The Burgomaster's Wife - Complete

Publisher: DigiLibraries.com
ISBN: N/A
Language: English
Published: 5 days ago
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CHAPTER I.

In the year 1574 A. D. spring made its joyous entry into the Netherlands at an unusually early date.

The sky was blue, gnats sported in the sunshine, white butterflies alighted on the newly-opened yellow flowers, and beside one of the numerous ditches intersecting the wide plain stood a stork, snapping at a fine frog; the poor fellow soon writhed in its enemy's red beak. One gulp—the merry jumper vanished, and its murderer, flapping its wings, soared high into the air. On flew the bird over gardens filled with blossoming fruit-trees, trimly laid-out flower-beds, and gaily-painted arbors, across the frowning circlet of walls and towers that girdled the city, over narrow houses with high, pointed gables, and neat streets bordered with elm, poplar, linden and willow-trees, decked with the first green leaves of spring. At last it alighted on a lofty gable-roof, on whose ridge was its firmly-fastened nest. After generously giving up its prey to the little wife brooding over the eggs, it stood on one leg and gazed thoughtfully down upon the city, whose shining red tiles gleamed spick and span from the green velvet carpet of the meadows. The bird had known beautiful Leyden, the gem of Holland, for many a year, and was familiar with all the branches of the Rhine that divided the stately city into numerous islands, and over which arched as many stone bridges as there are days in five months of the year; but surely many changes had occurred here since the stork's last departure for the south.

Where were the citizens' gay summer-houses and orchards, where the wooden frames on which the weavers used to stretch their dark and colored cloths?

Whatever plant or work of human hands had risen, outside the city walls and towers to the height of a man's breast, thus interrupting the uniformity of the plain, had vanished from the earth, and beyond, on the bird's best hunting-grounds, brownish spots sown with black circles appeared among the green of the meadows.

Late in October of the preceding year, just after the storks left the country, a Spanish army had encamped here, and a few hours before the return of the winged wanderers in the first opening days of spring, the besiegers retired without having accomplished their purpose.

Barren spots amid the luxuriant growth of vegetation marked the places where they had pitched their tents, the black cinders of the burnt coals their camp-fires.

The sorely-threatened inhabitants of the rescued city, with thankful hearts, uttered sighs of relief. The industrious, volatile populace had speedily forgotten the sufferings endured, for early spring is so beautiful, and never does a rescued life seem so delicious as when we are surrounded by the joys of spring.

A new and happier time appeared to have dawned, not only for Nature but for human beings. The troops quartered in the besieged city, which had the day before committed many an annoyance, had been dismissed with song and music. The carpenter's axe flashed in the spring sunlight before the red walls, towers and gates, and cut sharply into the beams from which new scaffolds and frames were to be erected; noble cattle grazed peacefully undisturbed around the city, whose desolated gardens were being dug, sowed and planted afresh....