Jacqueline of the Carrier Pigeons/Chapter 8

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JACQUELINE was not at home when Gysbert arrived hot and breathless. She had been out all morning with Dr. de Witt on their usual errand of mercy, and Vrouw Voorhaas declared with much sullen complaining, that she could not be expected for an hour yet. So the boy was compelled to fret and wander about idly till she appeared. When she came she looked desperately tired, but she ascended cheerfully to the dove-cote with her brother, which place he chose as the safest and most secluded in which to impart his secret.

“I had the greatest adventure this morning, Jacqueline!” he began. And while she listened eagerly, petting the smooth head of her finest pigeon and coaxing him with a little grain, Gysbert told of his swim in the canal and its results. When he came to the part concerning the discovery of the paper, he pulled it from his pocket and showed it to her. It was, as has been said, only a portion of the whole writing, and commenced at the top with the completion of some sentence begun on another piece:—

“—evidently in Belfry Lane.
“The Prince is dangerously ill
“in Rotterdam. We have conveyed
“to him the report that Leyden
“has surrendered. While this is
“not yet true, the news will so
“discourage him that it is
“doubtful if he will recover—”

“Canst thou imagine anything more despicable than that?” exclaimed Gysbert. “Our good Prince sickened unto death by such reports! Something must be done about it.”

“Shall thou go at once and tell Mynheer Van der Werf?” inquired his sister.

“Well, I suppose I should, but then he would only send me off at once to deny the rumor, so I may just as well not lose the time.”

“But, Gysbert, what can that mean at the first?” said Jacqueline, “‘—evidently in Belfry Lane.’ Can it possibly refer to us?”

“I do not doubt that it is just what it does refer to,” he replied. “He has, most likely, found out where we live. He means mischief, I tell thee, not only to the country but to us also, though what we have done to merit his attention, I cannot imagine.”

“Thou didst anger him, Gysbert, that day at the gate, and he has not forgotten. But there is something else beside. What can it be? Ah, I fear harm is coming to us!”

“Well, I for one am not going to think about that, when this other matter is so much more important,” replied Gysbert, characteristically. “This very night I shall disguise myself as usual, and make one more trip through the camp. As I must travel all the way to Rotterdam, I may not return for two or three days, so thou must explain it as best thou canst to Vrouw Voorhaas. I do not care much now what thou dost tell her, for she can do little to prevent my getting away if I choose.”

“Ah, brother, I dread to have thee go! These be evil times, and I have a foreboding that all will not go well whilst thou art away. And yet I would not keep thee, for ’tis more than wicked that our Prince should be so ill and so cruelly deceived. But thou must take a pigeon with thee, and send him to me with a message, if thou art detained over long, else I shall break my heart with anxiety, watching for thee.’’

At dawn next morning Gysbert set forth in his usual disguise carrying the pigeon “William of Orange” at the bottom of his bag of herbs. Passing out through the gate of the Tower of Burgundy, he chose a route through a part of the army near that of his first attempt, since that way lay nearer to the road for Delft and Rotterdam. The usual sleeping camp lay all about him. The usual challenge from drowsy sentinels arrested his progress, but thanks to the magic countersign, “Don Carlos,” which he had learned from the gatekeeper, he was no where detained. He accomplished the passage of the camp with absolutely no molestation or exciting incident, thinking that the feat was becoming very, very easy.

On the road to Delft he looked along the canal to see if he might spy Joris Fruytiers and his bulky craft. But the canal was deserted, and he was obliged to make up his mind that his own two feet must carry him most of the way. As he trudged along, he could not but notice the exceeding muddiness of the road, and the farther he proceeded, the worse did it become, till at length he found himself plowing through a veritable bog.

“This is singular!” was his first thought, and then, “Why, no it isn’t either! This is the result of the broken down dykes. How strange that I did not think of it at first!” And the worse it became, the more it pleased him, since it might mean ultimate relief and victory to the city. Finally he found himself wading through several inches of water, and he took infinite, boyish delight in slopping through its muddy depths, splashing the drops from side to side as he walked. In due time he reached Delft, and stopped to get a hearty meal at a baker’s shop, with a few coins he had in his pocket. Thus refreshed and rested, he continued on his way.

Darkness at length overtook him, and abandoning all hope of reaching Rotterdam that night, he crept into a farmer’s barn, and in the hayloft slept the sleep of healthy weariness, till the first streaks of dawn tinted the horizon. Trudging on his road again, without either a breakfast or the prospect of one, it was noon before he reached the goal of his desire, Rotterdam, where lay ill and despairing the idol of his boyish dreams, William, Prince of Orange-Nassau.

Gysbert had never been in Rotterdam, consequently he was compelled to inquire his way frequently. Ascertaining that the Prince was then stopping at a house on the Hoog Straat, and being directed to that thoroughfare, he was not long in arriving at his destination. It was a much smaller establishment than the palace of the Prinsenhof in Delft, and to the boy’s astonishment there seemed to be absolutely no one about the premises. The large front entrance was not locked, and having knocked in vain for many minutes, he pushed open the door and entered.

Nothing greeted him but deserted halls and rooms. He lingered about in the corridors for a while, hoping that someone might come in. Then his attention became attracted by occasional groans and muttered ejaculations from the room above. Fearing that someone, possibly the Prince himself, might be in trouble, he decided to go up and see if he might render any assistance. He crept up softly, and guided by the sounds, reached an open doorway and peeped in.

Tossing and moaning on a bed, lay the gaunt form of a man. One glance sufficed to convince Gysbert that it was William of Orange, and that he was desperately ill. Why the great head of his country should be thus deserted by every one of his attendants in his trouble, was more than Gysbert could fathom. A natural hesitancy, however, kept him from intruding on the privacy of the sick man’s bedroom, and he stood outside for a time, watching and wondering if there were anything he might do.

The Prince lay in a huge, four-post bed, raised on a sort of dias or platform. At his feet on the coverlet sat a little brown and white spaniel, who whined plaintively as if in answer to his master’s groans. When Gysbert appeared in the doorway, the animal sprang up barking furiously, and tried to wake his master. But the Prince was at the time in a sort of stupor, and paid no heed to
P 120--Jacqueline of the career pigeons.jpg

The Prince lay in a huge four-post-bed

the animal's cries. The dog soon perceived that the intruder attempted no harm, and settled himself in his former post.

Gysbert knew well why the Prince was attended by this faithful beast. Two years before at the siege of Mons, he had been surprised one night while asleep in his tent, by a party of Spaniards who had planned to capture him. A little spaniel who slept in his quarters sprang up barking and scratching his hands. The Prince thus wakened found time to escape, but had it not been for the faithful little animal, the Netherlands would have lost their strongest protector. For the rest of his life, the Prince was never without a spaniel of the same breed who slept nightly in his room.

Gysbert had ample time to note what manner of man was this his idol. His forehead was high, noble, and marked with many lines of care. The expression of his face, even racked with burning fever, was of a tender, strong and fatherly benignity. Near by lay his armor and sword, on the hilt of which was carved in Latin his chosen motto:—

"“Sævis tranquillus in undis!”
(“Tranquil amid raging billows!”)

No language could have better expressed the quiet firmness and unshaken courage of this wonderful nobleman, even in the most harrowing and adverse circumstances.

The sick man was gradually emerging from unconsciousness. His eyes opened widely but unseeingly, and he muttered in a half-delirium:

“Ah, Leyden, Leyden! Would God that I might help thee! It is not true, it cannot be true that thou hast yielded to the enemy! Ah, my country! What fate is now before thee, and I so helpless to render thee aid!—Tranquil,—tranquil!—I must be tranquil amid the billows!—Oh, thou my God, help me!—” Again unconsciousness overcame him, and he sank into another stupor. Gysbert’s heart ached with pity and the wild desire to tell him that his fears were groundless. “When he next wakes,” thought the boy, “I will go in and tell him how false is this report he has heard.” Presently the Prince exhibited signs of returning consciousness, but he seemed weaker, and could only murmur:

“Leyden!—Leyden!—Tranquil—” Then Gysbert with trembling knees and quaking heart, entered the door and walked up to the bed. At first the Prince did not see him, but soon the renewed barking of his spaniel attracted his attention to the curious little figure standing by the bedside.

“Who art thou?” he queried feebly.

“Mynheer Prince,” faltered Gysbert, “I am only a boy from Leyden, but I have come to tell you that it is not true,—what you have been told concerning the city’s surrender. Leyden still holds out and will so continue till its last defender is slain!” The dullness of fever in the sick man’s eyes gave place to an actual sparkle.

“Leyden still safe!” he exclaimed. “Then have I surely been deceived. Oh, God be praised that He has answered my prayer! But tell me, brave little fellow, how camest thou to know what only one of my confidential servants has whispered to me, and how camest thou all this way to undeceive me? Methinks too, thou hast assumed something of a disguise.” Then Gysbert told him the circumstances of the finding of the paper, and much about Dirk Willumhoog. From this the Prince beguiled him into telling about how he had made expeditions with messages through the Spanish army, and how his sister was helping care for the sick and plague-stricken in Leyden, and many details about the condition of the city. When he had finished he was emboldened to ask the Prince how it was that the house had no attendants, especially when he lay so ill.

“Truly it must seems strange!” answered William the Silent. “I have the kindest of servants, and the, best medical attendance, but it so happens that I have sent all off this morning on errands of the greatest importance. When this traitor, this Joachim Hansleer, returns I will discharge him straightway for a lying villain who thinks to kill me by his deception. He has been whispering to me this past week, that Leyden had surrendered but that the rest were afraid to tell me!”

“If the great Prince would forgive me for saying it,” replied Gysbert, “I would suggest that he be locked up in close confinement instead, else he will join his companion, Dirk Willumhoog, and plot more wickedness!”

“True, true!” exclaimed the Prince, laughing for the first time in weeks. “Thou art a clever lad to have thought of it. And now tell me thy name. I shall not forget thee.” When Gysbert had told him, he held out his hand:

“Take these ten florins and buy thyself all the food thou canst carry back with thee. Be sure to tell Van der Werf to guard that opening in the wall well, and arrest Dirk Willumhoog if he enters again. Tell him also that help is very near, and pray God for a west wind. My grateful thanks go with thee! Already I feel the fever abated, and new life surging through me. Farewell!” Gysbert knelt to kiss the hand of his hero, and then sped away light of heel and glad of heart at the successful outcome of his errand.

And when, a few moments later, the Receiver-General of Holland, Cornelius Van Meirop, ascended to the bed-chamber to visit his Prince, he marvelled at the great change for the better that had suddenly taken place in the condition of William the Silent.