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Countless citizens had flocked to the stately townhall. News of Louis of Nassau's defeat had spread quickly through all the eighteen wards of the city, and each wanted to learn farther particulars, express his grief and fears to those who held the same views, and hear what measures the council intended to adopt for the immediate future.
Two messengers had only too thoroughly confirmed Baron Matanesse Van Wibisma's communication. Louis was dead, his brother Henry missing, and his army completely destroyed.
Jan Van Hout, who had taught the boys that morning, now came to a window, informed the citizens what a severe blow the liberty of the country had received, and in vigorous words exhorted them to support the good cause with body and soul.
Loud cheers followed this speech. Gay caps and plumed hats were tossed in the air, canes and swords were waved, and the women and children, who had crowded among the men, fluttered their handkerchiefs, and with their shriller voices drowned the shouts of the citizens.
The members of the valiant city-guard assembled, to charge their captain to give the council the assurance, that the "Schutterij" was ready to support William of Orange to the last penny and drop of their blood, and would rather die for the cause of Holland, than live under Spanish tyranny. Among them was seen many a grave, deeply-troubled face; for these men, who filled its ranks by their own choice, all loved William of Orange: his sorrow hurt them--and their country's distress pierced their hearts. As soon as the four burgomasters, the eight magistrates of the city, and the members of the common council appeared at the windows, hundreds of voices joined in the Geusenlied,--[Beggars' Song or Hymn. Beggar was the name given to the patriots by those who sympathized with Spain.]--which had long before been struck up by individuals, and when at sunset the volatile populace scattered and, still singing, turned, either singly or by twos or threes, towards the taverns, to strengthen their confidence in better days and dispel many a well-justified anxiety by drink, the market-place of Leyden and its adjoining streets presented no different aspect, than if a message of victory had been read from the town-hall.
The cheers and Beggars' Song had sounded very powerful--but so many hundreds of Dutch throats would doubtless have been capable of shaking the air with far mightier tones.
This very remark had been made by the three well-dressed citizens, who were walking through the wide street, past the blue stone, and the eldest said to his companions:
"They boast and shout and seem large to themselves now, but we shall see that things will soon be very different."
"May God avert the worst!" replied the other, "but the Spaniards will surely advance again, and I know many in my ward who won't vote for resistance this time."
"They are right, a thousand times right. Requesens is not Alva, and if we voluntarily seek the king's pardon--"
"There would be no blood shed and everything would take the best course."
"I have more love for Holland than for Spain," said the third. "But, after Mook-Heath, resistance is a thing of the past. Orange may be an excellent prince, but the shirt is closer than the coat."
"And in fact we risk our lives and fortunes merely for him."
"My wife said so yesterday."
"He'll be the last man to help trade. Believe me, many think as we do, if it were not so, the Beggars' Song would have sounded louder."
"There will always be five fools to three wise men," said the older citizen. "I took good care not to split my mouth."
"And after all, what great thing is there behind this outcry for freedom? Alva burnt the Bible-readers, De la Marck hangs the priests. My wife likes to go to Mass, but always does so secretly, as if she were committing a crime."
"We, too, cling to the good old faith."
"Never mind faith," said the third. We are Calvinists, but I take no pleasure in throwing my pennies into Orange's maw, nor can it gratify me to again tear up the poles before the Cow-gate, ere the wind dries the yarn."
"Only let us hold together," advised the older man. "People don't express their real opinions, and any poor ragged devil might play the hero. But I tell you there will be sensible men enough in every ward, every guild, nay, even in the council, and among the burgomasters."
"Hush," whispered the second citizen, "there comes Van der Werff with the city clerk and young Van der Does; they are the worst of all."
The three persons named came down the broad street, talking eagerly together, but in low tones.
"My uncle is right, Meister Peter," said Jan Van der Does, the same tall young noble, who, on the morning of that day, had sent Nicolas Van Wibisma home with a kindly warning. "It's no use, you must seek the Prince and consult with him."
"I suppose I must," replied the burgomaster. "I'll go to-morrow morning."
"Not to-morrow," replied Van Hout. "The Prince rides fast, and if you don't find him in Delft--"
"Do you go first," urged the burgomaster, "you have the record of our session."
"I cannot; but to-day you, the Prince's friend, for the first time lack good-will."
"You are right, Jan," exclaimed the burgomaster, "and you shall know what holds me back."
"If it is anything a friend can do for you, here he stands," said von Nordwyk.
Van der Werff grasped the hand the young nobleman extended, and answered, smiling: "No, my lord, no. You know my young wife. To-day we should have celebrated the first anniversary of our marriage, and amid all these anxieties I disgracefully forgot it."
"Hard, hard," said Van Hout, softly. Then he drew himself up to his full height, and added resolutely: "And yet, were I in your place, I would go, in spite of her."
"Would you go to-day?"
"To-day, for to-morrow it may be too late. Who knows how soon egress from the city may be stopped and, before again venturing the utmost, we must know the Prince's opinion. You possess more of his confidence than any of us."
"And God knows how gladly I would bring him a cheering word in these sorrowful hours; but it must not be to-day. The messenger has ridden off on my bay."
"Then take my chestnut, he is faster too," said Janus Dousa and Van der Werff answered hastily.
"Thanks, my lord. I'll send for him early tomorrow morning."
The blood mounted to Van Hout's head and, thrusting his hand angrily between his girdle and doublet, he exclaimed: "Send me the chestnut, if the burgomaster will give me leave of absence."
"No, send him to me," replied Peter calmly. "What must be, must be; I'll go to-day."
Van Hout's manly features quickly smoothed and, clasping the burgomaster's right hand in both his, he said joyously:
"Thanks, Herr Peter. And no offence; you know my hot temper. If the time seems long to your young wife, send her to mine."
"And mine," added Dousa. "It's a strange thing about those two little words 'wish' and 'ought.' The freer and better a man becomes, the more surely the first becomes the slave of the second.
"And yet, Herr Peter, I'll wager that your wife will confound the two words to-day, and think you have sorely transgressed against the 'ought.' These are bad times for the 'wish.'"
Van der Werff nodded assent, then briefly and firmly explained to his friends what he intended to disclose to the Prince.
The three men separated before the burgomaster's house.
"Tell the Prince," said Van Hout, on parting, "that we are prepared for the worst, will endure and dare it."
At these words Janus Dousa measured both his companions with his eyes, his lips quivered as they always did when any strong emotion filled his heart, and while his shrewd face beamed with joy and confidence, he exclaimed: "We three will hold out, we three will stand firm, the tyrant may break our necks, but he shall not bend them. Life, fortune, all that is dear and precious and useful to man, we will resign for the highest of blessings."
"Ay," said Van der Werff, loudly and earnestly, while Van Hout impetuously repeated: "Yes, yes, thrice yes."
The three men, so united in feeling, grasped each other's hands firmly for a moment. A silent vow bound them in this hour, and when Herr von Nordwyk and Van Hout turned in opposite directions, the citizens who met them thought their tall figures had grown taller still within the last few hours.
The burgomaster went to his wife's room without delay, but did not find her there.
She had gone out of the gate with his sister.
The maid-servant carried a light into his chamber; he followed her, examined the huge locks of his pistols, buckled on his old sword, put what he needed into his saddle-bags, then, with his tall figure drawn up to its full height, paced up and down the room, entirely absorbed in his task.
Herr von Nordwyk's chestnut horse was stamping on the pavement before the door, and Hesperus was rising above the roofs.
The door of the house now opened.
He went into the entry and found, not his wife, but Adrian, who had just returned home, told the boy to give his most loving remembrances to his mother, and say that he was obliged to seek the Prince on important business.
Old Trautchen had already washed and undressed little Elizabeth, and now brought him the child wrapped in a coverlet. He kissed the dear little face, which smiled at him out of its queer disguise, pressed his lips to Adrian's forehead, again told him to give his love to his mother, and then rode down Marendorpstrasse.
Two women, coming from the Rheinsburger gate, met him just as he reached St. Stephen's cloister. He did not notice them, but the younger one pushed the kerchief back from her head, hastily grasped her companion's wrist, and exclaimed in a low tone:
"That was Peter!"
Barbara raised her head higher.
"It's lucky I'm not timid. Let go of my arm. Do you mean the horseman trotting past St. Ursula alley?"
"Yes, it is Peter."
"Nonsense, child! The bay has shorter legs than that tall camel; and Peter never rides out at this hour."
"But it was he."
"God forbid! At night a linden looks like a beechtree. It would be a pretty piece of business, if he didn't come home to-day."
The last words had escaped Barbara's lips against her will; for until then she had prudently feigned not to suspect that everything between Maria and her husband was not exactly as it ought to be, though she plainly perceived what was passing in the mind of her young sister-in-law.
She was a shrewd woman, with much experience of the world, who certainly did not undervalue her brother and his importance to the cause of their native land; nay, she went so far as to believe that, with the exception of the Prince of Orange, no man on earth would be more skilful than Peter in guiding the cause of freedom to a successful end; but she felt that her brother was not treating Maria justly, and being a fair-minded woman, silently took sides against the husband who neglected his wife.
Both walked side by side for a time in silence. At last the widow paused, saying:
"Perhaps the Prince has sent a messenger for Peter. In such times, after such blows, everything is possible. You might have seen correctly."
"It was surely he," replied Maria positively.
"Poor fellow!" said the other. "It must be a sad ride for him! Much honor, much hardship! You've no reason to despond, for your husband will return tomorrow or the day after; while I--look at me, Maria! I go through life stiff and straight, do my duty cheerfully; my cheeks are rosy, my food has a relish, yet I've been obliged to resign what was dearest to me. I have endured my widowhood ten years; my daughter Gretchen has married, and I sent Cornelius myself to the Beggars of the Sea. Any hour may rob me of him, for his life is one of constant peril. What has a widow except her only son? And I gave him up for our country's cause! That is harder than to see a husband ride away for a few hours on the anniversary of his wedding-day. He certainly doesn't do it for his own pleasure!"
"Here we are at home," said Maria, raising the knocker.
Trautchen opened the door and, even before crossing the threshold, Barbara exclaimed:
"Is your master at home?"
The reply was in the negative, as she too now expected.
Adrian gave his message; Trautchen brought up the supper, but the conversation would not extend beyond "yes" and "no."
After Maria had hastily asked the blessing, she rose, and turning to Barbara, said:
"My head aches, I should like to go to bed."
"Then go to rest," replied the widow. "I'll sleep in the next room and leave the door open. In darkness and silence--whims come."
Maria kissed her sister-in-law with sincere affection, and lay down in bed; but she found no sleep, and tossed restlessly to and fro until near midnight.
Hearing Barbara cough in the next room, she sat up and asked:
"Sister-in-law, are you asleep?"
"No, child. Do you feel ill?"
"Not exactly; but I'm so anxious--horrible thoughts torment me."
Barbara instantly lighted a candle at the night-lamp, entered the chamber with it, and sat down on the edge of the bed.
Her heart ached as she gazed at the pretty young creature lying alone, full of sorrow, in the wide bed, unable to sleep from bitter grief.
Maria had never seemed to her so beautiful; resting in her white night-robes on the snowy pillow, she looked like a sorrowing angel.
Barbara could not refrain from smoothing the hair back from the narrow forehead and kissing the flushed cheeks.
Maria gazed gratefully into her small, light-blue eyes and said beseechingly:
"I should like to ask you something."
"But you must honestly tell me the truth."
"That is asking a great deal!"
"I know you are sincere, but it is--"
"Was Peter happy with his first wife?"
"Yes, child, yes."
"And do you know this not only from him, but also from his dead wife, Eva?"
"Yes, sister-in-law, yes."
"And you can't be mistaken?"
"Not in this case certainly! But what puts such thoughts into your head? The Bible says: 'Let the dead bury their dead.' Now turn over and try to sleep."
Barbara went back to her room, but hours elapsed ere Maria found the slumber she sought.
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