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Chapter 12 The Execution

  • Cornelius had not three hundred paces to walk outside the prison to reach th_oot of the scaffold. At the bottom of the staircase, the dog quietly looke_t him whilst he was passing; Cornelius even fancied he saw in the eyes of th_onster a certain expression as it were of compassion.
  • The dog perhaps knew the condemned prisoners, and only bit those who left a_ree 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 she_hree days before, were now craving for a new victim.
  • And scarcely had Cornelius made his appearance than a fierce groan ran throug_he whole street, spreading all over the yard, and re-echoing from the street_hich 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 i_rder 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, a_eylon, or Bengal, or elsewhere, when he would be able to look with pity o_his earth, where John and Cornelius de Witt had been murdered for havin_hought too much of politics, and where Cornelius van Baerle was about to b_urdered for having thought too much of tulips.
  • "It is only one stroke of the axe," said the philosopher to himself, "and m_eautiful dream will begin to be realised."
  • Only there was still a chance, just as it had happened before to M. d_halais, to M. de Thou, and other slovenly executed people, that the headsma_ight 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 les_esolutely, proud of having been the friend of that illustrious John, an_odson of that noble Cornelius de Witt, whom the ruffians, who were no_rowding to witness his own doom, had torn to pieces and burnt three day_efore.
  • He knelt down, said his prayers, and observed, not without a feeling o_incere joy, that, laying his head on the block, and keeping his eyes open, h_ould 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 col_amp block. But at this moment his eyes closed involuntarily, to receive mor_esolutely the terrible avalanche which was about to fall on his head, and t_ngulf his life.
  • A gleam like that of lightning passed across the scaffold: it was th_xecutioner raising his sword.
  • Van Baerle bade farewell to the great black tulip, certain of awaking i_nother world full of light and glorious tints.
  • Three times he felt, with a shudder, the cold current of air from the knif_ear 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 hi_eet again, although trembling a little.
  • He looked around him. There was some one by his side, reading a larg_archment, sealed with a huge seal of red wax.
  • And the same sun, yellow and pale, as it behooves a Dutch sun to be, wa_hining in the skies; and the same grated window looked down upon him from th_uytenhof; and the same rabble, no longer yelling, but completel_hunderstruck, 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'_lood would turn the scale of judgment against him, had compassionately take_nto consideration his good character, and the apparent proofs of hi_nnocence.
  • His Highness, accordingly, had granted him his life.
  • Cornelius at first hoped that the pardon would be complete, and that he woul_e restored to his full liberty and to his flower borders at Dort.
  • But Cornelius was mistaken. To use an expression of Madame de Sevigne, wh_rote about the same time, "there was a postscript to the letter;" and th_ost important part of the letter was contained in the postscript.
  • In this postscript, William of Orange, Stadtholder of Holland, condemne_ornelius van Baerle to imprisonment for life. He was not sufficiently guilt_o suffer death, but he was too much so to be set at liberty.
  • Cornelius heard this clause, but, the first feeling of vexation an_isappointment over, he said to himself, —
  • "Never mind, all this is not lost yet; there is some good in this perpetua_mprisonment; Rosa will be there, and also my three bulbs of the black tuli_re 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 th_ague, which is a capital.
  • His Highness, who, as it seems, did not possess the means to feed Van Baerl_t the Hague, sent him to undergo his perpetual imprisonment at the fortres_f Loewestein, very near Dort, but, alas! also very far from it; fo_oewestein, as the geographers tell us, is situated at the point of the isle_hich 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 tha_he celebrated Grotius was confined in that castle after the death o_arneveldt; and that the States, in their generosity to the illustriou_ublicist, jurist, historian, poet, and divine, had granted to him for hi_aily maintenance the sum of twenty-four stivers.
  • "I," said Van Baerle to himself, "I am worth much less than Grotius. They wil_ardly give me twelve stivers, and I shall live miserably; but never mind, a_ll 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 th_oil so bad for the tulips! And then Rosa will not be at Loewestein!"