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Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 54, No. 334, August 1843 online

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"And you did not see me come in?"

"No, meinheer."

"That's all right," said the youth, signing for Yoran to retire. "Now,
then," he said, "there can be no doubt whatever that it was all a
dream." Opening the burgomaster's letter, he ran through it in haste.
The first magistrate of Haarlem informed Frederick Katwingen that he had
an important communication to make to him, and requested him to come to
his house.

The musician again placed his lips on his instrument, and again pressed
it gratefully to his heart; and then placed it with the utmost care
within its beautiful case, which he covered with a rich cloth. Locking
the case, and looking at it as a mother might look at the cradle of her
new-born baby, he betook himself to the mansion of Jansen Pyl.

That stately gentleman was luxuriously reposing in an immense armchair,
covered with Hungary leather. His two elbows rested on the arms and
enabled him to support in his hands the largest, the reddest, the
fattest face that had ever ornamented the configuration of a Dutch
functionary before. Mr Jansen Pyl wore at that moment the radiant look
of satisfaction which only a magistrate can assume who feels conscious
that he is in the full sunshine of the approbation of his sovereign. His
whole manner betrayed it - the smile upon his lip, the fidgety motion of
his feet, and the look which he darted from time to time around the
room, as if to satisfy himself that his happiness was "not a sham but a
reality." But his happiness seemed far from contagious. On his right
hand there was a lovely creature, seated on a footstool, who did not
partake his enjoyment. There was something so sweet and so harmonious in
her expression, that you felt sure at once she was as good as she was
beautiful. There was poetry also in her dejected attitude, and in the
long lashes that shadowed her blue eyes; nor was the charm diminished by
the marble neck bent lowly down, and covered with long flowing locks of
the richest brown. And the poetry was, perhaps, increased by the
contrast offered by the sorrowing countenance of the girl to the radiant
visage of the plethoric individual in the chair. Whilst the ambitious
thoughts of the burgomaster rose to the regions inhabited by the
Stadtholder, the poor girl's miserable reflections returned upon
herself. Her eyes were dimmed with tears. It was easy to see that that
had long been their occupation, and that some secret sorrow preyed upon
the repose of the fair maid of Haarlem.

It was Maïna, the betrothed of Frederick. On the left of the
burgomaster, negligently leaning on the back of the magistrate's chair,
was a man still young in years, but so wrinkled and careworn, from study
or bad health, that he might have passed for old. The man's expression
was cold and severe; his look proud and fiery; his language rough and
harsh. On analysing his features you could easily make out that he had
prodigious powers of mind, a character imperious and jealous, and such
indomitable pride that he might do a mischief to any rival who might be
bold enough to cross his path.

Now, we are aware of one at least who ran the risk; for the man was
Laurentius Castero. Frederick Katwingen started back on entering the
burgomaster's room. His eye encountered the glance of Castero, and in
the look then interchanged, they felt that they were enemies between
whom no reconciliation could take place. From Laurentius, Frederick
turned his eye to Maïna. The sorrowful attitude of the maiden would have
revealed to him all that had happened, if the self-satisfied look of his
rival had left any thing to be learned. The conqueror brow-beat the
vanquished.

"Mr Katwingen," said the burgomaster, deliberately weighing every word,
"you are aware of the high compliment paid by the Stadtholder to our
city."

"My dream comes true," thought Frederick as he bowed affirmatively to
the magistrate's enquiry.

"And you are also aware," pursued the burgomaster, "of the Stadtholder's
wishes as far as you are personally concerned?"

Frederick bowed again.

"Thanks to my humble supplications," continued Jansen Pyl, raising his
enormous head with an air of dignity, "our gracious governor has
condescended to honour our good town with his august presence for
twenty-four hours longer. But what ought to fill you with eternal
gratitude is this: that he has determined to hear you a second time when
he returns to-morrow from inspecting the works at Shravnag. I hope you
will redouble your efforts, and do all you can to please your
illustrious auditor; and, if any thing is required to stimulate your
ambition, and add to your endeavours to excel, I will add this - the hand
of Maïna will be bestowed on the conqueror at this second trial."

"But, father! - - " said the maiden.

"It is all settled," interrupted the burgomaster, looking astonished at
the girl's audacity; "you are the reward I offer to the protégé of the
Stadtholder. You hear what I say, gentlemen?" he added, turning to the
rivals.

"I shall certainly not miss the appointment," said Castero, throwing
back his head proudly. "If to-morrow is not as glorious to me as to-day
has been, I will break my violin, and never touch a bow again as long as
I live."

"As for me," said Frederick, "if I do not make up for the check I
unluckily met to-day by a glorious victory, I swear I will renounce the
flattering name my countrymen have given me, and will hide my shame in
some foreign land. The Orpheus of his country must have no rival of his
fame."

"To-morrow, then," said the burgomaster.

"To-morrow!" repeated the rivals, casting on each other looks of proud
defiance.

"To-morrow!" whispered Maïna and buried her face in her hands.


CHAPTER V.

I shall not attempt to describe the strange sensations of Frederick on
returning from the burgomaster's house It will have been seen from the
glimpses we have had of him already, that he was of a quick and
sensitive disposition, and that the chance of defeat in the approaching
struggle would sting him into madness. He pictured to himself the
ferocious joy of Castero on being declared the victor - the agony of
Maïna - the misery of his own degradation; and there is no doubt if the
mysterious Unknown, whose appearance he now felt certain was nothing but
a dream, had visited him in _propriâ personâ_, that he would have
accepted his terms - his soul for triumph over his enemy, for the
possession of the girl he loved.

The morrow rose clear and cloudless. At the appointed hour Frederick
took his violin, and prepared to set out. But just when he was opening
the door, the man in the mantle - the same he had seen the day
before - stood before him.

"You did not expect to see me," said the Unknown, following Frederick to
the end of the room, where he had retreated. "I told you, nevertheless,
that we should meet again," he added, placing himself face to face with
the son of the brewer.

"Then it was no dream," murmured the youth, who appeared to have lost
all his resolution.

"Certainly not," returned the stranger, looking sarcastically at
Frederick from head to foot. "I promised you yesterday, on the banks of
the lake, that you would find your fiddle unharmed, and that I would
enable you to conquer your rival. But I don't feel that I am bound to do
any thing of the kind for nothing; generosity was never my forte, and I
have lived long enough among the burghers of Holland to insist on being
well paid for every thing I do."

"Who are you, then; and what is it you want?" enquired the Dutch
Orpheus, in an agitated voice.

"Who am I!" answered the man in the mantle, with all the muscles of his
face in violent convulsions - "Who am I! - I thought I had told you
yesterday when you asked me - I am your master. What do I want? I will
tell you. But why do you tremble so? you were bold enough when we met. I
saw the thought in your heart - if Satan should rise before me, and
promise me victory over my rival at the price of my soul, I would agree
to the condition!"

"Satan! - you are Satan!" shrieked Frederick, and closed his eyes in
horror.

"Didn't you find me out on the side of the lake, when you told me you
would exchange your salvation for years of love and glory. Yes, I am
that King of Darkness - _your_ master! and that of a great part of
mankind. But, come; the hour is at hand - the Burgomaster and the
Stadtholder await us. Do you accept the offer I make you?"

After a minute's hesitation, during which his features betrayed the
force of the internal contest, the musician made his choice. He had not
power to speak, but he raised his hand, and was on the point of making
the cross upon his forehead, to guard him from the tempter, when Satan
perceived his intention, and seized his arm.

"Think a little before you discard me entirely," he said, raising again
in the soul of the musician all the clouds of pride and ambition that
had given him power over it at first; "look into the box where your
violin is laid, and decide for the last time."

Frederick obeyed his tempter, and opened the case, but uttered a cry of
desperation when he saw his Straduarius in the same state of utter ruin
to which he had reduced it before. The neck separated from the body;
both faces shivered to fragments - the ebony rests, the gold-headed
stops, the bridge, the sides - all a confused mass of wreck and
destruction.

"Frederick! Frederick!" cried a voice from the brewery - it was his
father's.

"Frederick! Frederick!" repeated a hundred voices under the
windows - "Come down, come down, the Stadtholder is impatient! Castero
swears you are afraid to face him."

They were his friends who were urging him to make haste.

"Well?" enquired Satan.

"I accept the bargain. I give you my soul!" said Frederick, while his
cheek grew pale, and his eye flashed.

"_Your_ soul!" replied Satan, with a shrug of infinite disdain. "Do you
think I would have hindered you from jumping into the lake, if I had
wished to get it? Do you think that suicides are not mine already? - mine
by their own act, without the formality of a bargain? - _Your_ soul!"
repeated the Prince of Darkness, with a sneer; "I don't want it, I
assure you: at least not to-day - I feel sure of it whenever I require
it!"

"My soul, then, belongs to you - my fate is settled beforehand?" enquired
Frederick.

"You are an _artiste_," answered Satan, with a chuckling laugh, "and
therefore are vain, jealous, proud, and full of envy, hatred, malice,
and all uncharitableness. You perceive I shall lose nothing by waiting.
No, no; 'tis not your own soul I want - but that of your first-born, that
you must make over to me this hour!"

"What do you want me to do!"

"Here is the deed," said Satan, pulling a parchment from under his
cloak, on which strange characters were drawn, and letters in an unknown
language. "In putting your name to this, you bind and oblige yourself to
let me know when Maïna is about to become a mother; and before the
baptismal water shall touch the infant's brow, you shall hang from the
window a piece of lace which shall have been worn by Maïna at her
wedding. One of my satellites will be on the watch; he will come and
tell me when the signal is made and - the rest is my own affair! You will
find this agreement in your fiddle-case."

"Frederick! Frederick! be quick be quick!" again shouted the father.

"Frederick! Frederick! Castero is boasting about your absence!" cried
the chorus of impatient friends.

"I agree!" cried the _artiste_, and affixed his name. While he was
signing, the stranger muttered some words of mysterious sound, of which
he did not know the meaning; and immediately the pieces of the broken
instrument united themselves - rests, bridge, stops, faces, and sides,
all took their proper places, and the soul of the noble violin
re-entered its musical prison, at the moment when that of the future
baby of Maïna was sold to the enemy of mankind!

"Now, then," said Satan, as he sank beneath the floor, "go where glory
waits thee."


CHAPTER VI

What need is there to tell the success of Frederick Katwingen - how he
triumphed over Castero, captivated the Stadtholder, and was the pride of
his native town? The Stadtholder attached him to his person, settled a
pension on him of fifteen thousand florins, and treated him as the most
cherished of his friends. The burgomaster was delighted to gain so
illustrious a son-in-law, and hurried forward the marriage with all his
might. On the day of the wedding, when Frederick was leading the bride
to church, at the moment when the party was crossing the market-place, a
voice whispered in his ear - "A piece of the lace she will wear at the
ball this evening." Frederick recognised the voice, though no one else
heard it. He turned, but saw nobody. After the ceremony, the burgomaster
handed the contract to the bridegroom, to which the Stadtholder had
affixed his signature. A present of a hundred thousand florins from the
governor of the United Provinces, proved the sincerity of that
illustrious personage's friendship, and that his favour had by no means
fallen off. The burgomaster was emulous of so much generosity, and
introduced a clause in the contract, settling his whole fortune on his
son-in-law, in case of Maïna's death.

Behold, then, the _artiste_ praised - fêted - and happy. Possessed of the
wife he loved - rich - honoured - what more had he to hope than that those
advantages should be continued him? Castero was true to his
word - reduced his violin to powder, acknowledged Frederick's
superiority, and betook himself to higher pursuits, which ended in the
great discovery of printing.

The Dutch Orpheus is freed from the annoyance of a rival. He reigns by
the divine right of his violin, the undisturbed monarch of his native
plains. His name is pronounced with enthusiasm from one flat end of
Holland to the other. In the splendour of his triumphal condition, he
has forgotten his compact with Beelzebub; but Maïna reminded him of it
one day, when she told him he was about to become a father.

A father! - ha! - Frederick! That word which brings such rapture to the
newly married couple - which presents such radiant visions of the
future - that word freezes the heart of the _artiste_ and stops the blood
in his veins.

It is only now when Maïna is so happy that he knows the enormity of his
fault.

He is about to be a father - and he - beforehand - basely, cowardly - has
sold the soul of his son who is yet unborn - before it can shake off the
taint of original sin. Shame! shame! on the proud in heart who has
yielded to the voice of the tempter - to the wretch who, for a little
miserable glory, has shut the gates of mercy on his own child - shame!
shame!

If Satan would consent to an exchange - if - but no - 'tis impossible. The
"archangel fallen" had explained himself too clearly - no hope! no hope!
From that hour there was no rest, no happiness for the protégé of the
Stadtholder - sleep fled from his eyelids, he was pursued by perpetual
remorse, and in the agonies of his heart deserted the nuptial bed: while
light dreams settled on Maïna's spirit, and wove bright chaplets for the
future, he wandered into the midnight fields - across the canals - any
where, in short, where he fancied he could procure forgetfulness; but
solitude made him only feel his misery the more. How often he thought of
going to the gloomy lake where he had first encountered the Unknown! How
often he determined to complete the resolution he had formed on the day
of Castero's triumph! But Satan had said to him, "The suicide is
condemned - irrevocably condemned;" and the condemnation of which _he_
would be sure, would not bring a ransom for his first-born.

The fatal time draws on - in a few minutes more Maïna will be a mother.
Frederick, by some invisible impulse, has chosen from among the laces of
his wife a rich Mechlin, which she wore round her neck on her
wedding-day. It is now to be the diabolic standard, and he goes with it
towards the door of his house, pensive and sad. When he got to the
threshold he stopped - he raised his eyes to heaven, and from his heart
and from his lips, there gushed out prayers, warm, deep, sincere - the
first for many years. A ray of light has rushed into his soul. He
uttered a cry of joy, he dashed across the street into the neighbouring
church; he dipped the lace into the basin of consecrated water, and
returned immediately to hang it at the door of his apartment.

At that moment Maïna gave birth to a son, and Satan rushed impatiently
to claim his expected prey. But the tempter was unprepared for the trap
that was laid for him. On placing his foot on the first step of the
stair, he found himself pushed back by a superior power. The Mechlin,
dripping with holy water, had amazing effect. It was guardian of the
house and protected the entrance against the fallen angel. Satan strove
again and again; but was always repulsed. There rises now an
impenetrable barrier between him and the innocent being he had destined
for his victim. Forced by the pious stratagem of Frederick Katwingen to
give up his purpose, he roamed all night round the house like a roaring
lion, bellowing in a most awful manner.

In the morning, when they wrapt up the babe in the precious lace to
carry him to be baptized, they perceived that it had been torn in
several places. The holes showed the determination with which Satan had
tried to force a passage. The enemy of mankind had not retreated without
leaving the mark of his talons on the lace.

On coming back from church, Frederick ran to his fiddle; and found in a
corner of the case the deed of compact he had signed. With what joy he
tossed it into the fire, and heard it go crackling up the chimney!

All was over now; Satan was completely floored. He confessed, by giving
up the contract, that he had no further right on the soul of the newly
born, when once it had been purified by the waters of baptism. The
father had recovered the soul which the musician had bartered away!
Since that time, whenever a young woman in Haarlem is about to become a
mother, the husband never fails to hang at the door the richest pieces
of lace he can find in her trousseau. That standard bids defiance to the
evil one, and recalls the noble victory won over the prince of darkness
by Frederick Katwingen, surnamed the Dutch Orpheus. And that is the
reason that, in passing through Haarlem, the visitor sees little frames
suspended from certain houses, ornamented with squares of Mechlin, or
Valenciennes, or Brussels point. And that is the reason that, when he
asks an explanation of the singular custom, he gets only the one short,
unvarying answer - "These are the Devil's Frills!"




ADVENTURES IN LOUISIANA.

PART II.


THE BLOCKHOUSE.

Supper over, and clenched by a pull at Nathan's whisky flask, we
prepared for departure. The Americans threw the choicest parts of the
buck over their shoulders, and the old squatter again taking the lead,
we resumed our march. The way led us first across a prairie, then
through a wood, which was succeeded by a sort of thicket, upon the
branches and thorny shrubs of which we left numerous fragments of our
dress. We had walked several miles almost in silence, when Nathan
suddenly made a pause, and let the but-end of his rifle fall heavily on
the ground. I took the opportunity to ask him where we were.

"In Louisiana," replied he, "between the Red River, the Gulf of Mexico,
and the Mississippi; on French ground, and yet in a country where French
power is worth little. Do you see that?" added he suddenly, seizing my
arm, and pulling me a few paces aside, while he pointed to a dark
object, that at the distance and in the moonlight, had the appearance of
an earthen wall. "Do you know what that is?" repeated the squatter.

"An Indian grave, perhaps," replied I.

"A grave it is," was the answer; "but not of the Redskins. As brave a
backwoodsman as ever crossed the Mississippi lies buried there. You are
not altogether wrong, though. I believe it was once an Indian mound."

While he spoke we were walking on, and I now distinguished a hillock or
mound of earth, with nearly perpendicular sides, on which was erected a
blockhouse, formed of unhewn cypress trunks, of a solidity and thickness
upon which four-and-twenty pounders would have had some difficulty in
making an impression. Its roof rose about ten feet above a palisade
enclosing the building, and consisting of stout saplings sharpened at
the top, and stuck in the ground at a very short distance from each
other, being moreover strengthened and bound together with wattles and
branches. The building had evidently been constructed more for a refuge
and place of defence than an habitual residence.

A ladder was now lowered, by which we ascended to the top of the mound.
There was a small door in the palisades, which Nathan opened and passed
through, we following.

The blockhouse was of equal length and breadth, about forty feet square.
On entering it we found nothing but the bare walls, with the exception
of a wide chimney of sun-baked brick, and in one corner a large wooden
slab partly imbedded in the ground.

"Don't tread upon that board," said the old man solemnly, as we
approached the slab to examine it; "it is holy ground."

"How holy ground?"

"There lies under it as brave a fellow as ever handled axe or rifle. He
it was built this blockhouse, and christened it the Bloody
Blockhouse - and bloody it proved to be to him. But you shall hear more
of it if you like. You shall hear how six American rifles were too many
for ninety French and Spanish muskets."

Carleton and I shook our heads incredulously. The Yankee took us both by
the arm, led us out of the blockhouse, and through the stockade to a
grassy projection of the hillock.

"Ninety French and Spanish muskets," repeated he in a firm voice, and
weighing on each word. "Opposed to them were Asa Nolins, with his three
brothers, his brother-in-law, a cousin, and their wives. He fell like a
brave American as he was, but not alone, for the dead bodies of thirty
foes were lying round the blockhouse when he died. They are buried
there," added he, pointing to a row of cotton-trees a short distance
off, that in the pale moonlight might have been taken for the spectres
of the departed; "under those cotton-trees they fell, and there they are
buried."

The old squatter remained for a short space in his favourite attitude,
his hands crossed on his rifle, and his chin resting on them. He seemed
to be calling together the recollections of a time long gone by. We did
not care to interrupt him. The stillness of the night, the light of the
moon and stars, that gave the prairie lying before us the appearance of
a silvery sea, the sombre forest on either side of the blockhouse, of
which the edges only were lighted up by the moonbeams, the vague
allusions our guide had made to some fearful scene of strife and
slaughter that had been enacted in this now peaceful glade - all these
circumstances combined, worked upon our imaginations, and we felt
unwilling to break the stillness which added to the impressive beauty of
the forest scene.

"Did you ever float down the Mississippi?" asked Nathan abruptly. As he
spoke he sat down upon the bank, and made sign to us to sit beside him.

"Did you ever float down the Mississippi?"

"No; we came up it from New Orleans hither."

"That is nothing; the stream is not half so dangerous there as above
Natchez." _We_ came down, six men, four women, and twice as many
children, all the way from the mouths of the Ohio to the Red River; and
bad work we had of it, in a crazy old boat, to pass the rapids and avoid
the sand-banks, and snakes, and sawyers, and whatever the devil they
call them, that are met with. I calculate we weren't sorry when we left
the river and took to dry land again. The first thing we did was to make
a wigwam, Injun fashion, with branches of trees. This was to shelter the
women and children. Two men remained to protect them, and the other four
divided into two parties, and set off, one south and t'other west, to
look for a good place for a settlement. I and Righteous, one of Asa's
brothers, took the southerly track.

It was no pleasuring party that journey, but a right-down hard and
dangerous expedition, through cypress swamps, where snapping turtles
were plenty as mosquitoes, and at every step the congo and mocassin
snakes twisted themselves round our ankles. We persevered, however. We
had a few handfuls of corn in our hunting-pouches, and our calabashes
well filled with whisky. With that and our rifles we did not want for


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Online LibraryVariousBlackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 54, No. 334, August 1843 → online text (page 16 of 23)