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."
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."
"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."
"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 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, —
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.