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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Black Tulip - Chapter 12. The Execution
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The Black Tulip - Chapter 12. The Execution Post by :treeofprofits Category :Long Stories Author :Alexandre Dumas Date :May 2012 Read :2706

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The Black Tulip - Chapter 12. The Execution

Cornelius had not three hundred paces to walk outside the prison to
reach the foot of the scaffold. At the bottom of the staircase, the dog
quietly looked at him whilst he was passing; Cornelius even fancied
he saw in the eyes of the monster a certain expression as it were of
compassion.

The dog perhaps knew the condemned prisoners, and only bit those who
left as free men.

The shorter the way from the door of the prison to the foot of the
scaffold, the more fully, of course, it was crowded with curious people.

These were the same who, not satisfied with the blood which they had
shed three days before, were now craving for a new victim.

And scarcely had Cornelius made his appearance than a fierce groan ran
through the whole street, spreading all over the yard, and re-echoing
from the streets which led to the scaffold, and which were likewise
crowded with spectators.

The scaffold indeed looked like an islet at the confluence of several
rivers.

In the midst of these threats, groans, and yells, Cornelius, very likely
in order not to hear them, had buried himself in his own thoughts.

And what did he think of in his last melancholy journey?

Neither of his enemies, nor of his judges, nor of his executioners.

He thought of the beautiful tulips which he would see from heaven above,
at Ceylon, or Bengal, or elsewhere, when he would be able to look with
pity on this earth, where John and Cornelius de Witt had been murdered
for having thought too much of politics, and where Cornelius van Baerle
was about to be murdered for having thought too much of tulips.

"It is only one stroke of the axe," said the philosopher to himself,
"and my beautiful dream will begin to be realised."

Only there was still a chance, just as it had happened before to M. de
Chalais, to M. de Thou, and other slovenly executed people, that the
headsman might inflict more than one stroke, that is to say, more than
one martyrdom, on the poor tulip-fancier.

Yet, notwithstanding all this, Van Baerle mounted the scaffold not the
less resolutely, proud of having been the friend of that illustrious
John, and godson of that noble Cornelius de Witt, whom the ruffians, who
were now crowding to witness his own doom, had torn to pieces and burnt
three days before.

He knelt down, said his prayers, and observed, not without a feeling of
sincere joy, that, laying his head on the block, and keeping his eyes
open, he would be able to his last moment to see the grated window of
the Buytenhof.

At length the fatal moment arrived, and Cornelius placed his chin on the
cold damp block. But at this moment his eyes closed involuntarily, to
receive more resolutely the terrible avalanche which was about to fall
on his head, and to engulf his life.

A gleam like that of lightning passed across the scaffold: it was the
executioner raising his sword.

Van Baerle bade farewell to the great black tulip, certain of awaking in
another world full of light and glorious tints.

Three times he felt, with a shudder, the cold current of air from the
knife near his neck, but what a surprise! he felt neither pain nor
shock.

He saw no change in the colour of the sky, or of the world around him.

Then suddenly Van Baerle felt gentle hands raising him, and soon stood
on his feet again, although trembling a little.

He looked around him. There was some one by his side, reading a large
parchment, sealed with a huge seal of red wax.

And the same sun, yellow and pale, as it behooves a Dutch sun to be, was
shining in the skies; and the same grated window looked down upon
him from the Buytenhof; and the same rabble, no longer yelling, but
completely thunderstruck, were staring at him from the streets below.

Van Baerle began to be sensible to what was going on around him.

His Highness, William, Prince of Orange, very likely afraid that
Van Baerle's blood would turn the scale of judgment against him, had
compassionately taken into consideration his good character, and the
apparent proofs of his innocence.

His Highness, accordingly, had granted him his life.

Cornelius at first hoped that the pardon would be complete, and that he
would be restored to his full liberty and to his flower borders at Dort.

But Cornelius was mistaken. To use an expression of Madame de Sevigne,
who wrote about the same time, "there was a postscript to the letter;"
and the most important part of the letter was contained in the
postscript.

In this postscript, William of Orange, Stadtholder of Holland, condemned
Cornelius van Baerle to imprisonment for life. He was not sufficiently
guilty to suffer death, but he was too much so to be set at liberty.

Cornelius heard this clause, but, the first feeling of vexation and
disappointment over, he said to himself,--

"Never mind, all this is not lost yet; there is some good in this
perpetual imprisonment; Rosa will be there, and also my three bulbs of
the black tulip are there."

But Cornelius forgot that the Seven Provinces had seven prisons, one for
each, and that the board of the prisoner is anywhere else less expensive
than at the Hague, which is a capital.

His Highness, who, as it seems, did not possess the means to feed Van
Baerle at the Hague, sent him to undergo his perpetual imprisonment at
the fortress of Loewestein, very near Dort, but, alas! also very far
from it; for Loewestein, as the geographers tell us, is situated at the
point of the islet which is formed by the confluence of the Waal and the
Meuse, opposite Gorcum.

Van Baerle was sufficiently versed in the history of his country to know
that the celebrated Grotius was confined in that castle after the
death of Barneveldt; and that the States, in their generosity to the
illustrious publicist, jurist, historian, poet, and divine, had granted
to him for his daily maintenance the sum of twenty-four stivers.

"I," said Van Baerle to himself, "I am worth much less than Grotius.
They will hardly give me twelve stivers, and I shall live miserably; but
never mind, at all events I shall live."

Then suddenly a terrible thought struck him.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, "how damp and misty that part of the country is,
and the soil so bad for the tulips! And then Rosa will not be at
Loewestein!"

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Whilst Cornelius was engaged with his own thoughts, a coach had drivenup to the scaffold. This vehicle was for the prisoner. He was invited toenter it, and he obeyed.His last look was towards the Buytenhof. He hoped to see at the windowthe face of Rosa, brightening up again.But the coach was drawn by good horses, who soon carried Van Baerleaway from among the shouts which the rabble roared in honour of the mostmagnanimous Stadtholder, mixing with it a spice of abuse against thebrothers De Witt and the godson of Cornelius, who had just now beensaved from death.This reprieve suggested to the
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Rosa had not been mistaken; the judges came on the following day to theBuytenhof, and proceeded with the trial of Cornelius van Baerle. Theexamination, however, did not last long, it having appeared on evidencethat Cornelius had kept at his house that fatal correspondence of thebrothers De Witt with France.He did not deny it.The only point about which there seemed any difficulty was whether thiscorrespondence had been intrusted to him by his godfather, Cornelius deWitt.But as, since the death of those two martyrs, Van Baerle had no longerany reason for withholding the truth, he not only did not deny that theparcel had
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