Jacqueline of the Carrier Pigeons/Chapter 14

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MEANWHILE, Jacqueline and Gysbert, isolated in the upper room of the little farmhouse in Zoeterwoude, found themselves with a great deal of time on their hands, and liberty to do pretty much as they liked within their limited space. The fiction of Gysbert’s illness with the plague was rigorously adhered to, and beyond opening the door a crack to poke in the food, Dirk Willumhoog never ventured to intrude. Every day he would shout through the closed door to Jacqueline, inquiring about Gysbert’s condition. Generally she would reply that he was no better, or that the symptoms were very much worse. Very infrequently she answered that he was a little better.

They lived on the best of fare, for Dirk was evidently anxious that the patient should have every opportunity in that way to improve. Gysbert now ate even more than his share, but Jacqueline was of course supposed to have consumed the larger amount. On the whole, though, they felt that the deception could not be sustained very much longer, without discovery. From the barred windows they watched constantly, endeavoring to discover in that way if possible, something that was going on. There was little life about the farmhouse, though they occasionally saw a few Spanish soldiers go in and out, and a woman sometimes moving about the yard. Only once they overheard a conversation that threw some light on whose house they were inhabiting. A soldier entered the yard one day, and was accosted by this woman who seemed to belong to the place.

“Hast thou heard any news of my husband?” she questioned.

“Nothing certain, Vrouw Hansleer,” he replied, “but there is a rumor that the Prince has discovered him and had him cast into prison.” Then the two passed out of hearing. But Gysbert snapped his fingers delightedly and cried:

Hansleer, is it! Now I know where we are, Jacqueline! The Prince told me that the name of the wretch who was deceiving him was Joachim Hansleer,—dost thou not remember? And it is due to me that he has been imprisoned! How much dost thou suppose our lives would be worth if Dirk Willumhoog and Vrouw Hansleer knew that! Long live the Prince, and may he keep our secret!”

But one day when Gysbert was looking from the window, he was startled by the sight of a figure that had something familiar in its aspect. It was a man in the uniform of a Spanish soldier who was tall and finely built, but his face could not be seen by the boy. Presently however, he looked up, and Gysbert recognized in an instant the features of Alonzo de Rova! Immediately a plan formed itself in his mind.

“Jacqueline,” he whispered, “it is a big risk, but I’m going to take the chance! He half-promised to help me if ever I needed it. Now we will see! The yard is deserted and I will try to attract his attention.” Suiting the action to the word, he gave a low whistle, and the soldier looked up. Seeing this strange, horribly spotted face at the window, he uttered a startled exclamation:

“By St. Lawrence! what dost thou want with me? Art thou the plague-stricken boy Dirk Willumhoog is keeping for some unknown purpose?”

“Yes,” answered Gysbert in a low tone. “Dost thou not remember the little Glipper lad who drew thy portrait?”

“By the Pope! I do!” replied Alonzo. “Surely thou art not he!”

“I am,” said Gysbert. “Wilt thou help me? If so, ask to come up and see me.”

“But thou hast the plague!” answered the soldier. For reply Gysbert shook his head and significantly rubbed off one of the brick-dust spots. Alonzo gave a loud guffaw of appreciation at the joke, and nodded encouragingly. ”Wait!” he motioned with his lips, for someone was coming out of the house. Not long after the children heard a great commotion on the stairs. Immediately Gysbert leaped into bed, covered himself well, and began to moan and rave incoherently, while Jacqueline trembled lest their secret should now be discovered through her brother’s rashness. Nearer and nearer came the sounds, as of remonstrance. and scuffling combined:

“I tell thee I will see them, Dirk! It will do no harm, and thou sayest the lass is pretty. I wager five florins she is not so fair as my sweetheart in Madrid! Dost thou take the wager?”

“Nay, but thou wilt catch the plague! Thou canst not wish to risk that. The boy is a terrible sight, and the very odor of the room will infect thee!”

“Zounds, man! how careful thou art of my health! But, fortunately, I do not fear the plague. I had it three years ago and got over it bravely. They say one is then exempt and can never catch it again. Let me go, Dirk.”

“Aye, but I will not answer for the consequences, thou reckless man!” answered Dirk as he reluctantly unbolted the door, shutting it again quickly, when the soldier was once inside. Alonzo sat down on a vacant chair, and laughed till the tears rolled down his cheeks, at the capers Gysbert cut, raving and tossing, shouting and groaning, and flinging the bed-clothes about.

“Thou art the cleverest lad I ever met!” he whispered, glancing significantly at the door, to intimate that Dirk was probably outside listening. Then aloud;

“By the Pope! thou art in a right bad predicament, and methinks thou hast not much longer to survive, my lively boy! And thy sister is truly as handsome as Dirk painted her. But I like the dark beauty of my Inez best!” Here someone called Dirk loudly, and they heard him descending the stairs. Knowing however, that his absence would probably not be for long, they made the best use of their time.

“De Rova,” hurriedly whispered Gysbert, “we are caught here like rats in a trap! Canst thou help us to escape?”

“Willingly would I,” answered the soldier, “for I have not forgotten the splendid portrait of me which I sent to Madrid. I do truly think it has at last turned the undecided heart of fair Inez Montagno toward me, for her letters of late, have been warmer and less flouting. Also I bear no particular love to Dirk Willumhoog, who has done me one or two sneaking ill turns that he thinks I do not trace to him. But how can I aid thee? I cannot unlock doors so carefully guarded. I cannot waft thee from barred windows, nor can I rescue thee with ladders! What wilt thou?”

“Only one thing!” said Gysbert quickly. “Hast thou a knife about thee? If so, leave it with me, I pray! No—” seeing the soldier’s questioning glance—“I do not mean to kill anyone with it, but with something sharp in our possession I think we can furnish our own means of escape.” For an answer the Spaniard drew from his belt a short-handled weapon with a strong Toledo blade, and placed it in the boy’s hands. Quickly concealing it under his mattress, Gysbert thanked him with an eloquent look. But footsteps were again approaching, and all knew that the interview must soon end. Alonzo turned to Jacqueline with a look of reverent admiration in his eyes:

“Fair young Juffrouw, beyond everything do I admire thy quiet courage and devotion to thy brother. For the sake of my lady, Donna Inez Montagno, whom I shall one day tell all about thee, may I kiss thy hand in farewell?” Jacqueline, genuinely touched, extended her hand. De Rova dropped gallantly on one knee and touched it with his lips.

“I would that I could do more for thee,” he whispered, “but I have done all that is in my power. God bless you both, and grant you success!” A knock was heard at the door, Gysbert began to rave again, and Alonzo prepared to take his departure.

“They are hard put to it!” the children heard him telling Dirk as he went out. “I doubt whether the boy will recover, and he is not in his senses a minute. But I have won my wager, Dirk! I consider Donna Inez far handsomer than thy little Juffrouw Jacqueline in there!”

“But is he not a jewel!” whispered Gysbert. “I told thee I had made a friend when I cultivated his acquaintance. This pretty little blade is going to save us, I hope!” and he stroked the weapon admiringly.

“But how?” demanded Jacqueline, in wonder.

“Trust me, and thou wilt see!” was all he would reply.