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- The Burgomaster's Wife, Volume 4. - 4/13 -
His love oppressed him as if it were a crime, and he seemed to himself like a courier, who gathers flowers by the way-side and in this idling squanders time and forgets the object of his mission. His heart felt unspeakably heavy and sad, and it seemed almost like a deliverance when, just before midnight, the bell in the Tower of Pancratius raised its evilboding voice. In danger, he knew, he would feel and think of nothing except what duty required of him, so with renewed strength he took his hat from the hook and left the house with a steady step.
In the street he met Junker Van Duivenvoorde, who summoned him to the Hohenort Gate, before which a body of Englishmen had again appeared; a few brave soldiers who, in a fierce, bloody combat, had held Alfen and the Gouda sluice against the Spaniards until their powder was exhausted and necessity compelled them to yield or seek safety in flight. The burgomaster followed the officer and ordered the gates to be opened to the brave soldiers. They were twenty in number, among them the Netherland Captain Van der Iaen, and a Young German officer. Peter commanded, that they should have shelter for the night in the town-hall and the guard-house at the gate. The next morning suitable quarters would be found for them in the houses of the citizens. Janus Dousa invited the captain to lodge with him, the German went to Aquanus's tavern. All were ordered to report to the burgomaster at noon the next day, to be assigned to quarters and enrolled among the volunteer troops.
The ringing of the alarm-bell in the tower also disturbed the night's rest of the ladies in the Van der Werff household. Barbara sought Maria, and neither returned to their rooms until they had learned the cause of the ringing and soothed Henrica.
Maria could not sleep. Her husband's purpose of separating from her during the impending danger, had stirred her whole soul, wounded her to the inmost depths of her heart. She felt humiliated, and, if not misunderstood, at least unappreciated by the man for whose sake she rejoiced, whenever she perceived a lofty aspiration or noble emotion in her own soul. What avail is personal loveliness to the beautiful wife of a blind man; of what avail to Maria was the rich treasure buried in her bosom, if her husband would not see and bring it to the surface! "Show him, tell him how lofty are your feelings," urged love; but womanly pride exclaimed: "Do not force upon him what he disdains to seek."
So the hours passed, bringing her neither sleep, peace, nor the desire to forget the humiliation inflicted upon her.
At last Peter entered the room, stepping lightly and cautiously, in order not to wake her. She pretended to be asleep, but with half-closed eyes could see him distinctly. The lamp-light fell upon his face, and the lines she had formerly perceived looked like deep shadows between his eyes and mouth. They impressed upon his features the stamp of heavy, sorrowful anxiety, and reminded Maria of the "too hard" and "if I can only bear it," he had murmured in his sleep the night before. Then he approached her bed and stood there a long time; she no longer saw him, for she kept her eyes tightly closed, but the first loving glance, with which he gazed down upon her, had not escaped her notice. It continued to beam before her mental vision, and she thought she felt that he was watching and praying for her as if she were a child.
Sleep had long since overpowered her husband, while Maria lay gazing at the glimmering dawn, as wakeful as if it were broad day. For the sake of his love she would forgive much, but she could not forget the humiliation she had experienced. "A toy," she said to herself, "a work of art which we enjoy, is placed in security when danger threatens the house; the axe and the bread, the sword and the talisman that protects us, in short whatever we cannot dispense with while we live, we do not release from our hands till death comes. She was not necessary, indispensable to him. If she had obeyed his wish and left him, then--yes, then--"
Here the current of her thoughts was checked, for the first time she asked herself the question: "Would he have really missed your helping hand, your cheering word?"
She turned restlessly, and her heart throbbed anxiously, as she told herself that she had done little to smooth his rugged pathway. The vague feeling, that he had not been entirely to blame, if she had not found perfect happiness by his side, alarmed her. Did not her former conduct justify him in expecting hindrance rather than support and help in impending days of severest peril?
Filled with deep longing to obtain a clear view of her own heart, she raised herself on her pillows and reviewed her whole former life.
Her mother had been a Catholic in her youth, and had often told her how free and light-hearted she had felt, when she confided everything that can trouble a woman's heart to a silent third person, and received from the lips of God's servant the assurance that she might now begin a new life, secure of forgiveness. "It is harder for us now," her mother said before her first communion, "for we of the Reformed religion are referred to ourselves and our God, and must be wholly at peace with ourselves before we approach the Lord's table. True, that is enough, for if we frankly and honestly confess to the judge within our own breasts all that troubles our consciences, whether in thought or deed, and sincerely repent, we shall be sure of forgiveness for the sake of the Saviour's wounds."
Maria now prepared for this silent confession, and sternly and pitilessly examined her conduct. Yes, she had fixed her gaze far too steadily upon herself, asked such and given little. The fault was recognized, and now the amendment should begin.
After this self-inspection, her heart grew lighter, and when she at last turned away from the morning-light to seek sleep, she looked forward with pleasure to the affectionate greeting she meant to offer Peter in the morning; but she soon fell asleep and when she woke, her husband had long since left the house.
As usual, she set Peter's study in order before proceeding to any other task, and while doing so, cast a friendly glance at the dead Eva's picture. On the writing-table lay the bible, the only book not connected with his business affairs, that her husband ever read. Barbara sometimes drew comfort and support from the volume, but also used it as an oracle, for when undecided low to act she opened it and pointed with her finger to certain passage. This usually had a definite meaning and she generally, though not always, acted as it directed. To-day she had been disobedient, for in response to her question whether she might venture to send a bag of all sorts of dainties to her son, a Beggar of the Sea, in spite of the Spaniards encircling the city, he had received the words of Jeremiah: "Their tents and their flocks shall they take away: they shall take to themselves their curtains and all their vessels and their camels," and yet the bag had been entrusted early that morning to a widow, who intended to make her escape to Delft with her young daughter, according to the request of the magistrates. The gift might perhaps reach Rotterdam; a mother always hopes for a miracle in behalf of her child.
Before Maria restored the bible to its old place, she opened it at the thirteenth chapter of the first Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, which speaks of love, and was specially dear to her. There were the words: "Charity suffereth long and is kind, charity is not easily provoked;" and "Charity beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."
To be kind and patient, to hope and endure all things, was the duty love imposed upon her.
When she had closed the bible and was preparing to go to Henrica, Barbara ushered Janus Dousa into the room. The young nobleman to-day wore armor and gorget, and looked far more like a soldier than a scientist or poet. He had sought Peter in vain at the town-hall, and hoped to find him at home. One of the messengers sent to the Prince had returned from Dortrecht with a letter, which conferred on Dousa the office made vacant by Allertssohn's death. He was to command not only the city-guard, but all the armed force. He had accepted the appointment with cheerful alacrity, and requested Maria to inform her husband.
"Accept my congratulations," said the burgomaster's wife. "But what will now become of your motto: 'Ante omnia Musae?'"
"I shall change the words a little and say: 'Omnia ante Musas."
"Do you understand that jargon, child?" asked Barbara.
"A passport will be given the Muses," replied Maria gaily.
Janus was pleased with the ready repartee and exclaimed: "How bright and happy you look! Faces free from care are rare birds in these days."
Maria blushed, for she did not know how to interpret the words of the nobleman, who understood how to reprove with subtle mockery, and answered naively: "Don't think me frivolous, Junker. I know the seriousness of the times, but I have just finished a silent confession and discovered many bad traits in my character, but also the desire to replace them with more praiseworthy ones."
"There, there," replied Janus. "I knew long ago that you had formed a friendship in the Delft school with my old sage. 'Know thyself,' was the Greek's principal lesson, and you wisely obey it. Every silent confession, every desire for inward purification, must begin with the purpose of knowing ourselves and, if in so doing we unexpectedly encounter things which tend to make our beloved selves uncomely, and have the courage to find them just as hideous in ourselves as in others--"
"Abhorrence will come, and we shall have taken the first step towards improvement."
"No, dear lady, we shall then stand on one of the higher steps. After hours of long, deep thought, Socrates perceived--do you know what?"
"That he knew nothing at all. I shall arrive at this perception more speedily."
"And the Christian learns it at school," said Barbara, to join in the conversation. "All knowledge is botchwork."
"And we are all sinners," added Janus. "That's easily said, dear madam, and easily understood, when others are concerned. 'He is a sinner' is quickly uttered, but 'I am a sinner' escapes the lips with more difficulty, and whoever does exclaim it with sorrow, in the stillness of his own quiet room, mingles the white feathers of angels' wings with the black pinions of the devil. Pardon me! In these times everything thought and said is transformed into solemn earnest. Mars is here, and the cheerful Muses are silent. Remember me to your husband, and tell him, that Captain Allertssohn's body has been brought in and to-morrow is appointed for the funeral."
The nobleman took his leave, and Maria, after visiting her patient and finding her well and bright, sent Adrian and Bessie into the garden outside the city-wall to gather flowers and foliage, which she intended to help them weave into wreaths for the coffin of the brave soldier. She herself went to the captain's widow.
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