As the fair Rosa, with foreboding doubt, had foretold, so it happened. Whils_ohn de Witt was climbing the narrow winding stairs which led to the prison o_is 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 laudabl_ntentions 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 wit_he burghers, under the protection of the cocked pistols of his dragoons, explaining to the valiant townsmen, that his order from the States commande_im 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 almos_ilitary 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 t_eave 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!"
"Well, as to that, let us understand each other gentlemen. Whom should _etray? The States? Why, I cannot betray them, whilst, being in their pay, _aithfully obey their orders."
As the Count was so indisputably in the right that it was impossible to argu_gainst 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 b_ccident; and if the shot chanced to wound one of my men, we should knock ove_ couple of hundreds of yours, for which we should, indeed, be very sorry, bu_ou even more so; especially as such a thing is neither contemplated by yo_or 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 who_e 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 i_ 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, b_hom I am paid; let me see an order from them to leave the place to you, and _hall only be too glad to wheel off in an instant, as I am confoundedly bore_ere."
"Yes, yes!" cried a hundred voices; the din of which was immediately swelle_y five hundred others; "let us march to the Town-hall; let us go and see th_eputies! Come along! come along!"
"That's it," Tilly muttered between his teeth, as he saw the most violen_mong the crowd turning away; "go and ask for a meanness at the Town-hall, an_ou will see whether they will grant it; go, my fine fellows, go!"
The worthy officer relied on the honour of the magistrates, who, on thei_ide, relied on his honour as a soldier.
"I say, Captain," the first lieutenant whispered into the ear of the Count, "_ope the deputies will give these madmen a flat refusal; but, after all, i_ould do no harm if they would send us some reinforcement."
In the meanwhile, John de Witt, whom we left climbing the stairs, after th_onversation with the jailer Gryphus and his daughter Rosa, had reached th_oor of the cell, where on a mattress his brother Cornelius was resting, afte_aving undergone the preparatory degrees of the torture. The sentence o_anishment having been pronounced, there was no occasion for inflicting th_orture 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 thre_ays of agony, he once more breathed freely, on being informed that th_udges, 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 disappointe_is 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 thi_arth after having obtained a glimpse of the bright glory of heaven.
The warden, indeed, had already recovered his full strength, much more owin_o the force of his own strong will than to actual aid; and he was calculatin_ow 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 guar_nd of the mob were raging against the two brothers, and threatening Captai_illy, who served as a rampart to them. This noise, which roared outside o_he walls of the prison, as the surf dashing against the rocks, now reache_he ears of the prisoner.
But, threatening as it sounded, Cornelius appeared not to dream it worth hi_hile to inquire after its cause; nor did he get up to look out of the narro_rated window, which gave access to the light and to the noise of the worl_ithout.
He was so absorbed in his never-ceasing pain that it had almost become a habi_ith him. He felt with such delight the bonds which connected his immorta_eing with his perishable frame gradually loosening, that it seemed to him a_f 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 presen_o his mind the door opened, and John entered, hurrying to the bedside of th_risoner, who stretched out his broken limbs and his hands tied up in bandage_owards that glorious brother, whom he now excelled, not in services rendere_o the country, but in the hatred which the Dutch bore him.
John tenderly kissed his brother on the forehead, and put his sore hand_ently 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 wer_orturing 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 comin_o take me away, are you not?"
"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, behin_illy's dragoons."
"Tilly's dragoons! What are they near the pond for?"
"Well," said the Grand Pensionary with a melancholy smile which was habitua_o him, "the gentlemen at the Town-hall expect that the people at the Hagu_ould 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; "_umult?"
"Oh! that's what I heard just now," said the prisoner, as if speaking t_imself. 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 —— "
"How is it that they have allowed you to pass?"
"You know well that we are not very popular, Cornelius," said the Gran_ensionary, with gloomy bitterness. "I have made my way through all sorts o_ystreets and alleys."
"You hid yourself, John?"
"I wished to reach you without loss of time, and I did what people will do i_olitics, 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 increasin_ury. Tilly was parleying with the burghers.
"Well, well," said Cornelius, "you are a very skilful pilot, John; but I doub_hether you will as safely guide your brother out of the Buytenhof in th_idst of this gale, and through the raging surf of popular hatred, as you di_he fleet of Van Tromp past the shoals of the Scheldt to Antwerp."
"With the help of God, Cornelius, we'll at least try," answered John; "but, first of all, a word with you."
The shouts began anew.
"Hark, hark!" continued Cornelius, "how angry those people are! Is it agains_ou, or against me?"
"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, hav_lso 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 prevente_he defeats of Rees, Orsay, Wesel, and Rheinberg; the Rhine would not hav_een crossed, and Holland might still consider herself invincible in the mids_f her marshes and canals."
"All this is quite true, my dear Cornelius, but still more certain it is, tha_f at this moment our correspondence with the Marquis de Louvois wer_iscovered, skilful pilot as I am, I should not be able to save the frai_arque which is to carry the brothers De Witt and their fortunes out o_olland. That correspondence, which might prove to honest people how dearly _ove my country, and what sacrifices I have offered to make for its libert_nd 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 th_ague."
"My dear brother," Cornelius answered, "your correspondence with M. de Louvoi_ffords 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 o_y country; and particularly do I rejoice in your glory, John. I have take_ood care not to burn that correspondence."
"Then we are lost, as far as this life is concerned," quietly said the Gran_ensionary, approaching the window.
"No, on the contrary, John, we shall at the same time save our lives an_egain our popularity."
"But what have you done with these letters?"
"I have intrusted them to the care of Cornelius van Baerle, my godson, who_ou know, and who lives at Dort."
"Poor honest Van Baerle! who knows so much, and yet thinks of nothing but o_lowers and of God who made them. You have intrusted him with this fata_ecret; it will be his ruin, poor soul!"
"Yes, for he will either be strong or he will be weak. If he is strong, h_ill, when he hears of what has happened to us, boast of our acquaintance; i_e is weak, he will be afraid on account of his connection with us: if he i_trong, he will betray the secret by his boldness; if he is weak, he wil_llow it to be forced from him. In either case he is lost, and so are we. Le_s, therefore, fly, fly, as long as there is still time."
Cornelius de Witt, raising himself on his couch, and grasping the hand of hi_rother, 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 Va_aerle's mind, and every sentiment in his heart? You ask whether he is stron_r weak. He is neither the one nor the other; but that is not now th_uestion. 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 o_hat distinguished politician John de Witt; and I repeat to you, that Va_aerle is not aware of the nature and importance of the deposit which I hav_ntrusted to him."
"Quick then," cried John, "as there is still time, let us convey to hi_irections to burn the parcel."
"Through my servant Craeke, who was to have accompanied us on horseback, an_ho 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 sav_heir lives, to be able to save their character. If we are dead, who wil_efend us? Who will have fully understood our intentions?"
"You expect, then, that they would kill us if those papers were found?"
John, without answering, pointed with his hand to the square, whence, at tha_ery moment, fierce shouts and savage yells made themselves heard.
"Yes, yes," said Cornelius, "I hear these shouts very plainly, but what i_heir meaning?"
John opened the window.
"Death to the traitors!" howled the populace.
"Do you hear now, Cornelius?"
"To the traitors! that means us!" said the prisoner, raising his eyes t_eaven and shrugging his shoulders.
"Yes, it means us," repeated John.
"Where is Craeke?"
"At the door of your cell, I suppose."
"Let him enter then."
John opened the door; the faithful servant was waiting on the threshold.
"Come in, Craeke, and mind well what my brother will tell you."
"No, John; it will not suffice to send a verbal message; unfortunately, _hall be obliged to write."
"And why that?"
"Because Van Baerle will neither give up the parcel nor burn it without _pecial command to do so."
"But will you be able to write, poor old fellow?" John asked, with a look o_he scorched and bruised hands of the unfortunate sufferer.
"If I had pen and ink you would soon see," said Cornelius.
"Here is a pencil, at any rate."
"Have you any paper? for they have left me nothing."
"Here, take this Bible, and tear out the fly-leaf."
"Very well, that will do."
"But your writing will be illegible."
"Just leave me alone for that," said Cornelius. "The executioners have indee_inched me badly enough, but my hand will not tremble once in tracing the fe_ines which are requisite."
And really Cornelius took the pencil and began to write, when through th_hite linen bandages drops of blood oozed out which the pressure of th_ingers 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 t_ourself. Secrets of this description are death to those with whom they ar_eposited. 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 ha_oiled the leaf, and, after having handed the despatch to Craeke with a las_irection, returned to Cornelius, who seemed overcome by intense pain, an_ear fainting.
"Now," said he, "when honest Craeke sounds his coxswain's whistle, it will b_ signal of his being clear of the crowd, and of his having reached the othe_ide of the pond. And then it will be our turn to depart."
Five minutes had not elapsed, before a long and shrill whistle was hear_hrough the din and noise of the square of the Buytenhof.