"Well," - Cornelius at last broke the silence, - "well, Rosa, everything changes in the realm of nature; the flowers of spring are succeeded by other flowers; and the bees, which so tenderly caressed the violets and the wall-flowers, will flutter with just as much love about the honey-suckles, the rose, the jessamine, and the carnation."
"What does all this mean?" asked Rosa.
"You have abandoned me, Miss Rosa, to seek your pleasure elsewhere. You have done well, and I will not complain. What claim have I to your fidelity?"
"My fidelity!" Rosa exclaimed, with her eyes full of tears, and without caring any longer to hide from Cornelius this dew of pearls dropping on her cheeks, "my fidelity! have I not been faithful to you?"
"Do you call it faithful to desert me, and to leave me here to die?"
"But, Mynheer Cornelius," said Rosa, "am I not doing everything for you that could give you pleasure? have I not devoted myself to your tulip?"
"You are bitter, Rosa, you reproach me with the only unalloyed pleasure which I have had in this world."
"I reproach you with nothing, Mynheer Cornelius, except, perhaps, with the intense grief which I felt when people came to tell me at the Buytenhof that you were about to be put to death."
"You are displeased, Rosa, my sweet girl, with my loving flowers."
"I am not displeased with your loving them, Mynheer Cornelius, only it makes me sad to think that you love them better than you do me."
"Oh, my dear, dear Rosa! look how my hands tremble; look at my pale cheek, hear how my heart beats. It is for you, my love, not for the black tulip. Destroy the bulb, destroy the germ of that flower, extinguish the gentle light of that innocent and delightful dream, to which I have accustomed myself; but love me, Rosa, love me; for I feel deeply that I love but you."
"Yes, after the black tulip," sighed Rosa, who at last no longer coyly withdrew her warm hands from the grating, as Cornelius most affectionately kissed them.
"Above and before everything in this world, Rosa."
"May I believe you?"
"As you believe in your own existence."
"Well, then, be it so; but loving me does not bind you too much."
"Unfortunately, it does not bind me more than I am bound; but it binds you, Rosa, you."
"First of all, not to marry."
"That's your way," she said; "you are tyrants all of you. You worship a certain beauty, you think of nothing but her. Then you are condemned to death, and whilst walking to the scaffold, you devote to her your last sigh; and now you expect poor me to sacrifice to you all my dreams and my happiness."
"But who is the beauty you are talking of, Rosa?" said Cornelius, trying in vain to remember a woman to whom Rosa might possibly be alluding.
"The dark beauty with a slender waist, small feet, and a noble head; in short, I am speaking of your flower."
"That is an imaginary lady love, at all events; whereas, without counting that amorous Jacob, you by your own account are surrounded with all sorts of swains eager to make love to you. Do you remember Rosa, what you told me of the students, officers, and clerks of the Hague? Are there no clerks, officers, or students at Loewestein?"
"Indeed there are, and lots of them."
"Who write letters?"
"They do write."
"And now, as you know how to read - - "
Here Cornelius heaved a sigh at the thought, that, poor captive as he was, to him alone Rosa owed the faculty of reading the love-letters which she received.
"As to that," said Rosa, "I think that in reading the notes addressed to me, and passing the different swains in review who send them to me, I am only following your instructions."
"How so? My instructions?"
"Indeed, your instructions, sir," said Rosa, sighing in her turn; "have you forgotten the will written by your hand on the Bible of Cornelius de Witt? I have not forgotten it; for now, as I know how to read, I read it every day over and over again. In that will you bid me to love and marry a handsome young man of twenty-six or eight years. I am on the look-out for that young man, and as the whole of my day is taken up with your tulip, you must needs leave me the evenings to find him."
"But, Rosa, the will was made in the expectation of death, and, thanks to Heaven, I am still alive."
"Well, then, I shall not be after the handsome young man, and I shall come to see you."
"That's it, Rosa, come! come!"
"Under one condition."
"That the black tulip shall not be mentioned for the next three days."
"It shall never be mentioned any more, if you wish it, Rosa."
"No, no," the damsel said, laughing, "I will not ask for impossibilities."