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- The Burgomaster's Wife, Volume 5. - 10/12 -
forget this deed."
They have treasured it in their memories, and during the night succeeding the day on which the burgomaster acted so manly a part, a letter arrived from the Prince, full of joyous and encouraging news. The noble man had recovered, and was striving with all his power to rescue brave Leyden. The Beggars had cut the Landscheiding, their vessels were pressing onward--help was approaching, and the faithful citizen who brought the letter, had seen with his own eyes the fleet bringing relief and the champions of freedom, glowing with martial ardor. The two Van der Does, by the same letter, were appointed the Prince's commissioners in place of the late Herr Van Bronkhorst. Van der Werff no longer stood alone, and when the next morning "Father William's" letter was read aloud and the messenger's news spread abroad, the courage and confidence of the tortured citizens rose like withering grass after a refreshing rain.
But they were still condemned to long weeks of anxiety and suffering.
During the last days of September they were forced to slaughter the cows hitherto spared for the infants and young mothers, and then, then?
Help was close at hand, for the sky often reddened, and the air was shaken by the roar of distant cannon; but the east wind continued to prevail, driving back the water let in upon the land, and the vessels needed a rising flood to approach the city.
Not one of all the messengers, who had been sent out, returned; there was nothing certain, save the cruelly increasing unendurable suffering. Even Barbara had succumbed, and complained of weakness and loathing of the ordinary food.
Maria thought of the roast-pigeon, which had agreed with Bessie so well, and went to the musician, to ask if he could sacrifice another of his pets for her sister-in-law.
Wilhelm's mother received the burgomaster's wife. The old lady was sitting wearily in an arm-chair; she could still walk, but amid her anxiety and distress a strange twitching had affected her hands. When Maria made her request, she shook her head, saying: "Ask him yourself. He's obliged to keep the little creatures shut up, for whenever they appear, the poor starving people shoot at them. There are only three left. The messengers took the others, and they haven't returned.
"Thank God for it; the little food he still has, will do more good in dishes, than in their crops. Would you believe it? A fortnight ago he paid fifty florins out of his savings for half a sack of peas, and Heaven knows where he found them. Ulrich, Ulrich! Take Frau Van der Werff up to Wilhelm. I'd willingly spare you the climb, but he's watching for the carrier-pigeons that have been sent out, and won't even come down to his meals. To be sure, they would hardly be worth the trouble!"
It was a clear, sunny day. Wilhelm was standing in his look-out, gazing over the green, watery plain, that lay out-spread below him, towards the south. Behind him sat Andreas, the fencing-master's fatherless boy; writing notes, but his attention was not fixed on his work; for as soon as he had finished a line he too gazed towards the horizon, watching for the pigeon his teacher expected. He did not look particularly emaciated, for many a grain of the doves' food had been secretly added to his scanty ration of meat.
Wilhelm showed that he felt both surprised and honored by Frau Van der Werff's visit, and even promised to grant her request, though it was evident that the "saying yes" was by no means easy for him.
The young wife went out on the balcony with him, and he showed her in the south, where usually nothing but a green plain met the eye, a wide expanse over which a light mist was hovering. The noon sun seemed to steep the white vapor with light, and lure it upward by its ardent rays. This was the water streaming through the broken dyke, and the black oblong specks moving along its edges were the Spanish troops and herds of cattle, that had retreated before the advancing flood from the outer fortifications, villages and hamlets. The Land-scheiding itself was not visible, but the Beggars had already passed it. If the fleet succeeded in reaching the Zoetermere Lake and from thence.
Wilhelm suddenly interrupted his explanation, for Andreas had suddenly started up, upsetting his stool, and exclaimed:
"It's coming! The dove! Roland, my fore man, there it comes!"
For the first time Wilhelm heard the boy's lips utter his father's exclamation. Some great emotion must have stirred his heart, and in truth he was not mistaken; the speck piercing the air, which his keen eye had discovered, was no longer a mere spot, but an oblong something--a bird, the pigeon!
Wilhelm seized the flag on the balcony, and waved it as joyously as ever conqueror unfurled his banner after a hard-won fight. The dove came nearer--alighted, slipped into the cote, and a few minutes after the musician appeared with a tiny letter.
"To the magistrates!" cried Wilhelm. "Take it to your husband at once. Oh! dear lady, dear lady, finish what the dove has begun. Thank God! thank God! they are already at North-Aa. This will save the poor people from despair! And now one thing more! You shall have the roasted bird, but take this grain too; a barley-porridge is the best medicine for Barbara's condition; I've tried it!"
When evening came, and the musician had told his parents the joyful news, he ordered the blue dove with the white breast to be caught. "Kill it outside the house," said he, "I can't bear to see it."
Andreas soon came back with the beheaded pigeon.
His lips were bloody, Wilhelm knew from what, yet he did not reprove the hungry boy, but merely said:
"Fie, you pole-cat!"
Early the next morning a second dove returned. The letters the winged messengers had brought were read aloud from the windows of the town-hall, and the courage of the populace, pressed to the extremest limits of endurance, flickered up anew and helped them bear their misery. One of the letters were addressed to the magistrates, the other to Janus Dousa; they sounded confident and hopeful, and the Prince, the faithful shield of liberty, the friend and guide of the people, had recovered from his sickness and visited the vessels and troops intended for the relief of Leyden. Rescue was so near, but the north-east wind would not change, and the water did not rise. Great numbers of citizens, soldiers, magistrates and women stood on the citadel and other elevated places, gazing into the distance.
A thousand hands were clasped in fervent prayer, and the eyes of all were turned in feverish expectation and eager yearning towards the south, but the boundary line of the waves did not move; and the sun, as if in mockery, burst cheerily through the mists of the autumn morning, imparted a pleasant warmth to the keen air, and in the evening sank towards the west in the midst of radiant light, diffusing its golden rays far and wide. The cloudless blue sky arched pitilessly over the city, and at night glittered with thousands of twinkling stars. Early on the morning of the twenty-ninth the mists grew denser, the grass remained dry, the fogs lifted, the cool air changed to a sultry atmosphere, the grey clouds piled in masses on each other, and grew black and threatening. A light breeze rose, stirring the leafless branches of the trees, then a sudden gust of wind swept over the heads of the throngs watching the distant horizon. A second and third followed, then a howling tempest roared and hissed without cessation through the city, wrenching tiles from the roofs, twisting the fruit-trees in the gardens and the young elms and lindens in many a street, tearing away the flags the boys had fastened on the walls in defiance of the Spaniards, lashing the still waters of the city moat and quiet canals, and--the Lord does not abandon His own--and the vanes turned, the storm came from the north-west. No one saw the result, but the sailors shouted the tidings, and each individual caught up the words and bore them exultantly on--the hurricane drove the sea into the mouth of the Meuse, forcing back the waves of the river by its fierce assault, driving them over its banks through the gaps opened in the dykes, and the gates of the sluices, and bearing forward on their towering crests the vessels bringing deliverance.
Roar, roar, thou storm, stream, stream, rushing rain, rage, waves, and destroy the meadows, swallow up houses and villages! Thousands and thousands of people on the walls and towers of Leyden hail your approach, behold in you the terrible armies of the avenging God, exult and shout a joyous welcome!
For two successive days the burgomaster, Maria and Adrian, the Van der Does and Van Houts stood with brief intervals of rest among the throng on the citadel or the tower at the Cow-Gate; even Barbara, far more strengthened by hope than by the barley-porridge or the lean carrier- pigeon, would not stay at home, but dragged herself to the musician's look-out, for every one wanted to see the rising water, the earth softening, the moisture creeping between the blades of grass, then spreading into pools and ponds, until at last there was a wide expanse of water, on which bubbles rose, burst under the descending rain, and formed ever-widening circles. Every one wanted to watch the Spaniards, hurrying hither and thither like sheep pursued by a wolf. Every one wanted to hear the thunder of the Beggars' cannon, the rattle of their arquebuses and muskets; men and women thought the tempest that threatened to sweep them away, pleasanter than the softest breeze, and the pouring rain, which drenched them, preferable to spring dew-drops mirroring the sunshine.
Behind the strong fort of Lammen, defended by several hundred Spanish soldiers, and the Castle of Cronenstein, a keen eye could distinguish the Beggars' vessels.
During Thursday and Friday Wilhelm watched in vain for a dove, but on Saturday his best flier returned, bringing a letter from Admiral Boisot, who called upon the armed forces of the city to sally out on Friday and attack Lammen.
The storm had blown the pigeon away. It had reached the city too late, but on Saturday evening Janus Dousa and Captain Van der Laen were actively engaged, summoning every one capable of bearing arms to appear early Sunday morning. Poor, pale, emaciated troops were those who obeyed the leaders' call, but not a man was absent and each stood ready to give his life for the deliverance of the city and his family.
The tempest had moderated, the firing had ceased, and the night was dark and sultry. No eyes wished to sleep, and those whose slumber overpowered for a short time, were startled and terrified by strange, mysterious noises. Wilhelm sat in his look-out, gazing towards the south and listening intently. Sometimes a light gust of wind whistled around the lofty house, sometimes a shout, a scream, or the blast of a trumpet echoed through the stillness of the night; then a crashing noise, as if an earthquake had shaken part of the city to its foundations, arose near the Cow-Gate. Not a star was visible in the sky, but bright spots, like will-o'-the-wisps, moved through the dense gloom in regular order near Lanimen. It was a horrible, anxious night.
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