“I shall change the words a little and say: ’Omnia ante Musas.”
“Do you understand that jargon, child?” asked Barbara.
“A passport will be given the Muses,” replied Maria gaily.
Janus was pleased with the ready repartee and exclaimed: “How bright and happy you look! Faces free from care are rare birds in these days.”
Maria blushed, for she did not know how to interpret the words of the nobleman, who understood how to reprove with subtle mockery, and answered naively: “Don’t think me frivolous, Junker. I know the seriousness of the times, but I have just finished a silent confession and discovered many bad traits in my character, but also the desire to replace them with more praiseworthy ones.”
“There, there,” replied Janus. “I knew long ago that you had formed a friendship in the Delft school with my old sage. ‘Know thyself,’ was the Greek’s principal lesson, and you wisely obey it. Every silent confession, every desire for inward purification, must begin with the purpose of knowing ourselves and, if in so doing we unexpectedly encounter things which tend to make our beloved selves uncomely, and have the courage to find them just as hideous in ourselves as in others—”
“Abhorrence will come, and we shall have taken the first step towards improvement.”
“No, dear lady, we shall then stand on one of the higher steps. After hours of long, deep thought, Socrates perceived—do you know what?”
“That he knew nothing at all. I shall arrive at this perception more speedily.”
“And the Christian learns it at school,” said Barbara, to join in the conversation. “All knowledge is botchwork.”
“And we are all sinners,” added Janus. “That’s easily said, dear madam, and easily understood, when others are concerned. ‘He is a sinner’ is quickly uttered, but ‘I am a sinner’ escapes the lips with more difficulty, and whoever does exclaim it with sorrow, in the stillness of his own quiet room, mingles the white feathers of angels’ wings with the black pinions of the devil. Pardon me! In these times everything thought and said is transformed into solemn earnest. Mars is here, and the cheerful Muses are silent. Remember me to your husband, and tell him, that Captain Allertssohn’s body has been brought in and to-morrow is appointed for the funeral.”
The nobleman took his leave, and Maria, after visiting her patient and finding her well and bright, sent Adrian and Bessie into the garden outside the city-wall to gather flowers and foliage, which she intended to help them weave into wreaths for the coffin of the brave soldier. She herself went to the captain’s widow.
The burgomaster’s wife returned home just before dinner, and found a motley throng of bearded warriors assembled in front of the house, they were trying to make themselves intelligible in the English language to some of the constables, and when the latter respectfully saluted Maria, raised their hands to their morions also.