Siege of Antwerp – 3/3
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.
“That you would not return with him to the Spanish army,” said Catharina to her friend when they were left alone, “I was thoroughly convinced. My Cassilda’s heart is like a flower that will expand its leaves, but to the chaste sunlight of a husband’s love – and I, too. Rejoice with me, I have freed my betrothed lover, Teligny. I have broken his chains, along with those of Fernando Nunez.
As for your captivity, how easy was the task for a sincere friend to find means of opening your prison gates! The blessed religion of our ancestors gives us the courage, the strength, and ingenuity to fulfill every good and beneficent purpose.”
They had, meanwhile, arrived at the house of Gianibelli, when Catharina retired, and Cassilda stood thoughtfully at the well-known threshold of her own home. Still a feeble light was visible from the window of her husband’s apartment, and at intervals she caught some melancholy dying tones of his guitar. She shuddered at these sounds. “Heaven only knows in what state I shall now find him!” With fear and trembling, she passed up stairs, and knocked gently at the door.
Federico was seated beside a lamp, now almost expiring, though the flame rose fitfully at intervals and illumed his pale, grief-worn countenance. The bustle of his daily occupations served, in some measure, to distract his mind from gloomy reflections. In the still hours of night, his thoughts gained double strength; and the mournful notes of his guitar only served to deepen the impression of his utter loneliness.
Watching the lamp’s faint glimmer, he remembered how uncertain is human life, when the sources of joy are decayed by which alone existence is upheld. The thought rose on his mind, and vibrated with a cold shuddering through every nerve; that Cassilda’s long imprisonment might cause her premature death.
But then the door opened slowly, and the one who was ever in his thoughts entered. Pale, trembling and anxious as Cassilda appeared, it was not to be wondered that his apprehensions should at first be strengthened, rather than dispelled. “Merciful Heaven! It is her ghost!”
But in the next moment, her warm heaving bosom pressed against his – her long protracted kiss was imprinted on his lips – that embrace, and that kiss, so truly the same as in former years. This was no phantom, but his own loving and beautiful wife, whom he now clasped in his arms.
“And you refused, then, to go with your father?” said he, when she had briefly narrated the adventures of the night, though without mentioning Catharina. “You did not leave me for the sake of that renowned Prince of Parma, who still loves you. You hastened to the melancholy home of your husband, who had allowed you to remain in prison, and refused to send even one message of encouragement and consolation.
Oh, my Cassilda! You, who are in spirit so far exalted above me. Your affection, like a divine flame, burns unchanged, and equally in joy and in sorrow, — when rewarded or oppressed, — always faithful and ardent. Forgive – if it is possible – forgive me! Nothing shall ever more effect our separation. Love even unto death!”
“And fidelity for ever!” promised Cassilda, warmed by his loving embrace.
Among the Antwerp senators, who learned next morning of the escape of both prisoners, there arose an extraordinary alarm and commotion. The people had been excessively enraged at Gianibelli – looking on him as the sole cause that their favourite Teligny had not returned to Antwerp. The assembled senators considered the flight of Cassilda very important and hazardous.
They were not a little astonished when Gianibelli appeared in the council-chamber, and informed them that his wife had been taken out of prison against her will. She had escaped from her father, and returned to his house, thus affording the surest proof, that she never could have cherished any design against the commonweal of Antwerp, or in favor of the Duke of Parma – but had been led to write that unfortunate billet by a transient impulse of filial duty.
He begged of the senate that they would ratify her liberty, which was agreed to without the slightest opposition. They were even more disposed to this measure, as they now received a dispatch from the Spanish camp, with news that Teligny had been freed. He had been obliged, however, to grant his word of honour, that he would not bear arms for the freedom of Antwerp. The same ambassador who brought the Duke of Parma’s letter to the senate, had also one of Teligny for Catharina.
“You have sworn that you will never meet me again within the walls of our native town. For this reason, though with an almost broken heart, I have entered into conditions not to defend the citizens of Antwerp, by whom Adrian van der Weert was brought to the scaffold. But there are other stations where my sword may yet be wielded for my native land, and to one or other of these I shall now hasten. Farewell.”
The Spanish Prince had now restored his floating bridge, with its railing of masts, into as formidable a condition as before. He had strengthened his outer-works also, in order to ward off any future attacks of Gianibell’s fire-ships. The latter was, meanwhile, restless and indefatigable in his preparations for a new assault.
The senators were also better disposed to listen to his schemes than before. So that, in a short time other ships were sacrificed, in order to be filled with power, and, accompanied by a flotilla of flat-bottomed boats, were sent down the Scheldt. Consequently, the bridge was demolished a second time, or, at least, injured more than on the former occasion.
But adverse winds prevented the Zealand fleet from making its appearance; so this adventure proved ineffectual . A third attack was now made; which last proved altogether abortive, for the Spaniards were too much on their guard. Gianibelli was obliged to inform the senate that he knew not what to recommend, and that they should themselves devise some new mode of defense.
Only beneath his own roof, in the arms of his beloved Cassilda, who had become dearer to him than ever, could he find any solace or mitigation of his distress at these many failures. He was, indeed, driven almost to despair, and exposed himself to every danger. Sometimes with pike in hand, he joined the brave Scotsmen; within the next hour taking his place as a private dragoon with the Netherlanders.
On the slightest intimation of a skirmish, he hasted to the spot, being resolved that whatever the result, his own exertions should not be spared. From all these engagements, he returned home to Cassilda, without even the slightest bodily wound, though with a mind harassed and torn by the most violent emotions.
Her composure, however, was unconquerable. “My beloved Federico, let us enjoy the last drops that the cup of life affords us, with hearts unchanged, cheerful and innocent. The death bell of Antwerp and her liberty will sound, perhaps, ere long, and in the same hour, we shall have finished our allotted task and have done with this world.”
The Spanish Prince, who had been informed by Fernando Nunez of Cassilda’s unabated constancy and resolution, was afraid that this heroic woman would not survive her husband’s death. In order, at all events, to save her life, he sent an embassy to Gianibelli, offering that if in the present state of Antwerp he wished to leave the town, he should be at liberty to do so; that he might go to England, Germany, or whithersoever he most inclined. Adding, moneys should be supplied for his expenses, and that the Prince would guarantee his safety in accepting this proposal.
Our hero answered. “Gianibelli will never turn coward, and fly from his destiny. Either shall he sing a ‘Te Deum’ on the walls of this town, freed from its invaders, or bury himself under its ruins. So also would Alexander of Parma act, if he were in the place of Gianibelli, who thinks himself not less honourable, in the fulfillment of duty, than the Prince who has thought proper to insult him by the message just received.”
While he traced these lines, Cassilda stood by the table, and fixed on him a penetrating gaze. “The high-born and the great are, methinks, both vain and foolish! They believe, forsooth, that they alone are heroes. That, for the sake of rescuing our own transitory lives, we, the humbler denizens of this world, must be content to make any sacrifice.
Mark you, Federico, with every hour that passes, with every cannon shot which is fired to no purpose, I count the moments of my life, and make up gradually my reckoning of fate. Seek not, I pray you, for death, in those paltry engagements, where your existence would be offered up in vain. Save it rather, as long as you can still be of service – and when, at length, the Spaniards shall force their way over the ruined ramparts of this town, let us join hand in hand. I shall go with you to the breach, and we shall die together in its defense.”
The plans of destroying the bridge, and gaining a free passage through the Scheldt, had now been completely abandoned. On the suggestion of Gianibelli, it was resolved to bore through the dam at Covenstein, so that the whole country might be thrown under water; and, after this, to venture a last attack on the Spanish station. Count Hohenlohe, Admiral of the Zealand fleet, approved of this scheme, and promised his assistance.
From the sharp experienced eyes of the Duke of Parma, however, the importance of this point had not been concealed. Even at the commencement of the siege, he had guarded Covenstein, in such manner, with ramparts and batteries, that any attack in this quarter must require both powerful forces, and the most heroic resolution in their commander.
All the smaller dams had been cut through. Already, the Zealand ships advanced on their new sea-room towards the bulwark at Covenstein. On the following morning, the attack was to be made. A frightful silence now reigned through the desolate streets of Antwerp. On that evening, every citizen remained at his own house, surrounded by his family, believing that these might be the last moments which he could enjoy in their society.
It is a strange and fearful emotion which prevails resistlessly in the minds of men, when, in the decisive hour, their long cherished hopes are passing away. If the next hour has only struck, then there is no longer any suspense. No choice between good or evil fortune. Nothing more left to hope or to fear. The die has fallen, and their fates are decided immoveably and changeless for ever!
On this evening, too, Gianibelli sat at home with his wife and, in silence, they gazed together on the setting sun. “When tomorrow that orb again descends – deep, blood red even as now – then the lot of Antwerp and ours, too, will be decided.
“Aye, my dearest Cassilda. Assuredly, the last. If victory be not ours tomorrow, then we may crawl back like reptiles into our narrow cells, but we dare speak no more of conquest, nor of liberty. Yet, a few days or hours perchance, we may contrive to live. But this is all. The proud Duke will advance. Our ramparts will give way. Famine will deprive the miserable inhabitants of spirit – even to fall nobly.
By the morrow’s dawn – at the next blood red sun’s gleam – the strife begins. And, perhaps, by evening’s end, all will be lost.”
The morning had not yet broke. The stars gleamed still when four illumination vessels were dispatched from Fort Lillo towards the dam at Covenstein. The large ships of Zealand fleet were also drawn out in line opposite to the fortifications. Between the bridge, and the rampart of St. George, an ascent was made on the dike. With wonderful alacrity, a breast work prepared , in order to disunite the two hostile batteries.
Under this protection, the pioneers now laboured to cut through the dike, and every soldier, being aware how important was the undertaking, worked with redoubled strength. The Antwerp fleet also began from the other side to attack the Spaniards; and the infantry from town supported the brave Zealanders, who stood nobly by their breast-work, repulsing every attempt made against them.
Intoxicated with their first success, the commanders thought their victory certain. They began even to empty provisions and merchandise from the Zealand ships, and load with them onto their small Antwerp vessels, thus losing and frittering away precious time. The task of the pioneers on the dam was no longer carried on with the same perseverance and rapidity.
The energy of the workmen became, indeed, quite lamed, when Count Hohenlohe and St Aldegonde went into a small merchantman, which they had loaded, and exactly at the decisive moment, put about to Antwerp to celebrate there the triumph which, in their foolish vanity, they believed that they had won.
Amid the ringing of bells, and thunder of cannon, they entered the harbour, where Gianibelli stood with a band of his brave Scotsmen, impatiently waiting for intelligence from the bridge. They told him briefly what had occurred. “There should be no rejoicing. These are passing-bells that receive you. Your cannon shots are no better than the last groans of an expiring Antwerp.
Herr Burgomeister, and my lord admiral, your presence here is useless, and your absence from the scene of action may have consequences the most disastrous! On then, my faithful comrades!” he encouraged those men collected round him. “Away to the scene of conflict – by land or sea – for in this hour our friends have need of us.”
The Duke of Parma stood, meanwhile, with the true composure of a hero on the bridge, and gave the necessary orders to guard against the fire-ships, which were now incessantly sent against him. He had adopted the precaution, that, when these floating mines were pressing on the barrier, it might be opened in several places, so as to let them pass and injure the Zealand fleet, rather than himself.
By dint of almost supernatural exertions, and a thousand times risking his own life, the heroic Prince had the satisfaction at last of perceiving that this attack would be ineffectual against him.
Satisfied his favourite bulwark was out of danger, he hastened with several hundred Spanish pikemen to defend Covenstein, and arrived there when all was nearly lost. The stake bastion having suffered by the incessant fire of the fleet, had almost given way. The brave Gamboa, its defender, lay severely wounded. Most of his soldiers were killed; while the forces of the Netherlanders increased every hour in number.
The Duke then collected about him almost all the troops that he could find in the trenches or elsewhere – placed himself in the van, and advanced in order, by his presence, to restore the sinking hopes of his party.
Under shelter of the temporary breastwork, between the stake bastion and that of St George, now fought the best – the very kernel and marrow of the Flemish troops. Here, on this decisive point, they knew that the liberty of their native land was to be decided – and they were determined in this place to conquer or die.
At length Gianibelli arrived with his little band, and landed at the very same moment when the Duke of Parma had succeeded in reducing the confused Spaniards into order, and was leading them onwards for a new attack. Fate had thus once more brought the two heroes together. They fought closely, man to man, shield clashing on shield.
“Cassilda” was the battle-cry of Gianibelli Shouting her name aloud, he inflicted a frightful blow on the Duke’s helmet. But then the pike of a Spanish soldier struck him to the ground. The Netherlanders and Scotsmen fought nobly round their leader. They covered him with their shields, rescued him; he was carried back on board their ship.
But when Gianibelli fell, the last courage and spirit of his men were effectively crushed. The Italians and Spaniards now contended with each other for the honour of being the first at the breast work. It was mounted and won accordingly. Antwerp’s final hopes died with the few faithful pioneers who were slain in defending it. The day drew near to that fatal and blood-red sunset that Gianibelli had anticipated with such gloomy forebodings.
For days our hero was confined to his couch, languishing under severe wounds. His faithful Cassilda sat by him unwearied, holding his burning hand within hers, remaining tranquil and resolute. One morning St Aldegonde entered, bearing a letter. “Were it possible, my dear friend, to bring you consolation in a time like this, perhaps I might do so now.
The Duke of Parma, who has come close to our gates and commanded our surrender, sends this open letter addressed to you. Herein, he gives you express permission (as you are now wounded and can no longer be of service in defense of Antwept) to depart to some quiet abode, where your health may be fully restored. You may go where you will, along with your wife.
The Duke pledges his word of honour that no measure shall be taken to effect your separation, or in any way to distress you. Besides, he offers to give hostages for your security, and it is, therefore, my counsel that you should accept his proposal; the enemy are close upon us. We are no longer safe from their cannon-shot and grenades. You require rest, and here, least of all, can you obtain a fair chance of recovery. You must directly fall into the power of the conqueror, who now leaves you at perfect liberty to depart.”
The wounded hero was not unmoved by this offer. “Though in courage, I am thine equal. Yet Alexander of Parma, I must allow, thou surpassest me in generosity, as well as in good fortune. Let the Duke know,” he added in a feebler tone, “that I am not ungrateful; but that Gianibelli, and his wife Cassilda Nunez, will survive or perish with the liberty of Antwerp – and if the city fall, will enter gladly through the dark gates of the tomb, to the realms of everlasting liberty and rest.”
Having thus spoke, he sank back exhausted on his couch. “And you, noble lady,” Aldegonde turned to Cassilda, “can you approve of this resolve?”
“I shall share the lot of my husband – whether in joy or in sorrow – sunlight or darkness – I shall live or die with him!”
Generous, noble-minded victims!” said venerable St Aldegonde, “may Heaven yet protect you, and have compassion on our unfortunate city.”
But in a short time famine began to show her direful power over the devoted inhabitants of Antwerp, while the enemy closed the circle always more narrowly around them. Every one, even the bravest, now despaired of rescue; the people murmured at their fate, for hunger was yet more formidable than the swords of their assailants.
Under these circumstances, the assembled senate debated, whether it would not be better to give up the town, after having made some tolerable conditions, than to wait till the worst had befallen them. While they were deliberating on this question, the great doors of the hall were opened, and Federico Gianibelli was brought in on his couch, borne by his faithful Scotsmen.
”Once more,” said he in a faint voice. “I have come hither. The dying man appears before you, that he may warn you for the last time! Often, indeed, you have refused his counsels, as if they had been mere visions; but follow his advice, at least for this once. Do not, I admonish, I conjure – do not open Antwerp’s gates to the Spaniards. Defend your town to the last – from street to street, and from house to house.
Think on Alba, and his pillory formed out of your melted cannon. Think of the scaffold, on which the noblest of your people fell by the hands of the executioner.
King Phillip still lives, and the Duke of Parma is but his slavish implement, as the Duke of Alba proved before. Far better were it to perish as heroes – to bury yourselves in the ruins of your fortress, than to die, like degraded criminals, on the block. Farewell – this is the last appearance I can ever make in your senate-house, which I have so often entered.
When I was yet in the bloom of youth and health – with those hopes fresh and vigorous in my heart – which are now withered for ever.” Here he paused abruptly, and made a sign that his attendants should remove him, which was done; and after his retreat, the councilors sat for a long time in gloomy silence, with their eyes fixed on the ground.
“Aye, truly,” said St Aldegonde at last, “Gianibelli is in the right. We ought to feel in our hearts the courage and resolution to die for our native land. Death is far better than the yoke of Spanish tyrants. Friend – countrymen, if you think as I do, let us join in one last effort.”
Yet the voices of a multitude, who now forced their way into the hall, interrupted his heroic exhortations. They demanded, outrageously, that the town should be surrendered; famine had driven them to utter despair. St. Aldegonde found that he must give way to their violence.
From the silence of the cannonade, and the death-like stillness of the streets, Gianibelli, at his own house, apprehended what had taken place. “The cowards have yielded,” said he to Cassilda, at a late hour of the evening. “Do not weep, dear child,” added he to Catharina von der Weert, who could no longer restrain her tears. “All will soon be over. Ere the next day dawns, the dream of life will have ended.” Cassilda kissed his pale lips, and, with a cheerfulness like that of a sainted martyr, nodded her approval of what he said; while Catharina, who, since Gianibelli was wounded, had not left her friend, now went out in search of intelligence.
Our hero’s suspicion was confirmed. Antwerp had surrendered; and tomorrow’s rising sun would no more shine on the free city, but on miserable slaves. The contest was past; and it was not till after a long refreshing sleep, that Gianibelli awoke on the morning of that fatal day. He heard the drums beating, and the music of a Spanish march.
“They are drawing near. I recognize the well-known sounds that have so often accompanied me to the battle-field. Yet, Alexander of Parma – proud and prosperous as thou art, think not that my presence shall heighten and adorn thy triumph! Gianibelli shall not fall living into the hands of his conqueror.”
With these words, he violently tore the bandage from his wounds. Cassilda was aware of his design, and did not hinder him; but Catharina shuddered with horror, and averted her eyes.
“Love even unto death!” said he. “This vow, my beloved Cassilda, you have faithfully preserved inviolate … fidelity after death and for ever!” These were his last words; a few moments after, he expired.
Fernando Nunez accompanied the Prince of Parma to Gianibelli’s house. “My resolution is fixed,” said the Duke. “I must once more see my brave enemy, much as he has done to offend and injure me. I shall forgive him, and ask his forgiveness – we shall be reconciled together. Nor need Cassilda fear my present. No. If death indeed has already called him hence, she may retire into a convent, and there fulfill her vow of changeless fidelity.”
The house of mourning and death was silent. They opened the door for themselves, and found Cassilda kneeling in prayer over the pale remains of her idolized Federico. “Come not nearer!” she exclaimed. “He has escaped from your triumph. His fortune sank – his hopes were withered – you have now nothing to fear from that hero who alone could have opposed your career of victory. But in death as in life,” she declared, as the Duke advanced towards her, “he comes betwixt us. Love has traveled with me to his grave. Fidelity shall now be my guide to find him in a better world!” She had Gianibelli’s dagger in her girdle. She now plunged it into her heart, and fell silent and motionless on the body of her beloved.
“When my last hour shall arrive,” said the Duke, “would that it might be my lot to appear with such an angelic guide before the judgment-throne of Heaven!” And, without daring to approach the sacred remains of Cassilda and her lover, he left the house. Fernando Nunez now felt, for the first time, that the grief of a bereft parent’s heart is all sufferings the deepest and most overpowering.
Catharina von der Weert was still present to perform the last sad duties for her friend, who was laid with her husband in one coffin, and Catharina strewed them with flowers. “Love even unto death – Fidelity forever!” was the inscription which Alexander of Parma placed over their grave, where he many times shed tears of repentance and retribution. Time has now destroyed their monument of true love; but not long since, a cross was still visible on the spot where Gianibelli received his death wound at Coverstein.