Jacqueline of the Carrier Pigeons/Chapter 11

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SINCE the great dyke had been pierced an entire week had elapsed. Stout-hearted Admiral Boisot had expected to find the Land-scheiding the only barrier between his fleet and the city. But no sooner had this been passed than he discovered to his surprise and disgust that several more dykes and fortresses stood between himself and the goal. Three-quarters of a mile further on was the “Green-way,” another long dyke rising a foot above the water. But the Spaniards had not yet sufficiently learned their lesson, and this barrier also was very scantily guarded.

With his usual promptness and audacity, Boisot carried this situation, set his men to levelling the dyke, and the fleet passed through triumphantly. But again he was doomed to disappointment. Beyond the “Green-way stretched a large shallow lake called “Freshwater Mere” through which there was but one passage, a deep canal. As fortune would have it, however, this canal led directly under a bridge that was in possession of the Spaniards. This time the enemy had looked well to its defences, and a few skirmishes soon convinced Boisot that the foe had the advantage of him. So he prudently drew off and waited.

Only two and a half miles from the beleaguered city lay the rescuing fleet stranded in shallow water, unable to progress an inch. The east wind blew steadily, the waters decreased and the Spaniards laughed in their faces. Within the city reigned a despair all the blacker for the brief illumination of hope that had now died. But God had not yet forsaken the cause of the right.

On the eighteenth of September the wind changed, a great gale raged for three days out of the northwest, the waters rose rapidly, and the vessels were again afloat. Fortunately too, from some fugitives from one of the villages, who had come aboard, Boisot learned of another course he could pursue, a little roundabout indeed, but having the advantage of avoiding the terrible, guarded bridge. He lost no time in availing himself of this, and the amazed Spaniards at the village of Nord Aa suddenly beheld this fear-inspiring flotilla bearing down upon them from an entirely unexpected direction. They fled precipitately, not even stopping to gather up their possessions, to the strongly fortified village of Zoeterwoude, only a mile and three-quarters from the city.

A little beyond Nord Aa, Boisot encountered the last dyke, the “Kirk-way.” This he promptly levelled, but the wind had again changed, the water fell to the depth of only nine inches, and the fleet lay once more helpless in its shallows. Day by day passed and nothing occurred to alter the monotony of this inaction. But one circumstance took place which filled the Sea Beggars with renewed courage and inspired universal joy. The Prince of Orange, now recovered sufficiently from his long illness to be about, came on board the “Ark of Delft,” to grasp the hand of the doughty Admiral. From thence he made a triumphal tour of all the vessels, instilling into every heart fresh courage, cheering, advising and directing. He looked pale and worn after his illness, and his devoted veterans, even these fierce Sea Beggars, were ready to fall at his feet and obey his lightest command. After a long and serious conference with Boisot, he returned to Delft.

Meanwhile, what of Jacqueline, upon the messages borne by whose carrier pigeons the whole city hung with breathless expectation? Since the passing of the Land-scheiding she had continued to carry constant messages to Van der Werf, for every time the Admiral gained a new advantage, he hastened to despatch another pigeon, for the encouragement of Leyden. Everyone who was not too weak with hunger to walk, haunted the summit of Hengist Hill to watch the advance of the rescuers. It filled their hearts with new courage to note how small a space the besieging army was now forced to occupy,—only a ring little more than a mile wide all about the city, with the threatening ocean and a crew of desperate Sea Beggars on one side, and the hunger-maddened populace of Leyden in the center. The situation was certainly becoming a trifle embarrassing for the Spanish army!

Jacqueline occasionally went to Hengist Hill with Jan, who was now able to get about quite briskly. Dr. de Witt insisted that she must get out and take fresh air and exercise, and he was always willing to sit with Vrouw Voorhaas while she was away. They never allowed the girl to go far alone, for all yet feared the threat of Dirk Willumhoog to entrap her as well as her brother, and took care that she was well guarded. Vrouw Voorhaas had also made decided improvement but was yet unable to leave her bed. The excessive weakness caused by her long self-denial and its consequences, seemed almost impossible to overcome. Her constant inquiries about Gysbert too, were becoming more and more difficult to answer, though they still kept up the fiction that he was quartered with Dr. de Witt during her illness. Sometimes it seemed as though she watched them all with hidden suspicion, and once she even murmured:

“I fear he is not safe! Something tells me he is in danger!” On the night when the fleet reached Nord Aa a pigeon flew in bearing the tidings. Jacqueline found him, for she was constantly on the watch for messages, but since it was nearly nine o’clock, it was deemed best that Jan should carry the word to the burgomaster. The doctor had just left not five minutes before, and Jan hobbled off to execute his mission leaving Jacqueline with Vrouw Voorhaas. The girl sat reading by the sick bed, casting an occasional glance at her patient who was sound asleep. Presently, thinking she heard a knock at the door, she closed her book and hurried downstairs.

“’Tis early for Jan to be back,” she thought. “He has but just left, and I know he will want to stay and chat awhile with Mynheer Van der Werf. Who can it be!” Some indefinable sensation of misgiving caused her to be a little long about opening the door. She was reassured, however, by seeing only a small boy who thrust a note into her hand, and turning ran down the street. She called to him to come back as there might be an answer required, but the child apparently did not hear her, and was soon out of sight. Wonderingly she brought the scrap of paper to the candle-light and read its contents.

“Juffrouw Jacqueline, (it ran):—

“If thou wouldst hear news of thy brother, and dost also desire a chance to rescue him, I beg thee to come to the end of the Wirtemstrasse at once. Do not waste a moment, for the opportunity is but brief. The messenger there can only wait fifteen minutes. Thy brother sends his love.

“One who is thy friend.”

Jacqueline flushed with joy and then turned deathly pale. Hope, doubt and distrust reigned equally in her mind. News of Gysbert!—a chance to rescue him!—she would go to the end of the world for that! But why had not the writer of the note signed his name? Why had the little boy who brought it run away so quickly? Oh, if Jan or Dr. de Witt were only here to advise her! Oh, if there were but more time! She glanced at the note again. It said—“Come immediately. The messenger has but fifteen minutes to wait.” Fifteen minutes! One had gone already, while it would take at least ten to reach the appointed spot. Only four minutes in which to decide! But she had been forbidden to go out alone, especially at night. That she concluded would not interfere if they knew that Gysbert’s welfare hung upon it. The girl was on a positive rack of torturing doubt, but the note again conquered. “Thy brother sends his love.” Gysbert was then at least alive and safe, and was thinking of her? “One who is thy friend.”—Surely, no one who wished her evil could subscribe that signature! If it were a friend she need fear no harm. Then and there she formed her determination to risk all and obey this summons. God would surely watch over her!

Catching up a light wrap she opened and closed the door softly, and sped down the dark street. The night was starless and chilly; the few people she met were hurrying in the opposite direction to witness the conflagration at Nord Aa from Hengist Hill. Her way lay in the direction of the city wall between the Cow Gate and the Tower of Burgundy. It was a deserted section, and approaching it, she recognized it as the scene of Gysbert's adventure in the canal. A shudder of apprehension shook her but she hurried on. It was do or die now, and nothing could have induced her to turn back.

Beaching the end of the Wirtemstrasse, she found herself at the bend of the canal described by Gysbert. A meadow stretched out before her, and beyond that rose a section of the grim wall of Leyden. There was not a soul in sight, and the girl began to think that in some way she had been deceived. Concluding, however, that she might possibly be a little ahead of time, she leaned over the rail of the stone bridge that crossed the canal, and waited.

Suddenly, without a warning sound, she felt herself seized from behind. Before she could even cry out, a bandage was clapped over her mouth and fastened at the back of her head. Instantly another was bound over her eyes and her hands were tied behind her in spite of her desperate struggles. In all this time she had not caught one glimpse of her captor, but she heard a rough voice mutter: “Ah!—I have thee at last! I have waited long enough for a chance to find thee unguarded by those two watchdogs!” And she knew it to be the voice of Dirk Willumhoog!

“Now walk with me and do exactly as I tell thee, if thou dost not wish to be knocked in the head!” the voice commanded in a low key. In utter despair Jacqueline was forced to obey, there being obviously no other course to pursue. The man grasped her by one arm and pulled her along after him. She could tell by the feeling of the ground that they were crossing the meadow, and anticipating what was to come, she trembled till her knees almost refused to support her. Presently she stepped up to her ankles in a pool of water.

“Draw a long breath and hold it!” commanded the voice. She tried to do as she was told, when with a sudden plunge she was immersed head and all, for what seemed an interminable length of time. At last she felt her head raised above the surface. “Keep it up—so!” was the order. The icy current more than once forced her from her feet, causing her to slip under, and the atmosphere of the place struck a chill to her very marrow. Once again the ground gave way beneath her, and she felt the man’s strong arm pulling her after him, while he swam in water too deep for wading.

But the girl’s senses could no longer stand the strain of cold, fatigue and terror, and at this point she suddenly became unconscious. How the rest of the journey was accomplished she could never imagine, for she knew no more till she came to herself in what seemed to be some sort of narrow hallway. A door was opened and she was rudely thrust inside with the exclamation: “There!—at length!—I thought I should never get thee here!” Then the door was slammed to, and loudly bolted.