The Black Tulip
5. The Tulip-Fancier And His Neighbour
Whilst the burghers of the Hague were tearing in pieces the bodies of John and
Cornelius de Witt, and whilst William of Orange, after having made sure that his two
antagonists were really dead, was galloping over the Leyden road, followed by Captain
van Deken, whom he found a little too compassionate to honour him any longer with his
confidence, Craeke, the faithful servant, mounted on a good horse, and little suspecting
what terrible events had taken place since his departure, proceeded along the high road
lined with trees, until he was clear of the town and the neighbouring villages.
Being once safe, he left his horse at a livery stable in order not to arouse suspicion, and
tranquilly continued his journey on the canal-boats, which conveyed him by easy stages
to Dort, pursuing their way under skilful guidance by the shortest possible routes
through the windings of the river, which held in its watery embrace so many enchanting
little islands, edged with willows and rushes, and abounding in luxurious vegetation,
whereon flocks of fat sheep browsed in peaceful sleepiness. Craeke from afar off
recognised Dort, the smiling city, at the foot of a hill dotted with windmills. He saw the
fine red brick houses, mortared in white lines, standing on the edge of the water, and
their balconies, open towards the river, decked out with silk tapestry embroidered with
gold flowers, the wonderful manufacture of India and China; and near these brilliant
stuffs, large lines set to catch the voracious eels, which are attracted towards the
houses by the garbage thrown every day from the kitchens into the river.
Craeke, standing on the deck of the boat, saw, across the moving sails of the windmills,
on the slope of the hill, the red and pink house which was the goal of his errand. The
outlines of its roof were merging in the yellow foliage of a curtain of poplar trees, the
whole habitation having for background a dark grove of gigantic elms. The mansion was
situated in such a way that the sun, falling on it as into a funnel, dried up, warmed, and
fertilised the mist which the verdant screen could not prevent the river wind from
carrying there every morning and evening.
Having disembarked unobserved amid the usual bustle of the city, Craeke at once
directed his steps towards the house which we have just described, and which -- white,
trim, and tidy, even more cleanly scoured and more carefully waxed in the hidden
corners than in the places which were exposed to view -- enclosed a truly happy mortal.
This happy mortal, rara avis, was Dr. van Baerle, the godson of Cornelius de Witt. He
had inhabited the same house ever since his childhood, for it was the house in which
his father and grandfather, old established princely merchants of the princely city of
Dort, were born.