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CHAPTER XVII

A CHANGED MAN

St. Trond and I walked back to the burgomaster's house together.

"The Prince is a brave man," said St. Trond.

"Cordieu! Yes. Many of his wise servants will not love him for this plan—like this fool Cornput."

"You do not love Colonel van Cornput. Indeed, you have reason. Little things take up his mind. But I too feel for the peasants."

"And do you think I do not? I am no Dutchman, like you: I look at things only as a soldier, you say. True enough; but I am not so mad as to care nothing for the loss of good corn, good cattle, good lives. I would give my right hand to save Alkmaar in another way—if it were possible."

We walked on in silence for a little way.

"Do you remember I once told you that your deeds were like those of two different men?" said St. Trond. "Now I begin to wonder if it was one man who fought for Alva, and saved the town by a plan like Alva's own; and I wonder if that man is dead, and in his place is another, who takes the blame for a folly of mine, who will not save his own life at the cost of disobedience, and who tells me that he cares for our Dutch peasantry not less than I. Would you have spoken like that three weeks ago? Or are you changed?"

"I told you before I am the same man," said I. "If I am changed—why, I did not know it."

"That may be," quoth St. Trond, and we walked on without speaking again. His words hung in my mind. A changed man? Well, I am not sure of it even now. There is much of the old free-lance spirit hangs round me still, and I do not know that I wish it away. I have never been a good man as Laurenz de St. Trond was good; my paths have not lain that way. I have done things—oh, more than one—from which St. Trond would have shrunk as fouler far than death. I have done things—and these more than one—in this same foul way, by lies and by murder—that were good—I will maintain it—good, and when done St. Trond thought more of the result than I. It is the same man that can see the good end, and that uses the foul means.

I remember talking with Gaspar once as I write now, and he sat tugging at his beard and chuckling now and again.

"Same man? Umph! Have you always seen these good ends so clear?" quoth he. "Don't be consistent and philosophical! Gott! Are men run into moulds?"

You cannot make war in white gloves, and above all, war with Alva. But have I always known what was the good end? as Gaspar asked. Well, I have loved a woman; that is much. I have loved Gabrielle; that is more.

We went into the house, and the door of the garden stood open. I saw a flutter of a pale-blue dress, and I burst out. She was hurrying away from me.

"Gabrielle!" I cried.

She did not turn, she did not even look towards me, but she flitted across the garden and sat herself down on the old stone seat.

"Well, sir," she said, with a little smile.

"How can I thank you, Gabrielle?" I said softly, and I knelt down and kissed her hand.

"Why, you might have come sooner!" she said with the tiniest pout. "And—that is my hand!"

I sprang up and caught her to me and kissed her mouth and her eyes.

"My dear love!" I said.

"Yes," she answered softly.

There was not a sound in the bare garden.

"May I sit down, please?" she said, with laughing eyes.

"Gabrielle, you must be very tired! And you have been waiting for me so long. I am very sorry, dear. You want to sleep!"

"I have been waiting very long," she said, and the smile went away and came back. "I am not tired now. Do you really want me to go?"

"Do you think so?" I asked with a laugh.

"You seem to like to look at me," she said, and I sat down beside her.

"Strange, is it not?"

"Why, I suppose—you are trying to find out my black side?" and her eyes danced.

"I am not such a fool!"

"You would not like to see it?"

"I can only see what is, Gabrielle," said I. "Do you know your father tells me I am a changed man. Are you sure you recognise me?"

"Changed?" she asked. "Yes, I seem to know you. Do you see yourself?" and she turned her eyes to mine.

"Yes, I see myself there," I said, and I kissed them.

"That shuts them up, you see."

"It's a hard world. But I have not seen myself so often there as to be sure that I see the same man."

"The man you are to me is there."

"Gabrielle, you have not let me thank you, and you saved my life!"

"Oh, that is not true, you know. But I like to hear you say it"

"And I'll say it again. You saved my life, dear!"

"No. It was your lieutenant. Oh, he is a grand man!"

"Yes, Gaspar is a friend," said I. "Praise him as much as you will, love. But you dared to go to Vermeil!"

"Ah, that man!" she cried with a sob. "And he sat here yesterday—and then in the court this morning—oh!"

She hid her face in her hands, and the sobs shook her.

"My love, my love, forget him," I cried, and I put my arm round her and stroked her hair. "There was nothing could save him. It was a quick death." But the sobbing went on, and I said no more, but drew her still closer to my side. Her tears came quickly, and she grew quieter at last. "Do you know what I think of most?" said I:

 

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

 

I hummed the words over, and she lifted a tear-stained face and misty eyes to mine.

"You heard?" she murmured.

"Who sang it? Was it meant for me?"

And she gave a happy sigh.

"But I did not like that verse best," I said, and I went on:

 

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

 

"Yes, I sang that," she murmured. "Were you—glad?"

"Did you not mean me to be?"

"So you were?"

"So I was."

"Even when you did not know——"

"Even when I did not know whether I was to be hanged or not."

She winced a little, and then with a tearful smile:

"And are you quite happy now?" she said.

Alkmaar came into my head, and the dykes that were to be broken, but:

"Yes, I am happy," said I. "And you?"

"Oh—I! But you—you were to be always thinking of Alkmaar." You do not deceive a woman who loves you; it can only be done by a knave.

"And would you not have me think of Alkmaar?"

"Oh yes. I know you think you could have saved it. I know you did more than any other man could have done."

"But I know no man can save it now!"

"It will fall?" she cried.

"No, it will not fall. Diedrich Sonoy will break the dykes and flood the country!"

"But the farms, and the villages, and the country folk?"

"Must all be drowned together. That is why I think of Alkmaar, because we are come to despair? Oh, we shall beat Alva in the end, but how many will be left to tell the tale? Oh for five thousand men at my back, and I would save the peasantry!"

Is mine a poor love story? It may be, young mistress. Little, you say, has love to do with war and state-craft, and the things of the world. Perhaps you are right: you may be happier with nothing to think of but him: you like to believe he thinks of nothing but you. But if that is all your love means to him I hold him something less than a man. The love I put highest—cordieu! the love we put highest—is the love that makes a man do. Alkmaar came between Gabrielle and me? I forgot her in thinking of the cause? Nay, if you know that, you know more of me than either Gabrielle or I.

"I know you would save them if it could be done," said she. "But the poor country folk, like those at Veermut, where I was before you found me. It must mean death to them, even if they are not drowned. They will have no corn left!"

"Yes," I answered slowly, "yes. That is true. But the only way to save Holland is to teach Alva that we care for nothing but victory over him. It is no thing to take lightly; and do you wonder my thoughts run to Alkmaar and the peasants?"

"I would not have you forget them," said she sadly. "It seems to me terrible. But I trust you. The poor country folk!" So we went back to the house sadly.

The poor country folk!