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The Black Tulip

The Black Tulip

Alexandre Dumas

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 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 shad_ark, with its tall trees, spreading over its Gothic houses, with its canal_ike large mirrors, in which its steeples and its almost Eastern cupolas ar_eflected, — 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 th_uytenhof, a terrible prison, the grated windows of which are still shown, where, on the charge of attempted murder preferred against him by the surgeo_yckelaer, Cornelius de Witt, the brother of the Grand Pensionary of Hollan_as confined.
  • If the history of that time, and especially that of the year in the middle o_hich our narrative commences, were not indissolubly connected with the tw_ames just mentioned, the few explanatory pages which we are about to ad_ight appear quite supererogatory; but we will, from the very first, appris_he reader — our old friend, to whom we are wont on the first page to promis_musement, and with whom we always try to keep our word as well as is in ou_ower — that this explanation is as indispensable to the right understandin_f 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 State_f Holland, was forty-nine years of age, when the Dutch people, tired of th_epublic such as John de Witt, the Grand Pensionary of Holland, understood it, at once conceived a most violent affection for the Stadtholderate, which ha_een abolished for ever in Holland by the "Perpetual Edict" forced by John d_itt upon the United Provinces.
  • As it rarely happens that public opinion, in its whimsical flights, does no_dentify a principle with a man, thus the people saw the personification o_he Republic in the two stern figures of the brothers De Witt, those Romans o_olland, spurning to pander to the fancies of the mob, and wedding themselve_ith unbending fidelity to liberty without licentiousness, and prosperit_ithout the waste of superfluity; on the other hand, the Stadtholderat_ecalled to the popular mind the grave and thoughtful image of the youn_rince William of Orange.
  • The brothers De Witt humoured Louis XIV., whose moral influence was felt b_he whole of Europe, and the pressure of whose material power Holland had bee_ade to feel in that marvellous campaign on the Rhine, which, in the space o_hree months, had laid the power of the United Provinces prostrate.
  • Louis XIV. had long been the enemy of the Dutch, who insulted or ridiculed hi_o their hearts' content, although it must be said that they generally use_rench refugees for the mouthpiece of their spite. Their national pride hel_im up as the Mithridates of the Republic. The brothers De Witt, therefore, had to strive against a double difficulty, — against the force of nationa_ntipathy, and, besides, against the feeling of weariness which is natural t_ll vanquished people, when they hope that a new chief will be able to sav_hem from ruin and shame.
  • This new chief, quite ready to appear on the political stage, and to measur_imself against Louis XIV., however gigantic the fortunes of the Grand Monarc_oomed in the future, was William, Prince of Orange, son of William II., an_randson, by his mother Henrietta Stuart, of Charles I. of England. We hav_entioned him before as the person by whom the people expected to see th_ffice of Stadtholder restored.
  • This young man was, in 1672, twenty-two years of age. John de Witt, who wa_is 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 th_erpetual Edict, extinguished the hope which the young Prince might hav_ntertained of one day becoming Stadtholder. But God laughs at the presumptio_f man, who wants to raise and prostrate the powers on earth withou_onsulting the King above; and the fickleness and caprice of the Dutc_ombined with the terror inspired by Louis XIV., in repealing the Perpetua_dict, and re-establishing the office of Stadtholder in favour of William o_range, for whom the hand of Providence had traced out ulterior destinies o_he hidden map of the future.
  • The Grand Pensionary bowed before the will of his fellow citizens; Corneliu_e Witt, however, was more obstinate, and notwithstanding all the threats o_eath from the Orangist rabble, who besieged him in his house at Dort, h_toutly refused to sign the act by which the office of Stadtholder wa_estored. 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), notifyin_hereby that he only yielded to force.
  • It was a real miracle that on that day he escaped from the doom intended fo_im.
  • John de Witt derived no advantage from his ready compliance with the wishes o_is 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 tw_rothers 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 th_id of the poniard.
  • How rarely does it happen that, in the right moment, a great man is found t_ead the execution of vast and noble designs; and for that reason, when such _rovidential concurrence of circumstances does occur, history is prompt t_ecord the name of the chosen one, and to hold him up to the admiration o_osterity. But when Satan interposes in human affairs to cast a shadow upo_ome happy existence, or to overthrow a kingdom, it seldom happens that h_oes not find at his side some miserable tool, in whose ear he has but t_hisper 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 wa_ne Tyckelaer whom we have already mentioned, a surgeon by profession.
  • He lodged an information against Cornelius de Witt, setting forth that th_arden — who, as he had shown by the letters added to his signature, wa_uming at the repeal of the Perpetual Edict — had, from hatred against Willia_f Orange, hired an assassin to deliver the new Republic of its ne_tadtholder; and he, Tyckelaer was the person thus chosen; but that, horrifie_t the bare idea of the act which he was asked to perpetrate, he had preferre_ather to reveal the crime than to commit it.
  • This disclosure was, indeed, well calculated to call forth a furious outbrea_mong 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 Wit_ad, like the vilest criminal, to undergo, in one of the apartments of th_own prison, the preparatory degrees of torture, by means of which his judge_xpected to force from him the confession of his alleged plot against Willia_f Orange.
  • But Cornelius was not only possessed of a great mind, but also of a grea_eart. He belonged to that race of martyrs who, indissolubly wedded to thei_olitical convictions as their ancestors were to their faith, are able t_mile on pain: while being stretched on the rack, he recited with a fir_oice, and scanning the lines according to measure, the first strophe of the
  • "Justum ac tenacem" of Horace, and, making no confession, tired not only th_trength, but even the fanaticism, of his executioners.
  • The judges, notwithstanding, acquitted Tyckelaer from every charge; at th_ame time sentencing Cornelius to be deposed from all his offices an_ignities; to pay all the costs of the trial; and to be banished from the soi_f the Republic for ever.
  • This judgment against not only an innocent, but also a great man, was indee_ome gratification to the passions of the people, to whose interests Corneliu_e Witt had always devoted himself: but, as we shall soon see, it was no_nough.
  • The Athenians, who indeed have left behind them a pretty tolerable reputatio_or 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 hi_rother, had resigned his office of Grand Pensionary. He too received a nobl_ecompense for his devotedness to the best interests of his country, takin_ith 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 sol_uerdon obtained by honest people, who are guilty of having worked for thei_ountry, and of having forgotten their own private interests.
  • In the meanwhile William of Orange urged on the course of events by ever_eans in his power, eagerly waiting for the time when the people, by whom h_as idolised, should have made of the bodies of the brothers the two step_ver which he might ascend to the chair of Stadtholder.
  • Thus, then, on the 20th of August, 1672, as we have already stated in th_eginning 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 t_xile; and to see what traces the torture of the rack had left on the nobl_rame of the man who knew his Horace so well.
  • Yet all this multitude was not crowding to the Buytenhof with the innocen_iew of merely feasting their eyes with the spectacle; there were many wh_ent there to play an active part in it, and to take upon themselves an offic_hich they conceived had been badly filled, — that of the executioner.
  • There were, indeed, others with less hostile intentions. All that they care_or was the spectacle, always so attractive to the mob, whose instinctiv_ride 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 broke_y the rack? Shall we not see him pale, streaming with blood, covered wit_hame?" And was not this a sweet triumph for the burghers of the Hague, whos_nvy even beat that of the common rabble; a triumph in which every hones_itizen and townsman might be expected to share?
  • "Moreover," hinted the Orange agitators interspersed through the crowd, who_hey hoped to manage like a sharp-edged and at the same time crushin_nstrument, — "moreover, will there not, from the Buytenhof to the gate of th_own, 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 dignit_f Stadtholder on the Prince of Orange merely vi coactus, but who als_ntended to have him assassinated?"
  • "Besides which," the fierce enemies of France chimed in, "if the work wer_one well and bravely at the Hague, Cornelius would certainly not be allowe_o go into exile, where he will renew his intrigues with France, and live wit_is 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 wa_he reason why the inhabitants of the Hague were hurrying so fast towards th_uytenhof.
  • Honest Tyckelaer, with a heart full of spite and malice, and with n_articular plan settled in his mind, was one of the foremost, being parade_bout by the Orange party like a hero of probity, national honour, an_hristian charity.
  • This daring miscreant detailed, with all the embellishments and flourishe_uggested by his base mind and his ruffianly imagination, the attempts whic_e pretended Cornelius de Witt had made to corrupt him; the sums of mone_hich were promised, and all the diabolical stratagems planned beforehand t_mooth for him, Tyckelaer, all the difficulties in the path of murder.
  • And every phase of his speech, eagerly listened to by the populace, calle_orth enthusiastic cheers for the Prince of Orange, and groans an_mprecations of blind fury against the brothers De Witt.
  • The mob even began to vent its rage by inveighing against the iniquitou_udges, who had allowed such a detestable criminal as the villain Cornelius t_et off so cheaply.
  • Some of the agitators whispered, "He will be off, he will escape from us!"
  • Others replied, "A vessel is waiting for him at Schevening, a French craft.
  • Tyckelaer has seen her."
  • "Honest Tyckelaer! Hurrah for Tyckelaer!" the mob cried in chorus.
  • "And let us not forget," a voice exclaimed from the crowd, "that at the sam_ime with Cornelius his brother John, who is as rascally a traitor as himself, will likewise make his escape."
  • "And the two rogues will in France make merry with our money, with the mone_or our vessels, our arsenals, and our dockyards, which they have sold t_ouis XIV."
  • "Well, then, don't let us allow them to depart!" advised one of the patriot_ho had gained the start of the others.
  • "Forward to the prison, to the prison!" echoed the crowd.
  • Amid these cries, the citizens ran along faster and faster, cocking thei_uskets, brandishing their hatchets, and looking death and defiance in al_irections.
  • No violence, however, had as yet been committed; and the file of horsemen wh_ere 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, bu_eld 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 no_nly the disorderly riotous mass of the populace, but also the detachment o_he burgher guard, which, being placed opposite the Buytenhof to support th_oldiers 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 o_hese civic warriors; but by degrees they waxed more and more angry by thei_wn shouts, and as they were not able to understand how any one could hav_ourage without showing it by cries, they attributed the silence of th_ragoons to pusillanimity, and advanced one step towards the prison, with al_he turbulent mob following in their wake.
  • In this moment, Count Tilly rode forth towards them single-handed, merel_ifting his sword and contracting his brow whilst he addressed them: —
  • "Well, gentlemen of the burgher guard, what are you advancing for, and what d_ou 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 certainl_m 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 _hall 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 th_urgher guard and the people to fall back, in a degree of confusion whic_xcited the smile of the cavalry officer.
  • "Holloa!" he exclaimed, with that bantering tone which is peculiar to men o_is profession; "be easy, gentlemen, my soldiers will not fire a shot; but, o_he 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 th_urghers.
  • "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 th_istol carries admirably to a distance of fifty yards, and that you are onl_wenty-five from us."
  • "Death to the traitors!" cried the exasperated burghers.
  • "Go along with you," growled the officer, "you always cry the same thing ove_gain. It is very tiresome."
  • With this, he took his post at the head of his troops, whilst the tumult gre_iercer and fiercer about the Buytenhof.
  • And yet the fuming crowd did not know that, at that very moment when they wer_racking the scent of one of their victims, the other, as if hurrying to mee_is fate, passed, at a distance of not more than a hundred yards, behind th_roups of people and the dragoons, to betake himself to the Buytenhof.
  • John de Witt, indeed, had alighted from his coach with his servant, an_uietly 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 o_he prison, had greeted him and admitted him into the building, the doors o_hich were immediately closed again.
  • Ten yards farther on, John de Witt met a lovely young girl, of about seventee_r eighteen, dressed in the national costume of the Frisian women, who, wit_retty demureness, dropped a curtesy to him. Chucking her under the chin, h_aid 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 whic_as 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'_ou?"
  • "Do you hear them?"
  • "They are indeed in a state of great excitement; but when they see us perhap_hey 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 consequentl_as never read anything, and yet with one word she has just told the whol_istory of the world."
  • And with the same calm mien, but more melancholy than he had been on enterin_he prison, the Grand Pensionary proceeded towards the cell of his brother.