Herr Van Wibisma turned his dripping, smoking steed, frightened by the hail-stones, towards the house, and in a few minutes crossed the threshold of the inn with his son.
A current of warm air, redolent of beer and food, met the travellers as they entered the large, low room, dimly lighted by the tiny windows, scarcely more than loop-holes, pierced in two sides. The tap-room itself looked like the cabin of a ship. Ceiling and floor, chairs and tables, were made of the same dark-brown wood that covered the walls, along which beds were ranged like berths.
The host, with many bows, came forward to receive the aristocratic guests, and led them to the fire-place, where huge pieces of peat were glimmering. The heat they sent forth answered several purposes at the same time. It warmed the air, lighted a portion of the room, which was very dark in rainy weather, and served to cook three fowl that, suspended from a thin iron bar over the fire, were already beginning to brown.
As the new guests approached the hearth, an old woman, who had been turning the spit, pushed a white cat from her lap and rose.
The landlord tossed on a bench several garments spread over the backs of two chairs to dry, and hung in their place the dripping cloaks of the baron and his son.
While the elder Wibisma was ordering something hot to drink for himself and servants, Nicolas led the black page to the fire.
The shivering boy crouched on the floor beside the ashes, and stretched now his soaked feet, shod in red morocco, and now his stiffened fingers to the blaze.
The father and son took their seats at a table, over which the maid-servant had spread a cloth. The baron was inclined to enter into conversation about the decorated tree with the landlord, an over-civil, pock-marked dwarf, whose clothes were precisely the same shade of brown as the wood in his tap-room; but refrained from doing so because two citizens of Leyden, one of whom was well known to him, sat at a short distance from his table, and he did not wish to be drawn into a quarrel in a place like this.
After Nicolas had also glanced around the tap-room, he touched his father, saying in a low tone:
“Did you notice the men yonder? The younger one—he’s lifting the cover of the tankard now—is the organist who released me from the boys and gave me his cloak yesterday.”
“The one yonder?” asked the nobleman. “A handsome young fellow. He might be taken for an artist or something of that kind. Here, landlord, who is the gentleman with brown hair and large eyes, talking to Allertssohn, the fencing-master?”
“It’s Herr Wilhelm, younger son of old Herr Cornelius, Receiver General, a player or musician, as they call them.”
“Eh, eh,” cried the baron. “His father is one of my old Leyden acquaintances. He was a worthy, excellent man before the craze for liberty turned people’s heads. The youth, too, has a face pleasant to look at.