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- Lysbeth, A Tale Of The Dutch - 80/87 -


"Who could have told him?" asked Foy. "It was only known to you and me and Martha, and we are not of the sort to tell. What? Give away the secret of Hendrik Brant's treasure which he could die for and we were sworn to keep, to save our miserable lives? Shame upon the thought!"

Martha heard, and looked at Elsa, a questioning look beneath which the poor girl turned a fiery red, though by good fortune in that light none could see her blushes. Still, she must speak lest the suspicion should lie on others.

"I ought to have told you before," she said in a low voice, "but I forgot--I mean that I have always been so dreadfully ashamed. It was I who betrayed the secret of the sword Silence."

"You? How did you know it?" asked Foy.

"Mother Martha told me on the night of the church burning after you escaped from Leyden."

Martin grunted. "One woman to trust another, and at her age too; what a fool!"

"Fool yourself, you thick-brained Frisian," broke in Martha angrily, "where did you learn to teach your betters wisdom? I told the Jufvrouw because I knew that we might all of us be swept away, and I thought it well that then she should know where to look for a key to the treasure."

"A woman's kind of reason," answered Martin imperturbably, "and a bad one at that, for if we had been finished off she must have found it difficult to get hold of the sword. But all this is done with. The point is, why did the Jufvrouw tell Ramiro?"

"Because I am a coward," answered Elsa with a sob. "You know, Foy, I always was a coward, and I never shall be anything else. I told him to save myself."

"From what?"

"From being married."

Adrian winced palpably, and Foy, noting it, could not resist pushing the point.

"From being married? But I understand--doubtless Adrian will explain the thing," he added grimly--"that you were forced through some ceremony."

"Yes," answered Elsa feebly, "I--I--was. I tried to buy myself off by telling Ramiro the secret, which will show you all how mad I was with terror at the thought of this hateful marriage"--here a groan burst from the lips of Adrian, and something like a chuckle from those of Red Martin. "Oh! I am so sorry," went on Elsa in confusion; "I am sure that I did not wish to hurt Adrian's feelings, especially after he has been so good to us."

"Never mind Adrian's feelings and his goodness, but go on with the story," interrupted Foy.

"There isn't much more to tell. Ramiro swore before God that if I gave him the clue he would let me go, and then--then, well, then, after I had fallen into the pit and disgraced myself, he said that it was not sufficient, and that the marriage must take place."

At this point Foy and Martin laughed outright. Yes, even there they laughed.

"Why, you silly child," said Foy, "what else did you expect him to say?"

"Oh! Martin, do you forgive me?" said Elsa. "Immediately after I had done it I knew how shameful it was, and that he would try to hunt you down, and that is why I have been afraid to tell you ever since. But I pray you believe me; I only spoke because, between shame and fear, I did not know right from wrong. Do you forgive me?"

"Lady," answered the Frisian, smiling in his slow fashion, "if I had been there unknown to Ramiro, and you had offered him this head of mine on a dish as a bribe, not only would I have forgiven you but I would have said that you did right. You are a maid, and you had to protect yourself from a very dreadful thing; therefore who can blame you?"

"I can," said Martha. "Ramiro might have torn me to pieces with red- hot pincers before I told him."

"Yes," said Martin, who felt that he had a debt to pay, "Ramiro might, but I doubt whether he would have gone to that trouble to persuade you to take a husband. No, don't be angry. 'Frisian thick of head, Frisian free of speech,' goes the saying."

Not being able to think of any appropriate rejoinder, Martha turned again upon Elsa.

"Your father died for that treasure," she said, "and Dirk van Goorl died for it, and your lover and his serving-man there went to the torture-den for it, and I--well, I have done a thing or two. But you, girl, why, at the first pinch, you betray the secret. But, as Martin says, I was fool enough to tell you."

"Oh! you are hard," said Elsa, beginning to weep under Martha's bitter reproaches; "but you forget that at least none of you were asked to marry--oh! I mustn't say that. I mean to become the wife of one man;" then her eyes fell upon Foy and an inspiration seized her; here, at least, was one of whom she could make a friend--"when you happen to be very much in love with another."

"Of course not," said Foy, "there is no need for you to explain."

"I think there is a great deal to explain," went on Martha, "for you cannot fool me with pretty words. But now, hark you, Foy van Goorl, what is to be done? We have striven hard to save that treasure, all of us; is it to be lost at the last?"

"Aye," echoed Martin, growing very serious, "is it to be lost at the last? Remember what the worshipful Hendrik Brant said to us yonder on that night at The Hague--that he believed that in a day to come thousands and tens of thousands of our people would bless the gold he entrusted to us."

"I remember it all," answered Foy, "and other things too; his will, for instance," and he thought of his father and of those hours which Martin and he had spent in the Gevangenhuis. Then he looked up at Martha and said briefly: "Mother, though they call you mad, you are the wisest among us; what is your counsel?"

She pondered awhile and answered: "This is certain, that so soon as Ramiro finds that we have escaped, having the key to it, he will take boat and sail to the place where the barrels are buried, knowing well that otherwise we shall be off with them. Yes, I tell you that by dawn, or within an hour of it, he will be there," and she stopped.

"You mean," said Foy, "that we ought to be there before him."

Martha nodded and answered, "If we can, but I think that at best there must be a fight for it."

"Yes," said Martin, "a fight. Well, I should like another fight with Ramiro. That fork-tongued adder has got my sword, and I want to get it back again."

"Oh!" broke in Elsa, "is there to be more fighting? I hoped that at last we were safe, and going straight to Leyden, where the Prince is. I hate this bloodshed; I tell you, Foy, it frightens me to death; I believe that I shall die of it."

"You hear what she says?" asked Foy.

"We hear," answered Martha. "Take no heed of her, the child has suffered much, she is weak and squeamish. Now I, although I believe that my death lies before me, I say, go on and fear not."

"But I do take heed," said Foy. "Not for all the treasures in the world shall Elsa be put in danger again if she does not wish it; she shall decide, and she alone."

"How good you are to me," she murmured, then she mused a moment. "Foy," she said, "will you promise something to me?"

"After your experience of Ramiro's oaths I wonder that you ask," he answered, trying to be cheerful.

"Will you promise," she went on, taking no note, "that if I say yes and we go, not to Leyden, but to seek the treasure, and live through it, that you will take me away from this land of bloodshed and murder and torments, to some country where folk may live at peace, and see no one killed, except it be now and again an evil-doer? It is much to ask, but oh! Foy, will you promise?"

"Yes, I promise," said Foy, for he, too, was weary of this daily terror. Who would not have been that had passed through the siege of Haarlem?

Foy was steering, but now Martha slipped aft and took the tiller from his hand. For a moment she studied the stars that grew clearer in the light of the sinking moon, then shifted the helm a point or two to port and sat still.

"I am hungry again," said Martin presently; "I feel as though I could eat for a week without stopping."

Adrian looked up from over his oar, at which he was labouring dejectedly, and said:

"There are food and wine in the locker. I hid them there. Perhaps Elsa could serve them to those who wish to eat."

So Elsa, who was doing nothing, found the drink and victuals, and handed them round to the rowers, who ate and drank as best they might with a thankful heart, but without ceasing from their task. To men who have starved for months the taste of wholesome provender and sound wine is a delight that cannot be written in words.

When at length they had filled themselves, Adrian spoke.

"If it is your good will, brother," he said, addressing Foy, "as we do not know what lies in front, nor how long any of us have to live, I, who am an outcast and a scorn among you, wish to tell you a story."

Lysbeth, A Tale Of The Dutch - 80/87

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