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- The Burgomaster's Wife, Volume 5. - 5/12 -
Maria shuddered, for deep despair looked forth with a sullen glow from the eyes that met hers. Seized with an anxious foreboding, she exclaimed: "What are you thinking of, Georg? for Christ's sake! tell me what is in your mind."
"Nothing wrong, Maria, nothing wrong. We birds now sing differently. Whoever can saunter, with lukewarm blood and lukewarm pleasures, from one decade to another in peace and honor, is fortunate. My blood flows in a swifter course, and what my eager soul has once clasped with its polyp arms, it will never release until the death-hour comes. I am going, never to return; but I shall take you and my love with me to battle, to the grave.--I go, I go--"
"Not so, Georg, you must not part from me thus." Then cry: 'Stay!' Then say: 'I am here and pity you!' But don't expect the miserable wretch, whom you have blinded, to open his eyes, behold and enjoy the beauties of the world. "Here you stand, trembling and shaking, without a word for him who loves you, for him--him--"
The youth's voice faltered with emotion and sighing heavily, he pressed his hand to his brow. Then he seemed to recollect himself and continued in a low, sad tone: "Here I stand, to tell you for the last time the state of my heart. You should hear sweet words, but grief and pain will pour bitter drops into everything I say. I have uttered in the language of poetry, when my heart impelled me, that for which dry prose possesses no power of expression. Read these pages, Maria, and if they wake an echo in your soul, oh! treasure it. The honeysuckle in your garden needs a support, that it may grow and put forth flowers; let these poor songs be the espalier around which your memory of the absent one can twine its tendrils and cling lovingly. Read, oh! read, and then say once more: 'You are dear to me,' or send me from you."
"Give it to me," said Maria, opening the volume with a throbbing heart.
He stepped back from her, but his breath came quickly and his eyes followed hers while she was reading. She began with the last poem but one. It had been written just after Georg's return the day before, and ran as follows:
"Joyously they march along, Lights are flashing through the panes, In the streets a busy throng Curiosity enchains. Oh! the merry festal night; Would that it might last for aye! For aye! Alas! Love, splendor, light, All, all have passed away."
The last lines Georg had written with a rapid pen the night before. In them he bewailed his hard fate. She must hear him once, then he would sing her a peerless song. Maria had followed the first verses silently with her eyes, but now her lips began to move and in a low, rapid tone, but audibly she read:
"Sometimes it echoes like the thunder's peal, Then soft and low through the May night doth steal; Sometimes, on joyous wing, to Heaven it soars, Sometimes, like Philomel, its woes deplores. For, oh! this a song that ne'er can die, It seeks the heart of all humanity. In the deep cavern and the darksome lair, The sea of ether o'er the realm of air, In every nook my song shall still be heard, And all creation, with sad yearning stirred, United in a full, exultant choir, Pray thee to grant the singer's fond desire. E'en when the ivy o'er my grave hath grown, Still will ring on each sweet, enchanting tone, Through the whole world and every earthly zone, Resounding on in aeons yet to come."
Maria read on, her heart beating more and more violently, her breath coming quicker and quicker, and when she had reached the last verse, tears burst from her eyes, and she raised the book with both hands to hurl it from her and throw her arms around the writer's neck.
He had been standing opposite to her, as if spellbound, listening blissfully to the lofty flight of his own words. Trembling with passionate emotion, he yet restrained himself until she had raised her eyes from his lines and lifted the book, then his power of resistance flew to the winds and, fairly beside himself, he exclaimed: "Maria, my sweet wife!"
"Wife?" echoed in her breast like a cry of warning, and it seemed as if an icy hand clutched her heart. The intoxication passed away, and as she saw him standing before her with out-stretched arms and sparkling eyes, she shrank back, a feeling of intense loathing of him and her own weakness seized upon her and, instead of throwing the book aside and rushing to meet him, she tore it in halves, saying proudly: "Here are your verses, Junker von Dornburg; take them with you." Then, maintaining her dignity by a strong effort, she continued in a lower, more gentle tone, "I shall remember you without this book. We have both dreamed; let us now wake. Farewell! I will pray that God may guard you. Give me your hand, Georg, and when you return, we will bid you welcome to our house as a friend."
With these words Maria turned away from the Junker and only nodded silently, when he exclaimed: "Past! All past!"
Georg descended the stairs in a state of bewilderment. Both halves of the book, in which ever since the wedding at Delft he had written a succession of verses to Maria, lay in his hand.
The light of the kitchen-fire streamed into the entry. He followed it, and before answering Barbara's kind greeting, went to the hearth and flung into the fire the sheets, which contained the pure, sweet fragrance of a beautiful flower of youth.
"Oho! Junker!" cried the widow. "A quick fire doesn't suit every kind of food. What is burning there?"
"Foolish paper!" he answered. "Have no fear. At the utmost it might weep and put out the flames. It will be ashes directly. There go the sparks, flying in regular rows through the black, charred pages. How pretty it looks! They appear, leap forth and vanish--like a funeral procession with torches in a pitch-dark night. Good-night, poor children--good-night, dear songs! Look, Frau Barbara! They are rolling themselves up tightly, convulsively, as if it hurt them to burn."
"What sort of talk is that?" replied Barbara, thrusting the charred book deeper into the fire with the tongs. Then pointing to her own forehead, she continued: "One often feels anxious about you. High-sounding words, such as we find in the Psalms, are not meant for every-day life and our kitchen. If you were my own son, you'd often have something to listen to. People who travel at a steady pace reach their goal soonest."
"That's good advice for a journey," replied Georg, holding out his hand to the widow. "Farewell, dear mother. I can't bear it here any longer. In half an hour I shall turn my back on this good city."
"Go then--just as you choose--Or is the young lady taking you in tow? Nobleman's son and nobleman's daughter! Like to like--Yet, no; there has been nothing between you. Her heart is good, but I should wish you another wife than that Popish Everyday-different."
"So Henrica has told you--"
"She has just gone. Dear me-she has her relatives outside; and we--it's hard to divide a plum into twelve pieces. I said farewell to her cheerfully; but you, Georg, you--"
"I shall take her out of the city, and then--you won't blame me for it-- then I shall make my way through to the Beggars."
"The Beggars! That's a different matter, that's right. You'll be in your proper place there! Cheer up, Junker, and go forth boldly? Give me your hand, and if you meet my boy--he commands a ship of his own.--Dear me, I remember something. You can wait a moment longer. Come here, Trautchen. The woollen stockings I knit for him are up in the painted chest. Make haste and fetch them. He may need them on the water in the damp autumn weather. You'll take them with you?"
"Willingly, most willingly; and now let me thank you for all your kindness. You have been like an own mother to me." Georg clasped the widow's hand, and neither attempted to conceal how dear each had become to the other and how hard it was to part. Trautchen had given Barbara the stockings, and many tears fell upon them, while the widow was bidding the Junker farewell. When she noticed they were actually wet, she waved them in the air and handed them to the young man.
The night was dark but still, even sultry. The travellers were received at the Hohenort Gate by Captain Van Duivenvoorde, preceded by an old sergeant, carrying a lantern, who opened the gate. The captain embraced his brave, beloved comrade, Dornburg; a few farewell words and god-speeds echoed softly from the fortification walls, and the trio stepped forth into the open country.
For a time they walked silently through the darkness. Wilhelm knew the way and strode in front of Henrica; the Junker kept close at her side.
All was still, except from time to time they heard a word of command from the walls, the striking of a clock, or the barking of a dog.
Henrica had recognized Georg by the light of the lantern, and when Wilhelm stopped to ascertain whether there was any water in the ditch over which he intended to guide his companions, she said, under her breath:
"I did not expect your escort, Junker."
"I know it, but I, too, desired to leave the city."
"And wish to avail yourself of our knowledge of the watchword. Then stay with us."
"Until I know you are safe, Fraulein."
"The walls of Leyden already lie between you and the peril from which you fly."
"I don't understand you."
"So much the better."
Wilhelm turned and, in a muffled voice, requested his companions to keep
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