On the evening that I am remembering the sun left a sky of fiery orange barred by clouds of essential blackness.
Dort’s rivers are the Maas and the Waal, the Linge and the Merwede; and when in 1549 Philip of Spain visited the city, she flourished this motto before him:—
Me Mosa, me Vahalis, me Linga
Biternam Batavae virginis ecce fidens.
The fidelity, at least to Philip and Spain, disappeared; but the four rivers still as of old surround Dort with a cincture.
I must give, in the words of the old writer who tells it, the pretty legend which explains the origin of the Dort coat of arms: “There is an admirable history concerning that beautiful and maiden city of Holland called Dort. The Spaniards had intended an onslaught against it, and so they had laid thousands of old soldiers in ambush. Not far from it there did live a rich farmer who did keep many cows in his ground, to furnish Dort with butter and milk. The milkmaid coming to milk saw all under the hedges soldiers lying; seemed to take no notice, but went singing to her cows; and having milked, went as merrily away. Coming to her master’s house, she told what she had seen. The master wondering at it, took the maid with him and presently came to Dort, told it to the Burgomaster, who sent a spy immediately, found it true, and prepared for their safety; sent to the States, who presently sent soldiers into the city, and gave order that the river should be let in at such a sluice, to lay the country under water. It was done, and many Spaniards were drowned and utterly disappointed of their design, and the town saved. The States, in the memory of the merry milkmaid’s good service to the country, ordered the farmer a large revenue for ever, to recompense his loss of house, land, and cattle; caused the coin of the city to have the milkmaid under her cow to be engraven, which is to be seen upon the Dort dollar, stivers, and doights to this day; and so she is set upon the water gate of Dort; and she had, during her life, and her’s for ever, an allowance of fifty pounds per annum. A noble requital for a virtuous action.”
Dort’s great day of prosperity is over; but once she was the richest town in Holland—a result due to the privilege of the Staple. In other words, she obtained the right to act as intermediary between the rest of Holland and the outer world in connection with all the wine, corn, timber and whatever else might be imported by way of the Rhine. At Dort the cargoes were unloaded. For some centuries she enjoyed this privilege, and then in 1618 Rotterdam began to resent it so acutely as to take to arms, and the financial prosperity of the town, which would be tenable only by the maintenance of a fleet, steadily crumbled. To-day she is contented enough, but the cellars of Wyn Straat, once stored with the juices of Rhenish vineyards, are empty. The Staple is no more.