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- The Burgomaster's Wife, Volume 3. - 2/12 -
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;
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