My Lady of Orange/Chapter 3
THE POSTERN GATE
The moon had set, and all around us was dark as we broke our bivouac at Veermut and moved through the pinewoods towards Breuthe, with a cloud of skirmishers feeling our way. "Touch not the cat but the glove," saith the proverb, and in truth Alva was a mighty cat. Three hundred men were we: four thousand, and Alva himself, lay before Breuthe town, and many more no long journey away. What could we do against them? Yet there lay Alva, and the town was doomed if no help came, and, Breuthe taken, the country lay at his feet. All that was clear enough, and no less clear was it when Gaspar put it bluntly into words as we sat by the camp fire.
"And so nought is possible, think you?" said I at last.
"There is little probable," quoth Gaspar, "at Breuthe."
"Then Orange is lost," I muttered, half to myself.
"Teufel! What would you have?" cried Gaspar sharply. Men grow angry before inevitable ill. "What would you have? We are but men: the odds are his."
From behind us came a sharp, short, scornful laugh. We both started: it was the girl.
"The odds are his!" she said to herself, and she laughed again. In the firelight I saw Gaspar flush, and I felt the blood rise to my own face; and Gaspar muttered a German oath and wiped his brow. Neither dared meet the other's eyes, for if aught will rouse a man it is a woman who tells him he is a coward.
I rose and walked to and fro in the shadow, gnawing my lip. "The odds are his!" I had said that too—and I had had my answer. And the glory, if it could be done! The glory, ay, and the gold! We should have a claim on Orange then—a claim that would mean broad crowns. So my thoughts ran.
"Well?" asked Gaspar, as I lay down again.
"We try Breuthe," I said curtly.
"Ay, ay, I thought so," he grumbled. "Why not wait for the convoys?"
"We try Breuthe!"
So we rode on in the darkness on a rash errand, because a girl laughed, while Gaspar swore and grumbled, and Henri Vermeil broke jests at all and sundry, and I rode silent with my eyes on my horse's mane, and the reins dangling loose in my hand.
There lay Alva; his tents loomed white through the darkness to eastward of the town. The pinewood sloped down to the very tent doors on his eastward side, but to the south the ground rose bare and steep. I sprang down and felt the brushwood. It crackled in my hand.
"’S death! If we knew where the gates were," I muttered.
"The main gate is on the east side." I started and turned. It was the girl who had spoken.
"Are you certain?" I asked quickly. "Cordieu! not that it aids us; we can scarce ride through Alva's camp."
"And the postern is to the south."
"Ach! so," grunted Gaspar. "How wide?"
"Wide enough for a miller's wain."
"You know it?" I cried; she nodded. "He can scarce have his lines close drawn with that force," said I, looking at Gaspar.
"No; but he wakes easily, Ferdinando Alvarez."
"Cordieu! we will wake him! Double-horse half the convoy! Fire the other waggons! Spare the powder! Twist fuse there!"
Then did we fire the brushwood and the pines, and the flames swept roaring down before the east wind on Alva's tents; and down the bare hill we sent the powder-barrels bounding with a lighted fuse hissing at the end of each, till there was much noise among the Spaniards, and some of them woke hurriedly, and some of them never woke again. To and fro they ran, beating the flames, and the blazing staves of the powder-barrels danced gaily amid the tents. So the grey morning light broke over Breuthe town with a camp burning yellow against the sun, and soldiers fighting a foe that used strange arms. Truly a burning powder-barrel travelling swiftly is a weapon of much service. Wherefore to this day there be certain Spaniards think me the devil; belike they are those who thought Alva a god.
Swiftly we moved round to the southward, and there in the first faint light of morning we saw the narrow postern, and a picket between us and it.
"Charge! Now, through to the gateway, charge?" I cried, and down we swept. The Spaniards would not meet us. They drew off to one side and up to the very walls we came without a man lost.
"For whom are ye?" cried the men on the walls.
"Orange! Orange!" shouted we all.
"Ach! the fools," growled Gaspar. Still the gates did not move.
"We fired the camp," I shouted. "Open, open, in God's name! Cordieu! Do you doubt us? Look!"
There on our flanks hovered the picket, reinforced now, and we stayed there still like sheep with the fold gate shut.
"It's we, or they," I muttered "We must charge first. Wheel by the——"
"Let me pass! Let me pass!" cried the girl from the centre, where we had put her. She rode a little apart from us, and
"Open, open to me, Gabrielle de St. Trond!" she cried. Loud cries came from the walls, and in a moment the gate was flung wide.
"Vive Gabrielle de St. Trond!" cried Vermeil.
"Get the waggons through," grunted Gaspar. "A thousand fiends! Wheel about! Charge!"
And as they swept down, hoping to cut us off, Gaspar hurled himself with half our men at the Spaniards. I never knew a charge of Gaspar's fail. The slow heavy German, cordieu! when he charged he became a thunderbolt, and he tore through that Spanish troop, swung his men round, and dashed in at the gate on our heels. But not all who had ridden with him came back.
There in the streets of Breuthe town—a dusty, weary company—we halted.
"We are in!" cried Vermeil.
"Ay, who is the better for that?" quoth Gaspar.
"Faith, it was time," said I. "They have near quenched the fire."
"Ach! breakfast is cooked," grunted Gaspar. "We must share ours with these, I suppose," he grumbled, and turned to a townsman. "You look hungry, my friend."
"There is leather still," said the man simply. His skin was stretched tight from bone to bone.
"Where is the Governor?" I asked. A tall, stately man—they were all thin in Breuthe—came forward.
"At your service, sir, Laurenz de St. Trond," said he.
"I am John Newstead, and these my men," I answered. "What harm we could do Alva we have done. What food we could bring we have brought. I would it were more, but——"
"I thank you, sir," he broke in, "I thank you. What of my daughter?"
"Your daughter? Oh, the girl—is she not here?"
"No, sir." He could scarce speak the words, and we stood there silent, while I saw the gulps break in his throat and the sunken eyes grow duller still. Cause enough there was; I had fought with Alva, and how women fared in a Spanish camp I knew perhaps better than he, and I knew too well that his grief was just.
"She may be dead," I said slowly. That was the only comfort.
"I—I pray God …" he said under his breath.
I felt a fool and a knave before that man. Had I seen another man saved by my daughter, yet suffer her to fall into the hands of Spaniards, curses had been more ready to my lips than prayer. To break through Alva's lines to bring a convoy into a town at its last gasp—yes, that was well enough. To be unable to save one poor girl from the fate of the women of Harlem—that was scarce as well. And it was the girl who had found us the postern, before whom the postern had opened to us ere she was borne away in Gaspar's charge. Cordieu! I wished her father had struck me, and I believe I should have borne the blow.
"How came she here, sir?" he asked calmly.
"A Spaniard carried her away from an inn beyond Veermut, and we caught him in the act. She begged us to bring her to Orange, and so she came with us. She——" I looked at Gaspar. "I charged. Her horse bolted," growled Gaspar, and he did not look at St. Trond.
"Ay, the Spaniard, the Spaniard everywhere. Exsurge Domine. … She was left there ill when I came to Breuthe; and I thought her safe in hiding."
"Sir, we ought to have brought her safe. I would give my honour to do it now!" I cried.
"Once, sir, you saved her, and I thank you. You have done your duty in full," said Laurenz de St. Trond. "There are twenty men in Breuthe would go alone into Alva's camp to save her were it possible for man"—he paused, and his lips trembled. "My God! my God! would it had been I!" he cried with breaking voice, and then suddenly he turned to me. " And now, sir, to quarter your men," he said.