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- The Burgomaster's Wife, Volume 5. - 3/12 -
since her heart had been so light. The black tablets on the houses containing cases of plague did not look so sorrowful to-day, the emaciated faces seemed less pitiful than usual, for to them also help was approaching. The faithful endurance was to be rewarded, the cause of freedom would conquer.
She entered the "broad street" with winged steps. Thousands of citizens had flocked into it to see, hear, and learn what might be hoped, or what still gave cause for fear. Musicians had been stationed at the corners to play lively airs; the Beggars' song mingled with the pipes and trumpets and the cheers of enthusiastic men. But there were also throngs of well-dressed citizens and women, who loudly and fearlessly mocked at the gay music and exulting simpletons, who allowed themselves to be cajoled by empty promises. Where was the relief? What could the handful of Beggars--which at the utmost were all the troops the Prince could bring--do against King Philip's terrible military power, that surrounded Leyden? And the inundation of the country? The ground on which the city stood was too high for the water ever to reach it. The peasants had been injured, without benefitting the citizens. There was only one means of escape--to trust to the King's mercy.
"What is liberty to us?" shouted a brewer, who, like all his companions in business, had long since been deprived of his grain and forbidden to manufacture any fresh beer. "What will liberty be to us, when we're cold in death? Let whoever means well go the town-hall, and demand a surrender before it is too late."
"Surrender! The mercy of the King!" shouted the citizens.
"Life comes first, and then the question whether it shall be free or under Spanish rule, Calvanistical or Popish!" screamed a master-weaver. "I'll march to the town-hall with you."
"You are right, good people," said Burgomaster Baersdorp, who, clad in his costly fur-bordered cloak, was coming from the town-hall and had heard the last speaker's words. "But let me set you right. To-day the credulous are beginning to hope again, and the time for pressing your just desire is ill-chosen. Wait a few days and then, if the relief does not appear, urge your views. I'll speak for you, and with me many a good man in the magistracy. We have nothing to expect from Valdez, but gentleness and kindness. To rise against the King was from the first a wicked deed--to fight against famine, the plague and death is sin and madness. May God be with you, men!"
"The burgomaster is sensible," cried a cloth-dyer.
"Van Swieten and Norden think as he does, but Meister Peter rules through the Prince's favor. If the Spaniards rescue us, his neck will be in danger, when they make their entrance into the city So no matter who dies; he and his are living on the fat of the land and have plenty."
"There goes his wife," said a master-weaver, pointing to Maria. "How happy she looks! The leather business must be doing well. Holloa--Frau Van der Werff! Holloa! Remember me to your husband and tell him, his life may be valuable; but ours are not wisps of straw."
"Tell him, too," cried a cattle-dealer, who did not yet seem to have been specially injured by the general distress, "tell him oxen can be slaughtered, the more the better; but Leyden citizens--"
The cattle-dealer did not finish his sentence, for Herr Aquanus had seen from the Angulus what was happening to the burgomaster's wife, came out of the tavern into the street, and stepped into the midst of the malcontents.
"For shame!" he cried. "To assail a respectable lady in the street! Are these Leyden manners? Give me your hand, Frau Maria, and if I hear a single reviling word, I'll call the constables. I know you. The gallows Herr Van Bronkhorst had erected for men like you, is still standing by the Blue Stone. Which of you wants to inaugurate them?"
The men, to whom these words were addressed, were not the bravest of mortals, and not a syllable was heard, as Aquanus led the young wife into the tavern. The landlord's wife and daughter received her in their own rooms, which were separated from those occupied by guests of the inn, and begged her to make herself comfortable there until the crowd had dispersed. But Maria longed to reach home, and when she said she must go, Aquanus offered his company.
Georg von Dornburg was standing in the entry and stepped back with a respectful bow, but the innkeeper called to him, saying:
"There is much to be done to-day, for many a man will doubtless indulge himself in a glass of liquor after the good news. No offence, Frau Van der Werft; but the Junker will escort you home as safely as I--and you, Herr von Dornburg--"
"I am at your service," replied Georg, and went out into the street with the young wife.
For a time both walked side by side in silence, each fancying he or she could hear the beating of the other's heart. At last Georg, drawing a long breath, said:
"Three long, long months have passed since my arrival here. Have I been brave, Maria?"
"But you cannot imagine what it has cost me to fetter this poor heart, stifle my words, and blind my eyes. Maria, it must once be said--"
"Never, never," she interrupted in a tone of earnest entreaty. "I know that you have struggled honestly, do not rob yourself of the victory now."
"Oh! hear me, Maria, this once hear me."
"What will it avail, if you oppress my soul with ardent words? I must not hear from any man that he loves me, and what I must not hear, you must not speak."
"Must not?" he asked in a tone of gentle reproach, then in a gloomy, bitter mood, continued: "You are right, perfectly right. Even speech is denied me. So life may run on like a leaden stream, and everything that grows and blossoms on its banks remain scentless and grey. The golden sunshine has hidden itself behind a mist, joy lies fainting in my heart, and all that once pleased me has grown stale and charmless. Do you recognize the happy youth of former days?"
"Seek cheerfulness again, seek it for my sake."
"Gone, gone," he murmured sadly. "You saw me in Delft, but you did not know me thoroughly. These eyes were like two mirrors of fortune in which every object was charmingly transfigured, and they were rewarded; for wherever they looked they met only friendly glances. This heart then embraced the whole world, and beat so quickly and joyously! I often did not know what to do with myself from sheer mirth and vivacity, and it seemed as if I must burst into a thousand pieces like an over-loaded firelock, only instead of scattering far and wide, mount straight up to Heaven. Those days were so happy, and yet so sad--I felt it ten times as much in Delft, when you were kind to me. And now, now? I still have wings, I still might fly, but here I creep like a snail--because it is your will."
"It is not my wish," replied Maria. "You are dear to me, that I may be permitted to confess--and to see you thus fills me with grief. But now-- if I am dear to you, and I know you care for me--cease to torture me so cruelly. You are dear to me. I have said it, and it must be spoken, that everything may be clearly understood between us. You are dear to me, like the beautiful by-gone days of my youth, like pleasant dreams, like a noble song, in which we take delight, and which refreshes our souls, whenever we hear or remember it--but more you are not, more you can never be. You are dear to me, and I wish you to remain so, but that you can only do by not breaking the oath you have sworn."
"Sworn?" asked Georg. "Sworn?"
"Yes, sworn," interrupted Maria, checking her steps. "On Peter's breast, on the morning of his birthday--after the singing. You remember it well. At the time you took a solemn vow; I know it, know it no less surely, than that I myself swore faith to my husband at the altar. If you can give me the lie, do so."
Georg shook his head, and answered with increasing warmth:
"You read my soul. Our hearts know each other like two faithful friends, as the earth knows her moon, the moon her earth. What is one without the other? Why must they be separated? Did you ever walk along a forest path? The tracks of two wheels run side by side and never touch. The axle holds them asunder, as our oath parts us."
"Say rather--our honor."
"As our honor parts us. But often in the woods we find a place where the road ends in a field or hill, and there the tracks cross and intersect each other, and in this hour I feel that my path has come to an end. I can go no farther, I cannot, or the horses will plunge into the thicket and the vehicle be shattered on the roots and stones."
"And honor with it. Not a word more. Let us walk faster. See the lights in the windows. Everyone wants to show that he rejoices in the good news. Our house mustn't remain dark either."
"Don't hurry so. Barbara will attend to it, and how soon we must part! Yet you said that I was dear to you."
"Don't torture me," cried the young wife, with pathetic entreaty.
"I will not torture you, Maria, but you must hear me. I was in earnest, terrible earnest in the mute vow I swore, and have sought to release myself from it by death. You have heard how I rushed like a madman among the Spaniards, at the storming of the Boschhuizen fortification in July. Your bow, the blue bow from Delft, the knot of ribbons the color of the sky, fluttered on my left shoulder as I dashed upon swords and lances. I was not to die, and came out of the confusion uninjured. Oh! Maria, for the sake of this oath I have suffered unequalled torments. Release me from it, Maria, let me once, only once, freely confess--"
"Stop, Georg, stop," pleaded the young wife. "I will not, must not hear you-neither to-day, nor tomorrow, never, never, to all eternity!"
"Once, only once, I will, I must say to you, that I love you, that life and happiness, peace and honor--"
"Not one word more, Junker von Dornburg. There is our house. You are our guest, and if you address a single word like the last ones to your friend's wife--"
"Maria, Maria--oh, don't touch the knocker. How can you so unfeelingly
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