Siege of Antwerp – 2
Excerpt, “GERMAN STORIES: Selected From the Works of Hoffmann, De La Motte Fouque’, Pichler, Kruse, and Others.” By R.P. Gillies, Esq. in three Volumes. Vol. I. London: 1826.
The Hellburners of Antwerp, 1585
Evening now closed in. All Antwerp was in commotion; suspense and anxiety were painted on every countenance. Only Cassilda stood as usual, thoughtful and gloomy, at her window, looking out upon the desolate darkness of the night. Suddenly she saw a gleam of light that danced along the surface of the river; then other fires were kindled, and moved onward in regular order.
The lights resembled pillars of fire, reflected on the water, and the radiance was mirrored a thousand-fold in the weltering waves. This effulgence became always brighter and fiercer, till the whole appeared like a sea of flames; and Cassilda scarcely doubted that the fort had already been blown up.
Her imagination presented her father’s mangled frame, with his grey hairs and angry visage, among the ruins. But then her husband entered the room, — clasped his uplifted hands, and exclaimed in a frightful mood of devotion, “Almighty Ruler! Bless and prosper my undertaking of this night! Give to those flames the force of giant’s arms that they may destroy all that falls within their range.
Let them hurl the grave-stones of our murdered citizens on the heads of the tyrannical invader and his troops. Grant new strength to the troubled waters, that they may rise and overwhelm our oppressors. Let not Federico’s doom be sealed at such an hour. Let not his star of hope and prosperity now sink into the darkness!”
Meanwhile, the approach of this extraordinary flotilla had roused all the Spanish army, and every man hastened to his appointed station. The Duke of Parma seemed, by his supernatural exertions and self-possession, to be present every where at one and the same moment. Surrounded by his officers, he dealt out directions for the protection of those points where danger from fire was most to be apprehended.
“Gianibelli, no doubt,” said he, “has been at work here, and has prepared us some diversion to beguile this long winter night.” Accordingly, he laughed aloud as he saw the first flat-bottomed boats (which appeared, for deception’s sake, as ordinary fire-vessels) carried by the force of the stream, aided by a strong breeze, amid the outworks of the bridge, where they were entangled, and their lights rapidly extinguished. Then another division floated on, but these, as Gianibelli expected, were soon dispersed and darkened as the former had been.
At length, the Hope drew near slowly and majestically. This ponderous vessel was like the rest, borne along with the current, and forced against the bridge – but not being, like them, repelled by the outworks, which were insufficient to withstand such as attack. She was driven close up to the railing of ship masts, and halted in her course, just under the spot where the Duke of Parma stood with several of his officers.
They supposed, however, that this intruder might as easily be disposed of as her precursors. The soldiers rushed forward with iron-headed poles to force back the heavy vessel from the bridge. The Duke himself assisted in this task, and by his example, excited them to new courage.
At that moment, Fernando Nunez made his appearance. With a pale anxious visage, he besought the Prince, for Heaven’s sake, to leave the dangerous station which he now occupied. But the latter was unwilling to be disturbed. Fernando at last seized him by the arm – shouted in his ear the name of “Cassilda,” and drew him away almost by violence.
They returned to the Fort of Santa Maria, and, just as they were entering the gates, there took place a tremendous explosion, as if they very earth had been rent asunder!
The Duke and his attendants were, by the concussion of the atmosphere, struck to the ground, but had received no serious injury. He was the first to recover his senses, and rouse himself from stupor, to witness the havoc and utter confusion of his army, with the destruction of that bridge, which had cost him, such labour and anxiety, and to hear the moans and shrieks of the wounded and dying sufferers. Even the river had been agitated to its inmost depths, so that all the works seemed to be under water, and that part of the bridge at which the Hope had exploded, was completely ruined.
“Gianibelli!” cried the Duke, gnashing his teeth with rage, “thou hast here wounded me for the second time. But, though wounded, thou shalt find that I am not yet vanquished.” With that unshakened composure and dignity, which are only to be found in minds of the most heroic mold, he employed himself directly on the necessary measures for extinguishing the fire that spread in various directions.
To prepare for the reception of the Zealand fleet, for he had no doubt that the Admiral would immediately make his appearance, — and take advantage, if possible, of the breach which had been gained.
At last, the morning broke, and the wintry sun showed to their full extent the devastations of the night. Above all, it was horrible to look on the multitude of dead bodies, and on the wounded, to whom it had yet been impracticable to render any assistance. Had there been an earthquake, the tokens of disaster could scarcely have been more formidable.
Yet, the Zealand fleet did not arrive; and the Duke saw, to his great satisfaction, that Antwerp had expended her resources without any important consequences; for the evil worked against him by the Hope had not rendered him hopeless. No sooner had the bridge been thus demolished, than he began to guild it together new. As to the Fortune, she had driven to the opposite shore near Santo Phillippo, where she had struck on a reef, and sunk without effecting any purpose.
When the thunder of the explosion was heard in Antwerp, Federico seized his wife’s hand, pressed it passionately to his heart, and exclaimed in a tone of rapture, “God be praised! There the fort must have shivered – and the bridge annihilated!”
“My father!” Cassilda’s half audible whisper.
“Infamous pander!” growled Gianibelli, and hastened down to the harbour in order to give further directions. At day-break, vessels were sent out to bring intelligence, and great rewards promised to the men, if they would sail past the bridge and announce the event which had so opportunely taken place to the commander at Fort Lillo.
As soon as they had got beyond the bulwark, they were directed to send up fire-balls, in order that the Antwerp citizens might be assured that all had succeeded. The vessels returned, however, and their captains declared that the bridge was still in its former condition, and the passage as impracticable as ever.
“Impossible!” cried Federico. “Heaven is not thus unjust; and my labours cannot have been utterly in vain. The cowards have not ventured near enough to ascertain the truth.” St. Aldegonde, in consequence of these remonstrances, sent other ships, but the men were indeed panic-struck, and turned back without having reached the Spanish station.
The people now began to murmur; and Antwerp was more disquieted than ever; hints were dropped of treachery and connivance; no Catholic durst henceforth appear on the streets without danger of being attacked and insulted. Under these circumstances, Federico levied fifty horsemen and rode out, that he might convince himself what was the real conclusion of this affair. But even here he was disappointed.
The enemy had advanced farther than he was aware, and he had not gone half a mile when a band of Spanish pikemen came to meet him. “Comrades,” cried Federico to his own soldiers. “You are aware that we must have intelligence, let it cost what it may. Let us attack these men, therefore, though they are by number an overmatch, and if we take but one prisoner, our object will be gained.”
The horsemen, by whom he was attended, were well chosen; they rushed courageously on the Spaniards, who received them on their pikes, and stood with surprising firmness, while their musketry from the rear ranks kept up a murderous fire against the Netherlanders. The latter continued to press forward, however, and were successful. The Spaniards were obliged to give way; our hero took ten prisoners, and among these was a captain of the band – Fernando Nunez!
With a dismal frown, as a Flemish dragoon began to plunder his person, he recognized Gianibelli, who bestowed on him a look of recognition equally dark and portentous, at the same time commanding the soldier to desist. “Traitor!” he exclaimed, “that God has given me into thy hands is indeed the severest punishment that might be inflicted for my sins!” Without deigning a reply, Gianibelli rode back to Antwerp, and his troop followed him with their prisoners.
“St Aldegonde,” said he on his arrival, “I deliver into your charge the unworthy father of my beloved Cassilda. You will appoint for him a prison suitable to his rank, and forget not that he is my captive, and that it is of the utmost importance for us to keep him here. But so far as I can understand the confessions extorted from the other Spaniards, the bridge is destroyed. I must have the conviction of my own senses, however.
Give me, therefore, a ship, and I shall set out immediately, for the cowards who were last employed, had not resolution to venture within sight of the Spanish works. I shall pass by them, and, God willing, shall return hither with the Zealand fleet.”
He went, accordingly, followed by Cassilda’s blessing and fervent prayers; she had yet no suspicion of her father’s imprisonment. With his telescope raised, Federico now stood courageously on the deck, while, at a curve of the river, he came within range of a small Spanish battery, by which he was immediately assailed.
But this did not interrupt his progress; he seemed miraculously saved, and the vessel advanced, till he could distinctly see the ruins of the bridge. There, to his great vexation and astonishment, the Spaniards were again in full activity, and the nearer he approached, the more firmly he was convinced, that the Duke, in this short space of time, had in such manner repaired the bulwark, and supplied the breach with iron chains, and that it would be as impossible as ever for ships to make good their passage.
A shower of musket balls now fell around him, and he perceived that his undertaking was quite hopeless. He tacked about, therefore, hearing peals of scornful laughter from the Spaniards, and arrived in Antwerp miserably disappointed.
Night had begun to close, when he disembarked on the quay, and, instead of asking questions, all who met him had already anticipated the truth, and passed by him timidly, and in silence. He hastened to St. Aldegonde, whom he found at the Senate-House, where our hero had now the mortification of laying the disheartening result of his embassy before the assembled council.
When he entered the hall, he found them engaged in a very serious debate, but, without waiting to inquire what subject had thus engaged them, he explained the full extent of their danger, concluding with a request, that they would immediately vote to him the means of making a second attempt, similar to the former, but which, he trusted, might have a more fortunate termination.
“The intelligence you bring to us,” said Aldegonde, “is no doubt gloomy and alarming; but you, at least, may on this occasional feel altogether free from self-reproach, while we, on the other hand, must confess, that we reposed too little confidence in your schemes, and, therefore, the fortunate moment has been lost.
Antwerp is, in truth, much indebted to you, and it is doubly painful for one who, like myself, has always been your friend, to say that, instead of expressing our gratifude as we ought to do, we must now, for the sake of the commonweal, offend and distress you very deeply.”
“Must!” Federico scowled, “how then, and whence arises this necessity?”
“Your wife is now in prison.”
“My Cassilda!” starting as from a dream.
“So it is,” declared the Burgomeister coldly, “we found on the person of the Spanish captain, Fernando Nunez, this billet. Read it yourself, and then judge whether, with such proofs in our possession, we could act otherwise than we have done.”
Federico perused the letter. It was the same which Cassilda had written at Catharina’s house, and placed behind the statue of St. Peter. He laid it on the table without a word. “Besides,” resumed St Aldegonde, “this mysterious billet has very probably been the means of saving the life of the Duke of Parma.
According to accounts which we have received from the captives, Fernando Nunez, just before the explosion, made his appearance, and almost by violence led away the Duke from the bridge. In his gratitude for that interference, the Prince promoted Nunez to the rank of captain, after which it was the will of Providence that, on the first service undertaken by him, he should fall into your power as a prisoner.”
Federico still remained with his arms folded, looking sternly on the ground. “Nay, worthy friend,” said St Aldegonde, “Be not thus overcome. We were forced to act as we have done; we were under the necessity of conducting her to prison, in order that she might be safe from the infuriated populace. Be assured that we shall not forget your feelings as a husband, and that Cassilda shall be treated as leniently as possible.”
“But she has then saved the Duke’s life?”
“If you would wish to see her,” added St Aldegonde, who did not hear these words, “this will not be refused to you.”
“No,” Federico’s thundered; “Not a word more of her, but act as you think proper. Only give me ships and gunpowder, and I shall again prepare for the Duke such a midnight divertissement, as he little reckons on, and at which no warning genius will appear for his rescue. But instant activity is required; the commonweal is at stake, and not a moment should be lost in granting me the supplies which I thus demand of you.” With these words, he left the assembly, and the council soon after dissolved.
On the following morning, St Aldegonde came into Federico’s apartment. “Sir Knight, the truly great mind should soar above all ordinary passions. You seem to misunderstand the character of Cassilda, whose error we must in our hearts excuse, even though as judges we are forced to condemn her. Would you not desire to see her? Ought she not to hear from you, even a few words, to say that you forgive her?”
“No!” Federico scowled, “she now belongs to you; she is wholly in your power, and I shall not interfere with your rights.”
“She wished to speak with her father. Will you permit this?”
“You are burgomeister,” answered our hero, “Fulfill your own duties, and forget that Cassilda in the wife of Federico Gianibelli. As for my prisoner, Fernando Nunez, I grant him freely my permission to meet with his daughter. Chance has again brought them within the same town walls; I would not be the means of causing their second separation; and they may share the fate which hangs over them together.”
“Gianibelli,” St. Aldegonde’s tone was very grave, “who knows how soon our last hour may strike, and how much we ourselves may then have need of compassion? Therefore, I beg once more that you will dismiss from your mind that groundless believe, that she has carried on any secret intercourse with the Duke. Were this possible, she would not have renounced him for your sake, nor fled from his protection in Spain.
Moreover, I would advise that you should set her father at liberty, for whom the Duke has offered a most important ransom. By giving him up, we shall receive back the brave Teligny, and the citizens of Antwerp would bless you for adopting a resolution so noble.”
“As to the ransom adequate for the Spanish captive, Fernando Nunez,” declared Federico, “it is my part to determine what it ought to be. So long as I live, he shall remain in prison; such is my pleasure, and it is a resolution which I shall not forego to gratify the Duke’s humour. Command me to devote my heart’s blood, my life – I am prepared to make any such sacrifice for your sake, and that of your commonweal. But as to the prisoner No! He is mine, and I shall hold him fast!”
“But if the senate command his being set at liberty, if the people insisted that it must be so , would you assert your own will against theirs?”
“Nay, I would do more – in my distain of your unjust conduct, I should leave Antwerp to her fate, you should never behold me again. I thought you had known Gianibelli better than to suppose that aught could be gained from him by threats and defiance!”
For once St Aldegonde, in a mood of gloom and discontent, parted from his friend, whose mind was now torn by conflicting emotions. He, indeed, loved Cassilda as sincerely as ever, and his pride had been more wounded that his affection. When St. Aldegonde had taken his leave, he walked gloomily towards the window, and was stationed there, lost in thought, when Catharina van der Weert rushed breathless and agitated into the room.
“If you have not lost all the feelings of a man,” she exclaimed, “by the love you once bore to Cassilda, and the happiness you enjoyed in her presence. I implore you to have compassion on the poor orphan, whose father died on the scaffold, and whose father died on the scaffold. Whose lover now pines a hopeless prisoner under the power of our enemies.
Grant the Spanish captain his liberty in return for that of Teligny – your faithful and once cherished friend. Sacrifice but this much of your imperious will at the shrine of love, of friendship, and filial affection.”
Federico fixed his eyes gloomily on the ground, but made no answer.
“You are silent. Your heart has become steeled against every emotion, and you will not utter one word of consolation for my distresses?”
“Nay.” Federico interrupted her. “You determined, of your own free will, that you would never again behold Teligny within the walls of Antwerp. By your own sentence, he was driven out in his despair to meet the fate which has overwhelmed him.”
“Aye, too truly have you spoken. I did so, but since my betrothed lover fell into the hands of the Spaniards, I have bitterly atoned for the injustice of which I was then guilty. Even for that very cause I betake myself to you, in humble supplication, that you will grant me Teligny’s ransom. To you alone, I look for the recovery of my soul’s peace – on your answer depends all the hopes that are left to me in this world!”
She threw herself at his feet, but he raised her coldly and formally.
“You have said the truth. My heart is steeled against every emotion such as you labour to excite. He who has possessed and lost Heaven as I have done, thenceforth becomes the denizen, nay, the slave of hell!”
At these wild words, she seized his arm once more, and looked at him imploringly. Suddenly, however, as if struck by some secret recollection, she recoiled. “What could I expect from the man who casts off his affectionate faithful wife — allowing her to pine away in a solitary dungeon? And who cherishes no other passion but that of wild insatiable ambition? Farewell, Gianibelli!
Catharina van der Weert came hither in her humility and affliction, with a poor entreaty, which you have rejected with distain. But know, Signor, that the forsaken orphan will yet find other means of obtaining that justice which you have denied to her prayers!”
“Contemptible woman!” muttered Federico, as she left his apartment. His own dreams absorbed him; but, alas! Of all sufferings to a manly generous spirit, this must be the severest, to feel that he struggles under contending impulses – and that he is acting at variance with his own heart. Gianibelli’s love to Cassilda was unconquerable and fervent! Often her well-known form rose on his Imagination – more beautiful than ever.
But then – the detested visage of his rival – the prosperous high-born Duke came betwixt them, grinning in scornful triumph, and every other emotion yielded to jealousy and hatred. At those moments, too, when his love had gained a transient ascendancy – when he almost determined to beg of the senate that she should be set at liberty, on the plea that she had but acted, for a moment, the part of an affectionate daughter – and that the Duke’s rescue was the result of mere change.
Yet the question forced itself: If Cassilda were freed, would she not also entreat him to take the ransom offered for her father, and could he ever permit the Duke to gain such a triumph?
For several days, he continued under the influence of his conflict, but at last ambition prevailed. He determined to exert himself with more energy than ever, in hopes, by that means, to distract his attention, and allay the pain of self-reproach. But in vain. Meanwhile, Cassilda remained uncomplaining and resigned in her prison, where she had a cell less gloomy and repulsive than that of an ordinary captive, though the doors and windows were secured with iron bars.
One day it happened that St Aldegonde and other senators came and questioned her more minutely than before, regarding the billet which they had discovered. She confessed, without the slightest hesitation or reserve, the circumstances by which she had been induced to write the lines; adding, that she could not possibly repent of having thus fulfilled her duty to her father.
As to the Duke of Parma’s life having been saved, it had been the will of providence to make her the means of that result, but without any intention of her own. St Aldegonde now endeavored to sooth her feelings for the present moment, and her apprehensions for the future.
“I require no consolation. An inward voice has oftentimes warned me that with you – with Antwerp, my fate, whether good or evil, will be united. On this account, I am tranquil, and prepared in mind for all that can ensue. Only I wish that my husband were convinced of my innocence, and that I have never been in though, word or deed unfaithful to him. His displeasure is the sole cause of the pain which I now endure. Tell Federico this, and reserve your consolations for him – to whom I well know that jealousy must prove a cruel torment.”
On the afternoon of the following day, she was sitting, as usual, alone, and lost in thought, when the door opened, and her father, Fernando Nunez, appeared before her. “Is it thus, Cassilda, that we meet again?” His voice was stern and rough.
“My father!” She would have fallen into his arms.
But he repulsed her, though not harshly. “I should despise and curse thee, did I not know that it is for my sake that thou art now doomed to pine in this miserable prison … and that, because thou did’st not hate me, thou has encountered hatred. Oh! Too well do I know all this! During the few days that I have lived here a prisoner, I have heard, from the lips of numberless witnesses, how basely thou hast been deceived.
The traitor who, with one word, could restore thee to liberty, loves thee no longer! The beautiful rose is withered; he has sated himself with its fragrance, and casts it away to be trodden into the dust.”
“No, no, my father! That he still loves me is a truth felt in my inmost heart. Though his affection now seems to sleep under the influence of jealousy and wounded pride, it will awake and beam forth more ardently than ever ere it dies.”
“And when we think of the generous noble-minded Duke,” said Nunez. “He whose love is unchangeable, who would himself have sacrificed all the pride of rank, and have led thee to the alter…”
“Speak not of him, I conjure you!” She cried in anger; yet her dignity intact. “Those words become not a father to utter, which his daughter cannot hear without shame and aversion. Rather be to me a messenger of peace! I have had already my share of grief, and might I not be indulged, for a short space, the happiness of believing, even were it but a dream, that I am in the presence of a parent whom I can love and honour?”
The rough soldier, from whose mind all softer emotions had long been estranged, could not withstand this appeal. He pressed Cassilda tenderly to his heart, and never spoke to her again of the Prince. Thus he was allowed to visit her every day for some weeks afterwards. No word came from Gianibelli. Only the visits with her father afforded some relief from her wearisome confinement.
There is no grief if it is unblended with self-reproach, to which music may offer some comfort. One evening Cassilda, lute on her arm, was stationed at the window by moonlight. The night had closed in with weather stormy and variable; dark clouds came ever and anon, driven across the moon, that still broke out again with effulgence, rendered brighter by contrast.
“An emblem of my life,” she murmured, while the tears shone trembling in her eyes. “It has been spent amid clouds and tempests; only brief intervals of unspeakable happiness broke through them, to illumine my toilsome pilgrimage.” She raised her head, with its beautiful disheveled tresses, and gazed toward the moody skies. Strumming mournful chords on her lute; old remembrances plaintively giving rise to a Spanish ballad – the calm which follows a storm at sea.
A cautious knock. She started, when a man, wearing a mask, rushed in. He signaled her silence, yet urged her to follow him. Cassilda was terrified for he was unknown to her. Yet in his gestures, he expressed the utmost haste and impatience – laying his hand on his lips, in token that he dared not answer when she demanded, “Who art thou?”
At last she allowed him to lead her away. Through long vaulted passages they proceeded, where their footsteps echoed strangely amid the reign of solitude and darkness. Till, on arriving at a low Gothic door, studded with iron, it was opened, and they stepped out into the cold air of that stormy night.
“You are free, my beloved Cassilda,” immediately embraced by one whom, in her confusion, she yet scarcely recognized. “Have you forgotten the voice of your own faithful Catharina? And look, here too, is your father, who is now at liberty. Thank Heaven, my plans for you, as well as for him, have succeeded. But hasten, I conjure you, from this place – fly ere it is possible that you can be missed.”
Catharina seized her by one arm; her father supported her on the other side, and thus she was forced, for a considerable distance, to go with them. Suddenly, she arrested their hurried progress. “Yonder – yonder is my home,” cried she, pointing to the harbour, and to the house of Gianibelli. “Lead me thither, or leave me alone, and fly before the avenging arm of justice overtakes you!”
“And thou wilt forsake me yet another time?” Fernando gnashed his teeth with rage.
“Here – here alone is my happiness,” cried Cassilda. “And you would force me hence to misery and guilt. Here is safety – elsewhere destruction!”
“Ungrateful traitoress!” Exasperated to frenzy, Nunez drew his dagger. “Either shall thou follow me to the Spanish camp, or this hour shall be thy last!”
“Shrink not! Strike boldly! I shall fulfill my vow to Federico: Love even unto death!”
Catharina had almost wrested the dagger from the madman’s grasp. “Away, away! If you would not sacrifice both your own life and mine. Cassilda, I shall remain with you. Go, go – I beseech you. This man will be your convoy.” She pointed to the person who had brought her friend from prison. “Hasten, for if you remain for another hour within sight of Antwerp’s walls, we are lost.”
Still growling out threats and imprecations against his daughter, the detestable Nunez at length retired.
To be continued…