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- The Burgomaster's Wife, Volume 2. - 10/12 -
holy Father's good opinion and yours, I beg you to do me the favor to listen to me. I have passed my sixty-second birthday, and an old horse or an old servant stands a long time in the market-place before any one will buy them. There might probably be a place in Brussels for a Catholic steward, who understands his business, but this old heart longs to return to Naples--ardently, ardently, unutterably. You have seen our blue sea and our sky, young sir, and I yearn for them, but even more for other, smaller things. It now seems a joy that I can speak in my native language to you, Herr Wilhelm, and you, holy Father. But there is a country where every one uses the same tongue that I do. There is a little village at the foot of Vesuvius--merciful Heavens! Many a person would be afraid to stay there, even half an hour, when the mountain quakes, the ashes fall in showers, and the glowing lava pours out in a stream. The houses there are by no means so well built, and the window- panes are not so clean as in this country. I almost fear that there are few glass windows in Resina, but the children don't freeze, any more than they do here. What would a Leyden house-keeper say to our village streets? Poles with vines, boughs of fig-trees, and all sorts of under- clothing on the roofs, at the windows, and the crooked, sloping balconies; orange and lemon-trees with golden fruit grow in the little gardens, which have neither straight paths nor symmetrical beds. Everything there grows together topsy-turvy. The boys, who in rags that no tailor has darned or mended, clamber over the white vineyard walls, the little girls, whose mothers comb their hair before the doors of the houses, are not so pink and white, nor so nicely washed as the Holland children, but I should like to see again the brown-skinned, black-haired little ones with the dark eyes, and end my days amid all the clatter in the warm air, among my nephews, nieces and blood-relations."
As he uttered these words, the old man's features had flushed and his black eyes sparkled with a fire, that but a short time before the northern air and his long years of servitude seemed to have extinguished. Since neither the priest nor the musician answered immediately, he continued more quietly:
"Monseigneur Gloria is going to Italy now, and I can accompany him to Rome as courier. From thence I can easily reach Naples, and live there on the interest of my savings free from care. My future master will leave on the 15th, and on the 12th I must be in Antwerp, where I am to meet him."
The eyes of the priest and the musician met. Wilhelm lacked courage to seek to withhold the steward from carrying out his plan, but Damianus summoned up his resolution, laid his hand on the old man's shoulder, and said:
"If you wait here a few weeks more, Belotti, you will find the true rest, the peace of a good conscience. The crown of life is promised to those, who are faithful, unto death. When these sad days are over, it will be easy to smooth the way to your home. We shall meet again towards noon, Belotti. If my assistance is necessary, send for me; old Ambrosius knows where to find me. May God's blessing rest upon you, and if you will accept it from me, on you also, Meister Wilhelm."
After the priest had left the house, Belotti said, sighing:
"He'll yet force me to yield to his will. He abuses his power over souls. I'm no saint, and what he asks of me--"
"Is right," said Wilhelm firmly.
"But you don't know what it is to throw away, like a pair of worn-out shoes, the dearest hope of a long, sad life. And for whom, I ask you, for whom? Do you know my padrona? Oh! sir, I have experienced in this house things, which your youth does not dream could be possible. The young lady has wounded you. Am I right or wrong?"
"You are mistaken, Belotti."
"Really? I am glad for your sake, you are a modest artist, but the signorina bears the Hoogstraten name, and that is saying everything. Do you know her father?"
"That's a race-a race! Have you never heard anything of the story of our signorina's older sister?"
"Has Henrica an older sister?"
"Yes, sir, and when I think of her.--Imagine the signorina, exactly like our signorina, only taller, more stately, more beautiful."
"Isabella!" exclaimed the musician. A conjecture, which had been aroused since his conversation with Henrica, appeared to be confirmed; he seized the steward's arm so suddenly and unexpectedly, that the latter drew back, and continued eagerly: "What do you know of her? I beseech you, Belotti, tell me all."
The servant looked up the stairs, then shaking his head, answered:
"You are probably mistaken. There has never been an Isabella in this house to my knowledge, but I will gladly place myself at your service. Come again after sunset, but you must expect to hear no pleasant tale."
Twilight had scarcely yielded to darkness, when the musician again entered the Hoogstraten mansion. The little room was empty, but Belotti did not keep him waiting long.
The old man placed a dainty little waiter, bearing a jug of wine and a goblet, on the table beside the lamp and, after informing Wilhelm of the invalids' condition, courteously offered him a chair. When the musician asked him why he had not brought a cup for himself too, he replied:
"I drink nothing but water, but allow me to take the liberty to sit down. The servant who attends to the chambers has left the house, and I've done nothing but go up and down stairs all day. It tries my old legs, and we can expect no quiet night."
A single candle lighted the little room. Belotti, who had leaned far back in his chair, opened his clenched hands and slowly began:
"I spoke this morning of the Hoogstraten race. Children of the same parents, it is true, are often very unlike, but in your little country, which speaks its own language and has many things peculiar to itself--you won't deny that--every old family has its special traits. I know, for I have been in many a noble household in Holland. Every race has its own peculiar blood and ways. Even where--by your leave--there is a crack in the brain, it rarely happens to only one member of a family. My mistress has more of her French mother's nature. But I intended to speak only of the signorina, and am wandering too far from my subject."
"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."
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