Open main menu
 

CHAPTER VI

THE BARGAIN OF ALVA

But there was to be little sleep for me that night. I went to my quarters, flung off my cloak, and sat. I was not ill-pleased with myself. And the bag of money looked better now Gabrielle had gone. You sneer? Well, I am but a man: and truly I had spoiled the Egyptians. O my honest friends, 'tis we cruel, cunning soldiers who give you the chance to be honest in safety!

A heavy step sounded on the stair, and Gaspar Wiederman flung open the door.

"Ach! so the fox is back in his hole," he grunted. "You must come with me, my brave captain! Devil of devils! have you got your wages already?" he cried, and he caught up the bag of crowns.

"I never waste time," quoth I.

"Gott! nor I. So come on, my brave traitor!"

"Whither?"

"To Laurenz de St. Trond, my pedlar!"

"Laurenz de St. Trond!" I repeated. "Does he know I——" I began.

"Ay, he knows," said Gaspar, with a grim chuckle. We went out into the street. As we passed the postern I saw it was guarded by burghers now. Some of my own men lounging in the doorways laughed as we went by.

"Which side are we on, captain?" cried one as I passed. "Only tell us, and we fight! Only tell us!"

Gaspar chuckled.

"We are not all cowards!" he grunted in my ear.

But further on Vermeil met us with a little troop.

"Do you go of your own will, captain?" he cried.

"Yes," I answered. "Keep the peace!"

Vermeil fell back frowning, and Gaspar chuckled again.

We turned into the street where the burgomaster's house stood, and began to pass through a little throng of burghers. When they saw my face they began to hoot and jeer and hiss.

"Are you proud of your friends?" I said to Gaspar.

"This is your wages," he grunted.

In a large bare room sat Laurenz de St. Trond and the burgomaster of Breuthe town, talking anxiously together.

"He came like a sheep!" quoth Gaspar as we entered. The burgomaster scowled at me. He was a little man with red hair and a freckled face and nervous fidgety hands.

"Two halberdiers!" he said in a piping voice, and two of their weedy citizen soldiers took their stand by me.

St. Trond sat up in his chair, and I saw by his face that he knew I had brought his daughter back. The deep-set eyes were almost gay now; but then as he looked at me they grew gloomy again.

"John Newstead!" he said in a low voice. "It is charged against you, that you, an officer, bearing the commission of William of Nassau, Prince of Orange, have been false to him in seeking to betray the town of Breuthe into the hands of the enemy. Are you guilty or not guilty?" Gaspar chuckled.

"Not guilty!" said I.

St. Trond looked at me keenly, and his lips twitched as he bent his brows. He was trying to believe the best of me; and—cordieu! you will agree things looked black. But I saved his daughter.

Gaspar stept forward.

"This afternoon he spoke of selling Breuthe; this evening he went into Alva's camp. Gott! do you ask for more? He came back safe!"

"You swear that for the truth?" cried the burgomaster.

"I swear it," said Gaspar, and sat down.

"And how much does that prove?" I asked.

"Enough to hang you," squeaked the burgomaster.

"It proves little," said Laurenz de St. Trond slowly. "Why did you go to the camp?"

"To save Breuthe!" said I. St. Trond frowned and the two others laughed scornfully.

"This is no time for jesting," quoth St. Trond gravely. "Call my daughter!" Gaspar shifted his chair with a grunt of surprise.

She entered; her face was white as her dress.

"Tell us how you escaped," said St. Trond.

She began to speak in a low voice, with her eyes on the ground.

"It was at the auction," she said, and the blood came up into her face. "Master Newstead was there among all the Spaniards. And he brought me away safe through all their men."

"Ay, but how?" quoth Gaspar, leaning forward.

"He bought me," she answered, and we could scarce hear her words. There was a moment's silence.

"Ach! but why did they let him? And how did you pass their lines?" said Gaspar at last.

She looked at me for a moment, and her eyes were wet; I can feel it now. Then she turned to her father with a silent entreaty.

"Answer," said St. Trond.

"He had a safe-conduct," she said.

"From Alva? I thought so," grunted Gaspar.

"’Tis enough," cried the burgomaster.

"But he came to the camp to save me, not to betray the town," cried Gabrielle.

"Did he say so?" grunted Gaspar.

"N—no," she said. "I—I thought so."

"Ha! Then why did he bring this back?" quoth Gaspar, and he flung down on the table the bag of a thousand crowns. The money jingled as it fell, and St. Trond and Gabrielle both turned towards me.

"Oh!" cried Gabrielle. Ay, it stung.

The burgomaster opened the bag and began, to count, amid silence.

"Nine hundred and ninety crowns!" he said at last.

"Do you still want proof?" grunted Gaspar.

St. Trond fell back in his chair with a sigh, and Gabrielle—well, I did not look at Gabrielle. But I glanced from the burgomaster's glaring green eyes to the grim smile on Gaspar's face and then—and then I laughed aloud.

"Have you finished, quite finished, my good Gaspar?" said I. His jaw dropt, and the smile faded.

"Do not trifle with the court!" squeaked the little burgomaster. I looked round again. St. Trond and Gabrielle were both intent on me, and Gabrielle's eyes were round and big with eagerness.

"Oh, the court? Ay, ay, the court!" said I. "Well, in truth you have trifled long enough."

"Do you bandy words with me?" squeaked the burgomaster.

"Nay, most illustrious, I am no such fool. You have heard one half the story. Listen now to the other. I went to Alva; yes, I confess it. I offered to open the gates to five hundred Spaniards, for seven thousand crowns and a girl. Well, am I a traitor?"

"Ach! what else?" grunted Gaspar.

"Seven thousand?" quoth the burgomaster.

"For the rest of the money, and the rest of the story, wait. Now think for a little of Breuthe. Ere we came you had not food for a week. Is that true?"

"True enough," said St. Trend.

"We brought you more food, but we brought more men to eat it. Is there food for two weeks now?"

"Teufel! no. I told you that," grunted Gaspar.

"Then what hope had you? Ay, what hope have you even now?"

"‘He hath girded us with strength for the battle. He shall throw down mine enemies under me,’" said St. Trond slowly.

"It may be, but how?" I asked.

"What is all this to the purpose?" cried the burgomaster.

"Much," I answered. "Is not the only hope-for Breuthe a blow struck at Alva's very heart?"

"Teufel! was yours the way to strike it?" growled Gaspar.

"Mine is the only way," I said. "You dare not risk a sortie. You have tried it too often. Well, let Alva make the sortie; let it be he that fails."

"Ach! so," grunted Gaspar.

"And now to come back to my story: I open the gates to Alva on the morrow at sunset. They come in, five hundred strong or more. What say you, Gaspar, will they go out again?"

Gaspar sprang to his feet.

"No! Ten thousand fiends! No!" he shouted. "By the main gate into the market-place? At dusk?"

"Ay. They bring the money with them."

"So. Gott! what a plan! Musketeers in the houses all round!"

I paused and curled my mustachios. The little burgomaster was smiling and rubbing his hands.

"You mean to admit a force of Spaniards and massacre them after bringing them on by fair words?" asked St. Trond slowly.

"Call it what you will, it is safety for Breuthe."

"I call it murder," said he.

Gaspar shrugged his shoulders.

"I tell you the town cannot be saved else. It will be saved thus. Cordieu! I know what war means, and I know Alva. I tell you it is the only way!" I cried.

"You think—it will drive him back?" said the burgomaster.

"He must raise the blockade in any case."

St. Trond turned to Gaspar.

"Do you approve too?" he asked.

"Approve? Gott, yes! If we only get enough to kill."

St. Trond shuddered. In despair—I think it was despair—he came to the burgomaster again.

"What say you?" he asked.

"It is the hand of God!" said the little burgomaster. There was a long silence.

"Then I commit it to you, gentlemen," St. Trond said at last. "On your honour, you see no other way?" he cried sharply.

"None," said I.

"None," grunted Gaspar.

St. Trond rose and went out. Gabrielle followed without a glance for any of us. Laurenz de St. Trond was a good man. Perhaps that is why he was ill fitted to cope with Alva.

When he was gone the little burgomaster rose and held out his hand:

"Sir, I ask your pardon. You will do me the justice to admit that the evidence was black."

"I thank you. Good night to you," said I.

"And our plans for the Spaniards, sir?" he cried.

"I must sleep sometimes, sir. The morrow will be time enough."

Gaspar and I passed out. The burghers had dwindled to twos and threes. They eyed me askance, but made no sound.

"Well, Gaspar?" said I, at length.

"Well, captain, I called you a coward. I ask your pardon; you are not. I thought you a knave and—umph! Would you like some advice?"

"What is it?"

"Look after the rest of your crowns!"

I slept sound. The hazard of the morrow did not trouble me. I never knew a hazard so great that it kept me from my sleep; and yet my life has walked over some narrow bridges. When I woke in the morning the thought that was in my brain was not of Alva or Breuthe town, but of the deep blue eyes that had looked up into mine, and the white cheek that had lain on my shoulder last night. I say the thought was in my brain; and, cordieu! it seemed loth to go. I lay there smiling like a very child; it was a pleasant thought. ’Tis no ill one now. Oh, ay, 'twas folly; I give you that. I who should have been thinking how to account for my friends, the Spaniards, lay grinning at the air. Oh, ay, 'twas folly.

Soon Vermeil came in.

"So we have not changed sides, captain?" quoth he.

"It was not 'the only way,' Vermeil," said I.

"Ah! no,' said Vermeil, seating himself coolly. "Where is our pay?" he asked with a cunning glance.

"How far will seven thousand crowns go, Vermeil?"

"A bird in the hand—captain," said he with a sneer.

"A thousand now; six thousand before they enter. Are you happy now?"

"Ah! it is well done, truly," said Vermeil slowly. "You meant to let them in from the first, I know, but I should like to know, indeed, I should like to know——"

"Well, out with it, man!"

"Whether you made the rest of your plan before you got hold of the girl—or—after?"

I laughed; it is well enough to be cunning: sometimes it leads men astray.

"Oh, you are very clever, Vermeil. Do you remember I said to you: 'There will be more risk in my meeting Alva before all is done'? Do you know what I meant, now?"

He stared at me.

"Yes, I know," he muttered. "’Twill go hard with any of us who fall into Alva's hands after this!"

"Tut, tut! We all have brains, Vermeil," quoth I.

"Will brains get us out of Alva's hands?"

"The brains of some of us!" I answered.

Just then Gaspar entered.

"So we're all of one mind now, Gaspar," said I, seeing he glanced at Vermeil.

"One mind? One side!" grunted Gaspar. "And that is the safe one," he muttered in my ear.

"We had best set to work soon."

"Ay, after breakfast," quoth Gaspar. "Captain, do you know what day it is? Saint Bartholomew!" He chuckled grimly.

Saint Bartholomew! A year ago the she-wolf of the Medici and the Guises had butchered Coligny in the Paris streets. Who gained by it? Not Charles of Valois, King of France. I can remember, when Anjou was bidding for the throne of the Netherlands, in the parleys that we held then, St. Aldegonde asked what sureties he would give for the reformed faith.

"The word of a Valois!" quoth he. St. Aldegonde shrugged his shoulders.

"Is not my word enough?" cried Anjou.

"No, your highness; by St. Bartholomew, no!" said I.

Ay, but for Bartholomew Day Anjou might have held the Netherlands for his house. Charles himself might have been Emperor. The men who gained by it were Alva and Philip of Spain. Out of the twenty-five thousand Huguenots who fell on one day in France, how many would have refused to come to the help of William of Orange? How soon would Alva have taken Mons but for the Bartholomew? Nay, the man who gained was Alva. And now a year had gone by, and St. Bartholomew had come again, and another party of another faith were coming into another town; Alva had had a year of triumph, and the grass-grown streets of Harlem bore witness how thorough it had been. Now the fate of Holland was swinging in the scale against Alva's power. Was it chance that the day was the day of Saint Bartholomew?