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Chapter 4 The Murderers

  • The young man with his hat slouched over his eyes, still leaning on the arm o_he officer, and still wiping from time to time his brow with hi_andkerchief, was watching in a corner of the Buytenhof, in the shade of th_verhanging 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 Maste_ornelius. Do you hear these people? They certainly bear a sad grudge to th_wo 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 th_indow of the cell where Cornelius was locked up?"
  • A man had seized with both hands and was shaking the iron bars of the windo_n 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 int_he 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 shoul_urn 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, showe_hemselves 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 th_fficer.
  • "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 t_ind 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 th_reatest men have sometimes fallen victims to such fatalities."
  • At these words the officer felt his blood run cold, as somehow or other he wa_onvinced that the prisoner was lost.
  • At this moment the roar of the multitude broke forth like thunder, for it wa_ow 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 hi_ace, in order not to excite any suspicion.
  • But when, on having proceeded half-way down that street, the man felt that h_ad left the prison and death behind, and before him there was life an_iberty, 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 th_ommutation of the punishment, the gate-keeper will let us through."
  • The carriage moved along, but it was evident that the driver was no longe_rging his horses with the same degree of confidence.
  • Moreover, as John de Witt put his head out of the carriage window, he was see_nd recognized by a brewer, who, being behind his companions, was jus_hutting his door in all haste to join them at the Buytenhof. He uttered a cr_f surprise, and ran after two other men before him, whom he overtook about _undred yards farther on, and told them what he had seen. The three men the_topped, looking after the carriage, being however not yet quite sure as t_hom 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 ver_ell 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 th_indow, and risking all for gaining all; "my good man, it is for me, John d_itt, 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 bee_aken 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 i_is power to preserve his life; go, and drive to another gate."
  • And whilst the servant was turning round the vehicle the Grand Pensionary sai_o 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 yo_ad 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, "an_ake the street on the left; it is our only chance."
  • The group which John alluded to had, for its nucleus, those three men whom w_eft looking after the carriage, and who, in the meanwhile, had been joined b_even 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 themselve_cross the street, brandishing cudgels in their hands, and calling out, —
  • "Stop! stop!"
  • The coachman, on his side, lashed his horses into increased speed, until th_oach and the men encountered.
  • The brothers De Witt, enclosed within the body of the carriage, were not abl_o see anything; but they felt a severe shock, occasioned by the rearing o_he horses. The whole vehicle for a moment shook and stopped; but immediatel_fter, passing over something round and elastic, which seemed to be the bod_f a prostrate man set off again amidst a volley of the fiercest oaths.
  • "Alas!" said Cornelius, "I am afraid we have hurt some one."
  • "Gallop! gallop!" called John.
  • But, notwithstanding this order, the coachman suddenly came to a stop.
  • "Now, then, what is the matter again?" asked John.
  • "Look there!" said the coachman.
  • John looked. The whole mass of the populace from the Buytenhof appeared at th_xtremity of the street along which the carriage was to proceed, and it_tream 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 an_arther; we are lost!"
  • "Here they are! here they are!" five hundred voices were crying at the sam_ime.
  • "Yes, here they are, the traitors, the murderers, the assassins!" answered th_en who were running after the carriage to the people who were coming to mee_t. The former carried in their arms the bruised body of one of thei_ompanions, who, trying to seize the reins of the horses, had been trodde_own 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 refuse_o get off and save himself.
  • In an instant the carriage was hemmed in between those who followed and thos_ho met it. It rose above the mass of moving heads like a floating island. Bu_n another instant it came to a dead stop. A blacksmith had with his hamme_truck down one of the horses, which fell in the traces.
  • At this moment, the shutter of a window opened, and disclosed the sallow fac_nd the dark eyes of the young man, who with intense interest watched th_cene which was preparing. Behind him appeared the head of the officer, almos_s 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 th_arriage, they strike him, they tear him to pieces!"
  • "Indeed, these people must certainly be prompted by a most violen_ndignation," said the young marl, with the same impassible tone which he ha_reserved 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 th_rand Pensionary, before having set foot on the ground, whilst still on th_ottom step of the carriage, was struck down with an iron bar which broke hi_kull. He rose once more, but immediately fell again.
  • Some fellows then seized him by the feet, and dragged him into the crowd, int_he middle of which one might have followed his bloody track, and he was soo_losed in among the savage yells of malignant exultation.
  • The young man — a thing which would have been thought impossible — grew eve_aler 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 thi_oftened tone of his feelings, continued, —
  • "Come, come, Monseigneur, for here they are also going to murder the Gran_ensionary."
  • But the young man had already opened his eyes again.
  • "To be sure," he said. "These people are really implacable. It does no on_ood to offend them."
  • "Monseigneur," said the officer, "may not one save this poor man, who has bee_our Highness's instructor? If there be any means, name it, and if I shoul_erish in the attempt —— "
  • William of Orange — for he it was — knit his brows in a very forbiddin_anner, 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 the_ay be armed for any emergency."
  • "But am I to leave your Highness here, alone, in the presence of all thes_urderers?"
  • "Go, and don't you trouble yourself about me more than I do myself," th_rince gruffly replied.
  • The officer started off with a speed which was much less owing to his sense o_ilitary obedience than to his pleasure at being relieved from the necessit_f witnessing the shocking spectacle of the murder of the other brother.
  • He had scarcely left the room, when John — who, with an almost superhuma_ffort, had reached the stone steps of a house nearly opposite that where hi_ormer pupil concealed himself — began to stagger under the blows which wer_nflicted 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 ope_ornelius and disembowelled him, and was now hastening to the spot in orde_ot to lose the opportunity of serving the Grand Pensionary in the sam_anner, 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 hi_yes.
  • "Oh, you close your eyes, do you?" said one of the soldiers of the burghe_uard; "well, I shall open them for you."
  • And saying this he stabbed him with his pike in the face, and the bloo_purted forth.
  • "My brother!" cried John de Witt, trying to see through the stream of bloo_hich blinded him, what had become of Cornelius; "my brother, my brother!"
  • "Go and run after him!" bellowed another murderer, putting his musket to hi_emples and pulling the trigger.
  • But the gun did not go off.
  • The fellow then turned his musket round, and, taking it by the barrel wit_oth hands, struck John de Witt down with the butt-end. John staggered an_ell down at his feet, but, raising himself with a last effort, he once mor_alled out, —
  • "My brother!" with a voice so full of anguish that the young man opposit_losed the shutter.
  • There remained little more to see; a third murderer fired a pistol with th_uzzle to his face; and this time the shot took effect, blowing out hi_rains. John de Witt fell to rise no more.
  • On this, every one of the miscreants, emboldened by his fall, wanted to fir_is gun at him, or strike him with blows of the sledge-hammer, or stab hi_ith a knife or swords, every one wanted to draw a drop of blood from th_allen 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, wher_mateur executioners hung them up by the feet.
  • Then came the most dastardly scoundrels of all, who not having dared to strik_he living flesh, cut the dead in pieces, and then went about the town sellin_mall slices of the bodies of John and Cornelius at ten sous a piece.
  • We cannot take upon ourselves to say whether, through the almost imperceptibl_hink of the shutter, the young man witnessed the conclusion of this shockin_cene; but at the very moment when they were hanging the two martyrs on th_ibbet he passed through the terrible mob, which was too much absorbed in th_ask, so grateful to its taste, to take any notice of him, and thus he reache_nobserved 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 o_n 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, findin_he 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 i_xecuting my orders very slowly."
  • "Monseigneur," replied the Captain, "this is the third gate at which I hav_resented 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 thunderstruc_n hearing Captain Van Deken addressing by the title of Monseigneur this pal_oung 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 swun_reaking 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 clos_t hand."
  • And taking from his pocket a golden whistle, such as was generally used a_hat time for summoning the servants, he sounded it with a shrill an_rolonged 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 le_orse, and, setting his spurs into its flanks, started off for the Leyde_oad. Having reached it, he turned round and beckoned to the Captain who wa_ar behind, to ride by his side.
  • "Do you know," he then said, without stopping, "that those rascals have kille_ohn de Witt as well as his brother?"
  • "Alas! Monseigneur," the Captain answered sadly, "I should like it much bette_f these two difficulties were still in your Highness's way of becoming d_acto Stadtholder of Holland."
  • "Certainly, it would have been better," said William, "if what did happen ha_ot happened. But it cannot be helped now, and we have had nothing to do wit_t. Let us push on, Captain, that we may arrive at Alphen before the messag_hich the States-General are sure to send to me to the camp."
  • The Captain bowed, allowed the Prince to ride ahead and, for the remainder o_he journey, kept at the same respectful distance as he had done before hi_ighness called him to his side.
  • "How I should wish," William of Orange malignantly muttered to himself, with _ark frown and setting the spurs to his horse, "to see the figure which Loui_ill cut when he is apprised of the manner in which his dear friends De Wit_ave been served! Oh thou Sun! thou Sun! as truly as I am called William th_ilent, thou Sun, thou hadst best look to thy rays!"
  • And the young Prince, the relentless rival of the Great King, sped away upo_is fiery steed, — this future Stadtholder who had been but the day befor_ery uncertainly established in his new power, but for whom the burghers o_he Hague had built a staircase with the bodies of John and Cornelius, tw_rinces as noble as he in the eyes of God and man.