Yet they had much to fear. By a fateful accident they had been delivered from great dangers only to fall into dangers greater still, for as it chanced, on this tenth of December, 1572, they sailed straight into the grasp of the thousands of the Spanish armies which had been drawn like a net round the doomed city of Haarlem. There was no escape for them; nothing that had not wings could pass those lines of ships and soldiers. Their only refuge was the city, and in that city they must bide till the struggle, one of the most fearful of all that hideous war, was ended. But at least they had this comfort, they would face the foe together, and with them were two who loved them, Martha, the “Spanish Scourge,” and Red Martin, the free Frisian, the mighty man of war whom God had appointed to them as a shield of defence.
So they smiled on each other, these two lovers of long ago, and sailed bravely on to the closing gates of Haarlem.
Seven months had gone by, seven of the most dreadful months ever lived through by human beings. For all this space of time, through the frosts and snows and fogs of winter, through the icy winds of spring, and now deep into the heart of summer, the city of Haarlem had been closely beleaguered by an army of thirty thousand Spaniards, most of them veteran troops under the command of Don Frederic, the son of Alva, and other generals. Against this disciplined host were opposed the little garrison of four thousand Hollanders and Germans aided by a few Scotch and English soldiers, together with a population of about twenty thousand old men, women and children. From day to day, from week to week, from month to month, the struggle was waged between these unequal forces, marked on either side by the most heroic efforts and by cruelties that would strike our age as monstrous. For in those times the captive prisoner of war could expect no mercy; indeed, he was fortunate if he was not hung from a gibbet by the leg to die slowly within eyeshot of his friends.
There were battles without number, men perished in hecatombs; among the besieging armies alone over twelve thousand lost their lives, so that the neighbourhood of Haarlem became one vast graveyard, and the fish in the lake were poisoned by the dead. Assault, sortie, ambuscade, artifice of war; combats to the death upon the ice between skate-shod soldiers; desperate sea fights, attempts to storm; the explosion of mines and counter-mines that brought death to hundreds—all these became the familiar incidents of daily life.