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In the year 1574 A. D. spring made its joyous entry into the Netherlands at an unusually early date.
The sky was blue, gnats sported in the sunshine, white butterflies alighted on the newly-opened yellow flowers, and beside one of the numerous ditches intersecting the wide plain stood a stork, snapping at a fine frog; the poor fellow soon writhed in its enemy's red beak. One gulp--the merry jumper vanished, and its murderer, flapping its wings, soared high into the air. On flew the bird over gardens filled with blossoming fruit-trees, trimly laid-out flower-beds, and gaily-painted arbors, across the frowning circlet of walls and towers that girdled the city, over narrow houses with high, pointed gables, and neat streets bordered with elm, poplar, linden and willow-trees, decked with the first green leaves of spring. At last it alighted on a lofty gable-roof, on whose ridge was its firmly-fastened nest. After generously giving up its prey to the little wife brooding over the eggs, it stood on one leg and gazed thoughtfully down upon the city, whose shining red tiles gleamed spick and span from the green velvet carpet of the meadows. The bird had known beautiful Leyden, the gem of Holland, for many a year, and was familiar with all the branches of the Rhine that divided the stately city into numerous islands, and over which arched as many stone bridges as there are days in five months of the year; but surely many changes had occurred here since the stork's last departure for the south.
Where were the citizens' gay summer-houses and orchards, where the wooden frames on which the weavers used to stretch their dark and colored cloths?
Whatever plant or work of human hands had risen, outside the city walls and towers to the height of a man's breast, thus interrupting the uniformity of the plain, had vanished from the earth, and beyond, on the bird's best hunting-grounds, brownish spots sown with black circles appeared among the green of the meadows.
Late in October of the preceding year, just after the storks left the country, a Spanish army had encamped here, and a few hours before the return of the winged wanderers in the first opening days of spring, the besiegers retired without having accomplished their purpose.
Barren spots amid the luxuriant growth of vegetation marked the places where they had pitched their tents, the black cinders of the burnt coals their camp-fires.
The sorely-threatened inhabitants of the rescued city, with thankful hearts, uttered sighs of relief. The industrious, volatile populace had speedily forgotten the sufferings endured, for early spring is so beautiful, and never does a rescued life seem so delicious as when we are surrounded by the joys of spring.
A new and happier time appeared to have dawned, not only for Nature but for human beings. The troops quartered in the besieged city, which had the day before committed many an annoyance, had been dismissed with song and music. The carpenter's axe flashed in the spring sunlight before the red walls, towers and gates, and cut sharply into the beams from which new scaffolds and frames were to be erected; noble cattle grazed peacefully undisturbed around the city, whose desolated gardens were being dug, sowed and planted afresh. In the streets and houses a thousand hands, which but a short time before had guided spears and arquebuses on the walls and towers, were busy at useful work, and old people sat quietly before their doors to let the warm spring sun shine on their backs.
Few discontented faces were to be seen in Leyden on this eighteenth of April. True, there was no lack of impatient ones, and whoever wanted to seek them need only go to the principal school, where noon was approaching and many boys gazed far more eagerly through the open windows of the school-room, than at the teacher's lips.
But in that part of the spacious hall where the older lads received instruction, no restlessness prevailed. True, the spring sun shone on their books and exercises too, the spring called them into the open air, but even more powerful than its alluring voice seemed the influence exerted on their young minds by what they were now hearing.
Forty sparkling eyes were turned towards the bearded man, who addressed them in his deep voice. Even wild Jan Mulder had dropped the knife with which he had begun to cut on his desk a well-executed figure of a ham, and was listening attentively.
The noon bell now rang from the neighboring church, and soon after was heard from the tower of the town-hall, the little boys noisily left the room, but--strange-=the patience of the older ones still held out; they were surely hearing things that did not exactly belong to their lessons.
The man who stood before them was no teacher in the school, but the city clerk, Van Hout, who, to-day filled the place of his sick friend, Verstroot, master of arts and preacher. During the ringing of the bells he had closed the book, and now said:
"'Suspendo lectionem.' Jan Mulder, how would you translate my 'suspendere'?"
"Hang," replied the boy.
"Hang!" laughed Van Hout. "You might be hung from a hook perhaps, but where should we hang a lesson? Adrian Van der Werff."
The lad called rose quickly, saying:
"'Suspendere lectionen' means to break off the lesson."
"Very well; and if we wanted to hang up Jan Mulder, what should we say?"
"Patibulare--ad patibulum!" cried the scholars. Van Hout, who had just been smiling, grew very grave. Drawing a long breath, he said:
"Patibulo is a bad Latin word, and your fathers, who formerly sat here, understood its meaning far less thoroughly than you. Now, every child in the Netherlands knows it, Alva has impressed it on our minds. More than eighteen thousand worthy citizens have come to the gallows through his 'ad patibulum.'"
With these words he pulled his short black doublet through his girdle, advanced nearer the first desk, and bending his muscular body forward, said with constantly increasing emotion:
"'This shall be enough for to-day, boys. It will do no great harm, if you afterwards forget the names earned here. But always remember one thing: your country first of all. Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans did not die in vain, so long as there are men ready to follow their example. Your turn will come too. It is not my business to boast, but truth is truth. We Hollanders have furnished fifty times three hundred men for the freedom of our native soil. In such stormy times there are steadfast men; even boys have shown themselves great. Ulrich yonder, at your head, can bear his nickname of Lowing with honor. 'Hither Persians--hither Greeks!' was said in ancient times, but we cry: 'Hither Netherlands, hither Spain!' And indeed, the proud Darius never ravaged Greece as King Philip has devastated Holland. Ay, my lads, many flowers bloom in the breasts of men. Among them is hatred of the poisonous hemlock. Spain has sowed it in our gardens. I feel it growing within me, and you too feel and ought to feel it. But don't misunderstand me! 'Hither Spain--hither Netherlands!' is the cry, and not: 'Hither Catholics and hither Protestants.' Every faith may be right in the Lord's eyes, if only the man strives earnestly to walk in Christ's ways. At the throne of Heaven, it will not be asked: Are you Papist, Calvinist, or Lutheran? but: What were your intentions and acts? Respect every man's belief; but despise him who makes common cause with the tyrant against the liberty of our native land. Now pray silently, then you may go home."
The scholars rose; Van Hout wiped the perspiration from his high forehead, and while the boys were collecting books, pencils, and pens, said slowly, as if apologizing to himself for the words already uttered:
"What I have told you perhaps does not belong to the school-room; but, my lads, this battle is still far from being ended, and though you must occupy the school-benches for a while, you are the future soldiers. Lowing, remain behind, I have something to say to you."
He slowly turned his back to the boys, who rushed out of doors. In a corner of the yard of St. Peter's church, which was behind the building and entered by few of the passers-by, they stood still, and from amid the wild confusion of exclamations arose a sort of consultation, to which the organ-notes echoing from the church formed a strange accompaniment.
They were trying to decide upon the game to be played in the afternoon.
It was a matter of course, after what Van Hout had said, that there should be a battle; it had not even been proposed by anybody, but the discussion that now arose proceeded from the supposition.
It was soon decided that patriots and Spaniards, not Greeks and Persians, were to appear in the lists against each other; but when the burgomaster's son, Adrian Van der Werff, a lad of fourteen, proposed to form the two parties, and in the imperious way peculiar to him attempted to make Paul Van Swieten and Claus Dirkson Spaniards, he encountered violent opposition, and the troublesome circumstance was discovered that no one was willing to represent a foreign soldier.
Each boy wanted to make somebody else a Castilian, and fight himself under the banner of the Netherlands. But friends and foes are necessary for a war, and Holland's heroic courage required Spaniards to prove it. The youngsters grew excited, the cheeks of the disputants began to flush, here and there clenched fists were raised, and everything indicated that a horrible civil war would precede the battle to be given the foes of the country.
In truth, these lively boys were ill-suited to play the part of King Philip's gloomy, stiff-necked soldiers. Amid the many fair heads, few lads were seen with brown locks, and only one with black hair and dark eyes. This was Adam Baersdorp, whose father, like Van der Werff's, was one of the leaders of the citizens. When he too refused to act a Spaniard, one of the boys exclaimed:
"You won't? Yet my father says your father is half a Glipper,--[The name given in Holland to those who sympathized with Spain]--and a whole Papist to boot."
At these words young Baersdorp threw his books on the ground, and was rushing with upraised fist upon his enemy--but Adrian Van der Werff hastily interposed, crying:
"For shame, Cornelius.--I'll stop the mouth of anybody who utters such an insult again. Catholics are Christians, as well as we. You heard it from Van Hout, and my father says so too. Will you be a Spaniard, Adam, yes or no?"
"No!" cried the latter firmly. "And if anybody else--"
"You can quarrel afterward," said Adrian Van der Werff, interrupting his excited companions, then good-naturedly picking up the books Baersdorp had flung down, and handing them to him, continued resolutely, "I'll be a Spaniard to-day. Who else?"
"I, I, I too, for aught I care," shouted several of the scholars, and the forming of the two parties would have been carried on in the best order to the end, if the boys' attention had not been diverted by a fresh incident.
A young gentleman, followed by a black servant, came up the street directly towards them. He too was a Netherlander, but had little in common with the school-boys except his age, a red and white complexion, fair hair, and clear blue eyes, eyes that looked arrogantly out upon the world. Every step showed that he considered himself an important personage, and the gaily-costumed negro, who carried a few recently purchased articles behind him, imitated this bearing in a most comical way. The negro's head was held still farther back than the young noble's, whose stiff Spanish ruff prevented him from moving his handsome head as freely as other mortals.
"That ape, Wibisma," said one of the school-boys, pointing to the approaching nobleman.
All eyes turned towards him, scornfully scanning his little velvet hat decked with a long plume, the quilted red satin garment padded in the breast and sleeves, the huge puffs of his short brown breeches, and the brilliant scarlet silk stockings that closely fitted his well-formed limbs.
"The ape," repeated Paul Van Swieten. "He wants to be a cardinal, that's why he wears so much red."
"And looks as Spanish as if he came straight from Madrid," cried another lad, while a third added:
"The Wibismas certainly were not to be found here, so long as bread was short with us."
The Wibismas are all Glippers.
"And he struts about on week-days, dressed in velvet and silk," said Adrian. "Just look at the black boy the red-legged stork has brought with him to Leyden."
The scholars burst into a loud laugh, and as soon as the youth had reached them, Paul Van Swieten snarled in a nasal tone:
"How did deserting suit you? How are affairs in Spain, master Glipper?"
The young noble raised his head still higher, the negro did the same, and both walked quietly on, even when Adrian shouted in his ear:
"Little Glipper, tell me, for how many pieces of silver did Judas sell the Saviour?"
Young Matanesse Van Wibisma made an indignant gesture, but controlled himself until Jan Mulder stepped in front of him, holding his little cloth cap, into which he had thrust a hen's feather, under his chin like a beggar, and saying humbly:
"Give me a little shrove-money for our tom-cat, Sir Grandee; he stole a leg of veal from the butcher yesterday."
"Out of my way!" said the youth in a haughty, resolute tone, trying to push Mulder aside with the back of his hand.
"Hands off, Glipper!" cried the school-boys, raising their clenched hands threateningly.
"Then let me alone," replied Wibisma, "I want no quarrel, least of all with you."
"Why not with us?" asked Adrian Van der Werff, irritated by the supercilious, arrogant tone of the last words.
The youth shrugged his shoulders, but Adrian cried: "Because you like your Spanish costume better than our doublets of Leyden cloth."
Here he paused, for Jan Mulder stole behind Wibisma, struck his hat down on his head with a book, and while Nicolas Van Wibisma was trying to free his eyes from the covering that shaded them, exclaimed:
"There, Sir Grandee, now the little hat sits firm! You can keep it on, even before the king."
The negro could not go to his master's assistance, for his arms were filled with parcels, but the young noble did not call him, knowing how cowardly his black servant was, and feeling strong enough to help himself.
A costly clasp, which he had just received as a gift on his seventeenth birthday, confined the plume in his hat; but without a thought he flung it aside, stretched out his arms as if for a wrestling-match, and with florid cheeks, asked in a loud, resolute tone: "Who did that?"
Jan Mulder had hastily retreated among his companions, and instead of coming forward and giving his name, called:
"Look for the hat-fuller, Glipper! We'll play blindman's buff."
The youth, frantic with rage, repeated his question. When, instead of any other answer, the boys entered into Jan Mulder's jest, shouting gaily: "Yes, play blind-man's buff! Look for the hat-fuller. Come, little Glipper, begin." Nicolas could contain himself no longer, but shouted furiously to the laughing throng:
Scarcely had the words been uttered, when Paul Van Swieten raised his grammar, bound in hog-skin, and hurled it at Wibisma's breast.
Other books followed, amid loud outcries, striking him on the legs and shoulders. Bewildered, he shielded his face with his hands and retreated to the church-yard wall, where he stood still and prepared to rush upon his foes.
The stiff, fashionable high Spanish ruff no longer confined his handsome head with its floating golden locks. Freely and boldly he looked his enemies in the face, stretched the young limbs hardened by many a knightly exercise, and with a true Netherland oath sprang upon Adrian Van der Werff, who stood nearest.
After a short struggle, the burgomaster's son, inferior in strength and age to his opponent, lay extended on the ground; but the other lads, who had not ceased shouting, "Glipper, Glipper," seized the young noble, who was kneeling on his vanquished foe.
Nicolas struggled bravely, but his enemies' superior power was too great.
Frantic with fury, wild with rage and shame, he snatched the dagger from his belt.
The boys now raised a frightful yell, and two of them rushed upon Nicolas to wrest the weapon from him. This was quickly accomplished; the dagger flew on the pavement, but Van Swieten sprang back with a low cry, for the sharp blade had struck his arm, and the bright blood streamed on the ground.
For several minutes the shouts of the lads and the piteous cries of the black page drowned the beautiful melody of the organ, pouring from the windows of the church. Suddenly the music ceased; instead of the intricate harmony the slowly-dying note of a single pipe was heard, and a young man rushed out of the door of the sacristy of the House of God. He quickly perceived the cause of the wild uproar that had interrupted his practising, and a smile flitted over the handsome face which, framed by a closely-cut beard, had just looked startled enough, though the reproving words and pushes with which he separated the enraged lads were earnest enough, and by no means failed to produce their effect.
The boys knew the musician, Wilhelm Corneliussohn, and offered no resistance, for they liked him, and his dozen years of seniority gave him an undisputed authority among them. Not a hand was again raised against Wibisma, but the boys, all shouting and talking together, crowded around the organist to accuse Nicolas and defend themselves.
Paul Van Swieten's wound was slight. He stood outside the circle of his companions, supporting the injured left arm with his right hand. He frequently blew upon the burning spot in his flesh, over which a bit of cloth was wrapped, but curiosity concerning the result of this entertaining brawl was stronger than the wish to have it bandaged and healed.
As the peace-maker's work was already drawing to a close, the wounded lad, pointing with his sound hand in the direction of the school, suddenly called warningly:
"There comes Herr von Nordwyk. Let the Glipper go, or there will be trouble."
Paul Van Swieten again clasped his wounded arm with his right hand and ran swiftly around the church. Several other boys followed, but the new-comer of whom they were afraid, a man scarcely thirty years old, had legs of considerable length, and knew how to use them bravely.
"Stop, boys!" he shouted in an echoing voice of command. "Stop! What has Happened here?"
Every one in Leyden respected the learned and brave young nobleman, so all the lads who had not instantly obeyed Van Swieten's warning shout, stood still until Herr von Nordwyk reached them.
A strange, eager light sparkled in this man's clever eyes, and a subtle smile hovered around his moustached lip, as he called to the musician:
"What has happened here, Meister Wilhelm? Didn't the clamor of Minerva's apprentices harmonize with your organ-playing, or did--but by all the colors of Iris, that's surely Nico Matanesse, young Wibisma! And how he looks! Brawling in the shadow of the church--and you here too, Adrian, and you, Meister Wilhelm?"
"I separated them," replied the other quietly, smoothing his rumpled cuffs.
"With perfect calmness, but impressively--like your organ-music," said the commander, laughing.
"Who began the fight? You, young sir? or the others?"
Nicolas, in his excitement, shame, and indignation, could find no coherent words, but Adrian came forward saying: "We wrestled together. Don't be too much vexed with us, Herr Janus."
Nicolas cast a friendly glance at his foe.
Herr von Nordwyk, Jan Van der Does, or as a learned man he preferred to call himself, Janus Dousa, was by no means satisfied with this information, but exclaimed:
"Patience, patience! You look suspicious enough, Meister Adrian; come here and tell me, 'atrekeos,' according to the truth, what has been going on."
The boy obeyed the command and told his story honestly, without concealing or palliating anything that had occurred.
"Hm," said Dousa, after the lad had finished his report. "A difficult case. No one is to be acquitted. Your cause would be the better one, had it not been for the knife, my fine young nobleman, but you, Adrian, and you, you chubby-cheeked rascals, who--There comes the rector--If he catches you, you'll certainly see nothing but four walls the rest of this beautiful day. I should be sorry for that."
The chubby-cheeked rascals, and Adrian also, understood this hint, and without stopping to take leave scampered around the corner of the church like a flock of doves pursued by a hawk.
As soon as they had vanished, the commander approached young Nicolas, saying:
"Vexatious business! What was right to them is just to you. Go to your home. Are you visiting your aunt?"
"Yes, my lord," replied the young noble. "Is your father in the city too?" Nicolas was silent.
"He doesn't wish to be seen?"
Nicolas nodded assent, and Dousa continued:
"Leyden stands open to every Netherlander, even to you. To be sure, if you go about like King Philip's page, and show contempt to your equals, you must endure the consequences yourself. There lies the dagger, my young friend, and there is your hat. Pick them up, and remember that such a weapon is no toy. Many a man has spoiled his whole life, by thoughtlessly using one a single moment. The superior numbers that pressed upon you may excuse you. But how will you get to your aunt's house in that tattered doublet?"
"My cloak is in the church," said the musician, "I'll give it to the young gentleman."
"Bravo, Meister Wilhelm!" replied Dousa. "Wait here, my little master, and then go home. I wish the time, when your father would value my greeting, might come again. Do you know why it is no longer pleasant to him?"
"No, my lord."
"Then I'll tell you. Because he is fond of Spain, and I cling to the Netherlands."
"We are Netherlanders as well as you," replied Nicolas with glowing cheeks.
"Scarcely," answered Dousa calmly, putting his hand up to his thin chin, and intending to add a kinder word to the sharp one, when the youth vehemently exclaimed:
"Take back that 'scarcely,' Herr von Nordwyk." Dousa gazed at the bold lad in surprise, and again an expression of amusement hovered about his lips. Then he said kindly:
"I like you, Herr Nicolas; and shall rejoice if you wish to become a true Hollander. There comes Meister Wilhelm with his cloak. Give me your hand. No, not this one, the other."
Nicolas hesitated, but Janus grasped the boy's right hand in both of his, bent his tall figure to the latter's ear, and said in so low a tone that the musician could not understand:
"Ere we part, take with you this word of counsel from one who means kindly. Chains, even golden ones, drag us down, but liberty gives wings. You shine in the glittering splendor, but we strike the Spanish chains with the sword, and I devote myself to our work. Remember these words, and if you choose repeat them to your father."
Janus Dousa turned his back on the boy, waved a farewell to the musician, and went away.
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