صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

everywhere as you passed along the streets; some were heaps of ruins, others tottering over your head, and ever and anon answering one another with the sound of thunder as they fell—all told what destruction the Flemings had brought upon their own beautiful city before they could regain her. Then, to add more lively horror to this scene of destruction, the paths were choked with the remains of those citizens who had been struck down accidentally in the course of the siege, some apparently but yesterday, others festering in the gore which curdled from them, and crept in many lazy streams down the steep descent which shelves to the canal, where, one after another, they gradually became mingled with the mass, borne slowly down the water -ruins, arms, merchandise, food, utensils, everything rich and costly, mean and squalid, with here and there a corpse, which appeared for a moment above the heap, and then sank with a sullen plunge beneath it. The pale inhabitants-some still stupified with horror, and others wringing their hands, and crying lamentably as they sought in vain amidst the confusion for all they held dear, or possessed upon earthwandered like madmen up and down the city, and ever and anon uttered shrill cries of joy as they clasped to their bosoms some child long sought for, or some friend they had never hoped to meet again.

But not a Spaniard was now to be seen, and every space and corner of the city was thronged with motley groups, picturesque from the contrast of features and habits they presented, of the soldiers of the allies, adventurers from all parts of Europe. Here stood the tall Switzer, clad in his plain hose and stained jerkin, in earnest conversation with the gaudy and bearded Huguenot cavalier of France ; there a party of brawny archers from England, with tall bows of yew tree in their hands, surveying the ruin brought upon the town, and pointing out where the shot had hit, and how it had told. In one part a company of Dutch burghers were draining flagons, and roaring damnation to the. Spaniards; and in another might be seen fierce parties of sun-burnt Walloons, gambling on a heap of ruins for their prey, and quarrelling loudly when the game went against them ; while, the most quiet in the scene, the Flemish yeomanry, stood drawn up, with tall pikes in their hands, before the west front of the cathedral

, the interior of which was heaped up to the vaulting with valuables of all kinds, and patiently beat back the multifarious crowd which kept pressing upon them, and begged for admittance.

A disorderly mass of soldiers of all nations was scattered about the fair gardens which sweep down to the canal, committing a thousand wanton acts of mischief, unchecked by their officers, who were lolling listlessly from the windows of the mansions to which these gardens appertained. In happier times the elegant domes and lively weather vanes of these stately buildings had been elaborately gilded, and the paths and alleys of the gardens into which they opened carefully kept in order by many a rich burgomaster, who little foresaw what an end would be put to his careful magnificence. But they had all been slaughtered, or driven from their homes; and the soldiers, alike reckless whether friends or foes suffered, while they made their will their law, had taken unchallenged possession, and all was riot, debauch, and uproar.

[ocr errors]

a

But the bearing of the soldiery, who marched with measured step from rampart to rampart on the walls, or stood posted round the city gates, was far more regular and disciplined. Especially before the picturesque gate which opens on the high road leading to Ghent, all was labour and activity. Some were digging trenches, others raising mounds or facing-batteries, under the protection of small parties of harquebusiers; for the sharp sound of firing that at intervals rang from the open country, told that some stragglers of the enemy were hovering about them. One of those labouring in a trench, up to his knees in water, leaned awhile upon his spade, and addressed one of his comrades, who was looking on apparently at his leisure, in the English tongue. “ Cold work this, Master Walter; and I bear in mind you

have much easier time of it where you are. Well, some get all the hard fighting, and hard labour too, and others are favourites, and have very little of either.”

The youth - it was a mere boy he addressed-made no reply; for be leaned against the rugged wall with his arms folded round his partisan, buried in thought, and quite unconscious of what was passing before him. Only when the sharp sound of firing caught his ear, he raised his dark eyes from the ground, and then cast them down again. Poor boy! his delicate features and slender form were cast in a far different mould from that of the rude men around him, and this even the mean garb of a common yeoman could not disguise. There was a nobility in his look, and a loftiness in his carriage, which told the son of gentle parents, and one who had been bred in a station far above his present lowly walk, whatever misfortune might have reduced him to it.

While the youth was thus buried in meditation, musing perhaps of the happy home he had left behind him, an officer, who had passed through the gate from the city, and had been giving orders to the pioneers, accosted him familiarly. The officer was also a young man, but had evidently seen much service; and there was a wild fire in his eye, and a desperate recklessness stamped on his handsome features, marred as they were by the scars of several flesh wounds, some not yet perfectly healed, that marked him one of those men, often at battle with the world, at least setting little price upon themselves, who have ventured all upon the one cast, and are resolved to win it or perish.

“Walter," said the officer in a low voice, as he pointed to the tall spires of a city dimly seen in the extreme distance, “yonder is Ghent, where Farnese bas fortified himself for a last struggle, and has called up so many troops from Liege and Brussels, that when he once has them in his walls he may laugh at us for ever. They will come up to him to-morrow; but ere then the night assault of a handful of desperate men, led on by one, alas ! more desperate, who recks little how soon he may throw away á

life of less than no value to him, will make the proud Duke of Parma a captive in his own strong city: You wonder I talk to thee of these things, Walter.”

“ Sir,” answered the youth, turning ashy pale, “this attack is not your service also. Then

“ I shall take thee along with me, Walter—not so. Those who are desperate and disgusted with the world may well rush into perils; for if they fall, there are none to bewail them, and all their miseries are at an end. You have left a cherished home and loving parents, no doubt, behind you in merry England : your mother looks daily for her fair son, and will go down in sorrow to the grave if he is not restored to her. Well, stanch your tears; I am not come to force your secrets from you, but to confide one of mine. Good youth, the slaughter this night will on both parties be awful, and I may be one of the slain.”

“ Sir John, you will not go. Oh! for the sake of heaven do not rush into this desperate service. I love you—that is, as far as a young soldier must love the captain to whom he owes everything : and I have once saved your life-I crave a boon—oh I for my sake, for the sake of the fair lady of your love, do not go.”

“ For her sake am I here, my boy, and for her sake, if I fall to-night, have I perished; and when she sees this ring, and hears from thy lips the story of my death, perchance she may shed a few tears for him who so devotedly adores her. I will give you gold for your passage; and in case I fall, you will seek England, carrying this ring—here I now give it you—and a letter, for which you will come to me at my tent ere sunset. There seek a fair lady—nay, do not hang down thy head—she is gentle as she is fair, and give her both these in my name. Tell her how gallantly Sir John Major fought, and how honourably he fell, adding these words--that but for one fault he showed himself a man worthy to be her husband, and to atone for that fault he gave all he could-his life. Good youth, these tears are kind. Thank Heaven, I am not so lost but there is oneperhaps two in the world—who can still feel pity for me. But stanch this weeping; come, red eyes set but strangely on a soldier. Here, take the ring, and at sunset come to my tent for the letter. You shall then have the lady's name, and where she bides, and any other message I may bethink me to send to her.”

He turned away, and waving his hand with the air of a superior, hastily withdrew into the city; and the young volunteer returned in a sad and disconsolate mood to the brink of the fosse, and sat himself down on a mass of the shattered wall which had fallen beside it, looking on a small turquoise ring, with tears in his eyes.

“ I will fulfil his commands, for I have sworn to myself that I will never disobey them. She has the ring, she shall read the letter; and at nightfall I will follow John Major to the assault of Ghent, and if he falls, there fall too,” said Mary Ambree, as she turned after him, and entered the sullen walls of Bruges.

CHAPTER III.
“ The Prince of Great Parma beard of her renowne,

Who lony had advaunced for England's faire crowne,
He wooed her and sued her his mistress to be,
And offered rich presents to Mary Ambree.”

BALLAD OF MARY AMBREE. Two noblemen, the elder of whom, from the richness of his dress, was evidently of the highest rank, stood conversing together in a country and

own language; and Mary, as her gaze met his gloating eye, and as she felt the warmth of his pressure, trembled from head to foot, and averting her head, for she could not endure to look at him, answered in a hurried and fearful tone

“I thank my lord for his compassion to one, alas ! utterly miserable; but would fain understand him otherwise than I do. My lord, I am weak and suffering, quite friendless here, and therewithal brokenhearted. I scarce know what I say-nay, I am not always certain what I am doing. I left my

native

my kindred there, to wander after the man to whom I was to have been wedded. I put on male attire and donned harness, because I feared, my lord—what I fear even now—that there is no protection for a woman who is found alone in the world, while many fear to injure a man. Step for step I followed after him in the whole career of these desperate wars; it was, indeed, a hard trial for me, but my love sustained me through it all; and I tended him day and night, he little thinking the while that his careful young soldier was his own Mary Ambree. My lord, he fell by my side in the assault of this city; I would not leave him till I fell too, and now I know not whether he is living or dead. If he be gone, there is no longer anything for me to live for on the face of the earth, and I will lay down my head and follow him to the grave. The great Duke of Parma will never deign to take an advantage of so helpless and unhappy a creature."

“ Advantage, peerless paragon !" cried Farnese, with the tone and gesticulation of a conceited actor, as he fell on one knee before her “ Alexander of Parma is in thy power, and it is you who have taken advantage of his weakness. A heart so devoted as thine I have sought in many women, but have found it in none. All I possessmy dukedom, would it were an empire for thy sake--my palace, would it were a city--my person, would it were what it is not,” (and here he surveyed himself and smiled,)—"all are in thy hand from this hour. Deign but to bestow on me those favours I have rejected from the loftiest ladies, and those too esteemed the most virtuous in Italy-I will not boast how often."

Mary had been drying her tears during this noble flight, and as she grew more and more indignant, all her weakness as well as her forlorn situation was forgotten; and darting a look of withering scorn upon the duke, she thus reproached him as she put him from her with her hand.

“ My lord duke, this life is in your power, but my virtue is in the power of no man on earth. Perchance, my lord, you have mistaken the woman you are addressing; but the poorest woman in this city, if she be honest, does not deserve to have her feelings insulted by such offers, even from the Duke of Parma. I was born of gentle parents, who taught me above all things to hold fast on virtue, and spurn vice. I may be called imprudent, for I have forgotten the delicacy of my sex, and followed in all honour a man I dote upon, and that in an unnatural disguise ; but it is disgraceful in any one calling himself a man to insult me, helpless as I am, on that account, or for any other

In few wordsy my lord, I will not hear such proposals ; let me implore you never to repeat them. Keep me your prisoner for

reason.

years; take my life, if it is your pleasure--indeed, if Sir John Major be gone, I had rather die than live. But do not, I beseech ye, great duke, when a helpless woman has fallen into your power, force her—force alone can compel me. My lord, I faint-I can say no

more.”

Here her emotion overcame her, and she fell half senseless. The duke, who in his own luxurious Italy had met with many an easier triumph, and could neither brook nor understand the rigid virtue of more northern climes, caught her in his arms, while he felt his pride rebuked and his anger roused by the covered reproaches conveyed in the pathetic appeal she had just made to him. Besides, he was merely gratifying a transient passion, and therefore was determined to shorten the labour while he gained his end.

“ I have demeaned myself,” he cried ; " it is for the Duke of Parma to command, not supplicate. You are indeed in my power, and, come what will, I must obtain the completion of my wishes. From this palace she shall never stir, and day and night I will never cease to persecute her till a time come-and what time like the present, if she were but brought to life again? How now, Sebastian ?" I will not be intruded upon."

My lord, the enemy.' “Ha, I hear it! They have opened their batteries. Let them roar on; the walls of Ghent are like iron, and we are victualled for a twelvemonth. We can laugh at them for months yet, with all their cannon.”

“ My lord,” said Sebastian, hurriedly, “ they have fired upon us ere we thought it, and the citizens are in a panic. The Spanish council is assembled, and has sent for you."

6 The cowards !" cried Farnese. “ I toil for them day and night, and give up my pleasures to fight their battles: it shall have an end. Look to that girl ; she has fainted, or is obstinate -I care not which. Keep her close, and see that you starve down her spirit. By the way, is the English captain, Sir John Major, (the girl's lover, it seems) dead or alive?”

“ My lord, he was arraigned before the council yesterday morning." “ I forgot it; he was condemned as a spy, was he not ?” “ My lord, the young maiden" “She knows not what is passing round her; speak lower then."

“ His sentence is death, my lord, but all own the point is strained, ånd the enemy have some of our generals, on whom they may retaliate."

“ I feel that, and would respite him, but the maiden must be worked upon, and he shall be my instrument. To-morrow, at noon, let the bells be knolled, the drums muffled, all the pomp of a military execution be most solemnly displayed, and let Sir John Major be led as to his death, in the Grass Market, before the church of St. Nicholas. I will be at that window of the house of the burgomaster Van Rosen which looks into the square, and would have the maiden brought there to me. You take me, Sebastian ?”

“ You would purchase her submission, my 'lord, by saving the life of her lover.”

« السابقةمتابعة »