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The first week in June and half the second had passed, the beautiful sunny days had drawn to a close, and numerous guests sought the "Angulus" in Aquarius's tavern during the evening hours. It was so cosy there when the sea-breeze whistled, the rain poured, and the water fell plashing on the pavements. The Spanish besieging army encompassed the city like an iron wall. Each individual felt that he was a fellow-prisoner of his neighbor, and drew closer to companions of his own rank and opinions. Business was stagnant, idleness and anxiety weighed like lead on the minds of all, and whoever wished to make time pass rapidly and relieve his oppressed soul, went to the tavern to give utterance to his own hopes and fears, and hear what others were thinking and feeling in the common distress.
All the tables in the Angulus were occupied, and whoever wanted to be understood by a distant neighbor was forced to raise his voice very loud, for special conversations were being carried on at every table. Here, there, and everywhere, people were shouting to the busy bar-maid, glasses clinked together, and pewter lids fell on the tops of hard stone-ware jugs.
The talk at a round table in the end of the long room was louder than anywhere else. Six officers had seated themselves at it, among them Georg von Dornburg. Captain Van der Laen, his superior officer, whose past career had been a truly heroic one, was loudly relating in his deep voice, strange and amusing tales of his travels by sea and land, Colonel Mulder often interrupted him, and at every somewhat incredible story, smilingly told a similar, but perfectly impossible adventure of his own. Captain Van Duivenvoorde soothingly interposed, when Van der Laen, who was conscious of never deviating far from the truth, angrily repelled the old man's jesting insinuations. Captain Cromwell, a grave man with a round head and smooth long hair, who had come to Holland to fight for the faith, rarely mingled in the conversation, and then only with a few words of scarcely intelligible Dutch. Georg, leaning far back in his chair, stretched his feet out before him and stared silently into vacancy.
Herr Aquanus, the host, walked from one table to another, and when he at last reached the one where the officers sat, paused opposite to the Thuringian, saying:
"Where are your thoughts, Junker? One would scarcely know you during the last few days. What has come over you?"
Georg hastily sat erect, stretched himself like a person roused from sleep, and answered pleasantly:
"Dreams come in idleness."
"The cage is getting too narrow for him," said Captain Van der Laen. "If this state of things lasts long, we shall all get dizzy like the sheep."
"And as stiff as the brazen Pagan god on the shelf yonder," added Colonel Mulder.
"There was the same complaint during the first siege," replied the host, "but Herr von Noyelles drowned his discontent and emptied many a cask of my best liquor."
"Tell the gentlemen how he paid you," cried Colonel Mulder.
"There hangs the paper framed," laughed Aquarius. "Instead of sending money, he wrote this:
'Full many a favor, dear friend, hast thou done me, For which good hard coin glad wouldst thou be to see There's none in my pockets; so for the debt In place of dirty coin, This written sheet so fine; Paper money in Leyden is easy to get.'"
"Excellent!" cried Junker von Warmond, "and besides you made the die for the pasteboard coins yourself."
"Of course! Herr von Noyelles' sitting still, cost me dear. You have already made two expeditions."
"Hush, hush, for God's sake say nothing about the first sally!" cried the captain. "A well-planned enterprise, which was shamefully frustrated, because the leader lay down like a mole to sleep! Where has such a thing happened a second time?"
"But the other ended more fortunately," said the host. "Three hundred hams, one hundred casks of beer, butter, ammunition, and the most worthless of all spies into the bargain; always an excellent prize."
"And yet a failure!" cried Captain Van der Laen, "We ought to have captured and brought in all the provision ships on the Leyden Lake! And the Kaag! To think that this fort on the island should be in the hands of the enemy."
"But the people have held out bravely," said von Warmond.
"There are real devils among them," replied Van der Laen, laughing. "One struck a Spaniard down and, in the midst of the battle, took off his red breeches and pulled them on his own legs."
"I know the man," added the landlord, "his name is Van Keulen; there he sits yonder over his beer, telling the people all sorts of queer stories. A fellow with a face like a satyr. We have no lack of comfort yet! Remember Chevraux' defeat, and the Beggars' victory at Vlissingen on the Scheldt."
"To brave Admiral Boisot and the gallant Beggar troops!" cried Captain Van der Laen, touching glasses with Colonel Mulder. The latter turned with upraised beaker towards the Thuringian and, as the Junker who had relapsed into his reverie, did not notice the movement, irritably exclaimed:
"Well, Herr Dornburg, you require a long time to pledge a man."
Georg started and answered hastily:
"Pledge? Oh! yes. Pledge. I pledge you, Colonel!" With these words he raised the goblet, drained it at a single draught, made the nail test and replaced it on the table.
"Well done!" cried the old man; and Herr Aquanus said:
"He learned that at the University; studying makes people thirsty."
As he uttered the words, he cast a friendly glance of anxiety at the young German, and then looked towards the door, through which Wilhelm had just entered the Angulus. The landlord went to meet him and whispered:
"I don't like the German nobleman's appearance. The singing lark has become a mousing night-bird. What ails him?"
"Home-sickness, no news from his family, and the snare into which the war has drawn him in his pursuit of glory and honor. He'll soon be his old self again."
"I hope so," replied the host. "Such a succulent little tree will quickly rebound, when it is pressed to the earth; help the fine young fellow."
A guest summoned the landlord, but the musician joined the officers and began a low conversation with Georg, which was drowned by the confused mingling of loud voices.
Wilhelm came from the Van der Werff house, where he had learned that the next day but one, June fourteenth, would be the burgomaster's birthday. Adrian had told Henrica, and the latter informed him. The master of the house was to be surprised with a song on the morning of his birthday festival.
"Excellent," said Georg, interrupting his friend, "she will manage the matter admirably."
"Not she alone; we can depend upon Fran Van der Werff too. At first she wanted to decline, but when I proposed a pretty madrigal, yielded and took the soprano."
"The soprano?" asked the Junker excitedly. "Of course I'm at your service. Let us go; have you the notes at home?"
"No, Herr von Dornburg, I have just taken them to the ladies; but early to-morrow morning--"
"There will be a rehearsal early to-morrow morning! The jug is for me, Jungfer Dortchen! Your health, Colonel Mulder! Captain Huivenvoorde, I drain this goblet to your new standard and hope to have many a jolly ride by your side."
The German's eyes again sparkled with an eager light, and when Captain Van der Laen, continuing his conversation, cried enthusiastically: "The Beggars of the Sea will yet sink the Spanish power. The sea, gentlemen. the sea! To base one's cause on nothing, is the best way! To exult, leap and grapple in the storm! To fight and struggle man to man and breast to breast on the deck of the enemy's ship! To fight and conquer, or perish with the foe!"
"To your health, Junker!" exclaimed the colonel. "Zounds, we need such youths!"
"Now you are your old self again," said Wilhelm, turning to his friend. "Touch glasses to your dear ones at home."
"Two glasses for one," cried Georg. "To the dear ones at home--to the joys and sorrows of the heart, to the fair woman we love! War is rapture, love is life! Let the wounds bleed, let the heart break into a thousand pieces. Laurels grow green on the battle-field, love twines garlands of roses-roses with thorns, yet beautiful roses! Go, beaker! No other lips shall drink from you."
Georg's cheeks glowed as he flung the glass goblet into a corner of the room, where it shattered into fragments. His comrades at the table cheered loudly, but Captain Cromwell rose quietly to leave the room, and the landlord shook his wise head doubtfully.
It seemed as if fire had poured into Georg's soul and his spirit had gained wings. The thick waving locks curled in dishevelled masses around his handsome head, as leaning far back in his chair with unfastened collar, he mingled clever sallies and brilliant similes with the quiet conversation of the others. Wilhelm listened to his words sometimes with admiration, sometimes with anxiety. It was long past midnight, when the musician left the tavern with his friend. Colonel Mulder looked after him and exclaimed to those left behind:
"The fellow is possessed with a devil."
The next morning the madrigal was practised at the burgomaster's house, while its master was presiding over a meeting at the town-hall. Georg stood between Henrica and Maria. So long as the musician found it necessary to correct errors and order repetitions, a cheerful mood pervaded the little choir, and Barbara, in the adjoining room, often heard the sound of innocent laughter; but when each had mastered his or her part and the madrigal was faultlessly executed, the ladies grew more and more grave. Maria gazed fixedly at the sheet of music, and rarely had her voice sounded so faultlessly pure, so full of feeling. Georg adapted his singing to hers and his eyes, whenever they were raised from the notes, rested on her face. Henrica sought to meet the Junker's glance, but always in vain, yet she wished to divert his attention from the young wife, and it tortured her to remain unnoticed. Some impulse urged her to surpass Maria, and the whole passionate wealth of her nature rang out in her singing. Her fervor swept the others along. Maria's treble rose exultantly above the German's musical voice, and Henrica's tones blended angrily yet triumphantly in the strain. The delighted and inspired musician beat the time and, borne away by the liquid melody of Henrica's voice, revelled in sweet recollections of her sister.
When the serenade was finished, he eagerly cried:
"Again!" The rivalry between the singers commenced with fresh vigor, and this time the Junker's beaming gaze met the young wife's eyes. She hastily lowered the notes, stepped out of the semicircle, and said:
"We know the madrigal. Early to-morrow morning, Meister Wilhelm; my time is limited."
"Oh, oh!" cried the musician regretfully. "It was going on so splendidly, and there were only a few bars more." But Maria was already standing at the door and made no reply, except:
The musician enthusiastically thanked Henrica for her singing; Georg courteously expressed his gratitude. When both had taken leave, Henrica paced rapidly to and fro, passionately striking her clenched fist in the palm of her other hand.
The singers were ready early on the birthday morning, but Peter had risen before sunrise, for there was a proposition to be arranged with the city clerk, which must be completed before the meeting of the council. Nothing was farther from his thoughts than his birthday, and when the singers in the dining-room commenced their madrigal, he rapped on the door, exclaiming:
"We are busy; find another place for your singing." The melody was interrupted for a moment, and Barbara said:
"People picking apples don't think of fishing-nets. He has no idea it is his birthday. Let the children go in first."
Maria now entered the study with Adrian and Bessie. They carried bouquets in their hands, and the young wife had dressed the little girl so prettily that, in her white frock, she really looked like a dainty fairy.
Peter now knew the meaning of the singing, warmly embraced the three well-wishers, and when the madrigal began again, stood opposite to the performers to listen. True, the execution was not nearly so good as at the rehearsal, for Maria sang in a low and somewhat muffled voice, while, spite of Wilhelm's vehement beating of time, the warmth and verve of the day before would not return.
"Admirable, admirable," cried Peter, when the singers ceased. "Well planned and executed, a beautiful birthday surprise." Then he shook hands with each, saying a few cordial words and, as he grasped the Junker's right hand, remarked warmly: "You have dropped down on us from the skies during these bad days, just at the right time. It is always something to have a home in a foreign land, and you have found one with us."
Georg had bent his eyes on the floor, but at the last words raised them and met the burgomaster's. How honestly, how kindly and frankly they looked at him! Deep emotion overpowered him, and without knowing what he was doing, he laid his hands on Peter's arms and hid his face on his shoulder.
Van der Werff suffered him to do so, stroked the youth's hair, and said smiling:
"Like Leonhard, wife, just like our Leonhard. We will dine together to-day. You, too, Van Hout; and don't forget your wife."
Maria assigned the seats at the table, so that she was not obliged to look at Georg. His place was beside Frau Van Hout and opposite Henrica and the musician. At first he was silent and embarrassed, but Henrica gave him no rest, and when he had once begun to answer her questions he was soon carried away by her glowing vivacity, and gave free, joyous play to his wit. Henrica did not remain in his debt, her eyes sparkled, and in the increasing pleasure of trying the power of her intellect against his, she sought to surpass every jest and repartee made by the Junker. She drank no wine, but was intoxicated by her own flow of language and so completely engrossed Georg's attention, that he found no time to address a word to the other guests. If he attempted to do so, she quickly interrupted him and compelled him to turn to her again. This constraint annoyed the young man; while struggling against it his spirit of wantonness awoke, and he began to irritate Henrica into making unprecedented assertions, which he opposed with equally unwarrantable ones of his own.
Maria sometimes listened to the young lady in surprise, and there was something in Georg's manner that vexed her. Peter took little notice of Henrica; he was talking with Van Hout about the letters from the Glippers asking a surrender, three of which had already been brought into the city, of the uncertain disposition of some members of the council and the execution of the captured spy.
Wilhelm, who had scarcely vouchsafed his neighbor an answer, was now following the conversation of the older men and remarked, that he had known the traitor. He was a tavern-keeper, in whose inn he had once met Herr Matanesse Van Wibisma.
"There we have it," said Van Hout. "A note was found in Quatgelat's pouch, and the writing bore a mysterious resemblance to the baron's hand. Quatgelat was to enquire about the quantity of provisions in Leyden." "All alike!" exclaimed the burgomaster. "Unhappily he could have brought tidings only too welcome to Valdez. Little that is cheering has resulted from the investigation; though the exact amount has not yet been ascertained."
"We must place it during the next few days in charge of the ladies."
"Give it to the women?" asked Peter in astonishment.
"Yes, to us!" cried Van Hout's wife. "Why should we sit idle, when we might be of use."
"Give us the work!" exclaimed Maria. "We are as eager as you, to render the great cause some service."
"And believe me," added Frau Van Hout, "we shall find admittance to store-rooms and cellars much more quickly than constables and guards, whom the housewives fear."
"Women in the service of the city," said Peter thoughtfully. "To be honest--but your proposal shall be considered.--The young lady is in good spirits today."
Maria glanced indignantly at Henrica, who had leaned far across the table. She was showing Georg a ring, and laughingly exclaimed:
"Don't you wish to know what the device means? Look, a serpent biting its own tail."
"Aha!" replied the Junker, "the symbol of self-torment."
"Good, good! But it has another meaning, which you would do well to notice, Sir Knight. Do you know the signification of eternity and eternal faith?"
"No, Fraulein, I wasn't taught to think so deeply at Jena."
"Of course. Your teachers were men. Men and faith, eternal faith!"
"Was Delilah, who betrayed Samson to the Philistines, a man or a woman?" asked Van Hout.
"She was a woman. The exception, that proves the rule. Isn't that so, Maria?"
The burgomaster's wife made no reply except a silent nod; then indignantly pushed back her chair, and the meal was over.
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