CASTING back one last sad look of parting upon the deserted home, Vrouw Leisler marshaled her household, and turned to follow the groaning ox-cart. The good dame was a sight to look upon: dumb with fright, pale with fatigue and anxiety, her dress in disorder, her face streaming with tears, her whole person begrimed with dust, hardly would her best friend have recognized in this woebegone figure the tidy, well-appointed huysvrouw of yesterday.
Leading a younger sister by the hand, Hester walked at her mother’s side, floundering ankle-deep in mire through the dark streets, still oozy from the spring thaws.
Arrived at the fort, they found, as it seemed, Bedlam let loose. The open space between the buildings was crowded with refugees, encamped on the bare ground amid tumultuous heaps of their own belongings, while in discordant chorus arose the wailing of women, the rattle of arms, the shrill crying of children, the ribald laughter of soldiers, and the muttered cursing of angry citizens groping with lanterns through the chaos, in vain search of their own gear.
More dreadful than all, huge mysterious forms from time to time loomed suddenly out of the darkness, vanishing again with frightful snortings and gruntings as some restless searcher came upon one of the drove of horses, cattle, or hogs, roaming loose in the pent inclosure.
What wonder poor Vrouw Leisler and her daughters gazed about them in dismay ! Deserted by their escort, refused admission at headquarters where those within were tragically engaged making history, unheeded by the busy folks flying past on every hand, they knew not where to go or what to do, and stood for a space dazed and helpless.
The sight of the loaded ox-cart backed against the wall at last decided the question for the good dame. There, at least, were her possessions, — all that was left to her of home, — and she would stick by them.
With the help of some warm quilts which had been thrown over the load for the protection of the furniture, they were all at last snugly disposed amongst the nooks and crannies of the load ; and the honest vrouw herself, having carefully tucked in her children, soon joined the universal chorus with a nasal trump which held its own against any trooper of them all.
As for Hester, she took no note of the strangeness and discomfort of their state. From the moment the ponderous gates closed behind them she had acted like one in a stupor. Did that ominous clang first suggest to her that she had walked unconsciously into a prison ? Why else did she strain her eyes so persistently through the darkness to make out the big portal, and listen with stifled heart-beat to the thud of the sentinel’s halberd as he stalked back and forth on his march ? Did she mayhap remember her father’s threat, and realize that she was now more than ever at his mercy ? — that all chance of escape was cut, off, and the junker from Albany close at hand ?
Unconsciously these fears and forebodings, becoming mingled with the sensuous impressions of her surroundings, renewed themselves in grotesque complications — faded little by little to vagueness — lapsed into nothingness — nature bad claimed her due.
She slept, but through her sleep echoed the boom of that dreadful cannon. accompanied by visions of war, of burning homes, of blood-red skies, accompanied by frantic and futile efforts to escape some formless evil through paths blocked at every turn — oh, horror ! — with the mangled and lifeless form of her beloved Steenie.
Thus, haunted by nightmare, the darkness wore away. However dreary and long-drawn, it yet passed like a tale that is told to the day that followed. That day was like a thousand years. It began with cattle lowing and children wailing for their breakfast. But there was no breakfast; the terrors of war were already realized. Catching sight of Cobus pressing through the crowd, his delighted mother made shift to seize him by the doublet. Filled with the importance of his mission, the bustling junker angrily shook her off, with no word or look of recognition, and went his way. The poor woman broke forth into loud sobs. A rough-looking trooper near by came to her relief. He fetched from the mess-room some loaves of bread, which they were fain to wash down with a cup of water from the spring.
Meanwhile, the crowd within is reinforced by a larger one from without. The gates of the fort are besieged by a throng of citizens : men of the closet and men of affairs, soldiers, parsons, stout burghers, and horny-handed mechanics,— sober-minded men one and all, who have come to implore the commander to stop in his mad course and take counsel with his fellow-townsmen.
He answers them with another roar of the cannon.
A shudder runs through the serried mass of people gathered about the door of headquarters. There is a movement from the direction of the Stadthuys. Presently comes a whisper that the wellaimed bolt has killed two of the royal troopers. Directly a shout is heard. Rising, swelling at every turn, prolonged by myriad voices, it comes sweeping-down upon the wind of human breath till all earth and heaven ring with the horrid cry of murder !
The day yet young in time is hoary in experience. Events in their swift succession tread close upon each other’s heels.
While the people still await in hushed silence the result of the commander’s boldness, comes a panting messenger shouldering his way up to headquarters. Those about the door listen with intent ears ; Hester presses up with the foremost. There is an interminable pause, — a whole minute of silence. Then is heard a roar of rage followed by a volley of oaths.
The crowd sways to and fro in its fierce desire to force a way in. The suspense is short. In a moment more the news comes flying out from lip to lip.
“ The block-house at Smiet’s Vly has surrendered to the enemy ! ”
Realizing from her father’s outburst, and from the looks of those around, that this is in some especial way a calamity, Hester, hiding a wild throb of exultation in her heart, turns back to her mother.
On the way she came suddenly upon a well-known figure. Uttering a cry, she put out her hands in an attitude half of greeting, half of aversion, — it was I Barent ! He did not speak, he only stood and looked at her with that expression of mute suffering one sees in a dumb beast. Their clothes almost touched as they passed, yet they passed without a word.
Before the brood of fears and misgivings awakened by the incident had time to nest in her bosom, it was swept away by the rush of events. Her name was called from the midst of the crowd ; she turned, — there was Catalina ! The two leaped into each other’s arms. Dr. Staats was with his daughter. Being shown to Vrouw Leisler’s retreat upon the cart, he left Catalina for a time in her charge.
The two girls had whole volumes to tell; they clung to each other, chattering like magpies.
“ Mother is not here — she fears not the guns — she would not come with us — she makes friends with those yonder — she sends wine and food to the Stadthuys — she bids them welcome and hopes the war will go on.”
“ I too— I hope and pray it may.” " Go on ? ”
“ Yes, yes, — sh-h ! Never tell! ’t is my only chance. I am in prison here ; that other one is come from Albany.” “ Barent ! ” “ “Within these very walls ! " Hester ! ”
“ Father has sworn we shall he married.”
“ Never ! — never ! — never ! ”
“ But if the war holds out, there is hope ; for ” —
“ Eh ? ”
“ He has come home ” —
“ So! ”
“ And came straightway to see me.” In her preoccupation Hester failed to note the shudder with which her last words were received, the relaxed clasp of the arms, or the averted face.
“ He swears, too, I shall never be sacrificed while he lives.”
“ What need to doubt, then ? What need to fear ? What need to care for anything that may come ? ”
For a moment Hester was aroused from her self-concentration not so much by the words as by the reckless, halfdesperate note in her friend’s voice.
“ Why do you talk ? Why do you complain ? Why do you come to me ? Would you have everything? ”
“ He is here you say ? ”
“ He loves you.”
“ More than ever.”
“ Go then, go away! I will hear no more of your talk ; you come to me for pity for such happiness ! ” With a bitter laugh. “ Go thank heaven for your good fortune! ”
“ But — but.” stammered the amazed Hester, “am I not in a prison here? What help can ever reach me if ” —
Turning aside, Catalina covered her face with her hands, and suppressed a sob which expended itself in a mute inward convulsion. It was only for a moment. Directly facing about, she put. her arms about Hester and said gently,— “ Dear Hester — have faith ! these times are not forever. You will be happy — I feel it — I know it — I ” — the clear voice was clouded by a passing huskiness — “I hope it! I must go join my father.”
“ But ” —
Hester made no effort to retain her friend, or to discover the cause of changed looks and bearing. It was indeed no time to dwell on trifles. Even the momentous crisis in her own life, with all its train of fears and hopes, was speedily forgotten in the larger interests of that fateful day, that day of which each long-drawn minute came fraught with intenser interest, like the scenes of a melodrama.
This feeling of self-forgetfulness was in the air. The people—all other thought, purpose, occupation, gone — looked on in breathless interest at the two combatants. Everything, as it seemed, hung upon the issue, — home, family, earthly-havings, life. Yet ventured they not to intermeddle. The moral force of one man dominated the town.
As the day wore on, it was whispered that the commander was planning some grand stroke for the morrow. The rumor flew over the wall and abroad amongst the people. It reached the Stadthuys. Despite sneers and scoffing, it caused a sensation. There was straightway a mustering of resources, a strengthening of defenses; there was even a consultation.
Night came at last. A fog crept in from seaward. With ghostly march it stole over the city, climbing the steeples. wrapping the windmills in its spectral drapery, invading every little street, and alley till the sparse lanterns looked like fireflies in a mist.
Dank and dripping, a, fisherman came groping his way out of the fog up to the Stadthuys. With scant, ceremony he broke in upon the sitting of a half score anxious gentlemen there gathered, and blurted out his message.
Directly there was a shout.
“ It has come ! ”
“ Eh ! ”
“ The Archangel! ”
“ And the governor ? ”
“He is here, — yonder, anchored in the Narrows.” “ Huzza ! ”
Amidst a wild scurrying hither and thither, a dancing about of lanterns and torches, a clashing of arms, — a joyous hurly - burly, — a committee was sent post-haste to advise his Excellency of the critical state of affairs.
Despite the fact that it was nearly midnight, the governor came directly ashore ; and with clangor of bells, blazing of torches, blare of trumpets, and a hoarse babel of human voices, his commission was read and he was sworn into office, together with certain of his councilor’s.
These midnight jubilations failed not speedily to reach the ears of that little band of watchers at the fort. All understood what had happened, and silently fixed their eyes upon their chief. As he sat gazing at a heavy iron inkstand on the table before him, the flickering candle showed on his gaunt and bloodless face the expression of one slowly recovering from a shock.
“ ’T is fitting you should send him a greeting,” said Milborne, the first to rally from his consternation.
The commander waved his hand in denial, with a gesture of contempt for so feeble and tardy a concession.
“ Sooner or later you must recognize him. There is no escape. ‘T is better do it of your own motion than upon compulsion.”
The commander made no answer. A silence as of death fell upon the chamber. A small eternity elapsed, when a thunderous pounding at the gates came mercifully to break the suspense. The commander sat. as if carved out of stone. There was a bustle outside swelling to a tumult, then a loud voice at the door. After a moment’s parley in came striding Ensign Stoll, saying Ingoldsby was at the gate demanding the instant surrender of the fort in the name of Governor Sloughter.
The commander sat doggedly, and never raised his eyes. “ What answer shall I make ? ” The commander held his peace.
“ Some answer must needs be sent,” suggested Milborne impatiently.
“Go ye to them, Stoll, and demand to see their authority for this under the king’s sign-manual.”
A murmur of protestation arose from his own friends and followers, many of whom had now crowded into the room. In contempt of all objection, Leisler waved his hand impatiently. Stoll nodded and disappeared. The faithful henchman had his cue.
“Waked from sleep by the unusual bustle, Hester and her mother learned that something of moment was taking place. Following the crowd which now held its way unchallenged, they pushed on into the commander’s room. With locks astray and startled eyes, the bewildered women turned this way and that, to learn from the disjointed talk what was the matter.
Pressing to the front, they caught sight of Leisler sitting in his chair. They exchanged a look. It was true, then; they both saw it, — a shocking change had taken place in him. Vrouw Leisler uttered a spasmodic sound between a gasp and a sob, and clutched Hester’s hand. Both kept their eyes fixed in fascination upon the transformed figure in the chair. His face, in the candle-light, had the hue of granite; the bony outline of his jaw. his eyebrows, the flaring cartilages of his nose, wore in their hard rigidity the very texture of the stone. As the shadows fell, his eyes were lost in two cavernous pits, while his grizzled locks fell straight and heavy upon his shoulders. Deaf to the buzz of wondering comment in the room, unconscious of the public gaze riveted upon him, he sat with the brooding look of Michael Angelo’s figure upon the Medicean tomb, and as motionless.
As the two women compared notes in a whisper, a voice at Hester’s elbow startled her : —
“You may finish the night in your own house if you will, Vrouw Leisler.”
Both turned and saw Dr. Staats pushing his slow way to the door.
“ Ei?” “ What mean ye ? ” “ ’T is all over here.” “ The war ? ” “ Yes ; the new governor is come.”
Hester’s heart gave a great bound. Steenie, then, was right. The hour of deliverance was at hand. She clutched her mother and whispered hoarsely, —
“ Come, let us go home.”
But Vrouw Leisler only shook her head, and glared fixedly at her husband.
Hester followed suit, and again she felt a sinking at the heart. If the new governor had indeed come and the revolution was accomplished, why did her father still sit there holding the crowded room in awed subjection ?
Busied with these thoughts, Hester presently became aware that the hum of conversation about her had ceased. Everybody listened. Another parley was going on at the gates. The officer of the guard came in to say it was Ingoldsby again. The man looked at Leisler and hesitated. The latter made a gesture for him to proceed.
“ He demands the instant release of Bayard and Nichols.”
A flash came and went in the commander’s eyes, and it seemed he grew a shade paler.
“ And he further orders your Excellency and them you call your councilors — they are his own words — to report yourselves forthwith at the Stadthuys.”
There was a pause — a long pause — in which a pin-fall might have been heard in the room. As before, Milborne spoke first.
“ You have no resource but to go.”
Without changing his position, without taking his eyes from the iron inkstand. the commander at last spoke.
“ The fort cannot be handed over in the night; ’t is against military law. I will not do it. I am answerable to their Majesties. You, Milborne, you, La Noy, go to them yonder and explain.”
Both men began with one accord to object.
“No more talk. Go ! ”
Without further ado, the two envoys set forth. Silence again settled upon the room and its anxious occupants. Even the whisperings ceased, and nothing broke the stillness but the plashing of the waves without.
Scarcely fifteen minutes elapsed. It seemed a cycle. There came another pounding at the gates. The officer duly appeared to report. He told his story in few words.
“ It is Ingoldsby again. Milborne and La Noy are thrown in irons. He demands the immediate surrender of the fort.”
Leisler seized the table with a sudden clutch. A throe convulsed his whole frame, and big drops of sweat started out on his clammy forehead.
“What shall I tell him ? ” asked the officer.
“ Tell him to go to hell! ”
A murmur of consternation burst from every lip in the crowded room when the officer withdrew bearing Leisler’s defiant message. This first outspoken indication of revolt awoke the commander to a sudden consciousness of the crowd.
“ Away with ye ! ” he shouted, springing to his feet in a fury. “ Coward Papists and time-servers ! Go ! Go, I say, and leave me alone !”
He drove them before him like a flock of sheep. At the door one dared turn and brave his wrath, — a well-known figure, a homely face lighted up with a look of love and tenderness. In this hour of trial and desertion his faithful vrouw still loved and believed in him. He staggered forward and fell upon her neck with an outburst like the sob of a brute beast in distress.
It was but a passing weakness; directly his face chilled and hardened, and leading the weeping woman to the door he gently thrust her out.
Bewildered by the startling events of the day, by her father’s audacity, by the failure of the prophecies that all would be quickly settled when the new governor arrived, Hester went back to their lodgings in the ox-cart, where a slave was watching over her sleeping sister.
One by one all her doubts and fears came back swarming. Why should her father yield to this new governor more than to the old ? Who could say he would not drive him away as he had done Nicholson ? Then what would become of her ? What would become of Steenie? How could they ever meet again ?
Busied with these thoughts, she did not notice that her mother had tarried behind, until she beheld the clumsy matron, several minutes later, climbing back, with much puffing and panting, to her place in the cart. Neither did the fact that the good dame was weeping awaken in her any surprise, such a state seemed so in keeping with their surroundings.
“ ’T is not like him,” sobbed the vrouw.
“ Who ? ”
“Jacob. T is like some other.”
“ So ? ”
“ He is wasting away ; he has grown an old man; ’tis killing him ! ” continued the poor dame.
“And now we cannot go home,” said Hester, thought-centred at her own axis of the ellipse which circumscribed the interests of the moment. “ The war is not over, and we must needs stay here.”
“ Look, look ! See him walk yonder ! ” cried the anxious wife, pointing to a dark figure striding up and down past the lighted window in the governor’s house.
Hester looked without seeing.
“ The man is crazy. Why goes he not to bed ? ’T is sleep he needs. Ye may see he has not slept for weeks. ‘Tis past midnight, too, for the cocks are crowing. Did ye hear the cocks crow, Hester ? ”
Used all her life to her mother’s maundering, Hester gave no heed to the question. Lying wrapped in her quilt, squeezed in between two heavy pieces of furniture, with her face upturned to the midnight sky, she watched the fog roll away like a curtain, and the stars shine forth like flecks of fire thrown hap-hazard over the black canopy, while she lay and thought, and thought, and thought.
“ See, now he writes,” went on the dame. “ Now he tears it. At it again. Foolish man, as if there were not enough fair daylight to write in ! Ei, that will do no better. ’T is the very same with me. I must ever blot three or four before fetching forth one that will serve. What now ? What now ? He throws all down and stamps about. O Jacob ! Jacob! ”
Thus through the night the faithful heart watched that lone figure wrestling with his task, — ah, futile task ! — watched quite oblivious of other things going on about her.
Yet there were other things going on, and things very significant; for it turned out that Vrouw Leisler and her daughter were not the only watchers in the fort that night.
Down in the soldiers’ quarters dark groups were gathered, and sullen mutterings were heard, which, as the hours went by, grew to outspoken words and very positive utterance. The rats were taking council whether the moment had come to desert the sinking ship.
Presently the dame saw another tall shadow in the lighted room. She recognizecl at once the familiar and characteristic outline. It approached the first figure writing in the chair and seemed to speak. The words she could not hear were these : —
“ Hola! ”
“ Go away ! ”
“ Ei, so will I, but — but hearken to me first! ”
“ Go away ! Ye are drunk ! ”
“ No m-matter for that. I come to —'hic — to put a flea in your ear.”
“ Will ye go ? ” with a touch of fierceness.
“ Not I.”
“ Will ye not ? ” jumping up threateningly. “ Get back to the pothouse, ye damned fool, and leave me to my work! ”
“I — I — budge not — hic — a step till I tell ye.”
The incensed man seized a heavy halberd from the table ; but directly, with a muttered exclamation, threw it down.
“ Speak out, then. What drunken drivel have ye to say ? ”
“ Mynheer, I am your very good friend. Ye know — hic — know that. Well, I — I say drop this and g-get ye gone from here like — hic — like the wind.” “ Ei ? ”
“Yonder rascals,” pointing over his shoulder, “ are plo-plotting against ye.”
The commander nodded with a look of contempt.
“ They — are — are going to give up the fort and — and ye — hic — along with it as soon as the day dawns.”
The listener showed no surprise. “ So true as I live ! ” persisted the visitor.
The commander for all answer picked up his pen and dipped it into the iron inkstand.
“ Hear ye wh-what I say ? Get ye out of this wh-while ’t is dark! See, — ye may put on my hat and cloak and c-copy my walk — straight and st-steady, mark ye ! And who— who’s the wiser — ei ? ” The commander shook his head sadly, and said with a touch of kindness, —
“ Go get ye back to the pothouse, poor devil ’ T is pity so good a heart had not a better head. Go, man! go and leave me to my work ! ”
“ Wel zoo ! the f-fools ’ll never — never — hic — all die.”
So long a vigil naturally made Vrouw Leisler and Hester drowsy in the morning. When they awoke, the sun was shining brightly in their faces and all was Bustle about them.
What was going on ? It was easy enough to see. The gates were thrown wide open, the rats were stealing away in a long dark line, and the hapless ship was sinking fast.
The bewildered women sat up in the cart — their caps awry, their hair disheveled, the clumsy bed-quilts still wrapped about them — and rubbed their eyes.
“ Mother, mother, look there ! ” cried Hester, suddenly pointing to a group advancing towards them from headquarters.
“ Jacob ! ‘T is he, Jacob ! Heavenly Father, what has happened him ? Jacob, where are ye going ? Jacob, will ye not heed me ? ”
Accompanied by his late councilors, and guarded by a troop of strange soldiers, the commander passed on, nor cast so much as a look upon the bawling woman.
“ Come, mother, come! ” cried Hester, jumping from the cart. “See, the gates are open ! Everybody is going; we may go too ! ”
At this amazing news, the dame, speedily tying up her hair and ordering her dress, lost no time in following in the wake of the wondering procession.
Outside the walls it seemed all the world had gone mad. The air resounded with shouts and laughter, flags were flying, bells were ringing, slaves were dancing in wild abandon, while up and down the thronged streets women stood crowded upon the stoops, tasting the sweet spring air like prisoners just released from a dungeon.
Heeding nothing of all this, Vrouw Leisler with her two daughters, following ever in the wake of the procession, marched fast towards the Stadthuys.
By dint of running, elbowing, and pushing, they came up with the head of the line in time to press into the council chamber upon the heels of the prisoners.
There sat the new governor, stern and expectant, surrounded by his council. Turning to view the prisoners, Hester noted that Milborne and La Noy bad been added to their number.
The governor straight-way proceeded to subject the leading culprits to a short and sharp examination. Hester looked with awe upon the magistrate, that he dared address her father in such a tone. In breathless suspense she awaited the explosion to follow. To her amazement there was no explosion, but an answer most humble and submissive. As if doubting her own senses she cast a look at her mother. The good dame stood with eyes and mouth agape.
But already the summary examination is ended ; the governor is saying something to the prisoners.
“ You are committed to prison, pending your examination before a proper tribunal, on a charge of being taken in open and armed rebellion against their Majesties; clerk, make out the commitments ! ”
While the clerk is busy with his task and the governor is whispering apart with his council, there is heard a bustle at the door. The crowd gives way to admit two strange figures, — figures squalid, haggard, ghostly, with sunken eyes and matted hair, who blink in the blinding sunlight and totter as they walk.
At an exclamation from Milborne, Leisler looks up; a deep flush overspreads his face, and a hangdog look of guilt gleams in his tell-tale eyes as he quickly turns away.
A cry of execration loud and deep rises from the crowd. They too have recognized the strangers, they too understand their presence here, — understand why Mynheer Van Cortlandt hastens forward to embrace them, and why his Excellency receives the squalid wretches with such honor : —
“ Colonel, your name is well known to me; Mr. Nichols, I am much honored by your acquaintance. I congratulate myself that I have been the means of delivering you both from your cruel imprisonment.”
Well, too, the watchful bystanders note and understand the triumphant look with which, as he signs the warrants of the new prisoners, his Excellency says to the old:—
“ And now, gentlemen, as their Majesties have appointed you to be my advisers, it were well you should be sworn in here and now of the council. Officer, here are the papers ; take you the prisoners and see them committed to the dungeons in the fort, there to be kept safe and fast pending further proceedings.”
The officer obeyed. Amidst the howling and jubilations of an excited mob the culprits were led back to the fort, where the shackles just dropped from the shrunk shank of Colonel Bayard had scarcely grown cold before they were hung upon the stalwart leg of his oppressor.
“ I had fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of Cod in the land of the living,” — this was Dominie Selyn’s text next Lord’s Day morning.
The sermon which followed was an anthem of thanksgiving, a pæan of praise. It sounded the key-note of universal jubilation. The people’s joy can be but feebly imagined; it had the thrill of those who awake to wholesome daylight after a prolonged nightmare. The world was once more a place of health and comfort. The sunshine seemed again a gift from God in which they could bask without qualm ; the refreshing sea breeze, a breath of heaven which they could suck in freely to their famished lungs. Again friend could greet friend without suspicion ; again neighbors talk in the chimney nook in the old free, outspoken fashion. Even nature seemed in sympathy with this ecstatic mood. Just freed from the icy bonds of winter, the brooks and creeks ran frolicking to the sea; and through every pore in the earth - crust came bursting upward a wealth of verdure and fragrance.
Vrouw Leisler had boundless faith in her husband’s ability to take care of himself ; and although at first shocked by his arrest, she soon recovered from her alarm. Indeed, she presently plucked up spirit to inveigh sharply against this high-handed proceeding on the part of the new governor, who, as she repeatedly declared in the bosom of her own family, would very soon learn better than to meddle with her Jacob. Looking, therefore, upon his imprisonment as a temporary measure pending the trial about to take place, she gave herself up heart and soul to setting her dismantled house in order and getting all things in readiness to give her spouse a rousing welcome on his return.
This interval of work and waiting was brightened to the good wife by one blessing : since Milborne’s imprisonment Mary had come home to live, and the delighted mother rejoiced again in the aid and fellowship of her favorite daughter.
Cobus, perhaps upon some hint from his father, was as busy at the shop in Winckel Street as was his mother at home. Damp and mildew, dust and cobwebs, had formed there a close and thriving corporation, so that Cobus found it no easy task to bring back the little warehouse to its old appearance of thrift and order.
Meantime, the new governor, directed and urged on by his council, proceeded with vigor in the public business. Chief in importance and interest among the tasks awaiting the new administration was the disposition of the prisoners. A court was speedily organized, and their trial began.
Every step in the proceedings was of course watched with profound interest by the household in the Strand. A body of their friends and relatives attended every day at court, and in the evening the news was discussed, point by point, in the family circle. Their consternation at the charges of treason and murder was quickly burned away in the hot flame of their indignation at the composition of the court.
“ They are all Papists! ” cried Cobus. “ And his worst enemies at that,” joined in his mother. “Wait till the king — wait, I say, till their Majesties hear of these doings ! ”
“ Wait only till he himself gets out of prison ! ” muttered Cobus between his clenched teeth.
“ So ! ‘t will be a sorry day for these fine gentlemen. — that! ” concluded the dame, wagging her head.
Or another evening it would be : —
“ They are proving nothing ; they can find nothing against him.”
“ See there now! What told I ye, Mary ? What said I, Cobus, from the first ? ”
“ All goes to show that he was in by authority of the king, and did his duty.”
“Be sure of that! ”
“ And that the province was never so governed before.”
“ No, nor ever will be again; he was not sent by the Lord for nothing to this work! ”
Hester heard and took part in this talk. From whatever point of view, the trial was a matter of vital and determining moment to her. But since the result was a foregone conclusion, — as Dr. Staats, Dr. Beekman, Mr. Walters, and Cobus all agreed it was, — she dismissed it from her mind as a subject of anxiety, and busied herself with other besieging thoughts.
In the hurly-burly of the moment she failed for some time to realize that she was free. The tardy discovery was made at last without a thrill. The prospect of its short duration robbed the precious liberty of all its value. In vain she repeated over and over to herself, — “ It has come, it is here, I have it, that long-expected freedom.” Like a mocking echo a voice came back, —
“ But where is the long-expected happiness it was to bring ? ”
As if in answer to the unknown scoffer, Steenie came one day and boldly asked for her at the door. The slave who opened it said she was in the garden. Hurrying thither, he saw a girlish figure among the trees. He advanced with eager strides. Instead of coining to meet him, the girl marched as fast as she could go towards the gate.
The junker’s surprise was but for a moment. He recognized the fugitive; the old mischievous gleam shone in his eyes, as, clearing the tulip-bed at a bound, he hastened after the retreating maiden, crying, —
“ Hola there, Catalina! Catalina, are you running away from old friends ? ” There was no answer.
“ Hola, I say,” springing and intercepting her ; “ why do you run away ? ” “ I am not running away,” she answered, turning with an air of dignity, her cheeks meantime flushing, and her eyes looking to this side and that in the effort to avoid his.
“ Let us shake hands, then ; ’t is a long time since we met,” extending his own huge palm.
“ There is no occasion to shake hands.”
Have you then no greeting for an old friend ? ” “ We are not old friends.”
“ So ? ” with an amused look; “ then surely ’t is time we were. We are old friends to Hester. Hester loves us both, and we should love each other.”
“ I hold not myself bound to love everything that Hester does.”
They were close to the gate by this. Catalina reached to lift the latch. He put out his heavy hand to prevent it. She turned with an indignant protest upon her lips, her eyes all the time fastened upon the ground.
“ Pray you, now,” said the junker, looking as if tempted to catch up this sprig of humanity with its odd, brilliant coloring and its disdainful face, “ do not go ! ”
“ I must go,” with a tone of emphasis, but with a look of hesitation.
“ Come, now,” he coaxed, as he gently, but boldly too, crowded her away from the gate. “ Tell me of Hester ; where is she ? ”
“ She is here at hand to speak for herself,” turning back promptly towards the gate.
“ How is she, then ? ”
“ She is well enough.”
“ I am but just come home. I want to meet all my friends ; I am glad to see everybody I knew in the old days. Give my duty to your worshipful mother ; tell her I heard of her kind offices in my behalf. I hope to wait upon her soon.”
By his adroit management they were again headed back towards the garden and slowly walking down the path, every step taken by the reluctant Catalina having the force of a repeated protest.
“ But where is Hester hiding all this time ? They told me she was in the garden.”
“ Go seek her out, then, I pray ! ” turning suddenly and hurrying towards the gate.
“ Stay ! hold ! say good-by, at least! ” hastening after her.
“ I cannot stop.” “ Come, now ! ” “ I will not.”
“ You shall not go, I swear, till you shake hands ! ” and with a long stride he swept past her and blocked the path.
She stopped, dumb with indignation.
“ Come, now ! ”
She cast upward a searching look at his face. He held out his hand pleadingly.
“ Let us be friends, I say.”
There was a moment’s pause ; then like a flash she thrust out her mite of a palm, lightly touched his, and bounded away.
The junker stood gazing after her with a puzzled look, when a crunching of gravel behind drew his attention, and, turning, he saw Hester coming with a pretty blush of welcome to meet him.
It was like no other meeting they ever had. Unlike that sweet early intercourse, so free from care of anything but themselves and the moment, it was also far different from their later stolen interviews. They studied each other now with covert curiosity, while both felt the constraint of self-consciousness. What an age had elapsed since those early times! — an age which had left them ripe in experience. Meantime, there was so much to say they knew not where to begin ; and what with it all, actually walked up and down several minutes in silence.
Attributing this constraint to their surroundings, Steenie suggested going to their old haunt in the Magde Paetje.
Passing through the house to get Hester’s hood and cloak, they came upon Cobus, who had run up on some errand from the court. Recognizing Steenie, he cast on the two a black look, and called out bluntly, —
“You had best keep in-doors, sister, while the town is in the hands of thieves and pirates ! ”
Hester treated her brother’s advice with silent contempt while Steenie towered serenely aloft, blind and deaf to his peevishness.
Going somewhat roundabout, they picked their way through Smiet’s Vly, crossed the foaming brook, and wandered at leisure up the narrowing dell.
The season was earlier than at that other time so long ago. The air was still a little raw, the ground not yet quite freed from its winter thrall. Neither liverwort nor saxifrage was yet in bloom, and the pollards by the brookside showed not a touch of the furry little catkins folded tight in each swelling bourgeon.
There was, however, much to remind them of their former walk together in the little valley, as they sauntered along hand in hand, stopping only to break here and there an osier switch or skirt dry-shod some marshy place in the path. But for their hand-clasp one might have thought they had quarreled, so little they talked. Even Steenie was tongue-tied. The brief speeches they made were for the most part commonplaces. Yet the low whistling with which he beguiled the way, and the odd snatches of song she hummed, were but the brimmings-over of a speechless content. For the rest, it is quite certain that no possible words could have added to the thoroughness of their communion.
Even when they climbed into a little sun-warmed niche in a ledge overlooking the town, — where tucked snugly in by themselves the world seemed shut out, — they were not garrulous. Indeed, the supreme eloquence of silence never more clearly appeared than when, later, Steenie strove to formulate the emotional significance of the moment.
“ At last we are happy.”
Hester stirred as if he had awaked her from a delightful dream, and answered presently with a long - drawn sigh, —
“ Ah. but for so short a time ! ”
“ Why say you that, darling ? ”
“ Because !t is true; because as soon as he comes home he will put an end to all, as you know.”
A strange look passed over the junker’s face, yet not so much passed over as came and went in it like the opening and shutting of a lid. He made a movement to speak, but checked himself.
“ ’T will be worse for us then than ever,” went on Hester, unconscious of all this facial disturbance; “ he will be so sore at the treatment he has received.”
It is a sufficient proof of her own preoccupation that she found nothing noteworthy in his continued silence.
“ You have not thought of this? ” “ Yes, ’t is no straight course we have to run; there are other stumbling-blocks in the way.” “You mean your own family,” she put in quickly. “ Remember what they have suffered.”
“ They hate him, and they will hate me.”
“ They cannot when they come to know you.” “ Which will never be.” “But it shall be, I say.”
“ And do you think the time will ever come,” playing with a silver button on his waistcoat, “when” — “ When ? ”
— “ when we shall he left alone and suffered to do as we choose ? ”
“ Yes, if we have but patience to wait” —
“ I could wait a thousand years,” she murmured interjectively.
“ And if we but hold fast to each other,” he concluded dryly.
She looked up to study his face. He was gazing at her with a confident smile. Directly she saw it was a joke. And what a capital joke, too ! They both laughed outright. He kissed her upturned forehead and called her a goose; and she, playfully patting his cheeks, justified the epithet by asking, —
“ And do you think we shall hold fast to each other ? ”
Thereupon they both laughed again. Indeed, the joke was so good that it lasted them for the rest of the day; for when the outstretching shadows warned them to go home, a little preliminary which marked their setting-fortli brought it up again. Nay, even when they had reached the house, and stood on the porch swinging back and forth by their clasped hands, Hester cried in playful warning as she swung out over the edge of the stairs, —
“ If you hold me not fast now, I may get my death-fall.”
“Never fear ! ’T is you will let go first ! ”
“ Indeed ! ” with a show of indignation.
“ Else will we hold hands here forever.”
“ If you are never free till I let go my hold ” — She stopped and listened.
“ What’s that ? ”
It was only a disturbance in the street, — several citizens hurrying in the direction of the Stadthuys.
“Hola there ! ” shouted Steenie, hailing from the porch. “ What is it ? ”
“ The jury.”
“ Ei ? ”
“ What — what! ”
“ Guilty ! ”
The junker seized Hester in his arms; his eyes shone, his face Hushed, he knew not whether to shout in triumph or whisper in condolence. She looked simply stupefied.
“ It may be false. I will go learn the truth and bring you word.”
He embraced her hurriedly, and turned to the stairs.
Stirred by a conflict of emotions she could not analyze, Hester gasped, —
“I — I — take me ! I must go too ! ”
“ Quick, then ! let us run ! ”
Hand in hand they hurried along, keeping to the middle of the street and clearing the puddles with flying leaps.
“ Guilty of what?” panted Hester, as they went.
“ Of — of — of withstanding his Excellency, Governor Sloughter,” said Steenie, pushed for an answer.
Reassured by this simple statement of the ease, Hester in a measure recovered her self-possession before arriving at the Stadthuys. Here they found the courtroom already packed to suffocation, and the narrow hall and stairway fast filling up. With much ado they squeezed into a niche within earshot of the door. The crowd stood with eyes and ears in strained attention. A murmur of voices was heard from within. Suddenly there came a sharp rap and a cry of “ Silence!” There was a general stir in the audience ; every one rose upon tiptoe and canted his head to listen.
“ What is it ? ” whispered Hester.
“ Hush! the court is addressing the prisoner.”
Breathless and pulseless, the anxious girl listened ; she heard a voice declaiming in solemn monotone, but not a word reached her.
Presently the voice ceased, and there was a movement among those standingnear. Two men came pushing their way out. It was Dr. Gerardus Beekman and Dr. Staats, both pale and deeply agitated. “Ei? what was it? I could not hear,” said Beekman.
“He is to be taken yonder without the walls ” — The speaker paused and stammered ; there before him, with tragic face, stood Hester, drinking in his words.
“ Well, and then ? ” demanded Beekman eagerly.
“ The old form,” muttered Staats, taking refuge in Latin. “ Ibidem suspendatur per collam et vivus ad terrain prosternatur. Interior a sua extra ventrem suum capiantur. Ipsoque vivente comburantur. Caput suum amputetur. Quodque corpus suum in quatuor partes dividatur. Et quod caput et quateria illa ponantur ubi dominus rex ea assignare voluerit.”
Understanding nothing of all this, but filled with a vague fear, Hester frantically forced her way in through the serried crowd to the railing. Eagerly her eyes sought out the prisoner. He stood motionless within the dock, with cold beads of sweat hanging like dewdrops on his rugged forehead. In a moment all was clear. Sickened with horror, she felt the room begin to reel about her, and straightway a blessed veil of unconsciousness fell between her and all further sights and sounds.
Edwin Lassetter Bynner.