By Pike and Dyke: A Tale of the Rise of the Dutch Republic
Part 3 out of 7
"Would you kindly instruct me, sir, in the duties that I have to
"There are no duties whatever," the count said with a smile. "There
is no state or ceremony here. The prince lives like a private
citizen, and all that you have to do is to behave discreetly, to
present yourself at the hours of meals, and to be in readiness to
perform any service with which the prince may intrust you; although
for what service he destines you, I own that I am in ignorance.
But," he said more gravely, "the prince is not a man to cumber
himself with persons who are useless to him, nor to keep about his
person any save those upon whose fidelity he is convinced that he
can rely. Therefore I doubt not that he will find work for you to
do, for indeed there is but little ease and quiet for those who
serve him. This afternoon I will find for you an apartment, and I
may tell you that although you will have at present no duties to
perform, and need not therefore keep in close attendance, it were
better that you should never be very long absent; for when the
prince wants a thing done he wants it done speedily, and values
most those upon whom he can rely at all times of the night and day.
Return here at noon, and I will then present you to the gentlemen
and officers with whom you will associate."
On leaving the chamberlain Ned walked for some time through the
streets of Rotterdam. He scarcely noticed where he went, so full
were his thoughts of the reception that he had met with, and the
more than realization of his hopes. The charm of manner, as well
as the real kindness of the prince, had completely captivated him,
as indeed they did all who came in contact with him, and he felt
that no dangers he could run, no efforts he could make would be too
great if he could but win the approbation of so kind a master. He
presented himself to the chamberlain at the hour named, and the
latter took him to a large hall in which many officers and gentlemen
were about to sit down to dinner, and introduced Ned to them as
the son of the English captain who had so bravely beaten off the
Don Pedro, and whom the Prince of Orange had received into his
household in the quality of a gentleman volunteer.
Ned was well received, both on his own account and from the goodwill
that was entertained towards England. Although personally the Prince
of Orange kept up no state and lived most simply and quietly, he
still maintained an extensive household, and extended a generous
hospitality more suited to his past wealth than to his present
necessities. He had the habits of a great noble; and although
pressed on all sides for money, and sometimes driven to make what
he considered great economies in his establishment, his house was
always open to his friends and adherents.
Certainly in the meal to which he sat down Ned saw little signs of
economy. There was but little silver plate on the table, for the
prince's jewels and plate had been pledged years before for the
payment of the German mercenaries; but there was an abundance of
food of all kinds, generous wine in profusion, and the guests were
served by numerous pages and attendants.
On the following day the prince rode to Haarlem accompanied by his
household and a hundred horsemen, for at Haarlem he had summoned
a meeting of the representatives of the states that still remained
faithful to him. As soon as they were settled in the quarters
assigned to them Ned sallied out to make inquiries concerning the
relatives with whom his aunt and cousins had taken refuge. As he
knew her maiden name he had no great difficulty in learning the
part of the town in which her father dwelt, and knowing that the
prince would at any rate for the rest of the day be wholly absorbed
in important business, made his way thither, introducing himself
to the burgher.
"Ah!" the latter said, "I have often heard my daughter speak of
her sister-in-law who had married and settled in England. So you
are her son? Well, you will find her house in the street that runs
along by the city wall, near the Watergate. It was well that she
happened to be laid up with illness at the time Alva's ruffians
seized and murdered her husband and his family. She was well nigh
distraught for a time, and well she might be; though, indeed, her
lot is but that of tens of thousands of others in this unhappy
country. I would gladly have welcomed her here, but I have another
married daughter who lives with me and keeps my house for me, and
as she has half a dozen children the house is well nigh full. And
Elizabeth longed for quiet in her sorrow, so I established her in
the little house I tell you of. I have been going to write to your
father, but have put it off from time to time, for one has so much
to think of in these days that one has no time for private matters.
She tells me that her husband and his brothers had, foreseeing the
evil times coming, sent money to England to his care, and that it
has been invested in houses in London."
"I believe that is so," Ned replied; "and my father, who is at
present lying sorely wounded at Enkhuizen, will, I am sure, now
that he knows where my aunt is, communicate with her by letter on
the subject. I will give you his address at Enkhuizen, and as it
is but a short journey from here you might perhaps find time to go
over and see him, when he will be able to talk freely with you on
the subject. Now, with your permission I will go and see my aunt."
Ned had no difficulty in finding the house indicated. He knocked
at the door, and it was opened by his aunt herself. She looked up
for a moment inquiringly, and then exclaimed:
"Why, it is my nephew, Edward Martin! It is nearly two years since
I saw you last, and so much has happened since;" and she burst into
Ned followed her into the house, where he was warmly welcomed by
his two cousins -- girls of fourteen and fifteen years old. He had
first to explain how it was that he had come to Haarlem, and they
were grieved indeed to hear what had happened to Captain Martin,
who was a great favourite with them.
"And so you have entered the service of the Prince of Orange?"
his aunt said when he had finished his story. "Truly I wonder that
your father and mother have allowed you to embark in so hopeless
"Not hopeless," Ned said. "Things look dark at present, but either
England or France may come to our help. At any rate, aunt, if the
Spanish army again sweeps over Holland and Zeeland surely you,
with two girls, will not await its approach. You have friends in
England. My father and mother will be only too glad to have you
with them till you can make yourself a home close by. And there
are the moneys sent over that will enable you to live in comfort.
It will not be like going among strangers. There is quite a colony
of emigrants from the Netherlands already in London. You will find
plenty who can speak your language."
"All my family are here," she replied; "my father, and brothers,
and sisters. I could never be happy elsewhere."
"Yes, aunt, I can understand that. But if the Spaniards come, how
many of your family may be alive here a week afterwards?"
The woman threw up her hands in a gesture of despair.
"Well, we must hope for the best, aunt; but I would urge you most
strongly if you hear that a Spanish army is approaching to fly to
England if there be an opportunity open to you, or if not to leave
the city and go to some town or village as far from here as possible."
"Haarlem is strong, and can stand a stout siege," the woman said
"I have no doubt it can, aunt. But the Spaniards are good engineers,
and unless the Prince of Orange is strong enough to march to its
succour, sooner or later it must fall; and you know what happens
"Why should they come here more than elsewhere? There are many
other towns that lie nearer to them."
"That is so, aunt. But from the walls you can see the towers and
spires of Amsterdam, and that city serves them as a gathering place
in the heart of the country whence they may strike blows all round;
and, therefore, as you lie so close, one of the first blows may
be struck here. Besides, if they take Haarlem, they cut the long
strip of land that almost alone remains faithful to the prince
asunder. Well, aunt, please think it over. If you doubt my words
write to my mother at Enkhuizen. I warrant she will tell you how
gladly she will receive you in England, and how well you may make
yourself a home there. I do not know how long I am to be staying
here, and I have to be in close attendance on the prince in case he
may suddenly have occasion for my services, but I will come down
every day for a talk with you; and I do hope that for the sake
of my cousins, if not for your own, you will decide to leave this
troubled land for a time, and to take refuge in England, where none
will interfere with your religion, and where you can live free from
the Spaniard's cruel bigotry."
Ned remained for a fortnight without any particular duties. When
the prince was closeted with persons of importance, and he knew
that there was no chance of his being required, he spent much of
his time at his aunt's. He was beginning to feel weary of hanging
about the prince's antechamber doing nothing, when one day a page
came up to him and told him that the prince required his presence.
He followed the boy to the prince's cabinet, full of hope that he
was to have an opportunity of proving that he was in earnest in
his offers of service to the cause of Holland.
"I daresay you began to think that I had forgotten you," the prince
began when the page had retired and the curtain had fallen behind
him, "but it is not so. Until today I have had no occasion for your
services, but have now a mission to intrust to you. I have letters
that I wish carried to Brussels and delivered to some of my friends
there. You had best start at once in the disguise of a peasant boy.
You must sew up your despatches in your jerkin, and remember that
if they are found upon you a cruel death will surely be your fate.
If you safely carry out your mission in Brussels return with the
answers you will receive by such route as may seem best to you;
for this must depend upon the movements of the Spaniards. The
chamberlain will furnish you with what money you may require."
"Thanks, your excellency, I am provided with sufficient means for
such a journey."
"I need not tell you, my lad, to be careful and prudent. Remember,
not only is your own life at stake, but that the interest of the
country will suffer, and the lives of many will be forfeited should
you fail in your mission. You will see that there are no names upon
these letters; only a small private mark, differing in each case,
by which you can distinguish them. Here is a paper which is a key
to those marks. You must, before you start, learn by heart the
names of those for whom the various letters are intended. In this
way, should the letters fall into the hands of the Spaniards, they
will have no clue as to the names of those to whom they are addressed.
"This paper, on which is written 'To the Blue Cap in the South
Corner of the Market Square of Brussels,' is intended to inclose
all the other letters, and when you have learned the marks Count
Nieuwenar will fasten them up in it and seal it with my seal.
The object of doing this is, that should you be captured, you can
state that your instructions from me are to deliver the packet to
a man with a blue cap, who will meet you at the south corner of
the Market Square at Brussels, and, touching you on the shoulder,
ask 'How blows the wind in Holland?' These are the instructions I
now give you. If such a man comes to you you will deliver the packet
to him, if not you will open it and deliver the letters. But this
last does not form part of your instructions.
"This device will not save your life if you are taken, but it
may save you from torture and others from death. For were these
unaddressed letters found upon you, you would be put to such cruel
tortures that flesh and blood could not withstand them, and the
names of those for whom these letters are intended would be wrung
from you; but inclosed as they are to Master Blue Cap, it may be
believed that you are merely a messenger whose instructions extend
no further than the handing over the parcel to a friend of mine
in Brussels. Now, you have no time to lose. You have your disguise
to get, and these signs and the names they represent to commit
to heart. A horse will be ready in two hours time to take you to
Rotterdam, whence you will proceed in a coasting vessel to Sluys
At the time named Ned was in readiness. He was dressed now as a young
Flemish peasant. He had left the chest with his clothes, together
with his armour and weapons, in the care of his aunt's father, for
he hoped that before his return she would have left the town. He
could not, however, obtain any promise that she would do so. Her
argument was, if other women could stay in Haarlem why should she
not do the same. Her friends and family were there; and although,
if the Spaniards were to besiege the town, she might decide to quit
it, she could not bring herself to go into exile, unless indeed
all Holland was conquered and all hope gone.
Ned carried a stout stick; which was a more formidable weapon than
it looked, for the knob was loaded with lead. He hesitated about
taking pistols; for if at any time he were searched and such weapons
found upon him the discovery might prove fatal, for a peasant boy
certainly would not be carrying weapons that were at that time
costly and comparatively rare. His despatches were sewn up in the
lining of his coat, and his money, beyond that required for the
present use, hidden in his big boots. A country horse with rough
trappings, such as a small farmer might ride, was in readiness, and
mounting this he rode to Rotterdam, some thirty-five miles distant,
and there put it up at a small inn, where he had been charged to
He then walked down to the river and inquired about boats sailing
for the ports of Sluys or Axel. He was not long in discovering
one that would start the next day for the latter place, and after
bargaining with the master for a passage returned to the inn. The
next morning he set sail soon after daybreak. There were but three
or four other passengers, and Ned was not long before he established
himself on friendly terms with the master and the four men that
constituted the crew.
"I wonder," he said presently to the master, "that trade still goes
on between the towns of Holland and those in the provinces that
hold to Alva."
"The citizens of those towns are greatly divided in their opinions,"
the captain said. "Many would gladly rise if they had the chance,
but they lie too close to the Spanish power to venture to do so.
Still they are friendly enough to us; and as they have need of our
goods and we of theirs, no one hinders traffic or interferes with
those who come and go. Most of these towns have but small Spanish
garrisons, and these concern themselves not with anything that
goes on beyond maintaining the place for Spain. It is the Catholic
magistrates appointed by Alva who manage the affairs of the towns,
and as these are themselves mostly merchants and traders their
interests lie in keeping the ports open and encouraging trade,
so we come and go unquestioned. The Spaniards have enough on their
hands already without causing discontent by restricting trade.
Besides, the duke. affects to consider the rising in Holland
and Zeeland as a trifling rebellion which he can suppress without
difficulty, and it would be giving too much importance to the
movement were he to close all the ports and forbid communication."
"Will you go outside or inside Walcheren?"
"Outside," the captain replied. "It is the longest way, but the
safest. The Spaniards hold Middleburg and Tergoes, and have lately
defeated the force from Flushing that endeavoured to capture
Tergoes. There are many of our craft and some of the Spaniards in
the passages, and fighting often takes place. It is better to avoid
risks of trouble, although it may be a few leagues further round
by Walcheren. I am ready to take my share of the fighting when it
is needful, and aid in carrying the troops across from Flushing
and back, but when I have goods in my hold I like to keep as well
away from it as may be."
They cast anchor off Flushing, for the wind was now foul, but when
tide turned they again got under way and beat up the channel to
Axel. No questions were asked as they drew up alongside the wharves.
Ned at once stepped ashore and made his way to a small inn, chiefly
frequented by sailors, near the jetty. The shades of night were
just falling as they arrived, and he thought it were better not
to attempt to proceed further until the following morning. He had
been several times at Axel in the Good Venture, and was familiar
with the town. The population was a mixed one, for although situated
in Brabant, Axel had so much communication with the opposite shores
of Holland that a considerable portion of the population had imbibed
something of the spirit that animated their neighbours, and would,
if opportunity offered, have gladly thrown off the authority of
the officials appointed by the Spaniards.
Ned knew that as a stranger he should be viewed with great suspicion
by the frequenters of the little inn, for the spy system was carried
to such an extent that people were afraid to utter their sentiments
even in the bosom of their own families. He therefore walked about
until it was time to retire to rest, and in that way escaped alike
the suspicions and questionings he might otherwise have encountered.
He could easily have satisfied them as to the past -- he had just
arrived in the coasting smack the Hopeful from Rotterdam, and the
master of the craft could, if questioned, corroborate his statement
-- but it would not be so easy to satisfy questioners as to the
object of his coming. Why should a lad from Holland want to come
to Brabant? Every one knew that work was far more plentiful in
the place he had come from than in the states under the Spaniards,
where the cultivators scarce dare sow crops sufficient for their
own consumption, so extensive was the pillaging carried on by the
These, always greatly in arrears of pay, did not hesitate to take
all they required from the unfortunate inhabitants; and the latter
knew that resistance or complaint was alike useless, for the
soldiers were always on the verge of mutiny. Their officers had
little control over them; and Alva himself was always short of
money, and being unable to pay his troops was obliged to allow them
to maintain themselves upon the country.
As soon as the gates were open in the morning Ned made his way
to that through which the road to Brussels ran. The four or five
Spanish soldiers at the gate asked no questions, and Ned passed
on with a brisk step. He had gone about three miles when he heard
sounds of horses' hoofs behind him, and presently two men came
along. One was, by his appearance, a person of some importance,
the other he took to be his clerk. Ned doffed his hat as the horse
"Where are you going lad?" the elder of the two men asked.
"I am going, worshipful sir, to see some friends who live at the
village of Deligen, near Brussels."
"These are evil times for travelling. Your tongue shows that you
come not from Brabant."
"No, sir, my relations lived at Vordwyk, hard by Amsterdam."
"Amsterdam is a faithful city; although there, as elsewhere, there
are men who are traitors to their king and false to their faith.
You are not one of them, I hope?"
"I do not know," Ned said, "that I am bound to answer questions of
any that ride by the highway, unless I know that they have right
and authority to question me."
"I have right and authority," the man said angrily. "My name is
Philip Von Aert, and I am one of the council charged by the viceroy
to investigate into these matters."
Ned again doffed his hat. "I know your name, worshipful sir, as
that of one who is foremost in searching out heretics. There are
few in the land, even ignorant country boys like myself, who have
not heard it."
The councillor looked gratified. "Ah! you have heard me well spoken
of?" he said.
"I have heard you spoken of, sir, well or ill, according to the
sentiments of those who spoke."
"And why have you left Amsterdam to journey so far from home? This
is a time when all men must be looked upon with suspicion until
they prove themselves to be good Catholics and faithful subjects of
the king, and even a boy like you may be engaged upon treasonable
business. I ask you again, why are you leaving your family at
"Misfortunes have fallen upon them," Ned replied, "and they can no
longer maintain me."
"Misfortunes, ah! and of what kind?"
"Their business no longer brings them in profit," Ned replied.
"They lived, as I told your worship, not in the town itself, but in
a village near it, and in these troubled times trade is well nigh
at a standstill, and there is want at many a man's door."
"I shall stop for the night at Antwerp, where I have business to
do; see when you arrive there that you call upon me. I must have
further talk with you, for your answers do not satisfy me."
Ned bowed low.
"Very well, see that you fail not, or it will be the worse for you."
So saying Von Aert put spurs to his horse, which had been walking
alongside Ned as he conversed, and rode forward at a gallop.
IN THE HANDS OF THE BLOOD COUNCIL
"You are an evil looking pair of scoundrels," Ned said to himself
as he looked after the retreating figures of the two men. "The
master I truly know by name as one of the worst instruments of the
tyrant; as to the man, knave is written on his face. He is as thin
as a scarecrow -- he has a villainous squint and an evil smile
on his face. If I had been bent on any other errand I would have
given very different answers, and taken my chance of holding my own
with this good stick of mine. At any rate I told them no absolute
lies. The councillor will not have a chance of asking me any more
questions this evening, and I only hope that he will be too busy
to think any more about it. I will take the road through Ghent; it
matters little which way I go, for the two roads seem to me to be
of nearly equal distance."
He therefore at once left the road he was following, and struck
across the fields northward until he came upon the road to Ghent,
at which town he arrived soon after noon, having walked two or
three and twenty miles. Fearing to be questioned he passed through
the town without stopping, crossed the Scheldt and continued his way
for another five miles, when he stopped at the village of Gontere.
He entered a small inn.
"I wish to stop here for the night," he said, "if you have room?"
"Room enough and to spare," the host replied. "There is no scarcity
of rooms, though there is of good fare; a party of soldiers from
Ghent paid a visit to us yesterday, and have scarce left a thing
to eat in the village. However, I suppose we ought to feel thankful
that they did not take our lives also."
"Peter," a shrill voice cried from inside the house, "how often have
I told you not to be gossiping on public affairs with strangers?
Your tongue will cost you your head presently, as I have told you
a score of times."
"Near a hundred I should say, wife," the innkeeper replied. "I am
speaking no treason, but am only explaining why our larder is empty,
save some black bread, and some pig's flesh we bought an hour ago;
besides, this youth is scarce likely to be one of the duke's spies."
"There you are again," the woman cried angrily. "You want to leave
me a widow, and your children fatherless, Peter Grantz. Was a woman
ever tormented with such a man?"
"I am not so sure that it is not the other way," the man grumbled
in an undertone. "Why, wife," he went on, raising his voice, "who
is there to say anything against us. Don't I go regularly to mass,
and send our good priest a fine fish or the best cut off the joint
two or three times a week? What can I do more? Anyone would think
to hear you talk that I was a heretic."
"I think you are more fool than heretic," his wife said angrily;
"and that is the best hope for us. But come in, boy, and sit down;
my husband will keep you gossiping at the door for the next hour
if you would listen to him."
"I shall not be sorry to sit down, mistress," Ned said entering
the low roofed room. "I have walked from Axel since morning."
"That is a good long walk truly;" the woman said. "Are you going
on to Brussels? If so, your nearest way would have been by Antwerp."
"I took the wrong road," Ned said; "and as they told me that there
was but a mile or two difference between them, I thought I might
as well keep on the one I had first taken."
"You are from Holland, are you not, by your speech?" the woman
"Yes; I have come from Holland," Ned replied.
"And is it true what they say, that the people there have thrown
off the authority of the duke, and are going to venture themselves
against all the strength of Spain?"
"Some have risen and some have not," Ned replied. "None can say
what will come of it."
"You had best not say much about your coming from Holland," the
woman said; "for they say that well nigh all from that province are
heretics, and to be even suspected of being a heretic in Brabant
is enough to cost anyone his life."
"I am not one to talk," Ned replied; "but I thank you for your
caution, mistress. I have been questioned already by Philip Von
Aert, and he said he would see me again; but in truth I have no
intention of further intruding on him."
"He is one of the Council of Blood," the woman said, dropping her
voice and looking round anxiously; "and one of the most cruel of
them. Beware, my lad, how you fall into his hands, for be assured
he will show you no mercy, if he has reason to suspect, but in
the slightest, that you are not a good Catholic and loyal to the
Spaniards. Rich or poor, gentle or simple, woman or child, it is
nought to him. There is no mercy for heretics, whomsoever they may
be; and unless you can satisfy him thoroughly your best plan is to
go back at once to Axel, and to cross to Holland. You do not know
what they are. There are spies in every town and village, and were
it known what I have said to you now, little though that be, it
would go hard with me. Women have been burned or strangled for far
"I will be careful," Ned said. "I have business which takes me to
Brussels, but when that is discharged I shall betake me back to
Holland as soon as I can."
By this time the woman, who had been standing over the fire while
she was talking, had roasted two or three slices of pork, and these,
with a piece of black bread and a jug of ale, she placed before
Her husband, who had been standing at the door, now came in.
"You are no wiser than I am, wife, with all your scolding. I have
been listening to your talk; you have scolded me whenever I open
my lips, and there you yourself say things ten times as dangerous."
"I say them inside the house, Peter Grantz," she retorted, "and
don't stand talking at the door so that all the village may hear
me. The lad is honest, as I can see by his face, and if I could do
aught for him I would do so."
"I should be glad if you could tell me of some little place where
I could put up in Brussels; some place where I could stay while
looking out for work, without anyone troubling themselves as
to whence I came or where I am going, or what are my views as to
religion or politics."
"That were a difficult matter," the woman replied. "It is not that
the landlords care what party those who visit their house belong
to, but that for aught they know there may be spies in their own
household; and in these days it is dangerous even to give shelter
to one of the new religion. Therefore, although landlords may care
nothing who frequent their houses, they are in a way forced to
do so lest they themselves should be denounced as harbourers of
heretics. Brussels has a strong party opposed to the duke; for you
know that it is not those of the new religion only who would gladly
see the last of the Spaniards. There are but few heretics in Brabant
now, the Inquisition and the Council of Blood have made an end of
most, others have fled either to France, or England, or Holland,
some have outwardly conformed to the rites of the Church, and
there are few indeed who remain openly separated from her, though
in their hearts they may remain heretics as before.
"Still there are great numbers who long to see the old Constitution
restored -- to see persecution abolished, the German and Spanish
troops sent packing, and to be ruled by our own laws under the
viceroy of the King of Spain. Therefore in Brussels you are not
likely to be very closely questioned. There are great numbers of
officials, a small garrison, and a good many spies; all of these
are for the duke, the rest of the population would rise tomorrow
did they see a chance of success. I should say that you are more
likely, being a stranger, of being suspected of being a spy than
of being a heretic -- that is if you are one, which I do not ask
and do not want to know. The people of Brussels are not given to
tumults as are those of Antwerp and Ghent, but are a quiet people
going their own way. Being the capital there are more strangers
resort there than to other places, and therefore people come and go
without inquiry; still were I you I would, if you have any good
reason for avoiding notice, prefer to lodge outside the city,
entering the gates of a morning, doing what business you may have
during the day, and leaving again before sunset. That way you would
altogether avoid questionings, and will attract no more attention
than other country people going in to sell their goods."
"Thank you, I will follow your advice," Ned said. "I have no wish
to get into trouble, and being a stranger there I should have
difficulty in proving that my story is a true one were I questioned."
The next morning Ned set out at daybreak, and arrived at Brussels
early in the afternoon. He had determined to adopt the advice given
him the evening before; and also that he would not endeavour to
get a lodging in any of the villages.
"It will not take me more than a day, or at most two days, to
deliver my letters," he thought to himself, "and there will be no
hardship in sleeping in the fields or under a tree for a couple of
nights. In that way I shall escape all notice, for people talk in
villages even more than they do in towns." He had decided that he
would not that day endeavour to deliver any of the letters, but
would content himself with walking about the town and learning
the names of the streets, so that he could set about delivering
the letters without the necessity for asking many questions. When
within half a mile of the town he left the road, and cutting open
the lining of his jerkin took out the letters. Then he cut up a
square piece of turf with his knife, scooped out a little earth,
inserted the packet of letters, and then stamped down the sod
above it. In another hole close to it he buried the money hidden in
his boot, and then returning to the road walked on into Brussels,
feeling much more comfortable now that he had for a time got rid of
documents that would cost him his life, were they found upon him.
Passing through the gates, he wandered about for some hours through
the streets, interested in the stir and bustle that prevailed.
Mingled with the grave citizens were Spanish and German soldiers,
nobles with their trains of pages and followers, deputies from other
towns of Brabant and Artois, monks and priests, country people who
had brought in their produce, councillors and statesmen, Spanish
nobles and whining mendicants. He learnt the names of many of the
streets, and marked the houses of those for whom he had letters.
Some of these were nobles, others citizens of Brussels. He bought
some bread and cheese in the marketplace, and ate them sitting
on a doorstep; and having tied some food in a bundle to serve for
supper, he left the town well satisfied with his discoveries.
He slept under the shelter of a haystack, and in the morning dug up
the packet, sewed it up in its hiding place again, and re-entered
the city as soon as the gates were opened, going in with a number
of market people who had congregated there awaiting the opening of
the gates. In a very short time the shops were all opened; for if
the people went to bed early, they were also astir early in those
days. He went first towards the house of one of the burghers, and
watched until he saw the man himself appear at the doorway of his
shop; then he walked across the street.
"The weather is clear," he said, "but the sun is nigh hidden with
The burgher gave a slight start; then Ned went on:
"I have brought you tidings from the farm."
"Come in," the burgher said in loud tones, so that he could be
heard by his two assistants in the shop. "My wife will be glad to
hear tidings of her old nurse, who was ill when she last heard from
her. You can reassure her in that respect, I hope?"
"Yes, she is mending fast," Ned replied, as he followed the burgher
through the shop.
The man led the way upstairs, and then into a small sitting room.
He closed the door behind him.
"Now," he asked, "what message do you bring from Holland?"
"I bring a letter," Ned replied; and taking out his knife again
he cut the threads of the lining and produced the packet. The silk
that bound it, and which was fastened by the prince's seal, was
so arranged that it could be slipped off, and so enable the packet
to be opened without breaking the seal. Ned took out the letters;
and after examining the marks on the corners, handed one to the
burgher. The latter opened and read the contents.
"I am told," he said when he had finished, "not to give you an
answer in writing, but to deliver it by word of mouth. Tell the
prince that I have sounded many of my guild, and that certainly
the greater part of the weavers will rise and join in expelling
the Spaniards whenever a general rising has been determined upon;
and it is certain that all the other chief towns will join in the
movement. Unless it is general, I fear that nothing can be done.
So great is the consternation that has been caused by the sack of
Mechlin, the slaughter of thousands of the citizens, and the horrible
atrocities upon the women, that no city alone will dare to provoke
the vengeance of Alva. All must rise or none will do so. I am convinced
that Brussels will do her part, if others do theirs; although, as
the capital, it is upon her the first brunt of the Spanish attack
will fall. In regard to money, tell him that at present none can
be collected. In the first place, we are all well nigh ruined by
the exactions of the Spanish; and in the next, however well disposed
we may be, there are few who would commit themselves by subscribing
for the cause until the revolt is general and successful. Then, I
doubt not, that the councillors would vote as large a subsidy as
the city could afford to pay. Four at least of the members of the
council of our guild can be thoroughly relied upon, and the prince
can safely communicate with them. These are Gunther, Barneveldt,
Hasselaer, and Buys."
"Please, repeat them again," Ned said, "in order that I may be sure
to remember them rightly."
"As to general toleration," the burgher went on, after repeating the
names, "in matters of religion, although there are many differences
of opinion, I think that the prince's commands on this head will
be complied with, and that it would be agreed that Lutherans,
Calvinists, and other sects will be allowed to assemble for worship
without hindrance; but the Catholic feeling is very strong, especially
among the nobles, and the numbers of those secretly inclined to the
new religion has decreased greatly in the past few years, just as
they have increased in Holland and Zeeland, where, as I hear, the
people are now well nigh all Protestants. Please assure the prince
of my devotion to him personally, and that I shall do my best to
further his plans, and can promise him that the Guild of Weavers
will be among the first to rise against the tyranny of the Spaniards."
Ned, as he left the house, decided that the man he had visited was
not one of those who would be of any great use in an emergency. He
was evidently well enough disposed to the cause, but was not one
to take any great risks, or to join openly in the movement unless
convinced that success was assured for it. He was walking along,
thinking the matter over, when he was suddenly and roughly accosted.
Looking up he saw the Councillor Von Aert and his clerk; the former
with an angry look on his face, the latter, who was close beside
his master, and who had evidently drawn his attention to him, with
a malicious grin of satisfaction.
"Hullo, sirrah," the councillor said angrily, "did I not tell you
to call upon me at Antwerp?"
Ned took off his hat, and said humbly, "I should of course have
obeyed your worship's order had I passed through Antwerp; but I
afterwards remembered that I had cause to pass through Ghent, and
therefore took that road, knowing well that one so insignificant as
myself could have nothing to tell your worship that should occupy
your valuable time."
"That we will see about," the councillor said grimly. "Genet, lay
your hand upon this young fellow's collar. We will lodge him in
safe keeping, and inquire into the matter when we have leisure. I
doubt not that you were right when you told me that you suspected
he was other than he seemed."
Ned glanced round; a group of Spanish soldiers were standing close
by, and he saw that an attempt at escape would be hopeless. He
therefore walked quietly along by the side of the clerk's horse,
determining to wrest himself from the man's hold and run for it
the instant he saw an opportunity. Unfortunately, however, he was
unaware that they were at the moment within fifty yards of the
prison. Several bystanders who had heard the conversation followed
to see the result; and other passersby, seeing Ned led by the collar
behind the dreaded councillor, speedily gathered around with looks
expressing no goodwill to Von Aert.
The Spanish soldiers, however, accustomed to frays with the
townspeople, at once drew their weapons and closed round the clerk
and his captive, and two minutes later they arrived at the door of
the prison, and Ned, completely taken by surprise, found himself
thrust in and the door closed behind him before he had time to
decide upon his best course.
"You will place this prisoner in a secure place," the councillor
said. "It is a case of grave suspicion; and I will myself question
him later on. Keep an eye upon him until I come again."
Ned was handed over to two warders, who conducted him to a chamber
in the third storey. Here, to his dismay, one of his jailers took
up his post, while the other retired, locking the door behind him.
Thus the intention Ned had formed as he ascended the stairs of
destroying the documents as soon as he was alone, was frustrated.
The warder took his place at the window, which looked into an
inner court of the prison, and putting his head out entered into
conversation with some of his comrades in the yard below.
Ned regretted now that he had, before leaving the burgher, again
sewn up the letters in his doublet. Had he carried them loosely
about him, he could have chewed them up one by one and swallowed
them; but he dared not attempt to get at them now, as his warder
might at any moment look round. The latter was relieved twice during
the course of the day. None of the men paid any attention to the
prisoner. The succession of victims who entered the walls of the
prison only to quit them for the gallows was so rapid that they
had no time to concern themselves with their affairs.
Probably the boy was a heretic; but whether or not, if he had
incurred the enmity of Councillor Von Aert, his doom was sealed.
It was late in the evening before a warder appeared at the door,
and said that the councillor was below, and that the prisoner was
to be brought before him. Ned was led by the two men to a chamber
on the ground floor. Here Von Aert, with two of his colleagues,
was seated at a table, the former's clerk standing behind him.
"This is a prisoner I myself made this morning," Von Aert said to
his companions. "I overtook him two miles this side of Axel, and
questioned him. He admitted that he came from Holland; and his
answers were so unsatisfactory that I ordered him strictly to call
upon me at Antwerp, not having time at that moment to question him
further. Instead of obeying, he struck off from the road and took
that through Ghent; and I should have heard no more of him, had I
not by chance encountered him this morning in the street here. Has
he been searched?" he asked the warder.
"No, your excellency. You gave no orders that he should be examined."
"Fools!" the councillor said angrily; "this is the way you do your
duty. Had he been the bearer of important correspondence he might
have destroyed it by now."
"We have not left him, your excellency. He has never been alone for
a moment, and had no opportunity whatever for destroying anything."
"Well, search that bundle first," the councillor said.
The bundle was found to contain nothing suspicious.
"Now, take off his doublet and boots and examine them carefully.
Let not a seam or corner escape you."
Accustomed to the work, one of the warders had scarcely taken the
doublet in his hand when he proclaimed that there was a parcel sewn
up in the lining.
"I thought so!" Von Aert exclaimed, beaming with satisfaction at
his own perspicacity. "I thought there was something suspicious
about the fellow. I believe I can almost smell out a heretic or a
The councillor's colleagues murmured their admiration at his
"What have we here?" Von Aert went on, as he examined the packet.
"A sealed parcel addressed 'To the Blue Cap in the South Corner of
the Market Square of Brussels.' What think you of that, my friends,
for mystery and treason? Now, let us see the contents. Ah, ten
letters without addresses! But I see there are marks different from
each other on the corners. Ah!" he went on with growing excitement,
as he tore one open and glanced at the contents, "from the arch
traitor himself to conspirators here in Brussels. This is an important
capture indeed. Now, sirrah, what have you to say to this? For whom
are these letters intended?"
"I know nothing of the contents of the letters, worshipful sir,"
Ned said, falling on his knees and assuming an appearance of abject
terror. "They were delivered to me at Haarlem, and I was told that
I should have five nobles if I carried them to Brussels and delivered
them safely to a man who would meet me in the south corner of the
Market Square of Brussels. I was to hold the packet in my hand and
sling my bundle upon my stick, so that he might know me. He was to
have a blue cap on, and was to touch me on the shoulder and ask me
'How blows the wind in Holland?' and that, worshipful sir, is all
I know about it. I could not tell that there was any treason in the
business, else not for fifty nobles would I have undertaken it."
"You lie, you young villain!" the councillor shouted. "Do you
try to persuade me that the Prince of Orange would have intrusted
documents of such importance to the first boy he met in the street?
In the first place you must be a heretic."
"I don't know about heretics," Ned said, rising to his feet and
speaking stubbornly. "I am of the religion my father taught me,
and I would not pretend that I was a Catholic, not to save my life."
"There you are, you see," the councillor said triumphantly to his
colleagues. "Look at the obstinacy and insolence of these Hollanders.
Even this brat of a boy dares to tell us that he is not a Catholic.
Take him away," he said to the warder, "and see that he is securely
kept. We may want to question him again; but in any case he will
go to the gallows tomorrow or next day."
Ned was at once led away.
"What think you?" Von Aert asked his colleagues as the door closed
behind the prisoner. "Is it worth while to apply the torture to him
at once to obtain from him the names of those for whom these letters
were intended? It is most important for us to know. Look at this
letter; it is from the prince himself, and refers to preparations
making for a general rising."
"I should hardly think the boy would have been intrusted with so
important a secret," one of the other councillors said; "for it
would be well known he would be forced by torture to reveal it if
these letters were to be found upon him. I think that the story he
tells us is a true one, and that it is more likely they would be
given him to deliver to some person who would possess the key to
these marks on the letters."
"Well, at any rate no harm can be done by applying the screws," the
councillor said. "If he knows they will make him speak, I warrant
The other two agreed.
"If you will allow me to suggest, your excellency," Genet said
humbly, "that it might be the better way to try first if any such
as this Blue Cap exists. The boy might be promised his life if he
could prove that the story was true. Doubtless there is some fixed
hour at which he was to meet this Blue Cap. We might let him go to
meet him, keeping of course a strict watch over him. Then if any
such man appears and speaks to him we could pounce upon him at once
and wring from him the key to these marks. If no such man appears
we should then know that the story was but a device to deceive,
and could then obtain by some means the truth from him."
The suggestion met with approval.
"That is a very good plan, and shall be carried out. Send for the
Ned was brought down again.
"We see that you are young," Von Aert said, "and you have doubtless
been misled in this matter, and knew not that you were carrying
treasonable correspondence. We therefore are disposed to treat
you leniently. At what time were you to meet this Blue Cap in the
"Within an hour of sunset," Ned replied. "I am to be there at sunset
and to wait for an hour; and was told that he would not fail to
come in that time, but that if he did I was to come again the next
"It is to be hoped that he will not fail you," Von Aert said grimly,
"for we shall not be disposed to wait his pleasure. Tomorrow evening
you will go with a packet and deliver it to the man when he comes
to you. Beware that you do not try to trick us, for you will be
closely watched, and it will be the worse for you if you attempt
treachery. If the man comes those who are there will know how to
deal with him."
"And shall I be at liberty to depart?" Ned asked doubtfully.
"Of course you will," Von Aert replied; "we should then have no
further occasion for you, and you would have proved to us that your
story was a true one, and that you were really in ignorance that
there was any harm in carrying the packet hither."
Ned was perfectly well aware that the councillor was lying, and that
even had he met the man in the blue cap he would be dragged back
to prison and put to death, and that the promise meant absolutely
nothing -- the Spaniards having no hesitation in breaking the
most solemn oaths made to heretics. He had, indeed, only asked the
question because he thought that to assent too willingly to the
proposal might arouse suspicion. It was the very thing he had been
hoping for, and which offered the sole prospect of escape from a
death by torture, for it would at least give him the chance of a
dash for freedom.
He had named an hour after sunset partly because it was the hour
which would have been probably chosen by those who wished that the
meeting should take place unobserved, but still more because his
chances of escape would be vastly greater were the attempt made
after dark. The three councillors sat for some time talking over
the matter after Ned had been removed. The letters had all been
read. They had been carefully written, so as to give no information
if they should fall into the wrong hands, and none of them contained
any allusion whatever to past letters or previous negotiations.
"It is clear," Von Aert said, "that this is a conspiracy, and that
those to whom these letters are sent are deeply concerned in it,
and yet these letters do not prove it. Suppose that we either seize
this Blue Cap or get from the boy the names of those for whom the
letters are intended, they could swear on the other hand that they
knew nothing whatever about them, and had been falsely accused. No
doubt many of these people are nobles and citizens of good position,
and if it is merely their word against the word of a boy, and that
wrung from him by torture, our case would not be a strong one."
"Our case is not always strong," one of the other councillors said;
"but that does not often make much difference."
"It makes none with the lower class of the people," Von Aert agreed;
"but when we have to deal with people who have influential friends
it is always best to be able to prove a case completely. I think
that if we get the names of those for whom the letters are meant we
can utilize the boy again. We will send him to deliver the letters
in person, as I believe he was intended to do. He may receive
answers to take back to Holland; but even if he does not the fact
that these people should have received such letters without at once
denouncing the bearer and communicating the contents to us, will
be quite sufficient proof of their guilt."
"In that case," one of the others remarked, "the boy must not be
crippled with the torture."
"There will be no occasion for that," Von Aert said contemptuously.
"A couple of turns with the thumbscrew will suffice to get out of
a boy of that age everything he knows. Well, my friends, we will
meet here tomorrow evening. I shall go round to the Market Square
with Genet to see the result of this affair, in which I own I
am deeply interested; not only because it is most important, but
because it is due to the fact that I myself entertained a suspicion
of the boy that the discovery of the plot has been made. I will
take charge of these letters, which are for the time useless to
us, but which are likely to bring ten men's heads to the block."
As Ned sat alone in his cell during the long hours of the following
day he longed for the time to come when his fate was to be settled.
He was determined that if it lay with him he would not be captured
alive. He would mount to the top story of a house and throw himself
out of a window, or snatch a dagger from one of his guards and
stab himself, if he saw no mode of escape. A thousand times better
to die so than to expire on a gibbet after suffering atrocious
tortures, which would, he knew, wring from him the names of those
for whom the letters were intended.
He could bear pain as well as another; but flesh and blood could not
resist the terrible agonies inflicted by the torture, and sooner
or later the truth would be wrung from the most reluctant lips.
Still he thought that he had a fair chance of escape. It was clear
that he could not be closely surrounded by a guard, for in that
case Blue Cap would not venture near him. He must, therefore, be
allowed a considerable amount of liberty; and, however many men
might be on watch a short distance off, he ought to be able by a
sudden rush to make his way through them. There would at that hour
be numbers of people in the street, and this would add to his chance
of evading his pursuers.
He ate heartily of a meal that was brought him at midday, and when
just at sunset the warder entered the cell and told him to follow
him, he felt equal to any exertion. When he came down into the
courtyard, a dozen men were gathered there, together with Von Aert
and his clerk.
"Now," the councillor said sternly, "you see these men. They will
be round you on all sides, and I warn you that if you attempt to
escape or to give any warning sign to this Blue Cap, or to try any
tricks with us of any sort, you shall be put to death with such
tortures as you never dreamt of. Upon the other hand, if you carry
out my orders faithfully, and hand over this packet to the man
who meets you, you will be at liberty to go straight away, and to
return home without molestation."
"I understand," Ned replied; "and as I cannot help myself, will do
your bidding. Where are my stick and bundle? He will not know me
unless I have them. I am to carry them on my shoulder."
"Ah! I forgot," the councillor said, and giving the order to one
of the warders Ned's bundle and stick were brought him.
"You will stroll leisurely along," Von Aert said, "and appear natural
and unconcerned. We shall be close to you, and you will be seized
in an instant if we observe anything suspicious in your movements."
Von Aert then took a packet from his doublet and handed it to
Ned, who placed it in his belt. The prison door was opened; three
or four of the men went out, and Ned followed. It was a curious
feeling to him as he walked down the street. Round him were numbers
of people laughing and chatting as they went, while he, though
apparently as free as they, was a prisoner with a dozen pair of
eyes watching him, and his life in deadly peril.
After five minutes' walking Ned arrived at the market square and
passed steadily down towards the south corner. The market was long
since over, and the market folk had returned to their farms and
villages, but there were a large number of people walking about. It
was already growing dusk, and in another half hour would be dark.
Ned turned when he got near the corner, strolled a short distance
back and then turned again. He carefully abstained from seeming
to stare about. The councillor and his clerk kept within a short
distance of him, the former wrapped up in a cloak with a high collar
that almost concealed his face.
As to the others watching him, Ned could only guess at them. Four
men he noticed, who turned whenever he did; the others he guessed
were keeping somewhat further off, or were perhaps stationed at
the streets leading out of the square so as to cut him off should
he escape from those close to him. A few oil lamps were suspended
from posts at various points in the square, and at the ends of the
streets leading from it. These were lighted soon after he arrived
in the square. He decided that it would not do to make for the
street leading out of the south corner, as this was the one that he
would be suspected of aiming for; and, moreover, men would surely
be placed there to cut off Blue Cap on his entry. He, therefore,
determined to make for a somewhat narrow street, about halfway
between the south and west corners.
He had followed this on the day he entered Brussels, as one of the
persons to whom the letters were addressed lived in it. He knew
that there were many lanes running into it, and that at the lower
end several streets, branching off in various directions, met in
the small square in which it terminated. Half an hour passed. It
was now quite dark, and he felt that he had better delay no longer.
He walked half along his beat towards the south corner, then with
a sudden spring darted off. The two men walking on that side of him
were some ten paces distant, and he ran straight at them. Taken by
surprise, before they had time to throw back their cloaks and draw
their rapiers, he was upon them.
With a blow from his leaded stick, delivered with all his strength,
he struck one man to the ground, and then turning to the other
struck him on the wrist as he was in the act of drawing his sword.
The man uttered a loud cry of pain and rage, and Ned ran at the
top of his speed towards the street. He knew that he need fear
no pursuit from the two men he had encountered, that those on the
other side of him were some distance behind, and that as so many
people intervened his pursuers would probably soon lose sight of
him. Threading his way between the groups of people, who had arrested
their walk at the sound of loud and sudden shouting, he approached
the end of the street.
By the light of the lamp there he saw two men standing with drawn
swords. Breaking suddenly into a walk he made for the house next to
the street, and then turned so that he came upon the men sideways
instead of from the front, at which they were expecting him. There
was a sudden exclamation from the man nearest to him; but Ned was
within two yards of him before he perceived him, and before he was
on guard the loaded stick fell with the full sweep of Ned's arm
upon his ankle, and in an instant he was prostrate, and Ned darted
at full speed down the street with the other man in pursuit a few
paces behind him.
Before he had run far Ned found that he could gain but little upon
his pursuer, and that he must rid himself of him if he were to have
a chance of escaping. He slackened his speed a little, and allowed
the man to gain slightly upon him. Thinking that the fugitive was
within his grasp the warder exerted himself to his utmost. Suddenly
Ned sprang into a doorway; the man, unable to check himself, rushed
past. In a moment Ned was out again, and before the fellow could
arrest his steps and turn, gave him a violent shove behind, which
hurled him on his face with a tremendous crash, and Ned continued
his way. There was a great shouting, but it was full fifty yards
away, and he felt his hopes rise. His pursuers were now all behind
him, and he felt sure that in the darkness and the narrow streets
he should be able to evade them.
He took the first turning he came to, turned again and again, and
presently slackened his pace to a walk, convinced that for a time
his pursuers must be at fault. He was now among narrow streets
inhabited by the poorer classes. There were no lamps burning here,
and he began to wonder which way he had better take, and where he
should pass the night. It was absolutely necessary to obtain some
other disguise, for he was sure that the gates would be so carefully
watched in the morning there would be no chance whatever of his
getting safely out in his present attire. Presently, through a
casement on the ground floor, he heard the sound of low singing in
a woman's voice. He stopped at once and listened. It was the air
of a Lutheran hymn he had frequently heard in Holland. Without
hesitation he knocked at the door, and lifting the latch entered.
A woman and girl were sitting at work inside; they looked up in
surprise at seeing a stranger.
"Pardon me," he said, "but I am a Protestant, and am hunted by Alva's
bloodhounds. I have evaded them and I am safe for the present; but
I know not where to go, or where to obtain a disguise. As I passed
the window I heard the air of a Lutheran hymn, and knew that there
were within those who would, if they could, aid me."
The woman looked reprovingly at the girl.
"How imprudent of you, Gertrude!" she said. "Not that it is your
fault more than mine. I ought to have stopped you, but I did not
think your voice would be heard through that thick curtain. Who are
you, sir, and where do you come from?" she asked, turning to Ned.
"I come from Holland," he said, "and was the bearer of important
letters from the Prince of Orange."
The woman hesitated. "I would not doubt you," she said; "but in
these days one has to be suspicious of one's shadow. However, as
after what you have heard our lives are in your hands, I would fain
trust you; though it seems to me strange that an important mission
should be intrusted to one of your age and station."
"My age was all in my favour," Ned replied. "As to my station, it
is not quite what it seems; for I am a gentleman volunteer in the
household of the prince, and he accepted my services thinking that
I might succeed when a man would be suspected."
"I will give you shelter," the woman said quietly; "though I know
that I risk my life and my daughter's in doing so. But the Lord holds
us in His hands, and unless it be His will we shall not perish."
So saying, she got up and barred the door.
"Now, tell me more as to how you came to fall into this peril,"
Ned related his adventure, and the manner in which he had effected
his escape from the hands of his captors.
"You have, indeed, had an escape," the woman said. "There are few
upon whom Councillor Von Aert lays his hand who ever escape from
it. You have indeed shown both skill and courage in thus freeing
"There is no great courage in running away when you know that if
you stay torture and death are before you," Ned replied.
"And now, what are your plans?" the woman asked.
"My only plan is to obtain a disguise in which to escape from the
city. My mission is unfortunately ended by the loss of my papers,
and I shall have but a sorry story to tell to the prince if I
succeed in making my way back to Holland, of the utter failure I
have made of the mission with which he was good enough to intrust
He took from his belt the packet that Von Aert had given him, and
was about to throw it in the fire when his eye fell upon it. He
opened it hastily, and exclaimed with delight, "Why, here are the
letters! That scoundrel must have had them in his doublet, as well
as the packet made up for me to carry, and he has inadvertently given
me the wrong parcel. See, madam, these are the letters I told you
of, and these are the marks in the corners whose meaning Von Aert
was so anxious to discover. Now, if I can but obtain a good disguise
I will deliver these letters before I start on my way back."
The girl, who was about fourteen years of age, spoke a few words
in a low voice to her mother. The latter glanced at Ned.
"My daughter suggests that you should disguise yourself as a woman,"
she said. "And indeed in point of height you might pass well, seeing
that you are but little taller than myself. But I fear that you
are far too widely built across the shoulders to wear my clothes."
"Yes, indeed," Ned agreed, smiling; "but you are tall and slight.
I could pass well enough for one of these Flemish peasant girls,
for they are sometimes near as broad as they are long. Yes, indeed,
if I could get a dress such as these girls wear I could pass easily
enough. I am well provided with money, but unfortunately it is
hidden in the ground a mile outside the gates. I only carry with
me a small sum for daily use, and that of course was taken from me
by my jailers."
"Be not uneasy about money," the woman said. "Like yourself, we
are not exactly what we look. I am the Countess Von Harp."
Ned made a movement of surprise. The name was perfectly known to
him, being that of a noble in Friesland who had been executed at
Brussels a few months before by the orders of the Council of Blood.
"When my husband was murdered," the Countess Von Harp went on,
"I received a warning from a friend that I and my daughter, being
known to be members of the Reformed Church, would be seized. For
myself I cared little; but for my daughter's sake I resolved to
endeavour to escape. I knew that I should be nowhere safe in the
Netherlands, and that there was little chance of a woman and girl
being able to escape from the country, when upon every road we
should meet with disorderly soldiery, and every town we should pass
through swarmed with Alva's agents. I resolved, therefore, to stay
here. An old servant took this house for me, and here I have lived
ever since in the disguise you see. My servant still lives with
us, and goes abroad and makes our purchases. Our neighbours are all
artisans and attend to their own business. It is supposed among
them that I am one who has been ruined in the troubles, and now
support myself by embroidery; but in fact I am well supplied with
money. When I came here I brought all my jewels with me; besides,
I have several good friends who know my secret, and through whom,
from time to time, money has been transmitted to me from my steward
in Friesland. Our estates in Brabant have of course been confiscated,
and for a time those in Friesland were also seized. But when the
people rose four months ago they turned out the man who had seized
them, and as he was a member of the Council of Blood he was lucky
in escaping with his life. So that, you see, the cost of a peasant
woman's dress is a matter that need give you no concern."
There was now a knock at the door. It was repeated.
"It is my servant," the countess said. Ned at once unbarred and
opened the door. The old woman gave an exclamation of astonishment
at seeing a stranger.
"Come in, Magdalene," the countess said; "it is a friend. You are
later than I expected."
"It is not my fault, madam," the old servant said. "I have been
stopped four or five times, and questioned and made game of, by
German soldiers posted at the ends of the streets; the quarter is
full of them. I was going through the market place when a sudden
tumult arose, and they say a prisoner of great importance has made
his escape. Councillor Von Aert was there, shouting like a madman.
But he had better have held his tongue; for as soon as he was
recognized the crowd hustled and beat him, and went nigh killing
him, when some men with drawn swords rescued him from their hands,
and with great difficulty escorted him to the town hall. He is hated
in Brussels, and it was rash of him to venture out after dark."
"This is the escaped prisoner, Magdalene." The old woman looked
with surprise at Ned.
"You are pleased to joke with me, madam. This is but a boy."
"That is true, Magdalene; but he is, nevertheless, the prisoner
whose escaped angered the councillor so terribly, and for whom the
guard you speak of are now in search."
The old servant shook her head. "Ah, madam, are you not running risks
enough of detection here without adding to them that of concealing
"You are right," Ned said; "and it was selfish and wrong of me to
intrude myself here."
"God willed it so," the countess said. "My daughter's voice was
the instrument that directed your steps here. It is strange that
she should have sung that hymn just as you were passing, and that
I should have heard her without checking her. The hand of God
is in all these things; therefore, do not make yourself uneasy on
our account. Magdalene, we have settled that he shall assume the
disguise of a young peasant girl, and tomorrow you shall purchase
the necessary garments."
"Yes, he might pass as a girl," the old servant agreed. "But, I pray
you, let him not stay an instant in this garb. I do not think they
will search the houses, for the artisans of Brussels are tenacious
of their rights, and an attempt would bring them out like a swarm
of bees. Still it is better that he should not remain as he is for
an hour. Come with me, young sir; I will furnish you with clothes
at once. I am not so tall as I was, but there were few taller women
in Friesland than I was when I was the countess' nurse.
Ned could well imagine that; for Magdalene, although now some sixty
years old, was a tall, large framed woman. He followed her to a
chamber upstairs, and was furnished by her with all the necessary
articles of dress; and in these, as soon as, having placed an oil
lamp on the table, she retired, he proceeded to array himself, and
presently descended the stairs, feeling very strange and awkward
in this new attire. Gertrude Von Harp burst into a fit of merry
laughter, and even the countess smiled.
"That will do very well, indeed," she said, "when you have got on
the Flemish headdress, which conceals the hair."
"I have it here, madam," Magdalene said; "but it was useless to
leave it up there for him, for he would have no idea how to fold
it rightly. Now sit down on that stool, sir, and I will put it on
When this was done the metamorphosis was complete, and Ned could
have passed anywhere without exciting suspicion that he was other
than he seemed.
"That will do all very well for the present," Magdalene said; "but
the first thing tomorrow I will go out and get him a gown at the
clothes mart. His face is far too young for that dress. Moreover
the headgear is not suited to the attire; he needs, too, a long
plait of hair to hang down behind. That I can also buy for him,
and a necklace or two of bright coloured beads. However, he could
pass now as my niece should any one chance to come in. Now I will
go upstairs and fetch down his clothes and burn them. If a search
should be made they will assuredly excite suspicion if found in a
house occupied only by women."
"You had best not do that, Magdalene. Hide them in a bed or up
one of the chimneys. When he leaves this and gets into the country
he will want them again. In these times a young woman unprotected
could not walk the road by herself, and dressed as a woman it would
be strange for him to be purchasing male attire."
"That is true enough, madam; as you say, it will be better to hide
them until he can leave, which I hope will be very shortly."
"I wish we could leave too," the countess sighed. "I am weary of
this long confinement here, and it is bad for Gertrude never going
out except for a short walk with you after dark."
"It would not do to attempt it," the old woman said. "The Spanish
soldiers are plundering all round Ghent; the Germans are no better
at Antwerp. You know what stories are reported of their doings."
"No, we could not go in that direction," the countess agreed; "but
I have thought often, Magdalene, that we may possibly make our way
down to Ostend. Things are much quieter on that line."
"I should be glad to give you what escort I could, madam," Ned said.
"But, indeed, the times are bad for travelling and as you are safe
here as it seems for the present, I would not say a word to induce
you to leave and to encounter such dangers as you might meet by the
way. In a short time, I believe, the greater part of the Spaniards
and Germans will march against Holland, and Brabant will then be
free from the knaves for awhile, and the journey might be undertaken
with greater safety."
"You are right," the countess said. "It was but a passing thought,
and now we have waited here so long we may well wait a little longer.
Now, tell us more about yourself. You speak Dutch perfectly, and
yet it seems to me at times that there is some slight accent in
"I am only half Dutch," Ned replied; "my father is English." He
then related the whole history of his parentage, and of the events
which led him to take service with the Prince of Orange. When he
had concluded the countess said:
"Your story accounts for matters which surprised me somewhat in
what you first told me. The men of our Low Countries are patient
and somewhat slow of action, as is shown by the way in which they
so long submitted to the cruel tyranny of the Spaniards. Now they
have once taken up their arms, they will, I doubt not, defend
themselves, and will fight to the death, however hopeless the
chances may seem against them; but they are not prompt and quick
to action. Therefore the manner of your escape from the hands of
those who were watching you appeared to me wonderful; but now I know
that you are English, and a sailor too, I can the better understand
it, for I have heard that your countrymen are quick in their
decisions and prompt in action.
"They say that many of them are coming over to fight in Holland;
being content to serve without pay, and venturing their lives in
our cause, solely because our religion is the same and they have
hatred of oppression, having long been free from exactions on the
part of their sovereigns. Many of our people have taken refuge there,
and I have more than once thought that if the Spaniards continued
to lord it in the Netherlands I would pass across the seas with
Gertrude. My jewels would sell for enough to enable us to live
"If you should go to England, madam," Ned said earnestly, "I pray
you in the first place to inquire for Mistress Martin at Rotherhithe,
which is close by the city. I can warrant you she will do all in
her power to assist you, and that her house will be at your disposal
until you can find a more suitable lodgment. She will know from
me, if I should escape from these dangers, from how great a peril
you have saved me, and if it should be that I do not return home,
she will welcome you equally when she learns from your lips that
you took me in here when I was pursued by the minions of the Council
of Blood, and that you furnished me with a disguise to enable me
to escape from them."
"Should I go to England," the countess replied, "I will assuredly
visit your mother, were it only to learn whether you escaped from
all the dangers of your journey; but, indeed, I would gladly do
so on my own account, for it is no slight comfort on arriving as
strangers in an unknown country to meet with one of one's own nation
to give us advice and assistance."
For another two hours they sat and talked of England, the countess
being glad, for once, to think of another subject than the sad
condition of her country. Then when the clock sounded nine they
retired, Magdalene insisting upon Ned occupying her chamber, while
she lay down upon a settle in the room in which they were sitting.
Ned slept long and heavily; he had had but little rest during the
two previous nights, and the sun was high when he awoke. As soon
as he began to move about there was a knock at his door, and the
old servant entered.
"I need not ask if you have slept well," she remarked "for the clocks
have sounded nine, and I have been back an hour from market. Here
are all your things, and I warrant me that when you are dressed in
them you will pass anywhere as a buxom peasant girl."
Indeed, when Ned came downstairs in the short petticoats, trimmed
bodice, and bright kerchief pinned across the bosom, and two rows
of large blue beads round his neck, his disguise was perfect, save
as to his head. This Magdalene again arranged for him. "Yes, you
will do very well now," she said, surveying him critically. "I have
bought a basket, too, full of eggs; and with that on your arm you
can go boldly out and fear no detection, and can walk straight
through the city gates."
"I hope I don't look as awkward as I feel?" Ned asked, smiling.
"No, you do not look awkward at all. You had best join a party as
you go out, and separate from them when once you are well beyond
"He must return here this evening, Magdalene," the countess said.
"He has a mission to perform, and cannot leave until he does."
"I will set about it at once, countess, and shall get it finished
before the gates are closed. I will not on any account bring upon
you the risk of another night's stay here."
"I think there will be no risk in it," the countess said firmly;
"and for today at least there is sure to be a vigilant watch kept
at the gates. It were best, too, that you left before noon, for by
that time most of the people from the villages round are returning.
If you are not recognized in the streets there is no risk whatever
while you are in here; besides, we shall be anxious to know how
you have got through the day. And another reason why you had better
stay the night is that by starting in the morning you will have
the day before you to get well away, whereas if you go at night
you may well miss your road, especially if there is no moon, and
you do not know the country. Therefore I pray you urgently to come
back here for tonight. It is a pleasure to us to have a visitor
here, and does us good to have a fresh subject for our thoughts.
Gertrude has been doing nothing but talk about England ever since
Although Ned saw that the old servant was very reluctant that he
should, as she considered, imperil her charges' safety by a longer
stay, he could not refuse the invitation so warmly given. Breakfast
was now placed on the table. As soon as the meal was over he prepared
to start, receiving many directions from Magdalene to be sure and
not take long strides, or to swing his arms too much, or to stare
about, but to carry himself discreetly, as was becoming a young
woman in a town full of rough foreign men.
"How do you mean to see the people to whom you have letters?" the
countess asked. "Some of them, you tell me, are nobles, and it will
not be easy for a peasant girl to come into their presence."
"I am told to send up the message that a person from the village of
Beerholt is desirous of speaking to them, countess," Ned replied.
"I believe there is no such village, but it is a sort of password;
and I have another with which to address them when they see me."
"I will start with you," the servant said, "and walk with you
until you are past the guards. There are many soldiers about in
the quarter this morning, and I hear they are questioning every
one whether they have seen aught of a country lad."
"I thank you," Ned replied, "but I would rather go alone. If I am
detected harm would only come to myself, but if you were with me
you would assuredly all be involved in my misfortune. I would far
rather go alone. I do not feel that there is any danger of my being
suspected; and if I am alone I can bandy jokes with the soldiers if
they speak to me. There is no fear that either Spanish or Germans
will notice that I speak Dutch rather than Flemish. What is the
price at which I ought to offer my eggs?"
Magdalene told him the price she generally paid to the market women.
"Of course you must ask a little more than that, and let people
beat you down to that figure."
"Now I am off, then," he said, taking up the basket.
"May God keep you in His hands!" the countess said solemnly. "It
is not only your own life that is at stake, but the interests of
"Turn round and let me take a last look at you," Magdalene said,
"and be sure that everything is right. Yes, you will pass; but
remember what I told you about your walk."
Ned walked briskly along until he came within sight of two soldiers
standing at a point where the street branched. He now walked more
slowly, stopping here and there and offering his eggs to women
standing at their doors or going in and out. As he thought it better
to effect a sale he asked rather lower prices than those Magdalene
had given him, and disposed of three or four dozen before he
reached the soldiers. They made no remark as he passed. He felt
more confident now, and began to enter into the spirit of his part;
and when one of a group of soldiers in front of a wine shop made
some laughing remark to him he answered him pertly, and turned the
laugh of the man's comrades against him.
On nearing the centre of the town he began his task of delivering
the letters, choosing first those who resided in comparatively quiet
streets, so as to get rid of as many of them as possible before he
entered the more crowded thoroughfares, where his risk of detection
would be greater. The only persons he was really afraid of meeting
were Von Aert and his clerk. The first might not detect him, but
he felt sure that if the eyes of the latter fell upon him he would
recognize him. With the various burghers he had little trouble.
If they were in their shops he walked boldly in, and said to them,
"I am the young woman from the village of Beerholt, whom you were
expecting to see;" and in each case the burgher said at once,
"It is my wife who has business with you," and led the way into
the interior of the house. Ned's next question: "How is the wind
blowing in Holland?" was answered by his being taken into a quiet
room. The letter was then produced, and in each case an answer more
or less satisfactory was given.
Ned found that there were a large number of men in Brussels ripe for
a revolt, but that there was no great chance of the rising taking
place until the Prince of Orange had gained some marked success,
such as would encourage hopes that the struggle might in the end
be successful. In three or four cases there were favourable answers
to the appeals for funds, one burgher saying that he and his friends
had subscribed between them a hundred thousand gulden, which they
would forward by the first opportunity to a banker at Leyden. One
said that he found that the prince's proclamations of absolute
toleration of all religions produced a bad effect upon many of his
friends, for that in Brabant they were as attached as ever to the
Catholic religion, and would be loath to see Lutheran and Calvinist
"I know that the prince is desirous of wounding no one's conscience,"
Ned said. "But how can it be expected the Protestants of Holland
and Zeeland will allow the Catholics to have churches, with priests
and processions, in their midst, if their fellow religionists are
not suffered to worship in their way in Brabant? The prince has
already proclaimed that every province may, as at present, make
its own rules. And doubtless in the provinces where the Catholic
religion is dominant it will still remain so. Only he claims that
no man shall be persecuted for his religion."
"It is a pity that we cannot all be of one mind," the man said
doubtfully. "Were there no religious questions between the provinces
they would be as one."
"That may be," Ned replied. "But in religion as in all other things,
men will differ just as they do about the meats they eat and the
wines they drink."
"Well, I shall do my best," the burgher said. "But I fear these
religious differences will forever stand in the way of any united
action on the part of the provinces."
"I fear that it will," Ned agreed, "so long as people think it more
important to enforce their neighbours' consciences than to obtain
freedom for themselves."
The two last letters that Ned had to deliver were to nobles, whose
mansions were situated in the Grand Square. It was not easy to
obtain access here. The lackeys would probably laugh in his face
did he ask them to take his message to their master. And indeed
the disguise he now wore, although excellent as protection from
danger, was the worst possible as regarded his chance of obtaining
an interview. By this time he had sold the greater part of his eggs,
and he sat down, as if fatigued, on a doorstep at a short distance
from one of the mansions, and waited in the hope that he might
presently see the noble with whom he had to do issue out.
In half an hour two mounted lackeys rode up to the door, one of
them leading a horse. A short time afterwards a gentleman came out
and mounted. He heard a bystander say to another, "There is the
Count of Sluys." Ned got up, took his basket, and as the count
came along crossed the road hurriedly just in front of his horse.
As he did so he stumbled and fell, and a number of his eggs rolled
out on the ground. There was a laugh among the bystanders, and the
count reigned in his horse.
"What possessed you to run like that under my horse's feet, my poor
girl?" he asked, as Ned rose and began to cry loudly. Ned looked
up in his face and rapidly said: "I am the person you expect from
The count gave a low exclamation of surprise, and Ned went on, "How
does the wind blow in Holland?" The count deliberately felt in his
pouch and drew out a coin, which he handed to Ned.
"Be at my back door in an hour's time. Say to the servant who opens
it, 'I am the person expected.' He will lead you to me."
Then he rode forward, Ned pouring out voluble thanks for the coin
bestowed upon him.
"You are a clever wench," a soldier standing by said to Ned laughing.
"That was very artfully done, and I warrant me it is not the first
time you have tried it."
"I wasn't going to carry my eggs all the way back," Ned replied in
an undertone. "I suppose there are tricks in your trade as in mine."
The soldier laughed again, and Ned passing quickly on mingled in
the crowd, and soon moved away a considerable distance from the
house. An hour later he went up a side street, in which was the
door used by the servants and tradespeople of the count. A lackey
was standing there. "I am the person expected," Ned said quietly
to him. He at once led the way into the house up some back stairs
and passages, along a large corridor, then opening a door, he
motioned to Ned to enter.
A DANGEROUS ENCOUNTER
The Count of Sluys was sitting at a table covered with papers.
"You have chosen a strange disguise," he said with a smile.
"It is none of my choosing," Ned replied. "I came into the city
in the dress of a peasant boy, but was arrested by Councillor Von
Aert, and had I not made my escape should probably have by this
time been hung."
"Are you the lad for whom such a search has been made?" the count
asked in surprise. "Von Aert is so furious he can talk about nothing
else, and all the world is laughing at his having been tricked by
a boy. Had I known that it was the prince's messenger I should not
have felt inclined to laugh; thinking that papers, that would have
boded me evil if discovered, might have been found upon him."
"They were found upon me," Ned replied; "but happily I recovered
them. As they were not addressed, no one was any the wiser. This
is the one intended for you, sir."
The count opened and read the document, and then gave Ned a long
message to deliver to the prince. It contained particulars of his
interviews with several other nobles, with details as to the number
of men they could put in the field, and the funds they could dispose
of in aid of the rising. Ned took notes of all the figures on a
slip of paper, as he had done in several other instances. The count
then asked him as to his arrest and manner of escape, and laughed
heartily when he found that Von Aert had himself by mistake returned
the letters found upon Ned.
"I have delivered all but one," Ned said. "And that I know not how
to dispose of, for it would be dangerous to play the same trick
again. And, indeed, I want if possible to be out of town tomorrow;
not so much for my own sake, but because were I detected it might
bring destruction upon those who are sheltering me."
"Who is this letter for?" the count asked. Ned hesitated; the
noble to whom the letter was addressed was, like many others of the
prince's secret adherents, openly a strong supporter of the Duke
of Alva. And, indeed, many were at that time playing a double game,
so as to make profit whichever side was successful in the long run.
"Perhaps it is better not to tell me," the count said, seeing Ned's
hesitation, "and I am glad to see that you are so discreet. But it
can be managed in this way: Take a pen and go to that other table
and write the address on the letter. I will call in my servant and
tell him to take it from you and to deliver it at once, and ask
for a reply to the person from Beerholt. That is, if that is the
password to him also. He shall deliver the reply to you, and I will
give you my promise that I will never ask him afterwards to whom
he took the letter."
Ned felt that this would be the best course he could adopt, and
addressed the letter at once. The count touched a bell and the
lackey again entered.
"Take that letter at once," the count said, motioning to the letter
Ned held in his hand. "You will deliver it yourself, and ask that
an answer may be given to you for the person from Beerholt. Wait
for that answer and bring it back here."
After the servant had gone the count chatted with Ned as to the
state of affairs in Holland, and asked him many questions about
himself. It was an hour and a half before the servant returned. He
was advancing with the letter to the count, when the latter motioned
to him to hand it to Ned.
"Is there nothing else that I can do for you?" he asked. "How do
you intend to travel back through the country? Surely not in that
"No, sir; I was thinking of procuring another."
"It might be difficult for you to get one," the count said. "I will
manage that for you;" and he again touched the bell. "Philip," he
said to the lackey, "I need a suit of your clothes; a quiet plain
suit, such as you would use if you rode on an errand for me. Bring
them here at once, and order a new suit for yourself.
"He is but little taller than you are," he went on when the man
had retired, "and his clothes will, I doubt not, fit you. You have
not got a horse, I suppose?"
"Which way are you going back?"
"I shall take the Antwerp road."
"There is a clump of trees about three miles along that road," the
count said. "Philip shall be there with a horse for you at any hour
that you like to name."
"I thank you greatly, count. I will be there at nine in the morning.
I shall sally out in my present dress, leave the road a mile or
so from the town, and find some quiet place where I can put on the
suit you have furnished me with, and then walk on to the wood."
"Very well; you shall find the horse there at that hour without
fail. You are a brave lad, and have carried out your task with
great discretion. I hope some day to see you again by the side of
the Prince of Orange."
A minute later the lackey returned with a bundle containing the
suit of clothes. Ned placed it in his basket.
"Goodbye, and a good journey," the count said. Ned followed the
lackey, whom the count had told him had been born on his estate,
and could be implicitly trusted, down the stairs, and then made
his way without interruption to his lodging.
"Welcome back," the countess exclaimed, as he entered. "We have
prayed for you much today, but I began to fear that harm had befallen
you; for it is already growing dark, and I thought you would have
been here two or three hours since. How have you sped?"
"Excellently well, madam. I have delivered all the letters, and
have obtained answers, in all cases but one, by word of mouth. That
one is in writing; but I shall commit it to heart, and destroy it
at once. Then, if I am again searched, I shall not be in so perilous
a position as before."
He opened the letter and read it. As he had expected, it was
written with extreme caution, and in evidently a feigned hand; no
names either of places or persons were mentioned. The writer simply
assured "his good cousin" of his goodwill, and said that owing to
the losses he had had in business from the troubled times, he could
not say at present how much he could venture to aid him in the new
business on which he had embarked.
After reading it through, Ned threw the paper into the fire.
"He did not feel sure as to whom he was writing," he said, "and
feared treachery. However, as I have obtained nine answers, I need
not mind if this be but a poor one. Now, madam, I am ready to start
at half past seven in the morning. I have been furnished with another
disguise, to put on when I get beyond the walls; and a horse is to
be in waiting for me at a point three miles away; so that I hope
I shall be able to make my way back without much difficulty."
Accordingly in the morning, after many thanks to the Countess Von
Harp for her kindness, and the expression of his sincerest hope that
they might meet again, either in England or Holland, Ned started
on his way. On reaching one of the streets leading to the gate he
fell in behind a group of country people, who, having early disposed
of the produce they had brought to market, were making their way
home. Among them was a lad of about his own age; and on reaching the
gate two soldiers at once stepped forward and seized him, to the
surprise and consternation of himself and his friends. The soldiers
paid no heed to the outcry, but shouted to someone in the guard
house, and immediately a man whom Ned recognized as one of the
warders who had attended him in prison came out.
"That is not the fellow," he said, after a brief look at the captive.
"He is about the same age, but he is much fairer than our fellow,
and in no way like him in face."
Ned did not wait to hear the result of the examination, but at once
passed on out of the gate with the country people unconnected with
the captive. A minute or two later the latter with his friends
issued forth. Ned kept about halfway between the two parties until
he reached a lane branching off from the road in the direction in
which he wished to go. Following this for a mile he came into the
Ghent road, and had no difficulty in finding the place where he had
hidden his money. Going behind a stack of corn, a short distance
away, he changed his clothes; and pushing the female garments well
into the stack, went on his way again, well pleased to be once more
in male attire.
The clothes fitted him well, and were of a sober colour, such as
a trusty retainer of a noble house would wear upon a journey. He
retraced his steps until again on the road to Antwerp, and followed
this until he came to the clump of trees. Here the count's servant
was awaiting him with two horses. He smiled as Ned came up.
"If it had not been my own clothes you are wearing, I should not
have known you again," he said. "The count bade me ask you if you
had need of money? If so, I was to hand you this purse."
"Give my thanks to the count," Ned replied, "and say that I am well
"Not in all respects, I think," the man said.
Ned thought for a minute.
"No," he said. "I have no arms."
The man took a brace of pistols from the holsters of his own horse
and placed them in those on Ned's saddle, and then unbuckled his
sword belt and handed it to Ned.
"It is ill travelling unarmed in the Netherlands at present," he
said. "What with the Spaniards and the Germans, and the peasants who
have been driven to take to a robber's life, no man should travel
without weapons. The count bade me give you these, and say he was
sure you would use them well if there should be need."
Ned leaped into the saddle, and with sincere thanks to the man
galloped off towards Antwerp. Unless ill fortune should again throw
him in the way of Von Aert he now felt safe; and he had no fear
that this would be the case, for they would be devoting their whole
energy to the search for him in Brussels. He burst into a fit of
hearty laughter as he rode along, at the thought of the fury the
councillor must have been thrown into when, upon his return home,
he discovered that he had given away the wrong packet of letters.
He would have been angry enough before at the escape of the captive
he was himself watching, and the loss thereby of the means upon
which he had reckoned to discover the ownership of the letters,
and so to swell the list of victims. Still he doubtless consoled
himself at the thought that he was sure before many hours to have
his prisoner again in his power, and that, after all, annoying as
it was, the delay would be a short one indeed. But when he took
the packet from his pocket, and discovered that he had given up the
all important documents, and had retained a packet of blank paper,
he must have seen at once that he was foiled. He might recapture
the prisoner, torture him, and put him to death; but his first
step would of course have been to destroy the precious letters,
and there would be no evidence forthcoming against those for whom
they were intended, and who were doubtless men of considerable
standing and position, and not to be assailed upon the mere avowal
extracted by torture from a boy and unsupported by any written
"That evil looking clerk of his will come in for a share of his
displeasure," Ned thought to himself. "I believe that he is worse
than his master, and will take it sorely to heart at having been
tricked by a boy. I should have scant mercy to expect should I ever
fall into their hands again."
Ned rode through the city of Mechlin without drawing rein. It was
but a month since that it had been the scene of the most horrible
butchery, simply because it had opened its gates to the Prince of
Orange on his forward march to attempt the relief of Mons. A few of
the prince's German mercenaries had been left there as a garrison.
These fired a few shots when the Spanish army approached, and
then fled in the night, leaving the town to the vengeance of the
Spaniards. In the morning a procession of priests and citizens went
out to beg for pardon, but the Spaniards rushed into the town and
began a sack and a slaughter that continued for three days.
The churches, monasteries, and religious houses of every kind,
as well as those of the private citizens, were sacked; and the
desecration of the churches by the fanatics of Antwerp, for which
hundreds of heretics had been burnt to death, was now repeated a
thousand fold by the Roman Catholic soldiers of Philip. The ornaments
of the altars, the chalices, curtains, carpets, gold embroidered
robes of the priests, the repositories of the Host, the precious
vessels used in extreme unction, the rich clothing and jewelry
of the effigies of the Virgin and saints were all plundered. The
property of the Catholic citizens was taken as freely as that of
the Protestants; of whom, indeed, there were few in the city. Men,
women, and children were murdered wholesale in the streets.
Even the ultra Catholic Jean Richardot, member of the Grand Council,
in reporting upon the events, ended his narration by saying "He
could say no more, for his hair stood on end, not only at recounting,
but even at remembering the scene." The survivors of the sack were
moving listlessly about the streets of the ruined city as Ned rode
through. Great numbers had died of hunger after the conclusion of
the pillage; for no food was to be obtained, and none dare leave
their houses until the Spanish and German troops had departed. Zutphen
had suffered a vengeance even more terrible than that of Mechlin.
Alva had ordered his son Frederick, who commanded the army that
marched against it, to leave not a single man alive in the city,
and to burn every house to the ground; and the orders were literally
obeyed. The garrison were first put to the sword, and then the
citizens were attacked and slaughtered wholesale. Some were stripped
naked and turned out to freeze to death in the fields. Five hundred
were tied back to back and drowned in the river. Some were hung
up by their feet, and suffered for many hours until death came to
Ned put up at Antwerp for the night. The news of the destruction
of Zutphen, and of the horrors perpetrated there, had arrived
but a few hours before, and a feeling of the most intense horror
and indignation filled the inhabitants; but none dared to express
what every one felt. The fate of Mechlin and Zutphen was as Alva
had meant it to be, a lesson so terrible, that throughout the
Netherlands, save in Holland and Zeeland alone, the inhabitants
were palsied by terror. Had one great city set the example and risen
against the Spaniards, the rest would have followed; but none dared
be the first to provoke so terrible a vengeance. Men who would have
risked their own lives shrank from exposing their wives and children
to atrocities and death. It seemed that conflict was useless. Van
der Berg, a brother-in-law of the Prince of Orange, who had been
placed by the prince as Governor of Guelderland and Overyssel,
fled by night, and all the cities which had raised the standard of
Orange deserted the cause at once. Friesland, too, again submitted
to the Spanish yoke.
Ned, after putting up his horse at a hotel at Antwerp, sauntered
out into the streets. Antwerp at that time was one of the finest and
wealthiest towns in Europe. Its public buildings were magnificent,
the town hall a marvel of architectural beauty. He stood in the
great square admiring its beauties and those of the cathedral when
he was conscious of some one staring fixedly at him, and he could
scarce repress a start when he saw the malicious face of Genet,
the clerk of Councillor Von Aert. His first impulse was to fly,
but the square was full of burghers, with many groups of Spanish
soldiers sauntering about; he could not hope to escape.
He saw by the expression on Genet's face that as yet he was not
sure of his identity. He had before seen him only as a country boy,
and in his present attire his appearance was naturally a good deal
changed. Still the fixed stare of the man showed that his suspicions
were strongly aroused, and Ned felt sure that it would not be
long before he completely recognized him. Nothing could be more
unfortunate than that this man whom he had believed to be diligently
searching for him in Brussels should thus meet him in the streets
of Antwerp. Turning the matter over rapidly in his mind he saw but
one hope of escape. He sauntered quietly up to a group of soldiers.
"My friends," he said, "do you want to earn a few crowns?"
"That would we right gladly," one of them replied, "seeing that
His Gracious Majesty has forgotten to pay us for well nigh a year."
"There is a hang dog villain with a squint, in a russet cloak and
doublet, just behind me." Ned said. "I have had dealings with him,
and know him and his master to be villains. He claims that I am
in debt to his master, and it may be that it is true; but I have
particular reasons for objecting to be laid by the heels for it
"That is natural enough," the soldier said. "I have experienced
the same unpleasantness, and can feel for you."
"See here, then," Ned said. "Here are ten crowns, which is two
apiece for you. Now, I want you to hustle against that fellow, pick
a quarrel with him and charge him with assaulting you, and drag him
away to the guard house. Give him a slap on the mouth if he cries
out, and throw him into a cell, and let him cool his heels there
till morning. That will give me time to finish my business and be
off again into the country."
"That can be managed easily enough," the soldier said with a laugh.
"He is an ill favoured looking varlet; and is, I doubt not, a
pestilent heretic. It would be a pleasure to cuff him even without
your honor's crowns."
"Here is the money, then," Ned said; "but, above all, as I have
said, do not let him talk or cry out or make a tumult. Nip him
tightly by the neck."
"We know our business," the soldier said. "You can rely on us to
manage your affair."
Ned sauntered quietly on. In a minute or two he heard a loud and
sudden altercation, then there was the sound of blows, and looking
round he saw two of the soldiers shaking Genet violently. The man
endeavoured to shout to the crowd; but one of the soldiers smote
him heavily on the mouth, and then surrounding him they dragged
him away. "That is very satisfactorily done," Ned said to himself,
"and it is by no means likely that Master Genet will get a hearing
before tomorrow morning. He will be pushed into a cell in the
guard room on the charge of brawling and insolence, and it is not
probable that anyone will go near him till the morning. I certainly
should like to peep in and have a look at him. His rage would be
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