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- The Burgomaster's Wife, Volume 2. - 3/12 -
certainly have looked anything but well-clad, for as he stood in old Fraulein Van Hoogstraten's spacious, stately hall, the steward Belotti received him as patronizingly as if he were a beggar.
But the Neopolitan, in whose mouth the vigorous Dutch sounded like the rattling in the throat of a chilled singer, speedily took a different tone when Wilhelm, in excellent Italian, quietly explained the object of his visit. Nay, at the sweet accents of his native tongue, the servant's repellent demeanor melted into friendly, eager welcome. He was beginning to speak of his home to Wilhelm, but the musician made him curt replies and asked him to get his cloak.
Belotti now led him courteously into a small room at the side of the great hall, took off his cloak, and then went upstairs. As minute after minute passed, until at last a whole quarter of an hour elapsed, and neither servant nor cloak appeared, the young man lost his patience, though it was not easily disturbed, and when the door at last opened serious peril threatened the leaden panes on which he was drumming loudly with his fingers. Wilhelm doubtless heard it, yet he drummed with redoubled vehemence, to show the Italian that the time was growing long to him. But he hastily withdrew his fingers from the glass, for a girl's musical voice said behind him in excellent Dutch:
"Have you finished your war-song, sir? Belotti is bringing your cloak."
Wilhelm had turned and was gazing in silent bewilderment into the face of the young noblewoman, who stood directly in front of him. These features were not unfamiliar, and yet--years do not make even a goddess younger, and mortals increase in height and don't grow smaller; but the, lady whom he thought he saw before him, whom he had known well in the eternal city and never forgotten, had been older and taller than the young girl, who so strikingly resembled her and seemed to take little pleasure in the young man's surprised yet inquiring glance. With a haughty gesture she beckoned to the steward, saying in Italian:
"Give the gentleman his cloak, Belotti, and tell him I came to beg him to pardon your forgetfulness."
With these words Henrica Van Hoogstraten turned towards the door, but Wilhelm took two hasty strides after her, exclaiming:
"Not yet, not yet, Fraulein! I am the one to apologize. But if you have ever been amazed by a resemblance--"
"Anything but looking like other people!" cried the girl with a repellent gesture.
"Ah, Fraulein, yet--"
"Let that pass, let that pass," interrupted Henrica in so irritated a tone that the musician looked at her in surprise. "One sheep looks just like another, and among a hundred peasants twenty have the same face. All wares sold by the dozen are cheap."
As soon as Wilhelm heard reasons given, the quiet manner peculiar to him returned, and he answered modestly:
"But nature also forms the most beautiful things in pairs. Think of the eyes in the Madonna's face."
"Are you a Catholic?"
"A Calvinist, Fraulein."
"And devoted to the Prince's cause?"
"Say rather, the cause of liberty."
"That accounts for the drumming of the war-song."
"It was first a gentle gavotte, but impatience quickened the time. I am a musician, Fraulein."
"But probably no drummer. The poor panes!"
"They are an instrument like any other, and in playing we seek to express what we feel."
"Then accept my thanks for not breaking them to pieces."
"That wouldn't have been beautiful, Fraulein, and art ceases when ugliness begins."
"Do you think the song in your cloak--it dropped on the ground and Nico picked it up--beautiful or ugly?"
"This one or the other?"
"I mean the Beggar-song."
"It is fierce, but no more ugly than the roaring of the storm."
"It is repulsive, barbarous, revolting."
"I call it strong, overmastering in its power."
"And this other melody?"
"Spare me an answer; I composed it myself. Can you read notes, Fraulein?"
"And did my attempt displease you?"
"Not at all, but I find dolorous passages in this choral, as in all the Calvinist hymns."
"It depends upon how they are sung."
"They are certainly intended for the voices of the shopkeepers' wives and washerwomen in your churches."
"Every hymn, if it is only sincerely felt, will lend wings to the souls of the simple folk who sing it; and whatever ascends to Heaven from the inmost depths of the heart, can hardly displease the dear God, to whom it is addressed. And then--"
"If these notes are worth being preserved, it may happen that a matchless choir--"
"Will sing them to you, you think?"
"No, Fraulein; they have fulfilled their destination if they are once nobly rendered. I would fain not be absent, but that wish is far less earnest than the other."
"I think the best enjoyment in creating is had in anticipation."
Henrica gazed at the artist with a look of sympathy, and said with a softer tone in her musical voice:
"I am sorry for you, Meister. Your music pleases me; why should I deny it? In many passages it appeals to the heart, but how it will be spoiled in your churches! Your heresy destroys every art. The works of the great artists are a horror to you, and the noble music that has unfolded here in the Netherlands will soon fare no better."
"I think I may venture to believe the contrary."
"Wrongly, Meister, wrongly, for if your cause triumphs, which may the Virgin forbid, there will soon be nothing in Holland except piles of goods, workshops, and bare churches, from which even singing and organ- playing will soon be banished."
"By no means, Fraulein. Little Athens first became the home of the arts, after she had secured her liberty in the war against the Persians."
"Athens and Leyden!" she answered scornfully. "True, there are owls on the tower of Pancratius. But where shall we find the Minerva?"
While Henrica rather laughed than spoke these words, her name was called for the third time by a shrill female voice. She now interrupted herself in the middle of a sentence, saying:
"I must go. I will keep these notes."
"You will honor me by accepting them; perhaps you will allow me to bring you others."
"Henrica!" the voice again called from the stairs, and the young lady answered hastily:
"Give Belotti whatever you choose, but soon, for I shan't stay here much longer."
Wilhelm gazed after her. She walked no less quickly and firmly through the wide hall and up the stairs, than she had spoken, and again he was vividly reminded of his friend in Rome.
The old Italian had also followed Henrica with his eyes. As she vanished at the last bend of the broad steps, he shrugged his shoulders, turned to the musician and said, with an expression of honest sympathy:
"The young lady isn't well. Always in a tumult; always like a loaded pistol, and these terrible headaches too! She was different when she came here."
"Is she ill?"
"My mistress won't see it," replied the servant. "But what the cameriera and I see, we see. Now red--now pale, no rest at night, at table she scarcely eats a chicken-wing and a leaf of salad."
"Does the doctor share your anxiety?"
"The doctor? Doctor Fleuriel isn't here. He moved to Ghent when the Spaniards came, and since then my mistress will have nobody but the barber who bleeds her. The doctors here are devoted to the Prince of Orange and are all heretics. There, she is calling again. I'll send the cloak to your house, and if you ever feel inclined to speak my language, just knock here. That calling--that everlasting calling! The young lady suffers from it too."
When Wilhelm entered the street, it was only raining very slightly. The clouds were beginning to scatter, and from a patch of blue sky the sun
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