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- The Burgomaster's Wife, Volume 5. - 2/12 -


In the centre of the court-yard stood a human figure, stuffed with tow and covered with leather, which bore on the left breast a bit of red paper in the shape of a heart. The more unskilful were obliged to thrust at this figure to train the hand and eye; the others stood face to face in pairs and fought under Georg's direction with blunt foils.

The Junker had felt very weak when he entered the kitchen, for the larger half of his ration of bread had been left at the unfortunate tailor's; but Barbara's wine had revived him and, rousing himself, he stepped briskly forth to meet his fencers. His doublet was quickly flung on a bench, his belt drawn tighter, and he soon stood in his white shirt- sleeves before the soldiers.

As soon as his first word of command was heard, Henrica's window closed with a bang. Formerly it had often been opened when the fencing drill began, and she had not even shrunk from occasionally clapping her hands and calling "bravo." This time had long since passed, it was weeks since she had bestowed a word or glance on the young noble. She had never made such advances to any man, would not have striven so hard to win a prince's favor! And he? At first he had been distant, then more and more assiduously avoided her. Her pride was deeply wounded. Her purpose of diverting his attention from Maria had long been forgotten, and moreover something--she knew not what had come between her and the young wife. Not a day elapsed in which he did not meet her, and this was a source of pleasure to Henrica, because she could show him that his presence was a matter of indifference, nay even unpleasant. Her imprisonment greatly depressed her, and she longed unutterably for the open country, the fields and the forest. Yet she never expressed a wish to leave the city, for--Georg was in Leyden, and every waking and dreaming thought was associated with him. She loved him to-day, loathed him tomorrow, and did both with all the ardor of her passionate heart. She often thought of her sister too, and uttered many prayers for her. To win the favor of Heaven by good works and escape ennui, she helped the Grey Sisters, who lived in a little old convent next to Herr Van der Werff's house, nurse the sick whole they had lovingly received, and even went with Sister Gonzaga to the houses of the Catholic citizens, to collect alms for the little hospital. But all this was done without joyous self-devotion, sometimes with extravagant zeal, sometimes lazily, and for days not at all. She had become excessively irritable, but after being unbearably arrogant one day, would seem sorrowful and ill at ease the next, though without asking the offended person's pardon.

The young girl now stood behind the closed window, watching Georg, who with a bold spring dashed at the leathern figure and ran the sword in his right hand through the phantom's red heart.

The soldiers loudly expressed their admiration. Henrica's eye, also sparkled approvingly, but suddenly they lost their light, and she stepped farther back into the room, for Maria came out of the workshops in the court-yard and, with her gaze fixed on the ground, walked past the fencers.

The young wife had grown paler, but her clear blue eyes had gained a more confident, resolute expression. She had learned to go her own way, and sought and found arduous duties in the service of the city and the poor. She had remained conqueror in many a severe conflict of the heart, but the struggle was not yet over; she felt this whenever Georg's path crossed hers. As far as possible she avoided him, for she did not conceal from herself, that the attempt to live with him on the footing of a friend and brother, would mean nothing but the first step on the road to ruin for him and herself. That he was honestly aiding her by a strong effort at self-control, she gratefully felt, for she stood heart to heart with her husband on the ship of life. She wished no other guide; nay the thought of going to destruction with Peter had no terror to her. And yet, yet! Georg was like the magnetic mountain, that attracted her, and which she must avoid to save the vessel from sinking.

To-day she had been asking the different workmen how they fared, and witnessed scenes of the deepest misery.

The brave men knew that the surrender of the city might put an end to their distress, but wished to hold out for the sake of liberty and their religion, and endured their suffering as an inevitable misfortune.

In the entry of the house Maria met Wilhelm's mother, and promised her she would consult with Frau Van Hout that very day, concerning the extortion practised by the market-men. Then she went to poor Bessie, who sat, pale and weak, in a little chair. Her prettiest doll had been lying an hour in the same position on her lap. The child's little hands and will were too feeble to move the toy. Trautchen brought in a cup of new milk. The citizens were not yet wholly destitute of this, for a goodly number of cows still grazed outside the city walls under the protection of the cannon, but the child refused to drink and could only be induced, amid tears, to swallow a few drops.

While Maria was affectionately coaxing the little one, Peter entered the room. The tall man, the very model of a stately burgher, who paid careful heed to his outward appearance, now looked careless of his person. His brown hair hung over his forehead, his thick, closely- trimmed moustache straggled in thin lines over his cheeks, his doublet had grown too large, and his stockings did not fit snugly as usual, but hung in wrinkles on his powerful legs.

Greeting his wife with a careless wave of the hand, he approached the child and gazed silently at it a long time with tender affection. Bessie turned her pretty little face towards him and tried to welcome him, but the smile died on her lips, and she again gazed listlessly at her doll, Peter stooped, raised her in his arms, called her by name and pressed his lips to her pale cheeks. The child gently stroked his beard and then said feebly:

"Put me down, dear father, I feel dizzy up here." The burgomaster, with tears in his eyes, put his darling carefully back in her little chair, then left the room and went to his study. Maria followed him and asked "Is there no message yet from the Prince or the estates?"

He silently shrugged his shoulders.

"But they will not, dare not forget us?" cried the young wife eagerly.

"We are perishing and they leave us to die," he answered in a hollow tone.

"No, no, they have pierced the dykes; I know they will help us."

"When it is too late. One thing follows another, misfortune is heaped on misfortune, and on whom do the curses of the starving people fall? On me, me, me alone."

"You are acting with the Prince's commissioner."

Peter smiled bitterly, saying: "He took to his bed yesterday. Bontius says it is the plague. I, I alone bear everything."

"We bear it with you," cried Maria. "First poverty, then hunger, as we promised."

"Better than that. The last grain was baked today. The bread is exhausted."

"We still have oxen and horses."

"We shall come to them day after to-morrow. It was determined: Two pounds with the bones to every four persons. Bread gone, cows gone, milk gone. And what will happen then? Mothers, infants, sick people! And our Bessie!"

The burgomaster pressed his hands on his temples and groaned aloud. But Maria said: "Courage, Peter, courage. Hold fast to one thing, don't let one thing go--hope."

"Hope, hope," he answered scornfully.

"To hope no longer," cried Maria, "means to despair. To despair means in our case to open the gates, to open the gates means--"

"Who is thinking of opening the gates? Who talks of surrender?" he vehemently interrupted. "We will still hold firm, still, still---- There is the portfolio, take it to the messenger."

CHAPTER XXIX.

Bessie had eaten a piece of roast pigeon, the first morsel for several days, and there was as much rejoicing over it in the Van der Werff household, as if some great piece of good fortune had befallen the family. Adrian ran to the workshops and told the men, Peter went to the town-hall with a more upright bearing, and Maria, who was obliged to go out, undertook to tell Wilhelm's mother of the good results produced by her son's gift.

Tears ran down the old lady's flabby cheeks at the story and, kissing the burgomaster's wife, she exclaimed:

"Yes, Wilhelm, Wilhelm! If he were only at home now. But I'll call his father. Dear me, he is probably at the town-hall too. Hark, Frau Maria, hark--what's that?"

The ringing of bells and firing of cannon had interrupted her words; she hastily threw open the window, crying:

"From the Tower of Pancratius! No alarm-bell, firing and merry-ringing. Some joyful tidings have come. We need them! Ulrich, Ulrich! Come back at once and bring us the news. Dear Father in Heaven!

"Merciful God! Send the relief. If it were only that!"

The two women waited in great suspense. At last Wilhelm's brother Ulrich returned, saying that the messengers sent to Delft had succeeded in passing the enemy's ranks and brought with them a letter from the estates, which the city-clerk had read from the window of the town-hall. The representatives of the country praised the conduct and endurance of the citizens, and informed them that, in spite of the damage done to thousands of people, the dykes would be cut.

In fact, the water was already pouring over the land, and the messengers had seen the vessels appointed to bring relief. The country surrounding Leyden must soon be inundated, and the rising flood would force the Spanish army to retreat, "Better a drowned land than a lost land," was a saying that had been decisive in the execution of the violent measure proposed, and those who had risked so much might be expected to shrink from no sacrifice to save Leyden.

The two women joyously shook hands with each other; the bells continued to ring merrily, and report after report of cannon made the window-panes rattle.

As twilight approached, Maria turned her steps towards home. It was long


The Burgomaster's Wife, Volume 5. - 2/12

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