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CHAPTER XII

A CHANCE FOR LIFE

My gaoler had just brought me my breakfast, and the worthy little Dutchman was all agog with news. As he laid down his dishes he eyed me eagerly.

"Sir, a great victory at Alkmaar!" he burst out at last.

"A victory?" I asked. "Who has won it?"

"Alkmaar, sir! The Spaniards tried to storm the town two days ago, and were driven back with the loss of a full thousand men! A noble victory!"

"I never thought he would take it by storm," I said thoughtfully. "The siege goes on still, though?"

"Yes, sir, the siege goes on still," he answered, rather chopfallen.

"Harlem beat back storming-parties," said I, half to myself; "and who holds Harlem to-day?"

"You have little faith in us Dutchmen," said he peevishly. "We do not despair here in Breuthe, nor is there much fear in Alkmaar to-day, sir, I guess."

"Fear? It may be not. Despair, my friend, is a soldier who often wins."

He left me, and I sat down to the meal. A day had gone by since I came to the town prison, condemned in the wisdom of Jan van Cornput, and no sign at all had come from Gabrielle. Here it all ended: all my fine deeds of the past, all my brave hopes, the glory of saving the town, the greater glory of the day when we saw the sun go down behind the house together. A bare, dark room in a prison had come as an end to them all! She believed it. Well, even Gaspar doubted, and Gaspar knew Alva's ways better than she. It looked black enough; and she had thought me eager for money before. Of course she believed it. She could do no other. And yet I had hoped—I had hoped——

A scuffling of feet came along the passage without, and an angry voice:

"No, I have no order from your squabby Governor. Open the door, you little fool, lest I kill you for your keys. Yes, yes, I give you my word I will not let him out. You can lock the door on us both, if you choose. Only hurry, lest I make myself turnkey by conquest."

The door opened and Zouch came in.

"Our illustrious Governor has not lodged you too well, captain. Pah! He does not feed you too well either. That fish should have a decent burial."

I laughed stupidly.

"It was not meant for a guest," I said.

"God help its guests—or its host!" cried Zouch.

"You seem merry," I said.

"Well, and why not, captain? Do you want me to grieve because our beloved Governor is a fool?"

"Nay, I care not what you do," I said wearily.

"By the fiend, but we care a great deal what you do! That ass Cornput says you are guilty of trying to kill the Prince. What do we care for the Prince? Little we have ever got from him. Guilty or innocent, we care not a farthing. If you have been trying to get more cash out of Alva, well and good. If you have not, well and good too. I don't say I shouldn't think better. Let Cornput and his Prince look after themselves, and let your treason look after itself too. We care nothing about that, but we care much about you. You never risk the men too much, and you always look after their pay. You have done well by us, and, by the fiend, we will do well by you! Captain, how long are you going to stay here?" His voice rose to a shout.

"Till I hear the judgment of the Prince," I said slowly.

"Cornput swears the Prince will confirm his sentence, and he will hang you the day he hears."

"Then let him," I muttered.

"If you think the Prince will set you free, and you are waiting for that, you may be wise, captain, for aught I know. But it is a risky game; and if you are wrong, then——"

"Then I shall be hanged. I know it."

"See here, captain; we are more than two hundred still, and if you are hanged it is your own fault."

"And if I am not, Zouch, what then?"

But he went on his own way.

"We will rescue you when and how you choose. By the fiend, I speak for all! And you may hang Cornput instead, if you will——"

"And—then?" I repeated.

"Why, then we leave it to you to choose. I suppose Alva will not want us back again; but there is fighting enough in the world. They say France has need of good horsemen."

Was it very tempting? It was a chance for life, and if Cornput's words weighed with the Prince perhaps it was the only chance. But then, cordieu! a man has his honour! To take my men away from the Prince in his utmost need when I had pledged my honour to him—was that a deed one would love to do? Would you in my place? It is easy to pay too high for life, and the price was too high now.

"I will stand or fall by the Prince's judgment," said I. "I thank you for the offer, but its savour is not to my liking. If I hang, or if not, you took service under the Prince, and Gaspar is here still to lead you."

He looked at me in amazement.

"Then you will hang?" he stammered.

"If they care to hang me," said I.

He rose and kicked at the door angrily.

"Let me out, you fool," he cried to the gaoler. "By the fiend, I think you keep a madhouse!"

So he went away in a rage, and left me alone in the gloomy little room. I paced to and fro between its narrow walls, and one mood after another came to me and passed away. But I think the first feeling was joy. Let her think of me as she chose, let her believe me as base as she would, yet I had not put honour second. Pho! what good was that to do me? Even if things turned out all for the best, if after all life was left me, a poor life it would be. I would not desert Orange? Nay, there would be no need for desertion. Though they flung me my life I should be distrusted and dismissed, all the past would be a blank, and the future the mist of despair. Cordieu! How things play with men! I stamped there, madly wroth with Alva, with Vitelli, with Orange, with Cornput, with Zouch, with myself—ay, and with her at last! God help me, with her! And while I stormed there in a mad, lonely rage there came floating up to me, borne on a sweet, low voice, an old French song:

 

"A lad came up across the down;
Heigho, the folly!
A lass came out beyond the town.
Heigho, the folly!"

 

It was Gabrielle! God in heaven, it was Gabrielle!

 

"His brow was dark, his step was slow:
Heigho, the folly!
She begged him, weeping, tell his woe.
Heigho, the folly!

'Alack!' quo' he, 'mine honour's lost;'
(Heigho, his folly!)
'A murky blot my shield has crossed.'
(Heigho, his folly!)

'All all believe me traitor knave; '
(Heigho, his folly!)
'Take back, my love, the love you gave.'
(Heigho, his folly!)"

 

She stopt for a moment, and then, in a voice very low, but thrilling through wall and gate of that Dutch prison-house, she sang:

 

"The tear strayed, darkling, in her eye;
(Heigho, her folly!)
'Believe who will, yet will not I.'
(Heigho, her folly!)

'My love I gave for good, for ill;'
(Heigho, her folly!)
'For good, for ill, yours am I still.'
(Heigho, her folly!)"

 

The words died away, and I fell into a chair and sat looking at the floor. So I was wrong, wrong, wrong! Oh, I ought to have known her love better! In that dingy room I began to hum the words over again, with a smile on my face. Yes, indeed I might have known. You cannot forgive me, young mistress? Well, I do not blame you; but she forgave me long ago, as you will perhaps in your turn, when need comes. What did anything matter now? Whether I lived or died her love was mine. Oh, gentlemen of the sword, you at least may guess how glad I was my honour was my own too!

But with my rejoicings my tale has little to do, and for them you care perhaps even less. I too love a brief tale. I love to know what men did.

When he left me Zouch sought out Gaspar at the burgomaster's house, and flung into the room (Gaspar told me the tale) with a rattling oath.

"Ach, give God the glory, quartermaster," quoth Gaspar, though indeed he is free enough with oaths himself.

"God, say you?" cried Zouch, and another storm of swearing burst.

"Teufel! did you come here to teach me your oaths? Or are ye holding a commination service? Eh?"

"Is the captain mad, or am I? Tell me that."

"Ach!——I should say you, my friend!"

"You would, would you?" And the oaths broke out again.

"Ten thousand fiends! You may swear at yourself, or the devil who taught you, till you choke; but, by your own friend, the fiend, you shall not swear at me! Devil of devils! sit down and talk sense!" and Gaspar pushed him into a chair. Sobered a little, Zouch wiped his face and began:

"I have been to the prison, lieutenant——"

"And a very good place for you!" grunted Gaspar. "Go on!"

"To see the captain. By the fiend! I never thought he was such a fool!"

"Ach! so. You did not agree, then. Well?"

"I offered to take him out of this fool Cornput's hands——"

"Ach, did you! By whose orders?"

"By the fiend! my own, lieutenant. Oh, you may spare your anger—he refused. The cursed fool refused."

Gaspar chuckled.

"Oh, you laugh?" cried Zouch. "I tell you, lieutenant, you were one of those that judged him. They say you were one of those that condemned him; and some of us are wondering if you are looking out for dead men's shoes."

"Ach! the wise quartermaster!" grunted Gaspar.

"And if you are I can tell you you are out in your reckoning. I would see you in hell before I let you step into the captain's shoes, when you had murdered him!"

"Ach, the brave Zouch!" grunted Gaspar. "My foot is large for the captain's shoes, my friend."

"Then who is to lead us, in the fiend's name? Are you playing the Frenchman's game. That oily Vermeil?"

"Ach, no," grunted Gaspar quickly.

"Then what is to happen?"

"Gott! Do I rule the world? But, my friend, the captain is not hanged yet."

"If they think him guilty, and they will think him guilty, these fools of Dutchmen, hanged he will be. That is what I told him. But the fool says he will stand by the judgment of Orange."

"So, so," grunted Gaspar. "I never believed that letter. It is a lie, then."

"You think he is not guilty?"

"He seems to think so; and, God in heaven, he should know best."

"What do we care whether or no? What odds to us whether he sought to murder Orange or not?"

"Much—to me," quoth Gaspar.

"And none to us, by the fiend! He has led us well before, and we want him to lead us again."

"But I led the escort," quoth Gaspar; "and I want to know, I want to know very much, my good quartermaster, who sent the Spaniards to Veermut Bridge."

"’S wounds! you are all mad," cried Zouch angrily, and burst out of the room.

Gaspar sat silent for some time after he had gone, with his foot kicking at the table leg.

"Cui bono fuerit?" he muttered to himself. "The wise old Roman! Gott! he knew his world: who takes the pay? Eh, my good quartermaster, who takes the pay?"