My Lady of Orange/Chapter 10
IN THE GARDEN
Two days afterwards, or more it may be, I was in the burgomaster's garden. The name was a mockery. While the siege still lasted anything that men could bring themselves to eat was too precious to be left, and so all over the trim square beds the brown earth lay bare alike of flowers or leaves. There was food in the city now; grain that Alva could not wring from the peasantry poured in freely for us, and the burghers knew what a meal meant again. But, away across the plain, Alkmaar was passing into the trouble Breuthe had lately known. There were sixteen thousand men before it now, and there might have been three thousand less. With that thought in my head, I was pacing up and down the garden.
Gabrielle came out of the house: she put her hand up to her eyes to look through the sunlight, standing there by the door, a slim figure clad all in white. I watched her—I could not help watching her—but when she came towards me I turned away. But her steps made straight for me, and I turned again to meet her.
"I—I have not seen you since," she said, not looking at my face. "I have come to ask you—to tell you how sorry I am."
"For what?" said I—though, indeed, I knew.
"For—for what I said. Oh, how it must have hurt you!"
"I deserved it."
"No, no; I thought you meant to let my father go alone, and——"
"And I did."
"But you went!" she cried.
"Do you know that if 1 had gone at first, if I had not thought of my own safety, we could have crushed Alva? If we had struck together there was one moment when his fate lay in our hands. If your blame stung then, how much do you think your praise stings now?"
"But you saved my father——" she said quickly.
"It was my fault he was in danger."
"He said—you were right—you were wiser—if he had listened——" the words did not come easily.
"Wiser!" said I, with a bitter laugh.
"If he had listened to you," she persisted, "he would not have lost the men."
"I was wrong; your father was right. I say it. Is not that the last word?"
She looked up then straight into my eyes, and I saw that her face was flushed a little and her eyes bright.
"No," she answered; "I was wrong, too."
"Oh, will you not let it end here?" I cried.
"I, called you—cowardly. At least that was wrong?" she said plaintively.
"You had good excuse," I answered.
"But if—if you are a coward, and if it was wise to go and you are not wise, why did you go after all?" she asked, with a little smile. I did not answer for a little, and her eyes grew brighter while I stood silent, till at last I looked at her eyes and said:
"If you remember so well all you said then, perhaps you remember what you did before we parted." For a moment she was silent, and then:
"I—I cried," she said under her breath.
"Yes, you cried."
"And I rode after your father," said I; and she had no answer ready.
"I do not understand," she said at last. "Sometimes you seem to be heartless, and sometimes you think of things—little things—and they make very much difference. You are not always the same man."
"There are few of us all black," said I. "I do not claim to be better than the rest. I sail under no false colours. I have fought for Alva once. What sort of a school is that, think you?"
"Why did you leave him?" she asked quickly.
"He did not pay the men."
"Will you get paid now?"
"Yes; Breuthe has offered, for one source of money."
"But you did not know that when you chose Orange?"
"No," said I.
"You do not flatter yourself," she said, and a smile hung round her lips and passed away. "Why do you try to make me think the worst of you?" She put out her hands with a little imploring gesture. " Why will you show me all the black, and nothing else?"
I looked down into her face, and I took her hands in mine.
"I will tell you why," I said quietly. "It is because I put you too high to try to cheat you. If you think me a better man than I am I shall feel I have wronged you. I would have you know the worst, because then I can dare to ask you—if I cheated you I should not dare—to ask you if there is any hope, if there is any chance, you could ever love me." The words came all in a breath.
"Are you showing me the worst side?" she said softly.
"Is that all your answer?" I cried, and started back.
"Well, but you said you would show me the worst side, and I want to know," she answered.
"It is true," I said.
"But it might be the best then," she said, looking up at me.
"Gabrielle, do not play with me!" I cried.
"Ah! but which side of me would you like to see?"
"I know they are all alike," said I.
"Are you sure?" she asked, giving her hair a touch.
"All I have seen."
"Yes, but you are so fond of black sides."
"Oh, Gabrielle, will you answer?"
"You have forgotten."
"You didn't ask anything; you only said things."
"Then I ask now——"
"Wait a minute. You forget a lot of things. You forget how I was in that—that camp." She grew pale and shuddered. "And then you came, and you—you—bought me," she said softly.
"And then?" I cried.
"That is all," she answered; and she stood with her head drooping a little.
"Gabrielle! Gabrielle!" I cried; and my arms were round her, and she gave herself up to me as I caught her to my breast; her smiling face, with wet blue eyes, was lifted to mine, and I kissed her.
In the grey stone walls of the garden a wide seat is hewn out, and there we sat together in silence for a long time, hand in hand.
"What are you thinking about?" asked Gabrielle at last.
"I am thinking of you; and wondering——" said I.
"Wondering at me?" she cried.
"When I know what you think of me——"
"Do you know?" she asked, with a roguish smile. "Oh yes, I know what you will say. In the market-place I called you cruel; but then you were trying to prove you were right. And now you have been so eager to show me the black side—do you know which side I have seen?"
She paused and looked into my face, and I kissed her again.
"I thought it was only because you cared nothing for the Spaniards. I know now, I know now," she said. "You came into Breuthe because—because I laughed; and you went out again because I cried. Do you wonder now?"
There was no need for more words, and we sat there together on the old stone seat in the bare, brown garden, while the thin shadows of the leafless trees passed round and grew longer as the sun waned towards the west.
At last, when the sun was down behind the house, Gabrielle rose with a start.
"It must be very late!" she cried. "I must go. Good-bye! No, I must go; not you."
I followed her in with my eyes, and sat down on the seat again. Then down the path from the house came Vermeil.
"Pretty girl, captain," he said, with half a smile.
I looked at him idly, without thinking what he said.
"You seem rather dull. Too lonely, eh?" he asked, with a sneer on his lips.
I walked away.