Jacqueline of the Carrier Pigeons/Chapter 12

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FOR a time Jacqueline sat huddled and motionless in the corner where she had fallen. Her eyes were still bandaged, her mouth was gagged and her hands were tied behind her. She wondered vaguely whether they would ever come to release her from these bonds, and she shivered pitifully in her wet garments. Finally she roused herself and struggled feebly to free her hands. Her surprise was great when she found that the cords fell apart easily, but it was not till later that she guessed the secret—they had probably been severed nearly through before she was pushed into the room.

Once her hands were free, it was the work of but a few seconds to unbind her eyes and mouth and look about her. The room was in inky darkness, save where a small window admitted a faint gray light that indicated the outer world. There was no sound anywhere through the house. Oh, if they had only allowed her a little light! It was weird and uncanny to be thus thrust into a strange room and left there in utter darkness.

Presently the chill of her dripping clothes caused her to shudder and give an involuntary moan. A moment after she was electrified by hearing something move, on the other side of the room. There was then some living thing in here with her! A chill, not of cold this time but of sheer terror, shook her from head to foot, and a wild desire to shriek aloud possessed her. Again the dreaded something moved, breathed hard, and uttered the word, “Jacqueline”! With a cry of joy and recognition she sprang across the room, and brother and sister found themselves tightly clasped in each others’ arms. For a moment neither of them could do anything but sob and laugh and kiss the other distractedly. At last they grew sufficiently calm for speech.

“Oh, Gysbert, my brother! Art thou truly unharmed and well? How did this dreadful thing happen?” breathed Jacqueline.

“Yes, I am alive and whole,” he replied, “but how I got here is a long story which I will tell thee later. But what about thee, Jacqueline? Thou art soaking wet! How didst thou come to be caught in the same trap?” In rapid sentences she sketched the history of the night’s adventures.

“The scoundrel!” exclaimed Gysbert. “He must have brought thee through that same hole in the wall. I felt sure he had been planning to capture thee, but to-night when thou wert thrown so violently into the room, I could not tell whether it was thyself or some new trap he had been setting for me. Not till I heard thee moan was I sure. He has some deep-laid scheme in getting possession of us two, but what it is I cannot imagine. However, thou must get rid of these wet things, sister. There is a little room adjoining this where thou canst sleep. It has evidently been arranged for that purpose. Take off thy dripping clothes and wrap thyself in the bed-coverings, and we will then tell each other all that has happened since we parted.

“Now,” said Gysbert, when his sister had arrayed herself in the warm bed-coverings, “I will begin by telling thee all about my journey to Rotterdam.” And he rehearsed to her all the details of his interview with the Prince of Orange, and continued: “It took me another day and night to pass Delft and reach the Spanish outposts. Feeling so certain I should get through in safety, I think I grew a little reckless and determined to try the route I had taken the first time. I never made a bigger mistake!

“In the first place, I hadn’t an idea of the password, having been away three days. As luck would have it, I failed to encounter my friend Alonzo de Rova, but did meet right face to face with the same captain who had arrested me before. He made short work of laying hands on me and delivered me over to the charge of about six or eight soldiers in a big tent. I tried again my scheme of drawing pictures, and they all became very much interested, hanging over me with laughter and much admiration as I drew the portrait of each one. I was hoping Alonzo would happen along, but he didn’t.

“I cannot tell how my plan would have worked, nor whether the soldiers would have released me, for just as I was finishing the last one, I happened to look up and there was the evil face of Dirk Willumhoog in the door of the tent, staring down at me. I thought perhaps he would not recognize me in my disguise, but he did somehow. Disappearing for a moment, he came back with the captain and pointed to me, saying:

“‘That is the boy I want, and I’ve been hunting for him all over. He is no Glipper at all, but a spy and a very dangerous character. Give him to me, and I’ll see that he is properly taken care of.’ I saw by this that resistance would be useless, so I very meekly followed him out of the tent. Once outside, he blindfolded my eyes, tied my hands, and led me what seemed a long distance. At last we entered this house. Upstairs we climbed, and inside this room he uncovered my eyes. ‘We’ll see if thou art a Glipper!’ he said, and proceeded to wash off all the stain. ‘Now we will pay off some old scores of long standing!’ he added, and with a heavy switch, he gave me such a beating as I never had in my life before.”

“He beat thee!” exclaimed the girl, her eyes blazing in the dark. “Oh, I could kill him for it!”

“Yes, but I did not cry out!” replied Gysbert proudly. “Not one moan did he hear from me, till at last he stopped from sheer weariness. ‘That’s to pay for thy kind remarks on the day I left Leyden!’ he said. ‘We will settle the rest later!’ Then he took my bag and examined it, wondering at the herbs, and finding the food and pigeon. ‘What hast thou here!’ he asked, ‘And why wast thou outside the walls!’ I told him we were hungry, and I had been trying to get some food by selling herbs. ‘Thou liest!’ he shouted. ‘What was this carrier pigeon for? I tell thee thou carriest messages to the enemy!’

“I said I had taken it so that in case I could not get back in time, I could send a message. ‘Well, I ’ll send the message,’ he replied, ‘and it will be somewhat differently worded, thou canst wager!’ What was it, Jacqueline?” The girl told him, and both together puzzled over the supposition that Dirk and Vrouw Voorhaas must sometime have met, and held some secret knowledge in common. She also told him what the woman had uttered in her delirium, but they could make nothing of the mystery. Then Gysbert went on with his story.

“After that he left me, bolting the door behind him, and I was free to look about me, and see where I was, as far as my limited space would permit. I found myself in this room which thou wilt see at daylight, with the other small one opening from it. Both contained a bed, and that made me guess that at some time he hoped to capture thee also. There are two little windows well guarded by heavy iron bars like a prison. However, I could see enough through them to guess where I was. This is a little, lonely farmhouse well outside the village of Zoeterwoude. Thou knowest where that is, Jacqueline. We have often gone there to buy pigeons. It is about a mile and a half from Leyden.

“The walls and floorings of the rooms are thick, and I seldom hear any sounds from the rest of the house. There is no fireplace and very little furniture. Well, here I was, and likely to remain till fortune again turned in my favor! For three successive days Dirk came up and gave me a beating, till I foresaw that this was to become a daily practice. Otherwise I had food enough shoved in the door at me,—more than I had in Leyden!—and nothing on earth to do. At length I became thoroughly weary of the beating performance, and hit upon a scheme to avoid it. And what dost thou think that was, Jacqueline?”

“I cannot guess!” she answered.

“Why, I pretended I had the plague!” he cried gleefully. “Oh, Jacqueline, thou canst not guess what a desperate coward that Dirk Willumhoog is! One day when I heard him coming, I held my breath till I was scarlet in the face, like fever. I lay covered up in bed, and when he entered, I began to toss my arms about and rave, as though light in the head. He did not beat me that time, but stared at me uneasily for a while, and went out muttering. He did not come in again that day, and I had a chance to make myself a little worse!

“I found a place in the wall where some loose plaster had fallen away from the brick lining within. Breaking off some of this brick, powdering and moistening it, I thus obtained some fine red paint with which I proceeded to decorate myself. With the pail of water for a mirror, all over my face and hands I imitated the blotches that appear on the plague-stricken. Oh, I must have been a fine, healthful sight!

“When Dirk came in to visit me next morning, he looked, gave one howl, and rushed out of the room! I have not seen him since, and I know he believes me far gone in this illness. Strange to say though, in spite of his hatred, he does not seem to wish me to die, but has caused to be thrust in the door the finest food and nourishment that could be procured. I could live like a lord if I wished, but I scarcely touch it, saving only enough to keep life in me, else he would surely suspect. Thus have I passed the three weeks!” He ceased to speak, and for a while they sat silent, hoping, doubting, fearing for the future, yet rejoicing that they were at last together.

“But now thou must go to bed, Jacqueline,” said Gysbert at length. “Thou art wearied out and sleep will do thee good.” Obediently she crept into the bed in the little room, dropped asleep almost as soon as her head touched the pillow, and never woke till the sun was streaming in at the small window high overhead. Rising and donning the clothes that were now dry, she hurried into the next room to get the first glimpse at her brother.

He was indeed a remarkable sight, as he lay in bed exhibiting his horribly blotched face and hands. It would have taken a keen eye, so cleverly had he executed this dreadful decoration, to detect it as false.

“Thou must pretend to be greatly alarmed about me, Jacqueline, should they interview thee, and do not be surprised at my ravings, for they are right hair-raising!” Gysbert had hardly uttered this caution, when there was a sound of steps approaching the door. Immediately he began to toss his arms about, moan, mutter, and occasionally shriek in a muffled manner.

“Go away! Go away from me!” he raved. “Thou art not my sister! Why dost thou say thou art Jacqueline! I do not know thee! Thou art someone sent by that enemy of ours! Go away, go away, I tell thee!” Then the door was unbolted, a basket of food was thrust within, and a voice was heard calling above the racket of Gysbert’s pretended delirium:

“Juffrouw Jacqueline! Is thy brother very ill?”

“Yes,” answered the girl trembling. “He is so sorely ill that I fear he will die!”

“Well, thou must not let him die! Thou must nurse him carefully. We do not wish either of you to come to harm.”

“Why dost thou keep us here?” demanded Jacqueline growing bolder. “Let us go away where he can get a doctor and proper treatment.”

”’Tis not for thee to inquire why thou art here. That thou shalt perhaps know in due time,” answered the voice. “As for a doctor, it is impossible to procure one and inadvisable to bring him here if we could. Thou knowest much about nursing the plague, and hast had rare experience in the city. If thou dost need any special food or medicine for him we will try to procure it, but otherwise all must remain as it is. Dost think this case is very contagious?”

“Ah, very!” replied Jacqueline, slyly. “Even the odor from the room is enough to infect one, especially if one fears it greatly!” At this the door was slammed hastily shut, and when the children had heard the last departing footsteps of Dirk Willumhoog die away, they could not, in spite of their danger, repress a giggle of uncontrollable mirth!