Jacqueline of the Carrier Pigeons/Chapter 19


THE SECRET OUT

CHAPTER XIX
THE SECRET OUT

DR. DE WITT flew to Vrouw Yoorliaas’s assistance, pushing the stranger unceremoniously aside in his haste. For a moment no one spoke while he busied himself over the sick woman. Then he turned to the intruder, sternly inquiring:

“Who art thou, and why art thou here?” The man pulled off his cap ornamented with the Beggar’s crescent, and drew himself up to face the physician.

“I am Dr. Cornellisen,” he said, “and I have come to claim my children!”

Struck dumb with amazement and incredulity, not a soul moved. Then De Witt advanced a step and stuttered:

“But—b-b-but—Dr. Cornellisen is dead!”

“No, he is not dead!” answered the stranger. “He never died—but there was excellent reason why be should be considered so. Come, children! will you not kiss your father?” And he held out his arms to the two. Then the spell was broken. Doubting no longer, Jacqueline and Gysbert rushed nto his embrace, while Jan blubbered in his joy like a great baby, and Dr. de Witt tore around the room, alternately laughing and crying, and trying to shake hands with Jan. The confusion lasted many minutes, during which time Vrouw Voorhaas came unassisted to her senses, and smiled understandingly on the scene.

“Oh, my boy and girl!” said the father at last. “God has brought us through many strange trials and vicissitudes to the happiness of this meeting! But now, if it pleases Him, we shall never part again.”

“But father,” answered Jacqueline, “we can scarcely yet realize that thou art our father, so much dost thou seem like one risen from the dead! Wilt thou not tell us the whole story?”

“I will indeed, daughter, and right here and now, since it must seem passing strange to you all.” They sat down to listen breathlessly, while Dr. Cornellisen began his story. As the tale unfolded, it revealed many things to them that had long been hidden in mystery.

“Jacqueline here must remember,” he commenced, “the time when I mysteriously disappeared six year ago. And so must thou. Dr. de Witt, for now I recognize thy face, and thank thee for thy devotion to me and mine. Well, as you all know, the young Count de Buren was cunningly enticed away from the University of Louvain by King Philip’s orders, to be taken to Spain and either killed outright, or kept as a hostage. He was only a boy of thirteen, and they flattered and cajoled him with fine promises. Count de Chassy had been sent from Spain with a retinue, under the pretext of escorting the young Count on a visit to His Majesty Philip II.

“The boy was under my special care, and I counselled him strongly not to accept these doubtful honors. But the child was uncontrollable in his desire to have his own way, and before I could get word to the Prince of Orange, the start was made. Young De Buren was to travel in state, though secretly. He had a retinue of two pages, two valets, a cook and an accountant, and moreover insisted that I should go with him as a personal companion. I was nothing loath to do so, for I thought I might thus be able to shield him from harm. My presence, however, was not relished by the Spanish envoys, but at first they thought it best not to oppose the boy’s wish.

“We reached the borders of Spain, and camped one night in a little mountain village. As the evening was fine, I determined to take a short stroll before retiring. On reaching a lonely spot, I was set upon by a masked man, overpowered, stabbed in the ribs, dragged into the bushes and left for dead. I know now that my assailant was Dirk Willumhoog, and that he had been hired to kill me!” At this familiar name the children gasped.

“Next morning the calvacade passed on without me, telling the boy I had left in the night to return to Louvain. But Dirk’s thrust had not quite reached its mark! I was picked up next day by some kind-hearted peasants, carefully tended for weeks, and at last was as well as ever. I was of course, perfectly unknown to them and remained so. In the meantime I had decided on a plan. I communicated with Vrouw Voorhaas, told her to sell the house, take you children and go to live in Leyden. She was to carefully conceal the fact that I was alive, and bring you children up in her good care till I should return. I knew that you would be more than safe in her excellent keeping, hut I never dreamed that my term of absence would be so long.

“At the same time I wrote to the Prince of Orange, who was almost distracted for the safety of his son. I told him what had happened, and also that I intended to disguise myself as a Dutch malcontent or Glipper under the name of Dr. Leonidus Graafzoon, and obtain entrance to the court of Spain. There I could remain for a time, and watch over the fortunes of the young boy, so cruelly enticed into the midst of his father’s enemies. The Prince wrote back that by so doing I would earn his eternal gratitude, and procured me letters of introduction to the Spanish court, under my assumed name.

“There I remained for five years, carefully guarding the safety of the count. At the end of that time, however, it became apparent that they contemplated no harm toward young De Buren. He was systematically well-treated, carefully educated, and seemed rather to like his new surroundings than otherwise. I had of course, been most anxious to be reunited with my family, and begged the Prince to free me from my duties and allow me to join you. He gave a hearty and gracious consent, and I began my preparations to return to Leyden when the news of the siege reached me, and I knew that great and imminent danger threatened you. I left Spain, as I learned later, not a day too soon for my old enemy Dirk Willumhoog had in some way discovered my secret, unearthed all my past history, and was hot upon a little scheme of his own.

“Vrouw Voorhaas sent me word,—it was the last I heard from her,—that a man whom she described as Dirk, called on her one day when you both were out, informed her that he knew her secret and who you children were and all about me. Then he tried to bribe her to give you up to him, offering a good round sum in gold. When she refused he threatened to get possession of you in some other way. She was wild with anxiety for your safety, and begged me to hasten to Leyden without delay. But by the time I reached Holland the siege was in full progress, and all thought of access to the city was hopeless. Having thus a double reason for serving the city, I went to Zeeland and joined the Sea Beggars. I fought all the way to Leyden on the ‘Ark of Delft,’ and have been frequently almost prostrated by the alternations of hope and despair. But I am here, we are reunited,—and now you know my story!”

“Yes,” said Jacqueline with a long-drawn breath, “but I still do not see why Dirk wished to get possession of Gysbert and myself.”

“Why! dost thou not comprehend!—” interrupted the boy. “He wanted to hold us for a ransom, well knowing father would pay any price to have us back. Dost thou not remember how we overheard him telling Vrouw Hansleer that we would surely mean more money to them? And that is why they were so careful of us tool!”

“Yes,” said Dr. Cornellisen, “that is what he wanted with you. But now I must hear your story too. How came Vrouw Voorhaas to think she had lost you?” The children recounted their adventures, first one and then the other interrupting in a breathless, excited fashion. At last Gysbert ended with the recital of the singular adventure of the night before, and the terrible falling of the wall, just after Dirk Willumhoog had entered the breach.

“It doubtless became his tomb,” remarked Dr. Cornellisen thoughtfully, “and a terrible ending indeed,—too terrible to linger over!”

“No, no!” interrupted old Jan eagerly. “It was but just,—just! Was he not about to betray the city for filthy Spanish gold, and does it not fulfil every word of that verse from the Scriptures,—‘In the snare which the wicked hath set is his own foot taken!’”

“The Bible says also,—‘Judge not that ye be not judged!’” said Dr. Cornellisen quietly. “So we will leave Dirk Willumhoog forever, as he has gone to face his sentence in a higher court than any human one.”

Presently Dr. de Witt made a sign to old Jan, and the two crept quietly out together, leaving the happy family alone for a while in their new joy of glad reunion.