The incident just related was, as the reader has guessed before this, th_iabolical work of Mynheer Isaac Boxtel.
It will be remembered that, with the help of his telescope, not even the leas_etail of the private meeting between Cornelius de Witt and Van Baerle ha_scaped him. He had, indeed, heard nothing, but he had seen everything, an_ad rightly concluded that the papers intrusted by the Warden to the Docto_ust have been of great importance, as he saw Van Baerle so carefull_ecreting the parcel in the drawer where he used to keep his most preciou_ulbs.
The upshot of all this was that when Boxtel, who watched the course o_olitical events much more attentively than his neighbour Cornelius was use_o do, heard the news of the brothers De Witt being arrested on a charge o_igh treason against the States, he thought within his heart that very likel_e needed only to say one word, and the godson would be arrested as well a_he godfather.
Yet, full of happiness as was Boxtel's heart at the chance, he at first shran_ith horror from the idea of informing against a man whom this informatio_ight lead to the scaffold.
But there is this terrible thing in evil thoughts, that evil minds soon gro_amiliar with them.
Besides this, Mynheer Isaac Boxtel encouraged himself with the followin_ophism: —
"Cornelius de Witt is a bad citizen, as he is charged with high treason, an_rrested.
"I, on the contrary, am a good citizen, as I am not charged with anything i_he world, as I am as free as the air of heaven."
"If, therefore, Cornelius de Witt is a bad citizen, — of which there can be n_oubt, as he is charged with high treason, and arrested, — his accomplice, Cornelius van Baerle, is no less a bad citizen than himself.
"And, as I am a good citizen, and as it is the duty of every good citizen t_nform against the bad ones, it is my duty to inform against Cornelius va_aerle."
Specious as this mode of reasoning might sound, it would not perhaps hav_aken so complete a hold of Boxtel, nor would he perhaps have yielded to th_ere desire of vengeance which was gnawing at his heart, had not the demon o_nvy been joined with that of cupidity.
Boxtel was quite aware of the progress which Van Baerle had made toward_roducing the grand black tulip.
Dr. Cornelius, notwithstanding all his modesty, had not been able to hide fro_is most intimate friends that he was all but certain to win, in the year o_race 1673, the prize of a hundred thousand guilders offered by th_orticultural Society of Haarlem.
It was just this certainty of Cornelius van Baerle that caused the fever whic_aged in the heart of Isaac Boxtel.
If Cornelius should be arrested there would necessarily be a great upset i_is house, and during the night after his arrest no one would think of keepin_atch over the tulips in his garden.
Now in that night Boxtel would climb over the wall and, as he knew th_osition of the bulb which was to produce the grand black tulip, he woul_ilch it; and instead of flowering for Cornelius, it would flower for him, Isaac; he also, instead of Van Baerle, would have the prize of a hundre_housand guilders, not to speak of the sublime honour of calling the ne_lower Tulipa nigra Boxtellensis, — a result which would satisfy not only hi_engeance, but also his cupidity and his ambition.
Awake, he thought of nothing but the grand black tulip; asleep, he dreamed o_t.
At last, on the 19th of August, about two o'clock in the afternoon, th_emptation grew so strong, that Mynheer Isaac was no longer able to resist it.
Accordingly, he wrote an anonymous information, the minute exactness of whic_ade up for its want of authenticity, and posted his letter.
Never did a venomous paper, slipped into the jaws of the bronze lions a_enice, produce a more prompt and terrible effect.
On the same evening the letter reached the principal magistrate, who without _oment's delay convoked his colleagues early for the next morning. On th_ollowing morning, therefore, they assembled, and decided on Van Baerle'_rrest, placing the order for its execution in the hands of Master va_pennen, who, as we have seen, performed his duty like a true Hollander, an_ho arrested the Doctor at the very hour when the Orange party at the Hagu_ere roasting the bleeding shreds of flesh torn from the corpses of Corneliu_nd John de Witt.
But, whether from a feeling of shame or from craven weakness, Isaac Boxtel di_ot venture that day to point his telescope either at the garden, or at th_aboratory, or at the dry-room.
He knew too well what was about to happen in the house of the poor doctor t_eel any desire to look into it. He did not even get up when his only servant — who envied the lot of the servants of Cornelius just as bitterly as Boxte_id that of their master — entered his bedroom. He said to the man, —
"I shall not get up to-day, I am ill."
About nine o'clock he heard a great noise in the street which made hi_remble, at this moment he was paler than a real invalid, and shook mor_iolently than a man in the height of fever.
His servant entered the room; Boxtel hid himself under the counterpane.
"Oh, sir!" cried the servant, not without some inkling that, whilst deplorin_he mishap which had befallen Van Baerle, he was announcing agreeable news t_is master, — "oh, sir! you do not know, then, what is happening at thi_oment?"
"How can I know it?" answered Boxtel, with an almost unintelligible voice.
"Well, Mynheer Boxtel, at this moment your neighbour Cornelius van Baerle i_rrested for high treason."
"Nonsense!" Boxtel muttered, with a faltering voice; "the thing i_mpossible."
"Faith, sir, at any rate that's what people say; and, besides, I have see_udge van Spennen with the archers entering the house."
"Well, if you have seen it with your own eyes, that's a different cas_ltogether."
"At all events," said the servant, "I shall go and inquire once more. Be yo_uiet, sir, I shall let you know all about it."
Boxtel contented himself with signifying his approval of the zeal of hi_ervant by dumb show.
The man went out, and returned in half an hour.
"Oh, sir, all that I told you is indeed quite true."
"Mynheer van Baerle is arrested, and has been put into a carriage, and the_re driving him to the Hague."
"To the Hague!"
"Yes, to the Hague, and if what people say is true, it won't do him muc_ood."
"And what do they say?" Boxtel asked.
"Faith, sir, they say — but it is not quite sure — that by this hour th_urghers must be murdering Mynheer Cornelius and Mynheer John de Witt."
"Oh," muttered, or rather growled Boxtel, closing his eyes from the dreadfu_icture which presented itself to his imagination.
"Why, to be sure," said the servant to himself, whilst leaving the room,
"Mynheer Isaac Boxtel must be very sick not to have jumped from his bed o_earing such good news."
And, in reality, Isaac Boxtel was very sick, like a man who has murdere_nother.
But he had murdered his man with a double object; the first was attained, th_econd was still to be attained.
Night closed in. It was the night which Boxtel had looked forward to.
As soon as it was dark he got up.
He then climbed into his sycamore.
He had calculated correctly; no one thought of keeping watch over the garden; the house and the servants were all in the utmost confusion.
He heard the clock strike — ten, eleven, twelve.
At midnight, with a beating heart, trembling hands, and a livid countenance, he descended from the tree, took a ladder, leaned it against the wall, mounte_t to the last step but one, and listened.
All was perfectly quiet, not a sound broke the silence of the night; on_olitary light, that of the housekeeper, was burning in the house.
This silence and this darkness emboldened Boxtel; he got astride the wall, stopped for an instant, and, after having ascertained that there was nothin_o fear, he put his ladder from his own garden into that of Cornelius, an_escended.
Then, knowing to an inch where the bulbs which were to produce the black tuli_ere planted, he ran towards the spot, following, however, the gravelled walk_n order not to be betrayed by his footprints, and, on arriving at the precis_pot, he proceeded, with the eagerness of a tiger, to plunge his hand into th_oft ground.
He found nothing, and thought he was mistaken.
In the meanwhile, the cold sweat stood on his brow.
He felt about close by it, — nothing.
He felt about on the right, and on the left, — nothing.
He felt about in front and at the back, — nothing.
He was nearly mad, when at last he satisfied himself that on that very mornin_he earth had been disturbed.
In fact, whilst Boxtel was lying in bed, Cornelius had gone down to hi_arden, had taken up the mother bulb, and, as we have seen, divided it int_hree.
Boxtel could not bring himself to leave the place. He dug up with his hand_ore than ten square feet of ground.
At last no doubt remained of his misfortune. Mad with rage, he returned to hi_adder, mounted the wall, drew up the ladder, flung it into his own garden, and jumped after it.
All at once, a last ray of hope presented itself to his mind: the seedlin_ulbs might be in the dry-room; it was therefore only requisite to make hi_ntry there as he had done into the garden.
There he would find them, and, moreover, it was not at all difficult, as th_ashes of the dry-room might be raised like those of a greenhouse. Corneliu_ad opened them on that morning, and no one had thought of closing them again.
Everything, therefore, depended upon whether he could procure a ladder o_ufficient length, — one of twenty-five feet instead of ten.
Boxtel had noticed in the street where he lived a house which was bein_epaired, and against which a very tall ladder was placed.
This ladder would do admirably, unless the workmen had taken it away.
He ran to the house: the ladder was there. Boxtel took it, carried it wit_reat exertion to his garden, and with even greater difficulty raised i_gainst the wall of Van Baerle's house, where it just reached to the window.
Boxtel put a lighted dark lantern into his pocket, mounted the ladder, an_lipped into the dry-room.
On reaching this sanctuary of the florist he stopped, supporting himsel_gainst the table; his legs failed him, his heart beat as if it would chok_im. Here it was even worse than in the garden; there Boxtel was only _respasser, here he was a thief.
However, he took courage again: he had not gone so far to turn back with empt_ands.
But in vain did he search the whole room, open and shut all the drawers, eve_hat privileged one where the parcel which had been so fatal to Cornelius ha_een deposited; he found ticketed, as in a botanical garden, the "Jane," the
"John de Witt," the hazel-nut, and the roasted-coffee coloured tulip; but o_he black tulip, or rather the seedling bulbs within which it was stil_leeping, not a trace was found.
And yet, on looking over the register of seeds and bulbs, which Van Baerl_ept in duplicate, if possible even with greater exactitude and care than th_irst commercial houses of Amsterdam their ledgers, Boxtel read these lines: —
"To-day, 20th of August, 1672, I have taken up the mother bulb of the gran_lack tulip, which I have divided into three perfect suckers."
"Oh these bulbs, these bulbs!" howled Boxtel, turning over everything in th_ry-room, "where could he have concealed them?"
Then, suddenly striking his forehead in his frenzy, he called out, "Oh wretc_hat I am! Oh thrice fool Boxtel! Would any one be separated from his bulbs?
Would any one leave them at Dort, when one goes to the Hague? Could one liv_ar from one's bulbs, when they enclose the grand black tulip? He had time t_et hold of them, the scoundrel, he has them about him, he has taken them t_he Hague!"
It was like a flash of lightning which showed to Boxtel the abyss of _selessly committed crime.
Boxtel sank quite paralyzed on that very table, and on that very spot where, some hours before, the unfortunate Van Baerle had so leisurely, and with suc_ntense delight, contemplated his darling bulbs.
"Well, then, after all," said the envious Boxtel, — raising his livid fac_rom his hands in which it had been buried — "if he has them, he can keep the_nly as long as he lives, and —— "
The rest of this detestable thought was expressed by a hideous smile.
"The bulbs are at the Hague," he said, "therefore, I can no longer live a_ort: away, then, for them, to the Hague! to the Hague!"
And Boxtel, without taking any notice of the treasures about him, so entirel_ere his thoughts absorbed by another inestimable treasure, let himself out b_he window, glided down the ladder, carried it back to the place whence he ha_aken it, and, like a beast of prey, returned growling to his house.