Hendrik Conscience.

Tales of Flemish life online

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I am in poverty ! And yet out of the depths of my humilia-
tion, even before you, I will proudly raise my head, and my
eyes shall not sink before your glance. Here, in your pre-
sence, I am alone with my soul with my conscience ; and
here I feel that no shame can touch him who is a martyr to
his duty as Noble, brother, Christian, and father 1"

Herr von Vlierbeke was qtiite carried away by his excite-
ment ; walked up and down the room with long strides,
pointing in quick succession with his hand to the portraits of
his fathers. There was something majestic in his mien ;
with head erect, he looked a prince ; his dark eyes sparkled
in the gloom, his fine countenance was full of dignity, and
his expression and whole bearing was manly, even grand.
Suddenly he stood still, laid his hand upon his brow, and
muttered, with a sad smile

" Poor fool ! thy soul seeks more room ; it would fain
burst the narrow limits which its degradation imposes ; and

Clasping his hands and looking towards heaven, he said

" Yes, it is a delusion ; but still, I thank Thee, good God,
that Thou hast caused courage and patience to spring up in
my soul ! Enough ; reality again stands before me, like a
grim skeleton grinning at me from out the darkness ; but
now I am strong, and can laugh at the stern spectre of de-

As the recollection of his actual circumstances recurred


to him, dejection was again depicted on his features, and let-
ting his head sink upon his breast, he uttered a sigh of painful

" And to-morrow to-morrow will the eye of man again look
distrustfully upon thee ; thou wilt tremble before the wonder-
ing and curious looks of those who seek to solve the problem
of thy acts ; thou wilt drain once more with full draughts the
cup of shame. Still, learn well thy part ; calculate every ex-
pression of thy face play on, to the last scene, the coward
farce. And be mindful of thy noble race, that thou mayest be
ready to bleed in every vein of thy heart, and die a hundred
deaths ! Go, thy night's work is done go, and seek repose,
and forget in sleep what thou art, and what awaits thee.
Mockery 1 yonder is the stage of thy final abasement ; yonder
thou mayest see a stranger take possession of the estate of thy
forefathers ; the cold and heartless laugh over thy ruin over
thy flight from thy fatherland with thy only child, to seek the
bread of wretchedness in a distant country. Sleep ! it makes
me tremble the bond! the bond!"

Repeating this word with increasing agony, he put aside
everything that was on the table, and taking the lamp in his
hand, disappeared through a door which apparently led to his



ON the following day, so soon as the morning dawn coloured
the sky, every one about Grinselhof was in activity ; the
farmer's wife and her maid scoured the steps and passages ;
the farmer cleaned the stable, and his son hoed and weeded
the approach. Lenora was early in the dining-room busy
cleaning it, and arranging tastefully the furniture and various
little ornaments.

There was more life and movement than had been seen in
Grinselhof for ten years ; it seemed as if the people of the
farm-house enjoyed the novelty of the work in an especial
manner for there was visible on their faces a kind of tri-
umphant expression, as if they imagined that they were
waging a successful war with the deathlike solitude which
had reigned here so long undisturbed.

Herr von Vlierbeke, although in his heart more excited
than any of the others, walked up and down with an assumed
indifference, going from one to another, directing their opera-
tions, and encouraging them now and then with a kind and
amiable word, without confessing even to himself that he was
nervously anxious about the preparations for this eventful
day. With a smiling countenance, he flattered the self-love
of these simple people, by telling them, in a jocular way, that it
was an Honour to them if his guests showed themselves satis-
fied with their reception. The farmer and his wife had nevur


seen Herr von Vlierbeke so cheerful and communicative ; and
as they really loved and honoured him from their hearts, they
were in as high spirits as if they had been at a Grinselhof
festival. They did not perceive that this more than ordinary
kindness and good- will on the part of the poor nobleman was
an effort to repay them for their willing labour, since he could
not afford to remunerate them in any other way.

When the heaviest work was done, and the sun was now
pretty high in the heavens, Herr von Vlierbeke called his
daughter down, and gave her very minute directions about
cooking the food ; telling her at the same time to look after it
now and then, and explain to the farmer's wife how she should
prepare certain dishes, which she had never seen before.

The fire was lighted in the old stove ; the wood blazed and
crackled in the fireplace ; the coals glowed in the grate, and
the smoke rolled in playful volumes over the roof.

The basket was unpacked, the stuffed fowl, the meat-pie,
and other exquisite dishes taken out ; then whole baskets of
pease and beans, and other vegetables were brought in ; and
the women began to clean and prepare them. Lenora herself
took part in this work, and chatted pleasantly the while with
the farmer's wife and the maid. The latter, who had very
rarely, indeed, had a close view of the young girl, and had not
at any time been more than a few moments in her presence,
was never tired gazing, with a species of wonder and profound
veneration, at her beaiitiful maiden features, her slender form,
and her bright, sparkling eyes ; and these emotions were still
more vividly depicted on her face, when Lenora dreamily sung
a few verses of a well-known popular ballad. The maid rose
from her chair, approached her mistress shyly, and said in a
low and beseeching tone, but loud enough for Lenora to over-
hear her

" Ah, mistress, beg the young lady to sing a bit of that


ballad ; I heard it yesterday, and oh ! it was so beautiful that
I could not help weeping for a quarter of an hour after, be-
hind the hazel-bushes."

" do !" begged the farmer's wife of Lenora ; " if it is not
too much trouble to you, Miss, you would give us so much
pleasure ; you have a voice like a nightingale, and I remem-
ber well that my dear mother she is long since with God
used always to hush me asleep with that very song."

" It is so long," replied Lenora, smiling.

" If it were only a few verses," she replied ; " this is such
a happy day with us all."

"Well, then," -said Lenora, "if it will give you pleasure,
why should I refuse ? Listen, then."


Swiftly but gently flowed the stream,

So flowed a maiden's tears,
Who by the river wailing sat,

Few were that maiden's years.

Idly into the stream she flung

The blossoms by her side ;
And " Father dear ! ah, brother, come ! "

Most piteously she cried.

A youthful knight by chance o'erheard

The moan which she did make ;
He wept and paused to learn her grief,

And vowed her part to take.

" What ails thee, dearest child," he said,

" Come, tell thy grief to me ;
If this stout arm can lend thee aid.

It shall not lacking be."

She raised her sad and heavy eye,

And sighed, " O brave young man !
My grief is great, no mortal hand

Can aid God only can.

" See'st thou the grassy mound hard by ?

It is my mother's grave !
Look on this stream my father dear

Lies deep beneath its wave !


" The wild stream swept him with its tide,

My brother plunged to save
In rain, in vain ! he also sank.

And found a watery grave !

" Now have I left my lonely cot,

Where naught but sorrow dwells "
So sad and simple is the tale

The maid despairing tells.

" No longer weep," then spake the knight :

" Let all thy care have end,

And find in me, O maiden fair 1

Thy father, brother, friend."

Then gently grasp'd her hand, and call'd

The Orphan Girl his bride ;
And cloth'd her gay in wedding robes

There by the river side.

Of food, and drink, and raiment now,

And joy she hath full store
Praise to the gallant youth who did

So brave a deed of yore !*

At the beginning of the last verse, Herr von Vlierbeke had
made his appearance at the kitchen door, and the farmer's
wife had risen respectfully, and seemingly afraid that he might
be angry at what had happened ; on the contrary, he had
given his daughter a sign to finish the song. When she
had stopped, he said in a kindly tone

" Ah, I am delighted to find you all so happy here. I should
like your assistance for a few minutes up stairs, my good

Both now went up stairs to the room above, where the
cloth was laid for dinner, and found that the young peasant
had already taken his place there, dressed in his old livery,
and with a napkin thrown over his arm. After the nobleman
had, by a short address, convinced the mother and son, that
what he was going to do had this special object namely,

* This popular ballad, known by the name of Die Waite, is much sung in the Kempen
The melody is sad but sweet and pleasing, and as Willens has remarked (Oude Vlaemitche
Liederen, p. 223', has a great resemblance to Catalani's favourite song, " Nel cor piii
non i'ii tento." It is pre-eminently an indigenous German ballad.


their gaining credit for their able service at table, be began
to play a real comedy, and made each go through their parts
several times. He especially drilled them in changing the
plates and spoons with great rapidity, and was so skilful in
letting all the casualties and emergencies, which he feared,
happen, as if naturally, during this lesson, that he at last
could stop the rehearsal with a pretty confident anticipation
that all would go well.

At last the hour of dinner approached ; everything was
ready in the kitchen, and every one in his place. Lenora
was dressed, and waited with throbbing heart behind the
curtain of a side window. Her father sat with a book under
a chestnut-tree, and feigned to read, and thus concealed his
rising anxiety from the farm-people.

About two o'clock in the afternoon, a splendid carriage,
drawn by beautiful English horses, entered the grounds of
Grinselhof, and drew up before the house-door. The noble-
man greeted his guests with that bland dignity which was
peculiar to him, and made some cheerful remarks ; while the
merchant gave orders to his coachman to call for him precisely
at five o'clock, as he had still to go to the city on business
which could not be postponed.

Herr Denecker was a stout man, whose dress, though very
rich, seemed to be arranged with a careful neglect, in order
to give him an independent exterior ; his face was not very
significant ; it bore the marks of a certain shrewdness, and
also of considerable goodness of heart, which, however, had
perhaps never been allowed a fair field of action on account
of the indifference which was a leading feature in his char-

The whole appearance of his nephew, Gustav, on the con-
trary, was noble ; to a fine form, and an independent, manly
countenance, he added an education of the highest order, and in


refinement of manners and expression was scarcely excelled
even by the nobleman himself. His fair hair and dark-blue
eyes gave something poetic to his countenance, while his firm
collected look, and a few slight wrinkles on his brow indicated
that he was richly endowed with intellect and feeling.

With the customary phrases of politeness, Herr von Vlier-
beke conducted his guests into the room on the ground-floor,
where his daughter awaited their arrival. The merchant
greeted her with a friendly laugh, and exclaimed with genuine

" So beautiful and charming, and to be shut up in Grin
selhof ! Ah, Herr von Vlierbeke, this is not right ! "

Meanwhile Gustav approached the beautiful girl, and uttered
a half-inarticulate greeting. The brows of both were suffused
with blushes, and their eyes fell ; but the young man quickly
regained his presence of mind, and began to converse with
Lenora intelligently.

The merchant directed Herr von Vlierbeke's attention to
their mutual embarrassment, and whispered in his ear

" Do you see what is going on there ? My nephew does
not know whether his head is off or on ; the young lady puts
out his eyes. I do not know how far the affections of these
two young people have been already engaged. If, however,
you do not look favourably upon its growth, and a pretty early
maturity too, it would be well to pay attention to it betimes,
otherwise it will soon be too late. For, I assure you, that
my nephew, with his quiet countenance, is not a youth to
see an obstacle. See, they talk together now easily ; their
mutual fear is gone."

Herr von Vlierbeke felt deeply moved by the merchant's
words, because they strengthened his last hopes of deliver-
ance ; but concealing his feelings, he replied

" You are jesting, Herr Denecker j there is no harm in


their intercourse ; they are both young, and it is not surpris-
ing that a slight affection should spring up between them.
It is of no importance."

" Come," he then said with a loud voice, " the dinner is on
the table ; let us go."

Gustav shyly offered Lenora his arm, and blushing, and
with a slight trepidation, she took it. Both seemed perplexed,
and yet there beamed from the eyes of both an inexpressible*
joy, and their hearts beat -fast with a feeling of rapture.
The uncle held his finger up to his nephew, shaking it with
feigned displeasure, as if he would say, " I see already what
is going on there." This made the young man redden still
more, although the manifest approbation of his nncle at the
same time filled his heart with sweet hopes ; besides, Lenora,
had fortunately not observed the movement.

They took their seats the nobleman opposite Herr De-
necker, and beside Gustav, who again sat opposite Lenora.

The farmer's wife carried up the dinner, and her son in
livery waited the table. The dishes were pretty well pre-
pared, and the merchant more than once testified his satisfac-
tion with them. The good food, and especially its abundance,
took him by surprise, for he had expected a very meagre din-
ner, as Herr von Vlierbeke was decried in the whole neigh-
bourhood as an avaricious and niggardly miser.

The conversation was now general, and consequently Lenora
felt more at ease in replying to the merchant's remarks, and
astonished both the guests by the signs she gave of a well-
cultivated and refined intellect. It was quite otherwise,- how-
ever, when she had to reply directly to Gustav ; then her
self-possession seemed all at once to desert her ; and with
downcast eyes she had not courage to give him anything but
an abrupt and unmeaning reply. The young man himself
did not fare much better: both felt deeply happy in their


hearts ; and yet one would have thought that they did not
enjoy themselves very much.

Herr von Vlierbeke, meanwhile, led the conversation to
subjects of a kind which he thought would be agreeable to his
guests. With the greatest complaisance he listened to the
merchant, and gave him opportunity to speak of things with
which, as a merchant, he was likely to be well acquainted.
Hip guest perceived this kindness, and thanked him for it in
his heart. The merchant felt himself attracted to Herr von
Vlierbeke with a genuine feeling of friendship, and endea-
voured to vie with him in politeness.

Thus everything went well : everybody was pleased with
himself and his company ; above all, it was gratifying to the
nobleman to see the mother and son understand their duties
so well : they took away the plates and spoons which had
been used, and brought them back clean with such expedition,
that it would have been impossible to perceive that there was
a deficiency. One thing alone was the source of some uneasi-
ness to the nobleman. He looked with anxiety as Herr
Denecker emptied one glass of wine after another, during the
conversation. The young gentleman, too, frequently asked
Lenora to drink more wine, either out of mere kindness,
or that he might have occasion to address her ; and so it
happened, that the first bottle was nearly drained before the
dinner was well begun. Herr von Vlierbeke, meanwhile,
took stolen glances at the liquor which still remained, and
trembled secretly every time he saw the merchant empty his
glass. The attendant had now to produce the second bottle
at the nobleman's order, and the latter gradually let the con-
versation flag, that he might not increase the merchant's thirst,
for he perceived that his guest could not speak without per-
petually carrying the wine to his lips. He saw himself
sadly mistaken, however, for Herr Denecker turned the con-


versation to the subject of wine itself began to praise the
noble juice, and to express his surprise at the nobleman's ex-
traordinary abstemiousness. Meanwhile he drank more than
ever, and was supported in his potations by Gustav also, who,
however, drank much more moderately.

The anxiety of the nobleman increased with every draught
which the merchant took, and he restrained from pledging
him, although it was most painful to him to do so, and showed
himself in this one point at least inhospitable, through fear of
a, greater shame. When the second bottle was finished, the
merchant said in a light easy tone to Heir von Vlierbeke,
who, with a weight at his heart, though to appearance merry
and gay, was narrowly watching his guest's progress

" Yes, Herr von Vlierbeke ; the wine is old and tempting :
I confess that ; but one must change when drinking, other-
wise it is impossible to enjoy the flavour. I cannot help
thinking that you have a capital cellar, if I may judge from
this specimen. Let us have a bottle of Chateau- Margaux ;
and if we have time after that, we shall close our meeting
with a draught of Hochheimer. I never drink champagne ;
it is a poor wine to connoisseurs."

While the merchant was speaking, a sudden pallor over-
spread the nobleman's face ; but in order to conceal his alarm,
he rubbed his brow and eyes for a minute, exerting his mind
at the same time to discover some way out of this difficulty.
When his guest concluded, the nobleman took his hand from his
face, and a quiet smile was all that could be perceived on it.

" Chdteau-Margaux ? " said he. "As you please, Herr
Denecker." Then turning to the servant, he said, " John, a
bottle of Chdteau-Margaux. Left hand, third row."

The peasant youth stared at his master as if he were ad-
dressing him in an unknown tongue, and muttered some unin-
telligible words.


" Excuse me," said the nobleman rising. " He does not
know where to find it a moment !"

He descended the stairs, and entering the kitchen, took up
the remaining bottle, and carried it with him to the cellar.
Here finding himself alone, he stood still and drew a deep
breath, while he said to himself

" Chateau-Margaux, Hochheimer, Champagne ! Nothing
in the house except this last bottle of Bordeaux. What shall
I do ? There is no time to reflect ! The die is cast may
% God help me ! "

He now ascended the stairs, and re-entered the dining-room
smiling, and with the screw in the cork of the only remaining
bottle. Meanwhile, Lenora had ordered other glasses to be

" This wine is fully twenty years old ; I hope it will
please you," said the nobleman, while he filled the glasses.
Trembling, he watched the merchant's face as he tasted
it. The latter had scarcely put the glass to his lips, when
he withdrew it again, with an air of discontent, and ex-

" There is some mistake here : it is the same wine."

Herr von Vlierbeke likewise tasted the wine, with an as-
sumed expression of doubt on his face, and then exclaimed,
as if taken by surprise

" It is as you say I have made a mistake. However, as
we have begun this bottle, we shall empty it first. We have
plenty of time."

" As you please," replied the merchant ; " but on condition
that you drink more freely, and help me. We can stay a
little later than we intended."

In this way the wine gradually disappeared in the third
bottle likewise, so that only a glass or two remained.

The nobleman could no longer conceal his agitation ; he


turned away from the bottle, but, spite of himself, his looks
always returned to it. Already there rang in his ears the
dreadful word, Chdteau-Margaux the word which was to
cover him with shame. The cold perspiration broke from
every pore ; the colour of his face changed several times in
the same instant ; yet his shifts were not yet exhausted, and
he struggled bravely against the approaching exposure of his
poverty. By rubbing his face and brow with his hands and
pocket-handkerchief, by coughing and turning round at times,
as if he would sneeze, and by other devices of a similar kind,
he succeeded in concealing his agitation, and escaping the
notice of his guests, till Herr Denecker put his hand on the
bottle to drain it of its last glass of wine. When the nobleman
saw this, he shuddered ; and growing deathly pale, covered
his face, and with a long sigh, let his head sink slowly on the
arm of the oh air.

Was it a feigned swoon, or was the nobleman only making
use of his real agitation and alarm to help himself out of his
painful difficulty?

All rose. Lenora Tittered a shriek, and hastened to her
father's side with an anxious countenance ; while he, raising
himself slowly up, endeavoured to smile, and said

" It is nothing ; I feel the atmosphere here suffocating ; let
me go into the open air for a minute, and I shall soon be

So saying, he left the room, and descended the front steps
into the garden. Lenora had taken his arm to help him down,
although he had no particular need of her assistance ; and
Denecker and his nephew followed with faces expressive of
deep concern.

After the nobleman had sat for a few minutes under the
shade of the old jessamine, the paleness disappeared from

his face, and with a steady and lively voice he said to his
3 T


guests, that he felt quite better, but would ask their per-
mission to remain for a time in the open air, lest the faint
should return ; and soon after, standing up, he expressed a
desire to walk.

" With the greatest pleasure," said the merchant, " for at
five o'clock my carriage comes, and I must drive with my
nephew into the city ; and I should not like to leave without
first seeing your grounds. Let us walk about a little, and
then, before going, we shall drink in front of the castle, a good
bottle of wine to our lasting friendship." At these words he
offered his arm to Lenpra, who took it frankly. Although
Herr Denecker had a wish by doing so to tease his nephew a
little, the young man was, in truth, not at all displeased to
see his uncle show such a liking for the object of his own

The walk commenced ; agriculture, the enclosure of the
heath, the chase, and various other topics, formed in succession
the subjects of conversation. Lenora, who, now that she was
in the open air, felt all her freedom and vivacity return to her,
put no longer any restraint upon herself. The cheerful serenity
and virgin purity of her nature were now revealed in all their
charm. Like a playful young roe, she wished to make the
merchant run ; and skipping gaily by his side, she was lavish
of every demonstration of genial and hearty enjoyment of life.
Herr Denecker was excessively charmed with the high spirits
of the girl, and almost allowed himself to be persuaded to
dance and play : he could not gaze sufficiently at Lenora 's
fascinating countenance, which indeed had already given birth
in his breast to a very pleasing sensation ; and he remarked to
himself, while a smile played upon his lips, that his nephew
had a pretty good taste.

While the nobleman, however, was busy explaining some-
thing to his guest, and drawing a sketch on the ground, Lenora


and Gustav had walked off a little way, and seemed engaged
in a very earnest conversation. When the father and his
guest again renewed their walk, the young people were fully
fifty yards in advance, and, either by intention or accident,
this distance between the two parties was henceforth main-

Lenora showed Gustav her flowers, her gold fishes, and

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Online LibraryHendrik ConscienceTales of Flemish life → online text (page 20 of 26)