Jacqueline of the Carrier Pigeons/Chapter 2

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A WEEK had passed, and Leyden lay encircled by the Spanish army in a state of close siege. Eight thousand troops under the Spanish commander Valdez surrounded the city, sixty-two redoubts had been raised to bombard its walls, and moreover, the number of the enemy was daily increasing.

But within the town were only a small corps of burgher guards, and “freebooters” under the command of brave John Van der Does. Three sources alone supplied the reliance of the beleaguered city,—their trust in God, the stout hearts and willing hands of the inhabitants, and the sleepless energy of Prince William of Orange, their heroic national commander.

Jacqueline stood in the dove-cote one morning about eight days after the trip to Hengist Hill, feeding her little troop of carrier pigeons. Her golden hair fell over her shoulders in two shining braids, her eyes sparkled, and her cheeks glowed with the pleasure of her occupation. Upon her shoulders, her hands, and even her head perched the feathered pets, so tame that they fairly disputed among themselves for the privilege of her attention. The dove-cote was a room on the top floor of the little house in Belfry Lane. The sun streamed in brightly through the large open window, the walls were lined with boxes serving as nests, and every detail of the room was, through the untiring efforts of Jacqueline, as neat and immaculate as a new pin.

Suddenly the door opened and Gysbert, hatless and panting, stood on the threshold.

“Ah, Jacqueline!” he exclaimed, with true artist’s instinct. “What a beautiful picture thou dost make, standing there in the sunlight with the pigeons all around thee! Had I but time I would bring my pencil, and sketch thee just as thou art. But hurry, hurry! The Burgomaster Van der Werf is going to make a speech and read two proclamations from the steps of the statehouse. Every one will be there. Come, we must get near the front!”

“Yes, yes!” echoed Jacqueline, as eager as the boy. “Close thou the door tightly, Gysbert, and we will hurry, that we may not miss a word. Ah, I hope that the good William the Silent has sent the city a message!”

Out into the street they sallied, mingling with the crowd that was surging toward the open square in front of the great state-house. The bells of Saint Pancras sounded the signal for a public meeting, and one could read from each earnest, excited countenance, the importance that was placed on being present in this crisis.

“Look!” cried Gysbert. “There is Jan Van Buskirk not far ahead. I thought he was too ill with lumbago to leave his bed! See how he hobbles along! Let us join him, Jacqueline.” They ran ahead and caught up with the old man, who greeted them cheerily, in spite of the pains with which his poor bent body was racked.

“Yes, I managed to crawl out of my bed,” he assured them. “’Tis important that every one should attend these meetings in such a pass as we are now. Think you we will hear word from William the Silent?”

“Aye, but I hope so, though I do not yet know certainly,” answered the boy. “We have received no word from him since the siege began. Surely he will not desert us in this hour of need!”

“See, Gysbert!” whispered Jacqueline. “There is that evil-looking Dirk Willumhoog across the street. Do not let us get near him. His very appearance makes me shudder!” The girl shrank closer to her brother and old Jan.

“Surely thou art not afraid of him, Jacqueline!” said Gysbert scornfully. “’Tis true I detest him myself, but I fear him not. What harm can he do us?”

“I do not know,” replied his sister, “but there is that in his look that makes me think he would harm us if he could!”

“Poof!” exclaimed Gyshert. “Did I not tell thee that he stopped me in the street one day, and asked me who we were, and where we lived, and who took care of us? I reminded him that it was naught of his affairs, as far as I could see, and left him to scowl his ugly scowl as I walked away whistling.”

But the crowd had swept Dirk Willumhoog from their sight, and in a few moments they found themselves in the great square surging with people, and as fortune would have it, almost directly in front of the imposing statehouse, from whose high, carved steps the proclamations were to he read. They were not a moment too soon, and had but just pushed their way to the front, near a convenient wall against which Jan might lean, when Adrian Van der Werf, the dignified and honored Burgomaster of the city, appeared on the stone steps high above the crowd. The universal babel of tongues immediately ceased, and the hush that followed was broken only by the occasional booming of the Spanish guns battering at the walls of the city. Then the Burgomaster began to speak:

“Men and women of Leyden, I am here to read to you two proclamations,—one from our beloved William the Silent, Prince of Orange-Nassau,—” here he was interrupted by loud and prolonged cheers from the multitude, “—and one from His Majesty, King Philip the Second of Spain.” The absolute and scornful silence with which the people received the last name was but a fitting indication of their hatred.

“I shall read the message from the Prince of Orange first.” And while the people listened in eager, respectful silence, he repeated to them how their Prince and leader, whose headquarters were now at Delft and Rotterdam, sympathized with them sincerely in their fresh trouble, and how he deplored the fact that they had not followed his suggestion to lay in large stocks of provisions and fortify their city while there had been time in the months before the siege. The Prince reminded them that they were now about to contend, not for themselves alone, but for all future generations of their beloved land. The eyes of the world were upon them. They would reap eternal glory, if they exhibited a courage worthy of the cause of their liberty and religion. He implored them to hold out for three months, in which time he would surely devise means for their deliverance.

He warned them to take no heed of fair promises from the Spaniards if they would surrender the city, reminding them of how these same soldiers had behaved at the sieges of Naarden and Haarlem, when, in spite of their declaration to let the citizens go out in peace, they had rushed in and murdered every one as soon as the gates were opened. Finally, he begged them to take a strict account of all the provisions in the city, and be most saving and economical with food, lest it should fail them before the siege was raised. When the message was ended the crowds cheered themselves hoarse, and when the burgomaster inquired what word they desired him to send the Prince, they shouted as with one voice:

“Tell him that while there is a living man left in the city we will contend for our liberty and our religion!’’

“And now,” continued Adrian Van der Werf, “hear the proclamation of the King of Spain. He invites all his erring and repentant subjects in the Netherlands, and especially Leyden, to return to his service and he will extend to them full forgiveness for all their crimes. He declares that if any will lay down their arms, surrender themselves, and become his loyal subjects once more, that they shall receive his pardon, and all shall be forgotten. He has authorized General Valdez to say that if the city will surrender at once, that the citizens shall be shown every mercy.” No sooner had the burgomaster ceased to speak, than old Jan Van Buskirk raised his voice:

“It is a trap! Believe not in it!”

“Yes, yes! It is a trap!” stormed the multitude. “We will have none of it! We will die to the last man, before we will surrender!”

“What right has that wretch of a Spanish King to offer us pardon!” growled Gysbert to his sister and Jan. “He forgive us, indeed! And it is he that has been doing all the wrong and committing all the crimes. Many thanks to him, truly!”

“But what message is it your pleasure that I shall send in answer to this?” asked the burgomaster.

“Tell him,” roared Jan, who seemed to have constituted himself spokesman for the people, “that the fowler plays sweet notes on his pipe, while he spreads his net for the birds!”

“Aye, aye!” assented the crowd approvingly. “Tell him that!” “’Tis a good answer,” commented Van der Werf, “and I will send it as it stands. Now who will take advantage of this pardon for himself? Let any who may feel so inclined come forward at once, and they shall be sent out of the gates to go their chosen ways in peace.”

Another tense silence ensued. Each person stood his own ground stanchly, and watched for any sign of wavering in his neighbor. Presently from out the crowd there pushed a stout old man who finally gained the open space before the burgomaster.

“I am a brewer of Utrecht,” he announced. “I do not live in this city and have no desire to maintain the siege. I wish to take advantage of the King’s pardon!”

“Be it as you wish, neighbor,” answered Van der Werf. “Here are the necessary papers. You shall pass out unmolested, at the opening of the gate.” The man received the papers, while the crowd looked on, muttering in contemptuous undertones.

“And I,” declared another who had shoved his way to the front, “will also receive the pardon, if you please.” Jacqueline grasped her brother’s arm convulsively.

“Dirk Willumhoog!” he whistled softly. “The city will be well rid of him, to be sure, but what a coward!”

When the two men had been furnished with the proper credentials, the burgomaster commanded them to proceed at once to the principal city gate, where they would be dismissed to the Spanish army outside. But as they made their way down the wide Breede Straat, the fury of the crowd broke loose.

“Shame! Shame!” hissed the following throng. “Shame on the cowards who desert their countrymen to join the despicable ranks of Spain! Thrice shame on their accursed heads!” Straight to the walls of the city the multitude pursued the fleeing men, now actually trembling for their lives. The two children and old Jan, caught in the swirling throngs, found themselves almost on the heels of the fugitives. Jan grunted and spluttered his disapproval, but Gysbert seemed fairly boiling over in his wrath, especially against Dirk Willumhoog.

The gate having been reached, it was opened but the smallest crack available by the guarding soldiers. The brewer from Utrecht squeezed his bulky form with difficulty through the narrow aperture, followed by the howls of the crowd. But Gysbert could contain himself no longer. Breaking away from his sister’s grasp, he rushed up to the remaining fugitive and shouted in his face:

“Shame on thee, Dirk Willumhoog, for a dog of a coward! Shame! shame!” The man turned on him with so savage a countenance that Jacqueline could not repress a frightened scream. The cry attracted the man’s attention to her also.

“You shall rue this, you two!” he vociferated. “You shall rue this day forever,—and for more reasons than you now think! You shall rue it!” And the closing gate shut his wicked features and his impotent rage from their sight.