My Lady of Orange/Chapter 14
THE GUESTS OF THE YELLOW PIG
At the corner of the street of the tanners, where it leaves the market-place, stands the hostelry of the Yellow Pig. Mighty fine it is nowadays, with its front built all of stone, and its rooms lofty and light; but to me and Gaspar—will you laugh if I say to Gabrielle too?—to us the Yellow Pig is timber and brick, with a low dark little room up a steep flight of stairs for its chief guest-chamber.
"Ah, sir, your valour has received my humble letter?"
"Never mind your humble letter, I want your Rhenish wine," quoth Gaspar.
"You shall have it, most noble, you shall have it ere the words are a minute old. At great risk and mighty cost it has been brought through the Spaniards' army. If only they had known how precious——'
"Gott! I know Vitelli has a paunch. Fetch it!"
"It is here, sir, at your bidding, and if you do not find it the noblest wine you ever tasted, why call me——"
"Draw the cork, fool!" cried Gaspar.
"Why, call me—call me—call me—call me," quoth the innkeeper, struggling with the bottle, "call me an ass!" The cork came out, and, wiping the bottle neck, he poured out a full goblet. Gaspar drank it.
"Ah!—yes, it's wine!" he grunted.
"Is it not a noble wine, my noble sir? Consider the flavour, consider the colour, consider the odour! Is it not a drink for the gods?"
"They like it strong, then," quoth Gaspar. "And so do I. How much is there?"
"There is enough, most valiant, oh, enough to drown you—gallons—hogsheads—oceans. Never has the Yellow Pig run dry save in that distressing siege. O most illustrious, it played the devil with the busi- ness. The wine we had was given to the sick; and the sick got well and forgot the score. Even the good Samaritan paid the innkeeper, most noble; but our modern Samaritans, they bring you the sick and they keep their pence in their pockets. Very virtuous Samaritans; but we pay their bill."
While he ran on, Gaspar finished the bottle.
"Fetch up your wine to the room above," quoth Gaspar. "And send—ach! no, I will go myself!"
"All the wine, most illustrious?"
"Teufel! yes, all the wine," cried Gaspar, and ran off.
"But there are gallons—hogsheads——" began the innkeeper. "Oh, he has gone! Well, well, if he can drink it, let him i' God's name. These Germans pay much better drunk!"
Down the market-place Gaspar ran bare-headed, and the folk in the streets sprang out of his way and stood against the wall, looking after him in stolid surprise. But Gaspar ran, heedless of round-eyed Dutch- men, till he was all but back at the burgo- master's again, and there in the street he met Vermeil.
"Ach, so there you are," he cried. "Come on, come on, my brave little man. Come and embrace the Yellow Pig."
"Sangdieu! are you drunk?"
"Teufel! no, not yet; we will be soon. Ah, my little Frenchman, there is liquor come straight from heaven—or the Rhineland—'tis all one. The Yellow Pig bleeds red wine; come on, come and worship at the shrine of the Yellow Pig," and Gaspar caught his arm and dragged him along.
"You shall taste, ach! such wine as we have not tasted since we came into this country of frogs. Teufel! I drank a bottle in two minutes, and we'll drink a hogshead in an hour!"
The two swaggered along back, and Vermeil was not loth to go, for he loved wine as well as Gaspar. And so in due course they came to the inn.
"Your valours will find the wine and the flagons set out, most noble, in the upper room. If something to eat, now—say a lamprey, now—or a wild duck roast, now—or——"
"Or the devil in hell, now! The wine's enough—if there is enough. Up you go, my little man."
Up they went into the dark room with the black rafters scarce higher than Vermeil's head. Gaspar filled a cup:
"There, drink that, and say if it isn't the divinest liquor ever laid the dust in your gullet."
"Ah!—yes, it's good!" quoth Vermeil.
"Good? Don't insult it with a word like that Try again: there! Good, eh? It's divine, it's spiritual, it's inspiration, it's all the blessings in one, it's battle and sword-play and sudden death, it's Rhenish! And fair's fair; come, I'll have a goblet now! Sit down to it, man! Drink away and I'll sing you a song!"
And waving the goblet round his head Gaspar began to roar out a German catch:
"Up with the goblet and down with the wine;
Who dines on red Rhenish he knows not to pine;
Who sups on red Rhenish three suns on him shine;
"Drink to it, drink to it, and give me the other bottle. You don't take your share, man. More for me. Come, give us a song yourself! Why, you're as dull as that fool the captain! What, you won't? Well, I'll give you another. Pass me the other bottle first! Ah … now then:
"When the lass she did beg me to stay,
I gave her for answer a 'nay.'
When the lass she made bold with her charms,
I caught her at once in my arms;
And I kissed her and said,
'Not until we are wed
Go I thirsty to bed,
Or bear a dry mouth without wine!'
"Eh, Henri, my boy, d'ye take me, d'ye take me? 'Without wine'—ha, ha—or 'without whine,' see? Two words—make a difference—see? Pass me the other bottle! Ah! … And now let's be serious. Drink, man, drink! What do you think I brought you for? Not to sit and look at me like a damned heap o' lime! And now let's be serious! Captain—ach, captain is in prison—and we're here, and so is the wine. Drink, man, drink! What I want to know is who is to be captain now? See? He is in prison, and—give me the bottle—and there's no captain. Must be a captain! Must be a captain! Never went without a captain before. Who's to be captain, eh?" and Gaspar leered at him drunkenly over the empty bottles. The wine was getting into both their heads, but it made Vermeil sullen at first, while it loosed Gaspar's tongue.
"Well, I don't know," Gaspar went on. "Take some more wine. Who's to be captain? Not I. Teufel! I'm well enough suited. Too much trouble for me. I like the fighting well enough. But the plotting! Ach! Drink, man, drink! And pass me the bottle!"
"How d'ye know we want a captain?" cried Vermeil.
"Teufel! He's as good as hanged. What odds? He was too good for me. Now, I like a man who'll drink a bit, and curse a bit, and sing a good song, and be a jolly—good——fellow," quoth Gaspar, nodding his head sagely at each word.
"Well, then, if you don't like the job, Gaspar, and you won't take it yourself, why, somebody else must!" said Vermeil.
"Ach, yes," Gaspar answered knowingly. "Gott! yes, somebody else must. Of course, somebody else must."
Vermeil looked at him unsteadily. He was certainly very drunk. And Vermeil, why, he was perfectly sober. He knew it.
"And why not your humble servant, Henri Vermeil? Eh, Gaspar?"
Gaspar shook his head jerkily.
"No, no, not you, Henri, my lad, not you. Why, curse it, I come before you! Not you!"
"And why not I?" cried Vermeil angrily. "Why not I, Gaspar? You said you didn't want the place. Well, am I not good enough for it? Sangdieu! a better man than Jack Newstead, at least."
"You may be—better man—John Newstead. No better man—Gaspar Wiederman. There, there—more wine."
Vermeil tossed off another goblet.
"A better man than either, sangdieu!" he cried. The wine was making him quarrelsome. "See here, the captain's to be hanged; well, let the better man have his place."
"Jus' so; what I say; let better man—have his place," quoth Gaspar, nodding wisely.
"And I say I am the better man!" cried Vermeil, filling the goblet again.
"And I say—you're not," grunted Gaspar, stolidly reaching out for the bottle.
"See here, then: who put it into his head to save Breuthe by selling it? You or I? Eh, you or I? You or I?" Vermeil said, his voice rising to a scream at the last. Gaspar laughed stupidly.
"He didn't—didn't do it—your way, anyhow."
"No, because he was a fool. Where shall we be when Alva has come back again, eh? Tell me that! Tell me that, you better man!" he yelled.
"Hell, p'raps," quoth Gaspar.
"Who's to get you out of that scrape? Can you do it, Gaspar, you better man?"
"What, out of hell?" said Gaspar dully.
"Out of Alva's hands, fool!"
"Same thing, same thing," grunted Gaspar. "But can you, eh, my wi-wi-wiseacre?" and he looked at Vermeil with drunken cunning. Vermeil laughed.
"Oh yes, my clever lieutenant, I can," he cried exultingly. "I, Henri Vermeil, whose counsel that fool Newstead wouldn't listen to; I've had all the kicks and none of the pay long enough. Let him try how he likes the kicks now, or a halter! A halter! I should like to see him swinging, wriggling in the sunlight, with the jerky shadows on the ground, and the people hissing, and that fool of a girl watching him kick! And I will see it, sangdieu! I'll see it yet!"
"What—you talking about?" grunted Gaspar. "How—about Alva?"
Vermeil laughed and drank again.
"Oh, Alva? My good friend, Gaspar, I can twist Ferdinando Alvarez de Toledo round my finger like that girl's curls——"
"Ho, ho, very fine!" laughed Gaspar. Vermeil turned on him.
"You think yourself very clever—better man than I, and the rest of it. I tell you it was only the devil's own luck brought you back alive out of the trap we laid!"
"Trap—what trap?" grunted Gaspar. "Give me the wine!" Vermeil filled his own goblet and passed the bottle.
"The trap we laid for you at Veermut, my noble lieutenant," cried Vermeil, and he laughed and drank again. "You sent me with dispatches to Orange, as if I were an orderly, you and your precious captain. And, by Heaven! you paid for the insult."
"Paid for what?" quoth Gaspar. "Here am I," and he tried to rise, but fell back in his chair.
"And where's he, eh, Gaspar? Where's he? 'Twas I told Vitelli to write the letter, 'twas I laid the whole plan, and they were mad for revenge for Breuthe, and did as they were bid. Sangdieu!it's better to do as I bid, Gaspar! The two fools, Ferdinando and Vitelli, they danced when I showed them the way. Yes, I showed them, I! Eh, Gaspar, who's the better man?"
"Well, well, peace—peace and qu-quietness. Drink your wine—drink your wine," grunted Gaspar. "Give me—give me—bottle! No' that one. Horrid dirty one. Give me the other; give it me, will you?" He rose to get it himself, staggered round the table, and reached over Vermeil's shoulder with an un- steady hand. Then he staggered and fell on top of Vermeil, and the two rolled on the floor together. Vermeil lay stunned, but Gaspar rose to his feet and dashed out of the room.
"Ach, give me some water," he cried. "Teufel! not a mug, you fool—a bucket, a tub, a river!"
They brought him a bucket and he dipt his head in and held it under the water.
"Ah—phew! 'Twas good wine!" he flung down a handful of ducats on the table. "Pay yourself, my friend," and he turned to go out.
"The other gentleman, most noble?" quoth the host.
"The other—umph! Let him lie—as yet," quoth Gaspar, and hurried away.
Back to the burgomaster's house once again he hurried through the dark deserted streets.
"Mistress de St. Trond, woman: tell her I wait on her," he said gruffly to a serving-maid.
"In that state!" she cried. "Pho! a pretty thing." For his hair and beard were wet and bedraggled, and his hands and coat bore the wine-stains thick and wet: and he reeked, you may swear, of Rhenish.
"Ten thousand fiends! yes, in this state. Go when you are bid," he thundered, and the woman turned and fairly fled from him. Doubtless he was a terrible sight enough to a serving-maid. Six feet and a half of him leaning menacingly forward, a huge fist whistling through the air, a red face flushed dark with the wine looking out of a ring of tangled, matted yellow hair and beard, and two big grey eyes flashing in the candle-light: it was enough to frighten a serving-maid.
She was soon back again, and stood at the other end of the passage beckoning to him.
"She will see you: the second door up-stairs," she cried from afar and ran away. I guess she thought Gabrielle far gone in madness.
Gaspar ran up the stairs hot-foot and burst in, and Gabrielle sprang forward, crying:
"What is it? What is it?" and caught his arm. She was not frightened.
"‘It came to pass that behold a man came out of the camp from Saul with his clothes rent and earth upon his head.' Gott! do you remember what he said, mistress?" cried Gaspar.
"He is not dead?" she cried.
"Nor shall be. But, mistress, that man boasted—and our man has boasted too, and, God in heaven! we will fall upon him like David!"
"He—that man—has confessed?" she asked eagerly.
"Ach, you might call it confession. Likely he would not. When wine comes in, the truth comes out, mistress. Teufel! I put the wine in, and he brought the truth out."
"Ah! then he is safe, safe at last!" she murmured, and she sank into a chair.
"Safe? He has been safe from the first. I want this lie shown for what it is, and now I know how to do it."
"Let me help!" she cried eagerly. "I would have helped now if you had let me!"
"It was more in my way than yours," quoth Gaspar with a chuckle. "But, mistress, checkmate is yet to call! He told me he taught Vitelli to write the letter, and he sent the Spaniards to Veermut. But the fool was half drunk, and they might say I was too. There is still a chance for Vermeil to save his own dirty hide, and, by God! when I play, I play to win!"
"Yes, yes," she cried. "What can I do?"
"The fool—bah! fool is too good a name—the rat lies there half drunk, half stunned, half asleep, and when he wakes his head will be like a bee-hive. So; let us send him a letter from his friend, Vitelli!" and Gaspar sat himself down and chuckled. She looked at him wondering, and he went on, leaning across the table towards her: "If I took it—I am too big to be anybody but myself. If one of our knaves took it, he knows their faces to a man. The burghers are fools. Who will bear the sign-manual of VitelliofCetona?"
Her eyes began to sparkle.
"If I went——" she began.
"Gott! no. Do you think he has forgotten you? Have you no man you can trust?"
"Only my father," she said. "The others—why, you are one, and——"
"Yes, I know the other!" cried Gaspar. "Your father—umph!" and he shrugged his shoulders and frowned.
"But if I went," she persisted, "I could go in in soldier's clothes, with a cloak. I am sure he would not know me. I am sure, quite sure!"
"He is a dangerous rascal to cheat," grunted Gaspar.
"Do you think I care for danger?" she cried.
Gaspar sat silent, tugging at his beard and gazing steadily at the wall. At the last:
"We all trot when the devil drives," quoth he. "If you know no man——"
"There is none," she cried quickly.
"Then you must be the man," said Gaspar. "See here—have you paper? I could write once in the old days when they thought I was to be a scholar. How is it Master Chiapin writes? Ay, like a spider, letter-tails yards long. So," he made a few trials on the paper while Gabrielle looked eagerly over his shoulder.
"My friend, the work has been done so well that I send by the bearer some wages. Give the said bearer a token to show you have had them. And now he that hindered is taken out of the way, tell the bearer by word of mouth when we may expect to see you leading your company back to us." "No Names Are Best."
So he wrote, and looked at his handiwork with a placid smile. He folded it and sealed it with a plain seal. For a moment he felt about his clothes and then flung a fat purse on the table. Then he turned to Gabrielle. "See now," he said, "he will give you an answer, and then, then we have him on the hip."
While I lay in the hot foul room in the prison tossing, sleepless, to and fro the trap was baited and laid. While I rose and peered through the tiny grated window to see the first dawn in the east there came to the Yellow Pig two early guests, and the bigger knocked at the door. Mine host opened it at last, unkempt and half undressed.
"A pretty time to rouse—oh, it is you, most noble? The other gentleman, he is asleep still—your friend upstairs. Ah! and so was I five minutes ago!"
"My—friend? Hold your chattering tongue," quoth Gaspar softly, and shook him by the shoulders. "So, are you awake now? Go up to that that—gentleman—wake him: tell him there is a messenger asking for him who will tell neither his name nor his business. If you mention me I will spit you like a chicken! Say what I tell you, and come back when you have said it."
"But, sir, your valour——"
"Curse my valour! Up with you!"
The good man went up: there was a little noise. Then came Vermeil's voice, thick and hoarse, in slow, puzzled questioning. And then back mine host.
"Come out the minute you have his answer," muttered Gaspar, and took his com- panion to the foot of the stairs. He pulled the innkeeper to him, and whispered in his ear—
"Come and listen by the door, and remember what you hear."
They went up.
"Softly, fool, softly!" grunted Gaspar under his breath.
"I bring you this," said the messenger gruffly to Vermeil, drawing a purse from under a cloak, and giving him a letter.
"And, sangdieu! who are you?" asked Vermeil.
"Read it," quoth the messenger.
Vermeil tore open the letter, and read it. It took him a long time, for his head was humming, and the letters danced up and down before his eyes. At last he made it out, and took up the purse with a laugh. He poured out the money on the table, and tried to count it once or twice. At last he gave it up in despair, and turned to the messenger.
"It looks a lot," he said stupidly.
"You have done a lot," the messenger answered.
"So I have, so I have. We have Newstead out of the way at last. Tell your master—tell your master—that I will bring all the men into the trenches at Alkmaar before two weeks are out. If that fool Newstead had not come up, tell him I would have let those cursed burgher pikemen fall into his hands on the day—the day—curse this head!—the day his fools let the Prince escape."
"Vermeil made a step forward, and tore back the cloak"
"The token for the money?" said the messenger.
"Ah, yes! Curse it; I can't count it. 'Received the money—Vermeil.' There; I daresay there is not too much for the job. There! Come now, what does Vitelli think of Newstead? I told him the man was a fool. But Vitelli was too anxious about him to believe that. What does he think now?"
"He thinks John Newstead is a good soldier," said the messenger.
"Oh, does he?" cried Vermeil, with an angry laugh. "And what do you think yourself, my friend?"
"I think so, too," said the messenger slowly. Just then the sunlight broke in at the window, and the messenger stepped aside.
"Oh, you do, too. Well, I tell you you are both wrong. He is the veriest fool that ever led a free company, and would be the biggest knave too if he had the brains."
I suppose she flushed, or her lips moved. At least, Vermeil made a step forward, and tore back the cloak.
"Sangdieu! So it was you, his leman, was it?" and he drew his sword.
"It was I!" she cried. "I! I!" springing back, facing him still. He rushed at her, the door burst open, and Gaspar put her behind him with one sweep of his arm, and parried Vermeil's thrust.
"Not captain yet," he grunted, and Vermeil fell back against the wall. Another moment, and Vermeil rushed at him again, mad with rage, and Gaspar coolly put his thrusts by on this side and that, till he drew back again foiled. Again and again he dashed at the doorway, and again and again Gaspar pushed him back.
"Ach! who is the better man?" grunted Gaspar, and now he attacked in his turn, and drove Vermeil backwards round and round the room.
"Who is the better man?" he asked again, and Vermeil flashed hate at him from bloodshot eyes.
"Shall I call a guard, your honour?" cried the innkeeper from the doorway.
"Guard? Gott! No," grunted Gaspar, a grim smile on his face as he played with his foe. Round the room they went once more, and then came a quick flash of steel, Vermeil's sword crashed against the wall, and Gaspar, flinging his own away, jumped at him and sent him reeling to the ground. And then, with Gaspar's knee on his chest and Gaspar's hands at his throat, he heard Gaspar say:
"See him swinging, wriggling in the sunlight, with the jerky shadows on the ground! Ach! So. Now you may call a guard."