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- The Burgomaster's Wife, Volume 4. - 5/13 -
The burgomaster's wife returned home just before dinner, and found a motley throng of bearded warriors assembled in front of the house, they were trying to make themselves intelligible in the English language to some of the constables, and when the latter respectfully saluted Maria, raised their hands to their morions also.
She pleasantly returned the greeting and passed into the entry, where the full light of noon streamed in through the open door.
Peter had assigned quarters to the English soldiers outside, and after a consultation with the new commandant, Jan Van der Does, gave them officers. They were probably waiting for their comrades, for when the young wife had ascended the first steps of the staircase and looked upward, she found the top of the narrow flight barred by the tall figure of a soldier. The latter had his back towards her and was showing Bessie his dark velvet cap, surrounded by rectangular teeth, above which floated a beautiful light-blue ostrich-plume. The child seemed to have formed a close friendship with the soldier, for, although the latter was refusing her something, the little girl laughed gaily.
Maria paused irresolutely a moment; but when the child snatched the gay cap and put it on her own curls, she thought she must check her and exclaimed warningly: "Why, Bessie, that is no plaything for children."
The soldier turned, stood still a moment in astonishment, raised his hand to his forehead, and then, with a few hurried bounds, sprang down the stairs and rushed up to the burgomaster's wife. Maria had started back in surprise; but he gave her no time to think, for stretching out both hands he exclaimed in an eager, joyous tone, with sparkling eyes: "Maria! Jungfrau Maria! You here! This is what I call a lucky day!" The young wife had instantly recognized the soldier and willingly laid her right hand in his, though not without a shade of embarrassment.
The officer's clear, blue eyes sought hers, but she fixed her gaze on the floor, saying: "I am no longer what I was, the young girl has become a housewife."
"A housewife!" he exclaimed. "How dignified that sounds! And yet! Yet! You are still Jungfrau Maria! You haven't changed a hair. That's just the way you bent your head at the wedding in Delft, the way you raised your hands, lowered your eyes--you blushed too, just as prettily."
There was a rare melody in the voice which uttered these words with joyous, almost childlike freedom, which pleased Maria no less than the officer's familiar manner annoyed her. With a hasty movement she raised her head, looked steadily into the young man's handsome face and said with dignity:
"You see only the exterior, Junker von Dornburg; three years have made many changes within."
"Junker von Dornburg," he repeated, shaking his waving locks. "I was Junker Georg in Delft. Very different things have happened to us, dear lady, very different things. You see I have grown a tolerable, though not huge moustache, am stouter, and the sun has bronzed my pink and white boyish face--in short: my outer man has changed for the worse, but within I am just the same as I was three years ago."
Maria felt the blood again mounting into her cheeks, but she did not wish to blush and answered hastily: "Standing still is retrograding, so you have lost three beautiful years, Herr von Dornburg."
The officer looked at Maria in perplexity, and then said more gravely than before:
"Your jest is more opportune, than you probably suppose; I had hoped to find you again in Delft, but powder was short in Alfen, so the Spaniard will probably reach your native city sooner than we. Now a kind fate brings me to you here; but let me be honest--What I hope and desire stands clearly before my eyes, echoes in my soul, and when I thought of our meeting, I dreamed you would lay both hands in mine and, instead of greeting me with witty words, ask the old companion of happy hours, your brother Leonhard's best friend: 'Do you still remember our dead?' And when I had told you: 'Yes, yes, yes, I have never forgotten him,' then I thought the mild lustre of your eyes--Oh, oh, how I thank you! The dear orbs are floating in a mist of tears. You are not so wholly changed as you supposed, Frau Maria, and if I loyally remember the past, will you blame me for it?"
"Certainly not," she answered cordially. "And now that you speak to me so, I will with pleasure again call you Junker Georg, and as Leonhard's friend and mine, invite you to our house."
"That will be delightful," he cried cordially. "I have so much to ask you and, as for myself--alas, I wish I had less to tell."
"Have you seen my husband?" asked Maria.
"I know nobody in Leyden," he replied, "except my learned, hospitable host, and the doge of this miniature Venice, so rich in water and bridges."
Georg pointed up the stair-case. Maria blushed again as she said:
"Burgomaster Van der Werff is my husband."
The nobleman was silent for a short time, then he said quickly:
"He received me kindly. And the pretty elf up yonder?"
"His child by his first marriage, but now mine also. How do you happen to call her the elf?"
"Because she looks as if she had been born among white flowers in the moonlight, and because the afterglow of the sunrise, from which the elves flee, crimsoned her cheeks when I caught her."
"She has already received the name once," said Maria. "May I take you to my husband?"
"Not now, Frau Van der Werff, for I must attend to my men outside, but to-morrow, if you will allow me."
Maria found the dishes smoking on the dining-table. Her family had waited for her, and, heated by the rapid walk at noon, excited by her unexpected meeting with the young German, she opened the door of the study and called to her husband:
"Excuse me! I was detained. It is very late."
"We were very willing to wait," he answered kindly, approaching her. Then all she had resolved to do returned to her memory and, for the first time since her marriage, she raised her husband's hand to her lips. He smilingly withdrew it, kissed her on the forehead, and said:
"It is delightful to have you here."
"Isn't it?" she asked, gently shaking her finger at him.
"But we are all here now, and dinner is waiting."
"Come then," she answered gaily. "Do you know whom I met on the stairs?"
"Of course, but among them Junker von Dornburg."
"He called on me. A handsome fellow, whose gayety is very attractive, a German from the evangelical countries."
"Leonhard's best friend. Don't you know? Surely I've told you about him. Our guest at Jacoba's wedding."
"Oh! yes. Junker Georg. He tamed the chestnut horse for the Prince's equerry."
"That was a daring act," said Maria, drawing a long breath.
"The chestnut is still an excellent horse," replied Peter. "Leonhard thought the Junker, with his gifts and talents, would lift the world out of its grooves; I remember it well, and now the poor fellow must remain quietly here and be fed by us. How did he happen to join the Englishmen and take part in the war?"
"I don't know; he only told me that he had had many experiences."
"I can easily believe it. He is living at the tavern; but perhaps we can find a room for him in the side wing, looking out upon the court-yard."
"No, Peter," cried the young wife eagerly. "There is no room in order there."
"That can be arranged later. At any rate we'll invite him to dinner to- morrow, he may have something to tell us. There is good marrow in the young man. He begged me not to let him remain idle, but make him of use in the service. Jan Van der Does has already put him in the right place, the new commandant looks into people's hearts."
Barbara mingled in the conversation, Peter, though it was a week-day, ordered a jug of wine to be brought instead of the beer, and an event that had not occurred for weeks happened: the master of the house sat at least fifteen minutes with his family after the food had been removed, and told them of the rapid advance of the Spaniards, the sad fate of the fugitive Englishmen, who had been disarmed and led away in sections, the brave defence the Britons, to whose corps Georg belonged, had made at Alfen, and of another hot combat in which Don Gaytan, the right-hand and best officer of Valdez, was said to have fallen. Messengers still went and came on the roads leading to Delft, but to-morrow these also would probably be blocked by the enemy.
He always addressed everything he said to Maria, unless Barbara expressly questioned him, and when he at last rose from the table, ordered a good roast to be prepared the next day for the guest he intended to invite. Scarcely had the door of his room closed behind him, when little Bessie ran up to Maria, threw her arms around her and asked:
"Mother, isn't Junker Georg the tall captain with the blue feather, who ran down-stairs so fast to meet you?"
"And he's coming to dinner to-morrow! He's coming, Adrian."
The child clapped her hands in delight and then ran to Barbara to exclaim once more:
"Aunt Barbel, did you hear? He's coming!"
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