Open main menu
 

CHAPTER XV

THE JUSTICE OF DIEDRICH SONOY

That very morning rode into the town Diedrich Sonoy, Governor of North Holland, and summoned certain people to attend on him at once Colonel van Cornput Gaspar, the burgomaster, and two worthy aldermen.

"I have called you together, gentlemen, to take into consideration the case of John Newstead, accused by Colonel van Cornput of treason," said Sonoy.

"Nay, sir, judged by me," cried Cornput.

"And accused, I think, gentlemen? You, who assisted at the trial, may perhaps inform me?" said Sonoy drily.

"True enough," quoth Gaspar.

"But, sir, I am at a loss to understand why this trial is to be repeated," said Cornput.

"Do you question the orders of the Prince, sir?"

"No; but I am a man set in authority——"

"And a man under authority," quoth Sonoy. "Enough. I came to do, and not to quarrel with any man. You are those who judged John Newstead. I learn that you are all of one mind as to his guilt, but differed as to the sentence."

"Ach, we were of one mind," grunted Gaspar.

"So I have heard. And now, gentlemen, I recognise that this letter"—he tapped it with his finger—"that this letter is evidence of the strongest. So far, well or ill. But this is all."

"And enough," cried Cornput.

"Ay, 'tis enough," quoth Gaspar, with a chuckle.

"You take it lightly, gentlemen. I gather that you made no further inquiries, Colonel van Cornput?"

"What need of more?" cried Cornput.

"Why did you not try to obtain confirmation in other ways?"

"Because I mistrusted the man from the day he rode into Delft, and in this fine scheme for saving Breuthe I saw only a traitor, found out, atoning by a second treason. Then, when this came into my hands, was I not to use a weapon put into my hands by God?"

"Viâ Vitelli," grunted Gaspar.

"Silence!" said Sonoy sharply. "Take care, Colonel van Cornput, that you do not mistake your own desires for God's. I ask you again, why did you seek for no further evidence among the soldiers? Why did you not question Zouch, the quartermaster, Henri Vermeil, the——"

"The traitor!" cried Gaspar. "The traitor himself! He sent the Spaniards to Veermut. He taught Vitelli to write this letter."

They looked at him, all amazed, and Sonoy's jaw fell, and Cornput's face was like the faces of the damned.

"Your evidence, your evidence," said Sonoy.

"My evidence? Myself, Mistress Gabrielle de St. Trond, and the Yellow Pig!"

"Do not jest with me, sir," cried Sonoy.

"Not a whit," quoth Gaspar. And then he told them the tale, there, in the big justice-room at the town-hall, rolling it out with strange oaths and sharp twists of speech, flourishing his fist under the poor burgomaster's nose, and crashing his hand down on the table till the papers jumped and fluttered away and the windows rattled.

"And so he's all ready for hanging! Gott! he won't stretch the rope far," grunted Gaspar at last.

"This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes!" said the burgomaster slowly.

"Umph!" said Gaspar.

"Send for the two prisoners," quoth Sonoy, "and send for your witnesses. This is the hall of justice, and justice I will do and justice I will have to the last hair's weight."

When I came into the big, dimly-lighted room, and saw my judges of a few days before, with Sonoy added to them, I thought it was to hear Cornput's doom against me allowed, and I drew myself up and stiffened my shoulders. At least they should see I did not fear man. But as I looked at them I saw Gaspar's great sides shaking. I glanced at his face, and cordieu! I will swear he winked.

There was a bustle at the back of the room, and I heard one of my knaves crying:

"Come along, monsieur, la-bas to the scaffold—trip it gaily! Oh, here we are!" and Vermeil came in between two of our best men. I looked round, and my eyebrows went up in surprise. Vermeil gave me one side glance from his green eyes, and I guessed—oh, I guessed much then! Silence succeeded, till at last came in two others—a little fat man in an apron, pleased with himself but rather frightened of the rest of us, and Gabrielle! The dark blue eyes met mine, and I forgot there was a court there, forgot I was under sentence of death, forgot everything but those deep dark eyes. Then she looked away, and the blood surged up her white neck, and a blush passed over all her face and hid itself at last in the curls of that golden hair. Her eyelids were red. I remember thinking she must have been weeping too much. I did not know how she had spent that last night.

"Accusations have been laid against you, John Newstead, and against you, Henri Vermeil. The first charge has been heard once. You, Lieutenant Wiederman, have a statement to make about the second?" said Sonoy.

"A statement? A curse with reasons!" And Gaspar told again the story of that wine-party at the Yellow Pig, while I stood listening eagerly, with my mouth twitching into a smile. And Vermeil stood like the devil's ghost. The gruff voice went on, and he told of the plan that was laid in Gabrielle's room, and my head went round and round in a whirl. Gaspar stopped.

"The host of the Yellow Pig," said Sonoy sharply, while I stood like a man in a dream, and Vermeil bit his lip hard and clenched his hands.

But there was a scuffle at the door, and in burst Zouch and half-a-dozen men.

"See here, Master Governor," he cried, "you want evidence, and I bring you some. I went to the captain in prison, and offered to take him out, but the cursed fool would not come——" Zouch paused for breath, and Gabrielle looked at me with a little smile that told me she knew it, and Gaspar chuckled, and Sonoy's stern face relaxed. Zouch went on: "Laugh, do you? Ho! The captain told me he would abide by the justice of Orange. Well, you seem to have found the right man now," and he scowled at Vermeil. "But, I say, let you justicers take care lest we pluck you all down by the ears

"The long-armed quartermaster!" grunted Gaspar.

"The host of the Yellow Pig," repeated Sonoy, looking at Zouch, and waving him to a seat without speaking. For Sonoy, the look was not harsh. Mine host came forward.

"Yesterday, most illustrious, I was fortunate enough to receive a large amount of best Rhenish wine——"

"Never mind the wine, little man; it's drunk," grunted Gaspar with a chuckle. Three feet away from him stood Vermeil, looking from him to me, from me to him, with sharp flashing eyes and his teeth showing, like a weasel in a trap. Jests passed by Vermeil in that hour.

"But, your honours, what happened while the wine was being drunk I know no more than if I had drunk it myself." Vermeil made a little sound in his throat. "Though, indeed, the noble lieutenant sang loudly. But after——"

Gaspar grunted out a question to Sonoy.

"Was the lieutenant sober when he went away?" said Sonoy, sharply.

"Ah! it was marvellous, most illustrious, after the wine he had drunk. He was sober as a judge!"

Gaspar looked at Sonoy, and Sonoy nodded. Then:

"Mistress Gabrielle de St. Trond," he said.

She came forward, and 1 looked away.

"I went to the Yellow Pig with a letter written in a handwriting like Chiapin Vitelli's, and a purse of money. And that man gave me a receipt for the money, thinking it came from the Spaniard. Then he said that but for Master Newstead coming up he would have let all the burghers with my father fall into Alva's hands."

"Oh, did he!" cried one of the aldermen.

"But, mistress," quoth Cornput, "but, mistress, if you went to him with this letter, how was it he did not know you?"

"I went—in soldier's clothes," she said softly, and the blush came up into her face again. For a moment she looked at me and her lips trembled, and I saw her bosom rise and fall in a long, happy sigh. Cordieu! I tell you I was glad that ever the plot came into Vermeil's head.

"Oh, in soldier's clothes!" said Cornput, with a sneer.

"Teufel! yes, and who has a better right? I tell you, my judicious colonel, but for a quicker parry than you ever dreamed of she would be dead in soldier's clothes now!"

The thing was coming home to me at last, for I had been half-dazed by it all, and such thoughts as I had were for Gabrielle. But now I began to remember little things Vermeil had done, little things Vermeil had said, that all pointed the same damning way.

Vermeil stood with his olive skin paled to a sickly colour, and his lips set firm, eyeing us sideways now and again. He knew it was death now.

"Mine host, come up, come up," grunted Gaspar.

"You were listening: did you hear what Mistress St. Trond has said?" Sonoy asked.

"By St. Boniface, yes, most noble, every word and a great deal more! Oh, your honours, such a villain I had never dreamed of!"

"Ach, never mind your dreams!" grunted Gaspar.

"Is that all, lieutenant?" Sonoy asked.

"All? Gott! no. Look, there's the rest," and Gaspar pointed out Vermeil standing there green-faced, dull-eyed, with his teeth near meeting in his lip. The stains of last night's wine, the dust of the morning's scuffle, were still on his coat, and it was torn at the collar too by Gaspar's grip.

"Henri Vermeil, have you anything to say?" Sonoy said sharply. Vermeil stood silent, with the eyes of us all fixed on him, Gaspar laughed.

Then Sonoy turned to me:

"John Newstead, you have been near suffering a great injustice. You have already borne much, and you have shown yourself a gallant gentleman and a true servant of the Prince in spite of all. We owe you much, sir, and your bearing under this charge has not lessened the debt. So far well." I turned half-confused, and saw Gabrielle's eyes dancing with joy, and a smile hovering round her lips. Sonoy did not look at her. He shifted his chair with a grating noise, and:

"Henri Vermeil," he cried, "you have been found guilty of treason against the Prince of Orange, and your own captain, and the town of Breuthe. You shall be hanged by the neck, cut down while you are still alive——" Pah! you will not wish to hear that tale told in full; but Sonoy rolled it out with unction. Still Vermeil stood silent. Gabrielle's eyes were big with horror and darkened by tears. She looked at me.

"Sir," I cried to Sonoy, "sir, if I have done any service to the Prince, then in return I ask this man's life!"

Vermeil's eyes fixed eagerly on Sonoy, and there was a little stir in the court. Diedrich Sonoy shook his head.

"The Lord do so unto me and more also if I spare you one pang," he said slowly.

And then, then, Vermeil caught a dagger from one of his guards, and turned towards me.

"Did you think I would take my life at your hands?" he cried with a last flash of hate, and he drove the dagger into his throat. But his life had not been offered him. He fell back on the floor with a dull thud, and his guards bent over him and for a moment there was silence. Then one looked up:

"A clean stroke!" said he, and there was silence again.

"Ach, I always knew he was a coward," growled Gaspar.

Rushing up the hall while we all stood amazed came a lank figure covered with mud and reeking with sweat. In his hand he carried a stick, and the stick he flung down on the table before Sonoy.

"Dispatches from Alkmaar!" he cried, and he fell on the floor and was asleep in an instant.

I started towards the table; all of us surged forward. Sonoy's voice rang out sharply:

"Let all withdraw!" he cried. "Master Newstead, I am glad to be able to command your counsel; and yours, lieutenant. You too will give us your aid, gentlemen," he said, turning to the burgomaster and Cornput. "Will you summon the Seigneur de St. Trond?" The little company, Zouch and his men, the innkeeper, Gabrielle, passed slowly out.

"Take away that dirt!" said Sonoy sharply, pointing to Vermeil's body, and two of the men took it by the feet and dragged it out.