“I would write a word, if you can wait. They will bring you food.”
“Good; write on and I will eat. Love for the young and meat for the old, and for both let God be thanked.”
THE RED MILL
After a week’s experience of that delectable dwelling and its neighbourhood, Adrian began to grow weary of the Red Mill. Nine or ten Dutch miles to the nor’west of Haarlem is a place called Velsen, situated on the borders of the sand-dunes, to the south of what is known to-day as the North Sea Canal. In the times of which this page of history tells, however, the canal was represented by a great drainage dyke, and Velsen was but a deserted village. Indeed, hereabouts all the country was deserted, for some years before a Spanish force had passed through it, burning, slaying, laying waste, so that few were left to tend the windmills and repair the dyke. Holland is a country won from swamps and seas, and if the water is not pumped out of it, and the ditches are not cleaned, very quickly it relapses into primeval marsh; indeed, it is fortunate if the ocean, bursting through the feeble barriers reared by the industry of man, does not turn it into vast lagoons of salt water.
Once the Red Mill had been a pumping station, which, when the huge sails worked, delivered the water from the fertile meadows into the great dyke, whence it ran through sluice gates to the North Sea. Now, although the embankment of this dyke still held, the meadows had gone back into swamps. Rising out of these—for it was situated upon a low mound of earth, raised, doubtless, as a point of refuge by marsh-dwellers who lived and died before history began, towered the wreck of a narrow-waisted windmill, built of brick below and wood above, of very lonesome and commanding appearance in its gaunt solitude. There were no houses near it, no cattle grazed about its foot; it was a dead thing in a dead landscape. To the left, but separated from it by a wide and slimy dyke, whence in times of flood the thick, brackish water trickled to the plain, stretched an arid area of sand-dunes, clothed with sparse grass, that grew like bristles upon the back of a wild hog. Beyond these dunes the ocean roared and moaned and whispered hungrily as the wind and weather stirred its depths. In front, not fifty paces away, ran the big dyke like a raised road, secured by embankments, and discharging day by day its millions of gallons of water into the sea. But these embankments were weakening now, and here and there could be seen a spot which looked as though a giant ploughshare had been drawn up them, for a groove of brown earth scarred the face of green, where in some winter flood the water had poured over to find its level, cutting them like cheese, but when its volume sank, leaving them still standing, and as yet sufficient for their purpose.
To the right again and behind, were more marshes, broken only in the distance by the towers of Haarlem and the spires of village churches, marshes where the snipe and bittern boomed, the herons fed, and in summer the frogs croaked all night long.