Jacqueline of the Carrier Pigeons/Chapter 4

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IN the cold gray mist of earliest dawn, Gysbert crept silently through one of the city gates. So changed was his appearance that his own sister would scarcely have known him, had she not assisted in effecting his disguise, late the night before. His straight light hair had assumed a dark brown color, and his fresh rosy complexion had suddenly become as swarthy as any Spaniard’s. His Dutch blouse, cap and wooden sabots were exchanged for garments of a more foreign cut, and in his hand he bore a large bag of assorted herbs, both green and dried.

Thanks to an almost daily study of the Spanish camp from his perch on Hengist Hill, he had selected the most favorable quarter for his egress through the enemies’ ranks—the situation farthest removed from the headquarters of commander Valdez.

The camp had very much the appearance of a little city of mushroom growth—rows upon rows of tents, and here and there a hut of larger proportions hastily constructed of boards. In the middle of one tented street had been erected a rude shrine protected by an awning, at which knelt a priest celebrating the early morning mass. The tinkle of the silver bell calling to service was the only sound that broke the silence. Gysbert proceeded cautiously, rejoicing at every step that took him unmolested on his way, when suddenly a rough command arrested his progress:

“Halt! The password! What art thou doing here?”

Requesens!” answered Gysbert glibly, thanking his stars that the burgomaster had not failed to inform him of the Spanish password for the day. Van der Werf had two or three trusted spies in the Spanish army, who kept him well posted as to their daily plans and watchwords.

Requesens! is correct enough,” replied the sentinel, “but who art thou, and where art thou going so early?”

“I am a Glipper,” answered Gyshert in a sing-song nasal voice. “I come from the city. We are starving there. I sell these healing herbs in order to get some food.” Now a Glipper was the name given to any Hollander who sympathized with Spain, and they were as a rule very favorably regarded by the Spaniards. Gyshert, being naturally truthful, disliked exceedingly to thus falsify himself, but consoled his conscience with the motto—‘All’s fair in war.’ The sentinel looked him over suspiciously, hut concluded that he had not the appearance of a genuine, out-and-out Dutch boy. Moreover, it was evident from his speech and expression that he was not blessed with more than half the usual quantity of wits.

“Well, little fool, I will let thee pass, provided thou wilt supply me with something healing for this wound in my hand where the gunpowder from my musket burned me, yesterday morn.” Gysbert hunted in his bag, brought out a small bundle of dried leaves, and recited as if by rote:

“Thou shalt steep these in boiling water. Thou shalt make a poultice with the leaves thus steeped. Thou shalt bind it on thy wound. In two days thou shalt be better.”

“Thanks, little numbskull! Thy poultice and not thy wits have saved thee! And now, cut away quickly!” Availing himself not too hastily of the permission, Gysbert strolled away as if there were not a thought of danger in his mind. But no sooner was he out of sight of the sentinel than he took to his heels and ran swiftly and silently through the still sleeping camp.

“If only I can reach the outskirts before they waken, all will be well!” he thought. Once again only, at the edge of the encampment, he was challenged by another sentry. But the password given, he was allowed to go on without question, by a sentinel whose one sleepy thought was the bed into which he hoped soon to turn. Once on the highroad to Delft, Gysbert’s troubles were for the time over, and he abandoned himself to a leisurely walk, and to the enjoyment of his breakfast, a stale malt-cake which he munched contentedly as he trudged along.

Then the sun rose, the morning mist evaporated, and the waters of the canal sparkled like jewels in the clear air of the July day. A lazy boat with one big brown sail edged its way slowly along the canal in the direction of Delft.

“I might as well save my strength,” argued Gysbert to himself, “and what is more, I have time in quantities to spare. Hi!—Herr Captain, I pray you take me on your gallant bark!” The captain looked up from a sail he was mending, and scanned the boy from head to foot.

“I like thee not,” he answered. “Thou hast too much of the Spaniard about thee, little frog! Thine own two good feet can carry thee!” Gysbert was secretly delighted that his disguise was so effective, but hastened to add:

“Good Herr Captain, you are much mistaken. Look you!“ And from the bottom of his bag he pulled out two pigeons bound and helpless.

“These be carriers!” he announced. “I am commissioned by Burgomaster Van der Werf to take them to our Prince at Delft. Also I have a message, but that is in my mind.” Instantly the captain’s surly manner changed.

“Come aboard! Come thou aboard!” he called heartily. “Thou art a small lad but a clever one. Here, catch this plank!” In two minutes Gysbert, comfortably ensconced in the stern, had curled himself up to finish the morning nap, with which his early expedition had seriously interfered. In due time this easy-going vessel reached the Gate St. Catherine, the principal entrance to Delft, and Gysbert disembarking, thanked the good-natured captain for his assistance.

“No thanks to me, youngster,” replied the man. “It’s all for the good cause, and my name is Joris Fruytiers, shouldst thou ever meet me and need my help again.”

Gysbert set off with all speed to the Prinsenhof, the palace where William the Silent held his headquarters. One of the boy’s greatest desires in life was to see and speak with this great Father of his country, the Prince of Orange, who had been for several years his hero and idol. Hence his errand was all the more delightful to him since it was to afford him this coveted opportunity.

But this time he was doomed to disappointment. The Prince was away at Rotterdam, and his commissioner, Paul Buys, took the message in his stead. It was to the effect that the people of Leyden implored immediate help. They were on the point of facing starvation, and feared lest the weaker ones would lose courage and yield up the city. Paul Buys sent word back to Van der Werf that the Prince of Orange was on the point of putting into execution a scheme of release that he had long been considering, and would send word by one of the carrier pigeons when he was ready to put it into effect.

Buys then told Gysbert that hereafter he would not have to come as far as Delft with the pigeons, but could leave them at the farmhouse of Julius Van Shaick, not far beyond Leyden, from whence they would be conveyed to Delft in safety. Before the boy left for his homeward journey, Buys superintended him in the disposal of such a meal as he had not seen for many a long day, and he sighed only that he could not convey some of it to Jacqueline and Vrouw Voorhaas.

Trusting to no slow-moving canal vessel, but relying mainly on the swiftness of his strong young legs, he accomplished the fifteen miles back to Leyden in four hours, and at nightfall reached once more the outskirts of the Spanish camp. But his passage through the enemy’s midst was not destined to be as uneventful as that of the morning.

The camp streets were bustling with life and activity. Soldiers promenaded up and down, women—the few who had chosen to follow their husbands’ fortunes—called to each other shrilly from the tent-doors, and even some children ran hither and thither in garments of startling untidiness. Gysbert hoped to escape notice in the general confusion, but in this he was mistaken. A sudden hand was laid in no gentle manner on his shoulder, and a voice from behind demanded:

“The password!”

Requesens!” he replied confidently.

“In that thou art much in error!” answered the soldier. “Dost thou think that the password does not change from day to day? Thou art twelve hours too late. Come thou with me!” and he led Gysbert to the door of a tent which was empty and lighted only by a large fire outside.

“Here, Alonzo de Rova!” he called to a burly sentinel. “Guard this young interloper till I have time to report him to Commander Valdez.”

“Now,” thought Gysbert, “I am caught in earnest! But without seeming to possess any wits, I will try to use those the good God has given me as skillfully as I can.” Alonzo de Rova paced up and down before the tent door for a time, apparently utterly ignoring the boy, yet in reality watching him keenly.

Gysbert on his part kept his eyes well open, yet assumed the vacant gaze he had attempted in the morning. Presently he took up a charred stick from the fire that happened to lie near him, and with it commenced to make some strokes on the white canvas of the tent.

“What art thou doing?” demanded De Rova, and he drew near curiously to examine the marks.

“Why, by the Pope!” he exclaimed. “It is myself—my very self as I stand here with my musket! Thou canst indeed draw, little stranger! Who art thou?”

“I am a Glipper,” repeated Gysbert monotonously. “I sell healing herbs. I also can draw.”

“Art thou indeed a Glipper? Well, that is not so bad! And look thou here! Canst draw a good portrait of me on fine paper?”

“Aye, I can!” answered Gysbert in his adopted nasal tone.

“Well, thou hast evidently not all the wits that God usually gives us, but thou shalt try,” said De Rova, and he drew from his belongings a sheet of paper, and what stood for a pencil in those days.

“Draw me well, little Glipper! Make of me a fine figure, for I wish to send it to my sweetheart in Madrid, and we will see what can be done for thee!” Drawing himself up to his full height he assumed a martial position, ready for the likeness. He was truly a splendid specimen of a soldier, and evidently very proud of his magnificent proportions. Gysbert seized the pencil and paper, and went to work with a will. Never had he striven so hard to give satisfaction, never had so much been at stake, never had his art stood him in such good stead. When the picture was finished Alonzo de Rova was profuse in expressing his wonder and delight, and slipped a coin into the boy’s hand.

“And now, little artist, fly! Slip away under the back of the tent, when I am not looking and no one will be the wiser. The captain who caught thee is a good friend of mine, and beside I will tell him thou art a Glipper. Remember Alonzo de Rova, and if thou dost ever come to the camp again I will put thee in the way of earning a pretty penny, for there are many like me who would gladly sit for their portraits. I doubt not but that thou couldst make a florin a day at that work.
P 62--Jacqueline of the career pigeons.jpg

Gysbert draws the Portrait of Alonzo de Rova

One more word of advice—the password for to-night is Phillip. Farewell!" With that he turned his back on the boy and commenced pacing up and down before the fire.

Gysbert lost not a moment’s time, but acting on the friendly soldier’s suggestion slipped out through a loose flap at the back of the tent. Thanks to the now dense darkness and his knowledge of the password, he escaped safely through the camp to the Cow Gate, where giving a peculiar knock previously concerted between himself and the gatekeeper, he once more stood secure within the city walls. Speeding homeward to Belfry Lane he murmured to himself:

"I have accomplished the mission without mishap, and have also made two friends. On the whole, I think I have not done so badly!"