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- The Burgomaster's Wife, Volume 5. - 6/12 -
silence. They now walked noiselessly on, until just outside the camp they reached the broad road around which they had made a circuit. A Spanish sentinel challenged them.
"Lepanto!" was the answer, and they passed on through the camp unmolested. A coach drawn by four horses, a mere box hung between two tiny fore-wheels and a pair of gigantic hind-wheels, drove slowly past them. It was conveying Magdalena Moons, the daughter of an aristocratic Holland family, distinguished among the magistracy, back to the Hague from a visit to her lover and future husband, Valdez. No one noticed Henrica, for there were plenty of women in the camp. Several poorly-clad ones sat before the tents, mending the soldiers' clothes. Some gaily- bedizened wenches were drinking wine and throwing dice with their male companions in front of an officer's tent. A brighter light glowed from behind the general's quarters, where, under a sort of shed, several confessionals and an altar had been erected. Upon this altar candles were burning, and over it hung a silver lamp; a dark, motionless stream pressed towards it; Castilian soldiers, among whom individuals could be recognized only when the candle-light flashed upon a helmet or coat of mail.
The loud singing of carousing German mercenaries, the neighing and stamping of the horses, and the laughter of the officers and girls, drowned the low chanting of the priests and the murmur of the penitents, but the shrill sounding of the bell calling to mass from time to time pierced, with its swift vibrations, through the noise of the camp. Just outside the village the watch-word was again used, and they reached the first house unmolested.
"Here we are," said Wilhelm, with a sigh of relief. "Profit by the darkness, Junker, and keep on till you have the Spaniards behind you."
"No, my friend; you will remain here. I wish to share your danger. I shall return with you to Leyden and from thence try to reach Delft; meantime I'll keep watch and give you warning, if necessary."
"Let us bid each other farewell now, Georg; hours may pass before I return."
"I have time, a horrible amount of time. I'll wait. There goes the door."
The Junker grasped his sword, but soon removed his hand from the hilt, for it was Belotti, who came out and greeted the signorina.
Henrica followed him into the house and there talked with him in a low tone, until Georg called her, saying:
"Fraulein Van Hoogstraten, may I ask for a word of farewell?"
"Farewell, Herr von Dornburg!" she answered distantly, but advanced a step towards him.
Georg had also approached, and now held out his hand. She hesitated a moment, then placed hers in it, and said so softly, that only he could hear:
"Do you love Maria?"
"So I am to confess?"
"Don't refuse my last request, as you did the first. If you can be generous, answer me fearlessly. I'll not betray your secret to any one. Do you love Frau Van der Werff?"
Henrica drew a long breath, then continued: "And now you are rushing out into the world to forget her?"
"Then tell me why you have fled from Leyden?"
"To find an end that becomes a soldier."
Henrica advanced close to his side, exclaiming so scornfully, that it cut Georg to the heart:
"So it has grasped you too! It seizes all: Knights, maidens, wives and widows; not one is spared. Never ending sorrow! Farewell, Georg! We can laugh at or pity each other, just as we choose. A heart pierced with seven swords: what an exquisite picture! Let us wear blood-red knots of ribbon, instead of green and blue ones. Give me your hand once more, now farewell."
Henrica beckoned to the musician and both followed Belotti up the steep, narrow stairs. Wilhelm remained behind in a little room, adjoining a second one, where a beautiful boy, about three years old, was being tended by an Italian woman. In a third chamber, which like all the other rooms in the farm-house, was so low that a tall man could scarcely stand erect, Henrica's sister lay on a wide bedstead, over which a screen, supported by four columns, spread like a canopy. Links dimly lighted the long narrow room. The reddish-yellow rays of their broad flames were darkened by the canopy, and scarcely revealed the invalid's face.
Henrica had given the Italian woman and the child in the second room but a hasty greeting, and now impetuously pressed forward into the third, rushed to the bed, threw herself on her knees, clasped her arms passionately around her sister, and covered her face with owing kisses.
She said nothing but "Anna," and the sick woman and no other word than "Henrica." Minutes elapsed, then the young girl started up, seized one of the torches A cast its light on her regained sister's face. How pale, how emaciated it looked! But it was still beautiful, still the same as before. Strangely-blended emotions of joy and grief took possession of Henrica's soul. Her cold hard feelings grew warm and melted, and in this hour the comfort of tears, of which she had been so long deprived, once more became hers.
Gradually the flood tide of emotion began to ebb, and the confusion of loving exclamations and incoherent words gained some order and separated into question and answer. When Anna learned that the musician had accompanied her sister, she wished to see him, and when he entered, held out both hands, exclaiming:
"Meister, Meister, in what a condition you find me again! Henrica, this is the best of men; the only unselfish friend I have found on earth."
The succeeding hours were full of sorrowful agitation.
Belotti and the old Italian woman often undertook to speak for the invalid, and gradually the image of a basely-destroyed life, that had been worthy of a better fate, appeared before Henrica and Wilhelm. Fear, anxiety and torturing doubt had from the first saddened Anna's existence with the unprincipled adventurer and gambler, who had succeeded in beguiling her young, experienced heart. A short period of intoxication was followed by an unexampled awakening. She was clasping her first child to her breast, when the unprecedented outrage occurred--Don Luis demanded that she should move with him into the house of a notorious Marchesa, in whose ill-famed gambling-rooms he had spent his evenings and nights for months. She indignantly refused, but he coldly and threateningly persisted in having his will. Then the Hoogstraten blood asserted itself, and without a word of farewell she fled with her child to Lugano. There the boy was received by his mother's former waiting- maid, while she herself went to Rome, not as an adventuress, but with a fixed, praiseworthy object in view. She intended to fully perfect her musical talents in the new schools of Palestrina and Nanini, and thus obtain the ability, by means of her art, to support her child independently of his father and hers. She risked much, but very definite hopes hovered before her eyes, for a distinguished prelate and lover of music, to whom she had letters of introduction from Brussels, and who knew her voice, had promised that after her return from her musical studies he would give her the place of singing-mistress to a young girl of noble birth, who had been educated in a convent at Milan. She was under his guardianship, and the worthy man took care to provide Anna, before her departure, with letters to his friends in the eternal city.
Her hasty flight from Rome had been caused by the news, that Don Luis had found and abducted his son. She could not lose her child, and when she did not find the boy in Milan, followed and at last discovered him in Naples. There d'Avila restored the child, after she had declared her willingness to make over to him the income she still received from her aunt. The long journey, so full of excitement and fatigue, exhausted her strength, and she returned to Milan feeble and broken in health.
Her patron had been anxious to keep the place of singing-mistress open for her, but she could only fulfil for a short time the duties to which the superior of the convent kindly summoned her, for her sickness was increasing and a terrible cough spoiled her voice. She now returned to Lugano, and there sought to compensate her poor honest friend by the sale of her ornaments, but the time soon came when the generous artist was forced to submit to be supported by the charity of a servant. Until the last six months she had not suffered actual want, but when her maid's husband died, anxiety about the means of procuring daily bread arose, and now maternal love broke down Anna's pride: she wrote to her father as a repentant daughter, bowed down by misfortune, but received no reply. At last, reduced to starvation with her child, she undertook the hardest possible task, and besought the man, of whom she could only think with contempt and loathing, not to let his son grow up like a beggar's child. The letter, which contained this cry of distress, had reached Don Luis just before his death. No help was to come to her from him. But Belotti appeared, and now she was once more at home, her friend and sister were standing beside her bed, and Henrica encouraged her to hope for her father's forgiveness.
It was past midnight, yet Georg still awaited his friend's return. The noise and bustle of the camp began to die away and the lantern, which at first had but feebly lighted the spacious lower-room of the farmhouse, burned still more dimly. The German shared this apartment with agricultural implements, harnesses, and many kinds of grain and vegetables heaped in piles against the walls, but he lacked inclination to cast even a glance at his motley surroundings. There was nothing pleasant to him in the present or future. He felt humiliated, guilty, weary of life. His self-respect was trampled under foot, love and happiness were forfeited, there was naught before him save a colorless, charmless future, full of bitterness and mental anguish. Nothing seemed desirable save a speedy death. At times the fair image of his home rose before his memory--but it vanished as soon as he recalled the burgomaster's dignified figure, his own miserable weakness and the repulse he had experienced. He was full of fierce indignation against himself, and longed with passionate impatience for the clash of swords and roar of cannon, the savage struggle man to man.
Time passed without his perceiving it, but a torturing desire for food began to torment the starving man. There were plenty of turnips piled against the wall, and he eat one after another, until he experienced the feeling of satiety he had so long lacked. Then he sat down on a kneading-trough and considered how he could best get to the Beggars. He did not know his way, but woe betide those who ventured to oppose him.
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