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- The Burgomaster's Wife, Volume 1. - 4/12 -
There were the bells ringing again!
The dinner hour had long since passed, and his father waited for no one. Whoever came too late must go without, unless Aunt Barbara took compassion on him in the kitchen.
But what was the use of pondering and hesitating? Adrian summoned up all his courage, clenched his teeth, clasped his right hand still closer around the torn ruffles in his pocket, and struck the knocker loudly on the steel plate beneath.
Trautchen, the old maid-servant, opened the door, and in the spacious, dusky entrance-hall, where the bales of leather were packed closely together, did not notice the dilapidation of his outer man.
He hurried swiftly up the stairs.
The dining-room door was open, and--marvellous--the table was still untouched, his father must have remained at the town-hall longer than usual.
Adrian rushed with long leaps to his little attic room, dressed himself neatly, and entered the presence of his family before the master of the house had asked the blessing.
The doublet and stocking could be confided to the hands of Aunt Barbara or Trautchen, at some opportune hour.
Adrian sturdily attacked the smoking dishes; but his heart soon grew heavy, for his father did not utter a word, and gazed into vacancy as gravely and anxiously as at the time when misery entered the beleagured city.
The boy's young step-mother sat opposite her husband, and often glanced at Peter Van der Werff's grave face to win a loving glance from him.
Whenever she did so in vain, she pushed her soft, golden hair back from her forehead, raised her beautiful head higher, or bit her lips and gazed silently into her plate.
In reply to Aunt Barbara's questions: "What happened at the council? Has the money for the new bell been collected? Will Jacob Van Sloten rent you the meadow?" he made curt, evasive replies.
The steadfast man, who sat so silently with frowning brow among his family, sometimes attacking the viands on his plate, then leaving them untouched, did not look like one who yields to idle whims.
All present, even the men and maid-servants, were still devoting themselves to the food, when the master of the house rose, and pressing both hands over the back of his head, which was very prominently developed, exclaimed groaning:
"I can hold out no longer. Do you give thanks, Maria. Go to the town- hall, Janche, and ask if no messenger has yet arrived."
The man-servant wiped his mouth and instantly obeyed. He was a tall, broad-shouldered Frieselander, but only reached to his master's forehead.
Peter Van der Werff, without any form of salutation, turned his back on his family, opened the door leading into his study, and after crossing the threshold, closed it with a bang, approached the big oak writing- desk, on which papers and letters lay piled in heaps, secured by rough leaden weights, and began to rummage among the newly-arrived documents. For fifteen minutes he vainly strove to fix the necessary attention upon his task, then grasped his study-chair to rest his folded arms on the high, perforated back, adorned with simple carving, and gazed thoughtfully at the wooden wainscoting of the ceiling. After a few minutes he pushed the chair aside with his foot, raised his hand to his mouth, separated his moustache from his thick brown beard, and went to the window. The small, round, leaden-cased panes, however brightly they might be polished, permitted only a narrow portion of the street to be seen, but the burgomaster seemed to have found the object for which he had been looking. Hastily opening the window, he called to his servant, who was hurriedly approaching the house:
"Is he in, Janche?"
The Frieselander shook his head, the window again closed, and a few minutes after the burgomaster seized his hat, which hung, between some cavalry pistols and a plain, substantial sword, on the only wall of his room not perfectly bare.
The torturing anxiety that filled his mind, would no longer allow him to remain in the house.
He would have his horse saddled, and ride to meet the expected messenger.
Ere leaving the room, he paused a moment lost in thought, then approached the writing-table to sign some papers intended for the town-hall; for his return might be delayed till night.
Still standing, he looked over the two sheets he had spread out before him, and seized the pen. Just at that moment the door of the room gently opened, and the fresh sand strewn over the white boards creaked under a light foot. He doubtless heard it, but did not allow himself to be interrupted.
His wife was now standing close behind him. Four and twenty years his junior, she seemed like a timid girl, as she raised her arm, yet did not venture to divert her husband's attention from his business.
She waited quietly till he had signed the first paper, then turned her pretty head aside, and blushing faintly, exclaimed with downcast eyes:
"It is I, Peter!"
"Very well, my child," he answered curtly, raising the second paper nearer his eyes.
"Peter!" she exclaimed a second time, still more eagerly, but with timidity. "I have something to tell you."
Van der Werff turned his head, cast a hasty, affectionate glance at her, and said:
"Now, child? You see I am busy, and there is my hat."
"But Peter!" she replied, a flash of something like indignation sparkling in her eyes, as she continued in a voice pervaded with a slightly perceptible tone of complaint: "We haven't said anything to each other to-day. My heart is so full, and what I would fain say to you is, must surely--"
"When I come home Maria, not now," he interrupted, his deep voice sounding half impatient, half beseeching. "First the city and the country--then love-making."
At these words, Maria raised her head proudly, and answered with quivering lips:
"That is what you have said ever since the first day of our marriage."
"And unhappily--unhappily--I must continue to say so until we reach the goal," he answered firmly. The blood mounted into the young wife's delicate cheeks, and with quickened breathing, she answered in a hasty, resolute tone:
"Yes, indeed, I have known these words ever since your courtship, and as I am my father's daughter never opposed them, but now they are no longer suited to us, and should be: 'Everything for the country, and nothing at all for the wife.'"
Van der Werff laid down his pen and turned full towards her.
Maria's slender figure seemed to have grown taller, and the blue eyes, swimming in tears, flashed proudly. This life-companion seemed to have been created by God especially for him. His heart opened to her, and frankly stretching out both hands, he said tenderly:
"You know how matters are! This heart is changeless, and other days will come."
"When?" asked Maria, in a tone as mournful as if she believed in no happier future.
"Soon," replied her husband firmly. "Soon, if only each one gives willingly what our native land demands."
At these words the young wife loosed her hands from her husband's, for the door had opened and Barbara called to her brother from the threshold.
"Herr Matanesse Van Wibisma, the Glipper, is in the entry and wants to speak to you."
"Show him up," said the burgomaster reluctantly. When again alone with his wife, he asked hastily "Will you be indulgent and help me?"
She nodded assent, trying to smile.
He saw that she was sad and, as this grieved him, held out his hand to her again, saying:
"Better days will come, when I shall be permitted to be more to you than to-day. What were you going to say just now?"
"Whether you know it or not--is of no importance to the state."
"But to you. Then lift up your head again, and look at me. Quick, love, for they are already on the stairs."
"It isn't worth mentioning--a year ago to-day--we might celebrate the anniversary of our wedding to-day."
"The anniversary of our wedding-day!" he cried, striking his hands loudly together. "Yes, this is the seventeenth of April, and I have forgotten it."
He drew her tenderly towards him, but just at that moment the door opened, and Adrian ushered the baron into the room.
Van der Werff bowed courteously to the infrequent guest, then called to his blushing wife, who was retiring: "My congratulations! I'll come later. Adrian, we are to celebrate a beautiful festival to-day, the anniversary of our marriage."
The boy glided swiftly out of the door, which he still held in his hand, for he suspected the aristocratic visitor boded him no good.
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