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- The Burgomaster's Wife, Volume 4. - 3/13 -
The Leyden boys joined loudly in the Englishmen's cheer.
Even Andreas, the fencing-master's son, had begun to shout with them; but when he saw a tall captain marching proudly before his company, his voice failed and, covering his eyes with his hands, he ran home to his mother.
The other lads did not notice him, for the setting sun flashed so brightly on the coats of mail and helmets of the soldiers, the trumpets sounded so merrily, the officers' steeds caracoled so proudly under their riders, the gay plumes and banners and the smoke of the glimmering matches gained such beautiful hues in the roseate light of sunset, that eyes and ears seemed spellbound by the spectacle. But a fresh incident now attracted the attention of great and small.
Thirty-six Englishmen, among them several officers, lingered behind the others and approached the gate. Again the lock creaked and the chains rattled. The little band was admitted to the city and welcomed at the first houses of the northern end by Herr Van Bronkhorst and the burgomaster.
Every one on the walls had expected, that a skirmish between the retreating Englishmen and Castilians would now take place before their eyes. But they were greatly mistaken. Before the first ranks reached the enemy, the matches for lighting the cannon flew through the air, the banners were lowered, and when darkness came and the curious spectators dispersed, they knew that the Englishmen had deserted the good cause and gone over to the Spaniards.
The thirty-six men, who had been admitted through the gates, were the only ones who refused to be accessory to this treason.
The task of providing quarters for Captain Cromwell and the other Englishmen and Netherlanders, who had remained faithful, was assigned to Van Hout. Burgomaster Van der Werff went home with Commissioner Van Bronkhorst. Many a low-voiced but violent word had been exchanged between them. The commissioner protested that the Prince would be highly incensed at the refusal to admit the Englishmen, for with good reason he set great value on Queen Elizabeth's favorable disposition to the cause of freedom, to which the burgomaster and his friends had rendered bad service that day. Van der Werff denied this, for everything depended upon holding Leyden. After the fall of this city, Delft, Rotterdam and Gouda would also be lost, and all farther efforts to battle for the liberty of Holland useless. Five hundred consumers would prematurely exhaust the already insufficient stock of provisions. Everything had been done to soften their refusal to admit the Englishmen, nay they had had free choice to encamp beneath the protection of the walls under the cannon of the city.
When the two men parted, neither had convinced the other, but each felt sure of his comrade's loyalty. As Peter took leave, he said:
"Van Hout shall explain the reasons for our conduct to the Prince, in a letter as clear and convincing as only he can make it, and his excellency will finally approve of it. Rely upon that."
"We will wait," replied the commissioner, "but don't forget that we shall soon be shut within these walls behind bolts and bars, like prisoners, and perhaps day after to-morrow no messenger will be able to get to him."
"Van Hout is swift with his pen."
"And let a proclamation be read aloud, early tomorrow morning, advising the women, old men and children, in short, all who will diminish the stock of provisions and add no strength to the defence, to leave the city. They can reach Delft without danger, for the roads leading to it are still open."
"Very well," replied Peter. "It's said that many girls and women have gone to-day in advance of the others."
"That's right," cried the commissioner. "We are driving in a fragile vessel on the high seas. If I had a daughter in the house, I know what I should do. Farewell till we meet again, Meister. How are matters at Alfen? The firing is no longer heard."
"Darkness has probably interrupted the battle."
"We'll hope for the best news to-morrow, and even if all the men outside succumb, we within the walls will not flinch or yield."
"We will hold out firmly to the end," replied Peter resolutely.
"To the end, and, if God so wills it, a successful end."
"Amen," cried Peter, pressed the commissioner's hand and pursued his way home.
Barbara met him on the steps and wanted to call Maria, who was with Henrica; but he forbade it and paced thoughtfully to and fro, his lips often quivering as if he were suffering great pain. When, after some time, he heard his wife's voice in the dining-room, he controlled himself by a violent effort, went to the door, and slowly opened it.
"You are at home already, and I sitting quietly here spinning!" she exclaimed in surprise.
"Yes, child. Please come in here, I have something to say to you."
"For Heaven's sake! Peter, tell me what has happened. How your voice sounds, and how pale you look!"
"I'm not ill, but matters are serious, terribly serious, Maria."
"Then it is true that the enemy--"
They gained great advantage to-day and yesterday, but I beg you, if you love me, don't interrupt me now; what I have to say is no easy thing, it is hard to force the lips to utter it. Where shall I begin? How shall I speak, that you may not misunderstand me? You know, child, I took you into my house from a warm nest. What we could offer was very little, and you had doubtless expected to find more. I know you have not been happy."
"But it would be so easy for you to make me so."
"You are mistaken, Maria. In these troublous times but one thing claims my thoughts, and whatever diverts them from it is evil. But just now one thing paralyzes my courage and will-anxiety about your fate; for who knows what is impending over us, and therefore it must be said, I must take my heart to the shambles and express a wish.--A wish? Oh, merciful Heaven, is there no other word for what I mean!"
"Speak, Peter, speak, and do not torture me!" cried Maria, gazing anxiously into her husband's face. It could be no small matter, that induced the clear-headed, resolute man to utter such confused language.
The burgomaster summoned up his courage and began again:
"You are right, it is useless to keep back what must be said. We have determined at the town-hall to-day, to request the women and girls to leave the city. The road to Delft is still open; day after to-morrow it may no longer be so, afterwards--who can predict what will happen afterwards? If no relief comes and the provisions are consumed, we shall be forced to open the gates to the enemy, and then, Maria, imagine what will happen! The Rhine and the canals will grow crimson, for much blood will flow into them and they will mirror an unequalled conflagration. Woe betide the men, tenfold woe betide the women, against whom the conqueror's fury will then be directed. And you, you--the wife of the man who has induced thousands to desert King Philip, the wife of the exile, who directs the resistance within these walls."
At the last words Maria had opened her large eyes wider and wider, and now interrupted her husband with the question: "Do you wish to try how high my courage will rise?"
"No, Maria. I know you will hold out loyally and would look death in the face as fearlessly as your sister did in Haarlem; but I, I cannot endure the thought of seeing you fall into the hands of our butchers. Fear for you, terrible fear, will destroy my vigorous strength in the decisive hours, so the words must be uttered--"
Maria had hitherto listened to her husband quietly; she knew what he desired. Now she advanced nearer and interrupted him by exclaiming firmly, nay imperiously:
"No more, no more, do you hear! I will not endure another word!"
"Silence it is my turn now. To escape fear, you will thrust your wife from the house; fear, you say, would undermine your strength. But will longing strengthen it? If you love me, it will not fail to come--"
"If I love you, Maria!"
"Well, well! But you have forgotten to consider how I shall feel in exile, if I also love you. I am your wife. We vowed at the altar, that nothing save death should part us. Have you forgotten it? Have your children become mine? Have I taught them, rejoiced to call myself their mother? Yes, or no?"
"Yes, Maria, yes, yes, a hundred times yes!"
"And you have the heart to throw me into the arms of this wasting longing! You wish to prevent me from keeping the most sacred of vows? You can bring yourself to tear me from the children? You think me too shallow and feeble, to endure suffering and death for the sacred cause, which is mine as well as yours! You are fond of calling me your child, but I can be strong, and whatever may come, will not weep. You are the husband and have the right to command, I am only the wife and shall obey. Shall I go? Shall I stay? I await your answer."
She had uttered the last words in a trembling voice, but the burgomaster exclaimed with deep emotion:
"Stay, stay, Maria! Come, come, and forgive me!" Peter seized her hand, exclaiming again:
But the young wife released herself, retreated a step and said beseechingly:
"Let me go, Peter, I cannot; I need time to overcome this."
He let his arms fall and gazed mournfully into her face, but she turned away and silently left the room. Peter Van der Werff did not follow her, but went quietly into his study and strove to reflect upon many things, that concerned his office, but his thoughts constantly reverted to Maria.
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