The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas, Pere - HTML preview
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The Black Tulip
1. A Grateful People ..................................................................................................... 4 2. The Two Brothers...................................................................................................... 11 3. The Pupil of John de Witt.......................................................................................... 19 4. The Murderers........................................................................................................... 28 5. The Tulip-Fancier And His Neighbour....................................................................... 38 6. The Hatred Of A Tulip-Fancier .................................................................................. 45 7. The Happy Man Makes Acquaintance With Misfortune............................................. 51
8. An Invasion ............................................................................................................... 60 9. The Family Cell ......................................................................................................... 67 10. The Jailer's Daughter .............................................................................................. 71 11. Cornelius Van Baerle's Will..................................................................................... 76 12. The Execution ......................................................................................................... 86 13. What was going on all this Time.............................................................................. 89 14. The Pigeons of Dort ................................................................................................ 93 15. The Little Grated Window........................................................................................ 98
16. Master and Pupil ................................................................................................... 104 17. The First Bulb ........................................................................................................ 110 18. Rosa's Lover ......................................................................................................... 117 19. The Maid And The Flower ..................................................................................... 124 20. The Events Which Took Place During Those Eight Days...................................... 130 21. The Second Bulb................................................................................................... 138
22. The Opening Of The Flower.................................................................................. 146 23. The Rival............................................................................................................... 152
24. The Black Tulip changes Masters ......................................................................... 158 25. The President Van Systens................................................................................... 162 26. A Member Of The Horticultural Society................................................................. 169 27. The Third Bulb....................................................................................................... 177 28. The Hymn Of The Flowers .................................................................................... 185 29. Before Leaving Loewestein ................................................................................... 192 30. To Guess............................................................................................................... 199
31. Haarlem................................................................................................................. 203 32. A Last Request...................................................................................................... 209
33. Conclusion ............................................................................................................ 214
Alexandre Dumas, Pere
The Black Tulip
1. A Grateful People
On the 20th of August, 1672, the city of the Hague, always so lively, so neat, and so trim that one might believe every day to be Sunday, with its shady park, with its tall trees, spreading over its Gothic houses, with its canals like large mirrors, in which its steeples and its almost Eastern cupolas are reflected, -- the city of the Hague, the capital of the Seven United Provinces, was swelling in all its arteries with a black and red stream of hurried, panting, and restless citizens, who, with their knives in their girdles, muskets on their shoulders, or sticks in their hands, were pushing on to the Buytenhof, a terrible prison, the grated windows of which are still shown, where, on the charge of attempted murder preferred against him by the surgeon Tyckelaer, Cornelius de Witt, the brother of the Grand Pensionary of Holland was confined.
If the history of that time, and especially that of the year in the middle of which our narrative commences, were not indissolubly connected with the two names just mentioned, the few explanatory pages which we are about to add might appear quite supererogatory; but we will, from the very first, apprise the reader -- our old friend, to whom we are wont on the first page to promise amusement, and with whom we always try to keep our word as well as is in our power -- that this explanation is as indispensable to the right understanding of our story as to that of the great event itself on which it is based.
Cornelius de Witt, Ruart de Pulten, that is to say, warden of the dikes, ex-burgomaster of Dort, his native town, and member of the Assembly of the States of Holland, was forty-nine years of age, when the Dutch people, tired of the Republic such as John de Witt, the Grand Pensionary of Holland, understood it, at once conceived a most violent affection for the Stadtholderate, which had been abolished for ever in Holland by the "Perpetual Edict" forced by John de Witt upon the United Provinces.
As it rarely happens that public opinion, in its whimsical flights, does not identify a principle with a man, thus the people saw the personification of the Republic in the two stern figures of the brothers De Witt, those Romans of Holland, spurning to pander to the fancies of the mob, and wedding themselves with unbending fidelity to liberty without licentiousness, and prosperity without the waste of superfluity; on the other hand, the Stadtholderate recalled to the popular mind the grave and thoughtful image of the young Prince William of Orange.
The brothers De Witt humoured Louis XIV., whose moral influence was felt by the whole of Europe, and the pressure of whose material power Holland had been made to feel in that marvellous campaign on the Rhine, which, in the space of three months, had laid the power of the United Provinces prostrate.
Louis XIV. had long been the enemy of the Dutch, who insulted or ridiculed him to their hearts' content, although it must be said that they generally used French refugees for the mouthpiece of their spite. Their national pride held him up as the Mithridates of the Republic. The brothers De Witt, therefore, had to strive against a double difficulty, -- against the force of national antipathy, and, besides, against the feeling of weariness which is natural to all vanquished people, when they hope that a new chief will be able to save them from ruin and shame.
This new chief, quite ready to appear on the political stage, and to measure himself against Louis XIV., however gigantic the fortunes of the Grand Monarch loomed in the future, was William, Prince of Orange, son of William II., and grandson, by his mother Henrietta Stuart, of Charles I. of England. We have mentioned him before as the person by whom the people expected to see the office of Stadtholder restored.
This young man was, in 1672, twenty-two years of age. John de Witt, who was his tutor, had brought him up with the view of making him a good citizen. Loving his country better than he did his disciple, the master had, by the Perpetual Edict, extinguished the hope which the young Prince might have entertained of one day becoming Stadtholder. But God laughs at the presumption of man, who wants to raise and prostrate the powers on earth without consulting the King above; and the fickleness and caprice of the Dutch combined with the terror inspired by Louis XIV., in repealing the Perpetual Edict, and re-establishing the office of Stadtholder in favour of William of Orange, for whom the hand of Providence had traced out ulterior destinies on the hidden map of the future.
The Grand Pensionary bowed before the will of his fellow citizens; Cornelius de Witt, however, was more obstinate, and notwithstanding all the threats of death from the Orangist rabble, who besieged him in his house at Dort, he stoutly refused to sign the act by which the office of Stadtholder was restored. Moved by the tears and entreaties of his wife, he at last complied, only adding to his signature the two letters V. C. (Vi Coactus), notifying thereby that he only yielded to force.It was a real miracle that on that day he escaped from the doom intended for him.
John de Witt derived no advantage from his ready compliance with the wishes of his fellow citizens. Only a few days after, an attempt was made to stab him, in which he was severely although not mortally wounded.
This by no means suited the views of the Orange faction. The life of the two brothers being a constant obstacle to their plans, they changed their tactics, and tried to obtain by calumny what they had not been able to effect by the aid of the poniard.
How rarely does it happen that, in the right moment, a great man is found to head the execution of vast and noble designs; and for that reason, when such a providential concurrence of circumstances does occur, history is prompt to record the name of the chosen one, and to hold him up to the admiration of posterity. But when Satan interposes in human affairs to cast a shadow upon some happy existence, or to overthrow a kingdom, it seldom happens that he does not find at his side some miserable tool, in whose ear he has but to whisper a word to set him at once about his task.
The wretched tool who was at hand to be the agent of this dastardly plot was one Tyckelaer whom we have already mentioned, a surgeon by profession.
He lodged an information against Cornelius de Witt, setting forth that the warden -- who, as he had shown by the letters added to his signature, was fuming at the repeal of the Perpetual Edict -had, from hatred against William of Orange, hired an assassin to deliver the new Republic of its new Stadtholder; and he, Tyckelaer was the person thus chosen; but that, horrified at the bare idea of the act which he was asked to perpetrate, he had preferred rather to reveal the crime than to commit it.
This disclosure was, indeed, well calculated to call forth a furious outbreak among the Orange faction. The Attorney General caused, on the 16th of August, 1672, Cornelius de Witt to be arrested; and the noble brother of John de Witt had, like the vilest criminal, to undergo, in one of the apartments of the town prison, the preparatory degrees of torture, by means of which his judges expected to force from him the confession of his alleged plot against William of Orange.
But Cornelius was not only possessed of a great mind, but also of a great heart. He belonged to that race of martyrs who, indissolubly wedded to their political convictions as their ancestors were to their faith, are able to smile on pain: while being stretched on the rack, he recited with a firm voice, and scanning the lines according to measure, the first strophe of the "Justum ac tenacem" of Horace, and, making no confession, tired not only the strength, but even the fanaticism, of his executioners.
The judges, notwithstanding, acquitted Tyckelaer from every charge; at the same time sentencing Cornelius to be deposed from all his offices and dignities; to pay all the costs of the trial; and to be banished from the soil of the Republic for ever.
This judgment against not only an innocent, but also a great man, was indeed some gratification to the passions of the people, to whose interests Cornelius de Witt had always devoted himself: but, as we shall soon see, it was not enough.
The Athenians, who indeed have left behind them a pretty tolerable reputation for ingratitude, have in this respect to yield precedence to the Dutch. They, at least in the case of Aristides, contented themselves with banishing him.
John de Witt, at the first intimation of the charge brought against his brother, had resigned his office of Grand Pensionary. He too received a noble recompense for his devotedness to the best interests of his country, taking with him into the retirement of private life the hatred of a host of enemies, and the fresh scars of wounds inflicted by assassins, only too often the sole guerdon obtained by honest people, who are guilty of having worked for their country, and of having forgotten their own private interests.
In the meanwhile William of Orange urged on the course of events by every means in his power, eagerly waiting for the time when the people, by whom he was idolised, should have made of the bodies of the brothers the two steps over which he might ascend to the chair of Stadtholder.
Thus, then, on the 20th of August, 1672, as we have already stated in the beginning of this chapter, the whole town was crowding towards the Buytenhof, to witness the departure of Cornelius de Witt from prison, as he was going to exile; and to see what traces the torture of the rack had left on the noble frame of the man who knew his Horace so well.
Yet all this multitude was not crowding to the Buytenhof with the innocent view of merely feasting their eyes with the spectacle; there were many who went there to play an active part in it, and to take upon themselves an office which they conceived had been badly filled, -- that of the executioner.
There were, indeed, others with less hostile intentions. All that they cared for was the spectacle, always so attractive to the mob, whose instinctive pride is flattered by it, -- the sight of greatness hurled down into the dust.
"Has not," they would say, "this Cornelius de Witt been locked up and broken by the rack? Shall we not see him pale, streaming with blood, covered with shame?" And was not this a sweet triumph for the burghers of the Hague, whose envy even beat that of the common rabble; a triumph in which every honest citizen and townsman might be expected to share?
"Moreover," hinted the Orange agitators interspersed through the crowd, whom they hoped to manage like a sharp-edged and at the same time crushing instrument, -- "moreover, will there not, from the Buytenhof to the gate of the town, a nice little opportunity present itself to throw some handfuls of dirt, or a few stones, at this Cornelius de Witt, who not only conferred the dignity of Stadtholder on the Prince of Orange merely vi coactus, but who also intended to have him assassinated?"
"Besides which," the fierce enemies of France chimed in, "if the work were done well and bravely at the Hague, Cornelius would certainly not be allowed to go into exile, where he will renew his intrigues with France, and live with his big scoundrel of a brother, John, on the gold of the Marquis de Louvois."Being in such a temper, people generally will run rather than walk; which was the reason why the inhabitants of the Hague were hurrying so fast towards the Buytenhof.
Honest Tyckelaer, with a heart full of spite and malice, and with no particular plan settled in his mind, was one of the foremost, being paraded about by the Orange party like a hero of probity, national honour, and Christian charity.
This daring miscreant detailed, with all the embellishments and flourishes suggested by his base mind and his ruffianly imagination, the attempts which he pretended Cornelius de Witt had made to corrupt him; the sums of money which were promised, and all the diabolical stratagems planned beforehand to smooth for him, Tyckelaer, all the difficulties in the path of murder.
And every phase of his speech, eagerly listened to by the populace, called forth enthusiastic cheers for the Prince of Orange, and groans and imprecations of blind fury against the brothers De Witt.
The mob even began to vent its rage by inveighing against the iniquitous judges, who had allowed such a detestable criminal as the villain Cornelius to get off so cheaply.
No violence, however, had as yet been committed; and the file of horsemen who were guarding the approaches of the Buytenhof remained cool, unmoved, silent, much more threatening in their impassibility than all this crowd of burghers, with their cries, their agitation, and their threats. The men on their horses, indeed, stood like so many statues, under the eye of their chief, Count Tilly, the captain of the mounted troops of the Hague, who had his sword drawn, but held it with its point downwards, in a line with the straps of his stirrup.
This troop, the only defence of the prison, overawed by its firm attitude not only the disorderly riotous mass of the populace, but also the detachment of the burgher guard, which, being placed opposite the Buytenhof to support the soldiers in keeping order, gave to the rioters the example of seditious cries, shouting, --"Hurrah for Orange! Down with the traitors!"
The presence of Tilly and his horsemen, indeed, exercised a salutary check on these civic warriors; but by degrees they waxed more and more angry by their own shouts, and as they were not able to understand how any one could have courage without showing it by cries, they attributed the silence of the dragoons to pusillanimity, and advanced one step towards the prison, with all the turbulent mob following in their wake.In this moment, Count Tilly rode forth towards them single-handed, merely lifting his sword and contracting his brow whilst he addressed them: -- "Well, gentlemen of the burgher guard, what are you advancing for, and what do you wish?" The burghers shook their muskets, repeating their cry, -- "Hurrah for Orange! Death to the traitors!"
"'Hurrah for Orange!' all well and good!" replied Tilly, "although I certainly am more partial to happy faces than to gloomy ones. 'Death to the traitors!' as much of it as you like, as long as you show your wishes only by cries. But, as to putting them to death in good earnest, I am here to prevent that, and I shall prevent it."Then, turning round to his men, he gave the word of command, -- "Soldiers, ready!" The troopers obeyed orders with a precision which immediately caused the burgher guard and the people to fall back, in a degree of confusion which excited the smile of the cavalry officer.
"Holloa!" he exclaimed, with that bantering tone which is peculiar to men of his profession; "be easy, gentlemen, my soldiers will not fire a shot; but, on the other hand, you will not advance by one step towards the prison.""And do you know, sir, that we have muskets?" roared the commandant of the burghers.
"I must know it, by Jove, you have made them glitter enough before my eyes; but I beg you to observe also that we on our side have pistols, that the pistol carries admirably to a distance of fifty yards, and that you are only twenty-five from us.""Death to the traitors!" cried the exasperated burghers. "Go along with you," growled the officer, "you always cry the same thing over again. It is very tiresome." With this, he took his post at the head of his troops, whilst the tumult grew fiercer and fiercer about the Buytenhof.
And yet the fuming crowd did not know that, at that very moment when they were tracking the scent of one of their victims, the other, as if hurrying to meet his fate, passed, at a distance of not more than a hundred yards, behind the groups of people and the dragoons, to betake himself to the Buytenhof.John de Witt, indeed, had alighted from his coach with his servant, and quietly walked across the courtyard of the prison.
Mentioning his name to the turnkey, who however knew him, he said, -- "Good morning, Gryphus; I am coming to take away my brother, who, as you know, is condemned to exile, and to carry him out of the town."
Whereupon the jailer, a sort of bear, trained to lock and unlock the gates of the prison, had greeted him and admitted him into the building, the doors of which were immediately closed again.
Ten yards farther on, John de Witt met a lovely young girl, of about seventeen or eighteen, dressed in the national costume of the Frisian women, who, with pretty demureness, dropped a curtesy to him. Chucking her under the chin, he said to her, --"Good morning, my good and fair Rosa; how is my brother?" "Oh, Mynheer John!" the young girl replied, "I am not afraid of the harm which has been done to him. That's all over now." "But what is it you are afraid of?" "I am afraid of the harm which they are going to do to him." "Oh, yes," said De Witt, "you mean to speak of the people down below, don't you?" "Do you hear them?" "They are indeed in a state of great excitement; but when they see us perhaps they will grow calmer, as we have never done them anything but good." "That's unfortunately no reason, except for the contrary," muttered the girl, as, on an imperative sign from her father, she withdrew. "Indeed, child, what you say is only too true." Then, in pursuing his way, he said to himself, -- "Here is a damsel who very likely does not know how to read, who consequently has never read anything, and yet with one word she has just told the whole history of the world." And with the same calm mien, but more melancholy than he had been on entering the prison, the Grand Pensionary proceeded towards the cell of his brother.
2. The Two Brothers
As the fair Rosa, with foreboding doubt, had foretold, so it happened. Whilst John de Witt was climbing the narrow winding stairs which led to the prison of his brother Cornelius, the burghers did their best to have the troop of Tilly, which was in their way, removed.Seeing this disposition, King Mob, who fully appreciated the laudable intentions of his own beloved militia, shouted most lustily, -- "Hurrah for the burghers!"
As to Count Tilly, who was as prudent as he was firm, he began to parley with the burghers, under the protection of the cocked pistols of his dragoons, explaining to the valiant townsmen, that his order from the States commanded him to guard the prison and its approaches with three companies."Wherefore such an order? Why guard the prison?" cried the Orangists.
"Stop," replied the Count, "there you at once ask me more than I can tell you. I was told, 'Guard the prison,' and I guard it. You, gentlemen, who are almost military men yourselves, you are aware that an order must never be gainsaid.""But this order has been given to you that the traitors may be enabled to leave the town." "Very possibly, as the traitors are condemned to exile," replied Tilly. "But who has given this order?" "The States, to be sure!" "The States are traitors." "I don't know anything about that!" "And you are a traitor yourself!" "I?"
"Well, as to that, let us understand each other gentlemen. Whom should I betray? The States? Why, I cannot betray them, whilst, being in their pay, I faithfully obey their orders."
As the Count was so indisputably in the right that it was impossible to argue against him, the mob answered only by redoubled clamour and horrible threats, to which the Count opposed the most perfect urbanity.
"Gentlemen," he said, "uncock your muskets, one of them may go off by accident; and if the shot chanced to wound one of my men, we should knock over a couple of hundreds of yours, for which we should, indeed, be very sorry, but you even more so; especially as such a thing is neither contemplated by you nor by myself.""If you did that," cried the burghers, "we should have a pop at you, too." "Of course you would; but suppose you killed every man Jack of us, those whom we should have killed would not, for all that, be less dead." "Then leave the place to us, and you will perform the part of a good citizen."
"First of all," said the Count, "I am not a citizen, but an officer, which is a very different thing; and secondly, I am not a Hollander, but a Frenchman, which is more different still. I have to do with no one but the States, by whom I am paid; let me see an order from them to leave the place to you, and I shall only be too glad to wheel off in an instant, as I am confoundedly bored here."
"Yes, yes!" cried a hundred voices; the din of which was immediately swelled by five hundred others; "let us march to the Town-hall; let us go and see the deputies! Come along! come along!"
"That's it," Tilly muttered between his teeth, as he saw the most violent among the crowd turning away; "go and ask for a meanness at the Town-hall, and you will see whether they will grant it; go, my fine fellows, go!"The worthy officer relied on the honour of the magistrates, who, on their side, relied on his honour as a soldier.
"I say, Captain," the first lieutenant whispered into the ear of the Count, "I hope the deputies will give these madmen a flat refusal; but, after all, it would do no harm if they would send us some reinforcement."
In the meanwhile, John de Witt, whom we left climbing the stairs, after the conversation with the jailer Gryphus and his daughter Rosa, had reached the door of the cell, where on a mattress his brother Cornelius was resting, after having undergone the preparatory degrees of the torture. The sentence of banishment having been pronounced, there was no occasion for inflicting the torture extraordinary.
Cornelius was stretched on his couch, with broken wrists and crushed fingers. He had not confessed a crime of which he was not guilty; and now, after three days of agony, he once more breathed freely, on being informed that the judges, from whom he had expected death, were only condemning him to exile.
Endowed with an iron frame and a stout heart, how would he have disappointed his enemies if they could only have seen, in the dark cell of the Buytenhof, his pale face lit up by the smile of the martyr, who forgets the dross of this earth after having obtained a glimpse of the bright glory of heaven.
The warden, indeed, had already recovered his full strength, much more owing to the force of his own strong will than to actual aid; and he was calculating how long the formalities of the law would still detain him in prison.
This was just at the very moment when the mingled shouts of the burgher guard and of the mob were raging against the two brothers, and threatening Captain Tilly, who served as a rampart to them. This noise, which roared outside of the walls of the prison, as the surf dashing against the rocks, now reached the ears of the prisoner.
But, threatening as it sounded, Cornelius appeared not to deem it worth his while to inquire after its cause; nor did he get up to look out of the narrow grated window, which gave access to the light and to the noise of the world without.
He was so absorbed in his never-ceasing pain that it had almost become a habit with him. He felt with such delight the bonds which connected his immortal being with his perishable frame gradually loosening, that it seemed to him as if his spirit, freed from the trammels of the body, were hovering above it, like the expiring flame which rises from the half-extinguished embers.
He also thought of his brother; and whilst the latter was thus vividly present to his mind the door opened, and John entered, hurrying to the bedside of the prisoner, who stretched out his broken limbs and his hands tied up in bandages towards that glorious brother, whom he now excelled, not in services rendered to the country, but in the hatred which the Dutch bore him.John tenderly kissed his brother on the forehead, and put his sore hands gently back on the mattress. "Cornelius, my poor brother, you are suffering great pain, are you not?" "I am suffering no longer, since I see you, my brother." "Oh, my poor dear Cornelius! I feel most wretched to see you in such a state."
"And, indeed, I have thought more of you than of myself; and whilst they were torturing me, I never thought of uttering a complaint, except once, to say, 'Poor brother!' But now that you are here, let us forget all. You are coming to take me away, are you not?""I am." "I am quite healed; help me to get up, and you shall see how I can walk." "You will not have to walk far, as I have my coach near the pond, behind Tilly's dragoons." "Tilly's dragoons! What are they near the pond for?"
"Well," said the Grand Pensionary with a melancholy smile which was habitual to him, "the gentlemen at the Town-hall expect that the people at the Hague would like to see you depart, and there is some apprehension of a tumult.""Of a tumult?" replied Cornelius, fixing his eyes on his perplexed brother; "a tumult?" "Yes, Cornelius." "Oh! that's what I heard just now," said the prisoner, as if speaking to himself. Then, turning to his brother, he continued, -- "Are there many persons down before the prison." "Yes, my brother, there are." "But then, to come here to me ---- " "Well?" "How is it that they have allowed you to pass?" "You know well that we are not very popular, Cornelius," said the Grand Pensionary, with gloomy bitterness. "I have made my way through all sorts of bystreets and alleys." "You hid yourself, John?" "I wished to reach you without loss of time, and I did what people will do in politics, or on the sea when the wind is against them, -- I tacked."
At this moment the noise in the square below was heard to roar with increasing fury. Tilly was parleying with the burghers.
"Well, well," said Cornelius, "you are a very skilful pilot, John; but I doubt whether you will as safely guide your brother out of the Buytenhof in the midst of this gale, and through the raging surf of popular hatred, as you did the fleet of Van Tromp past the shoals of the Scheldt to Antwerp."
"I should say it is against us both, Cornelius. I told you, my dear brother, that the Orange party, while assailing us with their absurd calumnies, have also made it a reproach against us that we have negotiated with France.""What blockheads they are!" "But, indeed, they reproach us with it."
"And yet, if these negotiations had been successful, they would have prevented the defeats of Rees, Orsay, Wesel, and Rheinberg; the Rhine would not have been crossed, and Holland might still consider herself invincible in the midst of her marshes and canals."
"All this is quite true, my dear Cornelius, but still more certain it is, that if at this moment our correspondence with the Marquis de Louvois were discovered, skilful pilot as I am, I should not be able to save the frail barque which is to carry the brothers De Witt and their fortunes out of Holland. That correspondence, which might prove to honest people how dearly I love my country, and what sacrifices I have offered to make for its liberty and glory, would be ruin to us if it fell into the hands of the Orange party. I hope you have burned the letters before you left Dort to join me at the Hague."
"My dear brother," Cornelius answered, "your correspondence with M. de Louvois affords ample proof of your having been of late the greatest, most generous, and most able citizen of the Seven United Provinces. I rejoice in the glory of my country; and particularly do I rejoice in your glory, John. I have taken good care not to burn that correspondence."
"Then we are lost, as far as this life is concerned," quietly said the Grand Pensionary, approaching the window.
"No, on the contrary, John, we shall at the same time save our lives and regain our popularity."
"Poor honest Van Baerle! who knows so much, and yet thinks of nothing but of flowers and of God who made them. You have intrusted him with this fatal secret; it will be his ruin, poor soul!""His ruin?"
"Yes, for he will either be strong or he will be weak. If he is strong, he will, when he hears of what has happened to us, boast of our acquaintance; if he is weak, he will be afraid on account of his connection with us: if he is strong, he will betray the secret by his boldness; if he is weak, he will allow it to be forced from him. In either case he is lost, and so are we. Let us, therefore, fly, fly, as long as there is still time."Cornelius de Witt, raising himself on his couch, and grasping the hand of his brother, who shuddered at the touch of his linen bandages, replied, --
"Do not I know my godson? have not I been enabled to read every thought in Van Baerle's mind, and every sentiment in his heart? You ask whether he is strong or weak. He is neither the one nor the other; but that is not now the question. The principal point is, that he is sure not to divulge the secret, for the very good reason that he does not know it himself."John turned round in surprise.
"You must know, my dear brother, that I have been trained in the school of that distinguished politician John de Witt; and I repeat to you, that Van Baerle is not aware of the nature and importance of the deposit which I have intrusted to him.""Quick then," cried John, "as there is still time, let us convey to him directions to burn the parcel." "Through whom?" "Through my servant Craeke, who was to have accompanied us on horseback, and who has entered the prison with me, to assist you downstairs."
"Consider well before having those precious documents burnt, John!"
"I consider, above all things, that the brothers De Witt must necessarily save their lives, to be able to save their character. If we are dead, who will defend us? Who will have fully understood our intentions?"
"Just leave me alone for that," said Cornelius. "The executioners have indeed pinched me badly enough, but my hand will not tremble once in tracing the few lines which are requisite."
And really Cornelius took the pencil and began to write, when through the white linen bandages drops of blood oozed out which the pressure of the fingers against the pencil squeezed from the raw flesh.A cold sweat stood on the brow of the Grand Pensionary. Cornelius wrote: -- "My dear Godson, --
"Burn the parcel which I have intrusted to you. Burn it without looking at it, and without opening it, so that its contents may for ever remain unknown to yourself. Secrets of this description are death to those with whom they are deposited. Burn it, and you will have saved John and Cornelius de Witt."Farewell, and love me. "Cornelius de Witt "August 20th, 1672."
John, with tears in his eyes, wiped off a drop of the noble blood which had soiled the leaf, and, after having handed the despatch to Craeke with a last direction, returned to Cornelius, who seemed overcome by intense pain, and near fainting.
"Now," said he, "when honest Craeke sounds his coxswain's whistle, it will be a signal of his being clear of the crowd, and of his having reached the other side of the pond. And then it will be our turn to depart."Five minutes had not elapsed, before a long and shrill whistle was heard through the din and noise of the square of the Buytenhof. John gratefully raised his eyes to heaven. "And now," said he, "let us off, Cornelius."
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 restlessness.
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.
At the savage yells of the mob, the window of the Town-hall opened, and a man came forth to address the people.
Hearing this character given of Bowelt, the young man showed signs of such a strange disappointment and evident dissatisfaction that the officer could not but remark it, and therefore added, --"At least people say so, Monseigneur. I cannot say anything about it myself, as I have no personal acquaintance with Mynheer Bowelt." "An honest man," repeated he who was addressed as Monseigneur; "do you mean to say that he is an honest man (brave homme), or a brave one (homme brave)?" "Ah, Monseigneur must excuse me; I would not presume to draw such a fine distinction in the case of a man whom, I assure your Highness once more, I know only by sight." "If this Bowelt is an honest man," his Highness continued, "he will give to the demand of these furibund petitioners a very queer reception."
The nervous quiver of his hand, which moved on the shoulder of his companion as the fingers of a player on the keys of a harpsichord, betrayed his burning impatience, so ill concealed at certain times, and particularly at that moment, under the icy and sombre expression of his face.
The chief of the deputation of the burghers was then heard addressing an interpellation to Mynheer Bowelt, whom he requested to let them know where the other deputies, his colleagues, were.
"Gentlemen," Bowelt repeated for the second time, "I assure you that in this moment I am here alone with Mynheer d'Asperen, and I cannot take any resolution on my own responsibility.""The order! we want the order!" cried several thousand voices.
Mynheer Bowelt wished to speak, but his words were not heard, and he was only seen moving his arms in all sorts of gestures, which plainly showed that he felt his position to be desperate. When, at last, he saw that he could not make himself heard, he turned round towards the open window, and called Mynheer d'Asperen.
The latter gentleman now made his appearance on the balcony, where he was saluted with shouts even more energetic than those with which, ten minutes before, his colleague had been received.
This did not prevent him from undertaking the difficult task of haranguing the mob; but the mob preferred forcing the guard of the States -- which, however, offered no resistance to the sovereign people -- to listening to the speech of Mynheer d'Asperen.
"Now, then," the young man coolly remarked, whilst the crowd was rushing into the principal gate of the Town-hall, "it seems the question will be discussed indoors, Captain. Come along, and let us hear the debate.""Oh, Monseigneur! Monseigneur! take care!" "Of what?" "Among these deputies there are many who have had dealings with you, and it would be sufficient, that one of them should recognize your Highness."
"Yes, that I might be charged with having been the instigator of all this work, indeed, you are right," said the young man, blushing for a moment from regret of having betrayed so much eagerness. "From this place we shall see them return with or without the order for the withdrawal of the dragoons, then we may judge which is greater, Mynheer Bowelt's honesty or his courage."
"But," replied the officer, looking with astonishment at the personage whom he addressed as Monseigneur, "but your Highness surely does not suppose for one instant that the deputies will order Tilly's horse to quit their post?""Why not?" the young man quietly retorted. "Because doing so would simply be signing the death warrant of Cornelius and John de Witt." "We shall see," his Highness replied, with the most perfect coolness; "God alone knows what is going on within the hearts of men." The officer looked askance at the impassible figure of his companion, and grew pale: he was an honest man as well as a brave one.
From the spot where they stood, his Highness and his attendant heard the tumult and the heavy tramp of the crowd on the staircase of the Town-hall. The noise thereupon sounded through the windows of the hall, on the balcony of which Mynheers Bowelt and D'Asperen had presented themselves. These two gentlemen had retired into the building, very likely from fear of being forced over the balustrade by the pressure of the crowd.After this, fluctuating shadows in tumultuous confusion were seen flitting to and fro across the windows: the council hall was filling. Suddenly the noise subsided, and as suddenly again it rose with redoubled intensity, and at last reached such a pitch that the old building shook to the very roof. At length, the living stream poured back through the galleries and stairs to the arched gateway, from which it was seen issuing like waters from a spout. At the head of the first group, man was flying rather than running, his face hideously distorted with satanic glee: this man was the surgeon Tyckelaer. "We have it! we have it!" he cried, brandishing a paper in the air. "They have got the order!" muttered the officer in amazement. "Well, then," his Highness quietly remarked, "now I know what to believe with regard to Mynheer Bowelt's honesty and courage: he has neither the one nor the other." Then, looking with a steady glance after the crowd which was rushing along before him, he continued, -- "Let us now go to the Buytenhof, Captain; I expect we shall see a very strange sight there." The officer bowed, and, without making any reply, followed in the steps of his master.
There was an immense crowd in the square and about the neighbourhood of the prison. But the dragoons of Tilly still kept it in check with the same success and with the same firmness.It was not long before the Count heard the increasing din of the approaching multitude, the first ranks of which rushed on with the rapidity of a cataract. At the same time he observed the paper, which was waving above the surface of clenched fists and glittering arms. "Halloa!" he said, rising in his stirrups, and touching his lieutenant with the knob of his sword; "I really believe those rascals have got the order."
"Dastardly ruffians they are," cried the lieutenant.
It was indeed the order, which the burgher guard received with a roar of triumph. They immediately sallied forth, with lowered arms and fierce shouts, to meet Count Tilly's dragoons.
"Those who have signed this order are the real murderers of Cornelius de Witt. I would rather have my two hands cut off than have written one single letter of this infamous order."And, pushing back with the hilt of his sword the man who wanted to take it from him, he added, -- "Wait a minute, papers like this are of importance, and are to be kept." Saying this, he folded up the document, and carefully put it in the pocket of his coat. Then, turning round towards his troop, he gave the word of command, -- "Tilly's dragoons, wheel to the right!" After this, he added, in an undertone, yet loud enough for his words to be not altogether lost to those about him, -- "And now, ye butchers, do your work!"
A savage yell, in which all the keen hatred and ferocious triumph rife in the precincts of the prison simultaneously burst forth, and accompanied the departure of the dragoons, as they were quietly filing off.The Count tarried behind, facing to the last the infuriated populace, which advanced at the same rate as the Count retired.
John de Witt, therefore, had by no means exaggerated the danger, when, assisting his brother in getting up, he hurried his departure. Cornelius, leaning on the arm of the ExGrand Pensionary, descended the stairs which led to the courtyard. At the bottom of the staircase he found little Rosa, trembling all over.
"Oh, Mynheer John," she said, "what a misfortune!"
"If I were in your place, Mynheer John," the young girl timidly continued, "I should leave by the postern, which leads into a deserted by-lane, whilst all the people are waiting in the High Street to see you come out by the principal entrance. From there I should try to reach the gate by which you intend to leave the town.""But my brother is not able to walk," said John. "I shall try," Cornelius said, with an expression of most sublime fortitude. "But have you not got your carriage?" asked the girl. "The carriage is down near the great entrance." "Not so," she replied. "I considered your coachman to be a faithful man, and I told him to wait for you at the postern." The two brothers looked first at each other, and then at Rosa, with a glance full of the most tender gratitude. "The question is now," said the Grand Pensionary, "whether Gryphus will open this door for us." "Indeed, he will do no such thing," said Rosa. "Well, and how then?" "I have foreseen his refusal, and just now whilst he was talking from the window of the porter's lodge with a dragoon, I took away the key from his bunch." "And you have got it?" "Here it is, Mynheer John."
"My child," said Cornelius, "I have nothing to give you in exchange for the service you are rendering us but the Bible which you will find in my room; it is the last gift of an honest man; I hope it will bring you good luck.""I thank you, Master Cornelius, it shall never leave me," replied Rosa. And then, with a sigh, she said to herself, "What a pity that I do not know how to read!" "The shouts and cries are growing louder and louder," said John; "there is not a moment to be lost."
"Come along, gentlemen," said the girl, who now led the two brothers through an inner lobby to the back of the prison. Guided by her, they descended a staircase of about a dozen steps; traversed a small courtyard, which was surrounded by castellated walls; and, the arched door having been opened for them by Rosa, they emerged into a lonely street where their carriage was ready to receive them."Quick, quick, my masters! do you hear them?" cried the coachman, in a deadly fright.
Yet, after having made Cornelius get into the carriage first, the Grand Pensionary turned round towards the girl, to whom he said, --
"Good-bye, my child! words could never express our gratitude. God will reward you for having saved the lives of two men."
The carriage drove off with the fugitives at the full speed of a pair of spirited Flemish horses. Rosa followed them with her eyes until they turned the corner of the street, upon which, closing the door after her, she went back and threw the key into a cell.
The noise which had made Rosa suppose that the people were forcing the prison door was indeed owing to the mob battering against it after the square had been left by the military.
Solid as the gate was, and although Gryphus, to do him justice, stoutly enough refused to open it, yet evidently it could not resist much longer, and the jailer, growing very pale, put to himself the question whether it would not be better to open the door than to allow it to be forced, when he felt some one gently pulling his coat.He turned round and saw Rosa. "Do you hear these madmen?" he said. "I hear them so well, my father, that in your place ---- " "You would open the door?" "No, I should allow it to be forced." "But they will kill me!" "Yes, if they see you." "How shall they not see me?" "Hide yourself." "Where?" "In the secret dungeon." "But you, my child?" "I shall get into it with you. We shall lock the door and when they have left the prison, we shall again come forth from our hiding place." "Zounds, you are right, there!" cried Gryphus; "it's surprising how much sense there is in such a little head!" Then, as the gate began to give way amidst the triumphant shouts of the mob, she opened a little trap-door, and said, -- "Come along, come along, father." "But our prisoners?" "God will watch over them, and I shall watch over you." Gryphus followed his daughter, and the trap-door closed over his head, just as the broken gate gave admittance to the populace.
The dungeon where Rosa had induced her father to hide himself, and where for the present we must leave the two, offered to them a perfectly safe retreat, being known only to those in power, who used to place there important prisoners of state, to guard against a rescue or a revolt.The people rushed into the prison, with the cry -- "Death to the traitors! To the gallows with Cornelius de Witt! Death! death!"
4. The Murderers
The young man with his hat slouched over his eyes, still leaning on the arm of the officer, and still wiping from time to time his brow with his handkerchief, was watching in a corner of the Buytenhof, in the shade of the overhanging weather-board of a closed shop, the doings of the infuriated mob, a spectacle which seemed to draw near its catastrophe.
"Indeed," said he to the officer, "indeed, I think you were right, Van Deken; the order which the deputies have signed is truly the death-warrant of Master Cornelius. Do you hear these people? They certainly bear a sad grudge to the two De Witts.""In truth," replied the officer, "I never heard such shouts." "They seem to have found out the cell of the man. Look, look! is not that the window of the cell where Cornelius was locked up?" A man had seized with both hands and was shaking the iron bars of the window in the room which Cornelius had left only ten minutes before. "Halloa, halloa!" the man called out, "he is gone." "How is that? gone?" asked those of the mob who had not been able to get into the prison, crowded as it was with the mass of intruders. "Gone, gone," repeated the man in a rage, "the bird has flown." "What does this man say?" asked his Highness, growing quite pale. "Oh, Monseigneur, he says a thing which would be very fortunate if it should turn out true!" "Certainly it would be fortunate if it were true," said the young man; "unfortunately it cannot be true." "However, look!" said the officer. And indeed, some more faces, furious and contorted with rage, showed themselves at the windows, crying, -- "Escaped, gone, they have helped them off!" And the people in the street repeated, with fearful imprecations, -- "Escaped gone! After them, and catch them!" "Monseigneur, it seems that Mynheer Cornelius has really escaped," said the officer. "Yes, from prison, perhaps, but not from the town; you will see, Van Deken, that the poor fellow will find the gate closed against him which he hoped to find open." "Has an order been given to close the town gates, Monseigneur?" "No, -- at least I do not think so; who could have given such an order?" "Indeed, but what makes your Highness suppose?" "There are fatalities," Monseigneur replied, in an offhand manner; "and the greatest men have sometimes fallen victims to such fatalities." At these words the officer felt his blood run cold, as somehow or other he was convinced that the prisoner was lost. At this moment the roar of the multitude broke forth like thunder, for it was now quite certain that Cornelius de Witt was no longer in the prison.
Cornelius and John, after driving along the pond, had taken the main street, which leads to the Tol-Hek, giving directions to the coachman to slacken his pace, in order not to excite any suspicion.
But when, on having proceeded half-way down that street, the man felt that he had left the prison and death behind, and before him there was life and liberty, he neglected every precaution, and set his horses off at a gallop.All at once he stopped. "What is the matter?" asked John, putting his head out of the coach window. "Oh, my masters!" cried the coachman, "it is ---- " Terror choked the voice of the honest fellow. "Well, say what you have to say!" urged the Grand Pensionary. "The gate is closed, that's what it is." "How is this? It is not usual to close the gate by day." "Just look!"
John de Witt leaned out of the window, and indeed saw that the man was right. "Never mind, but drive on," said John, "I have with me the order for the commutation of the punishment, the gate-keeper will let us through."The carriage moved along, but it was evident that the driver was no longer urging his horses with the same degree of confidence.
Moreover, as John de Witt put his head out of the carriage window, he was seen and recognized by a brewer, who, being behind his companions, was just shutting his door in all haste to join them at the Buytenhof. He uttered a cry of surprise, and ran after two other men before him, whom he overtook about a hundred yards farther on, and told them what he had seen. The three men then stopped, looking after the carriage, being however not yet quite sure as to whom it contained.The carriage in the meanwhile arrived at the Tol-Hek. "Open!" cried the coachman. "Open!" echoed the gatekeeper, from the threshold of his lodge; "it's all very well to say 'Open!' but what am I to do it with?" "With the key, to be sure!" said the coachman. "With the key! Oh, yes! but if you have not got it?" "How is that? Have not you got the key?" asked the coachman. "No, I haven't." "What has become of it?" "Well, they have taken it from me." "Who?" "Some one, I dare say, who had a mind that no one should leave the town."
"My good man," said the Grand Pensionary, putting out his head from the window, and risking all for gaining all; "my good man, it is for me, John de Witt, and for my brother Cornelius, who I am taking away into exile.""Oh, Mynheer de Witt! I am indeed very much grieved," said the gatekeeper, rushing towards the carriage; "but, upon my sacred word, the key has been taken from me." "When?" "This morning." "By whom?" "By a pale and thin young man, of about twenty-two." "And wherefore did you give it up to him?" "Because he showed me an order, signed and sealed." "By whom?" "By the gentlemen of the Town-hall." "Well, then," said Cornelius calmly, "our doom seems to be fixed." "Do you know whether the same precaution has been taken at the other gates?" "I do not." "Now then," said John to the coachman, "God commands man to do all that is in his power to preserve his life; go, and drive to another gate." And whilst the servant was turning round the vehicle the Grand Pensionary said to the gatekeeper, -- "Take our thanks for your good intentions; the will must count for the deed; you had the will to save us, and that, in the eyes of the Lord, is as if you had succeeded in doing so." "Alas!" said the gatekeeper, "do you see down there?" "Drive at a gallop through that group," John called out to the coachman, "and take the street on the left; it is our only chance."
The group which John alluded to had, for its nucleus, those three men whom we left looking after the carriage, and who, in the meanwhile, had been joined by seven or eight others.These new-comers evidently meant mischief with regard to the carriage. When they saw the horses galloping down upon them, they placed themselves across the street, brandishing cudgels in their hands, and calling out, -- "Stop! stop!"
The coachman, on his side, lashed his horses into increased speed, until the coach and the men encountered.
The brothers De Witt, enclosed within the body of the carriage, were not able to see anything; but they felt a severe shock, occasioned by the rearing of the horses. The whole vehicle for a moment shook and stopped; but immediately after, passing over something round and elastic, which seemed to be the body of a prostrate man set off again amidst a volley of the fiercest oaths.
John looked. The whole mass of the populace from the Buytenhof appeared at the extremity of the street along which the carriage was to proceed, and its stream moved roaring and rapid, as if lashed on by a hurricane."Stop and get off," said John to the coachman; "it is useless to go any farther; we are lost!" "Here they are! here they are!" five hundred voices were crying at the same time.
"Yes, here they are, the traitors, the murderers, the assassins!" answered the men who were running after the carriage to the people who were coming to meet it. The former carried in their arms the bruised body of one of their companions, who, trying to seize the reins of the horses, had been trodden down by them.This was the object over which the two brothers had felt their carriage pass. The coachman stopped, but, however strongly his master urged him, he refused to get off and save himself.
In an instant the carriage was hemmed in between those who followed and those who met it. It rose above the mass of moving heads like a floating island. But in another instant it came to a dead stop. A blacksmith had with his hammer struck down one of the horses, which fell in the traces.
At this moment, the shutter of a window opened, and disclosed the sallow face and the dark eyes of the young man, who with intense interest watched the scene which was preparing. Behind him appeared the head of the officer, almost as pale as himself."Good heavens, Monseigneur, what is going on there?" whispered the officer. "Something very terrible, to a certainty," replied the other. "Don't you see, Monseigneur, they are dragging the Grand Pensionary from the carriage, they strike him, they tear him to pieces!" "Indeed, these people must certainly be prompted by a most violent indignation," said the young marl, with the same impassible tone which he had preserved all along. "And here is Cornelius, whom they now likewise drag out of the carriage, -- Cornelius, who is already quite broken and mangled by the torture. Only look, look!" "Indeed, it is Cornelius, and no mistake."
The officer uttered a feeble cry, and turned his head away; the brother of the Grand Pensionary, before having set foot on the ground, whilst still on the bottom step of the carriage, was struck down with an iron bar which broke his skull. He rose once more, but immediately fell again.
Some fellows then seized him by the feet, and dragged him into the crowd, into the middle of which one might have followed his bloody track, and he was soon closed in among the savage yells of malignant exultation.The young man -- a thing which would have been thought impossible -- grew even paler than before, and his eyes were for a moment veiled behind the lids. The officer saw this sign of compassion, and, wishing to avail himself of this softened tone of his feelings, continued, -- "Come, come, Monseigneur, for here they are also going to murder the Grand Pensionary." But the young man had already opened his eyes again. "To be sure," he said. "These people are really implacable. It does no one good to offend them."
"Monseigneur," said the officer, "may not one save this poor man, who has been your Highness's instructor? If there be any means, name it, and if I should perish in the attempt ---- "
William of Orange -- for he it was -- knit his brows in a very forbidding manner, restrained the glance of gloomy malice which glistened in his half-closed eye, and answered, --"Captain Van Deken, I request you to go and look after my troops, that they may be armed for any emergency." "But am I to leave your Highness here, alone, in the presence of all these murderers?" "Go, and don't you trouble yourself about me more than I do myself," the Prince gruffly replied.
The officer started off with a speed which was much less owing to his sense of military obedience than to his pleasure at being relieved from the necessity of witnessing the shocking spectacle of the murder of the other brother.
He had scarcely left the room, when John -- who, with an almost superhuman effort, had reached the stone steps of a house nearly opposite that where his former pupil concealed himself -- began to stagger under the blows which were inflicted on him from all sides, calling out, --"My brother! where is my brother?" One of the ruffians knocked off his hat with a blow of his clenched fist.
Another showed to him his bloody hands; for this fellow had ripped open Cornelius and disembowelled him, and was now hastening to the spot in order not to lose the opportunity of serving the Grand Pensionary in the same manner, whilst they were dragging the dead body of Cornelius to the gibbet.John uttered a cry of agony and grief, and put one of his hands before his eyes. "Oh, you close your eyes, do you?" said one of the soldiers of the burgher guard; "well, I shall open them for you." And saying this he stabbed him with his pike in the face, and the blood spurted forth. "My brother!" cried John de Witt, trying to see through the stream of blood which blinded him, what had become of Cornelius; "my brother, my brother!" "Go and run after him!" bellowed another murderer, putting his musket to his temples and pulling the trigger. But the gun did not go off.
The fellow then turned his musket round, and, taking it by the barrel with both hands, struck John de Witt down with the butt-end. John staggered and fell down at his feet, but, raising himself with a last effort, he once more called out, --
"My brother!" with a voice so full of anguish that the young man opposite closed the shutter.
There remained little more to see; a third murderer fired a pistol with the muzzle to his face; and this time the shot took effect, blowing out his brains. John de Witt fell to rise no more.
On this, every one of the miscreants, emboldened by his fall, wanted to fire his gun at him, or strike him with blows of the sledge-hammer, or stab him with a knife or swords, every one wanted to draw a drop of blood from the fallen hero, and tear off a shred from his garments.
And after having mangled, and torn, and completely stripped the two brothers, the mob dragged their naked and bloody bodies to an extemporised gibbet, where amateur executioners hung them up by the feet.
Then came the most dastardly scoundrels of all, who not having dared to strike the living flesh, cut the dead in pieces, and then went about the town selling small slices of the bodies of John and Cornelius at ten sous a piece.
We cannot take upon ourselves to say whether, through the almost imperceptible chink of the shutter, the young man witnessed the conclusion of this shocking scene; but at the very moment when they were hanging the two martyrs on the gibbet he passed through the terrible mob, which was too much absorbed in the task, so grateful to its taste, to take any notice of him, and thus he reached unobserved the Tol-Hek, which was still closed."Ah! sir," said the gatekeeper, "do you bring me the key?" "Yes, my man, here it is." "It is most unfortunate that you did not bring me that key only one quarter of an hour sooner," said the gatekeeper, with a sigh. "And why that?" asked the other. "Because I might have opened the gate to Mynheers de Witt; whereas, finding the gate locked, they were obliged to retrace their steps." "Gate! gate!" cried a voice which seemed to be that of a man in a hurry. The Prince, turning round, observed Captain Van Deken. "Is that you, Captain?" he said. "You are not yet out of the Hague? This is executing my orders very slowly." "Monseigneur," replied the Captain, "this is the third gate at which I have presented myself; the other two were closed." "Well, this good man will open this one for you; do it, my friend."
The last words were addressed to the gatekeeper, who stood quite thunderstruck on hearing Captain Van Deken addressing by the title of Monseigneur this pale young man, to whom he himself had spoken in such a familiar way.As it were to make up for his fault, he hastened to open the gate, which swung creaking on its hinges. "Will Monseigneur avail himself of my horse?" asked the Captain. "I thank you, Captain, I shall use my own steed, which is waiting for me close at hand."
And taking from his pocket a golden whistle, such as was generally used at that time for summoning the servants, he sounded it with a shrill and prolonged call, on which an equerry on horseback speedily made his appearance, leading another horse by the bridle.
William, without touching the stirrup, vaulted into the saddle of the led horse, and, setting his spurs into its flanks, started off for the Leyden road. Having reached it, he turned round and beckoned to the Captain who was far behind, to ride by his side."Do you know," he then said, without stopping, "that those rascals have killed John de Witt as well as his brother?"
"Alas! Monseigneur," the Captain answered sadly, "I should like it much better if these two difficulties were still in your Highness's way of becoming de facto Stadtholder of Holland."
"Certainly, it would have been better," said William, "if what did happen had not happened. But it cannot be helped now, and we have had nothing to do with it. Let us push on, Captain, that we may arrive at Alphen before the message which the StatesGeneral are sure to send to me to the camp."
The Captain bowed, allowed the Prince to ride ahead and, for the remainder of the journey, kept at the same respectful distance as he had done before his Highness called him to his side.
"How I should wish," William of Orange malignantly muttered to himself, with a dark frown and setting the spurs to his horse, "to see the figure which Louis will cut when he is apprised of the manner in which his dear friends De Witt have been served! Oh thou Sun! thou Sun! as truly as I am called William the Silent, thou Sun, thou hadst best look to thy rays!"
And the young Prince, the relentless rival of the Great King, sped away upon his fiery steed, -- this future Stadtholder who had been but the day before very uncertainly established in his new power, but for whom the burghers of the Hague had built a staircase with the bodies of John and Cornelius, two princes as noble as he in the eyes of God and man.
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.
Mynheer van Baerle the father had amassed in the Indian trade three or four hundred thousand guilders, which Mynheer van Baerle the son, at the death of his dear and worthy parents, found still quite new, although one set of them bore the date of coinage of 1640, and the other that of 1610, a fact which proved that they were guilders of Van Baerle the father and of Van Baerle the grandfather; but we will inform the reader at once that these three or four hundred thousand guilders were only the pocket money, or sort of purse, for Cornelius van Baerle, the hero of this story, as his landed property in the province yielded him an income of about ten thousand guilders a year.
When the worthy citizen, the father of Cornelius, passed from time into eternity, three months after having buried his wife, who seemed to have departed first to smooth for him the path of death as she had smoothed for him the path of life, he said to his son, as he embraced him for the last time, --
"Eat, drink, and spend your money, if you wish to know what life really is, for as to toiling from morn to evening on a wooden stool, or a leathern chair, in a counting-house or a laboratory, that certainly is not living. Your time to die will also come; and if you are not then so fortunate as to have a son, you will let my name grow extinct, and my guilders, which no one has ever fingered but my father, myself, and the coiner, will have the surprise of passing to an unknown master. And least of all, imitate the example of your godfather, Cornelius de Witt, who has plunged into politics, the most ungrateful of all careers, and who will certainly come to an untimely end."
Having given utterance to this paternal advice, the worthy Mynheer van Baerle died, to the intense grief of his son Cornelius, who cared very little for the guilders, and very much for his father.
Cornelius then remained alone in his large house. In vain his godfather offered to him a place in the public service, -- in vain did he try to give him a taste for glory, -- although Cornelius, to gratify his godfather, did embark with De Ruyter upon "The Seven Provinces," the flagship of a fleet of one hundred and thirty-nine sail, with which the famous admiral set out to contend singlehanded against the combined forces of France and England. When, guided by the pilot Leger, he had come within musket-shot of the "Prince," with the Duke of York (the English king's brother) aboard, upon which De Ruyter, his mentor, made so sharp and well directed an attack that the Duke, perceiving that his vessel would soon have to strike, made the best of his way aboard the "Saint Michael"; when he had seen the "Saint Michael," riddled and shattered by the Dutch broadside, drift out of the line; when he had witnessed the sinking of the "Earl of Sandwich," and the death by fire or drowning of four hundred sailors; when he realized that the result of all this destruction -- after twenty ships had been blown to pieces, three thousand men killed and five thousand injured -- was that nothing was decided, that both sides claimed the victory, that the fighting would soon begin again, and that just one more name, that of Southwold Bay, had been added to the list of battles; when he had estimated how much time is lost simply in shutting his eyes and ears by a man who likes to use his reflective powers even while his fellow creatures are cannonading one another; -- Cornelius bade farewell to De Ruyter, to the Ruart de Pulten, and to glory, kissed the knees of the Grand Pensionary, for whom he entertained the deepest veneration, and retired to his house at Dort, rich in his well-earned repose, his twentyeight years, an iron constitution and keen perceptions, and his capital of more than four hundred thousands of florins and income of ten thousand, convinced that a man is always endowed by Heaven with too much for his own happiness, and just enough to make him miserable.
Consequently, and to indulge his own idea of happiness, Cornelius began to be interested in the study of plants and insects, collected and classified the Flora of all the Dutch islands, arranged the whole entomology of the province, on which he wrote a treatise, with plates drawn by his own hands; and at last, being at a loss what to do with his time, and especially with his money, which went on accumulating at a most alarming rate, he took it into his head to select for himself, from all the follies of his country and of his age, one of the most elegant and expensive, -- he became a tulip-fancier.
It was the time when the Dutch and the Portuguese, rivalling each other in this branch of horticulture, had begun to worship that flower, and to make more of a cult of it than ever naturalists dared to make of the human race for fear of arousing the jealousy of God.
Soon people from Dort to Mons began to talk of Mynheer van Baerle's tulips; and his beds, pits, drying-rooms, and drawers of bulbs were visited, as the galleries and libraries of Alexandria were by illustrious Roman travellers.
Van Baerle began by expending his yearly revenue in laying the groundwork of his collection, after which he broke in upon his new guilders to bring it to perfection. His exertions, indeed, were crowned with a most magnificent result: he produced three new tulips, which he called the "Jane," after his mother; the "Van Baerle," after his father; and the "Cornelius," after his godfather; the other names have escaped us, but the fanciers will be sure to find them in the catalogues of the times.
In the beginning of the year 1672, Cornelius de Witt came to Dort for three months, to live at his old family mansion; for not only was he born in that city, but his family had been resident there for centuries.
Cornelius, at that period, as William of Orange said, began to enjoy the most perfect unpopularity. To his fellow citizens, the good burghers of Dort, however, he did not appear in the light of a criminal who deserved to be hung. It is true, they did not particularly like his somewhat austere republicanism, but they were proud of his valour; and when he made his entrance into their town, the cup of honour was offered to him, readily enough, in the name of the city.
After having thanked his fellow citizens, Cornelius proceeded to his old paternal house, and gave directions for some repairs, which he wished to have executed before the arrival of his wife and children; and thence he wended his way to the house of his godson, who perhaps was the only person in Dort as yet unacquainted with the presence of Cornelius in the town.
In the same degree as Cornelius de Witt had excited the hatred of the people by sowing those evil seeds which are called political passions, Van Baerle had gained the affections of his fellow citizens by completely shunning the pursuit of politics, absorbed as he was in the peaceful pursuit of cultivating tulips.Van Baerle was truly beloved by his servants and labourers; nor had he any conception that there was in this world a man who wished ill to another.
And yet it must be said, to the disgrace of mankind, that Cornelius van Baerle, without being aware of the fact, had a much more ferocious, fierce, and implacable enemy than the Grand Pensionary and his brother had among the Orange party, who were most hostile to the devoted brothers, who had never been sundered by the least misunderstanding during their lives, and by their mutual devotion in the face of death made sure the existence of their brotherly affection beyond the grave.
At the time when Cornelius van Baerle began to devote himself to tulip-growing, expending on this hobby his yearly revenue and the guilders of his father, there was at Dort, living next door to him, a citizen of the name of Isaac Boxtel who from the age when he was able to think for himself had indulged the same fancy, and who was in ecstasies at the mere mention of the word "tulban," which (as we are assured by the "Floriste Francaise," the most highly considered authority in matters relating to this flower) is the first word in the Cingalese tongue which was ever used to designate that masterpiece of floriculture which is now called the tulip.
Boxtel had not the good fortune of being rich, like Van Baerle. He had therefore, with great care and patience, and by dint of strenuous exertions, laid out near his house at Dort a garden fit for the culture of his cherished flower; he had mixed the soil according to the most approved prescriptions, and given to his hotbeds just as much heat and fresh air as the strictest rules of horticulture exact.
Isaac knew the temperature of his frames to the twentieth part of a degree. He knew the strength of the current of air, and tempered it so as to adapt it to the wave of the stems of his flowers. His productions also began to meet with the favour of the public. They were beautiful, nay, distinguished. Several fanciers had come to see Boxtel's tulips. At last he had even started amongst all the Linnaeuses and Tourneforts a tulip which bore his name, and which, after having travelled all through France, had found its way into Spain, and penetrated as far as Portugal; and the King, Don Alfonso VI. -- who, being expelled from Lisbon, had retired to the island of Terceira, where he amused himself, not, like the great Conde, with watering his carnations, but with growing tulips -- had, on seeing the Boxtel tulip, exclaimed, "Not so bad, by any means!"
All at once, Cornelius van Baerle, who, after all his learned pursuits, had been seized with the tulipomania, made some changes in his house at Dort, which, as we have stated, was next door to that of Boxtel. He raised a certain building in his court-yard by a story, which shutting out the sun, took half a degree of warmth from Boxtel's garden, and, on the other hand, added half a degree of cold in winter; not to mention that it cut the wind, and disturbed all the horticultural calculations and arrangements of his neighbour.
After all, this mishap appeared to Boxtel of no great consequence. Van Baerle was but a painter, a sort of fool who tried to reproduce and disfigure on canvas the wonders of nature. The painter, he thought, had raised his studio by a story to get better light, and thus far he had only been in the right. Mynheer van Baerle was a painter, as Mynheer Boxtel was a tulip-grower; he wanted somewhat more sun for his paintings, and he took half a degree from his neighbour's tulips.The law was for Van Baerle, and Boxtel had to abide by it.
Besides, Isaac had made the discovery that too much sun was injurious to tulips, and that this flower grew quicker, and had a better colouring, with the temperate warmth of morning, than with the powerful heat of the midday sun. He therefore felt almost grateful to Cornelius van Baerle for having given him a screen gratis.
Maybe this was not quite in accordance with the true state of things in general, and of Isaac Boxtel's feelings in particular. It is certainly astonishing what rich comfort great minds, in the midst of momentous catastrophes, will derive from the consolations of philosophy.
But alas! What was the agony of the unfortunate Boxtel on seeing the windows of the new story set out with bulbs and seedlings of tulips for the border, and tulips in pots; in short, with everything pertaining to the pursuits of a tulip-monomaniac!
There were bundles of labels, cupboards, and drawers with compartments, and wire guards for the cupboards, to allow free access to the air whilst keeping out slugs, mice, dormice, and rats, all of them very curious fanciers of tulips at two thousand francs a bulb.
Boxtel was quite amazed when he saw all this apparatus, but he was not as yet aware of the full extent of his misfortune. Van Baerle was known to be fond of everything that pleases the eye. He studied Nature in all her aspects for the benefit of his paintings, which were as minutely finished as those of Gerard Dow, his master, and of Mieris, his friend. Was it not possible, that, having to paint the interior of a tulip-grower's, he had collected in his new studio all the accessories of decoration?
Yet, although thus consoling himself with illusory suppositions, Boxtel was not able to resist the burning curiosity which was devouring him. In the evening, therefore, he placed a ladder against the partition wall between their gardens, and, looking into that of his neighbour Van Baerle, he convinced himself that the soil of a large square bed, which had formerly been occupied by different plants, was removed, and the ground disposed in beds of loam mixed with river mud (a combination which is particularly favourable to the tulip), and the whole surrounded by a border of turf to keep the soil in its place. Besides this, sufficient shade to temper the noonday heat; aspect southsouthwest; water in abundant supply, and at hand; in short, every requirement to insure not only success but also progress. There could not be a doubt that Van Baerle had become a tulip-grower.
Boxtel at once pictured to himself this learned man, with a capital of four hundred thousand and a yearly income of ten thousand guilders, devoting all his intellectual and financial resources to the cultivation of the tulip. He foresaw his neighbour's success, and he felt such a pang at the mere idea of this success that his hands dropped powerless, his knees trembled, and he fell in despair from the ladder.
And thus it was not for the sake of painted tulips, but for real ones, that Van Baerle took from him half a degree of warmth. And thus Van Baerle was to have the most admirably fitted aspect, and, besides, a large, airy, and well ventilated chamber where to preserve his bulbs and seedlings; while he, Boxtel, had been obliged to give up for this purpose his bedroom, and, lest his sleeping in the same apartment might injure his bulbs and seedlings, had taken up his abode in a miserable garret.
Boxtel, then, was to have next door to him a rival and successful competitor; and his rival, instead of being some unknown, obscure gardener, was the godson of Mynheer Cornelius de Witt, that is to say, a celebrity.Boxtel, as the reader may see, was not possessed of the spirit of Porus, who, on being conquered by Alexander, consoled himself with the celebrity of his conqueror.
And now if Van Baerle produced a new tulip, and named it the John de Witt, after having named one the Cornelius? It was indeed enough to choke one with rage. Thus Boxtel, with jealous foreboding, became the prophet of his own misfortune. And, after having made this melancholy discovery, he passed the most wretched night imaginable.
6. The Hatred Of A Tulip-Fancier
From that moment Boxtel's interest in tulips was no longer a stimulus to his exertions, but a deadening anxiety. Henceforth all his thoughts ran only upon the injury which his neighbour would cause him, and thus his favourite occupation was changed into a constant source of misery to him.
Van Baerle, as may easily be imagined, had no sooner begun to apply his natural ingenuity to his new fancy, than he succeeded in growing the finest tulips. Indeed; he knew better than any one else at Haarlem or Leyden -- the two towns which boast the best soil and the most congenial climate -- how to vary the colours, to modify the shape, and to produce new species.
He belonged to that natural, humorous school who took for their motto in the seventeenth century the aphorism uttered by one of their number in 1653, -- "To despise flowers is to offend God."From that premise the school of tulip-fanciers, the most exclusive of all schools, worked out the following syllogism in the same year: -- "To despise flowers is to offend God. "The more beautiful the flower is, the more does one offend God in despising it. "The tulip is the most beautiful of all flowers. "Therefore, he who despises the tulip offends God beyond measure."
By reasoning of this kind, it can be seen that the four or five thousand tulip-growers of Holland, France, and Portugal, leaving out those of Ceylon and China and the Indies, might, if so disposed, put the whole world under the ban, and condemn as schismatics and heretics and deserving of death the several hundred millions of mankind whose hopes of salvation were not centred upon the tulip.We cannot doubt that in such a cause Boxtel, though he was Van Baerle's deadly foe, would have marched under the same banner with him.
Mynheer van Baerle and his tulips, therefore, were in the mouth of everybody; so much so, that Boxtel's name disappeared for ever from the list of the notable tulip-growers in Holland, and those of Dort were now represented by Cornelius van Baerle, the modest and inoffensive savant.
Engaging, heart and soul, in his pursuits of sowing, planting, and gathering, Van Baerle, caressed by the whole fraternity of tulip-growers in Europe, entertained nor the least suspicion that there was at his very door a pretender whose throne he had usurped.
He went on in his career, and consequently in his triumphs; and in the course of two years he covered his borders with such marvellous productions as no mortal man, following in the tracks of the Creator, except perhaps Shakespeare and Rubens, have equalled in point of numbers.
And also, if Dante had wished for a new type to be added to his characters of the Inferno, he might have chosen Boxtel during the period of Van Baerle's successes. Whilst Cornelius was weeding, manuring, watering his beds, whilst, kneeling on the turf border, he analysed every vein of the flowering tulips, and meditated on the modifications which might be effected by crosses of colour or otherwise, Boxtel, concealed behind a small sycamore which he had trained at the top of the partition wall in the shape of a fan, watched, with his eyes starting from their sockets and with foaming mouth, every step and every gesture of his neighbour; and whenever he thought he saw him look happy, or descried a smile on his lips, or a flash of contentment glistening in his eyes, he poured out towards him such a volley of maledictions and furious threats as to make it indeed a matter of wonder that this venomous breath of envy and hatred did not carry a blight on the innocent flowers which had excited it.
When the evil spirit has once taken hold of the heart of man, it urges him on, without letting him stop. Thus Boxtel soon was no longer content with seeing Van Baerle. He wanted to see his flowers, too; he had the feelings of an artist, the master-piece of a rival engrossed his interest.
He therefore bought a telescope, which enabled him to watch as accurately as did the owner himself every progressive development of the flower, from the moment when, in the first year, its pale seed-leaf begins to peep from the ground, to that glorious one, when, after five years, its petals at last reveal the hidden treasures of its chalice. How often had the miserable, jealous man to observe in Van Baerle's beds tulips which dazzled him by their beauty, and almost choked him by their perfection!
And then, after the first blush of the admiration which he could not help feeling, he began to be tortured by the pangs of envy, by that slow fever which creeps over the heart and changes it into a nest of vipers, each devouring the other and ever born anew. How often did Boxtel, in the midst of tortures which no pen is able fully to describe, -- how often did he feel an inclination to jump down into the garden during the night, to destroy the plants, to tear the bulbs with his teeth, and to sacrifice to his wrath the owner himself, if he should venture to stand up for the defence of his tulips! But to kill a tulip was a horrible crime in the eyes of a genuine tulip-fancier; as to killing a man, it would not have mattered so very much.
Yet Van Baerle made such progress in the noble science of growing tulips, which he seemed to master with the true instinct of genius, that Boxtel at last was maddened to such a degree as to think of throwing stones and sticks into the flower-stands of his neighbour. But, remembering that he would be sure to be found out, and that he would not only be punished by law, but also dishonoured for ever in the face of all the tulipgrowers of Europe, he had recourse to stratagem, and, to gratify his hatred, tried to devise a plan by means of which he might gain his ends without being compromised himself.He considered a long time, and at last his meditations were crowned with success.
One evening he tied two cats together by their hind legs with a string about six feet in length, and threw them from the wall into the midst of that noble, that princely, that royal bed, which contained not only the "Cornelius de Witt," but also the "Beauty of Brabant," milk-white, edged with purple and pink, the "Marble of Rotterdam," colour of flax, blossoms feathered red and flesh colour, the "Wonder of Haarlem," the "Colombin obscur," and the "Columbin clair terni."
The frightened cats, having alighted on the ground, first tried to fly each in a different direction, until the string by which they were tied together was tightly stretched across the bed; then, however, feeling that they were not able to get off, they began to pull to and fro, and to wheel about with hideous caterwaulings, mowing down with their string the flowers among which they were struggling, until, after a furious strife of about a quarter of an hour, the string broke and the combatants vanished.
Boxtel, hidden behind his sycamore, could not see anything, as it was pitch-dark; but the piercing cries of the cats told the whole tale, and his heart overflowing with gall now throbbed with triumphant joy.
Boxtel was so eager to ascertain the extent of the injury, that he remained at his post until morning to feast his eyes on the sad state in which the two cats had left the flowerbeds of his neighbour. The mists of the morning chilled his frame, but he did not feel the cold, the hope of revenge keeping his blood at fever heat. The chagrin of his rival was to pay for all the inconvenience which he incurred himself.
At the earliest dawn the door of the white house opened, and Van Baerle made his appearance, approaching the flower-beds with the smile of a man who has passed the night comfortably in his bed, and has had happy dreams.
All at once he perceived furrows and little mounds of earth on the beds which only the evening before had been as smooth as a mirror, all at once he perceived the symmetrical rows of his tulips to be completely disordered, like the pikes of a battalion in the midst of which a shell has fallen.
Boxtel trembled with joy. Fifteen or twenty tulips, torn and crushed, were lying about, some of them bent, others completely broken and already withering, the sap oozing from their bleeding bulbs: how gladly would Van Baerle have redeemed that precious sap with his own blood!
But what were his surprise and his delight! what was the disappointment of his rival! Not one of the four tulips which the latter had meant to destroy was injured at all. They raised proudly their noble heads above the corpses of their slain companions. This was enough to console Van Baerle, and enough to fan the rage of the horticultural murderer, who tore his hair at the sight of the effects of the crime which he had committed in vain.
Van Baerle could not imagine the cause of the mishap, which, fortunately, was of far less consequence than it might have been. On making inquiries, he learned that the whole night had been disturbed by terrible caterwaulings. He besides found traces of the cats, their footmarks and hairs left behind on the battle-field; to guard, therefore, in future against a similar outrage, he gave orders that henceforth one of the under gardeners should sleep in the garden in a sentry-box near the flower-beds.
Boxtel heard him give the order, and saw the sentry-box put up that very day; but he deemed himself lucky in not having been suspected, and, being more than ever incensed against the successful horticulturist, he resolved to bide his time.
Just then the Tulip Society of Haarlem offered a prize for the discovery (we dare not say the manufacture) of a large black tulip without a spot of colour, a thing which had not yet been accomplished, and was considered impossible, as at that time there did not exist a flower of that species approaching even to a dark nut brown. It was, therefore, generally said that the founders of the prize might just as well have offered two millions as a hundred thousand guilders, since no one would be able to gain it.
The tulip-growing world, however, was thrown by it into a state of most active commotion. Some fanciers caught at the idea without believing it practicable, but such is the power of imagination among florists, that although considering the undertaking as certain to fail, all their thoughts were engrossed by that great black tulip, which was looked upon to be as chimerical as the black swan of Horace or the white raven of French tradition.
Van Baerle was one of the tulip-growers who were struck with the idea; Boxtel thought of it in the light of a speculation. Van Baerle, as soon as the idea had once taken root in his clear and ingenious mind, began slowly the necessary planting and cross-breeding to reduce the tulips which he had grown already from red to brown, and from brown to dark brown.
By the next year he had obtained flowers of a perfect nut-brown, and Boxtel espied them in the border, whereas he had himself as yet only succeeded in producing the light brown.
It might perhaps be interesting to explain to the gentle reader the beautiful chain of theories which go to prove that the tulip borrows its colors from the elements; perhaps we should give him pleasure if we were to maintain and establish that nothing is impossible for a florist who avails himself with judgment and discretion and patience of the sun's heat; the clear water, the juices of the earth, and the cool breezes. But this is not a treatise upon tulips in general; it is the story of one particular tulip which we have undertaken to write, and to that we limit ourselves, however alluring the subject which is so closely allied to ours.
Boxtel, once more worsted by the superiority of his hated rival, was now completely disgusted with tulip-growing, and, being driven half mad, devoted himself entirely to observation.
The house of his rival was quite open to view; a garden exposed to the sun; cabinets with glass walls, shelves, cupboards, boxes, and ticketed pigeon-holes, which could easily be surveyed by the telescope. Boxtel allowed his bulbs to rot in the pits, his seedlings to dry up in their cases, and his tulips to wither in the borders and henceforward occupied himself with nothing else but the doings at Van Baerle's. He breathed through the stalks of Van Baerle's tulips, quenched his thirst with the water he sprinkled upon them, and feasted on the fine soft earth which his neighbour scattered upon his cherished bulbs.But the most curious part of the operations was not performed in the garden.
It might be one o'clock in the morning when Van Baerle went up to his laboratory, into the glazed cabinet whither Boxtel's telescope had such an easy access; and here, as soon as the lamp illuminated the walls and windows, Boxtel saw the inventive genius of his rival at work.
He beheld him sifting his seeds, and soaking them in liquids which were destined to modify or to deepen their colours. He knew what Cornelius meant when heating certain grains, then moistening them, then combining them with others by a sort of grafting, -- a minute and marvellously delicate manipulation, -- and when he shut up in darkness those which were expected to furnish the black colour, exposed to the sun or to the lamp those which were to produce red, and placed between the endless reflections of two water-mirrors those intended for white, the pure representation of the limpid element.
This innocent magic, the fruit at the same time of child-like musings and of manly genius
-- this patient untiring labour, of which Boxtel knew himself to be incapable -- made him, gnawed as he was with envy, centre all his life, all his thoughts, and all his hopes in his telescope.
For, strange to say, the love and interest of horticulture had not deadened in Isaac his fierce envy and thirst of revenge. Sometimes, whilst covering Van Baerle with his telescope, he deluded himself into a belief that he was levelling a never-failing musket at him; and then he would seek with his finger for the trigger to fire the shot which was to have killed his neighbour. But it is time that we should connect with this epoch of the operations of the one, and the espionage of the other, the visit which Cornelius de Witt came to pay to his native town.
7. The Happy Man Makes Acquaintance With MisfortuneCornelius 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 ventured no longer to put onions in his stews, for fear of pulling to pieces and mincing the idol of her foster child.
At the mere mention of the dry-room, therefore, the servants who were carrying the lights respectfully fell back. Cornelius, taking the candlestick from the hands of the foremost, conducted his godfather into that room, which was no other than that very cabinet with a glass front into which Boxtel was continually prying with his telescope.The envious spy was watching more intently than ever. First of all he saw the walls and windows lit up. Then two dark figures appeared. One of them, tall, majestic, stern, sat down near the table on which Van Baerle had placed the taper. In this figure, Boxtel recognised the pale features of Cornelius de Witt, whose long hair, parted in front, fell over his shoulders.
De Witt, after having said some few words to Cornelius, the meaning of which the prying neighbour could not read in the movement of his lips, took from his breast pocket a white parcel, carefully sealed, which Boxtel, judging from the manner in which Cornelius received it, and placed it in one of the presses, supposed to contain papers of the greatest importance.
His first thought was that this precious deposit enclosed some newly imported bulbs from Bengal or Ceylon; but he soon reflected that Cornelius de Witt was very little addicted to tulip-growing, and that he only occupied himself with the affairs of man, a pursuit by far less peaceful and agreeable than that of the florist. He therefore came to the conclusion that the parcel contained simply some papers, and that these papers were relating to politics.
But why should papers of political import be intrusted to Van Baerle, who not only was, but also boasted of being, an entire stranger to the science of government, which, in his opinion, was more occult than alchemy itself?
It was undoubtedly a deposit which Cornelius de Witt, already threatened by the unpopularity with which his countrymen were going to honour him, was placing in the hands of his godson; a contrivance so much the more cleverly devised, as it certainly was not at all likely that it should be searched for at the house of one who had always stood aloof from every sort of intrigue.
And, besides, if the parcel had been made up of bulbs, Boxtel knew his neighbour too well not to expect that Van Baerle would not have lost one moment in satisfying his curiosity and feasting his eyes on the present which he had received.
But, on the contrary, Cornelius had received the parcel from the hands of his godfather with every mark of respect, and put it by with the same respectful manner in a drawer, stowing it away so that it should not take up too much of the room which was reserved to his bulbs.
The parcel thus being secreted, Cornelius de Witt got up, pressed the hand of his godson, and turned towards the door, Van Baerle seizing the candlestick, and lighting him on his way down to the street, which was still crowded with people who wished to see their great fellow citizen getting into his coach.
Boxtel had not been mistaken in his supposition. The deposit intrusted to Van Baerle, and carefully locked up by him, was nothing more nor less than John de Witt's correspondence with the Marquis de Louvois, the war minister of the King of France; only the godfather forbore giving to his godson the least intimation concerning the political importance of the secret, merely desiring him not to deliver the parcel to any one but to himself, or to whomsoever he should send to claim it in his name.
And Van Baerle, as we have seen, locked it up with his most precious bulbs, to think no more of it, after his godfather had left him; very unlike Boxtel, who looked upon this parcel as a clever pilot does on the distant and scarcely perceptible cloud which is increasing on its way and which is fraught with a storm.
Little dreaming of the jealous hatred of his neighbour, Van Baerle had proceeded step by step towards gaining the prize offered by the Horticultural Society of Haarlem. He had progressed from hazel-nut shade to that of roasted coffee, and on the very day when the frightful events took place at the Hague which we have related in the preceding chapters, we find him, about one o'clock in the day, gathering from the border the young suckers raised from tulips of the colour of roasted coffee; and which, being expected to flower for the first time in the spring of 1675, would undoubtedly produce the large black tulip required by the Haarlem Society.
On the 20th of August, 1672, at one o'clock, Cornelius was therefore in his dry-room, with his feet resting on the foot-bar of the table, and his elbows on the cover, looking with intense delight on three suckers which he had just detached from the mother bulb, pure, perfect, and entire, and from which was to grow that wonderful produce of horticulture which would render the name of Cornelius van Baerle for ever illustrious.
"I shall find the black tulip," said Cornelius to himself, whilst detaching the suckers. "I shall obtain the hundred thousand guilders offered by the Society. I shall distribute them among the poor of Dort; and thus the hatred which every rich man has to encounter in times of civil wars will be soothed down, and I shall be able, without fearing any harm either from Republicans or Orangists, to keep as heretofore my borders in splendid condition. I need no more be afraid lest on the day of a riot the shopkeepers of the town and the sailors of the port should come and tear out my bulbs, to boil them as onions for their families, as they have sometimes quietly threatened when they happened to remember my having paid two or three hundred guilders for one bulb. It is therefore settled I shall give the hundred thousand guilders of the Haarlem prize to-the poor. And yet ---- "
Here Cornelius stopped and heaved a sigh. "And yet," he continued, "it would have been so very delightful to spend the hundred thousand guilders on the enlargement of my tulip-bed or even on a journey to the East, the country of beautiful flowers. But, alas! these are no thoughts for the present times, when muskets, standards, proclamations, and beating of drums are the order of the day."
Van Baerle raised his eyes to heaven and sighed again. Then turning his glance towards his bulbs, -- objects of much greater importance to him than all those muskets, standards, drums, and proclamations, which he conceived only to be fit to disturb the minds of honest people, -- he said: --
"These are, indeed, beautiful bulbs; how smooth they are, how well formed; there is that air of melancholy about them which promises to produce a flower of the colour of ebony. On their skin you cannot even distinguish the circulating veins with the naked eye. Certainly, certainly, not a light spot will disfigure the tulip which I have called into existence. And by what name shall we call this offspring of my sleepless nights, of my labour and my thought? Tulipa nigra Barlaensis?
"Yes Barlaensis: a fine name. All the tulip-fanciers -- that is to say, all the intelligent people of Europe -- will feel a thrill of excitement when the rumour spreads to the four quarters of the globe: The grand black tulip is found! 'How is it called?' the fanciers will ask. -- 'Tulipa nigra Barlaensis!' -- 'Why Barlaensis?' -- 'After its grower, Van Baerle,' will be the answer. -- 'And who is this Van Baerle?' -- 'It is the same who has already produced five new tulips: the Jane, the John de Witt, the Cornelius de Witt, etc.' Well, that is what I call my ambition. It will cause tears to no one. And people will talk of my Tulipa nigra Barlaensis when perhaps my godfather, this sublime politician, is only known from the tulip to which I have given his name."Oh! these darling bulbs!
"When my tulip has flowered," Baerle continued in his soliloquy, "and when tranquillity is restored in Holland, I shall give to the poor only fifty thousand guilders, which, after all, is a goodly sum for a man who is under no obligation whatever. Then, with the remaining fifty thousand guilders, I shall make experiments. With them I shall succeed in imparting scent to the tulip. Ah! if I succeed in giving it the odour of the rose or the carnation, or, what would be still better, a completely new scent; if I restored to this queen of flowers its natural distinctive perfume, which she has lost in passing from her Eastern to her European throne, and which she must have in the Indian peninsula at Goa, Bombay, and Madras, and especially in that island which in olden times, as is asserted, was the terrestrial paradise, and which is called Ceylon, -- oh, what glory! I must say, I would then rather be Cornelius van Baerle than Alexander, Caesar, or Maximilian."Oh the admirable bulbs!" Thus Cornelius indulged in the delights of contemplation, and was carried away by the sweetest dreams. Suddenly the bell of his cabinet was rung much more violently than usual. Cornelius, startled, laid his hands on his bulbs, and turned round. "Who is here?" he asked. "Sir," answered the servant, "it is a messenger from the Hague." "A messenger from the Hague! What does he want?" "Sir, it is Craeke." "Craeke! the confidential servant of Mynheer John de Witt? Good, let him wait." "I cannot wait," said a voice in the lobby. And at the same time forcing his way in, Craeke rushed into the dry-room.
This abrupt entrance was such an infringement on the established rules of the household of Cornelius van Baerle, that the latter, at the sight of Craeke, almost convulsively moved his hand which covered the bulbs, so that two of them fell on the floor, one of them rolling under a small table, and the other into the fireplace."Zounds!" said Cornelius, eagerly picking up his precious bulbs, "what's the matter?"
"The matter, sir!" said Craeke, laying a paper on the large table, on which the third bulb was lying, -- "the matter is, that you are requested to read this paper without losing one moment."
And Craeke, who thought he had remarked in the streets of Dort symptoms of a tumult similar to that which he had witnessed before his departure from the Hague, ran off without even looking behind him.
Then, examining the bulb which he held in the hollow of his hand, he said: "Well, here is one of them uninjured. That confounded Craeke! thus to rush into my dry-room; let us now look after the other."
And without laying down the bulb which he already held, Baerle went to the fireplace, knelt down and stirred with the tip of his finger the ashes, which fortunately were quite cold.He at once felt the other bulb. "Well, here it is," he said; and, looking at it with almost fatherly affection, he exclaimed, "Uninjured as the first!"
At this very instant, and whilst Cornelius, still on his knees, was examining his pets, the door of the dry-room was so violently shaken, and opened in such a brusque manner, that Cornelius felt rising in his cheeks and his ears the glow of that evil counsellor which is called wrath."Now, what is it again," he demanded; "are people going mad here?" "Oh, sir! sir!" cried the servant, rushing into the dry-room with a much paler face and with a much more frightened mien than Craeke had shown. "Well!" asked Cornelius, foreboding some mischief from the double breach of the strict rule of his house. "Oh, sir, fly! fly quick!" cried the servant. "Fly! and what for?" "Sir, the house is full of the guards of the States." "What do they want?" "They want you." "What for?" "To arrest you." "Arrest me? arrest me, do you say?" "Yes, sir, and they are headed by a magistrate." "What's the meaning of all this?" said Van Baerle, grasping in his hands the two bulbs, and directing his terrified glance towards the staircase. "They are coming up! they are coming up!" cried the servant. "Oh, my dear child, my worthy master!" cried the old housekeeper, who now likewise made her appearance in the dry-room, "take your gold, your jewelry, and fly, fly!" "But how shall I make my escape, nurse?" said Van Baerle. "Jump out of the window." "Twenty-five feet from the ground!" "But you will fall on six feet of soft soil!" "Yes, but I should fall on my tulips." "Never mind, jump out."
Cornelius took the third bulb, approached the window and opened it, but seeing what havoc he would necessarily cause in his borders, and, more than this, what a height he would have to jump, he called out, "Never!" and fell back a step.At this moment they saw across the banister of the staircase the points of the halberds of the soldiers rising. The housekeeper raised her hands to heaven. As to Cornelius van Baerle, it must be stated to his honour, not as a man, but as a tulipfancier, his only thought was for his inestimable bulbs.
Looking about for a paper in which to wrap them up, he noticed the fly-leaf from the Bible, which Craeke had laid upon the table, took it without in his confusion remembering whence it came, folded in it the three bulbs, secreted them in his bosom, and waited.At this very moment the soldiers, preceded by a magistrate, entered the room.
"Are you Dr. Cornelius van Baerle?" demanded the magistrate (who, although knowing the young man very well, put his question according to the forms of justice, which gave his proceedings a much more dignified air).
"I am that person, Master van Spennen," answered Cornelius, politely, to his judge, "and you know it very well."
Saying this, the judge pointed with his finger to the third drawer of the press, near the fireplace.
In this very drawer, indeed the papers deposited by the Warden of the Dikes with his godson were lying; a proof that the police had received very exact information.
And, pulling out the drawer to its full length, the magistrate at first alighted on about twenty bulbs, carefully arranged and ticketed, and then on the paper parcel, which had remained in exactly the same state as it was when delivered by the unfortunate Cornelius de Witt to his godson.The magistrate broke the seals, tore off the envelope, cast an eager glance on the first leaves which met his eye and then exclaimed, in a terrible voice, -- "Well, justice has been rightly informed after all!" "How," said Cornelius, "how is this?" "Don't pretend to be ignorant, Mynheer van Baerle," answered the magistrate. "Follow me." "How's that! follow you?" cried the Doctor. "Yes, sir, for in the name of the States I arrest you." Arrests were not as yet made in the name of William of Orange; he had not been Stadtholder long enough for that. "Arrest me!" cried Cornelius; "but what have I done?" "That's no affair of mine, Doctor; you will explain all that before your judges." "Where?" "At the Hague."
Cornelius, in mute stupefaction, embraced his old nurse, who was in a swoon; shook hands with his servants, who were bathed in tears, and followed the magistrate, who put him in a coach as a prisoner of state and had him driven at full gallop to the Hague.
8. An InvasionThe incident just related was, as the reader has guessed before this, the diabolical work of Mynheer Isaac Boxtel.
It will be remembered that, with the help of his telescope, not even the least detail of the private meeting between Cornelius de Witt and Van Baerle had escaped him. He had, indeed, heard nothing, but he had seen everything, and had rightly concluded that the papers intrusted by the Warden to the Doctor must have been of great importance, as he saw Van Baerle so carefully secreting the parcel in the drawer where he used to keep his most precious bulbs.
The upshot of all this was that when Boxtel, who watched the course of political events much more attentively than his neighbour Cornelius was used to do, heard the news of the brothers De Witt being arrested on a charge of high treason against the States, he thought within his heart that very likely he needed only to say one word, and the godson would be arrested as well as the godfather.
Yet, full of happiness as was Boxtel's heart at the chance, he at first shrank with horror from the idea of informing against a man whom this information might lead to the scaffold.But there is this terrible thing in evil thoughts, that evil minds soon grow familiar with them. Besides this, Mynheer Isaac Boxtel encouraged himself with the following sophism: -- "Cornelius de Witt is a bad citizen, as he is charged with high treason, and arrested. "I, on the contrary, am a good citizen, as I am not charged with anything in the world, as I am as free as the air of heaven."
"If, therefore, Cornelius de Witt is a bad citizen, -- of which there can be no doubt, as he is charged with high treason, and arrested, -- his accomplice, Cornelius van Baerle, is no less a bad citizen than himself."And, as I am a good citizen, and as it is the duty of every good citizen to inform against the bad ones, it is my duty to inform against Cornelius van Baerle."
Specious as this mode of reasoning might sound, it would not perhaps have taken so complete a hold of Boxtel, nor would he perhaps have yielded to the mere desire of vengeance which was gnawing at his heart, had not the demon of envy been joined with that of cupidity.Boxtel was quite aware of the progress which Van Baerle had made towards producing the grand black tulip.
Dr. Cornelius, notwithstanding all his modesty, had not been able to hide from his most intimate friends that he was all but certain to win, in the year of grace 1673, the prize of a hundred thousand guilders offered by the Horticultural Society of Haarlem.It was just this certainty of Cornelius van Baerle that caused the fever which raged in the heart of Isaac Boxtel.
If Cornelius should be arrested there would necessarily be a great upset in his house, and during the night after his arrest no one would think of keeping watch over the tulips in his garden.
Now in that night Boxtel would climb over the wall and, as he knew the position of the bulb which was to produce the grand black tulip, he would filch it; and instead of flowering for Cornelius, it would flower for him, Isaac; he also, instead of Van Baerle, would have the prize of a hundred thousand guilders, not to speak of the sublime honour of calling the new flower Tulipa nigra Boxtellensis, -- a result which would satisfy not only his vengeance, but also his cupidity and his ambition.Awake, he thought of nothing but the grand black tulip; asleep, he dreamed of it. At last, on the 19th of August, about two o'clock in the afternoon, the temptation grew so strong, that Mynheer Isaac was no longer able to resist it. Accordingly, he wrote an anonymous information, the minute exactness of which made up for its want of authenticity, and posted his letter. Never did a venomous paper, slipped into the jaws of the bronze lions at Venice, produce a more prompt and terrible effect.
On the same evening the letter reached the principal magistrate, who without a moment's delay convoked his colleagues early for the next morning. On the following morning, therefore, they assembled, and decided on Van Baerle's arrest, placing the order for its execution in the hands of Master van Spennen, who, as we have seen, performed his duty like a true Hollander, and who arrested the Doctor at the very hour when the Orange party at the Hague were roasting the bleeding shreds of flesh torn from the corpses of Cornelius and John de Witt.
But, whether from a feeling of shame or from craven weakness, Isaac Boxtel did not venture that day to point his telescope either at the garden, or at the laboratory, or at the dry-room.
He knew too well what was about to happen in the house of the poor doctor to feel any desire to look into it. He did not even get up when his only servant -- who envied the lot of the servants of Cornelius just as bitterly as Boxtel did that of their master -- entered his bedroom. He said to the man, --"I shall not get up to-day, I am ill."
About nine o'clock he heard a great noise in the street which made him tremble, at this moment he was paler than a real invalid, and shook more violently than a man in the height of fever.His servant entered the room; Boxtel hid himself under the counterpane.
"Oh, sir!" cried the servant, not without some inkling that, whilst deploring the mishap which had befallen Van Baerle, he was announcing agreeable news to his master, -- "oh, sir! you do not know, then, what is happening at this moment?""How can I know it?" answered Boxtel, with an almost unintelligible voice. "Well, Mynheer Boxtel, at this moment your neighbour Cornelius van Baerle is arrested for high treason." "Nonsense!" Boxtel muttered, with a faltering voice; "the thing is impossible." "Faith, sir, at any rate that's what people say; and, besides, I have seen Judge van Spennen with the archers entering the house." "Well, if you have seen it with your own eyes, that's a different case altogether." "At all events," said the servant, "I shall go and inquire once more. Be you quiet, sir, I shall let you know all about it." Boxtel contented himself with signifying his approval of the zeal of his servant by dumb show. The man went out, and returned in half an hour. "Oh, sir, all that I told you is indeed quite true."
"Mynheer van Baerle is arrested, and has been put into a carriage, and they are driving him to the Hague."
At midnight, with a beating heart, trembling hands, and a livid countenance, he descended from the tree, took a ladder, leaned it against the wall, mounted it to the last step but one, and listened.All was perfectly quiet, not a sound broke the silence of the night; one solitary light, that of the housekeeper, was burning in the house.
This silence and this darkness emboldened Boxtel; he got astride the wall, stopped for an instant, and, after having ascertained that there was nothing to fear, he put his ladder from his own garden into that of Cornelius, and descended.
Then, knowing to an inch where the bulbs which were to produce the black tulip were planted, he ran towards the spot, following, however, the gravelled walks in order not to be betrayed by his footprints, and, on arriving at the precise spot, he proceeded, with the eagerness of a tiger, to plunge his hand into the soft ground.He found nothing, and thought he was mistaken. In the meanwhile, the cold sweat stood on his brow. He felt about close by it, -- nothing. He felt about on the right, and on the left, -- nothing. He felt about in front and at the back, -- nothing. He was nearly mad, when at last he satisfied himself that on that very morning the earth had been disturbed. In fact, whilst Boxtel was lying in bed, Cornelius had gone down to his garden, had taken up the mother bulb, and, as we have seen, divided it into three. Boxtel could not bring himself to leave the place. He dug up with his hands more than ten square feet of ground. At last no doubt remained of his misfortune. Mad with rage, he returned to his ladder, mounted the wall, drew up the ladder, flung it into his own garden, and jumped after it.
All at once, a last ray of hope presented itself to his mind: the seedling bulbs might be in the dry-room; it was therefore only requisite to make his entry there as he had done into the garden.
There he would find them, and, moreover, it was not at all difficult, as the sashes of the dry-room might be raised like those of a greenhouse. Cornelius had opened them on that morning, and no one had thought of closing them again.Everything, therefore, depended upon whether he could procure a ladder of sufficient length, -- one of twenty-five feet instead of ten. Boxtel had noticed in the street where he lived a house which was being repaired, and against which a very tall ladder was placed. This ladder would do admirably, unless the workmen had taken it away.
He ran to the house: the ladder was there. Boxtel took it, carried it with great exertion to his garden, and with even greater difficulty raised it against the wall of Van Baerle's house, where it just reached to the window.
Boxtel put a lighted dark lantern into his pocket, mounted the ladder, and slipped into the dry-room.
On reaching this sanctuary of the florist he stopped, supporting himself against the table; his legs failed him, his heart beat as if it would choke him. Here it was even worse than in the garden; there Boxtel was only a trespasser, here he was a thief.However, he took courage again: he had not gone so far to turn back with empty hands.
But in vain did he search the whole room, open and shut all the drawers, even that privileged one where the parcel which had been so fatal to Cornelius had been deposited; he found ticketed, as in a botanical garden, the "Jane," the "John de Witt," the hazel-nut, and the roasted-coffee coloured tulip; but of the black tulip, or rather the seedling bulbs within which it was still sleeping, not a trace was found.
And yet, on looking over the register of seeds and bulbs, which Van Baerle kept in duplicate, if possible even with greater exactitude and care than the first commercial houses of Amsterdam their ledgers, Boxtel read these lines: --"To-day, 20th of August, 1672, I have taken up the mother bulb of the grand black tulip, which I have divided into three perfect suckers." "Oh these bulbs, these bulbs!" howled Boxtel, turning over everything in the dry-room, "where could he have concealed them?"
Then, suddenly striking his forehead in his frenzy, he called out, "Oh wretch that I am! Oh thrice fool Boxtel! Would any one be separated from his bulbs? Would any one leave them at Dort, when one goes to the Hague? Could one live far from one's bulbs, when they enclose the grand black tulip? He had time to get hold of them, the scoundrel, he has them about him, he has taken them to the Hague!"It was like a flash of lightning which showed to Boxtel the abyss of a uselessly committed crime.
Boxtel sank quite paralyzed on that very table, and on that very spot where, some hours before, the unfortunate Van Baerle had so leisurely, and with such intense delight, contemplated his darling bulbs.
"Well, then, after all," said the envious Boxtel, -- raising his livid face from his hands in which it had been buried -- "if he has them, he can keep them only as long as he lives, and ---- "
The rest of this detestable thought was expressed by a hideous smile.
"The bulbs are at the Hague," he said, "therefore, I can no longer live at Dort: away, then, for them, to the Hague! to the Hague!"
And Boxtel, without taking any notice of the treasures about him, so entirely were his thoughts absorbed by another inestimable treasure, let himself out by the window, glided down the ladder, carried it back to the place whence he had taken it, and, like a beast of prey, returned growling to his house.
9. The Family CellIt was about midnight when poor Van Baerle was locked up in the prison of the Buytenhof.
What Rosa foresaw had come to pass. On finding the cell of Cornelius de Witt empty, the wrath of the people ran very high, and had Gryphus fallen into the hands of those madmen he would certainly have had to pay with his life for the prisoner.
But this fury had vented itself most fully on the two brothers when they were overtaken by the murderers, thanks to the precaution which William -- the man of precautions -- had taken in having the gates of the city closed.
A momentary lull had therefore set in whilst the prison was empty, and Rosa availed herself of this favourable moment to come forth from her hiding place, which she also induced her father to leave.The prison was therefore completely deserted. Why should people remain in the jail whilst murder was going on at the Tol-Hek?
Gryphus came forth trembling behind the courageous Rosa. They went to close the great gate, at least as well as it would close, considering that it was half demolished. It was easy to see that a hurricane of mighty fury had vented itself upon it.
About four o'clock a return of the noise was heard, but of no threatening character to Gryphus and his daughter. The people were only dragging in the two corpses, which they came back to gibbet at the usual place of execution.Rosa hid herself this time also, but only that she might not see the ghastly spectacle. At midnight, people again knocked at the gate of the jail, or rather at the barricade which served in its stead: it was Cornelius van Baerle whom they were bringing. When the jailer received this new inmate, and saw from the warrant the name and station of his prisoner, he muttered with his turnkey smile, -- "Godson of Cornelius de Witt! Well, young man, we have the family cell here, and we will give it to you."
And quite enchanted with his joke, the ferocious Orangeman took his cresset and his keys to conduct Cornelius to the cell, which on that very morning Cornelius de Witt had left to go into exile, or what in revolutionary times is meant instead by those sublime philosophers who lay it down as an axiom of high policy, "It is the dead only who do not return."On the way which the despairing florist had to traverse to reach that cell he heard nothing but the barking of a dog, and saw nothing but the face of a young girl.
The dog rushed forth from a niche in the wall, shaking his heavy chain, and sniffing all round Cornelius in order so much the better to recognise him in case he should be ordered to pounce upon him.
The young girl, whilst the prisoner was mounting the staircase, appeared at the narrow door of her chamber, which opened on that very flight of steps; and, holding the lamp in her right hand, she at the same time lit up her pretty blooming face, surrounded by a profusion of rich wavy golden locks, whilst with her left she held her white night-dress closely over her breast, having been roused from her first slumber by the unexpected arrival of Van Baerle.
It would have made a fine picture, worthy of Rembrandt, the gloomy winding stairs illuminated by the reddish glare of the cresset of Gryphus, with his scowling jailer's countenance at the top, the melancholy figure of Cornelius bending over the banister to look down upon the sweet face of Rosa, standing, as it were, in the bright frame of the door of her chamber, with embarrassed mien at being thus seen by a stranger.
And at the bottom, quite in the shade, where the details are absorbed in the obscurity, the mastiff, with his eyes glistening like carbuncles, and shaking his chain, on which the double light from the lamp of Rosa and the lantern of Gryphus threw a brilliant glitter.
The sublime master would, however, have been altogether unable to render the sorrow expressed in the face of Rosa, when she saw this pale, handsome young man slowly climbing the stairs, and thought of the full import of the words, which her father had just spoken, "You will have the family cell."
This vision lasted but a moment, -- much less time than we have taken to describe it. Gryphus then proceeded on his way, Cornelius was forced to follow him, and five minutes afterwards he entered his prison, of which it is unnecessary to say more, as the reader is already acquainted with it.
Gryphus pointed with his finger to the bed on which the martyr had suffered so much, who on that day had rendered his soul to God. Then, taking up his cresset, he quitted the cell.
Thus left alone, Cornelius threw himself on his bed, but he slept not, he kept his eye fixed on the narrow window, barred with iron, which looked on the Buytenhof; and in this way saw from behind the trees that first pale beam of light which morning sheds on the earth as a white mantle.
Now and then during the night horses had galloped at a smart pace over the Buytenhof, the heavy tramp of the patrols had resounded from the pavement, and the slow matches of the arquebuses, flaring in the east wind, had thrown up at intervals a sudden glare as far as to the panes of his window.
But when the rising sun began to gild the coping stones at the gable ends of the houses, Cornelius, eager to know whether there was any living creature about him, approached the window, and cast a sad look round the circular yard before him
At the end of the yard a dark mass, tinted with a dingy blue by the morning dawn, rose before him, its dark outlines standing out in contrast to the houses already illuminated by the pale light of early morning.Cornelius recognised the gibbet. On it were suspended two shapeless trunks, which indeed were no more than bleeding skeletons.
The good people of the Hague had chopped off the flesh of its victims, but faithfully carried the remainder to the gibbet, to have a pretext for a double inscription written on a huge placard, on which Cornelius; with the keen sight of a young man of twenty-eight, was able to read the following lines, daubed by the coarse brush of a sign-painter: --
"Here are hanging the great rogue of the name of John de Witt, and the little rogue Cornelius de Witt, his brother, two enemies of the people, but great friends of the king of France."
Cornelius uttered a cry of horror, and in the agony of his frantic terror knocked with his hands and feet at the door so violently and continuously, that Gryphus, with his huge bunch of keys in his hand, ran furiously up.The jailer opened the door, with terrible imprecations against the prisoner who disturbed him at an hour which Master Gryphus was not accustomed to be aroused. "Well, now, by my soul, he is mad, this new De Witt," he cried, "but all those De Witts have the devil in them." "Master, master," cried Cornelius, seizing the jailer by the arm and dragging him towards the window, -- "master, what have I read down there?" "Where down there?" "On that placard." And, trembling, pale, and gasping for breath, he pointed to the gibbet at the other side of the yard, with the cynical inscription surmounting it. Gryphus broke out into a laugh. "Eh! eh!" he answered, "so, you have read it. Well, my good sir, that's what people will get for corresponding with the enemies of his Highness the Prince of Orange." "The brothers De Witt are murdered!" Cornelius muttered, with the cold sweat on his brow, and sank on his bed, his arms hanging by his side, and his eyes closed. "The brothers De Witt have been judged by the people," said Gryphus; "you call that murdered, do you? well, I call it executed." And seeing that the prisoner was not only quiet, but entirely prostrate and senseless, he rushed from the cell, violently slamming the door, and noisily drawing the bolts.
Recovering his consciousness, Cornelius found himself alone, and recognised the room where he was, -- "the family cell," as Gryphus had called it, -- as the fatal passage leading to ignominious death.
And as he was a philosopher, and, more than that, as he was a Christian, he began to pray for the soul of his godfather, then for that of the Grand Pensionary, and at last submitted with resignation to all the sufferings which God might ordain for him.
Then turning again to the concerns of earth, and having satisfied himself that he was alone in his dungeon, he drew from his breast the three bulbs of the black tulip, and concealed them behind a block of stone, on which the traditional water-jug of the prison was standing, in the darkest corner of his cell.
Useless labour of so many years! such sweet hopes crushed; his discovery was, after all, to lead to naught, just as his own career was to be cut short. Here, in his prison, there was not a trace of vegetation, not an atom of soil, not a ray of sunshine.At this thought Cornelius fell into a gloomy despair, from which he was only aroused by an extraordinary circumstance. What was this circumstance? We shall inform the reader in our next chapter.
10. The Jailer's Daughter
On the same evening Gryphus, as he brought the prisoner his mess, slipped on the damp flags whilst opening the door of the cell, and fell, in the attempt to steady himself, on his hand; but as it was turned the wrong way, he broke his arm just above the wrist.Cornelius rushed forward towards the jailer, but Gryphus, who was not yet aware of the serious nature of his injury, called out to him, -- "It is nothing: don't you stir." He then tried to support himself on his arm, but the bone gave way; then only he felt the pain, and uttered a cry. When he became aware that his arm was broken, this man, so harsh to others, fell swooning on the threshold, where he remained motionless and cold, as if dead.
During all this time the door of the cell stood open and Cornelius found himself almost free. But the thought never entered his mind of profiting by this accident; he had seen from the manner in which the arm was bent, and from the noise it made in bending, that the bone was fractured, and that the patient must be in great pain; and now he thought of nothing else but of administering relief to the sufferer, however little benevolent the man had shown himself during their short interview.
At the noise of Gryphus's fall, and at the cry which escaped him, a hasty step was heard on the staircase, and immediately after a lovely apparition presented itself to the eyes of Cornelius.
It was the beautiful young Frisian, who, seeing her father stretched on the ground, and the prisoner bending over him, uttered a faint cry, as in the first fright she thought Gryphus, whose brutality she well knew, had fallen in consequence of a struggle between him and the prisoner.Cornelius understood what was passing in the mind of the girl, at the very moment when the suspicion arose in her heart. But one moment told her the true state of the case and, ashamed of her first thoughts, she cast her beautiful eyes, wet with tears, on the young man, and said to him, --
"I beg your pardon, and thank you, sir; the first for what I have thought, and the second for what you are doing."
Cornelius blushed, and said, "I am but doing my duty as a Christian in helping my neighbour."
"Yes, and affording him your help this evening, you have forgotten the abuse which he heaped on you this morning. Oh, sir! this is more than humanity, -- this is indeed Christian charity."Cornelius cast his eyes on the beautiful girl, quite astonished to hear from the mouth of one so humble such a noble and feeling speech.
But he had no time to express his surprise. Gryphus recovered from his swoon, opened his eyes, and as his brutality was returning with his senses, he growled "That's it, a fellow is in a hurry to bring to a prisoner his supper, and falls and breaks his arm, and is left lying on the ground.""Hush, my father," said Rosa, "you are unjust to this gentleman, whom I found endeavouring to give you his aid." "His aid?" Gryphus replied, with a doubtful air. "It is quite true, master! I am quite ready to help you still more." "You!" said Gryphus, "are you a medical man?" "It was formerly my profession." "And so you would be able to set my arm?" "Perfectly." "And what would you need to do it? let us hear." "Two splinters of wood, and some linen for a bandage." "Do you hear, Rosa?" said Gryphus, "the prisoner is going to set my arm, that's a saving; come, assist me to get up, I feel as heavy as lead."
Rosa lent the sufferer her shoulder; he put his unhurt arm around her neck, and making an effort, got on his legs, whilst Cornelius, to save him a walk, pushed a chair towards him.Gryphus sat down; then, turning towards his daughter, he said, -- "Well, didn't you hear? go and fetch what is wanted."
Rosa went down, and immediately after returned with two staves of a small barrel and a large roll of linen bandage.
Cornelius had made use of the intervening moments to take off the man's coat, and to tuck up his shirt sleeve.
"I mean to say, sir, that the judge who is to examine you to-morrow has inquired to-day for the room in which you are confined, and, on being told that you are occupying the cell of Mynheer Cornelius de Witt, laughed in a very strange and very disagreeable manner, which makes me fear that no good awaits you.""But," asked Cornelius, "what harm can they do to me?" "Look at that gibbet." "But I am not guilty," said Cornelius. "Were they guilty whom you see down there gibbeted, mangled, and torn to pieces?" "That's true," said Cornelius, gravely.
"And besides," continued Rosa, "the people want to find you guilty. But whether innocent or guilty, your trial begins to-morrow, and the day after you will be condemned. Matters are settled very quickly in these times.""Well, and what do you conclude from all this?"
"I conclude that I am alone, that I am weak, that my father is lying in a swoon, that the dog is muzzled, and that consequently there is nothing to prevent your making your escape. Fly, then; that's what I mean."
"What do you say?"
"I say that I was not able to save Mynheer Cornelius or Mynheer John de Witt, and that I should like to save you. Only be quick; there, my father is regaining his breath, one minute more, and he will open his eyes, and it will be too late. Do you hesitate?"In fact, Cornelius stood immovable, looking at Rosa, yet looking at her as if he did not hear her. "Don't you understand me?" said the young girl, with some impatience. "Yes, I do," said Cornelius, "but ---- " "But?" "I will not, they would accuse you." "Never mind," said Rosa, blushing, "never mind that." "You are very good, my dear child," replied Cornelius, "but I stay."
"You stay, oh, sir! oh, sir! don't you understand that you will be condemned to death, executed on the scaffold, perhaps assassinated and torn to pieces, just like Mynheer John and Mynheer Cornelius. For heaven's sake, don't think of me, but fly from this place, Take care, it bears ill luck to the De Witts!""Halloa!" cried the jailer, recovering his senses, "who is talking of those rogues, those wretches, those villains, the De Witts?" "Don't be angry, my good man," said Cornelius, with his good-tempered smile, "the worst thing for a fracture is excitement, by which the blood is heated." Thereupon, he said in an undertone to Rosa -- "My child, I am innocent, and I shall await my trial with tranquillity and an easy mind." "Hush," said Rosa. "Why hush?" "My father must not suppose that we have been talking to each other." "What harm would that do?"
"What harm? He would never allow me to come here any more," said Rosa. Cornelius received this innocent confidence with a smile; he felt as if a ray of good fortune were shining on his path."Now, then, what are you chattering there together about?" said Gryphus, rising and supporting his right arm with his left. "Nothing," said Rosa; "the doctor is explaining to me what diet you are to keep." "Diet, diet for me? Well, my fine girl, I shall put you on diet too." "On what diet, my father?" "Never to go to the cells of the prisoners, and, if ever you should happen to go, to leave them as soon as possible. Come, off with me, lead the way, and be quick." Rosa and Cornelius exchanged glances. That of Rosa tried to express, -- "There, you see?" That of Cornelius said, -- "Let it be as the Lord wills."
11. Cornelius Van Baerle's Will
Rosa had not been mistaken; the judges came on the following day to the Buytenhof, and proceeded with the trial of Cornelius van Baerle. The examination, however, did not last long, it having appeared on evidence that Cornelius had kept at his house that fatal correspondence of the brothers De Witt with France.He did not deny it. The only point about which there seemed any difficulty was whether this correspondence had been intrusted to him by his godfather, Cornelius de Witt.
But as, since the death of those two martyrs, Van Baerle had no longer any reason for withholding the truth, he not only did not deny that the parcel had been delivered to him by Cornelius de Witt himself, but he also stated all the circumstances under which it was done.This confession involved the godson in the crime of the godfather; manifest complicity being considered to exist between Cornelius de Witt and Cornelius van Baerle.
The honest doctor did not confine himself to this avowal, but told the whole truth with regard to his own tastes, habits, and daily life. He described his indifference to politics, his love of study, of the fine arts, of science, and of flowers. He explained that, since the day when Cornelius de Witt handed to him the parcel at Dort, he himself had never touched, nor even noticed it.
To this it was objected, that in this respect he could not possibly be speaking the truth, since the papers had been deposited in a press in which both his hands and his eyes must have been engaged every day.
Cornelius answered that it was indeed so; that, however, he never put his hand into the press but to ascertain whether his bulbs were dry, and that he never looked into it but to see if they were beginning to sprout.
To this again it was objected, that his pretended indifference respecting this deposit was not to be reasonably entertained, as he could not have received such papers from the hand of his godfather without being made acquainted with their important character.
He replied that his godfather Cornelius loved him too well, and, above all, that he was too considerate a man to have communicated to him anything of the contents of the parcel, well knowing that such a confidence would only have caused anxiety to him who received it.
To this it was objected that, if De Witt had wished to act in such a way, he would have added to the parcel, in case of accidents, a certificate setting forth that his godson was an entire stranger to the nature of this correspondence, or at least he would during his trial have written a letter to him, which might be produced as his justification.
Cornelius replied that undoubtedly his godfather could not have thought that there was any risk for the safety of his deposit, hidden as it was in a press which was looked upon as sacred as the tabernacle by the whole household of Van Baerle; and that consequently he had considered the certificate as useless. As to a letter, he certainly had some remembrance that some moments previous to his arrest, whilst he was absorbed in the contemplation of one of the rarest of his bulbs, John de Witt's servant entered his dry-room, and handed to him a paper, but the whole was to him only like a vague dream; the servant had disappeared, and as to the paper, perhaps it might be found if a proper search were made.As far as Craeke was concerned, it was impossible to find him, as he had left Holland. The paper also was not very likely to be found, and no one gave himself the trouble to look for it.
Cornelius himself did not much press this point, since, even supposing that the paper should turn up, it could not have any direct connection with the correspondence which constituted the crime.
The judges wished to make it appear as though they wanted to urge Cornelius to make a better defence; they displayed that benevolent patience which is generally a sign of the magistrate's being interested for the prisoner, or of a man's having so completely got the better of his adversary that he needs no longer any oppressive means to ruin him.
Cornelius did not accept of this hypocritical protection, and in a last answer, which he set forth with the noble bearing of a martyr and the calm serenity of a righteous man, he said, --
"You ask me things, gentlemen, to which I can answer only the exact truth. Hear it. The parcel was put into my hands in the way I have described; I vow before God that I was, and am still, ignorant of its contents, and that it was not until my arrest that I learned that this deposit was the correspondence of the Grand Pensionary with the Marquis de Louvois. And lastly, I vow and protest that I do not understand how any one should have known that this parcel was in my house; and, above all, how I can be deemed criminal for having received what my illustrious and unfortunate godfather brought to my house." This was Van Baerle's whole defence; after which the judges began to deliberate on the verdict.They considered that every offshoot of civil discord is mischievous, because it revives the contest which it is the interest of all to put down.
One of them, who bore the character of a profound observer, laid down as his opinion that this young man, so phlegmatic in appearance, must in reality be very dangerous, as under this icy exterior he was sure to conceal an ardent desire to avenge his friends, the De Witts.
Another observed that the love of tulips agreed perfectly well with that of politics, and that it was proved in history that many very dangerous men were engaged in gardening, just as if it had been their profession, whilst really they occupied themselves with perfectly different concerns; witness Tarquin the Elder, who grew poppies at Gabii, and the Great Conde, who watered his carnations at the dungeon of Vincennes at the very moment when the former meditated his return to Rome, and the latter his escape from prison.The judge summed up with the following dilemma: --
"Either Cornelius van Baerle is a great lover of tulips, or a great lover of politics; in either case, he has told us a falsehood; first, because his having occupied himself with politics is proved by the letters which were found at his house; and secondly, because his having occupied himself with tulips is proved by the bulbs which leave no doubt of the fact. And herein lies the enormity of the case. As Cornelius van Baerle was concerned in the growing of tulips and in the pursuit of politics at one and the same time, the prisoner is of hybrid character, of an amphibious organisation, working with equal ardour at politics and at tulips, which proves him to belong to the class of men most dangerous to public tranquillity, and shows a certain, or rather a complete, analogy between his character and that of those master minds of which Tarquin the Elder and the Great Conde have been felicitously quoted as examples."
The upshot of all these reasonings was, that his Highness the Prince Stadtholder of Holland would feel infinitely obliged to the magistracy of the Hague if they simplified for him the government of the Seven Provinces by destroying even the least germ of conspiracy against his authority.
This argument capped all the others, and, in order so much the more effectually to destroy the germ of conspiracy, sentence of death was unanimously pronounced against Cornelius van Baerle, as being arraigned, and convicted, for having, under the innocent appearance of a tulip-fancier, participated in the detestable intrigues and abominable plots of the brothers De Witt against Dutch nationality and in their secret relations with their French enemy.
A supplementary clause was tacked to the sentence, to the effect that "the aforesaid Cornelius van Baerle should be led from the prison of the Buytenhof to the scaffold in the yard of the same name, where the public executioner would cut off his head."As this deliberation was a most serious affair, it lasted a full half-hour, during which the prisoner was remanded to his cell. There the Recorder of the States came to read the sentence to him.
Master Gryphus was detained in bed by the fever caused by the fracture of his arm. His keys passed into the hands of one of his assistants. Behind this turnkey, who introduced the Recorder, Rosa, the fair Frisian maid, had slipped into the recess of the door, with a handkerchief to her mouth to stifle her sobs.Cornelius listened to the sentence with an expression rather of surprise than sadness. After the sentence was read, the Recorder asked him whether he had anything to answer.
"Indeed, I have not," he replied. "Only I confess that, among all the causes of death against which a cautious man may guard, I should never have supposed this to be comprised."On this answer, the Recorder saluted Van Baerle with all that consideration which such functionaries generally bestow upon great criminals of every sort. But whilst he was about to withdraw, Cornelius asked, "By the bye, Mr. Recorder, what day is the thing -- you know what I mean -- to take place?" "Why, to-day," answered the Recorder, a little surprised by the self-possession of the condemned man. A sob was heard behind the door, and Cornelius turned round to look from whom it came; but Rosa, who had foreseen this movement, had fallen back. "And," continued Cornelius, "what hour is appointed?" "Twelve o'clock, sir."
"Indeed," said Cornelius, "I think I heard the clock strike ten about twenty minutes ago; I have not much time to spare."
"Indeed you have not, if you wish to make your peace with God," said the Recorder, bowing to the ground. "You may ask for any clergyman you please."
Saying these words he went out backwards, and the assistant turnkey was going to follow him, and to lock the door of Cornelius's cell, when a white and trembling arm interposed between him and the heavy door.
Cornelius saw nothing but the golden brocade cap, tipped with lace, such as the Frisian girls wore; he heard nothing but some one whispering into the ear of the turnkey. But the latter put his heavy keys into the white hand which was stretched out to receive them, and, descending some steps, sat down on the staircase which was thus guarded above by himself, and below by the dog. The head-dress turned round, and Cornelius beheld the face of Rosa, blanched with grief, and her beautiful eyes streaming with tears.She went up to Cornelius, crossing her arms on her heaving breast. "Oh, sir, sir!" she said, but sobs choked her utterance. "My good girl," Cornelius replied with emotion, "what do you wish? I may tell you that my time on earth is short." "I come to ask a favour of you," said Rosa, extending her arms partly towards him and partly towards heaven.
"Don't weep so, Rosa," said the prisoner, "for your tears go much more to my heart than my approaching fate, and you know, the less guilty a prisoner is, the more it is his duty to die calmly, and even joyfully, as he dies a martyr. Come, there's a dear, don't cry any more, and tell me what you want, my pretty Rosa."She fell on her knees. "Forgive my father," she said. "Your father, your father!" said Cornelius, astonished. "Yes, he has been so harsh to you; but it is his nature, he is so to every one, and you are not the only one whom he has bullied." "He is punished, my dear Rosa, more than punished, by the accident that has befallen him, and I forgive him." "I thank you, sir," said Rosa. "And now tell me -- oh, tell me -- can I do anything for you?" "You can dry your beautiful eyes, my dear child," answered Cornelius, with a goodtempered smile. "But what can I do for you, -- for you I mean?" "A man who has only one hour longer to live must be a great Sybarite still to want anything, my dear Rosa." "The clergyman whom they have proposed to you?"
"I have worshipped God all my life, I have worshipped Him in His works, and praised Him in His decrees. I am at peace with Him and do not wish for a clergyman. The last thought which occupies my mind, however has reference to the glory of the Almighty, and, indeed, my dear, I should ask you to help me in carrying out this last thought.""Oh, Mynheer Cornelius, speak, speak!" exclaimed Rosa, still bathed in tears. "Give me your hand, and promise me not to laugh, my dear child." "Laugh," exclaimed Rosa, frantic with grief, "laugh at this moment! do you not see my tears?"
"Rosa, you are no stranger to me. I have not seen much of you, but that little is enough to make me appreciate your character. I have never seen a woman more fair or more pure than you are, and if from this moment I take no more notice of you, forgive me; it is only because, on leaving this world, I do not wish to have any further regret."Rosa felt a shudder creeping over her frame, for, whilst the prisoner pronounced these words, the belfry clock of the Buytenhof struck eleven. Cornelius understood her. "Yes, yes, let us make haste," he said, "you are right, Rosa."
Then, taking the paper with the three suckers from his breast, where he had again put it, since he had no longer any fear of being searched, he said: "My dear girl, I have been very fond of flowers. That was at a time when I did not know that there was anything else to be loved. Don't blush, Rosa, nor turn away; and even if I were making you a declaration of love, alas! poor dear, it would be of no more consequence. Down there in the yard, there is an instrument of steel, which in sixty minutes will put an end to my boldness. Well, Rosa, I loved flowers dearly, and I have found, or at least I believe so, the secret of the great black tulip, which it has been considered impossible to grow, and for which, as you know, or may not know, a prize of a hundred thousand guilders has been offered by the Horticultural Society of Haarlem. These hundred thousand guilders
-- and Heaven knows I do not regret them -- these hundred thousand guilders I have here in this paper, for they are won by the three bulbs wrapped up in it, which you may take, Rosa, as I make you a present of them."
"Yes, yes, Rosa, you may take them; you are not wronging any one, my child. I am alone in this world; my parents are dead; I never had a sister or a brother. I have never had a thought of loving any one with what is called love, and if any one has loved me, I have not known it. However, you see well, Rosa, that I am abandoned by everybody, as in this sad hour you alone are with me in my prison, consoling and assisting me."
"Well, let us talk seriously, my dear child: those hundred thousand guilders will be a nice marriage portion, with your pretty face; you shall have them, Rosa, dear Rosa, and I ask nothing in return but your promise that you will marry a fine young man, whom you love, and who will love you, as dearly as I loved my flowers. Don't interrupt me, Rosa dear, I have only a few minutes more."The poor girl was nearly choking with her sobs. Cornelius took her by the hand.
"Listen to me," he continued: "I'll tell you how to manage it. Go to Dort and ask Butruysheim, my gardener, for soil from my border number six, fill a deep box with it, and plant in it these three bulbs. They will flower next May, that is to say, in seven months; and, when you see the flower forming on the stem, be careful at night to protect them from the wind, and by day to screen them from the sun. They will flower black, I am quite sure of it. You are then to apprise the President of the Haarlem Society. He will cause the color of the flower to be proved before a committee and these hundred thousand guilders will be paid to you."Rosa heaved a deep sigh.
"And now," continued Cornelius, -- wiping away a tear which was glistening in his eye, and which was shed much more for that marvellous black tulip which he was not to see than for the life which he was about to lose, -- "I have no wish left, except that the tulip should be called Rosa Barlaensis, that is to say, that its name should combine yours and mine; and as, of course, you do not understand Latin, and might therefore forget this name, try to get for me pencil and paper, that I may write it down for you."Rosa sobbed afresh, and handed to him a book, bound in shagreen, which bore the initials C. W. "What is this?" asked the prisoner.
"Alas!" replied Rosa, "it is the Bible of your poor godfather, Cornelius de Witt. From it he derived strength to endure the torture, and to bear his sentence without flinching. I found it in this cell, after the death of the martyr, and have preserved it as a relic. To-day I brought it to you, for it seemed to me that this book must possess in itself a divine power. Write in it what you have to write, Mynheer Cornelius; and though, unfortunately, I am not able to read, I will take care that what you write shall be accomplished."Cornelius took the Bible, and kissed it reverently. "With what shall I write?" asked Cornelius. "There is a pencil in the Bible," said Rosa. This was the pencil which John de Witt had lent to his brother, and which he had forgotten to take away with him. Cornelius took it, and on the second fly leaf (for it will be remembered that the first was torn out), drawing near his end like his godfather, he wrote with a no less firm hand: --
"On this day, the 23d of August, 1672, being on the point of rendering, although innocent, my soul to God on the scaffold, I bequeath to Rosa Gryphus the only worldly goods which remain to me of all that I have possessed in this world, the rest having been confiscated; I bequeath, I say, to Rosa Gryphus three bulbs, which I am convinced must produce, in the next May, the Grand Black Tulip for which a prize of a hundred thousand guilders has been offered by the Haarlem Society, requesting that she may be paid the same sum in my stead, as my sole heiress, under the only condition of her marrying a respectable young man of about my age, who loves her, and whom she loves, and of her giving the black tulip, which will constitute a new species, the name of Rosa Barlaensis, that is to say, hers and mine combined."So may God grant me mercy, and to her health and long life! "Cornelius van Baerle." The prisoner then, giving the Bible to Rosa, said, -- "Read." "Alas!" she answered, "I have already told you I cannot read." Cornelius then read to Rosa the testament that he had just made. The agony of the poor girl almost overpowered her. "Do you accept my conditions?" asked the prisoner, with a melancholy smile, kissing the trembling hands of the afflicted girl. "Oh, I don't know, sir," she stammered. "You don't know, child, and why not?" "Because there is one condition which I am afraid I cannot keep." "Which? I should have thought that all was settled between us." "You give me the hundred thousand guilders as a marriage portion, don't you? "And under the condition of my marrying a man whom I love?" "Certainly." "Well, then, sir, this money cannot belong to me. I shall never love any one; neither shall I marry." And, after having with difficulty uttered these words, Rosa almost swooned away in the violence of her grief.
Cornelius, frightened at seeing her so pale and sinking, was going to take her in his arms, when a heavy step, followed by other dismal sounds, was heard on the staircase, amidst the continued barking of the dog."They are coming to fetch you. Oh God! Oh God!" cried Rosa, wringing her hands. "And have you nothing more to tell me?" She fell on her knees with her face buried in her hands and became almost senseless.
"I have only to say, that I wish you to preserve these bulbs as a most precious treasure, and carefully to treat them according to the directions I have given you. Do it for my sake, and now farewell, Rosa.""Yes, yes," she said, without raising her head, "I will do anything you bid me, except marrying," she added, in a low voice, "for that, oh! that is impossible for me." She then put the cherished treasure next her beating heart.
The noise on the staircase which Cornelius and Rosa had heard was caused by the Recorder, who was coming for the prisoner. He was followed by the executioner, by the soldiers who were to form the guard round the scaffold, and by some curious hangerson of the prison.
Cornelius, without showing any weakness, but likewise without any bravado, received them rather as friends than as persecutors, and quietly submitted to all those preparations which these men were obliged to make in performance of their duty. Then, casting a glance into the yard through the narrow iron-barred window of his cell, he perceived the scaffold, and, at twenty paces distant from it, the gibbet, from which, by order of the Stadtholder, the outraged remains of the two brothers De Witt had been taken down.
When the moment came to descend in order to follow the guards, Cornelius sought with his eyes the angelic look of Rosa, but he saw, behind the swords and halberds, only a form lying outstretched near a wooden bench, and a deathlike face half covered with long golden locks.
But Rosa, whilst falling down senseless, still obeying her friend, had pressed her hand on her velvet bodice and, forgetting everything in the world besides, instinctively grasped the precious deposit which Cornelius had intrusted to her care.
Leaving the cell, the young man could still see in the convulsively clinched fingers of Rosa the yellowish leaf from that Bible on which Cornelius de Witt had with such difficulty and pain written these few lines, which, if Van Baerle had read them, would undoubtedly have been the saving of a man and a tulip.
12. The Execution
Cornelius had not three hundred paces to walk outside the prison to reach the foot of the scaffold. At the bottom of the staircase, the dog quietly looked at him whilst he was passing; Cornelius even fancied he saw in the eyes of the monster a certain expression as it were of compassion.The dog perhaps knew the condemned prisoners, and only bit those who left as free men. The shorter the way from the door of the prison to the foot of the scaffold, the more fully, of course, it was crowded with curious people. These were the same who, not satisfied with the blood which they had shed three days before, were now craving for a new victim.
And scarcely had Cornelius made his appearance than a fierce groan ran through the whole street, spreading all over the yard, and re-echoing from the streets which led to the scaffold, and which were likewise crowded with spectators.The scaffold indeed looked like an islet at the confluence of several rivers. In the midst of these threats, groans, and yells, Cornelius, very likely in order not to hear them, had buried himself in his own thoughts. And what did he think of in his last melancholy journey? Neither of his enemies, nor of his judges, nor of his executioners.
He thought of the beautiful tulips which he would see from heaven above, at Ceylon, or Bengal, or elsewhere, when he would be able to look with pity on this earth, where John and Cornelius de Witt had been murdered for having thought too much of politics, and where Cornelius van Baerle was about to be murdered for having thought too much of tulips."It is only one stroke of the axe," said the philosopher to himself, "and my beautiful dream will begin to be realised."
Only there was still a chance, just as it had happened before to M. de Chalais, to M. de Thou, and other slovenly executed people, that the headsman might inflict more than one stroke, that is to say, more than one martyrdom, on the poor tulip-fancier. Yet, notwithstanding all this, Van Baerle mounted the scaffold not the less resolutely, proud of having been the friend of that illustrious John, and godson of that noble Cornelius de Witt, whom the ruffians, who were now crowding to witness his own doom, had torn to pieces and burnt three days before.
He knelt down, said his prayers, and observed, not without a feeling of sincere joy, that, laying his head on the block, and keeping his eyes open, he would be able to his last moment to see the grated window of the Buytenhof.
At length the fatal moment arrived, and Cornelius placed his chin on the cold damp block. But at this moment his eyes closed involuntarily, to receive more resolutely the terrible avalanche which was about to fall on his head, and to engulf his life.A gleam like that of lightning passed across the scaffold: it was the executioner raising his sword. Van Baerle bade farewell to the great black tulip, certain of awaking in another world full of light and glorious tints. Three times he felt, with a shudder, the cold current of air from the knife near his neck, but what a surprise! he felt neither pain nor shock. He saw no change in the colour of the sky, or of the world around him. Then suddenly Van Baerle felt gentle hands raising him, and soon stood on his feet again, although trembling a little. He looked around him. There was some one by his side, reading a large parchment, sealed with a huge seal of red wax.
And the same sun, yellow and pale, as it behooves a Dutch sun to be, was shining in the skies; and the same grated window looked down upon him from the Buytenhof; and the same rabble, no longer yelling, but completely thunderstruck, were staring at him from the streets below.Van Baerle began to be sensible to what was going on around him.
His Highness, William, Prince of Orange, very likely afraid that Van Baerle's blood would turn the scale of judgment against him, had compassionately taken into consideration his good character, and the apparent proofs of his innocence.His Highness, accordingly, had granted him his life.
Cornelius at first hoped that the pardon would be complete, and that he would be restored to his full liberty and to his flower borders at Dort.
But Cornelius was mistaken. To use an expression of Madame de Sevigne, who wrote about the same time, "there was a postscript to the letter;" and the most important part of the letter was contained in the postscript.
In this postscript, William of Orange, Stadtholder of Holland, condemned Cornelius van Baerle to imprisonment for life. He was not sufficiently guilty to suffer death, but he was too much so to be set at liberty.Cornelius heard this clause, but, the first feeling of vexation and disappointment over, he said to himself, -- "Never mind, all this is not lost yet; there is some good in this perpetual imprisonment; Rosa will be there, and also my three bulbs of the black tulip are there."
But Cornelius forgot that the Seven Provinces had seven prisons, one for each, and that the board of the prisoner is anywhere else less expensive than at the Hague, which is a capital.
His Highness, who, as it seems, did not possess the means to feed Van Baerle at the Hague, sent him to undergo his perpetual imprisonment at the fortress of Loewestein, very near Dort, but, alas! also very far from it; for Loewestein, as the geographers tell us, is situated at the point of the islet which is formed by the confluence of the Waal and the Meuse, opposite Gorcum.
Van Baerle was sufficiently versed in the history of his country to know that the celebrated Grotius was confined in that castle after the death of Barneveldt; and that the States, in their generosity to the illustrious publicist, jurist, historian, poet, and divine, had granted to him for his daily maintenance the sum of twenty-four stivers."I," said Van Baerle to himself, "I am worth much less than Grotius. They will hardly give me twelve stivers, and I shall live miserably; but never mind, at all events I shall live." Then suddenly a terrible thought struck him. "Ah!" he exclaimed, "how damp and misty that part of the country is, and the soil so bad for the tulips! And then Rosa will not be at Loewestein!"
13. What was going on all this TimeWhilst Cornelius was engaged with his own thoughts, a coach had driven up to the scaffold. This vehicle was for the prisoner. He was invited to enter it, and he obeyed. His last look was towards the Buytenhof. He hoped to see at the window the face of Rosa, brightening up again.
But the coach was drawn by good horses, who soon carried Van Baerle away from among the shouts which the rabble roared in honour of the most magnanimous Stadtholder, mixing with it a spice of abuse against the brothers De Witt and the godson of Cornelius, who had just now been saved from death.This reprieve suggested to the worthy spectators remarks such as the following: --
"It's very fortunate that we used such speed in having justice done to that great villain John, and to that little rogue Cornelius, otherwise his Highness might have snatched them from us, just as he has done this fellow."
Among all the spectators whom Van Baerle's execution had attracted to the Buytenhof, and whom the sudden turn of affairs had disagreeably surprised, undoubtedly the one most disappointed was a certain respectably dressed burgher, who from early morning had made such a good use of his feet and elbows that he at last was separated from the scaffold only by the file of soldiers which surrounded it.Many had shown themselves eager to see the perfidious blood of the guilty Cornelius flow, but not one had shown such a keen anxiety as the individual just alluded to.
The most furious had come to the Buytenhof at daybreak, to secure a better place; but he, outdoing even them, had passed the night at the threshold of the prison, from whence, as we have already said, he had advanced to the very foremost rank, unguibus et rostro, -- that is to say, coaxing some, and kicking the others.
And when the executioner had conducted the prisoner to the scaffold, the burgher, who had mounted on the stone of the pump the better to see and be seen, made to the executioner a sign which meant, --"It's a bargain, isn't it?" The executioner answered by another sign, which was meant to say, --
"Be quiet, it's all right."
This burgher was no other than Mynheer Isaac Boxtel, who since the arrest of Cornelius had come to the Hague to try if he could not get hold of the three bulbs of the black tulip.
Boxtel had at first tried to gain over Gryphus to his interest, but the jailer had not only the snarling fierceness, but likewise the fidelity, of a dog. He had therefore bristled up at Boxtel's hatred, whom he had suspected to be a warm friend of the prisoner, making trifling inquiries to contrive with the more certainty some means of escape for him.
Thus to the very first proposals which Boxtel made to Gryphus to filch the bulbs which Cornelius van Baerle must be supposed to conceal, if not in his breast, at least in some corner of his cell, the surly jailer had only answered by kicking Mynheer Isaac out, and setting the dog at him.
The piece which the mastiff had torn from his hose did not discourage Boxtel. He came back to the charge, but this time Gryphus was in bed, feverish, and with a broken arm. He therefore was not able to admit the petitioner, who then addressed himself to Rosa, offering to buy her a head-dress of pure gold if she would get the bulbs for him. On this, the generous girl, although not yet knowing the value of the object of the robbery, which was to be so well remunerated, had directed the tempter to the executioner, as the heir of the prisoner.
In the meanwhile the sentence had been pronounced. Thus Isaac had no more time to bribe any one. He therefore clung to the idea which Rosa had suggested: he went to the executioner.Isaac had not the least doubt that Cornelius would die with the bulbs on his heart. But there were two things which Boxtel did not calculate upon: -- Rosa, that is to say, love; William of Orange, that is to say, clemency. But for Rosa and William, the calculations of the envious neighbour would have been correct. But for William, Cornelius would have died. But for Rosa, Cornelius would have died with his bulbs on his heart.
Mynheer Boxtel went to the headsman, to whom he gave himself out as a great friend of the condemned man; and from whom he bought all the clothes of the dead man that was to be, for one hundred guilders; rather an exorbitant sum, as he engaged to leave all the trinkets of gold and silver to the executioner.
But what was the sum of a hundred guilders to a man who was all but sure to buy with it the prize of the Haarlem Society?
The headsman, on the other hand, had scarcely anything to do to earn his hundred guilders. He needed only, as soon as the execution was over, to allow Mynheer Boxtel to ascend the scaffold with his servants, to remove the inanimate remains of his friend.The thing was, moreover, quite customary among the "faithful brethren," when one of their masters died a public death in the yard of the Buytenhof. A fanatic like Cornelius might very easily have found another fanatic who would give a hundred guilders for his remains. The executioner also readily acquiesced in the proposal, making only one condition, -- that of being paid in advance. Boxtel, like the people who enter a show at a fair, might be disappointed, and refuse to pay on going out. Boxtel paid in advance, and waited.
After this, the reader may imagine how excited Boxtel was; with what anxiety he watched the guards, the Recorder, and the executioner; and with what intense interest he surveyed the movements of Van Baerle. How would he place himself on the block? how would he fall? and would he not, in falling, crush those inestimable bulbs? had not he at least taken care to enclose them in a golden box, -- as gold is the hardest of all metals?Every trifling delay irritated him. Why did that stupid executioner thus lose time in brandishing his sword over the head of Cornelius, instead of cutting that head off?
But when he saw the Recorder take the hand of the condemned, and raise him, whilst drawing forth the parchment from his pocket, -- when he heard the pardon of the Stadtholder publicly read out, -- then Boxtel was no more like a human being; the rage and malice of the tiger, of the hyena, and of the serpent glistened in his eyes, and vented itself in his yell and his movements. Had he been able to get at Van Baerle, he would have pounced upon him and strangled him.
And so, then, Cornelius was to live, and was to go with him to Loewestein, and thither to his prison he would take with him his bulbs; and perhaps he would even find a garden where the black tulip would flower for him.
Boxtel, quite overcome by his frenzy, fell from the stone upon some Orangemen, who, like him, were sorely vexed at the turn which affairs had taken. They, mistaking the frantic cries of Mynheer Isaac for demonstrations of joy, began to belabour him with kicks and cuffs, such as could not have been administered in better style by any prizefighter on the other side of the Channel.
Blows were, however, nothing to him. He wanted to run after the coach which was carrying away Cornelius with his bulbs. But in his hurry he overlooked a paving-stone in his way, stumbled, lost his centre of gravity, rolled over to a distance of some yards, and only rose again, bruised and begrimed, after the whole rabble of the Hague, with their muddy feet, had passed over him.
One would think that this was enough for one day, but Mynheer Boxtel did not seem to think so, as, in addition to having his clothes torn, his back bruised, and his hands scratched, he inflicted upon himself the further punishment of tearing out his hair by handfuls, as an offering to that goddess of envy who, as mythology teaches us, wears a head-dress of serpents.
14. The Pigeons of DortIt was indeed in itself a great honour for Cornelius van Baerle to be confined in the same prison which had once received the learned master Grotius.
But on arriving at the prison he met with an honour even greater. As chance would have it, the cell formerly inhabited by the illustrious Barneveldt happened to be vacant, when the clemency of the Prince of Orange sent the tulip-fancier Van Baerle there.
The cell had a very bad character at the castle since the time when Grotius, by means of the device of his wife, made escape from it in that famous book-chest which the jailers forgot to examine.
On the other hand, it seemed to Van Baerle an auspicious omen that this very cell was assigned to him, for according to his ideas, a jailer ought never to have given to a second pigeon the cage from which the first had so easily flown.
The cell had an historical character. We will only state here that, with the exception of an alcove which was contrived there for the use of Madame Grotius, it differed in no respect from the other cells of the prison; only, perhaps, it was a little higher, and had a splendid view from the grated window.
Cornelius felt himself perfectly indifferent as to the place where he had to lead an existence which was little more than vegetation. There were only two things now for which he cared, and the possession of which was a happiness enjoyed only in imagination.A flower, and a woman; both of them, as he conceived, lost to him for ever. Fortunately the good doctor was mistaken. In his prison cell the most adventurous life which ever fell to the lot of any tulip-fancier was reserved for him.
One morning, whilst at his window inhaling the fresh air which came from the river, and casting a longing look to the windmills of his dear old city Dort, which were looming in the distance behind a forest of chimneys, he saw flocks of pigeons coming from that quarter to perch fluttering on the pointed gables of Loewestein.
These pigeons, Van Baerle said to himself, are coming from Dort, and consequently may return there. By fastening a little note to the wing of one of these pigeons, one might have a chance to send a message there. Then, after a few moments' consideration, he exclaimed, --
"I will do it."
A man grows very patient who is twenty-eight years of age, and condemned to a prison for life, -- that is to say, to something like twenty-two or twenty-three thousand days of captivity.
Van Baerle, from whose thoughts the three bulbs were never absent, made a snare for catching the pigeons, baiting the birds with all the resources of his kitchen, such as it was for eight slivers (sixpence English) a day; and, after a month of unsuccessful attempts, he at last caught a female bird.
It cost him two more months to catch a male bird; he then shut them up together, and having about the beginning of the year 1673 obtained some eggs from them, he released the female, which, leaving the male behind to hatch the eggs in her stead, flew joyously to Dort, with the note under her wing.She returned in the evening. She had preserved the note. Thus it went on for fifteen days, at first to the disappointment, and then to the great grief, of Van Baerle. On the sixteenth day, at last, she came back without it.
Van Baerle had addressed it to his nurse, the old Frisian woman; and implored any charitable soul who might find it to convey it to her as safely and as speedily as possible.In this letter there was a little note enclosed for Rosa. Van Baerle's nurse had received the letter in the following way. Leaving Dort, Mynheer Isaac Boxtel had abandoned, not only his house, his servants, his observatory, and his telescope, but also his pigeons. The servant, having been left without wages, first lived on his little savings, and then on his master's pigeons. Seeing this, the pigeons emigrated from the roof of Isaac Boxtel to that of Cornelius van Baerle.
The nurse was a kind-hearted woman, who could not live without something to love. She conceived an affection for the pigeons which had thrown themselves on her hospitality; and when Boxtel's servant reclaimed them with culinary intentions, having eaten the first fifteen already, and now wishing to eat the other fifteen, she offered to buy them from him for a consideration of six stivers per head.
This being just double their value, the man was very glad to close the bargain, and the nurse found herself in undisputed possession of the pigeons of her master's envious neighbour.
In the course of their wanderings, these pigeons with others visited the Hague, Loewestein, and Rotterdam, seeking variety, doubtless, in the flavour of their wheat or hempseed.Chance, or rather God, for we can see the hand of God in everything, had willed that Cornelius van Baerle should happen to hit upon one of these very pigeons.
Therefore, if the envious wretch had not left Dort to follow his rival to the Hague in the first place, and then to Gorcum or to Loewestein, -- for the two places are separated only by the confluence of the Waal and the Meuse, -- Van Baerle's letter would have fallen into his hands and not the nurse's: in which event the poor prisoner, like the raven of the Roman cobbler, would have thrown away his time, his trouble, and, instead of having to relate the series of exciting events which are about to flow from beneath our pen like the varied hues of a many coloured tapestry, we should have naught to describe but a weary waste of days, dull and melancholy and gloomy as night's dark mantle.The note, as we have said, had reached Van Baerle's nurse.
And also it came to pass, that one evening in the beginning of February, just when the stars were beginning to twinkle, Cornelius heard on the staircase of the little turret a voice which thrilled through him.He put his hand on his heart, and listened. It was the sweet harmonious voice of Rosa.
Let us confess it, Cornelius was not so stupefied with surprise, or so beyond himself with joy, as he would have been but for the pigeon, which, in answer to his letter, had brought back hope to him under her empty wing; and, knowing Rosa, he expected, if the note had ever reached her, to hear of her whom he loved, and also of his three darling bulbs.He rose, listened once more, and bent forward towards the door. Yes, they were indeed the accents which had fallen so sweetly on his heart at the Hague.
The question now was, whether Rosa, who had made the journey from the Hague to Loewestein, and who -- Cornelius did not understand how -- had succeeded even in penetrating into the prison, would also be fortunate enough in penetrating to the prisoner himself.
Whilst Cornelius, debating this point within himself, was building all sorts of castles in the air, and was struggling between hope and fear, the shutter of the grating in the door opened, and Rosa, beaming with joy, and beautiful in her pretty national costume -- but still more beautiful from the grief which for the last five months had blanched her cheeks
-- pressed her little face against the wire grating of the window, saying to him, --
"Listen to me, I'll try to tell you all in a few words. The Stadtholder has a country-house, one league distant from Leyden, properly speaking a kind of large dairy, and my aunt, who was his nurse, has the management of it. As soon as I received your letter, which, alas! I could not read myself, but which your housekeeper read to me, I hastened to my aunt; there I remained until the Prince should come to the dairy; and when he came, I asked him as a favour to allow my father to exchange his post at the prison of the Hague with the jailer of the fortress of Loewestein. The Prince could not have suspected my object; had he known it, he would have refused my request, but as it is he granted it.""And so you are here?" "As you see." "And thus I shall see you every day?" "As often as I can manage it." "Oh, Rosa, my beautiful Rosa, do you love me a little?"
"A little?" she said, "you make no great pretensions, Mynheer Cornelius." Cornelius tenderly stretched out his hands towards her, but they were only able to touch each other with the tips of their fingers through the wire grating."Here is my father," said she. Rosa then abruptly drew back from the door, and ran to meet old Gryphus, who made his appearance at the top of the staircase.
15. The Little Grated WindowGryphus was followed by the mastiff. The turnkey took the animal round the jail, so that, if needs be, he might recognize the prisoners. "Father," said Rosa, "here is the famous prison from which Mynheer Grotius escaped. You know Mynheer Grotius?"
"Oh, yes, that rogue Grotius, a friend of that villain Barneveldt, whom I saw executed when I was a child. Ah! so Grotius; and that's the chamber from which he escaped. Well, I'll answer for it that no one shall escape after him in my time."And thus opening the door, he began in the dark to talk to the prisoner.
The dog, on his part, went up to the prisoner, and, growling, smelled about his legs just as though to ask him what right he had still to be alive, after having left the prison in the company of the Recorder and the executioner.But the fair Rosa called him to her side.
"Well, my master," said Gryphus, holding up his lantern to throw a little light around, "you see in me your new jailer. I am head turnkey, and have all the cells under my care. I am not vicious, but I'm not to be trifled with, as far as discipline goes.""My good Master Gryphus, I know you perfectly well," said the prisoner, approaching within the circle of light cast around by the lantern. "Halloa! that's you, Mynheer van Baerle," said Gryphus. "That's you; well, I declare, it's astonishing how people do meet." "Oh, yes; and it's really a great pleasure to me, good Master Gryphus, to see that your arm is doing well, as you are able to hold your lantern with it." Gryphus knitted his brow. "Now, that's just it," he said, "people always make blunders in politics. His Highness has granted you your life; I'm sure I should never have done so." "Don't say so," replied Cornelius; "why not?"
"Because you are the very man to conspire again. You learned people have dealings with the devil."
"Nonsense, Master Gryphus. Are you dissatisfied with the manner in which I have set your arm, or with the price that I asked you?" said Cornelius, laughing.
"On the contrary," growled the jailer, "you have set it only too well. There is some witchcraft in this. After six weeks, I was able to use it as if nothing had happened, so much so, that the doctor of the Buytenhof, who knows his trade well, wanted to break it again, to set it in the regular way, and promised me that I should have my blessed three months for my money before I should be able to move it.""And you did not want that?" "I said, 'Nay, as long as I can make the sign of the cross with that arm' (Gryphus was a Roman Catholic), 'I laugh at the devil.'" "But if you laugh at the devil, Master Gryphus, you ought with so much more reason to laugh at learned people."
"Ah, learned people, learned people! Why, I would rather have to guard ten soldiers than one scholar. The soldiers smoke, guzzle, and get drunk; they are gentle as lambs if you only give them brandy or Moselle, but scholars, and drink, smoke, and fuddle -- ah, yes, that's altogether different. They keep sober, spend nothing, and have their heads always clear to make conspiracies. But I tell you, at the very outset, it won't be such an easy matter for you to conspire. First of all, you will have no books, no paper, and no conjuring book. It's books that helped Mynheer Grotius to get off.""I assure you, Master Gryphus," replied Van Baerle, "that if I have entertained the idea of escaping, I most decidedly have it no longer." "Well, well," said Gryphus, "just look sharp: that's what I shall do also. But, for all that, I say his Highness has made a great mistake." "Not to have cut off my head? thank you, Master Gryphus." "Just so, look whether the Mynheer de Witt don't keep very quiet now."
"That's very shocking what you say now, Master Gryphus," cried Van Baerle, turning away his head to conceal his disgust. "You forget that one of those unfortunate gentlemen was my friend, and the other my second father.""Yes, but I also remember that the one, as well as the other, was a conspirator. And, moreover, I am speaking from Christian charity." "Oh, indeed! explain that a little to me, my good Master Gryphus. I do not quite understand it." "Well, then, if you had remained on the block of Master Harbruck ---- " "What?" "You would not suffer any longer; whereas, I will not disguise it from you, I shall lead you a sad life of it." "Thank you for the promise, Master Gryphus." And whilst the prisoner smiled ironically at the old jailer, Rosa, from the outside, answered by a bright smile, which carried sweet consolation to the heart of Van Baerle. Gryphus stepped towards the window. It was still light enough to see, although indistinctly, through the gray haze of the evening, the vast expanse of the horizon. "What view has one from here?" asked Gryphus. "Why, a very fine and pleasant one," said Cornelius, looking at Rosa. "Yes, yes, too much of a view, too much." And at this moment the two pigeons, scared by the sight and especially by the voice of the stranger, left their nest, and disappeared, quite frightened in the evening mist. "Halloa! what's this?" cried Gryphus. "My pigeons," answered Cornelius. "Your pigeons," cried the jailer, "your pigeons! has a prisoner anything of his own?" "Why, then," said Cornelius, "the pigeons which a merciful Father in Heaven has lent to me."
"So, here we have a breach of the rules already," replied Gryphus. "Pigeons! ah, young man, young man! I'll tell you one thing, that before to-morrow is over, your pigeons will boil in my pot.""First of all you should catch them, Master Gryphus. You won't allow these pigeons to be mine! Well, I vow they are even less yours than mine."
"Omittance is no acquittance," growled the jailer, "and I shall certainly wring their necks before twenty-four hours are over: you may be sure of that."
Whilst giving utterance to this ill-natured promise, Gryphus put his head out of the window to examine the nest. This gave Van Baerle time to run to the door, and squeeze the hand of Rosa, who whispered to him, --
Gryphus, quite taken up with the desire of catching the pigeons next day, as he had promised he would do, saw and heard nothing of this short interlude; and, after having closed the window, he took the arm of his daughter, left the cell, turned the key twice, drew the bolts, and went off to make the same kind promise to the other prisoners.
He had scarcely withdrawn, when Cornelius went to the door to listen to the sound of his footsteps, and, as soon as they had died away, he ran to the window, and completely demolished the nest of the pigeons.
Rather than expose them to the tender mercies of his bullying jailer, he drove away for ever those gentle messengers to whom he owed the happiness of having seen Rosa again.
This visit of the jailer, his brutal threats, and the gloomy prospect of the harshness with which, as he had before experienced, Gryphus watched his prisoners, -- all this was unable to extinguish in Cornelius the sweet thoughts, and especially the sweet hope, which the presence of Rosa had reawakened in his heart.He waited eagerly to hear the clock of the tower of Loewestein strike nine.
The last chime was still vibrating through the air, when Cornelius heard on the staircase the light step and the rustle of the flowing dress of the fair Frisian maid, and soon after a light appeared at the little grated window in the door, on which the prisoner fixed his earnest gaze.The shutter opened on the outside. "Here I am," said Rosa, out of breath from running up the stairs, "here I am." "Oh, my good Rosa." "You are then glad to see me?" "Can you ask? But how did you contrive to get here? tell me."
"Now listen to me. My father falls asleep every evening almost immediately after his supper; I then make him lie down, a little stupefied with his gin. Don't say anything about it, because, thanks to this nap, I shall be able to come every evening and chat for an hour with you."
"Oh, I thank you, Rosa, dear Rosa."
"They would have belonged to me after your death, but, fortunately, you are alive now. Oh how I blessed his Highness in my heart! If God grants to him all the happiness that I have wished him, certainly Prince William will be the happiest man on earth. When I looked at the Bible of your godfather Cornelius, I was resolved to bring back to you your bulbs, only I did not know how to accomplish it. I had, however, already formed the plan of going to the Stadtholder, to ask from him for my father the appointment of jailer of Loewestein, when your housekeeper brought me your letter. Oh, how we wept together! But your letter only confirmed me the more in my resolution. I then left for Leyden, and the rest you know.""What, my dear Rosa, you thought, even before receiving my letter, of coming to meet me again?" "If I thought of it," said Rosa, allowing her love to get the better of her bashfulness, "I thought of nothing else."
And, saying these words, Rosa looked so exceedingly pretty, that for the second time Cornelius placed his forehead and lips against the wire grating; of course, we must presume with the laudable desire to thank the young lady.Rosa, however, drew back as before.
"In truth," she said, with that coquetry which somehow or other is in the heart of every young girl, "I have often been sorry that I am not able to read, but never so much so as when your housekeeper brought me your letter. I kept the paper in my hands, which spoke to other people, and which was dumb to poor stupid me.""So you have often regretted not being able to read," said Cornelius. "I should just like to know on what occasions." "Troth," she said, laughing, "to read all the letters which were written to me." "Oh, you received letters, Rosa?" "By hundreds." "But who wrote to you?"
"Who! why, in the first place, all the students who passed over the Buytenhof, all the officers who went to parade, all the clerks, and even the merchants who saw me at my little window.""And what did you do with all these notes, my dear Rosa?"
"Formerly," she answered, "I got some friend to read them to me, which was capital fun, but since a certain time -- well, what use is it to attend to all this nonsense? -- since a certain time I have burnt them.""Since a certain time!" exclaimed Cornelius, with a look beaming with love and joy.
Rosa cast down her eyes, blushing. In her sweet confusion, she did not observe the lips of Cornelius, which, alas! only met the cold wire-grating. Yet, in spite of this obstacle, they communicated to the lips of the young girl the glowing breath of the most tender kiss.
At this sudden outburst of tenderness, Rosa grew very pale, -- perhaps paler than she had been on the day of the execution. She uttered a plaintive sob, closed her fine eyes, and fled, trying in vain to still the beating of her heart.And thus Cornelius was again alone. Rosa had fled so precipitately, that she completely forgot to return to Cornelius the three bulbs of the Black Tulip.
16. Master and PupilThe worthy Master Gryphus, as the reader may have seen, was far from sharing the kindly feeling of his daughter for the godson of Cornelius de Witt. There being only five prisoners at Loewestein, the post of turnkey was not a very onerous one, but rather a sort of sinecure, given after a long period of service.
But the worthy jailer, in his zeal, had magnified with all the power of his imagination the importance of his office. To him Cornelius had swelled to the gigantic proportions of a criminal of the first order. He looked upon him, therefore, as the most dangerous of all his prisoners. He watched all his steps, and always spoke to him with an angry countenance; punishing him for what he called his dreadful rebellion against such a clement prince as the Stadtholder.
Three times a day he entered Van Baerle's cell, expecting to find him trespassing; but Cornelius had ceased to correspond, since his correspondent was at hand. It is even probable that, if Cornelius had obtained his full liberty, with permission to go wherever he liked, the prison, with Rosa and his bulbs, would have appeared to him preferable to any other habitation in the world without Rosa and his bulbs.Rosa, in fact, had promised to come and see him every evening, and from the first evening she had kept her word.
On the following evening she went up as before, with the same mysteriousness and the same precaution. Only she had this time resolved within herself not to approach too near the grating. In order, however, to engage Van Baerle in a conversation from the very first which would seriously occupy his attention, she tendered to him through the grating the three bulbs, which were still wrapped up in the same paper.But to the great astonishment of Rosa, Van Baerle pushed back her white hand with the tips of his fingers. The young man had been considering about the matter.
"Listen to me," he said. "I think we should risk too much by embarking our whole fortune in one ship. Only think, my dear Rosa, that the question is to carry out an enterprise which until now has been considered impossible, namely, that of making the great black tulip flower. Let us, therefore, take every possible precaution, so that in case of a failure we may not have anything to reproach ourselves with. I will now tell you the way I have traced out for us."
Rosa was all attention to what he would say, much more on account of the importance which the unfortunate tulip-fancier attached to it, than that she felt interested in the matter herself.
"After having chosen the soil, and, if it be necessary, modified it, we will divide our three bulbs; you will take one and plant it, on the day that I will tell you, in the soil chosen by me. It is sure to flower, if you tend it according to my directions.""I will not lose sight of it for a minute."
"You will give me another, which I will try to grow here in my cell, and which will help me to beguile those long weary hours when I cannot see you. I confess to you I have very little hope for the latter one, and I look beforehand on this unfortunate bulb as sacrificed to my selfishness. However, the sun sometimes visits me. I will, besides, try to convert everything into an artificial help, even the heat and the ashes of my pipe, and lastly, we, or rather you, will keep in reserve the third sucker as our last resource, in case our first two experiments should prove a failure. In this manner, my dear Rosa, it is impossible that we should not succeed in gaining the hundred thousand guilders for your marriage portion; and how dearly shall we enjoy that supreme happiness of seeing our work brought to a successful issue!"
"I know it all now," said Rosa. "I will bring you the soil to-morrow, and you will choose it for your bulb and for mine. As to that in which yours is to grow, I shall have several journeys to convey it to you, as I cannot bring much at a time."
"There is no hurry for it, dear Rosa; our tulips need not be put into the ground for a month at least. So you see we have plenty of time before us. Only I hope that, in planting your bulb, you will strictly follow all my instructions."
"I promise you I will."
"And when you have once planted it, you will communicate to me all the circumstances which may interest our nursling; such as change of weather, footprints on the walks, or footprints in the borders. You will listen at night whether our garden is not resorted to by cats. A couple of those untoward animals laid waste two of my borders at Dort."
"Well, on moonlight nights you will observe whether any rats come out from the holes in the wall. The rats are most mischievous by their gnawing everything; and I have heard unfortunate tulip-growers complain most bitterly of Noah for having put a couple of rats in the ark.""I will observe, and if there are cats or rats ---- "
"You will apprise me of it, -- that's right. And, moreover," Van Baerle, having become mistrustful in his captivity, continued, "there is an animal much more to be feared than even the cat or the rat.""What animal?"
"Man. You comprehend, my dear Rosa, a man may steal a guilder, and risk the prison for such a trifle, and, consequently, it is much more likely that some one might steal a hundred thousand guilders.""No one ever enters the garden but myself." "Thank you, thank you, my dear Rosa. All the joy of my life has still to come from you."
And as the lips of Van Baerle approached the grating with the same ardor as the day before, and as, moreover, the hour for retiring had struck, Rosa drew back her head, and stretched out her hand.In this pretty little hand, of which the coquettish damsel was particularly proud, was the bulb.
Cornelius kissed most tenderly the tips of her fingers. Did he do so because the hand kept one of the bulbs of the great black tulip, or because this hand was Rosa's? We shall leave this point to the decision of wiser heads than ours.
Rosa withdrew with the other two suckers, pressing them to her heart.
Did she press them to her heart because they were the bulbs of the great black tulip, or because she had them from Cornelius?
A large jug, which Cornelius had skilfully broken, did service as a flower-pot. He half filled it, and mixed the earth of the garden with a small portion of dried river mud, a mixture which formed an excellent soil.Then, at the beginning of April, he planted his first sucker in that jug. Not a day passed on which Rosa did not come to have her chat with Cornelius.
The tulips, concerning whose cultivation Rosa was taught all the mysteries of the art, formed the principal topic of the conversation; but, interesting as the subject was, people cannot always talk about tulips.They therefore began to chat also about other things, and the tulip-fancier found out to his great astonishment what a vast range of subjects a conversation may comprise. Only Rosa had made it a habit to keep her pretty face invariably six inches distant from the grating, having perhaps become distrustful of herself. There was one thing especially which gave Cornelius almost as much anxiety as his bulbs -- a subject to which he always returned -- the dependence of Rosa on her father.
Indeed, Van Baerle's happiness depended on the whim of this man. He might one day find Loewestein dull, or the air of the place unhealthy, or the gin bad, and leave the fortress, and take his daughter with him, when Cornelius and Rosa would again be separated.
"Of what use would the carrier pigeons then be?" said Cornelius to Rosa, "as you, my dear girl, would not be able to read what I should write to you, nor to write to me your thoughts in return.""Well," answered Rosa, who in her heart was as much afraid of a separation as Cornelius himself, "we have one hour every evening, let us make good use of it." "I don't think we make such a bad use of it as it is."
"Let us employ it even better," said Rosa, smiling. "Teach me to read and write. I shall make the best of your lessons, believe me; and, in this way, we shall never be separated any more, except by our own will.""Oh, then, we have an eternity before us," said Cornelius. Rosa smiled, and quietly shrugged her shoulders.
"Will you remain for ever in prison?" she said, "and after having granted you your life, will not his Highness also grant you your liberty? And will you not then recover your fortune, and be a rich man, and then, when you are driving in your own coach, riding your own horse, will you still look at poor Rosa, the daughter of a jailer, scarcely better than a hangman?"Cornelius tried to contradict her, and certainly he would have done so with all his heart, and with all the sincerity of a soul full of love. She, however, smilingly interrupted him, saying, "How is your tulip going on?" To speak to Cornelius of his tulip was an expedient resorted to by her to make him forget everything, even Rosa herself.
"Very well, indeed," he said, "the coat is growing black, the sprouting has commenced, the veins of the bulb are swelling, in eight days hence, and perhaps sooner, we may distinguish the first buds of the leaves protruding. And yours Rosa?""Oh, I have done things on a large scale, and according to your directions." "Now, let me hear, Rosa, what you have done," said Cornelius, with as tender an anxiety as he had lately shown to herself.
"Well," she said, smiling, for in her own heart she could not help studying this double love of the prisoner for herself and for the black tulip, "I have done things on a large scale; I have prepared a bed as you described it to me, on a clear spot, far from trees and walls, in a soil slightly mixed with sand, rather moist than dry without a fragment of stone or pebble.""Well done, Rosa, well done."
"I am now only waiting for your further orders to put in the bulb, you know that I must be behindhand with you, as I have in my favour all the chances of good air, of the sun, and abundance of moisture."
"All true, all true," exclaimed Cornelius, clapping his hands with joy, "you are a good pupil, Rosa, and you are sure to gain your hundred thousand guilders."