Jacqueline of the Carrier Pigeons/Chapter 15
THE EAVESDROPPERS AND THE PLOT
GYSBERT did not keep his sister long in doubt as to the use he proposed to make of Alonzo de Rova’s Toledo blade. The first thing he did caused her considerable wonder and not a little alarm. In one corner of the room he pried up the tiles of the flooring for the space of a square foot, and cut away the planking underneath, leaving nothing but some thin lath and plaster between them and the room below.
“Oh, Gysbert! what art thou doing!” asked Jacqueline in distress. “We will be discovered and all will be lost!”
“Not at all!” said Gysbert as he covered up his work by carefully replacing everything he had removed. “No one will suspect what I have done, and through this hole we can listen to much that goes on below. We may hear something worth while if we listen hard enough! But that is only one thing I intend to do with this valuable weapon. Let me show thee to what other use it may be put!” He went to the window, reconnoitered long and carefully to see that no one was near, and then commenced to file away at one of the iron bars, digging carefully into the wood in which it was imbedded, and using every effort to dislodge it from the socket in which it was set.
“This will be a long and tedious piece of work,” he remarked. “There are three thick bars, each set stoutly in woodwork nearly as hard as iron itself, and we want to do this work so carefully that it will not be noticeable should anyone enter the room. Each bar will have to be loosened both top and bottom, and I know not how long it will take us. We will work as constantly as we can, and I doubt not in time we shall be free as the birds, as far as this window is concerned. ’Tis a good thing the blade is sharp and enduring!”
“Yes, but even so,” demurred Jacqueline, “what are we going to do when the bars are loosed? To be as free as the birds, as thou sayest, we must have wings, for we are fully twenty feet from the ground!”
“There are many ways to get out of a window, Jacqueline, as thou wouldst know if thou hadst climbed in and out of one as many times as I have! But that too will all come in good season, and meanwhile we must work away at the bars.” Hope,—even vague and indefinite hope,—lends wings to the soul and zest to the brain and hands. This faint glimmer that had been cast across the blackness of the two children’s prospects so filled their hearts with its brightness that they were almost gay, as they sawed away on the stout iron bars. They would have shouted and sung, had not that performance surely encouraged unwelcome attention in their direction.
That same night Gysbert removed the tiles and piece of plank from the hole he had dug in the flooring. Leaning over it the children strove to gather, from any sounds they might hear, what was going on beneath them. It was destined that they should hear something that night which while it enlightened them upon several points hitherto inscrutable, served in no way to add to their peace of mind. The room just under theirs was evidently one that was not often used, for it seemed to be dark and deserted. Presently however, a light shown through the cracks in the ceiling, someone was heard moving about, and voices whispered words that could not be distinguished. At length the sentence, “He is even now coming!” penetrated up through the ceiling, and there was another silence. Then the neighing of horses was heard outside. A loud tramping of heavily shod feet resounded on the wooden floors, the door of the room below opened, and three people entered.
“Sit you down! Pray, sit you down!” said a voice easily recognized as Dirk Willumhoog’s. “We will be secure here from all interruption and can talk freely, with absolutely no fear of being overheard!” Here Gysbert pinched Jacqueline till she almost laughed aloud. Two gruff voices replied in monosyllables, and there was a scraping of chairs and jingling of spurs, as the two horsemen placed themselves at the table.
“Now,” commanded one of the gruff voices, “tell us quickly, Dirk Willumhoog, what is this plan that thou hast, and we will then discuss whether it be worth considering!”
“Nay, nay. Commander Valdez!” whined Dirk. “We must not be quite so speedy!”
“Didst thou hear that, Jacqueline?” whispered Gysbert. “Commander Valdez!—Now we are going to hear something worth while!”
“Come, come!” put in the third voice impatiently. “Why all this parleying? If thou hast a plan worth considering, out with it, and thou shalt be recompensed accordingly. Dost thou think us willing to sit here all night to split hairs with such as thou!”
“Not so fast! not so fast, Colonel Borgia!” complained Dirk. “If my plan is worth anything it is worth bargaining for, and I do not intend to sell it cheaply, I assure you!”
“Jacqueline,” again whispered Gysbert, “there is some dreadful plan afoot! Colonel Borgia is the Spaniard in command of Fort Lammen, the strongest redoubt against the city. Listen!—”
“Well, Dirk,” interrupted Valdez, perceiving evidently that it would not do to try bullying this subtle rascal, “tell us then what is thy price for the service thou dost propose to render the Spanish army?”
“Fifty thousand florins!” replied Dirk, calmly but firmly.
“Fifty thousand flying devils!” roared Valdez pounding the table with his fist. “Dost thou think the Spanish treasury is a mine of diamonds? Away with thee, thou scurvy rascal! Come, Borgia! ’tis useless parleying with a madman!”
“Gentlemen,” remarked Dirk, quite unmoved by this outburst on the part of the Spanish general, “you do me wrong. Did you but know my plan, you would say it was easily worth full twice the amount I have named. However, I have other ways of disposing profitably of my secret, should my terms not appeal to you!” In the silence that ensued, the two listeners could imagine the Spaniards consulting each other with uncertain glances. At last the voice of Valdez spoke again, this time in a more conciliatory tone:
“Willumhoog, I am not authorized to offer any such amount as thou dost name. But I swear to thee that I will consult with our ever gracious and merciful King Philip II, at the earliest opportunity, to obtain this amount for thee, using every influence in my power.”
“Will your worship put that down in writing?” inquired Dirk eagerly.
“Certainly, certainly!” replied the general, glad to have made an impression so easily. Dirk hastened out, evidently to obtain pen and paper, and was back again in a jiify. “I have one more request to make,” he remarked in honeyed tones. “As thou wilt!” said Valdez.
“It is that your worship will write at my dictation.”
There was another uneasy pause, and then the general acquiesced, muttering that he did not have to write anything that he did not wish!
“I, General Valdez,” dictated Dirk, “Commander of the Spanish army before Leyden, do hereby give my promise that I will intercede with His Majesty, Philip II, to pay over to Dirk Willumhoog, for the valuable secret he shall impart concerning an unknown entrance into the city, the sum of fifty thousand florins.” Scratch, scratch went the pen, and coming to this point, Valdez exclaimed: “There now I will sign my name!”
“Not quite yet!” said Dirk quietly. “There is something else!”—“And if I do not succeed in so persuading His Majesty, I stand ready to reimburse said Dirk Willumhoog for the amount remaining above what he shall have already received, out of my own private funds and estates.”
“Never!” shouted Valdez, springing to his feet and clanking around the room. “Dost thou take me for a natural-born fool, thou sneaking rascal!”
“The loss will be all your worship’s,” responded Dirk unmoved, “as the glory would also be, could you but take the city by surprise. I am not asking for glory. I do not wish my part in it to become generally known. All I ask is the gold!” Valdez and Borgia consulted together for a moment in low tones, and the result of their consultation seemed to he the hasty decision that they must capitulate.
“Very well!” declared the general, “I will write as thou hast said, but mark my words! Thou hadst better keep out of my way, Dirk Willumhoog, when this transaction is completed!”
“And now, gentlemen, just one thing more,” added Dirk when the writing was finished and in his possession. “As an earnest of your good faith, I require a thousand florins to be paid me at once!” More splutterings from Borgia and explosions from Valdez ensued, but this was evidently mere bluster, for after a due amount of bickering and bargaining, a clinking of coins was heard, and money was counted out slowly and reluctantly.
“There!” said Valdez, “Thou hast now every jot thou didst demand. Out with thy secret, and be quick about it, for we have not all night to spend!”
“This, then, is my story,” answered Dirk. “I have discovered—never mind how!—a passageway through a certain part of the wall of Leyden. Not a soul knows of its existence save myself, and none could ever find it unassisted, for I myself stumbled upon it quite by chance. There is room for but one to pass through at a time, and the passage is dangerous. But it would be an easy matter to introduce a regiment of soldiers through it in the night, and in the morning the town would be yours for the inhabitants are all too weak from starvation to make much resistance.”
“But where is this secret passage?” demanded Valdez.
“That will I not divulge till I lead the first soldier through it,” replied Willumhoog shrewdly. “When does your worship think would be the best and earliest opportunity to effect the entrance?”
Again Valdez and Borgia consulted together.
“To-day is the thirtieth of September,” replied the general. “On the night of October third we will have all in readiness, and thou shalt fulfill thy promise. At the same time Colonel Borgia shall make an assault upon the wall on the opposite side of the city, and thus draw off the attention from our place of ingress.” With a few more remarks relative to the payment of the money, and a hasty and anything but cordial leave-taking, the two Spaniards tramped out, mounted their horses and rode away. The lights in the room below were extinguished, the door was shut, and darkness and silence reigned throughout the farmhouse. But up in their prison room, the two children clasped each other and shuddered with horror at the dark crime that was soon to be committed.
“It is frightful, Gysbert!” moaned Jacqueline. “Our beautiful city that has so long and so bravely held out, will be given over by this traitor to the Spanish fury!”
“But what makes me feel the worst,” raged Gysbert, “is that I could not warn the burgomaster of that breach, as the Prince bade me! Why did I not think to tell Mynheer Van der Werf before I went away! Why didst not thou tell him, Jacqueline!”
“I somehow never thought of it when I was with him, and he never asked me how Dirk got in. I think his mind was all but distracted with the burden of the city’s distress, so that he could give no heed to what seemed then but a comparatively light matter. Oh, Gysbert! can we do nothing about it! Surely God who led us to overhear this vile plot will show us the way to foil it!”
“I think He will!” said Gysbert reverently. “And anyhow, I am going to pray to-night that He show us some means of getting out of our prison and warning the city. Wilt thou too, Jacqueline!”
“I will indeed!” answered the girl. “And before we go to bed we will work long at the bars, for that seems our surest means of escape/’
“Only three days!” groaned Gysbert. “I would that it were as many times as far away. But in three days we can do much—if we work hard!”