The Black Tulip HTML version

3. The Pupil of John de Witt
Whilst the clamour of the crowd in the square of Buytenhof, which grew more and more
menacing against the two brothers, determined John de Witt to hasten the departure of
his brother Cornelius, a deputation of burghers had gone to the Town-hall to demand
the withdrawal of Tilly's horse.
It was not far from the Buytenhof to Hoogstraet (High Street); and a stranger, who since
the beginning of this scene had watched all its incidents with intense interest, was seen
to wend his way with, or rather in the wake of, the others towards the Town-hall, to hear
as soon as possible the current news of the hour.
This stranger was a very young man, of scarcely twenty-two or three, with nothing about
him that bespoke any great energy. He evidently had his good reasons for not making
himself known, as he hid his face in a handkerchief of fine Frisian linen, with which he
incessantly wiped his brow or his burning lips.
With an eye keen as that of a bird of prey, -- with a long aquiline nose, a finely cut
mouth, which he generally kept open, or rather which was gaping like the edges of a
wound, -- this man would have presented to Lavater, if Lavater had lived at that time, a
subject for physiognomical observations which at the first blush would not have been
very favourable to the person in question.
"What difference is there between the figure of the conqueror and that of the pirate?"
said the ancients. The difference only between the eagle and the vulture, -- serenity or
And indeed the sallow physiognomy, the thin and sickly body, and the prowling ways of
the stranger, were the very type of a suspecting master, or an unquiet thief; and a police
officer would certainly have decided in favour of the latter supposition, on account of the
great care which the mysterious person evidently took to hide himself.
He was plainly dressed, and apparently unarmed; his arm was lean but wiry, and his
hands dry, but of an aristocratic whiteness and delicacy, and he leaned on the shoulder
of an officer, who, with his hand on his sword, had watched the scenes in the Buytenhof
with eager curiosity, very natural in a military man, until his companion drew him away
with him.
On arriving at the square of the Hoogstraet, the man with the sallow face pushed the
other behind an open shutter, from which corner he himself began to survey the balcony
of the Town-hall.