Before him ran the grassy road or woodland lane. In the midst of it, sprawling on his back, for he had been pulled from his horse, lay a stout burgher, whose pockets were being rifled by a heavy-browed footpad, who from time to time, doubtless to keep him quiet, threatened his victim with a knife. On the pillion of the burgher's thickset Flemish horse, which was peacefully cropping at the grass, sat a middle-aged female, who seemed to be stricken dumb with terror, while a few paces away a second ruffian and a tall, bony woman were engaged in dragging a girl from the back of a mule.
Acting on the impulse of the moment, Adrian shouted,
"Come on, friends, here are the thieves," whereon the robber woman took to flight and the man wheeled round, as he turned snatching a naked knife from his girdle. But before he could lift it Adrian's heavy staff crashed down upon the point of his shoulder, causing him to drop the dagger with a howl of pain. Again the staff rose and fell, this time upon his head, staggering him and knocking off his cap, so that the light, such as it was, shone upon his villainous fat face, the fringe of sandy-coloured whisker running from throat to temples, and the bald head above, which Adrian knew at once for that of Hague Simon, or the Butcher. Fortunately for him, however, the Butcher was too surprised, or too much confused by the blow which he had received upon his head, to recognise his assailant. Nor, having lost his knife, and believing doubtless that Adrian was only the first of a troop of rescuers, did he seem inclined to continue the combat, but, calling to his companion to follow him, he began to run after the woman with a swiftness almost incredible in a man of his build and weight, turning presently into the brushwood, where he and his two fellow thieves vanished away.
Adrian dropped the point of his stick and looked round him, for the whole affair had been so sudden, and the rout of the enemy so complete, that he was tempted to believe he must be dreaming. Not eighty seconds ago he was hiding the dead falcon in his satchel, and now behold! he was a gallant knight who, unarmed, except for a dagger, which he forgot to draw, had conquered two sturdy knaves and a female accomplice, bristling with weapons, rescuing from their clutches Beauty (for doubtless the maiden was beautiful), and, incidentally, her wealthy relatives. Just then the lady, who had been dragged from the mule to the ground, where she still lay, struggled to her knees and looked up, thereby causing the hood of her travelling cloak to fall back from her head.
Thus it was, softened and illuminated by the last pale glow of this summer evening, that Adrian first saw the face of Elsa Brant, the woman upon whom, in the name of love, he was destined to bring so much sorrow.
The hero Adrian, overthrower of robbers, looked at the kneeling Elsa, and knew that she was lovely, as, under the circumstances, was right and fitting, and the rescued Elsa, gazing at the hero Adrian, admitted to herself that he was handsome, also that his appearance on the scene had been opportune, not to say providential.
Elsa Brant, the only child of that Hendrik Brant, the friend and cousin of Dirk van Goorl, who was already figured in this history, was just nineteen. Her eyes, and her hair which curled, were brown, her complexion was pale, suggesting delicacy of constitution, her mouth small, with a turn of humour about it, and her chin rather large and firm. She was of middle height, if anything somewhat under it, with an exquisitely rounded and graceful figure and perfect hands. Lacking the stateliness of a Spanish beauty, and the coarse fulness of outline which has always been admired in the Netherlands, Elsa was still without doubt a beautiful woman, though how much of her charm was owing to her bodily attractions, and how much to her vivacious mien and to a certain stamp of spirituality that was set upon her face in repose, and looked out of her clear large eyes when she was thoughtful, it would not be easy to determine. At any rate, her charms were sufficient to make a powerful impression upon Adrian, who, forgetting all about the Marchioness d'Ovanda, inspirer of sonnets, became enamoured of her then and there; partly for her own sake and partly because it was the right kind of thing for a deliverer to do.
But it cannot be said, however deep her feelings of gratitude, that Elsa became enamoured of Adrian. Undoubtedly, as she had recognised, he was handsome, and she much admired the readiness and force with which he had smitten that singularly loathsome-looking individual who had dragged her from the mule. But as it chanced, standing where he did, the shadow of his face lay on the grass beside her. It was a faint shadow, for the light faded, still it was there, and it fascinated her, for seen thus the fine features became sinister and cruel, and their smile of courtesy and admiration was transformed into a most unpleasant sneer. A trivial accident of light, no doubt, and foolish enough that Elsa should notice it under such circumstances. But notice it she did, and what is more, so quickly are the minds of women turned this way or that, and so illogically do they draw a right conclusion from some pure freak of chance, it raised her prejudice against him.
"Oh! Senor," said Elsa, clasping her hands, "how can I thank you enough?"
This speech was short and not original. Yet there were two things about it that Adrian noted with satisfaction; first, that it was uttered in a soft and most attractive voice, and secondly, that the speaker supposed him to be a Spaniard of noble birth.
"Do not thank me at all, gracious lady," he replied, making his lowest bow. "To put to flight two robber rogues and a woman was no great feat, although I had but this staff for weapon," he added, perhaps with a view to impressing upon the maiden's mind that her assailants had been armed while he, the deliverer, was not.
"Ah!" she answered, "I daresay that a brave knight like you thinks nothing of fighting several men at once, but when that wretch with the big hands and the flat face caught hold of me I nearly died of fright. At the best of times I am a dreadful coward, and—no, I thank you, Senor, I can stand now and alone. See, here comes the Heer van Broekhoven under whose escort I am travelling, and look, he is bleeding. Oh! worthy friend, are you hurt?"
"Not much, Elsa," gasped the Heer, for he was still breathless with fright and exhaustion, "but that ruffian—may the hangman have him—gave me a dig in the shoulder with his knife as he rose to run. However," he added with satisfaction, "he got nothing from me, for I am an old traveller, and he never thought to look in my hat."
"I wonder why they attacked us," said Elsa.
The Heer van Broekhoven rubbed his head thoughtfully. "To rob us, I suppose, for I heard the woman say, 'Here they are; look for the letter on the girl, Butcher.'"
As he spoke Elsa's face turned grave, and Adrian saw her glance at the animal she had been riding and slip her arm through its rein.
"Worthy sir," went on Van Broekhoven, "tell us whom we have to thank."
"I am Adrian, called Van Goorl," Adrian replied with dignity.
"Van Goorl!" said the Heer. "Well, this is strange; Providence could not have arranged it better. Listen, wife," he went on, addressing the stout lady, who all this while had sat still upon the horse, so alarmed and bewildered that she could not speak, "here is a son of Dirk van Goorl, to whom we are charged to deliver Elsa."
"Indeed," answered the good woman, recovering herself somewhat, "I thought from the look of him that he was a Spanish nobleman. But whoever he is I am sure that we are all very much obliged to him, and if he could show us the way out of this dreadful wood, which doubtless is full of robbers, to the house of our kinsfolk, the Broekhovens of Leyden, I should be still more grateful."
"Madam, you have only to accept my escort, and I assure you that you need fear no more robbers. Might I in turn ask this lady's name?"
"Certainly, young sir, she is Elsa Brant, the only child of Hendrik Brant, the famous goldsmith of The Hague, but doubtless now that you know her name you know all that also, for she must be some kind of cousin to you. Husband, help Elsa on to her mule."
"Let that be my duty," said Adrian, and, springing forward, he lifted Elsa to the saddle gracefully enough. Then, taking her mule by the bridle, he walked onwards through the wood praying in his heart that the Butcher and his companions would not find courage to attack them again before they were out of its depths.
"Tell me, sir, are you Foy?" asked Elsa in a puzzled voice.
"No," answered Adrian, shortly, "I am his brother."
"Ah! that explains it. You see I was perplexed, for I remember Foy when I was quite little; a beautiful boy, with blue eyes and yellow hair, who was always very kind to me. Once he stopped at my father's house at The Hague with his father."
"Indeed," said Adrian, "I am glad to hear that Foy was ever beautiful. I can only remember that he was very stupid, for I used to try to teach him. At any rate, I am afraid you will not think him beautiful now—that is, unless you admire young men who are almost as broad as they are long."
"Oh! Heer Adrian," she answered, laughing, "I am afraid that fault can be found with most of us North Holland folk, and myself among the number. You see it is given to very few of us to be tall and noble-looking like high-born Spaniards—not that I should wish to resemble any Spaniard, however lovely she might be," Elsa added, with a slight hardening of her voice and face. "But," she went on hurriedly, as though sorry that the remark had escaped her, "you, sir, and Foy are strangely unlike to be brothers; is it not so?"
"We are half-brothers," said Adrian looking straight before him; "we have the same mother only; but please do not call me 'sir,' call me 'cousin.'"
"No, I cannot do that," she replied gaily, "for Foy's mother is no relation of mine. I think that I must call you 'Sir Prince,' for, you see, you appeared at exactly the right time; just like the Prince in the fairy-tales, you know."
Here was an opening not to be neglected by a young man of Adrian's stamp.
"Ah!" he said in a tender voice, and looking up at the lady with his dark eyes, "that is a happy name indeed. I would ask no better lot than to be your Prince, now and always charged to defend you from every danger." (Here, it may be explained, that, however exaggerated his language, Adrian honestly meant what he said, seeing that already he was convinced that to be the husband of the beautiful heiress of one of the wealthiest men in the Netherlands would be a very satisfactory walk in life for a young man in his position.)
"Oh! Sir Prince," broke in Elsa hurriedly, for her cavalier's ardour was somewhat embarrassing, "you are telling the story wrong; the tale I mean did not go on like that at all. Don't you remember? The hero rescued the lady and handed her over—to—to—her father."
"Of whom I think he came to claim her afterwards," replied Adrian with another languishing glance, and a smile of conscious vanity at the neatness of his answer. Their glances met, and suddenly Adrian became aware that Elsa's face had undergone a complete change. The piquante, half-amused smile had passed out of it; it was strained and hard and the eyes were frightened.
"Oh! now I understand the shadow—how strange," she exclaimed in a new voice.
"What is the matter? What is strange?" he asked.
"Oh!—only that your face reminded me so much of a man of whom I am terrified. No, no, I am foolish, it is nothing, those footpads have upset me. Praise be to God that we are out of that dreadful wood! Look, neighbour Broekhoven, here is Leyden before us. Are not those red roofs pretty in the twilight, and how big the churches seem. See, too, there is water all round the walls; it must be a very strong town. I should think that even the Spaniards could not take it, and oh! I am sure that it would be a good thing if we might find a city which we were quite, quite certain the Spaniards could never take—all, all of us," and she sighed heavily.
"If I were a Spanish general with a proper army," began Adrian pompously, "I would take Leyden easily enough. Only this afternoon I studied its weak spots, and made a plan of attack which could scarcely fail, seeing that the place would only be defended by a mob of untrained, half-armed burghers."
Again that curious look returned into Elsa's eyes.
"If you were a Spanish general," she said slowly. "How can you jest about such a thing as the sacking of a town by Spaniards? Do you know what it means? That is how they talk; I have heard them," and she shuddered, then went on: "You are not a Spaniard, are you, sir, that you can speak like that?" And without waiting for an answer Elsa urged her mule forward, leaving him a little behind.
Presently as they passed through the Witte Poort, he was at her side again and chatting to her, but although she replied courteously enough, he felt that an invisible barrier had arisen between them. Yes, she had read his secret heart; it was as though she had been a party to his thoughts when he stood by the bridge this afternoon designing plans for the taking of Leyden, and half wishing that he might share in its capture. She mistrusted him, and was half afraid of him, and Adrian knew that it was so.
Ten minutes' ride through the quiet town, for in those days of terror and suspicion unless business took them abroad people did not frequent the streets much after sundown, brought the party to the van Goorl's house in the Bree Straat. Here Adrian dismounted and tried to open the door, only to find that it was locked and barred. This seemed to exasperate a temper already somewhat excited by the various events and experiences of the day, and more especially by the change in Elsa's manner; at any rate he used the knocker with unnecessary energy. After a while, with much turning of keys and drawing of bolts, the door was opened, revealing Dirk, his stepfather, standing in the passage, candle in hand, while behind, as though to be ready for any emergency, loomed the great stooping shape of Red Martin.
"Is that you, Adrian?" asked Dirk in a voice at once testy and relieved. "Then why did you not come to the side entrance instead of forcing us to unbar here?"
"Because I bring you a guest," replied Adrian pointing to Elsa and her companions. "It did not occur to me that you would wish guests to be smuggled in by a back door as though—as though they were ministers of our New Religion."
The bow had been drawn at a venture but the shaft went home, for Dirk started and whispered: "Be silent, fool." Then he added aloud, "Guest! What guest?"
"It is I, cousin Dirk, I, Elsa, Hendrik Brant's daughter," she said, sliding from her mule.
"Elsa Brant!" ejaculated Dirk. "Why, how came you here?"
"I will tell you presently," she answered; "I cannot talk in the street," and she touched her lips with her finger. "These are my friends, the van Broekhovens, under whose escort I have travelled from The Hague. They wish to go on to the house of their relations, the other Broekhovens, if some one will show them the way."
Then followed greetings and brief explanations. After these the Broekhovens departed to the house of their relatives, under the care of Martin, while, its saddle having been removed and carried into the house at Elsa's express request, Adrian led the mule round to the stable.
When Dirk had kissed and welcomed his young cousin he ushered her, still accompanied by the saddle, into the room where his wife and Foy were at supper, and with them the Pastor Arentz, that clergyman who had preached to them on the previous night. Here he found Lysbeth, who had risen from the table anxiously awaiting his return. So dreadful were the times that a knocking on the door at an unaccustomed hour was enough to throw those within into a paroxysm of fear, especially if at the moment they chanced to be harbouring a pastor of the New Faith, a crime punishable with death. That sound might mean nothing more than a visit from a neighbour, or it might be the trump of doom to every soul within the house, signifying the approach of the familiars of the Inquisition and of a martyr's crown. Therefore Lysbeth uttered a sigh of joy when her husband appeared, followed only by a girl.
"Wife," he said, "here is our cousin, Elsa Brant, come to visit us from The Hague, though why I know not as yet. You remember Elsa, the little Elsa, with whom we used to play so many years ago."
"Yes, indeed," answered Lysbeth, as she put her arms about her and embraced her, saying, "welcome, child, though," she added, glancing at her, "you should no longer be called child who have grown into so fair a maid. But look, here is the Pastor Arentz, of whom you may have heard, for he is the friend of your father and of us all."
"In truth, yes," answered Elsa curtseying, a salute which Arentz acknowledged by saying gravely,
"Daughter, I greet you in the name of the Lord, who has brought you to this house safely, for which give thanks."
"Truly, Pastor, I have need to do so since—" and suddenly she stopped, for her eyes met those of Foy, who was gazing at her with such wonder and admiration stamped upon his open face that Elsa coloured at the sight. Then, recovering herself, she held out her hand, saying, "Surely you are my cousin Foy; I should have known you again anywhere by your hair and eyes."
"I am glad," he answered simply, for it flattered him to think that this beautiful young lady remembered her old playmate, whom she had not seen for at least eleven years, adding, "but I do not think I should have known you."
"Why?" she asked, "have I changed so much?"
"Yes," Foy answered bluntly, "you used to be a thin little girl with red arms, and now you are the most lovely maiden I ever saw."
At this speech everybody laughed, including the Pastor, while Elsa, reddening still more, replied, "Cousin, I remember that you used to be rude, but now you have learned to flatter, which is worse. Nay, I beg of you, spare me," for Foy showed signs of wishing to argue the point. Then turning from him she slipped off her cloak and sat down on the chair which Dirk had placed for her at the table, reflecting in her heart that she wished it had been Foy who rescued her from the wood thieves, and not the more polished Adrian.
Afterwards as the meal went on she told the tale of their adventure. Scarcely was it done when Adrian entered the room. The first thing he noticed was that Elsa and Foy were seated side by side, engaged in animated talk, and the second, that there was no cover for him at the table.
"Have I your permission to sit down, mother?" he asked in a loud voice, for no one had seen him come in.
"Certainly, son, why not?" answered Lysbeth, kindly. Adrian's voice warned her that his temper was ruffled.
"Because there is no place for me, mother, that is all, though doubtless it is more worthily filled by the Rev. Pastor Arentz. Still, after a man has been fighting for his life with armed thieves, well—a bit of food and a place to eat it in would have been welcome."
"Fighting for your life, son!" said Lysbeth astonished. "Why, from what Elsa has just been telling us, I gathered that the rascals ran away at the first blow which you struck with your staff."
"Indeed, mother; well, doubtless if the lady says that, it was so. I took no great note; at the least they ran and she was saved, with the others; a small service not worth mentioning, still useful in its way."
"Oh! take my chair, Adrian," said Foy rising, "and don't make such a stir about a couple of cowardly footpads and an old hag. You don't want us to think you a hero because you didn't turn tail and leave Elsa and her companions in their hands, do you?"
"What you think, or do not think, is a matter of indifference to me," replied Adrian, seating himself with an injured air.
"Whatever my cousin Foy may think, Heer Adrian," broke in Elsa anxiously, "I am sure I thank God who sent so brave a gentleman to help us. Yes, yes, I mean it, for it makes me sick to remember what might have happened if you had not rushed at those wicked men like—like——"
"Like David on the Philistines," suggested Foy.
"You should study your Bible, lad," put in Arentz with a grave smile. "It was Samson who slew the Philistines; David conquered the giant Goliath, though it is true that he also was a Philistine."
"Like Samson—I mean David—on Goliath," continued Elsa confusedly. "Oh! please, cousin Foy, do not laugh; I believe that you would have left me at the mercy of that dreadful man with a flat face and the bald head, who was trying to steal my father's letter. By the way, cousin Dirk, I have not given it to you yet, but it is quite safe, sewn up in the lining of the saddle, and I was to tell you that you must read it by the old cypher."
"Man with a flat face," said Dirk anxiously, as he slit away at the stitches of the saddle to find the letter; "tell me about him. What was he like, and what makes you think he wished to take the paper from you?"
So Elsa described the appearance of the man and of the black-eyed hag, his companion, and repeated also the words that the Heer van Broekhoven had heard the woman utter before the attack took place.
"That sounds like the spy, Hague Simon, him whom they call the Butcher, and his wife, Black Meg," said Dirk. "Adrian, you must have seen these people, was it they?"
For a moment Adrian considered whether he should tell the truth; then, for certain reasons of his own, decided that he would not. Black Meg, it may be explained, in the intervals of graver business was not averse to serving as an emissary of Venus. In short, she arranged assignations, and Adrian was fond of assignations. Hence his reticence.
"How should I know?" he answered, after a pause; "the place was gloomy, and I have only set eyes upon Hague Simon and his wife about twice in my life."
"Softly, brother," said Foy, "and stick to the truth, however gloomy the wood may have been. You know Black Meg pretty well at any rate, for I have often seen you—" and he stopped suddenly, as though sorry that the words had slipped from his tongue.
"Adrian, is this so?" asked Dirk in the silence which followed.
"No, stepfather," answered Adrian.
"You hear," said Dirk addressing Foy. "In future, son, I trust that you will be more careful with your words. It is no charge to bring lightly against a man that he has been seen in the fellowship of one of the most infamous wretches in Leyden, a creature whose hands are stained red with the blood of innocent men and women, and who, as your mother knows, once brought me near to the scaffold."
Suddenly the laughing boyish look passed out of the face of Foy, and it grew stern.
"I am sorry for my words," he said, "since Black Meg does other things besides spying, and Adrian may have had business of his own with her which is no affair of mine. But, as they are spoke, I can't eat them, so you must decide which of us is—not truthful."
"Nay, Foy, nay," interposed Arentz, "do not put it thus. Doubtless there is some mistake, and have I not told you before that you are over rash of tongue?"
"Yes, and a great many other things," answered Foy, "every one of them true, for I am a miserable sinner. Well, all right, there is a mistake, and it is," he added, with an air of radiant innocency that somehow was scarcely calculated to deceive, "that I was merely poking a stick into Adrian's temper. I never saw him talking to Black Meg. Now, are you satisfied?"
Then the storm broke, as Elsa, who had been watching the face of Adrian while he listened to Foy's artless but somewhat fatuous explanation, saw that it must break.
"There is a conspiracy against me," said Adrian, who had grown white with rage; "yes, everything has conspired against me to-day. First the ragamuffins in the street make a mock of me, and then my hawk is killed. Next it chances that I rescue this lady and her companions from robbers in the wood. But, do I get any thanks for this? No, I come home to find that I am so much forgotten that no place is even laid for me at table; more, to be jeered at for the humble services that I have done. Lastly, I have the lie given to me, and without reproach, by my brother, who, were he not my brother, should answer for it at the sword's point."
"Oh! Adrian, Adrian," broke in Foy, "don't be a fool; stop before you say something you will be sorry for."
"That isn't all," went on Adrian, taking no heed. "Whom do I find at this table? The worthy Heer Arentz, a minister of the New Religion. Well, I protest. I belong to the New Religion myself, having been brought up in that faith, but it must be well known that the presence of a pastor here in our house exposes everybody to the risk of death. If my stepfather and Foy choose to take that risk, well and good, but I maintain that they have no right to lay its consequences upon my mother, whose eldest son I am, nor even upon myself."
Now Dirk rose and tapped Adrian on the shoulder. "Young man," he said coldly and with glittering eyes, "listen to me. The risks which I and my son, Foy, and my wife, your mother, take, we run for conscience sake. You have nothing to do with them, it is our affair. But since you have raised the question, if your faith is not strong enough to support you I acknowledge that I have no right to bring you into danger. Look you, Adrian, you are no son of mine; in you I have neither part nor lot, yet I have cared for you and supported you since you were born under very strange and unhappy circumstances. Yes, you have shared whatever I had to give with my own son, without preference or favour, and should have shared it even after my death. And now, if these are your opinions, I am tempted to say to you that the world is wide and that, instead of idling here upon my bounty, you would do well to win your own way through it as far from Leyden as may please you."
"You throw your benefits in my teeth, and reproach me with my birth," broke in Adrian, who by now was almost raving with passion, "as though it were a crime in me to have other blood running in my veins than that of Netherlander tradesfolk. Well, if so, it would seem that the crime was my mother's, and not mine, who——"
"Adrian, Adrian!" cried Foy, in warning, but the madman heeded not.
"Who," he went on furiously, "was content to be the companion, for I understand that she was never really married to him, of some noble Spaniard before she became the wife of a Leyden artisan."
He ceased, and at this moment there broke from Lysbeth's lips a low wail of such bitter anguish that it chilled even his mad rage to silence.
"Shame on thee, my son," said the wail, "who art not ashamed to speak thus of the mother that bore thee."
"Ay," echoed Dirk, in the stillness that followed, "shame on thee! Once thou wast warned, but now I warn no more."
Then he stepped to the door, opened it, and called, "Martin, come hither."
Presently, still in that heavy silence, which was broken only by the quick breath of Adrian panting like some wild beast in a net, was heard the sound of heavy feet shuffling down the passage. Then Martin entered the room, and stood there gazing about him with his large blue eyes, that were like the eyes of a wondering child.
"Your pleasure, master," he said at length.
"Martin Roos," replied Dirk, waving back Arentz who rose to speak, "take that young man, my stepson, the Heer Adrian, and lead him from my house—without violence if possible. My order is that henceforth you are not to suffer him to set foot within its threshold; see that it is not disobeyed. Go, Adrian, to-morrow your possessions shall be sent to you, and with them such money as shall suffice to start you in the world."
Without comment or any expression of surprise, the huge Martin shuffled forward towards Adrian, his hand outstretched as though to take him by the arm.
"What!" exclaimed Adrian, as Martin advanced down the room, "you set your mastiff on me, do you? Then I will show you how a gentleman treats dogs," and suddenly, a naked dagger shining in his hand, he leaped straight at the Frisian's throat. So quick and fierce was the onslaught that only one issue to it seemed possible. Elsa gasped and closed her eyes, thinking when she opened them to see that knife plunged to the hilt in Martin's breast, and Foy sprang forward. Yet in this twinkling of an eye the danger was done with, for by some movement too quick to follow, Martin had dealt his assailant such a blow upon the arm that the poniard, jarred from his grasp, flew flashing across the room to fall in Lysbeth's lap. Another second and the iron grip had closed upon Adrian's shoulder, and although he was strong and struggled furiously, yet he could not loose the hold of that single hand.
"Please cease fighting, Mynheer Adrian, for it is quite useless," said Martin to his captive in a voice as calm as though nothing unusual had happened. Then he turned and walked with him towards the door.
On the threshold Martin stopped, and looking over his shoulder said, "Master, I think that the Heer is dead, do you still wish me to put him into the street?"
They crowded round and stared. It was true, Adrian seemed to be dead; at least his face was like that of a corpse, while from the corner of his mouth blood trickled in a thin stream.
"Wretched man!" said Lysbeth wringing her hands, and with a shudder shaking the dagger from her lap as though it had been a serpent, "you have killed my son."
"Your pardon, mistress," replied Martin placidly; "but that is not so. The master ordered me to remove the Heer Adrian, whereon the Heer Adrian very naturally tried to stab me. But I, having been accustomed to such things in my youth," and he looked deprecatingly towards the Pastor Arentz, "struck the Heer Adrian upon the bone of his elbow, causing the knife to jump from his hand, for had I not done so I should have been dead and unable to execute the commands of my master. Then I took the Heer Adrian by the shoulder, gently as I might, and walked away with him, whereupon he died of rage, for which I am very sorry but not to blame."
"You are right, man," said Lysbeth, "it is you who are to blame, Dirk; yes, you have murdered my son. Oh! never mind what he said, his temper was always fierce, and who pays any heed to the talk of a man in a mad passion?"
"Why did you let your brother be thus treated, cousin Foy?" broke in Elsa quivering with indignation. "It was cowardly of you to stand still and see that great red creature crush the life out of him when you know well that it was because of your taunts that he lost his temper and said things that he did not mean, as I do myself sometimes. No, I will never speak to you again—and only this afternoon he saved me from the robbers!" and she burst into weeping.
"Peace, peace! this is no time for angry words," said the Pastor Arentz, pushing his way through the group of bewildered men and overwrought women. "He can scarcely be dead; let me look at him, I am something of a doctor," and he knelt by the senseless and bleeding Adrian to examine him.
"Take comfort, Vrouw van Goorl," he said presently, "your son is not dead, for his heart beats, nor has his friend Martin injured him in any way by the exercise of his strength, but I think that in his fury he has burst a blood-vessel, for he bleeds fast. My counsel is that he should be put to bed and his head cooled with cold water till the surgeon can be fetched to treat him. Lift him in your arms, Martin."
So Martin carried Adrian, not to the street, but to his bed, while Foy, glad of an excuse to escape the undeserved reproaches of Elsa and the painful sight of his mother's grief, went to seek the physician. In due course he returned with him, and, to the great relief of all of them, the learned man announced that, notwithstanding the blood which he had lost, he did not think that Adrian would die, though, at the best, he must keep his bed for some weeks, have skilful nursing and be humoured in all things.
While his wife Lysbeth and Elsa were attending to Adrian, Dirk and his son, Foy, for the Pastor Arentz had gone, sat upstairs talking in the sitting-room, that same balconied chamber in which once Dirk had been refused while Montalvo hid behind the curtain. Dirk was much disturbed, for when his wrath had passed he was a tender-hearted man, and his stepson's plight distressed him greatly. Now he was justifying himself to Foy, or, rather, to his own conscience.
"A man who could speak so of his own mother, was not fit to stop in the same house with her," he said; "moreover, you heard his words about the pastor. I tell you, son, I am afraid of this Adrian."
"Unless that bleeding from his mouth stops soon you will not have cause to fear him much longer," replied Foy sadly, "but if you want my opinion about the business, father, why here it is—I think that you have made too much of a small matter. Adrian is—Adrian; he is not one of us, and he should not be judged as though he were. You cannot imagine me flying into a fury because the women forgot to set my place at table, or trying to stab Martin and bursting a blood vessel because you told him to lead me out of the room. No, I should know better, for what is the use of any ordinary man attempting to struggle against Martin? He might as well try to argue with the Inquisition. But then I am I, and Adrian is Adrian."
"But the words he used, son. Remember the words."
"Yes, and if I had spoken them they would have meant a great deal, but in Adrian's mouth I think no more of them than if they came from some angry woman. Why, he is always sulking, or taking offence, or flying into rages over something or other, and when he is like that it all means—just nothing except that he wants to use fine talk and show off and play the Don over us. He did not really mean to lie to me when he said that I had not seen him talking to Black Meg, he only meant to contradict, or perhaps to hide something up. As a matter of fact, if you want to know the truth, I believe that the old witch took notes for him to some young lady, and that Hague Simon supplied him with rats for his hawks."
"Yes, Foy, that may be so, but how about his talk of the pastor? It makes me suspicious, son. You know the times we live in, and if he should go that way—remember it is in his blood—the lives of every one of us are in his hand. The father tried to burn me once, and I do not wish the child to finish the work."
"Then when they come out of his hand, you are at liberty to cut off mine," answered Foy hotly. "I have been brought up with Adrian, and I know what he is; he is vain and pompous, and every time he looks at you and me he thanks God that he was not made like that. Also he has failings and vices, and he is lazy, being too fine a gentleman to work like a common Flemish burgher, and all the rest of it. But, father, he has a good heart, and if any man outside this house were to tell me that Adrian is capable of playing the traitor and bringing his own family to the scaffold, well, I would make him swallow his words, or try to, that is all. As regards what he said about my mother's first marriage"—and Foy hung his head—"of course it is a subject on which I have no right to talk, but, father, speaking as one man to another—he is sadly placed and innocent, whatever others may have been, and I don't wonder that he feels sore about the story."
As he spoke the door opened and Lysbeth entered.
"How goes it with Adrian, wife?" Dirk asked hastily.
"Better, husband, thank God, though the doctor stays with him for this night. He has lost much blood, and at the best must lie long abed; above all none must cross his mood or use him roughly," and she looked at her husband with meaning.
"Peace, wife," Dirk answered with irritation. "Foy here has just read me one lecture upon my dealings with your son, and I am in no mood to listen to another. I served the man as he deserved, neither less nor more, and if he chose to go mad and vomit blood, why it is no fault of mine. You should have brought him up to a soberer habit."
"Adrian is not as other men are, and ought not to be measured by the same rule," said Lysbeth, almost repeating Foy's words.
"So I have been told before, wife, though I, who have but one standard of right and wrong, find the saying hard. But so be it. Doubtless the rule for Adrian is that which should be used to measure angels—or Spaniards, and not one suited to us poor Hollanders who do our work, pay our debts, and don't draw knives on unarmed men!"
"Have you read the letter from your cousin Brant?" asked Lysbeth, changing the subject.
"No," answered Dirk, "what with daggers, swoonings, and scoldings it slipped my mind," and drawing the paper from his tunic he cut the silk and broke the seals. "I had forgotten," he went on, looking at the sheets of words interspersed with meaningless figures; "it is in our private cypher, as Elsa said, or at least most of it is. Get the key from my desk, son, and let us set to work, for our task is likely to be long."
Foy obeyed, returning presently with an old Testament of a very scarce edition. With the help of this book and an added vocabulary by slow degrees they deciphered the long epistle, Foy writing it down sentence by sentence as they learned their significance. When at length the task was finished, which was not till well after midnight, Dirk read the translation aloud to Lysbeth and his son. It ran thus:
"Well-beloved cousin and old friend, you will be astonished to see my dear child Elsa, who brings you this paper sewn in her saddle, where I trust none will seek it, and wonder why she comes to you without warning. I will tell you.
"You know that here the axe and the stake are very busy, for at The Hague the devil walks loose; yes, he is the master in this land. Well, although the blow has not yet fallen on me, since for a while I have bought off the informers, hour by hour the sword hangs over my head, nor can I escape it in the end. That I am suspected of the New Faith is not my real crime. You can guess it. Cousin, they desire my wealth. Now I have sworn that no Spaniard shall have this, no, not if I must sink it in the sea to save it from them, since it has been heaped up to another end. Yet they desire it sorely, and spies are about my path and about my bed. Worst among them all, and at the head of them, is a certain Ramiro, a one-eyed man, but lately come from Spain, it is said as an agent of the Inquisition, whose manners are those of a person who was once a gentleman, and who seems to know this country well. This fellow has approached me, offering if I will give him three-parts of my wealth to secure my escape with the rest, and I have told him that I will consider the offer. For this reason only I have a little respite, since he desires that my money should go into his pocket and not into that of the Government. But, by the help of God, neither of them shall touch it.
"See you, Dirk, the treasure is not here in the house as they think. It is hidden, but in a spot where it cannot stay.
"Therefore, if you love me, and hold that I have been a good friend to you, send your son Foy with one other strong and trusted man—your Frisian servant, Martin, if possible—on the morrow after you receive this. When night falls he should have been in The Hague some hours, and have refreshed himself, but let him not come near me or my house. Half an hour after sunset let him, followed by his serving man, walk up and down the right side of the Broad Street in The Hague, as though seeking adventures, till a girl, also followed by a servant, pushes up against him as if on purpose, and whispers in his ear, 'Are you from Leyden, sweetheart?' Then he must say 'Yes,' and accompany her till he comes to a place where he will learn what must be done and how to do it. Above all, he must follow no woman who may accost him and does not repeat these words. The girl who addresses him will be short, dark, pretty, and gaily dressed, with a red bow upon her left shoulder. But let him not be misled by look or dress unless she speaks the words.
"If he reaches England or Leyden safely with the stuff let him hide it for the present, friend, till your heart tells you it is needed. I care not where, nor do I wish to know, for if I knew, flesh and blood are weak, and I might give up the secret when they stretch me on the rack.
"Already you have my will sent to you three months ago, and enclosed in it a list of goods. Open it now and you will find that under it my possessions pass to you and your heirs absolutely as my executors, for such especial trusts and purposes as are set out therein. Elsa has been ailing, and it is known that the leech has ordered her a change. Therefore her journey to Leyden will excite no wonder, neither, or so I hope, will even Ramiro guess that I should enclose a letter such as this in so frail a casket. Still, there is danger, for spies are many, but having no choice, and my need being urgent, I must take the risks. If the paper is seized they cannot read it, for they will never make out the cypher, since, even did they know of them, no copies of our books can be found in Holland. Moreover, were this writing all plain Dutch or Spanish, it tells nothing of the whereabouts of the treasure, of its destination, or of the purpose to which it is dedicate. Lastly, should any Spaniard chance to find that wealth, it will vanish, and, mayhap, he with it."
"What can he mean by that?" interrupted Foy.
"I know not," answered Dirk. "My cousin Brant is not a person who speaks at random, so perhaps we have misinterpreted the passage." Then he went on reading:
"Now I have done with the pelf, which must take its chance. Only, I pray you—I trust it to your honour and to your love of an old friend to bury it, burn it, cast it to the four winds of heaven before you suffer a Spaniard to touch a gem or a piece of gold.
"I send to you to-day Elsa, my only child. You will know my reason. She will be safer with you in Leyden than here at The Hague, since if they take me they might take her also. The priests and their tools do not spare the young, especially if their rights stand between them and money. Also she knows little of my desperate strait; she is ignorant even of the contents of this letter, and I do not wish that she should share these troubles. I am a doomed man, and she loves me, poor child. One day she will hear that it is over, and that will be sad for her, but it would be worse if she knew all from the beginning. When I bid her good-bye to-morrow, it will be for the last time—God give me strength to bear the blow.
"You are her guardian, as you deal with her—nay, I must be crazy with my troubles, for none other would think it needful to remind Dirk van Goorl or his son of their duty to the dead. Farewell, friend and cousin. God guard you and yours in these dreadful times with which it has pleased Him to visit us for a season, that through us perhaps this country and the whole world may be redeemed from priestcraft and tyranny. Greet your honoured wife, Lysbeth, from me; also your son Foy, who used to be a merry lad, and whom I hope to see again within a night or two, although it may be fated that we shall not meet. My blessing on him, especially if he prove faithful in all these things. May the Almighty who guards us give us a happy meeting in the hereafter which is at hand. Pray for me. Farewell, farewell.—Hendrik Brant.
"P.S. I beg the dame Lysbeth to see that Elsa wears woollen when the weather turns damp or cold, since her chest is somewhat delicate. This was my wife's last charge, and I pass it on to you. As regards her marriage, should she live, I leave that to your judgment with this command only, that her inclination shall not be forced, beyond what is right and proper. When I am dead, kiss her for me, and tell her that I loved her beyond any creature now living on the earth, and that wherever I am from day to day I wait to welcome her, as I shall wait to welcome you and yours, Dirk van Goorl. In case these presents miscarry, I will send duplicates of them, also in mixed cypher, whenever chance may offer."
Having finished reading the translation of this cypher document, Dirk bent his head while he folded it, not wishing that his face should be seen. Foy also turned aside to hide the tears which gathered in his eyes, while Lysbeth wept openly.
"A sad letter and sad times!" said Dirk at length.
"Poor Elsa," muttered Foy, then added, with a return of hopefulness, "perhaps he is mistaken, he may escape after all."
Lysbeth shook her head as she answered,
"Hendrik Brant is not the man to write like that if there was any hope for him, nor would he part with his daughter unless he knew that the end must be near at hand."
"Why, then, does he not fly?" asked Foy.
"Because the moment he stirred the Inquisition would pounce upon him, as a cat pounces upon a mouse that tries to run from its corner," replied his father. "While the mouse sits still the cat sits also and purrs; when it moves——"
There was a silence in which Dirk, having fetched the will of Hendrik Brant from a safe hiding place, where it had lain since it reached his hands some months before, opened the seals and read it aloud.
It proved to be a very short document, under the terms of which Dirk van Goorl and his heirs inherited all the property, real and personal, of Hendrik Brant, upon trust, (1) to make such ample provision for his daughter Elsa as might be needful or expedient; (2) to apply the remainder of the money "for the defence of our country, the freedom of religious Faith, and the destruction of the Spaniards in such fashion and at such time or times as God should reveal to them, which," added the will, "assuredly He will do."
Enclosed in this document was an inventory of the property that constituted the treasure. At the head came an almost endless list of jewels, all of them carefully scheduled. These were the first three items:
"Item: The necklace of great pearls that I exchanged with the Emperor Charles when he took a love for sapphires, enclosed in a watertight copper box.
"Item: A coronet and stomacher of rubies mounted in my own gold work, the best that ever I did, which three queens have coveted, and none was rich enough to buy.
"Item: The great emerald that my father left me, the biggest known, having magic signs of ancients engraved upon the back of it, and enclosed in a chased case of gold."
Then came other long lists of precious stones, too numerous to mention, but of less individual value, and after them this entry:
"Item: Four casks filled with gold coin (I know not the exact weight or number)."
At the bottom of this schedule was written, "A very great treasure, the greatest of all the Netherlands, a fruit of three generations of honest trading and saving, converted by me for the most part into jewels, that it may be easier to move. This is the prayer of me, Hendrik Brant, who owns it for his life; that this gold may prove the earthly doom of any Spaniard who tries to steal it, and as I write it comes into my mind that God will grant this my petition. Amen. Amen. Amen! So say I, Hendrik Brant, who stand at the Gate of Death."
All of this inventory Dirk read aloud, and when he had finished Lysbeth gasped with amazement.
"Surely," she said, "this little cousin of ours is richer than many princes. Yes, with such a dowry princes would be glad to take her in marriage."
"The fortune is large enough," answered Dirk. "But, oh! what a burden has Hendrik Brant laid upon our backs, for under this will the wealth is left, not straight to the lawful heiress, Elsa, but to me and my heirs on the trusts started, and they are heavy. Look you, wife, the Spaniards know of this vast hoard, and the priests know of it, and no stone on earth or hell will they leave unturned to win that money. I say that, for his own sake, my cousin Hendrik would have done better to accept the offer of the Spanish thief Ramiro and give him three-fourths and escape to England with the rest. But that is not his nature, who was ever stubborn, and who would die ten times over rather than enrich the men he hates. Moreover, he, who is no miser, has saved this fortune that the bulk of it may be spent for his country in the hour of her need, and alas! of that need we are made the judges, since he is called away. Wife, I foresee that these gems and gold will breed bloodshed and misery to all our house. But the trust is laid upon us and it must be borne. Foy, to-morrow at dawn you and Martin will start for The Hague to carry out the command of your cousin Brant."
"Why should my son's life be risked on this mad errand?" asked Lysbeth.
"Because it is a duty, mother," answered Foy cheerfully, although he tried to look depressed. He was young and enterprising; moreover, the adventure promised to be full of novelty.
In spite of himself Dirk smiled and bade him summon Martin.
A minute later Foy was in the great man's den and kicking at his prostrate form. "Wake up, you snoring bull," he said, "awake!"
Martin sat up, his red beard showing like a fire in the shine of the taper. "What is it now, Master Foy?" he asked yawning. "Are they after us about those two dead soldiers?"
"No, you sleepy lump, it's treasure."
"I don't care about treasure," replied Martin, indifferently.
"That sounds better," said Martin, shutting his mouth. "Tell me about it, Master Foy, while I pull on my jerkin."
So Foy told him as much as he could in two minutes.
"Yes, it sounds well," commented Martin, critically. "If I know anything of those Spaniards, we shan't get back to Leyden without something happening. But I don't like that bit about the women; as likely as not they will spoil everything."
Then he accompanied Foy to the upper room, and there received his instructions from Dirk with a solemn and unmoved countenance.
"Are you listening?" asked Dirk, sharply. "Do you understand?"
"I think so, master," replied Martin. "Hear;" and he repeated sentence by sentence every word that had fallen from Dirk's lips, for when he chose to use it Martin's memory was good. "One or two questions, master," he said. "This stuff must be brought through at all hazards?"
"At all hazards?" answered Dirk.
"And if we cannot bring it through, it must be hidden in the best way possible?"
"And if people should try to interfere with us, I understand that we must fight?"
"And if in the fighting we chance to kill anybody I shall not be reproached and called a murderer by the pastor or others?"
"I think not," replied Dirk.
"And if anything should happen to my young master here, his blood will not be laid upon my head?"
Lysbeth groaned. Then she stood up and spoke.
"Martin, why do you ask such foolish questions? Your peril my son must share, and if harm should come to him as may chance, we shall know well that it is no fault of yours. You are not a coward or a traitor, Martin."
"Well, I think not, mistress, at least not often; but you see here are two duties: the first, to get this money through, the second, to protect the Heer Foy. I wish to know which of these is the more important."
It was Dirk who answered.
"You go to carry out the wishes of my cousin Brant; they must be attended to before anything else."
"Very good," replied Martin; "you quite understand, Heer Foy?"
"Oh! perfectly," replied that young man, grinning.
"Then go to bed for an hour or two, as you may have to keep awake to-morrow night; I will call you at dawn. Your servant, master and mistress, I hope to report myself to you within sixty hours, but if I do not come within eighty, or let us say a hundred, it may be well to make inquiries," and he shuffled back to his den.
Youth sleeps well whatever may be behind or before it, and it was not until Martin had called to him thrice next morning that Foy opened his eyes in the grey light, and, remembering, sprang from his bed.
"There's no hurry," said Martin, "but it will be as well to get out of Leyden before many people are about."
As he spoke Lysbeth entered the room fully dressed, for she had not slept that night, carrying in her hand a little leathern bag.
"How is Adrian, mother?" asked Foy, as she stooped down to kiss him.
"He sleeps, and the doctor, who is still with him, says that he does well," she answered. "But see here, Foy, you are about to start upon your first adventure, and this is my present to you—this and my blessing." Then she untied the neck of the bag and poured from it something that lay upon the table in a shining heap no larger than Martin's fist. Foy took hold of the thing and held it up, whereon the little heap stretched itself out marvellously, till it was as large indeed as the body garment of a man.
"Steel shirt!" exclaimed Martin, nodding his head in approval, and adding, "good wear for those who mix with Spaniards."
"Yes," said Lysbeth, "my father brought this from the East on one of his voyages. I remember he told me that he paid for it its weight in gold and silver, and that even then it was sold to him only by the special favour of the king of that country. The shirt, they said, was ancient, and of such work as cannot now be made. It had been worn from father to son in one family for three hundred years, but no man that wore it ever died by body-cut or thrust, since sword or dagger cannot pierce that steel. At least, son, this is the story, and, strangely enough, when I lost all the rest of my heritage—" and she sighed, "this shirt was left to me, for it lay in its bag in the old oak chest, and none noticed it or thought it worth the taking. So make the most of it, Foy; it is all that remains of your grandfather's fortune, since this house is now your father's."
Beyond kissing his mother in thanks, Foy made no answer; he was too much engaged in examining the wonders of the shirt, which as a worker in metals he could well appreciate. But Martin said again:
"Better than money, much better than money. God knew that and made them leave the mail."
"I never saw the like of it," broke in Foy; "look, it runs together like quicksilver and is light as leather. See, too, it has stood sword and dagger stroke before to-day," and holding it in a sunbeam they perceived in many directions faint lines and spots upon the links caused in past years by the cutting edge of swords and the points of daggers. Yet never a one of those links was severed or broken.
"I pray that it may stand them again if your body be inside of it," said Lysbeth. "Yet, son, remember always that there is One who can guard you better than any human mail however perfect," and she left the room.
Then Foy drew on the coat over his woollen jersey, and it fitted him well, though not so well as in after years, when he had grown thicker. Indeed, when his linen shirt and his doublet were over it none could have guessed that he was clothed in armour of proof.
"It isn't fair, Martin," he said, "that I should be wrapped in steel and you in nothing."
Martin smiled. "Do you take me for a fool, master," he said, "who have seen some fighting in my day, private and public? Look here," and, opening his leathern jerkin, he showed that he was clothed beneath in a strange garment of thick but supple hide.
"Bullskin," said Martin, "tanned as we know how up in Friesland. Not as good as yours, but will turn most cuts or arrows. I sat up last night making one for you, it was almost finished before, but the steel is cooler and better for those who can afford it. Come, let us go and eat; we should be at the gates at eight when they open."
MOTHER'S GIFTS ARE GOOD GIFTS
At a few minutes to eight that morning a small crowd of people had gathered in front of the Witte Poort at Leyden waiting for the gate to be opened. They were of all sorts, but country folk for the most part, returning to their villages, leading mules and donkeys slung with empty panniers, and shouting greetings through the bars of the gate to acquaintances who led in other mules laden with vegetables and provisions. Among these stood some priests, saturnine and silent, bent, doubtless, upon dark business of their own. A squad of Spanish soldiers waited also, the insolence of the master in their eyes; they were marching to some neighbouring city. There, too, appeared Foy van Goorl and Red Martin, who led a pack mule; Foy dressed in the grey jerkin of a merchant, but armed with a sword and mounted on a good mare; Martin riding a Flemish gelding that nowadays would only have been thought fit for the plough, since no lighter-boned beast could carry his weight. Among these moved a dapper little man, with sandy whiskers and sly face, asking their business and destination of the various travellers, and under pretence of guarding against the smuggling of forbidden goods, taking count upon his tablets of their merchandise and baggage.
Presently he came to Foy.
"Name?" he said, shortly, although he knew him well enough.
"Foy van Goorl and Martin, his father's servant, travelling to The Hague with specimens of brassware, consigned to the correspondents of our firm," answered Foy, indifferently.
"You are very glib," sneered the sandy-whiskered man; "what is the mule laden with? It may be Bibles for all I know."
"Nothing half so valuable, master," replied Foy; "it is a church chandelier in pieces."
"Unpack it and show me the pieces," said the officer.
Foy flushed with anger and set his teeth, but Martin, administering to him a warning nudge in the ribs, submitted with prompt obedience.
It was a long business, for each arm of the chandelier had been carefully wrapped in hay bands, and the official would not pass them until every one was undone, after which they must be done up again. While the pair of them were engaged upon this tedious and unnecessary task, two fresh travellers arrived at the gate, a long, bony person, clothed in a priest-like garb with a hood that hid the head, and a fierce, dissolute-looking individual of military appearance and armed to the teeth. Catching sight of young van Goorl and his servant, the long person, who seemed to ride very awkwardly with legs thrust forward, whispered something to the soldier man, and they passed on without question through the gate.
When Foy and Martin followed them twenty minutes later, they were out of sight, for the pair were well mounted and rode hard.
"Did you recognise them?" asked Martin so soon as they were clear of the crowd.
"No," said Foy; "who are they?"
"The papist witch, Black Meg, dressed like a man, and the fellow who came here from The Hague yesterday, whither they are going to report that the Heer Adrian routed them, and that the Broekhovens with the Jufvrouw Elsa got through unsearched."
"What does it all mean, Martin?"
"It means, master, that we shall have a warm welcome yonder; it means that some one guesses we know about this treasure, and that we shan't get the stuff away without trouble."
"Will they waylay us?"
Martin shrugged his shoulders as he answered, "It is always well to be ready, but I think not. Coming back they may waylay us, not going. Our lives are of little use without the money; also they cannot be had for the asking."
Martin was right, for travelling slowly they reached the city without molestation, and, riding to the house of Dirk's correspondent, put up their horses; ate, rested, delivered the sample chandelier, and generally transacted the business which appeared to be the object of their journey. In the course of conversation they learned from their host that things were going very ill here at The Hague for all who were supposed to favour the New Religion. Tortures, burnings, abductions, and murders were of daily occurrence, nor were any brought to judgment for these crimes. Indeed, soldiers, spies, and government agents were quartered on the citizens, doing what they would, and none dared to lift a hand against them. Hendrik Brant, they heard also, was still at large and carrying on business as usual in his shop, though rumour said that he was a marked man whose time would be short.
Foy announced that they would stay the night, and a little after sunset called to Martin to accompany him, as he wished to walk in the Broad Street to see the sights of the town.
"Be careful, Mynheer Foy," said their host in warning, "for there are many strange characters about, men and women. Oh! yes, this mere is full of pike, and fresh bait is snapped up sharply."
"We will be wary," replied Foy, with the cheerful air of a young man eager for excitement. "Hague pike don't like Leyden perch, you know; they stick in their throats."
"I hope so, I hope so," said the host, "still I pray you be careful. You will remember where to find the horses if you want them; they are fed and I will keep them saddled. Your arrival here is known, and for some reason this house is being watched."
Foy nodded and they started out; Foy going first, and Red Martin, staring round him like a bewildered bumpkin, following at his heel, with his great sword, which was called Silence, girt about his middle, and hidden as much as possible beneath his jerkin.
"I wish you wouldn't look so big, Martin," Foy whispered over his shoulder; "everybody is staring at you and that red beard of yours, which glows like a kitchen fire."
"I can't help it, master," said Martin, "my back aches with stooping as it is, and, as for the beard, well, God made it so."
"At least you might dye it," answered Foy; "if it were black you would be less like a beacon on a church tower."
"Another day, master; it is a long business dyeing a beard like mine; I think it would be quicker to cut it off." Then he stopped, for they were in the Broad Street.
Here they found many people moving to and fro, but although the company were so numerous it was difficult to distinguish them, for no moon shone, and the place was lighted by lanterns set up on poles at long distances from each other. Foy could see, however, that they were for the most part folk of bad character, disreputable women, soldiers of the garrison, half-drunk sailors from every country, and gliding in and out among them all, priests and other observers of events. Before they had been long in the crowd a man stumbled against Foy rudely, at the same time telling him to get out of the path. But although his blood leapt at the insult and his hand went to his sword hilt, Foy took no notice, for he understood at once that it was sought to involve him in a quarrel. Next a woman accosted him, a gaily-dressed woman, but she had no bow upon her shoulder, so Foy merely shook his head and smiled. For the rest of that walk, however, he was aware that this woman was watching him, and with her a man whose figure he could not distinguish, for he was wrapped in a black cloak.
Thrice did Foy, followed by Martin, thus promenade the right side of the Broad Street, till he was heartily weary of the game indeed, and began to wonder if his cousin Brant's plans had not miscarried.
As he turned for the fourth time his doubts were answered, for he found himself face to face with a small woman who wore upon her shoulder a large red bow, and was followed by another woman, a buxom person dressed in a peasant's cap. The lady with the red bow, making pretence to stumble, precipitated herself with an affected scream right into his arms, and as he caught her, whispered, "Are you from Leyden, sweetheart?" "Yes." "Then treat me as I treat you, and follow always where I lead. First make pretence to be rid of me."
As she finished whispering Foy heard a warning stamp from Martin, followed by the footsteps of the pair who he knew were watching them, which he could distinguish easily, for here at the end of the street there were fewer people. So he began to act as best he could—it was not very well, but his awkwardness gave him a certain air of sincerity.
"No, no," he said, "why should I pay for your supper? Come, be going, my good girl, and leave me and my servant to see the town in peace."
"Oh! Mynheer, let me be your guide, I beg you," answered she of the red bow clasping her hands and looking up into his face. Just then he heard the first woman who had accosted him speaking to her companion in a loud voice.
"Look," she said, "Red Bow is trying her best. Ah! my dear, do you think that you'll get a supper out of a holy Leyden ranter, or a skin off an eel for the asking?"
"Oh! he isn't such a selfish fish as he looks," answered Red Bow over her shoulder, while her eyes told Foy that it was his turn to play.
So he played to the best of his ability, with the result that ten minutes later any for whom the sight had interest might have observed a yellow-haired young gallant and a black-haired young woman walking down the Broad Street with their arms affectionately disposed around each other's middles. Following them was a huge and lumbering serving man with a beard like fire, who, in a loyal effort to imitate the actions of his master, had hooked a great limb about the neck of Red Bow's stout little attendant, and held her thus in a chancery which, if flattering, must have been uncomfortable. As Martin explained to the poor woman afterwards, it was no fault of his, since in order to reach her waist he must have carried her under his arm.
Foy and his companion chatted merrily enough, if in a somewhat jerky fashion, but Martin attempted no talk. Only as he proceeded he was heard to mutter between his teeth, "Lucky the Pastor Arentz can't see us now. He would never understand, he is so one-sided." So at least Foy declared subsequently in Leyden.
Presently, at a hint from his lady, Foy turned down a side street, unobserved, as he thought, till he heard a mocking voice calling after them, "Good-night, Red Bow, hope you will have a fine supper with your Leyden shopboy."
"Quick," whispered Red Bow, and they turned another corner, then another, and another. Now they walked down narrow streets, ill-kept and unsavoury, with sharp pitched roofs, gabled and overhanging so much that here and there they seemed almost to meet, leaving but a ribbon of star-specked sky winding above their heads. Evidently it was a low quarter of the town and a malodourous quarter, for the canals, spanned by picturesque and high-arched bridges, were everywhere, and at this summer season the water in them was low, rotten, and almost stirless.
At length Red Bow halted and knocked upon a small recessed door, which instantly was opened by a man who bore no light.
"Come in," he whispered, and all four of them passed into a darksome passage. "Quick, quick!" said the man, "I hear footsteps."
Foy heard them also echoing down the empty street, and as the door closed it seemed to him that they stopped in the deep shadow of the houses. Then, holding each other by the hand, they crept along black passages and down stairs till at length they saw light shining through the crevices of an ill-fitting door. It opened mysteriously at their approach, and when they had all entered, shut behind them.
Foy uttered a sigh of relief for he was weary of this long flight, and looked round him to discover that they were in a large windowless cellar, well furnished after a fashion by oak benches and a table set out with cold meats and flagons of wine. At the foot of this table stood a middle-aged man, prematurely grey, and with a face worn as though by constant care.
"Welcome, Foy van Goorl," said the man in a gentle voice. "Many years have passed since last we met; still I should have known you anywhere, though I think you would not have known me."
Foy looked at him and shook his head.
"I thought so," went on the man with a smile. "Well, I am Hendrik Brant, your cousin, once the burgomaster of The Hague and its richest citizen, but to-day a hunted rat who must receive his guests in secret cellars. Tell me now, did my daughter, Elsa, reach your good father's house in safety, and is she well?"
So Foy told him all that story.
"As I thought, as I thought," said Hendrik. "Ramiro knew of her journey and guessed that she might carry some letter. Oh!" he went on, shaking his fist in a kind of frenzy, and addressing the two women who had played the parts of Red Bow and her servant, "who among you is the traitor? Can it be that you, whom my bounty has fed, betray me? Nay, girls, do not weep, I know that it is not so, and yet, in this city, the very walls have ears, yes, even this deep vault gives up its secrets. Well, if only I can save my fortune from those wolves, what do I care? Then they may take my carcase and tear it. At least, my daughter is safe—for a while, and now I have but one desire left on earth—to rob them of my wealth also."
Then he turned to the girl decked out in the gay clothes, who, now that the chase was over, sat upon a bench with her face hidden in her hand, and said, "Tell me your story, Gretchen," whereon she lifted her head and repeated all that happened.
"They press us hard," muttered Brant, "but, friends, we will beat them yet. Eat now, and drink while you may."
So they sat down and ate and drank while Hendrik watched them, and the man who had led them to the vault listened without the door.
When they had finished, Brant bade the two women, Red Bow and the other, leave the cellar and send in the sentry, replacing him as guards. He entered, a hard-faced, grizzled man, and, taking a seat at the table, began to fill himself with food and wine.
"Hearken, my cousin Foy," said Brant presently, "this is the plan. A league away, near to the mouth of the great canal, lie certain boats, a score or over of them, laden with trading goods and timber, in the charge of honest men who know nothing of their cargo, but who have orders to fire them if they should be boarded. Among these boats is one called the Swallow, small, but the swiftest on this coast, and handy in a sea. Her cargo is salt, and beneath it eight kegs of powder, and between the powder and the salt certain barrels, which barrels are filled with treasure. Now, presently, if you have the heart for it—and if you have not, say so, and I will go myself—this man here, Hans, under cover of the darkness, will row you down to the boat Swallow. Then you must board her, and at the first break of dawn hoist her sail and stand out to sea, and away with her where the wind drives, tying the skiff behind. Like enough you will find foes waiting for you at the mouth of the canal, or elsewhere. Then I can give you only one counsel—get out with the Swallow if you can, and if you cannot, escape in the skiff or by swimming, but before you leave her fire the slow-matches that are ready at the bow and the stern, and let the powder do its work and blow my wealth to the waters and the winds. Will you do it? Think, think well before you answer."
"Did we not come from Leyden to be at your command, cousin?" said Foy smiling. Then he added, "But why do you not accompany us on this adventure? You are in danger here, and even if we get clear with the treasure, what use is money without life?"
"To me none, any way," answered Brant; "but you do not understand. I live in the midst of spies, I am watched day and night; although I came here disguised and secretly, it is probable that even my presence in this house is known. More, there is an order out that if I attempt to leave the town by land or water, I am to be seized, whereon my house will be searched instantly, and it will be found that my bullion is gone. Think, lad, how great is this wealth, and you will understand why the crows are hungry. It is talked of throughout the Netherlands, it has been reported to the King in Spain, and I learn that orders have come from him concerning its seizure. But there is another band who would get hold of it first, Ramiro and his crew, and that is why I have been left safe so long, because the thieves strive one against the other and watch each other. Most of all, however, they watch me and everything that is mine. For though they do not believe that I should send the treasure away and stay behind, yet they are not sure."
"You think that they will pursue us, then?" asked Foy.
"For certain. Messengers arrived from Leyden to announce your coming two hours before you set foot in the town, and it will be wonderful indeed if you leave it without a band of cut-throats at your heels. Be not deceived, lad, this business is no light one."
"You say the little boat sails fast, master?" queried Martin.
"She sails fast, but perhaps others are as swift. Moreover, it may happen that you will find the mouth of the canal blocked by the guardship, which was sent there a week ago with orders to search every craft that passes from stem to stern. Or—you may slip past her."
"My master and I are not afraid of a few blows," said Martin, "and we are ready to take our risks like brave men; still, Mynheer Brant, this seems to me a hazardous business, and one in which your money may well get itself lost. Now, I ask you, would it not be better to take this treasure out of the boat where you have hidden it, and bury it, and convey it away by land?"
Brant shook his head. "I have thought of that," he said, "as I have thought of everything, but it cannot now be done; also there is no time to make fresh plans."
"Why?" asked Foy.
"Because day and night men are watching the boats which are known to belong to me, although they are registered in other names, and only this evening an order was signed that they must be searched within an hour of dawn. My information is good, as it should be since I pay for it dearly."
"Then," said Foy, "there is nothing more to be said. We will try to get to the boat and try to get her away; and if we can get her away we will try to hide the treasure, and if we can't we will try to blow her up as you direct and try to escape ourselves. Or—" and he shrugged his shoulders.
Martin said nothing, only he shook his great red head, nor did the silent pilot at the table speak at all.
Hendrik Brant looked at them, and his pale, careworn face began to work. "Have I the right?" he muttered to himself, and for an instant or two bent his head as though in prayer. When he lifted it again his mind seemed to be made up.
"Foy van Goorl," he said, "listen to me, and tell your father, my cousin and executor, what I say, since I have no time to write it; tell him word for word. You are wondering why I do not let this pelf take its chance without risking the lives of men to save it. It is because something in my heart pushes me to another path. It may be imagination, but I am a man standing on the edge of the grave, and to such I have known it given to see the future. I think that you will win through with the treasure, Foy, and that it will be the means of bringing some wicked ones to their doom. Yes, and more, much more, but what it is I cannot altogether see. Yet I am quite certain that thousands and tens of thousands of our folk will live to bless the gold of Hendrik Brant, and that is why I work so hard to save it from the Spaniards. Also that is why I ask you to risk your lives to-night; not for the wealth's sake, for wealth is dross, but for what the wealth will buy in days to come."
He paused a while, then went on: "I think also, cousin, that being, they tell me, unaffianced, you will learn to love, and not in vain, that dear child of mine, whom I leave in your father's keeping and in yours. More, since time is short and we shall never meet again, I say to you plainly, that the thought is pleasing to me, young cousin Foy, for I have a good report of you and like your blood and looks. Remember always, however dark may be your sky, that before he passed to doom Hendrik Brant had this vision concerning you and the daughter whom he loves, and whom you will learn to love as do all who know her. Remember also that priceless things are not lightly won, and do not woo her for her fortune, since, I tell you, this belongs not to her but to our people and our cause, and when the hour comes, for them it must be used."
Foy listened, wondering, but he made no answer, for he knew not what to say. Yet now, on the edge of his first great adventure, these words were comfortable to him who had found already that Elsa's eyes were bright. Brant next turned towards Martin, but that worthy shook his red head and stepped back a pace.
"Thank you kindly, master," he said, "but I will do without the prophecies, which, good or ill, are things that fasten upon a man's mind. Once an astrologer cast my nativity, and foretold that I should be drowned before I was twenty-five. I wasn't, but, my faith! the miles which I have walked round to bridges on account of that astrologer."
Brant smiled. "I have no foresight concerning you, good friend, except that I judge your arm will be always strong in battle; that you will love your masters well, and use your might to avenge the cause of God's slaughtered saints upon their murderers."
Martin nodded his head vigorously, and fumbled at the handle of the sword Silence, while Brant went on:
"Friend, you have entered on a dangerous quarrel on behalf of me and mine, and if you live through it you will have earned high pay."
Then he went to the table, and, taking writing materials, he wrote as follows: "To the Heer Dirk van Goorl and his heirs, the executors of my will, and the holders of my fortune, which is to be used as God shall show them. This is to certify that in payment of this night's work Martin, called the Red, the servant of the said Dirk van Goorl, or those heirs whom he may appoint, is entitled to a sum of five thousand florins, and I constitute such sum a first charge upon my estate, to whatever purpose they may put it in their discretion." This document he dated, signed, and caused the pilot Hans to sign also as a witness. Then he gave it to Martin, who thanked him by touching his forehead, remarking at the same time—
"After all, fighting is not a bad trade if you only stick to it long enough. Five thousand florins! I never thought to earn so much."
"You haven't got it yet," interrupted Foy. "And now, what are you going to do with that paper?"
Martin reflected. "Coat?" he said, "no, a man takes off his coat if it is hot, and it might be left behind. Boots?—no, that would wear it out, especially if they got wet. Jersey?—sewn next the skin, no, same reason. Ah! I have it," and, drawing out the great sword Silence, he took the point of his knife and began to turn a little silver screw in the hilt, one of many with which the handle of walrus ivory was fastened to its steel core. The screw came out, and he touched a spring, whereon one quarter of the ivory casing fell away, revealing a considerable hollow in the hilt, for, although Martin grasped it with one hand, the sword was made to be held by two.
"What is that hole for?" asked Foy.
"The executioner's drug," replied Martin, "which makes a man happy while he does his business with him, that is, if he can pay the fee. He offered his dose to me, I remember, before—" Here Martin stopped, and, having rolled up the parchment, hid it in the hollow.
"You might lose your sword," suggested Foy.
"Yes, master, when I lose my life and exchange the hope of florins for a golden crown," replied Martin with a grin. "Till then I do not intend to part with Silence."
Meanwhile Hendrik Brant had been whispering to the quiet man at the table, who now rose and said:
"Foster-brother, do not trouble about me; I take my chance and I do not wish to survive you. My wife is burnt, one of my girls out there is married to a man who knows how to protect them both, also the dowries you gave them are far away and safe. Do not trouble about me who have but one desire—to snatch the great treasure from the maw of the Spaniard that in a day to come it may bring doom upon the Spaniard." Then he relapsed into a silence, which spread over the whole company.
"It is time to be stirring," said Brant presently. "Hans, you will lead the way. I must bide here a while before I go abroad and show myself."
The pilot nodded. "Ready?" he asked, addressing Foy and Martin. Then he went to the door and whistled, whereon Red Bow with her pretended servant entered the vault. He spoke a word or two to them and kissed them each upon the brow. Next he went to Hendrik Brant, and throwing his arms about him, embraced him with far more passion than he had shown towards his own daughters.
"Farewell, foster-brother," he said, "till we meet again here or hereafter—it matters little which. Have no fear, we will get the stuff through to England if may be, or send it to hell with some Spaniards to seek it there. Now, comrades, come on and stick close to me, and if any try to stop us cut them down. When we reach the boat do you take the oars and row while I steer her. The girls come with us to the canal, arm-in-arm with the two of you. If anything happens to me either of them can steer you to the skiff called Swallow, but if naught happens we will put them ashore at the next wharf. Come," and he led the way from the cellar.
At the threshold Foy turned to look at Hendrik Brant. He was standing by the table, the light shining full upon his pale face and grizzled head, about which it seemed to cast a halo. Indeed, at that moment, wrapped in his long, dark cloak, his lips moving in prayer, and his arms uplifted to bless them as they went, he might well have been, not a man, but some vision of a saint come back to earth. The door closed and Foy never saw him again, for ere long the Inquisition seized him and a while afterwards he died beneath their cruel hands. One of the charges against him was, that more than twenty years before, he had been seen reading the Bible at Leyden by Black Meg, who appeared and gave the evidence. But they did not discover where his treasure was hidden away. To win an easier death, indeed, he made them a long confession that took them a still longer journey, but of the truth of the matter he knew nothing, and therefore could tell them nothing.
Now this scene, so strange and pathetic, ended at last, the five of them were in the darkness of the street. Here once more Foy and Red Bow clung to each other, and once more the arm of Martin was about the neck of her who seemed to be the serving-maid, while ahead, as though he were paid to show the way, went the pilot. Soon footsteps were heard, for folk were after them. They turned once, they turned twice, they reached the bank of a canal, and Hans, followed by Red Bow and her sister, descended some steps and climbed into a boat which lay there ready. Next came Martin, and, last of all, Foy. As he set foot upon the first step, a figure shot out of the gloom towards him, a knife gleamed in the air and a blow took him between the shoulders that sent him stumbling headlong, for he was balanced upon the edge of the step.
But Martin had heard and seen. He swung round and struck out with the sword Silence. The assassin was far from him, still the tip of the long steel reached the outstretched murderous hand, and from it fell a broken knife, while he who held it sped on with a screech of pain. Martin darted back and seized the knife, then he leapt into the boat and pushed off. At the bottom of it lay Foy, who had fallen straight into the arms of Red Bow, dragging her down with him.
"Are you hurt, master?" asked Martin.
"Not a bit," replied Foy, "but I am afraid the lady is. She went undermost."
"Mother's gifts are good gifts!" muttered Martin as he pulled him and the girl, whose breath had been knocked out of her, up to a seat. "You ought to have an eight-inch hole through you, but that knife broke upon the shirt. Look here," and he threw the handle of the dagger on to his knees and snatched at the sculls.
Foy examined it in the faint light, and there, still hooked above the guard, was a single severed finger, a long and skinny finger, to which the point of the sword Silence had played surgeon, and on it a gold ring. "This may be useful," thought Foy, as he slipped handle and finger into the pocket of his cloak.
Then they all took oars and rowed till presently they drew near a wharf.
"Now, daughters, make ready," said Hans, and the girls stood up. As they touched the wharf Red Bow bent down and kissed Foy.
"The rest were in play, this is in earnest," she said, "and for luck. Good-night, companion, and think of me sometimes."
"Good-night, companion," answered Foy, returning the kiss. Then she leapt ashore. They never met again.
"You know what to do, girls," said Hans; "do it, and in three days you should be safe in England, where, perhaps, I may meet you, though do not count on that. Whatever happens, keep honest, and remember me till we come together again, here or hereafter, but, most of all, remember your mother and your benefactor Hendrik Brant. Farewell."
"Farewell, father," they answered with a sob, and the boat drifted off down the dark canal, leaving the two of them alone upon the wharf. Afterwards Foy discovered that it was the short sister who walked with Martin that was married. Gallant little Red Bow married also, but later. Her husband was a cloth merchant in London, and her grandson became Lord Mayor of that city.
And now, having played their part in it, these two brave girls are out of the story.
SWORD SILENCE RECEIVES THE SECRET
For half an hour or more they glided down the canal unmolested and in silence. Now it ran into a broader waterway along which they slid towards the sea, keeping as much as possible under the shadow of one bank, for although the night was moonless a faint grey light lay upon the surface of the stream. At length Foy became aware that they were bumping against the sides of a long line of barges and river boats laden with timber and other goods. To one of these—it was the fourth—the pilot Hans made fast, tying their row-boat to her stern. Then he climbed to the deck, whispering to them to follow.
As they scrambled on board, two grey figures arose and Foy saw the flash of steel. Then Hans whistled like a plover, and, dropping their swords they came to him and fell into talk. Presently Hans left them, and, returning to Foy and Martin, said:
"Listen: we must lie here a while, for the wind is against us, and it would be too dangerous for us to try to row or pole so big a boat down to the sea and across the bar in the darkness, for most likely we should set her fast upon a shoal. Before dawn it will turn, and, if I read the sky aright, blow hard off land."
"What have the bargemen to say?" asked Foy.
"Only that for these four days they have been lying here forbidden to move, and that their craft are to be searched to-morrow by a party of soldiers, and the cargo taken out of them piecemeal."
"So," said Foy, "well, I hope that by then what they seek will be far away. Now show us this ship."
Then Hans took them down the hatchway, for the little vessel was decked, being in shape and size not unlike a modern Norfolk herring boat, though somewhat more slightly built. Then having lit a lantern, he showed them the cargo. On the top were bags of salt. Dragging one or two of these aside, Hans uncovered the heads of five barrels, each of them marked with the initial B in white paint.
"That is what men will die for before to-morrow night," he said.
"The treasure?" asked Foy.
He nodded. "These five, none of the others." Then still lower down he pointed out other barrels, eight of them, filled with the best gunpowder, and showed them too where the slow matches ran to the little cabin, the cook's galley, the tiller and the prow, by means of any one of which it could be fired. After this and such inspection of the ropes and sails as the light would allow, they sat in the cabin waiting till the wind should change, while the two watching men unmoored the vessel and made her sails ready for hoisting. An hour passed, and still the breeze blew from the sea, but in uncertain chopping gusts. Then it fell altogether.
"Pray God it comes soon," said Martin, "for the owner of that finger in your pocket will have laid the hounds on to our slot long ago, and, look! the east grows red."
The silent, hard-faced Hans leant forward and stared up the darkling water, his hand behind his ear.
"I hear them," he said presently.
"Who?" asked Foy.
"The Spaniards and the wind—both," he answered. "Come, up with the mainsail and pole her out to midstream."
So the three of them took hold of the tackle and ran aft with it, while the rings and booms creaked and rattled as the great canvas climbed the mast. Presently it was set, and after it the jib. Then, assisted by the two watchmen thrusting from another of the boats, they pushed the Swallow from her place in the line out into mid-stream. But all this made noise and took time, and now men appeared upon the bank, calling to know who dared to move the boats without leave. As no one gave them any answer, they fired a shot, and presently a beacon began to burn upon a neighbouring mound.
"Bad business," said Hans, shrugging his shoulders. "They are warning the Government ship at the harbour mouth. Duck, masters, duck; here comes the wind," and he sprang to the tiller as the boom swung over and the little vessel began to gather way.
"Yes," said Martin, "and here with it come the Spaniards."
Foy looked. Through the grey mist that was growing lighter every moment, for the dawn was breaking, he caught sight of a long boat with her canvas spread which was sweeping round the bend of the stream towards them and not much more than a quarter of a mile away.
"They had had to pole down stream in the dark, and that is why they have been so long in coming," said Hans over his shoulder.
"Well, they are here now at any rate," answered Foy, "and plenty of them," he added, as a shout from a score of throats told them that they were discovered.
But now the Swallow had begun to fly, making the water hiss upon either side of her bows.
"How far is it to the sea?" asked Foy.
"About three miles," Hans called back from the tiller. "With this wind we should be there in fifteen minutes. Master," he added presently, "bid your man light the fire in the galley."
"What for," asked Foy, "to cook breakfast?"
The pilot shrugged his shoulders and muttered, "Yes, if we live to eat it." But Foy saw that he was glancing at the slow-match by his side, and understood.
Ten minutes passed, and they had swept round the last bend and were in the stretch of open water which ran down to the sea. By now the light was strong, and in it they saw that the signal fire had not been lit in vain. At the mouth of the cutting, just where the bar began, the channel was narrowed in with earth to a width of not more than fifty paces, and on one bank of it stood a foot armed with culverins. Out of the little harbour of this fort a large open boat was being poled, and in it a dozen or fifteen soldiers were hastily arming themselves.
"What now?" cried Martin. "They are going to stop the mouth of the channel."
The hard-featured Hans set his teeth and made no answer. Only he looked backward at his pursuers and onward at those who barred the way. Presently he called aloud:
"Under hatches, both of you. They are going to fire from the fort," and he flung himself upon his back, steering with his uplifted arms.
Foy and Martin tumbled down the hatchway, for they could do no good on deck. Only Foy kept one eye above its level.
"Look out!" he said, and ducked.
As he spoke there was a puff of white smoke from the fort, followed by the scream of a shot which passed ahead of them. Then came another puff of smoke, and a hole appeared in their brown sail. After this the fort did not fire again, for the gunners found no time to load their pieces, only some soldiers who were armed with arquebuses began to shoot as the boat swept past within a few yards of them. Heedless of their bullets, Hans the pilot rose to his feet again, for such work as was before him could not be done by a man lying on his back. By now the large open boat from the fort was within two hundred yards of them, and, driven by the gathering pale, the Swallow rushed towards it with the speed of a dart. Foy and Martin crawled from the hatchway and lay down near the steersman under the shelter of the little bulwarks, watching the enemy's boat, which was in midstream just where the channel was narrowest, and on the hither side of the broken water of the bar.