Days and weeks had passed, July was followed by sultry August, and that, too, was drawing to a close. The Spaniards still surrounded Leyden, and the city now completely resembled a prison. The soldiers and armed citizens did their duty wearily and sullenly, there was business enough at the town-hall, but the magistrates’ work was sad and disagreeable; for no message of hope came from the Prince or the Estates, and everything to be considered referred to the increasing distress and the terrible follower of war, the plague, which had made its entry into Leyden with the famine. Moreover the number of malcontents weekly increased. The friends of the old order of affairs now raised their voices more and more loudly, and many a friend of liberty, who saw his family sickening, joined the Spanish sympathizers and demanded the surrender of the city. The children went to school and met in the playrounds as before, but there was rarely a flash of the merry pertness of former days, and what had become of the boys’ red cheeks and the round arms of the little girls? The poor drew their belts tighter, and the morsel of bread, distributed by the city to each individual, was no longer enough to quiet hunger and support life.
Junker Georg had long been living in Burgomaster Van der Werff’s house.
On the morning of August 29th he returned home from an expedition, carrying a cross-bow in his hand, while a pouch hung over his shoulder. This time he did not go up-stairs, but sought Barbara in the kitchen. The widow received him with a friendly nod; her grey eyes sparkled as brightly as ever, but her round face had grown narrower and there was a sorrowful quiver about the sunken mouth.
“What do you bring to-day?” she asked the Junker. Georg thrust his hand into his game-bag and answered, smiling: “A fat snipe and four larks; you know.”
“Poor sparrows! But what sort of a creature can this be? Headless, legless, and carefully plucked! Junker, Junker, that’s suspicious.”
“It will do for the pan, and the name is of no consequence.”
“Yet, yet; true, nobody knows on what he fattens, but the Lord didn’t create every animal for the human stomach.”
“That’s just what I said. It’s a short-billed snipe, a corvus, a real corvus.”
“Corvus! Nonsense, I’m afraid of the thing—the little feathers under the wings. Good heavens! surely it isn’t a raven?”
“It’s a corvus, as I said. Put the bird in vinegar, roast it with seasoning and it will taste like a real snipe. Wild ducks are not to be found every day, as they were a short time ago, and sparrows are getting as scarce as roses in winter. Every boy is standing about with a cross-bow, and in the court-yards people are trying to catch them under sieves and with lime-twigs. They are going to be exterminated, but one or another is still spared. How is the little elf?”