The Black Tulip HTML version
7. The Happy Man Makes Acquaintance With Misfortune
Cornelius de Witt, after having attended to his family affairs, reached the house of his
godson, Cornelius van Baerle, one evening in the month of January, 1672.
De Witt, although being very little of a horticulturist or of an artist, went over the whole
mansion, from the studio to the green-house, inspecting everything, from the pictures
down to the tulips. He thanked his godson for having joined him on the deck of the
admiral's ship "The Seven Provinces," during the battle of Southwold Bay, and for
having given his name to a magnificent tulip; and whilst he thus, with the kindness and
affability of a father to a son, visited Van Baerle's treasures, the crowd gathered with
curiosity, and even respect, before the door of the happy man.
All this hubbub excited the attention of Boxtel, who was just taking his meal by his
fireside. He inquired what it meant, and, on being informed of the cause of all this stir,
climbed up to his post of observation, where in spite of the cold, he took his stand, with
the telescope to his eye.
This telescope had not been of great service to him since the autumn of 1671. The
tulips, like true daughters of the East, averse to cold, do not abide in the open ground in
winter. They need the shelter of the house, the soft bed on the shelves, and the
congenial warmth of the stove. Van Baerle, therefore, passed the whole winter in his
laboratory, in the midst of his books and pictures. He went only rarely to the room where
he kept his bulbs, unless it were to allow some occasional rays of the sun to enter, by
opening one of the movable sashes of the glass front.
On the evening of which we are speaking, after the two Corneliuses had visited together
all the apartments of the house, whilst a train of domestics followed their steps, De Witt
said in a low voice to Van Baerle, --
"My dear son, send these people away, and let us be alone for some minutes."
The younger Cornelius, bowing assent, said aloud, --
"Would you now, sir, please to see my dry-room?"
The dry-room, this pantheon, this sanctum sanctorum of the tulip-fancier, was, as Delphi
of old, interdicted to the profane uninitiated.
Never had any of his servants been bold enough to set his foot there. Cornelius
admitted only the inoffensive broom of an old Frisian housekeeper, who had been his
nurse, and who from the time when he had devoted himself to the culture of tulips