“She is an excellent woman, but I fear her blunt manner, heavy step, and loud voice would not benefit you just now. Let me go to her and ask what she desires.”
“Receive her kindly, and tell her to remember me to her son. I am not very delicate, but I see you understand me; such substantial fare would hardly suit me just now.”
After Maria had performed her errand and talked with Henrica for a time, Frau Van Hout was announced. Her husband, who had been present when the doors of the house of death were sealed, had told her about the invalid and she came to see if the poor girl needed anything.
“You might receive her,” said Maria, “for she would surely please you; but the bell is ringing again, and you have talked enough for to-day. Try to sleep now. I’ll go home with Fran Van Hout and come again tomorrow, if agreeable to you.”
“Come, pray come!” exclaimed the young girl.
“Do you want to say anything more to me?”
“I should like to do so, Fraulein Henrica. You ought not to stay in this sad house. There is plenty of room in ours. Will you be our guest until your father—”
“Yes, take me home with you!” cried the invalid, tears sparkling in her eyes. “Take me away from here, only take me away—and I will be grateful to you all my life.”
Maria had not mounted the stairs so joyously for weeks as she did to-day. She would have sung, had it been seemly, though she felt a little anxious; for perhaps her husband would not think she had done right to invite, on her own authority, a stranger, especially a sick stranger, who was a friend of Spain, to be their guest.
As she passed the dining-room, she heard the gentlemen consulting together. Then Peter began to speak. She noticed the pleasant depth of his voice, and said to herself that Henrica would like to hear it. A few minutes after she entered the apartment, to greet her husband’s guests, who were also hers. Joyous excitement and the rapid walk through the air of the May evening, which, though the day had been warm, was still cool, had flushed her cheeks and, as she modestly crossed the threshold with a respectful greeting, which nevertheless plainly revealed the pleasure afforded by the visit of such guests, she looked so winning and lovely, that not a single person present remained unmoved by the sight. The older Herr Van der Does clapped Peter on the shoulder and then struck the palm of his hand with his fist, as if to say: “I won’t question that!” Janus Dousa whispered gaily to Van Hout, who was a good Latin scholar:
“Oculi sunt in amore duces.”
Captain Allertssohn started up and raised his hand to his hat with a military salute; Van Bronkhorst, the Prince’s Commissioner, gave expression to his feelings in a courtly bow, Doctor Bontius smiled contentedly, like a person who has successfully accomplished a hazardous enterprise, and Peter proudly and happily strove to attract his wife’s attention to himself. But this was not to be, for as soon as Maria perceived that she was the mark for so many glances, she lowered her eyes with a deep blush, and then said far more firmly than would have been expected from her timid manner: