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- The Burgomaster's Wife, Volume 1. - 5/12 -
In the entry he paused to think, then hurried up the stairs, seized his plumeless cap, and rushed out of doors. He saw his school-mates, armed with sticks and poles, ranging themselves in battle array, and would have liked to join the game of war, but for that very reason preferred not to listen to the shouts of the combatants at that moment, and ran towards the Zylhof until beyond the sound of their voices.
He now checked his steps, and in a stooping posture, often on his knees, followed the windings of a narrow canal that emptied into the Rhine.
As soon as his cap was overflowing with the white, blue, and yellow spring flowers he had gathered, he sat down on a boundary stone, and with sparkling eyes bound them into a beautiful bouquet, with which he ran home.
On the bench beside the gate sat the old maidservant with his little sister, a child six years old. Handing the flowers, which he had kept hidden behind his back, to her, he said:
"Take them and carry them to mother, Bessie; this is the anniversary of her wedding-day. Give her warm congratulations too, from us both."
The child rose, and the old servant said, "You are a good boy, Adrian."
"Do you think so?" he asked, all the sins of the forenoon returning to his mind.
But unluckily they caused him no repentance; on the contrary, his eyes began to sparkle mischievously, and a smile hovered around his lips, as he patted the old woman's shoulder, whispering softly in her ear:
"The hair flew to-day, Trautchen. My doublet and new stockings are lying up in my room under the bed. Nobody can mend as well as you."
Trautchen shook her finger at him, but he turned hastily back and ran towards the Zyl-gate, this time to lead the Spaniards against the Netherlanders.
The burgomaster had pressed the nobleman to sit down in the study-chair, while he himself leaned in a half-sitting attitude on the writing-table, listening somewhat impatiently to his distinguished guest.
"Before speaking of more important things," Herr Matanesse Van Wibisma had begun, "I should like to appeal to you, as a just man, for some punishment for the injury my son has sustained in this city."
"Speak," said the burgomaster, and the nobleman now briefly, and with unconcealed indignation, related the story of the attack upon his son at the church.
"I'll inform the rector of the annoying incident," replied Van der Werff, "and the culprits will receive their just dues; but pardon me, noble sir, if I ask whether any inquiry has been made concerning the cause of the quarrel?"
Herr Matanesse Van Wibisma looked at the burgomaster in surprise and answered proudly:
"You know my son's report."
"Both sides must be fairly heard," replied Van der Werff calmly. "That has been the custom of the Netherlands from ancient times."
"My son bears my name and speaks the truth."
"Our boys are called simply Leendert or Adrian or Gerrit, but they do the same, so I must beg you to send the young gentleman to the examination at the school."
"By no means," answered the knight resolutely. "If I had thought the matter belonged to the rector's department, I should have sought him and not you, Herr Peter. My son has his own tutor, and was not attacked in your school, which in any case he has outgrown, for he is seventeen, but in the public street, whose security it is the burgomaster's duty to guard."
"Very well then, make your complaint, take the youth before the judges, summon witnesses and let the law follow its course. But, sir," continued Van der Werff, softening the impatience in his voice, "were you not young yourself once? Have you entirely forgotten the fights under the citadel? What pleasure will it afford you, if we lock up a few thoughtless lads for two days this sunny weather? The scamps will find something amusing to do indoors, as well as out, and only the parents will be punished."
The last words were uttered so cordially and pleasantly, that they could not fail to have their effect upon the baron. He was a handsome man, whose refined, agreeable features, of the true Netherland type, expressed anything rather than severity.
"If you speak to me in this tone, we shall come to an agreement more easily," he answered, smiling. "I will only say this. Had the brawl arisen in sport, or from some boyish quarrel, I wouldn't have wasted a word on the matter--but that children already venture to assail with jeers and violence those who hold different opinions, ought not to be permitted to pass without reproof. The boys shouted after my son the absurd word--"
"It is certainly an insult," interrupted Van der Werff, "a very disagreeable name, that our people bestow on the enemies of their liberty."
The baron rose, angrily confronting the other.
"Who tells you," he cried, striking his broad breast, padded with silken puffs, "who tells you that we grudge Holland her liberty? We desire, just as earnestly as you, to win it back to the States, but by other, straighter paths than Orange--"
"I cannot test here whether your paths are crooked or straight," retorted Van der Werff; "but I do know this--they are labyrinths."
"They will lead to the heart of Philip, our king and yours."
"Yes, if he only had what we in Holland call a heart," replied the other, smiling bitterly; but Wibisma threw his head back vehemently, exclaiming reproachfully:
"Sir Burgomaster, you are speaking of the anointed Prince to whom I have sworn fealty."
"Baron Matanesse," replied Van der Werff, in a tone of deep earnestness, as he drew himself up to his full height, folded his arms, and looked the nobleman sharply in the eye, "I speak rather of the tyrant, whose bloody council declared all who bore the Netherland name, and you among us, criminals worthy of death; who, through his destroying devil, Alva, burned, beheaded, and hung thousands of honest men, robbed and exiled from the country thousands of others, I speak of the profligate--"
"Enough!" cried the knight, clenching the hilt of his sword. "Who gives you the right--"
"Who gives me the right to speak so bitterly, you would ask?" interrupted Peter Van der Werff, meeting the nobleman's eyes with a gloomy glance. "Who gives me this right? I need not conceal it. It was bestowed by the silent lips of my valiant father, beheaded for the sake of his faith, by the arbitrary decree, that without form of law, banished my brother and myself from the country--by the Spaniards' broken vows, the torn charters of this land, the suffering of the poor, ill-treated, worthy people that will perish if we do not save them."
"You will not save them," replied Wibisma in a calmer tone. "You will push those tottering on the verge of the abyss completely over the precipice, and go to destruction with them."
"We are pilots. Perhaps we shall bring deliverance, perhaps we shall go to ruin with those for whom we are ready to die."
"You say that, and yet a young, blooming wife binds you to life."
"Baron, you have crossed this threshold as complainant to the burgomaster, not as guest or friend."
"Quite true, but I came with kind intentions, as monitor to the guiding head of this beautiful, hapless city. You have escaped the storm once, but new and far heavier ones are gathering above your heads."
"We do not fear them."
"Not even now?"
"Now, with good reason, far less than ever."
"Then you don't know the Prince's brother--"
"Louis of Nassau was close upon the Spaniards on the 14th, and our cause is doing well--"
"It certainly did not fare ill at first."
"The messenger, who yesterday evening--"
"Ours came this morning."
"This morning, you say? And what more--"
"The Prince's army was defeated and utterly destroyed on Mook Heath. Louis of Nassau himself was slain."
Van der Werff pressed his fingers firmly on the wood of the writing- table. The fresh color of his cheeks and lips had yielded to a livid pallor, and his mouth quivered painfully as he asked in a low, hollow tone, "Louis dead, really dead?"
"Dead," replied the baron firmly, though sorrowfully. "We were enemies, but Louis was a noble youth. I mourn him with you."
"Dead, William's favorite dead!" murmured the burgomaster as if in a dream. Then, controlling himself by a violent effort, he said, firmly:
"Pardon me, noble sir. Time is flying. I must go to the town-hall."
"And spite of my message, you will continue to uphold rebellion?"
"Yes, my lord, as surely as I am a Hollander."
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