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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lily Of Leyden - Chapter 7
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The Lily Of Leyden - Chapter 7 Post by :Larry Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1794

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The Lily Of Leyden - Chapter 7

CHAPTER SEVEN

Jaqueline had welcomed a third of her white-winged birds to her tower. The pigeon bore a letter dictated by Admiral Boisot, though she recognised the handwriting of Captain Van der Elst. It stated that the fleet led by an enormous vessel, the "Ark of Delft," with shot-proof bulwarks, and moved by paddle-wheels turned by a crank, had reached the Land-Scheiding, and that he hoped, ere long, the large dyke would be broken through and that the way would be opened to the very walls of the city. The Prince also sent a message urging the citizens yet longer to hold out, reminding them that with Leyden all Holland must also perish. This letter for a time greatly encouraged the suffering garrison; those who understood the nature of the undertaking were aware that much depended on the direction of the wind. An easterly gale was calculated to blow back the waters and prevent their rising, while one from the south or west would force them on towards the city. The wind was now blowing from the cast and the tides were at their lowest, so that the waters were making but slow progress. Still the loyal-hearted among the population, trusting to their Prince's promises, were assured that if it was in the power of human help they would in time be relieved. The "Glippers," however, who professed to know the country well, ridiculed the desperate project. Those in the town taunted their fellow-citizens, frequently crying out, "Go up to the tower and tell us if you can see the ocean coming over the dry land to our relief." Day after day they did go up, hoping, praying, fearing, and at last almost despairing of relief from God or man. Letters were also daily received from those with Valdez urging the inhabitants to spare themselves further suffering. Young Albert and Berthold had made themselves especially useful by going round the ramparts, not once or twice a day, but many times during the day and night, at all hours, so that they might not only see that the sentinels were keeping a vigilant watch, but that they might be able to discover treachery should any have been attempted. They had one evening gone to the top of Hengist's Tower, a spot they were especially fond of visiting at all hours of the day and night, when they saw the hitherto dark sky to the southward suddenly illumined by bright flashes of light following one another in rapid succession.

"Hark, I can hear the roar of guns," exclaimed Berthold. They listened, there was no doubt about it. The flashes continued, now fires blazed up in various directions. There was more firing, not always in the same place, the tide of battle was evidently moving on. The lads were at length joined by several citizens.

"The Sea Beggars are coming!" shouted Albert, unwittingly, "they are fighting their way towards us."

"We must not be too sanguine," observed one of the citizens. "There may be fighting taking place, but we cannot tell who is gaining the victory. It may be that the Spaniards are driving back our friends."

"I am very sure that they are not," cried Albert. "Admiral Boisot and his gallant followers are victorious--of that I am certain."

"Count Louis and his whole army were cut to pieces not long ago," remarked this citizen, in a melancholy tone. The mystery was not solved that night, and the whole of the next day went by without any information having been received of what had taken place.

The following night the two lads were passing along the top of the wall in the neighbourhood of the Cowgate, looking southward, when they caught sight of the figure of a person close below them who had suddenly come into view.

"Send me down a rope and be quick about it, or I may be caught by the Spaniards, for they are close upon me," he exclaimed.

"They will scarcely venture within range of our guns," said Berthold. "But we will haul you up as soon as we can get a rope."

"I know where to find one not far off," said Albert, and he hurried away, while Berthold summoned two or three of the guard to the assistance of the stranger. Albert quickly returned with a rope of sufficient length and strength. Scarcely was it lowered when the stranger hauled himself up with the agility of a monkey.

"Don't you remember me?" he said, looking at Berthold. "I am Hans Bosch, you know that you can trust me; I have accompanied Captain Van der Elst, and he will be up here before long. I have led the Spanish guard a pretty dance to draw off their attention, that he might the more easily pass by them. I don't think they are likely to have caught him, though if he does not appear soon I must go back again. I know part of his message, which I may give if he does not appear, but I hope that he will deliver it himself."

This news so greatly excited Berthold and Albert that they were much inclined to set out with Hans to look for their friend, but he advised them to do nothing of the sort.

"They might as well try to catch a Will-o'-the-Wisp as me," he said, "but they would trap you in a moment. No, no; if I go, I go alone."

At length, to their great joy, another figure was seen.

"Quick! quick! That's him!" exclaimed Hans. "That's the captain. Quick! quick! The chances are he has a dozen Spaniards at his heels!"

The rope was lowered, and the captain was quickly hauled up to to the top of the wall. He shook Albert and Berthold warmly by the hand.

"I must lose no time," he said, "in reporting to the burgomaster and commandant the steps the Prince has taken for the relief of the city. You are undoubtedly eager to hear, but I must reserve my report for your ciders."

The two lads hastened on with their friend, and fortunately found the burgomaster in consultation with the commandant. The boys stood eagerly listening while the captain delivered his message.

"You heard that the admiral had received directions from the Prince to take possession of the Land-Scheiding. This was done two nights ago. But a few Spaniards were found stationed on the dyke, and they were quickly driven off when we fortified ourselves upon it. In the morning the enemy endeavoured to recover the lost ground, and attacked us in considerable force, but we drove them back, they leaving hundreds of dead on the field. No time was lost in breaking through the dyke in several places. The water rushing on, the fleet sailed through the gaps; but, to our disappointment, we found another dyke, that of the Greenway, three quarters of a mile further on, rising at least a foot above the waters. This had also been left ill-protected, and our admiral promptly attacking it, took possession, and levelling it in many places, brought the flotilla over its ruins. Soon afterwards, however, the further progress of the fleet was arrested by the shallowness of the water; but our admiral, knowing the anxiety you must be feeling, dispatched me to inform you of this, and to assure you that he waits but the rising of the tide and a favourable wind to bring you succour."

The news was thus far satisfactory, and the captain was warmly thanked for bringing it, but that he received his reward when at the burgomaster's invitation he accompanied him home, there could be little doubt.

The wind, however, still blew from the east, and the inhabitants well knew that as long as it came from that quarter they must look in vain for the wished-for ocean to reach their walls.

Day after day the siege continued; the inhabitants were suffering not only from famine, but from pestilence, produced by the scantiness of their food. Hapless infants were starved to death, mothers dropped dead in the streets with their dead children in their arms, and in many a house the watchmen in their rounds found whole families of corpses, father, mother, and children, lying side by side, struck down by pestilence. Bread, malt cake, and horse-flesh had entirely disappeared. A small number of cows had been kept as long as possible for their milk, but a few of these were killed from day to day, and distributed in minute proportions, scarcely, however, sufficient to support life among the famishing population, while their hides chopped and boiled were greedily devoured. Green leaves were stripped from the trees, every living herb was converted into human food; dogs and rats were caught and eaten. Still, although papers offering a free pardon were sent into the city, the inhabitants spurned them, and refused to listen to treacherous promises of the foe.

The commandant was anxious to send a trusty messenger to the Prince, and while pointing out the urgent necessity for relief, promising to resist to the last.

"Will you return, Captain Van der Elst?" he asked of Karl, who was in attendance on him. "I dare not order any man on so desperate an undertaking, for the Spaniards keep a vigilant watch, and will have no mercy on any one whom they capture."

"If it were to certain death, I would go," answered Karl. "And I place my services at your disposal. At the same time the danger is not so great as you suppose. Several of the forts in the lower ground have been flooded, and the trenches filled with water, so that the Spaniards have been compelled to evacuate them, and thus to those who are acquainted with their position the way is far more open than it has been heretofore, while numerous sentries at the outposts have been withdrawn."

"To-night be prepared to set out; a skiff shall be in readiness having served at sea, you know well how to manage her," answered the commandant.

Karl took his leave, and repaired to the house of the burgomaster to receive any message he might desire to send. He might have had another motive. He found the chief magistrate and his daughter seated alone. Though suffering from the severe privation she had undergone in common with the rest of the population, if possible the Lily looked more lovely than ever. She smiled as the young soldier entered, but her lip trembled on hearing of the duty he had undertaken, yet not a word did she utter to dissuade him from it.

"My prayers will be offered that Heaven protect you," she murmured, in a low voice as he approached her, while the burgomaster was writing some brief notes.

"I trust that I may return, perhaps ere many hours are over, on board the fleet to bring you succour," he answered. "You will know of our approach, for our guns will thunder against the fortresses of the enemy when the waters rise sufficiently to enable us to advance."

"The wind still blows from the cast and keeps back the fleet," she observed.

"But the wind may ere long change, and depend upon it our brave admiral and his 'Sea Beggars' will not linger the moment there is sufficient water to float their ships," said Karl, in an encouraging tone. When her eyes were lifted towards his countenance, their expression was very different to that with which she had regarded the baron. With natural reluctance Karl, having received his dispatches, at length rose to take leave and prepare for his enterprise. As there were traitors within the gates he kept all his arrangements secret. They were known only to his two young friends and Hans Bosch, who undertook to accompany him. Not till late on the following day was it even known that he had set out when the burgomaster announced that he had despatched another messenger to entreat their friends to hasten to their relief. Desperate as had been the state of matters in the besieged city, they hourly became worse. Leyden, indeed, appeared to be at its last gasp. The noble burgomaster maintained his heroic bearing, ever moving about to encourage the wavering and to revive the drooping spirits of the loyal; but a trial greater than any he had yet had to endure was in store for him.

Jaqueline had from the first employed herself in going among the sick and suffering, and carrying such relief as she was able to afford, and consoling the afflicted ones from that Book in which true comfort alone can be found. In these active duties she found her chief solace. Not only was she enduring physical suffering! but no certain tidings had been received of Captain Van der Elst, and reports were current that he had been captured by the Spaniards, it being well known that if such was the case a cruel death must have been his fate. One evening the Lily was returning to her home from one of her expeditions of mercy, attended by Margaret, an old and faithful servant, who was her constant companion. As darkness was already overspreading the city, she hurried on, unwilling to be out so late at night, when she was accosted by a poor woman, who, with a piteous tale, too likely to be true, entreated that she would visit her perishing family. Without hesitation she desired Margaret to return home and obtain such scanty provisions as remained, while she accompanied the suppliant. Margaret, having collected a small amount of food, hurried back to rejoin her mistress at the address given by the woman who had spoken to her, but no living beings were in the house; three corpses alone lay on the floor. Margaret, without a moment's loss of time, went to all the neighbouring houses, inquiring for the Vrouw Jaqueline, but no one had seen her. Almost frantic she hurried through the streets of the city, but her search was fruitless. At last she went back with the overwhelming intelligence, which she entreated Berthold to break to his uncle. The burgomaster, who had hitherto held out so bravely, for a moment seemed stunned, but quickly recovering himself he directed Berthold to send all the servants of the house to him, but no one was able to afford the slightest information to account for Jaqueline's disappearance.

"I would lay my life that the Baron Van Arenberg has had something to do with it," exclaimed Berthold. "If you will let me I will get Albert and we will go to his house. We shall soon judge by the way he receives the intelligence whether he knows anything about the matter." Berthold received the leave he requested, while the burgomaster himself forthwith sent a band of watchmen round in all directions through the town in search of Jaqueline, while he called at numerous houses and visited all the friends on whom he could rely to obtain their assistance in the search. The first to make their appearance at his house were Albert and Berthold.

"We were right," they exclaimed. "The baron's servants know nothing of him; he left home at an early hour this afternoon, and has not since returned. Most of his domestics, who were 'Glippers,' have long ago made their escape. The watchmen in the course of the night came in with equally unsatisfactory reports--not a trace of the Vrouw Jaqueline had been discovered."

"May God protect my child," exclaimed the burgomaster, bowing his head. "She is beyond human aid."

No one would have believed from his appearance the next morning, when he left his home to attend to his magisterial duties, that a deep domestic sorrow had overtaken him. He started as he quitted his door, for there, on the very threshold, lay a dead body, thus placed as if to reproach him for his stern determination in holding out.

"We shall all soon be like him who lies there," cried many voices.

"It were better to have yielded than have been compelled to endure such suffering," shouted others.

Unheeding them, the burgomaster proceeded to a triangular space in the centre of the town, into which many of the principal streets opened, and in which stood the church of Saint Pancras, two ancient lime trees growing on either side of the entrance now stripped bare of leaves by the famishing people. Ascending the steps, Adrian Van der Werf stopped while he regarded the numberless angry faces turned towards him. For a moment he stood there, his figure tall and imposing, his visage dark and haggard, his eye yet tranquil and commanding, and then waving his broad-brimmed hat for silence, he exclaimed, "What would you, my friends? Why do you murmur that we do not break our vows and surrender our city to the Spaniards, a fate more horrible than the agony which she now endures? I tell you I have made a vow to hold the city, and may God give me strength to keep it. I can die but once, whether by your hands, by the enemy's, or by the hand of God. My own fate is indifferent to me, not so that of the city entrusted to our care. I know that we shall soon starve, but starvation is preferable to the dishonoured death which is the only alternative. Your menaces move me not. My life is at your disposal. Here is my sword, plunge it into my breast and divide my flesh among you, take my body to appease your hunger, but expect no surrender as long as I remain alive."

The words of the brave burgomaster inspired a new courage in the hearts of those who heard him. Shouts of applause and defiance rose from the famishing, but enthusiastic crowd, they hurried to the ramparts to hurl renewed defiance at the enemy.

"Ye call us rat-eaters and dog-eaters," they cried; "so long as ye hear a dog bark or a cat mew within the walls ye may know that the city holds out; when the last hour has come, we will with our own hands set fire to the houses and perish in the flames rather than suffer our homes to be polluted and our liberties to be crushed."

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