My Lady of Orange/Chapter 11
They were happy days thereafter in Breuthe town, when we walked together on the walls, in the burgomaster's garden, sometimes as far as I dared go into the country. And yet 'twas alloyed for me—oh yes, young mistress, I see your pretty face frown; and indeed, lad, I have blood in my veins like you—I say 'twas alloyed for me with the thought of Alkmaar. I hate to fail; and worst of all I hate to fail by my own fault. But for my own folly it would have been a man with less to regret who won Gabrielle's love. She would not suffer me to speak of it, laughed at it for pride, and that was some comfort; but the knowledge that Alva's three thousand might have been crushed still lay in my mind and rankled. I have heard Gaspar—he was a man of learning before he took to the sword and the saddle—I have heard Gaspar talk of an old Greek who said that the worst of woes was to see things wrong and have no power to right them. He was a wise man; but I think it cuts deeper to know you might have righted them when you have thrown the chance away.
Well, the days went by and we had little news from Alkmaar. It held out still, there was comfort in that, but Alva loved the waiting game, and that could only have one end. The lines round Breuthe we had broken, but who would dare to lead such a force as we could bring against the sixteen thousand Spaniards who lay before Alkmaar? The Prince went back to Delft to meet Diedrich Sonoy, Governor of North Holland, and left the secretary Cornput in St. Treod's place at Breuthe.
It was towards the middle of September—oh, I have cause to remember the time!—there came to the gates of Breuthe a swarthy, lean fellow, wearing a dress not unlike that of Alva's men. He dismounted and walked coolly, leading his horse, to the burghers who were on guard.
"Is a man called Newstead in the town?" he asked in bad Flemish.
"What have you to do with him?" said they.
"And what is that to you?" quoth he.
"Where did you learn your manners?" cried one.
"Faith, not in Breuthe," cried he.
"Perhaps it was in Spain?"
"Perhaps it was," cries my gentleman.
"What?" howled the burghers at once, laying hold of him.
"Nay, then, do my errand yourselves," he said coolly, twisting out of their grasp and flinging a bag at their feet. The fools looked to the bag instead of him, and he sprang to his horse and was gone.
Those wise burghers looked at one another, and:
"This must to the Governor," they said; so they brought the bag to that great man Jan van Cornput.
As Gaspar and I sat in the burgomaster's house that evening talking of Alkmaar—we always were talking of Alkmaar in those days—a message came for Gaspar bidding him go to the Governor at once.
"Plague on the man," grunted Gaspar; "why must St. Trond give up his place? St. Trond was a fool, but he let a man be, while this fool—umph!" and the sentence died away in a throaty German oath. Later still two men came to summon me, and as I went out I met Vermeil, for we were all living with the burgomaster.
"Ah! guard of honour, captain?" said he with a smile.
Now, I knew nothing of the bag that had come to the gate, and I was somewhat startled to find Jan van Cornput with the burgomaster and Gaspar and two of the town's aldermen in solemn conclave. Gaspar would not look at me, but Cornput gave me a sneering smile, and then close on my heels St. Trond entered.
"Why am I summoned?" he asked.
"To try our worthy friend here," quoth Cornput.
"To try me?" I cried, and Cornput smiled again.
St. Trond drew himself up in a stately fashion.
"I have sat in judgment on Master Newstead more than once," said he, "and each time my judgment was wrong."
"There will be little chance of mistake now," quoth Cornput.
"Have you judged me already?" I asked quietly.
"I have found him a true man and a good soldier," said St. Trond, "and I warn you. The evidence should be weighty on which you condemn him. I will be no judge of his."
"Ah! well, we will judge of the evidence, then, even without the aid of the Seigneur de St. Trond. You may go," quoth Cornput, and waved his hand.
St. Trond turned to go, but at the door he paused:
"And I bid you remember, Jan van Cornput, there is a higher judge than you," he said solemnly.
"Even more than one," I murmured; and Cornput frowned, and his little eyes twinkled maliciously.
"Perhaps I shall serve your turn," he said. "Here is our evidence—not very light after all."
He began to read from a paper in his hand, a strange composition in Spanish.
"He began to read from a paper in his hand"
"‘John Newstead—you and your schemes are too clever for us. If your worthy friends found you out before, and it was necessary to murder seven hundred Spaniards to save your own sweet life, the way to earn more money was indeed the way you took. You may even have meant your escort to be beaten. All things are possible. But spite of you and your information our men lie dead at Veermut, he of Orange is still alive, and our thousand crowns will stay in our pockets. You will find in the bag a present for your lieutenant. Vitelli of Cetona.'"
So Cornput read with a sneering smile, "And in the bag is—a halter, gentlemen," he added. "This was taken from a Spanish messenger at the gate. He was glad to be rid of it, he cared little who read it, for as you see Vitelli does not care to protect a traitor when his treason has failed—and we will not, either, gentlemen."
"It is forged," I cried.
"I think not," said Cornput, and passed it to Gaspar. Gaspar shook his head.
"Is that all your defence," quoth Cornput, "or will you tell us that the only way to save the Prince was to lay an ambush for him, as you said when our good friends found you out before?"
"I gave no information! The letter is a lie," I said.
"Ah! blank denials now. So you have come to the end of your wits at last! Why did our friend Vitelli amuse himself thus, then?"
"Oh, you are very wise," I cried. "’Tis clear enough Alva found I had done Orange a service greater perhaps than even Colonel van Cornput has done: he found a fine way to discredit me, and he took it. He may hardly have hoped you would believe it as easily as this. Is not the letter like Alva?"
"And is not the plan like you?" quoth Cornput. "You are very clever, my friend, too clever for me. Would you have us believe Alva cares enough for you to ruin you?"
"Who raised the siege?" said I.
"And how did you raise it? In truth you are a most unlucky traitor: once you had to spoil your own plan because it was found out too soon, and once your lieutenant spoilt it for you."
"Sir," said the burgomaster quickly, "you will find no one but yourself to believe he ever meant to betray Breuthe."
Cornput saw he had gone too far.
"Let it pass, then," said he. "But this is a graver charge still. Some one gave information to Alva of when and where the Prince would pass Veermut. Here we have it under Vitelli's own hand that that man was John Newstead. Who will believe such a tale as that the letter is a lie for revenge's sake?"
"Did any one give information? Was it not chance the Spaniards were there?" I cried.
"Chance?" said Cornput. "Chance? What say you, lieutenant, who were there? Was it chance?"
Gaspar shook his head; I said nothing. It was a poor defence I made; not because the charge stunned me or I was aghast at Vitelli's cunning villainy. I had known Vitelli too long for that. Of some one quite unlike Vitelli I was thinking. When I told her in the garden I had shown her the black side I had not hinted that ever I had been a traitor. Nor have I. Cordieu! Black things enough there are in my life; the man who calls me traitor lies! I am a soldier; through good and evil I have been true to my cause. When I left Alva I did it openly, and when his fortunes were at their highest. All this I knew; but what would she think? At the best, at the best, it would be very hard for her to believe I was not a traitor as these fools thought, and if she doubted me now, why, that was the end of all. These were the thoughts that ran in my head as I stood there before Cornput half dazed; and the fools thought the cause was a guilty conscience, when I stood silent fidget- ting to and fro, and not meeting their eyes.
"Here, gentlemen, is our evidence. You see his demeanour," quoth Cornput. "What say you, guilty or no?"
"Guilty, guilty," quoth the two aldermen together. I hardly heard them.
"I must say—guilty," said the burgomaster slowly.
Cornput looked at Gaspar. There was a pause, and then:
"Guilty," growled Gaspar, "guilty—on the evidence!"
Then I looked up; if even Gaspar thought me guilty what hope was there for me? Not for my life. Cordieu! Did my life matter? But for Gabrielle's love. Cornput began to speak and the words buzzed by my ears.
"That there might be no question of my justice I have asked you, gentlemen, to assist me, although as Governor of the town, holding the commission of the Prince of Orange, I might have dealt with a flagrant case of treason on my own authority. As we are all of one mind it only remains for me to pass sentence. To-morrow morning at tap of drum you, John Newstead, shall be hanged in the market-place for attempting to betray William Prince of Orange into the hands of the Duke of Alva! Ahem!" He gave a little dry cough of satisfaction and sank back in his chair.
I stood still and silent.
"But sir——," squeaked the little burgomaster, and suddenly Gaspar broke out:
"Governor of the town? Commission of the Prince? Ten thousand fiends I Are you a god, to kill and make alive? Hanged! Do you know we are soldiers? God in heaven! I would hang you, sooner—you, Jan van Cornput, with your commission round your neck!"
"Sir, if you insult me——" began Cornput.
"If?" thundered Gaspar. "Do you ask for more, then?"
Gaspar was on his feet, and he is a big man.
"Enough, enough," said Cornput, putting up his hand. "You condemned him yourself, sir."
"Ach, Gott! not I."
"You said 'guilty'; do you take back your words, sir?"
"Not one: nor forget them, by heaven! I said 'Guilty—on the evidence!’"
"Is there any difference?"
"Ach, my wise Governor, do you remember your own evidence. Is it enough to hang a man?"
"It shall hang this one," cried Cornput.
"My brave Governor," growled Gaspar, talking through his teeth, "do not forget there are two hundred men and more in this town who would squash you like a frog if we bade them—I and the captain!"
"Do you threaten, sir?"
"Even so," grunted Gaspar.
There was silence: the three burghers had not interposed, and Cornput saw there was little sympathy like to come from them. You may sneer at the men who live by trade as much as you will, but the merchants of Breuthe honour my name to this day.
"Well, well, what would you have?" said Cornput angrily, at last. "You admit the man is guilty on the evidence; am I to let him go?"
Gaspar looked at me.
"I will be judged by the Prince," said I. "And till then you may hold me in prison if you will."
"I am contented," cried Cornput quickly. "I will submit the sentence to the Prince."
"And the evidence," grunted Gaspar.
"The execution is then postponed?" said one of the aldermen in a tone of relief. Dutch aldermen are slow.
"The execution will not be—yet," quoth Cornput.
"There are twenty-four hours in the day," grunted Gaspar.