"No, Belotti, certainly not, we have plenty of time, and I shall be glad to listen to you, but first you must answer one question."
"Why, sir, how your cheeks glow! Did you meet the signorina in Italy?"
"Perhaps so, Belotti."
"Why, of course, of course! Whoever has once seen her, doesn't easily forget. What is it you wish to know?"
"First, the lady's name."
"And not Isabella also?"
"No, sir, she was never called anything but Anna."
"And when did she leave Holland?"
"Wait; it was—four years ago last Easter."
"Has she dark, brown or fair hair?"
"I've said already that she looked just like Fraulein Henrica. But what lady might not have fair, brown or dark hair? I think we shall reach the goal sooner, if you will let me ask a question now. Had the lady you mean a large semi-circular scar just under the hair, exactly in the middle of her forehead?"
"Enough," cried Wilhelm, rising hastily. "She fell on one of her father's weapons when a child."
"On the contrary, sir, the handle of Junker Van Hoogstraten's weapon fell on the forehead of his own daughter. How horrified you look! Oh! I have witnessed worse things in this house. Now it is your turn again: In what city of my home did you meet the signorina?"
"In Rome, alone and under an assumed name. Isabella—a Holland girl! Pray go on with your story, Belotti; I won't interrupt you again. What had the child done, that her own father—"
"He is the wildest of all the wild Hoogstratens. Perhaps you may have seen men like him in Italy—in this country you might seek long for such a hurricane. You must not think him an evil-disposed man, but a word that goes against the grain, a look askance will rob him of his senses, and things are done which he repents as soon as they are over. The signorina received her scar in the same way. She was a mere child, and of course ought not to have touched fire-arms, nevertheless she did whenever she could, and once a pistol went off and the bullet struck one of the best hunting-dogs. Her father heard the report and, when he saw the animal lying on the ground and the pistol at the little girl's feet, he seized it and with the sharp-edged handle struck—"
"A child, his own daughter!" exclaimed Wilhelm indignantly.
"People are differently constituted," Belotti continued. "Some, the class to which you probably belong, cautiously consider before they speak or act; the second reflect a long time and, when they are ready, pour forth a great many words, but rarely act at all; while the third, and at their head the Hoogstraten family, heap deeds on deeds, and if they ever think, it is only after the act is accomplished. If they then find that they have committed an injustice, pride comes in and forbids them to confess, atone for, or recall it. So one misfortune follows another; but the gentlemen pay no heed and find forgetfulness in drinking and gambling, carousing and hunting. There are plenty of debts, but all anxiety concerning them is left to the creditors, and boys who receive no inheritance are supplied with a place at court or in the army; for the girls, thank God, there is no lack of convents, if they confess our holy religion, and both have expectations from rich aunts and other blood relations, who die without children."
"You paint in vivid colors."
But they are true, and they all suit the Junker; though to be sure he need not keep his property for sons, since his wife gave him none. He met her at court in Brussels, and she came from Parma."
"Did you know her?"
"She died before I came to the padrona's house. The two young ladies grew up without a mother. You have heard that their father would even attack them, yet he doubtless loved them and would never resolve to place them in a convent. True, he often felt—at least he freely admitted it in conversations with her excellenza—that there were more suitable places for young girls than his castle, where matters went badly enough, and so he at last sent his oldest daughter to us. My mistress usually could not endure the society of young girls, but Fraulein Anna was one of her nearest relatives, and I know she invited her of her own accord. I can still see in memory the signorina at sixteen; a sweeter creature, Herr Wilhelm, my eyes have never beheld before or since, and yet she never remained the same. I have seen her as soft as Flemish velvet, but at other times she could rage like a November storm in your country. She was always beautiful as a rose and, as her mother's old cameriera—she was a native of Lugano—had brought her up, and the priest who taught her came from Pisa and was acknowledged to be an excellent musician, she spoke my language like a child of Tuscany and was perfectly familiar with music. You have doubtless heard her singing, her harp and lute-playing, but you should know that all the ladies of the Hoogstraten family, with the exception of my mistress, possess a special talent for your art. In summer we lived in the beautiful country-house, that was torn down before the siege by your friends—with little justice I think. Many a stately guest rode out to visit us. We kept open house, and where there is a good table and a beautiful young lady like our signorina, the gallants are not far off. Among them was a very aristocratic gentleman of middle age, the Marquis d'Avennes, whom her excellenza had expressly invited. We had never received any prince with so much attention; but this was a matter of course, for his mother was a relative of her excellenza. You must know that my mistress; on her mother's side, is descended from a family in Normandy. The Marquis d'Avennes was certainly an elegant cavalier, but rather dainty than manly. He was soon madly in love with Fraulein Anna, and asked in due form for her hand. Her excellenza favored the match, and the father said simply: 'You will take him!' He would listen to no opposition. Other gentlemen don't consult their daughters when a suitable lover appears. So the signorina became the marquis's betrothed wife, but the padrona said firmly that her niece was too young to be married. She induced Junker Van Hoogstraten, whom she held as firmly as a farrier holds a filly, to defer the wedding until Easter. The outfit was to be provided during the winter. The condition that he must wait six months was imposed on the marquis, and he went back to France with the ring on his finger. His betrothed bride did not shed a single tear for him, and as soon as he had gone, flung the engagement ring into the jewel-cup on her dressing-table, before the eyes of the camariera, from whom I heard the story. She did not venture to oppose her father, but did not hesitate to express her opinion of the marquis to her excellenza, and her aunt, though she had favored the Frenchman's suit, allowed it. Yet there had often been fierce quarrels between the old and young lady, and if the padrona had had reason to clip the wild falcon's wings and teach her what is fitting for noble ladies, the signorina would have been justified in complaining of many an exaction, by which the padrona had spoiled her pleasure in life. I am sorry to destroy the confidence of your youth, but whoever grows grey, with his eyes open, will meet persons who rejoice, nay to whom it is a necessity to injure others. Yet it is a consolation, that no one is wicked simply for the sake of wickedness, and I have often found—how shall I express it?—that the worst impulses arise from the perversion, or even the excess of the noblest virtues, whose reverse or caricature they become. I have seen base envy proceed from beautiful ambition, contemptible avarice from honest emulation, fierce hate from tender love. My mistress, when she was young, knew how to love truly and faithfully, but she was shamefully deceived, and now rancor, not against an individual, but against life, has taken possession of her, and her noble loyalty has become tenacious adherence to bad wishes. How this has happened you will learn, if you will continue to listen.
"When winter came, I was ordered to go to Brussel, and establish the new household in splendid style. The ladies were to follow me. It was four years ago. The Duke of Alva then lived as viceroy in Brussels, and this nobleman held my mistress in high esteem, nay had even twice paid us the honor of a visit. His aristocratic officers also frequented our house, among them Don Luis d'Avila, a nobleman of ancient family, who was one of the duke's favorites. Like the Marquis d'Avennes, he was no longer in his early youth, but was a man of totally different stamp; tall, strong as if hammered from steel, a soldier of invincible strength and skill, a most dreaded seeker of quarrels, but a man whose glowing eyes and wonderful gift of song must have exerted a mysterious, bewitching power over women. Dozens of adventures, in which he was said to have taken part, were told in the servant's hall and half of them had some foundation of truth, as I afterwards learned by experience. If you suppose this heart-breaker bore any resemblance to the gay, curly-haired minions of fortune, on whom young ladies lavish their love, you are mistaken; Don Luis was a grave man with close-cut hair, who never wore anything but dark clothes, and even carried a sword, whose hilt, instead of gold and silver, consisted of blackened metal. He resembled death much more than blooming love. Perhaps this very thing made him irresistible, since we are all born for death and no suitor is so sure of victory as he.
"The padrona had not been favorably disposed to him at first, but this mood soon changed, and at New Year's he too was admitted to small evening receptions of intimate friends. He came whenever we invited him, but had no word, no look, scarcely a greeting for our young lady. Only when it pleased the signorina to sing, he went near her and sharply criticised anything in her execution that chanced to displease him. He often sang himself too, and then usually chose the same songs as Fraulein Anna, as if to surpass her by his superior skill.
"So things went on till the time of the carnival. On Shrove-Tuesday the padrona gave a large entertainment, and when I led the servants and stood behind the signorina and Don Luis, to whom her excellenza had long been in the habit of assigning the seat beside her niece, I noticed that their hands met under the table and rested in each other's clasp a long time. My heart was so full of anxiety, that it was very hard for me to keep the attention so necessary on that evening—and when the next morning, the padrona summoned me to settle the accounts, I thought it my duty to modestly remark that Don Luis d'Avila's wooing did not seem disagreeable to the young lady in spite of her betrothal. She let me speak, but when I ventured to repeat what people said of the Spaniard, angrily started up and showed me to the door. A faithful servant often hears and sees more than his employers suspect, and I had the confidence of the padrona's foster-sister, who is now dead; but at that time Susanna knew everything that concerned her mistress.
"There was a bad prospect for the expectant bridegroom in France, for whenever the padrona spoke of him, it was with a laugh we knew, and which boded no good; but she still wrote frequently to the marquis and his mother, and many a letter from Rochebrun reached our house. To be sure, her excellenza also gave Don Luis more than one secret audience.
"During Lent a messenger from Fraulein Van Hoogstraten's father arrived with the news, that at Easter he, himself, would come to Brussels from Haarlem, and the marquis from Castle Rochebrun, and on Maundy Thursday I received orders to dress the private chapel with flowers, engage posthorses, and do several other things. On Good Friday, the day of our Lord's crucifixion—I wish I were telling lies—early in the morning of Good Friday the signorina was dressed in all her bridal finery. Don Luis appeared clad in black, proud and gloomy as usual, and by candle-light, before sunrise on a cold, damp morning—it seems to me as if it were only yesterday—the Castilian was married to our young mistress. The padrona, a Spanish officer and I were the witnesses. At seven o'clock the carriage drove up, and after it was packed Don Luis handed me a little box to put in the vehicle. It was heavy and I knew it well; the padrona was in the habit of keeping her gold coin in it. At Easter the whole city learned that Don Luis d'Avila had eloped with the beautiful Anna Van Hoogstraten, after killing her betrothed bridegroom in a duel on Maundy-Thursday at Hals on his way to Brussels—scarcely twenty-four hours before the wedding.
"I shall never forget how Junker Van Hoogstraten raged. The padrona refused to see him and pretended to be ill, but she was as well as only she could be during these last few years."
"And do you know how to interpret your mistress's mysterious conduct?" asked Wilhelm.
"Yes sir; her reasons are perfectly evident. But I must hasten, it is growing late; besides I cannot tell you minute particulars, for I was myself a child when the event happened, though Susanna has told me many things that would probably be worth relating. Her excellenza's mother was a Chevreaux, and my mistress spent the best years of her life with her mother's sister, who during the winter lived in Paris. It was in the reign of the late King Francis, and you doubtless know that this great Prince was a very gallant gentleman, who was said to have broken as many hearts as lances. My padrona, who in those days was very beautiful, belonged to the ladies of his court, and King Francis especially distinguished her. But the young lady knew how to guard her honor, for she had early found in the gallant Marquis d'Avennes a knight to whom she was loyally devoted, and for whom she had wept bitterly many a night. Like master, like servant, and though the marquis had worn the young lady's color for years and rendered her every service of an obedient knight, his eyes and heart often wandered to the right and left. Yet he always returned to his liege-lady, and when the sixth year came, the Chevreaux's urged the marquis to put an end to his trifling and think of marriage. My mistress began to make her preparations, and Susanna was a witness of her consultation with the marquis about whether she would keep or sell the Holland estates and castles. But the wedding did not take place, for the marquis was obliged to go to Italy with the army and her excellenza lived in perpetual anxiety about him; at that time the French fared ill in my country, and he often left her whole months without news. At last he returned and found in the Chevreaux's house his betrothed wife's little cousin, who had grown up into a charming young lady.
"You can imagine the rest. The rose-bud Hortense now pleased the marquis far better than the Holland flower of five and twenty. The Chevreaux's were aristocratic but deeply in debt, and the suitor, while fighting in Italy, had inherited the whole of his uncle's great estate, so they did not suffer him to sue in vain. My mistress returned to Holland. Her father challenged the marquis, but no blood was spilled in the duel, and Monsieur d'Avennes led a happy wedded life with Hortense de Chevreaux. Her son was the signorina's hapless lover. Do you understand, Herr Wilhelm? She had nursed and fostered the old grudge for half a life time; for its sake she had sacrificed her own kinswoman to Don Luis, but in return she repaid by the death of the only son of a hated mother, the sorrow she had suffered for years on her account."
The musician had clenched the handkerchief, with which he had wiped the perspiration from his brow, closely in his hand, and asked:
"What more have you heard of Anna?"
"Very little," replied Belotti. "Her father has torn her from his heart, and calls Henrica his only daughter. Happiness abandons those who are burdened by a father's curse, and she certainly did not find it. Don Luis is said to have been degraded to the rank of ensign on account of some wild escapades, and who knows what has become of the poor, beautiful signorina. The padrona sometimes sent money to her in Italy, by way of Florence, through Signor Lamperi—but I have heard nothing of her during the last few months."
"One more question, Belotti," said Wilhelm, "how could Henrica's father trust her to your mistress, after what had befallen his older daughter in her house?"
"Money—miserable money! To keep his castle and not lose his inheritance, he resigned his child. Yes, sir, the signorina was bargained for, like a horse, and her father didn't sell her cheap. Drink some wine, sir, you look ill."
"It is nothing serious," said Wilhelm, "but the fresh air will probably do me good. Thanks for your story, Belotti."
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Art ceases when ugliness begins Debts, but all anxiety concerning them is left to the creditors Despair and extravagant gayety ruled her nature by turns Repos ailleurs The best enjoyment in creating is had in anticipation To whom the emotion of sorrow affords a mournful pleasure
THE BURGOMASTER'S WIFE
By Georg Ebers
On the afternoon of the sixteenth of May, Burgomaster Van der Werff's wife was examining chests and boxes. Her husband was at the town-hall, but had told her that towards evening, the Prince's commissioner, Herr Dietrich Van Bronkhorst, the two Seigneurs von Nordwyk, the city clerk Van Hout, and several other heads of municipal affairs and friends of freedom would meet at his house for a confidential consultation. Maria had the charge of providing the gentlemen with a nice collation, wine, and many similar cares.
This invitation had a very cheering influence on the young wife. It pleased her to be able to play the hostess, according to the meaning of the word in her parents' house. How long she had been debarred from hearing any grave, earnest conversation. True, there had been no lack of visitors: the friends and relatives of her husband's family, who called upon her and talked with Barbara, often begged her to come to their houses; among them were many who showed themselves kindly disposed and could not help respecting her worth, but not one to whom she was attracted by any warm affection. Maria, whose life was certainly not crowded with amusements, dreaded their coming, and when they did call, endured their presence as an unavoidable evil. The worthy matrons were all much older than herself and, while sitting over their cakes, stewed fruit, and hippocras, knitting, spinning or netting, talked of the hard times during the siege, of the cares of children and servants, washing and soap-making, or subjected to a rigid scrutiny the numerous incomprehensible and reprehensible acts other women were said to have committed, to be committing, or to desire to commit, until Maria's heart grew heavy and her lonely room seemed to her a peaceful asylum.
She could find words only when the conversation turned upon the misery of the country and the sacred duty of bearing every privation a second time, if necessary for the freedom of the nation, and then she gladly listened to the sturdy women, who evidently meant what they said; but when the hours were filled with idle gossip, it caused her actual pain. Yet she dared not avoid it and was obliged to wait until the departure of the last acquaintance; for after she had ventured to retire early several times, Barbara kindly warned her against it, not concealing that she had had great difficulty in defending her against the reproach of pride and incivility.
"Such chat," said the widow, "is pleasant and strengthens the courage, and whoever leaves the visitors while they are together, can pray the Lord for a favorable report."
One lady in Leyden pleased the burgomaster's wife. This was the wife of Herr Van Hout, the city clerk, but the latter rarely appeared in company, for though a delicate, aristocratic-looking woman, she was obliged to be busy from morning till night, to keep the children and household in good order on a narrow income.
Maria felt brighter and happier than she had done for many days, as she stood before the shelf that contained the table-furniture and the cupboard where the silver was kept. All the handsome dishes belonging to the house were bright and shining, free from every grain of dust, so too were the white linen cloths, trimmed with lace. She selected what she needed, but many of the pewter, glass, and silver articles did not please her; for they did not match, and she found scratches and cracks on numerous pieces.
When her mother had begun to prepare her wedding-outfit, Peter expressed a desire that in these hard times the money should be kept and no useless things purchased. There was an abundance of household articles of every kind in his home, and he would have thought it wrong to buy even a plate. In fact there was no lack of anything on the shelves and cupboards, but she had not selected and bought them herself; they belonged to her, but not entirely, and what was worse, her eyes, accustomed to prettier things, could find no pleasure in these dull, scratched pewter plates, these pitchers, cups and tankards painted in coarse figures with glaring colors. The clumsy glass, too, did not suit her taste, and, while looking it over and selecting what was necessary, she could not help thinking of her recently-wedded friends, who, with sparkling eyes, had showed her their spick-and-span new table-furniture as proudly and happily, as if each piece had been their own work. But, even with the articles she possessed, a table could be set very prettily and daintily.
She had gone out with Adrian before dinner to cut some flowers in the garden by the city wall, and also gathered some delicate grasses in the meadow before the gate. These gifts of May were now tastefully arranged, mixed with peacock-feathers, and placed in vases, and she was delighted to see even the clumsiest dishes win a graceful aspect from the garlands she twined around them. Adrian watched her in astonishment. He would not have marvelled if, under her hands, the dark dining-room had been transformed into a hall of mother-of-pearl and crystal.
When the table was laid, Peter returned home for a moment. He was going to ride out to Valkenburg with Captain Allertssohn, Janus Dousa, and other gentlemen, to inspect the fortifications before his guests appeared. As he passed through the dining-room, he waved his hand to his wife and glancing over the table, said:
"This decoration was not necessary, least of all the flowers. We expect to hold a serious consultation, and you have arranged a wedding-banquet."
Perceiving that Maria cast down her eyes, he exclaimed kindly:
"But it can remain so for aught I care," and left the room.
Maria stood irresolutely before her work. Bitter emotions were again beginning to stir in her mind, and she was already extending her hand defiantly towards one particularly beautiful vase, when Adrian raised his large eyes to her face, exclaiming in a tone of earnest entreaty:
"No, mother, you mustn't do that, it looks quite too pretty."
Maria smiled, passed her hand over the boy's curls, took two cakes from a dish, gave them to him, and said:
"One for you, the other for Bessie; our flowers shall stay."
Adrian hurried off with the sweet gifts, but Maria glanced over the table once more, saying:
"Peter never wants anything but what is absolutely necessary; yet that surely isn't all, or God would have made all the birds with grey feathers."
After helping Barbara in the kitchen, she went to her own room. There she arranged her hair, put a fresh, beautifully-starched ruff around her neck and carefully-plaited lace in the open bosom of her dress, but wore her every-day gown, for her husband did not wish to give the assembly at his house a festal aspect.
Just as she had put the last gold pin in her hair, and was considering whether the place of honor at the table belonged to Herr Van Bronkhorst, as representative of the Prince, or to the older Herr von Nordwyk, Trautchen knocked at the door and informed her, that Doctor Bontius wished to see the burgomaster on urgent business. The maid-servant had told the physician that her master had ridden out, but he would not be put off, and asked permission to see her mistress.
Maria instantly went to Peter's room. The doctor seemed to be in haste. His only greeting was to point with the gold head of his long staff towards the peaked black hat, that never left his head, even beside the sickbed, and asked in a curt, hurried tone:
"When will Meister Peter come home?"
"In an hour," replied Maria. "Sit down, Doctor."
"Another time. It will keep me too long to wait for your husband. After all, you can come with me even without his consent."
"Certainly; but we are expecting visitors."
"Yes. If I find time, I shall come too. The gentlemen can do without me, but you are necessary to the sick person to whom I wish to take you."
"I have no idea of whom you are speaking."
"Haven't you? Then once more, it is of some one who is suffering, and that will be enough for you at first."
"And you think I could—"
"You can do far more than you know. Barbara is attending to affairs in the kitchen, and now I tell you again: You must help a sufferer."
"I must beg you to hurry, for my time is limited. Do you wish to make yourself useful; yes or no?" The door of the dining-room had remained open. Maria again glanced at the table, and all the pleasures she had anticipated this evening passed through her mind. But as the doctor was preparing to go, she stopped him, saying:
"I will come."
The manners of this blunt, but unselfish and clever man were familiar to Maria who, without waiting for a reply, brought her shawl, and led the way downstairs. As they passed by the kitchen, Bontius called to Barbara:
"Tell Meister Peter, I have taken his wife to see Fraulein Van Hoogstraten in Nobelstrasse."
Maria could scarcely keep up with the doctor's rapid strides and had some difficulty in understanding him, as in broken sentences he told her that all the Glipper friends of the Hoogstraten family had left the city, the old Fraulein was dead, the servants had run away from fear of the plague, which had no existence, and Henrica was now deserted. She had been very ill with a severe fever, but was much better during the past few days. "Misfortune has taken up its abode in the Glipper nest," he added. "The scythe-man did the old lady a favor when he took her. The French maid, a feeble nonentity, held out bravely, but after watching a few nights broke down entirely and was to have been carried to St. Catharine's hospital, but the Italian steward, who is not a bad fellow, objected and had her taken to a Catholic laundress. He has followed to nurse her. No one is left in the deserted house to attend to the young lady, except Sister Gonzaga, a good little nun, one of the three who were allowed to remain in the old convent near you, but early this morning, to cap the climax of misfortune, the kind old woman scalded her fingers while heating a bath. The Catholic priest has faithfully remained at his post, but what can we men do in nursing the sick girl! You doubtless now suspect why I brought you with me. You ought not and cannot become the stranger's nurse permanently; but if the young lady is not to sink after all, she must now have some face about her which she can love, and God has blessed you with one. Look at the sick girl, talk with her, and if you are what I believe you—but here we are."
The air of the dark entrance hall of the Hoogstraten residence was filled with a strong odor of musk. The old lady's death had been instantly announced at the town-hall by Doctor Bontius' representative, and an armed man was marching up and down in the hall, keeping guard, who told the physician that Herr Van Hout had already been here with his men and put seals on all the doors.
On the staircase Maria siezed her guide's arm in terror; for through an open door-way of the second story, to which she was ascending with her companion, she saw in the dusk a shapeless figure, moving strangely hither and thither, up and down. Her tone was by no means confident as, pointing towards it with her finger, she asked the doctor:
"What is that?"
The physician had paused with her, and seeing the strange object to which the burgomaster's wife pointed, recoiled a step himself. But the cool-headed man quickly perceived the real nature of the ghostly apparition, and leading Maria forward exclaimed smiling:
"What in the world are you doing there on the floor, Father Damianus?"
"I am scouring the boards," replied the priest quietly.
"Right is right," cried the doctor indignantly. "You are too good for maid-servant's work, Father Damianus, especially when there is plenty of money without an owner here in the house, and we can find as many scrubbing-women as we want to-morrow."
"But not to-day, doctor; and the young lady won't stay in yonder room any longer. You ordered her to go to sleep yourself, and Sister Gonzaga says she won't close her eyes so long as she is next door to the corpse."
"Then Van Hout's men ought to have carried her on her bed into the old lady's beautiful sitting-room."
"That's sealed, and so are all the other handsome chambers on this story. The men were obliging and tried to find scrub-women, but the poor things are afraid of the plague."
"Such rumors grow like wire-grass," cried the doctor. Nobody sows it, yet who can uproot it when it is once here?"
"Neither you nor I," replied the priest. "The young lady must be brought into this room at once; but it looked neglected, so I've just set it to rights. It will do the invalid good, and the exercise can't hurt me." With these words Father Damianus rose, and seeing Maria, said:
"You have brought a new nurse? That's right. I need not praise Sister Gonzaga, for you know her; but I assure you Fraulein Henrica won't allow her to remain with her long, and I shall leave this house as soon as the funeral is over."
"You have done your duty; but what does this news about the Sister mean?" cried the physician angrily. "I'd rather have your old Gonzaga with her burnt fingers than—what has happened?"
The priest approached and, hastily casting a side glance at the burgomaster's wife, exclaimed:
"She speaks through her nose, and Fraulein Henrica said just now it made her ache to hear her talk; I must keep her away."
Doctor Bontius reflected a moment, and then said: "There are eyes that cannot endure a glare of light, and perhaps certain tones may seem unbearable to irritated ears. Fran Van der Werff, you have been kept waiting a long time, please follow me."
It had grown dark. The curtains of the sick-room were lowered and a small lamp, burning behind a screen, shed but a feeble light.
The doctor approached the bed, felt Henrica's pulse, said a few words in a low tone to prepare her for her visitor, and then took the lamp to see how the invalid looked.
Maria now beheld a pale face with regular outline, whose dark eyes, in their size and lustre, formed a striking contrast to the emaciated cheeks and sunken features of the sick girl.
After old Sister Gonzaga had restored the lamp to its former place, the physician said:
"Excellent! Now, Sister, go and change the bandage on your arm and lie down." Then he beckoned Maria to approach.
Henrica's face made a strange impression upon the burgomaster's wife. She thought her beautiful, but the large eyes and firmly-shut lips seemed peculiar, rather than attractive. Yet she instantly obeyed the physician's summons, approached the bed, said kindly that she had been glad to come to stay with her a short time, and asked what she desired.
At these words, Henrica raised herself and with a sigh of relief, exclaimed:
"That does me good! Thanks, Doctor. That's a human voice again. If you want to please me, Frau Van der Werff keep on talking, no matter what you say. Please come and sit down here. With Sister Gonzaga's hands, your voice, and the doctor's—yes, I will say with Doctor Bontius' candor, it won't be difficult to recover entirely."
"Good, good," murmured the physician. "Kind Sister Gonzaga's injuries are not serious and she will stay with you, but when it is time for you to sleep, you will be moved elsewhere. You can remain here an hour, Frau Van der Werff, but that will be enough for to-day. I'll go to your house and send the servant for you with a lantern."
When the two ladies were left alone together, Maria said:
"You set great value on the sound of voices; so do I, perhaps more than is desirable. True, I have never had any serious illness—"
"This is my first one too," replied Henrica, "but I know now what it is to be compelled to submit to everything we don't like, and feel with two-fold keenness everything that is repulsive. It is better to die than suffer."
"Your aunt is dead," said Maria sympathizingly.
"She died early this morning. We had little in common save the tie of blood."
"Are your parents no longer living?"
"Only my father; but what of that?"
He will rejoice over your recovery; Doctor Bontius says you will soon be perfectly well."
"I think so too," replied Henrica confidently, and then said softly, without heeding Maria's presence: "There is one beautiful thing. When I am well again, I shall once more—Do you practise music?"
"Yes, dear Fraulein."
"Not merely as a pastime, but because you feel you cannot live without it?"
"You must keep quiet, Fraulein. Music;—yes, I think my life would be far poorer without it than it is."
"Do you sing?"
"Very seldom here; but when a girl in Delft we sung every day."
"Of course you were the soprano?"
"Let the Fraulein drop, and call me Henrica."
"With all my heart, if you will call me Maria, or Frau Maria."
"I'll try. Don't you think we could practise many a song together?"
Just as these words were uttered, Sister Gonzaga entered the room, saying that the wife of Receiver General Cornelius had called to ask if she could do anything for the sick lady.
"What does that mean?" asked Henrica angrily. "I don't know the woman."
"She is the mother of Herr Wilhelm, the musician," said the young wife.
"Oh!" exclaimed Henrica. "Shall I admit her, Maria?"
The latter shook her head and answered firmly "No, Fraulein Henrica. It is not good for you to have more than one visitor at this hour, and besides—"
"She is an excellent woman, but I fear her blunt manner, heavy step, and loud voice would not benefit you just now. Let me go to her and ask what she desires."
"Receive her kindly, and tell her to remember me to her son. I am not very delicate, but I see you understand me; such substantial fare would hardly suit me just now."
After Maria had performed her errand and talked with Henrica for a time, Frau Van Hout was announced. Her husband, who had been present when the doors of the house of death were sealed, had told her about the invalid and she came to see if the poor girl needed anything.
"You might receive her," said Maria, "for she would surely please you; but the bell is ringing again, and you have talked enough for to-day. Try to sleep now. I'll go home with Fran Van Hout and come again tomorrow, if agreeable to you."
"Come, pray come!" exclaimed the young girl.
"Do you want to say anything more to me?"
"I should like to do so, Fraulein Henrica. You ought not to stay in this sad house. There is plenty of room in ours. Will you be our guest until your father—"
"Yes, take me home with you!" cried the invalid, tears sparkling in her eyes. "Take me away from here, only take me away—and I will be grateful to you all my life."
Maria had not mounted the stairs so joyously for weeks as she did to-day. She would have sung, had it been seemly, though she felt a little anxious; for perhaps her husband would not think she had done right to invite, on her own authority, a stranger, especially a sick stranger, who was a friend of Spain, to be their guest.
As she passed the dining-room, she heard the gentlemen consulting together. Then Peter began to speak. She noticed the pleasant depth of his voice, and said to herself that Henrica would like to hear it. A few minutes after she entered the apartment, to greet her husband's guests, who were also hers. Joyous excitement and the rapid walk through the air of the May evening, which, though the day had been warm, was still cool, had flushed her cheeks and, as she modestly crossed the threshold with a respectful greeting, which nevertheless plainly revealed the pleasure afforded by the visit of such guests, she looked so winning and lovely, that not a single person present remained unmoved by the sight. The older Herr Van der Does clapped Peter on the shoulder and then struck the palm of his hand with his fist, as if to say: "I won't question that!" Janus Dousa whispered gaily to Van Hout, who was a good Latin scholar:
"Oculi sunt in amore duces."
Captain Allertssohn started up and raised his hand to his hat with a military salute; Van Bronkhorst, the Prince's Commissioner, gave expression to his feelings in a courtly bow, Doctor Bontius smiled contentedly, like a person who has successfully accomplished a hazardous enterprise, and Peter proudly and happily strove to attract his wife's attention to himself. But this was not to be, for as soon as Maria perceived that she was the mark for so many glances, she lowered her eyes with a deep blush, and then said far more firmly than would have been expected from her timid manner:
"Welcome, gentlemen! My greeting comes late, but I would have gladly offered it earlier."
"I can bear witness to that," cried Doctor Bontius, rising and shaking hands with Maria more cordially than ever before. Then he motioned towards Peter, and exclaimed to the assembled guests: "Will you excuse the burgomaster for a moment?"
As soon as he stood apart with the husband and wife at the door, he began:
"You have invited a new visitor to the house, Frau Van der Werff; I won't drink another drop of Malmsey, if I'm mistaken."
"How do you know?" asked Maria gaily. "I see it in your face."
"And the young lady shall be cordially welcome to me," added Peter.
"Then you know?" asked Maria.
The doctor did not conceal his conjecture from me."
"Why yes, the sick girl will be glad to come to us, and to-morrow—"
"No, I'll send for her to-day," interrupted Peter. "To-day? But dear me! It's so late; perhaps she is asleep, the gentlemen are here, and our spare bed—" exclaimed Maria, glancing disapprovingly and irresolutely from the physician to her husband.
"Calm yourself; child," replied Peter. "The doctor has ordered a covered litter from St. Catharine's hospital, Jan and one of the city-guard will carry her, and Barbara has nothing more to do in the kitchen and is now preparing her own chamber for her."
"And," chimed in the physician, "perhaps the sick girl may find sleep here. Besides, it will be far more agreeable to her pride to be carried through the streets unseen, under cover of the darkness."
"Yes, yes," said Maria sadly, "that may be so; but I had been thinking—People ought not to do anything too hastily."
"Will you be glad to receive the young lady as a guest?" asked Peter.
"Then we won't do things by halves, but show her all the kindness in our power. There is Barbara beckoning; the litter has come, Doctor. Guide the nocturnal procession in God's name, but don't keep us waiting too long."
The burgomaster returned to his seat, and Bontius left the room.
Maria followed him. In the entry, he laid his hand on her arm and asked:
"Will you know next time, what I expect from you?"
"No," replied the burgomaster's wife, in a tone which sounded gay, though it revealed the disappointment she felt; "no—but you have taught me that you are a man who understands how to spoil one's best pleasures."
"I will procure you others," replied the doctor laughing and descended the stairs. He was Peter's oldest friend, and had made many objections to the burgomaster's marriage with a girl so many years his junior, in these evil times, but to-day he showed himself satisfied with Van der Werff's choice.
Maria returned to the guests, filled and offered glasses of wine to the gentlemen, and then went to her sister-in-law's room, to help her prepare everything for the sick girl as well as possible. She did not do so unwillingly, but it seemed as if she would have gone to the work with far greater pleasure early the next morning.
Barbara's spacious chamber looked out upon the court-yard. No sound could be heard there of the conversation going on between the gentlemen in the dining-room, yet it was by no means quiet among these men who, though animated by the same purpose, differed widely about the ways and means of bringing it to a successful issue.
There they sat, the brave sons of a little nation, the stately leaders of a small community, poor in numbers and means of defence, which had undertaken to bid defiance to the mightiest power and finest armies of its age. They knew that the storm-clouds, which had been threatening for weeks on the horizon, would rise faster and faster, mass together, and burst in a furious tempest over Leyden, for Herr Van der Werff had summoned them to his house because a letter addressed to himself and Commissioner Van Bronkhorst by the Prince, contained tidings, that the Governor of King Philip of Spain had ordered Senor del Campo Valdez to besiege Leyden a second time and reduce it to subjection. They were aware, that William of Orange could not raise an army to divert the hostile troops from their aim or relieve the city before the lapse of several months; they had experienced how little aid was to be expected from the Queen of England and the Protestant Princes of Germany, while the horrible fate of Haarlem, a neighboring and more powerful city, rose as a menacing example before their eyes. But they were conscious of serving a good cause, relied upon the faith, courage and statesmanship of Orange, were ready to die rather than allow themselves to be enslaved body and soul by the Spanish tyrant. Their belief in God's justice was deep and earnest, and each individual possessed a joyous confidence in his own resolute, manly strength.
In truth, the men who sat around the table, so daintily decked with flowers by a woman's hand, understood how to empty the large fluted goblets so nimbly, that jug after jug of Peter's Malmsey and Rhine wine were brought up from the cellar, the men who made breaches in the round pies and huge joints of meat, juicier and more nourishing than any country except theirs can furnish—did not look as if pallid fear had brought them together.
The hat is the sign of liberty, and the free man keeps his hat on. So some of the burgomaster's guests sat at the board with covered heads, and how admirably the high plaited cap of dark-red velvet, with its rich ornaments of plumes, suited the fresh old face of the senior Seigneur of Nordwyk and the clever countenance of his nephew Janus Dousa; how well the broad-brimmed hat with blue and orange ostrich-feathers—the colors of the House of Orange—became the waving locks of the young Seigneur of Warmond, Jan Van Duivenvoorde. How strongly marked and healthful were the faces of the other men assembled here! Few countenances lacked ruddy color, and strong vitality, clear intellect, immovable will and firm resolution flashed from many blue eyes around the table. Even the black-robed magistrates, whose plaited ruffs and high white collars were very becoming, did not look as if the dust of documents had injured their health. The moustaches and beards on the lips of each, gave them also a manly appearance. They were all joyously ready to sacrifice themselves and their property for a great spiritual prize, yet looked as if they had a firm foothold in the midst of life; their hale, sensible faces showed no traces of enthusiasm; only the young Seigneur of Warmond's eyes sparkled with a touch of this feeling, while Janus Dousa's glance often seemed turned within, to seek things hidden in his own heart; and at such moments his sharply-cut, irregular features possessed a strange charm.
The broad, stout figure of Commissioner Van Bronkhorst occupied a great deal of room. His body was by no means agile, but from the round, closely shaven head looked forth a pair of prominent eyes, that expressed unyielding resolution.
The brightly-lighted table, around which such guests had gathered, presented a gay, magnificent spectacle. The yellow leather of the doublets worn by Junker von Warmond, Colonel Mulder, and Captain Allertssohn, the colored silk scarfs that adorned them, and the scarlet coat of brave Dirk Smaling contrasted admirably with the deep black robes of Pastor Verstroot, the burgomaster, the city clerk, and their associates! The violet of the commissioner's dress and the dark hues of the fur-bordered surcoats worn by the elder Herr Van der Does and Herr Van Montfort blended pleasantly and harmonized the light and dark shades. Everything sorrowful seemed to have been banished far from this brilliant, vigorous round table, so words flowed freely and voices sounded full and strong enough.
Danger was close at hand. The Spanish vanguard might appear before Leyden any day. Many preparations were made. English auxiliaries were to garrison the fortifications of Alfen and defend the Gouda lock. The defensive works of Valkenburg had been strengthened and entrusted to other British troops, the city soldiers, the militia and volunteers were admirably drilled. They did not wish to admit foreign troops within the walls, for during the first siege they had proved far more troublesome than useful, and there was little reason to fear that a city guarded by water, walls and trees would be taken by storm.
What most excited the gentlemen was the news Van Hout had brought. Rich Herr Baersdorp, one of the four burgomasters, who had the largest grain business in Leyden, had undertaken to purchase considerable quantities of bread-stuffs in the name of the city. Several ship loads of wheat and rye had been delivered by him the day before, but he was still in arrears with three-quarters of what was ordered. He openly said that he had as yet given no positive orders for it, because owing to the prospect of a good harvest, a fall in the price of grain was expected in the exchanges of Rotterdam and Amsterdam, and he would still have several weeks time before the commencement of the new blockade.
Van Hout was full of indignation, especially as two out of the four burgomasters sided with their colleague Baersdorp.
The elder Herr von Nordwyk agreed with him, exclaiming:
"With all due respect to your dignity, Herr Peter, your three companions in office belong to the ranks of bad friends, who would willingly be exchanged for open enemies."
"Herr von Noyelles," said Colonel Mulder, "has written about them to the Prince, the good and truthful words, that they ought to be sent to the gallows."
"And they will suit them," cried Captain Allertssohn, "so long as hangmen's nooses and traitors' necks are made for each other."
"Traitors—no," said Van der Werff resolutely. Call them cowards, call them selfish and base-minded—but not one of them is a Judas."
"Right, Meister Peter, that they certainly are not, and perhaps even cowardice has nothing to do with their conduct," added Herr von Nordwyk. "Whoever has eyes to see and ears to hear, knows the views of the gentlemen belonging to the old city families, who are reared from infancy as future magistrates; and I speak not only of Leyden, but the residents of Gouda and Delft, Rotterdam and Dortrecht. Among a hundred, sixty would bear the Spanish yoke, even do violence to conscience, if only their liberties and rights were guaranteed. The cities must rule and they themselves in them; that is all they desire. Whether people preach sermons or read mass in the church, whether a Spaniard or a Hollander rules, is a matter of secondary importance to them. I except the present company, for you would not be here, gentlemen, if your views were similar to those of the men of whom I speak."
"Thanks for those words," said Dirk Smaling, "but with all due honor to your opinion, you have painted matters in too dark colors. May I ask if the nobles do not also cling to their rights and liberties?"
"Certainly, Herr Dirk; but they are commonly of longer date than yours," replied Van Bronkhorst. "The nobleman needs a ruler. He is a lustreless star, if the sun that lends him light is lacking. I, and with me all the nobles who have sworn fealty to him, now believe that our sun must and can be no other person than the Prince of Orange, who is one of ourselves, knows, loves, and understands us; not Philip, who has no comprehension of what is passing within and around us, is a foreigner and detests us. We will uphold William with our fortunes and our lives for, as I have already said, we need a sun, that is, a monarch—but the cities think they have power to shine and wish to be admired as bright stars themselves. True, they feel that, in these troublous times, the country needs a leader, and that they can find no better, wiser and more faithful one than Orange; but if it comes to pass—and may God grant it—that the Spanish yoke is broken, the noble William's rule will seem wearisome, because they enjoy playing sovereign themselves. In short: the cities endure a ruler, the nobles gather round him and need him. No real good will be accomplished until noble, burgher and peasant cheerfully yield to him, and unite to battle under his leadership for the highest blessings of life."
"Right," said Van flout. "The well-disposed nobility may well serve as an example to the governing classes here and in the other cities, but the people, the poor hard-working people, know what is coming and, thank God, have not yet lost a hearty love for what you call the highest blessings of life. They wish to be and remain Hollanders, curse the Spanish butchers with eloquent hatred, desire to serve God according to the yearning of their own souls, and believe what their own hearts dictate-and these men call the Prince their Father William. Wait a little! As soon as trouble oppresses us, the poor and lowly will stand firm, if the rich and great waver and deny the good cause."
"They are to be trusted," said Van der Werff, "firmly trusted."
"And because I know them," cried Van Hout, "we shall conquer, with God's assistance, come what may." Janus Dousa had been looking into his glass. Now he raised his head and with a hasty gesture, said:
"Strange that those who toil for existence with their hands, and whose uncultured brains only move when their daily needs require it, are most ready to sacrifice the little they possess, for spiritual blessings."
"Yes," said the pastor, "the kingdom of heaven stands open to the simple-hearted. It is strange that the poor and unlearned value religion, liberty and their native land far more than the perishable gifts of this world, the golden calf around which the generations throng."
"My companions are not flattered to-day," replied Dirk Smaling; "but I beg you to remember in our favor, that we are playing a great and dangerous game, and property-holders must supply the lion's share of the stake."
"By no means," retorted Van Hout, "the highest stake for which the die will be cast is life, and this has the same value to rich and poor. Those who will hold back—I think I know them—have no plain motto or sign, but a proud escutcheon over their doors. Let us wait."
"Yes, let us wait," said Van der Werff; "but there are more important matters to be considered now. Day after to-morrow will be Ascension Day, when the bells will ring for the great fair. More than one foreign trader and traveller has passed through the gates yesterday and the day before. Shall we order the booths to be set up, or have the fair deferred until some other time? If the enemy hastens his march, there will be great confusion, and we shall perhaps throw a rich prize into his hands. Pray give me your opinion, gentlemen."
"The traders ought to be protected from loss and the fair postponed," said Dirk Smaling.
"No," replied Van Hout, "for if this prohibition is issued, we shall deprive the small merchants of considerable profit and prematurely damp their courage."
"Let them have their festival," cried Janus Dousa. "We mustn't do coming trouble the favor of spoiling the happy present on its account. If you want to act wisely, follow the advice of Horace."
"The Bible also teaches that 'sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,'" added the pastor, and Captain Allertssohn exclaimed:
"On my life, yes! My soldiers, the city-guard and volunteers must have their parade. Marching in full uniform, with all their weapons, while beautiful eyes smile upon them, the old wave greetings, and children run before with exultant shouts, a man learns to feel himself a soldier for the first time."
So it was determined to let the fair be held. While other questions were being eagerly discussed, Henrica found a loving welcome in Barbara's pleasant room. When she had fallen asleep, Maria went back to her guests, but did not again approach the table; for the gentlemen's cheeks were flushed and they were no longer speaking in regular order, but each was talking about whatever he choose. The burgomaster was discussing with Van Hout and Van Bronkhorst the means of procuring a supply of grain for the city, Janus Dousa and Herr von Warmond were speaking of the poem the city clerk had repeated at the last meeting of the poets' club, Herr Van der Does senior and the pastor were arguing about the new rules of the church, and stout Captain Allertssohn, before whom stood a huge drinking-horn drained to the dregs, had leaned his forehead on Colonel Mulder's shoulder and, as usual when he felt particularly happy over his wine, was shedding tears.
The next day after the meeting of the council, Burgomaster Van der Werff, Herr Van Hout, and a notary, attended by two constables, went to Nobelstrasse to set old Fraulein Van Hoogstraten's property in order. The fathers of the city had determined to seize the Glippers' abandoned dwellings and apply the property found in them to the benefit of the common cause.
The old lady's hostility to the patriots was known to all, and as her nearest relatives, Herr Van Hoogstraten and Matanesse Van Wibisma, had been banished from Leyden, the duty of representing the heirs fell upon the city. It was to be expected that only notorious Glippers would be remembered in the dead woman's will, and if this was the case, the revenue from the personal and real estate would fall to the city, until the deserters mended their ways, and adopted a course of conduct that would permit the magistrates to again open their gates to them. Whoever continued to cling to the Spaniards and oppose the cause of liberty, would forfeit his share of the inheritance. This was no new procedure. King Philip had taught its practice, nay not only the estates of countless innocent persons who had been executed, banished or gone into voluntary exile for the sake of the new religion, but also the property of good Catholic patriots had been confiscated for his benefit. After being anvil so many years, it is pleasant to play hammer; and if that was not always done in a proper and moderate way, people excused themselves on the ground of having experienced a hundred-fold harsher and more cruel treatment from the Spaniards. It might have been unchristian to repay in the same coin, but they dealt severe blows only in mortal conflict, and did not seek the Glippers' lives.
At the door of the house of death, the magistrates met the musician Wilhelm Corneliussohn and his mother, who had come to offer Henrica a hospitable reception in their house. The mother, who had at first refused to extend her love for her neighbor to the young Glipper girl, now found it hard to be deprived of the opportunity to do a good work, and gave expression to these feelings in the sturdy fashion peculiar to her.
Belotti was standing in the entry, no longer attired in the silk hose and satin-bordered cloth garments of the steward, but in a plain burgher dress. He told the musician and Peter, that he remained in Leyden principally because he could not bear to leave the sick maid, Denise, in the lurch; but other matters also detained him, especially, though he was reluctant to acknowledge it, the feeling, strengthened by long years of service, that he belonged to the Hoogstraten house. The dead woman's attorney had said that his account books were in good order, and willingly paid the balance due him. His savings had been well invested, and as he never touched the interest, but added to the capital, had considerably increased. Nothing detained him in Leyden, yet he could not leave it until everything was settled in the house where he had so long ruled.
He had daily inquired for the sick lady, and after her death, though Denise began to recover, still lingered in Leyden; he thought it his duty to show the last honors to the dead by attending her funeral.
The magistrates were glad to find Belotti in the house. The notary had managed his little property, and respected him as an honest man. He now asked him to act as guide to his companions and himself. The most important matter was to find the dead woman's will. Such a document must be in existence, for up to the day after Henrica's illness it had been in the lawyer's possession, but was then sent for by the old lady, who desired to make some changes in it. He could give no information about its contents, for his dead partner, whose business had fallen to him, had assisted in drawing it up.
The steward first conducted the visitors to the padrona's sitting-room and boudoir, but though they searched the writing-tables, chests and drawers, and discovered many letters, money and valuable jewels in boxes and caskets, the document was not found.
The gentlemen thought it was concealed in a secret drawer, and ordered one of the constables to call a locksmith. Belotti allowed this to be done, but meantime listened with special attention to the low chanting that issued from the bedroom where the old lady's body lay. He knew that the will would most probably be found there, but was anxious to have the priest complete the consecration of his mistress undisturbed. As soon as all was still in the death-chamber, he asked the gentlemen to follow him.
The lofty apartment into which he led them, was filled with the odor of incense. A large bedstead, over which a pointed canopy of heavy silk rose to the ceiling, stood at the back, the coffin in which the dead woman lay had been placed in the middle of the room. A linen cloth, trimmed with lace, covered the face. The delicate hands, still unwrinkled, were folded, and lightly clasped a well-worn rosary. The lifeless form was concealed beneath a costly coverlid, in the centre of which lay an exquisitely-carved ivory crucifix.
The visitors bowed mutely before the corpse. Belotti approached it and, as he saw the padrona's well-known hands, a convulsive sob shook the old man's breast. Then he knelt beside the coffin, pressed his lips, to the cold, slender fingers, and a warm tear, the only one shed for this dead form, fell on the hands now clasped forever.
The burgomaster and his companion did not interrupt him, even when he laid his forehead upon the wood of the coffin and uttered a brief, silent prayer. After he had risen, and an elderly priest in the sacerdotal robes had left the room, Father Damianus beckoned to the acolytes, with whom he had lingered in the background, and aided by them and Belotti put the lid on the coffin, then turned to Peter Van der Werff, saying:
"We intend to bury Fraulein Van Hoogstraten at midnight, that no offence may be given."
"Very well, sir!" replied the burgomaster. "Whatever may happen, we shall not expel you from the city. Of course, if you prefer to go to the Spaniards—"
Damianus shook his head and, interrupting the burgomaster, answered modestly:
"No, sir; I am a native of Utrecht and will gladly pray for the liberty of Holland."
"There, there!" exclaimed Van Hout. "Those were good words, admirable words! Your hand, Father."
"There it is; and, so long as you don't change the 'haec libertatis ergo' on your coins to 'haec religionis ergo,' not one of those words need be altered."
"A free country and in it religious liberty for each individual, even for you and your followers," said the burgomaster, "is what we desire. Doctor Bontius has spoken of you, worthy man; you have cared well for this dead woman. Bury her according to the customs of your church; we have come to arrange the earthly possessions she leaves behind. Perhaps this casket may contain the will."
"No, sir," replied the priest. "She opened the sealed paper in my presence, when she was first taken sick, and wrote a few words whenever she felt stronger. An hour before her end, she ordered the notary to be sent for, but when he came life had departed. I could not remain constantly beside the corpse, so I locked up the paper in the linen chest. There is the key."
The opened will was soon found. The burgomaster quietly unfolded it, and, while reading its contents aloud, the notary and city clerk looked over his shoulder.
The property was to be divided among various churches and convents, where masses were to be read for her soul, and her nearest blood relations. Belotti and Denise received small legacies.
"It is fortunate," exclaimed Van Hout, "that this paper is a piece of paper and nothing more."
"The document has no legal value whatever," added the notary, "for it was taken from me and opened with the explicit statement, that changes were to be made. Here is a great deal to be read on the back."
The task, that the gentlemen now undertook, was no easy one, for the sick woman had scrawled short notes above and below, hither and thither, on the blank back of the document, probably to assist her memory while composing a new will.
At the very top a crucifix was sketched with an unsteady hand, and below it the words: "Pray for us! Everything shall belong to holy Mother Church."
Farther down they read: "Nico, I like the lad. The castle on the downs. Ten thousand gold florins in money. To be secured exclusively to him. His father is not to touch it. Make the reason for disinheriting him conspicuous. Van Vliet of Haarlem was the gentleman whose daughter my cousin secretly wedded. On some pitiful pretext he deserted her, to form another marriage. If he has forgotten it, I have remembered and would fain impress it upon him. Let Nico pay heed: False love is poison. My life has been ruined by it—ruined."
The second "ruined" was followed by numerous repetitions of the same word. The last one, at the very end of the sentence, had been ornamented with numerous curves and spirals by the sick woman's pen.
On the right-hand margin of the sheet stood a series of short notes
"Ten thousand florins to Anna. To be secured to herself. Otherwise they will fall into the clutches of that foot-pad, d'Avila.
"Three times as much to Henrica. Her father will pay her the money—from the sum he owes me. Where he gets it is his affair. Thus the account with him would be settled.
"Belotti has behaved badly. He shall be passed over.
"Denise may keep what was given her."
In the middle of the paper, written in large characters, twice and thrice underlined, was the sentence: "The ebony-casket with the Hoogstraten and d'Avila arms on the lid is to be sent to the widow of the Marquis d'Avennes. Forward it to Chateau Rochebrun in Normandy."
The men, who had mutually deciphered these words, looked at each other silently, until Van Hout exclaimed:
"What a confused mixture of malice and feminine weakness. Let a woman's heart seem ever so cold; glacier flowers will always be found in it."
"I'm sorry for the young lady in your house, Herr Peter," cried the notary, it would be easier to get sparks from rye-bread, than such a sum from the debt-laden poor devil. The daughter's portion will be curtailed by the father; that's what I call bargaining between relations."
"What can be in the casket?" asked the notary. "There it is," cried Van Hout.
"Bring it here, Belotti."
"We must open it," said the lawyer, "perhaps she is trying to convey her most valuable property across the frontiers."
"Open it? Contrary to the dead woman's express desire?" asked Van der Werff.
"Certainly!" cried the notary. "We were sent here to ascertain the amount of the inheritance. The lid is fastened. Take the picklock, Meister. There, it is open." The city magistrates found no valuables in the casket, merely letters of different dates. There were not many. Those at the bottom, yellow with age, contained vows of love from the Marquis d'Avennes, the more recent ones were brief and, signed Don Louis d'Avila. Van Hout, who understood the Castilian language in which they were written, hastily read them. As he was approaching the end of the last one, he exclaimed with lively indignation:
"We have here the key of a rascally trick in our hands! Do you remember the excitement aroused four years ago by the duel, in which the Marquis d'Avennes fell a victim to a Spanish brawler? The miserable bravo writes in this letter that he has. . . . It will be worth the trouble; I'll translate it for you. The first part of the note is of no importance; but now comes the point: 'And now, after having succeeded in crossing swords with the marquis and killing him, not without personal danger, a fate he has doubtless deserved, since he aroused your displeasure to such a degree, the condition you imposed upon me is fulfilled, and to-morrow I hope through your favor to receive the sweetest reward. Tell Donna Anna, my adored betrothed, that I would fain lead her to the altar early to-morrow morning, for the d'Avennes are influential and the following day my safety will perhaps be imperilled. As for the rest, I hope I may be permitted to rely upon the fairness and generosity of my patroness."
Van Hout flung the letter on the table, exclaiming "See, what a dainty hand the bravo writes. And, Jove's thunder, the lady to whom this plotted murder was to have been sent, is doubtless the mother of the unfortunate marquis, whom the Spanish assassin slew."
"Yes, Herr Van Hout," said Belotti, "I can confirm your supposition. The marquise was the wife of the man, who broke his plighted faith to the young Fraulein Van Hoogstraten. She, who lies there, saw many suns rise and set, ere her vengeance ripened."
"Throw the scrawl into the fire!" cried Van Hout impetuously.
"No," replied Peter. "We will not send the letters, but you must keep them in the archives. God's mills grind slowly, and who knows what good purpose these sheets may yet serve."
The city clerk nodded assent and folding the papers, said: "I think the dead woman's property will be an advantage to the city."
"The Prince will dispose of it," replied Van der Werff. "How long have you served this lady, Belotti?"
"Then remain in Leyden for a time. I think you may expect the legacy she originally left you. I will urge your claim."
A few hours before the nocturnal burial of old Fraulein Van Hoogstraten, Herr Matanesse Van Wibisma and his son Nicolas appeared before the city, but were refused admittance by the men who guarded the gates, although both appealed to their relative's death. Henrica's father did not come, he had gone several days before to attend a tourney at Cologne.
Between twelve and one o'clock on the 26th of May, Ascension-Day, the ringing of bells announced the opening of the great fair. The old circuit of the boundaries of the fields had long since given place to a church festival, but the name of "Ommegang" remained interwoven with that of the fair, and even after the new religion had obtained the mastery, all sorts of processions took place at the commencement of the fair.
In the days of Catholic rule the cross had been borne through the streets in a soleum procession, in which all Leyden took part, now the banners of the city and standards bearing the colors of the House of Orange headed the train, followed by the nobles on horseback, the city magistrates in festal array, the clergy in black robes, the volunteers in magnificent uniforms, the guilds with their emblems, and long joyous ranks of school-children. Even the poorest people bought some thing new for their little ones on this day. Never did mothers braid their young daughters' hair more carefully, than for the procession at the opening of the fair. Spite of the hard times, many a stiver was taken from slender purses for fresh ribbons and new shoes, becoming caps and bright-hued stockings. The spring sunshine could be reflected from the little girls' shining, smoothly-combed hair, and the big boys and little children looked even gayer than the flowers in Herr Van Montfort's garden, by which the procession was obliged to pass. Each wore a sprig of green leaves in his cap beside the plume, and the smaller the boy, the larger the branch. There was no lack of loud talk and merry shouts, for every child that passed its home called to its mother, grandparents, and the servants, and when one raised its voice many others instantly followed. The grown people too were not silent, and as the procession approached the town-hall, head-quarters of military companies, guild-halls or residences of popular men, loud cheers arose, mingled with the ringing of bells, the shouts of the sailors on both arms of the Rhine and on the canals, the playing of the city musicians at the street corners, and the rattle of guns and roar of cannon fired by the gunners and their assistants from the citadel. It was a joyous tumult in jocund spring! These merry mortals seemed to lull themselves carelessly in the secure enjoyment of peace and prosperity, and how blue the sky was, how warmly and brightly the sun shone! The only grave, anxious faces were among the magistrates; but the guilds and the children behind did not see them, so the rejoicings continued without interruption until the churches received the procession, and words so earnest and full of warning echoed from the pulpits, that many grew thoughtful.
All three phases of time belong to man, the past to the graybeard, the future to youth, and the present to childhood. What cared the little boys and girls of Leyden, released from school during the fair, for the peril close at hand? Whoever, on the first day and during the great linen-fair on Friday and the following days, received spending money from parents or godparents, or whoever had eyes to see, ears to hear, and a nose to smell, passed through the rows of booths with his or her companions, stopped before the camels and dancing-bears, gazed into the open taverns, where not only lads and lasses, but merry old people whirled in the dance to the music of bagpipes, clarionets and violins—examined gingerbread and other dainties with the attention of an expert, or obeyed the blasts of the trumpet, by which the quack doctor's negro summoned the crowd.
Adrian, the burgomaster's son, also strolled day after day, alone or with his companions, through the splendors of the fair, often grasping with the secure sense of wealth the leather purse that hung at his belt, for it contained several stivers, which had flowed in from various sources; his father, his mother, Barbara and his godmother. Captain Van Duivenvoorde, his particular friend, on whose noble horse he had often ridden, had taken him three times into a wafer booth, where he eat till he was satisfied, and thus, even on the Tuesday after Ascension-Day, his little fortune was but slightly diminished. He intended to buy something very big and sensible: a knight's sword or a cross-bow; perhaps even—but this thought seemed like an evil temptation—the ginger-cake covered with almonds, which was exhibited in the booth of a Delft confectioner. He and Bessie could surely nibble for weeks upon this giant cake, if they were economical, and economy is an admirable virtue. Something must at any rate be spared for "little brothers,"—[A kind of griddle or pancake.]—the nice spiced cakes which were baked in many booths before the eyes of the passers-by.
On Tuesday afternoon his way led him past the famous Rotterdam cake-shop. Before the door of the building, made of boards lightly joined together and decked with mirrors and gay pictures, a stout, pretty woman, in the bloom of youth, sat in a high arm-chair, pouring rapidly, with remarkable skill, liquid dough into the hot iron plate, provided with numerous indentations, that stood just on a level with her comfortably outspread lap. Her assistant hastily turned with a fork the little cakes, browning rapidly in the hollows of the iron, and when baked, laid them neatly on small plates. The waiter prepared them for purchasers by putting a large piece of yellow butter on the smoking pile. A tempting odor, that only too vividly recalled former enjoyment, rose from the fireplace, and Adrian's fingers were already examining the contents of his purse, when the negro's trumpet sounded and the quack doctor's cart stopped directly in front of the booth.
The famous Doctor Morpurgo was a fine-looking man, dressed in bright scarlet, who had a thin, coalblack beard hanging over his breast. His movements were measured and haughty, the bows and gestures with which he saluted the assembled crowd, patronizing and affable. After a sufficient number of curious persons had gathered around his cart, which was stocked with boxes and vials, he began to address them in broken Dutch, spiced with numerous foreign words.
He praised the goodness of the Providence which had created the marvel of human organism. Everything, he said, was arranged and formed wisely and in the best possible manner, but in one respect nature fared badly in the presence of adepts.
"Do you know where the error is, ladies and gentlemen?" he asked.
"In the purse," cried a merry barber's clerk, "it grows prematurely thin every day."
"Right, my son," answered the quack graciously. "But nature also provides it with the great door from which your answer has come. Your teeth are a bungling piece of workmanship. They appear with pain, decay with time, and so long as they last torture those who do not industriously attend to them. But art will correct nature. See this box—" and he now began to praise the tooth-powder and cure for toothache he had invented. Next he passed to the head, and described in vivid colors, its various pains. But they too were to be cured, people need only buy his arcanum. It was to be had for a trifle, and whoever bought it could sweep away every headache, even the worst, as with a broom.
Adrian listened to the famous doctor with mouth wide open. Specially sweet odors floated over to him from the hot surface of the stove before the booth, and he would have gladly allowed himself a plate of fresh cakes. The baker's stout wife even beckoned to him with a spoon, but he closed his hand around the purse and again turned his eyes towards the quack, whose cart was now surrounded by men and women buying tinctures and medicines.
Henrica lay ill in his father's house. He had been taken into her room twice, and the beautiful pale face, with its large dark eyes, had filled his heart with pity. The clear, deep voice in which she addressed a few words to him, also seemed wonderful and penetrated the inmost depths of his soul: He was told one morning that she was there, and since that time his mother rarely appeared and the house was far more quiet than usual; for everybody walked lightly, spoke in subdued tones, rapped cautiously at a window instead of using the knocker, and whenever Bessie or he laughed aloud or ran up or down-stairs, Barbara, his mother, or Trautchen appeared and whispered: "Gently, children, the young lady has a headache."
There were many bottles in the cart which were warranted to cure the ailment, and the famous Morpurgo seemed to be a very sensible man, no buffoon like the other mountebanks. The wife of the baker, Wilhelm Peterssohn, who stood beside him, a woman he knew well, said to her companion that the doctor's remedies were good, they had quickly cured her godmother of a bad attack of erysipelas.
The words matured the boy's resolution. Fleeting visions of the sword, the cross-bow, the gingerbread and the nice little brothers once more rose before his mind, but with a powerful effort of the will he thrust them aside, held his breath that he might not smell the alluring odor of the cakes, and hastily approached the cart. Here he unfastened his purse from his belt, poured its contents into his hand, showed the coins to the doctor, who had fixed his black eyes kindly on the odd customer, and asked: "Will this be enough?"
"For the medicine to cure headache."
The quack separated the little coins in Adrian's hand with his forefinger, and answered gravely: "No, my son, but I am always glad to advance the cause of knowledge. There is still a great deal for you to learn at school, and the headache will prevent it. Here are the drops and, as it's you, I'll give this prescription for another arcanum into the bargain."
Adrian hastily wrapped the little vial the quack handed him in the piece of printed paper, received his dearly-bought treasure, and ran home. On the way he was stopped by Captain Allertssohn, who came towards him with the musician Wilhelm.
"Have you seen my Andreas, Master Good-for-nothing?" he asked.
"He was standing listening to the musicians," replied Adrian, released himself from the captain's grasp, and vanished among the crowd.
"A nimble lad," said the fencing-master. "My boy is standing with the musicians again. He has nothing but your art in his mind. He would rather blow on a comb than comb his hair with it, he's always tooting on every leaf and pipe, makes triangles of broken sword-blades, and not even a kitchen pot is sate from his drumming; in short there's nothing but singsong in the good-for-nothing fellow's head; he wants to be a musician or something of the sort."
"Right, right!" replied Wilhelm eagerly; "he has a fine ear and the best voice in the choir."
"The matter must be duly considered," replied the captain, "and you, if anybody, are the person to tell us what he can accomplish in your art. If you have time this evening, Herr Wilhelm, come to me at the watch house, I should like to speak to you. To be sure, you'll hardly find me before ten o'clock. I have a stricture in my throat again, and on such days—Roland, my fore man!"
The captain cleared his throat loudly and vehemently. "I am at your service," said Wilhelm, "for the night is long, but I won't let you go now until I know what you mean by your fore man Roland."
"Very well, it's not much of a story, and perhaps you won't understand. Come in here; I can tell it better over a mug of beer, and the legs rebel if they're deprived of rest four nights in succession."
When the two men were seated opposite to each other in the tap-room, the fencing-master pushed his moustache away from his lips, and began: "How long ago is it-? We'll say fifteen years, since I was riding to Haarlem with the innkeeper Aquarius, who as you know, is a learned man and has all sorts of old stuff and Latin manuscripts. He talks well, and when the conversation turned upon our meeting with many things in life that we fancy we have already seen, remarked that this could be easily explained, for the human soul was an indestructible thing, a bird that never dies. So long as we live it remains with us, and when we die flies away and is rewarded or punished according to its deserts; but after centuries, which are no more to the Lord than the minutes in which I empty this fresh mug—one more, bar-maid—the merciful Father releases it again, and it nestles in some new born child. This made me laugh; but he was not at all disturbed and told the story of an old Pagan, a wonderfully wise chap, who knew positively that his soul had formerly lodged in the body of a mighty hero. This same hero also remembered exactly where, during his former life, he had hung his shield, and told his associates. They searched and found the piece of armor, with the initials of the Christian and surname which had belonged to the philosopher in his life as a soldier, centuries before. This puzzled me, for you see—now don't laugh—something had formerly happened to me very much like the Pagan's experience. I don't care much for books, and from a child have always read the same one. I inherited it from my dead father and the work is not printed, but written. I'll show it to you some time—it contains the history of the brave Roland. Often, when absorbed in these beautiful and true stories, my cheeks have grown as red as fire, and I'll confess to you, as I did to my travelling-companion: If I'm not mistaken, I've sat with King Charles at the board, or I've worn Roland's chain armor in battle and in the tourney. I believe I have seen the Moorish king, Marsilia, and once when reading how the dying Roland wound his horn in the valley of the Roncesvalles, I felt such a pain in my throat, that it seemed as if it would burst, and fancied I had felt the same pain before. When I frankly acknowledged all this, my companion exclaimed that there was no doubt my soul had once inhabited Roland's body, or in other words, that in a former life I had been the Knight Roland."
The musician looked at the fencing-master in amazement and asked: "Could you really believe that, Captain?"
"Why not," replied the other. "Nothing is impossible to the Highest. At first I laughed in the man's face, but his words followed me; and when I read the old stories—I needn't strain my eyes much, for at every line I know beforehand what the next will be—I couldn't help asking myself—In short, sir, my soul probably once inhabited Roland's body, and that's why I call him my 'fore man.' In the course of years, it has become a habit to swear by him. Folly, you will think, but I know what I know, and now I must go. We will have another talk this evening, but about other matters. Yes, everybody in this world is a little crackbrained, but at least I don't bore other people. I only show my craze to intimate friends, and strangers who ask me once about the fore man Roland rarely do so a second time. The score, bar-maid—There it is again. We must see whether the towers are properly garrisoned, and charge the sentinels to keep their eyes open. If you come prepared for battle, you may save yourself a walk, I'll answer for nothing to-day. You will probably pass the new Rhine. Just step into my house, and tell my wife she needn't wait supper for me. Or, no, I'll attend to that myself; there's something in the air, you'll see it, for I have the Roncesvalles throat again."