1. This ebook was made from the "Fifth and Cheaper Edition" (1928), published by Methuen and Co. Ltd., London. The publisher states that "the book has been abridged to bring it within the length of this series."
2. In the Preface to this edition (see below) the author places the novel within the context of the series of five novels which she composed from the history of The Netherlands. All five novels are available from Project Gutenberg Australia and from Roy Glashan's Library.
This historical novel is the second in a series of five which the writer has composed from the history of The Netherlands, a subject hitherto untouched by English romancers. Prince and Heretic dealt with William I of Orange (called in English "William the Silent"), in the early days of his career, and with his first marriage, and the beginning of the revolt in The Netherlands, those northern provinces of Philip II's Dutch dominions which finally wrested themselves free from his power, and constituted the Dutch Republic, the first free country in Europe.
The present story, which is a sequel to the first, brings us into the heart of the struggle, and commences when the prospects of the Dutch looked dark and even disastrous. The tale introduces William as a fugitive, but in no way dispirited or disheartened, and still animated by that intense ardour and enthusiasm for the work to which he had set his hand and which was, in the end, to prove eminently successful.
The effect of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew on the cause and on the Prince next follows. The book covers the battle of Mookerheide, with the tragic death of the two young Nassau princes, the brothers of William, the siege of Leiden, and finally the assassination of William at Delft by Gèrard, the fanatic Burgundian.
The story, however, does not end on a note of despair, for, if William of Nassau was killed, his son Maurice of Nassau lived; and that son was to prove a more than worthy successor to his great father, and regain for The Netherlands many towns and villages, and to set on a firm basis the Dutch Republic that his brother, Frederic Henry, was to raise to a bright pinnacle of glory.
Women do not play a great part in this story, which is essentially of men and men's affairs, and deals with the building up of a nation; but there are portraits of Charlotte of Bourbon, the one-time nun, and Louise, the last wives of William of Orange, and the devotion of an obscure lady-in-waiting runs like a quiet obbligato through all the affairs of state and all the pomp of war.
Nearly a hundred years later, the Dutch Republic, built up by William of Orange and his friends and sup porters into one of the great powers of Europe, was again in grave danger—this time in peril of utter extinction by a foreign foe, as it had been through the efforts of the King of Spain in peril of utter extinction almost before it was created.
This time it was France that swept The Netherlands, and again it was a Prince of the House of Orange who rescued them. This story, one of the most splendid in modern history, is told in the three books, I Will Maintain, Defender of the Faith, God and The King, which carries the story of Holland down to the opening years of the eighteenth century.
The last of this series covers the history of England at that period as well, the fortunes of the two nations being then one; nor is the story of William the Silent without interest for English readers, for it touches our story at many points—Philip II, his grim opponent, was the husband of one of our English queens, Mary Tudor, and her Protestant sister, Queen Elizabeth, did send help to William the Silent, though perhaps in a paltry measure. Sidney and Leicester are still well-known names in The Netherlands, and there are few towns which have not some memory of the help given by England to the Dutch in the sixteenth century. Zutphen is still celebrated as the spot where the famous Sir Philip Sidney met his end, and there can be no doubt that the firm resistance of the Dutch to the aggressions of Spain did keep at bay a most formidable foreign power that was striving, with every effort, to reduce the prestige and even the very existence of England, the England as was then established after the Reformation.
English volunteers in considerable numbers also helped Maurice of Nassau, later Prince of Orange, though he had no official assistance from England, and the names of the Veres and Charles Morgan are still strongly associated with these long wars in the Low Countries, only finally terminated by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which put an end to these religious conflicts: thus concluding the long struggle for the Dutch Independence and the Thirty Years War in Germany which, for a great part of the time, ran side by side with it, and which produced another great Protestant hero from the north, Gustavus-Adolphus, to assist in holding back the power of Rome and the princes helped and inspired by Rome. How far these wars were really political and how far really religious, it is now impossible to decide, then as now men's motives being so mixed; but, with all the allowances made for the intrigues of politicians and the ambitions of princes, there can be no doubt that these Protestants—from kings to peasants—were fighting, in the main, for the cause of liberty, and struggling to break away from tyrannies Which had become insupportable, and which were represented by Catholic powers—the Pope, the Emperor, the Kings of France and Spain—all, on their several occasions, striving to overwhelm and destroy the countries of the north which had adopted the reformed religion: England, The Netherlands and Scandinavia, and parts of Germany itself, the cradle of the Reformation.
It is this struggle, continuing for so many years, which is the main theme of these five romances of which this is the second; and, though the heroes change, the cause does not, and the theme, though treated with many varieties of scene and character, remains identical from first to last of these five books.
Though written mainly from a Protestant angle, they contain no prejudice whatever against the Roman Catholics, in whose cause many grand figures fought, and for whose politics and outlook there was, of course, a great deal to be said; and who had, in many of their pretensions, considerable justification, at least in the matter of worldly rights. One need cherish no bias for one side or the other to be enabled to appreciate the stories of these Princes of the House of Orange, and their long and persistent struggles against unequal odds.
GRAY'S INN, LONDON.
February 8, 1928.
A man was travelling through the Palatine towards the Nassau country; he rode a shabby little horse and his plain riding suit was both worn and mended, a cloak of dark blue Tabinet protected him from the March winds and a leaf hat without a buckle was pulled over his face.
He rode steadily until he came to an inn, the only house visible in all the long grey road, and there he dismounted, took his horse himself to the stable, then passed into the parlour and, going straight to the fire, warmed his hands with an air of pleasure and good humour.
Two other men were there, travellers like himself; they looked at him keenly, with suspicion, apprehension ready to change into open enmity.
One of these addressed the new-comer.
"Early in the year and late in the day to be on the road," he remarked.
"I come from France," was the answer, "business that will not wait forces me to overlook time and season."
"My name is Certain," he added, "a poor merchant from the Netherlands."
He smiled at them, advanced to the table and seated himself there, looking at his companions still with that smiling intentness.
He had revealed himself as a man of middle height, hardly yet in his full maturity, his figure and his bearing were both notably graceful, his hands extremely fine, his head was small, his complexion olive, his eyes and cropped hair brown, his beard shaved close; a muslin collar finished his ancient green suit; he wore no jewels nor ornaments; at his waist hung a short sword and a frayed leather wallet.
There was something remarkable in his appearance that caused the other two to gaze at him with undiminished curiosity.
Mynheer Certain, for his part, had soon summed up them and knew them very accurately for what they were, a French pastor of the Calvinist faith and a German clerk or shopkeeper of the poorer sort.
"You appear to doubt me," said the merchant pleasantly; he tapped on the table and when the drawer came ordered wine.
"I doubt the name you gave us," returned the French man; "who in these times travels under his own name?"
"And I," said the other, "was wondering at your nationality—from the Netherlands you say! I did not know that Alva had left any Netherlanders alive."
"A few," Mynheer Certain still smiled.
"So few that we may consider it a country lost from the world, a nation consumed with the fires of its own homesteads," he said, and he looked with a certain commiseration at the Netherlander.
"You think, then, there is no hope for my unhappy land?" asked that person.
"None," said the Calvinist. "The wrath of the Lord has unchained a devil upon them. Evil has strangled there truth and piety—as in France—where indeed can the Reformed Faith claim a foothold save in this realm of the Elector Palatine? You are of the Reformed Faith?"
"Of the Reformed Faith, yes."
The wine had been brought, and the merchant was drinking it slowly, with the relish of a tired man.
"Perhaps," said the German, "you have lost everything under Alva?"
Mynheer Certain gave his ready smile; his face, though lined with fatigue, was charming in contour and expression, and his manner was one of exquisite courtesy.
"Everything," he answered. "My property, my houses,—my son—my dignities, my revenues, my country. For I am an outlaw, an exile. Under the ban of King Philip."
"For your faith, Monsieur?" asked the Calvinsit with sympathy.
"For that, yes."
"You must hate Alva," said the German.
"Hate Alva?" repeated Mynheer Certain. "I do not know if I hate Alva—or King Philip."
"You have, then, no wish for revenge?" asked the pastor. "No wish to assist your wretched brethren, who, like you, have not only lost their all, but are under the hellish dominion of Spain?"
"Every wish," returned the merchant gently, "but no means."
"You are yourself a fugitive?" asked the pastor. "You fly, like all the persecuted, to the Court of the Elector Frederic?"
"No," said the Netherlander. "I am employed by a French house, trading in wool. I make my living."
The Calvinist regarded him with some contempt.
"You are too young to be so idle—there are men fighting for the Reformed Faith—fighting."
"Fighting in a hopeless cause," added the young German.
"So some say," said Mynheer Certain. He finished his wine and pushed back his chair. "Since Condé died at Jarnac—"
Neither of the others answered; the fatal name of Jarnac, where the Protestants had gone down to final defeat before the Catholic legions of France, silenced them.
Only the Netherlander spoke, completing his sentence.
"Who is there to take his place?"
"Coligny," said the pastor with a flash of hope.
"A great man—a helpless one," replied the merchant.
"The Prince of Nassau," said the clerk. He rose, brushing his hat with his coat sleeve.
"They are but as dust before the wind of Philip's wrath," returned the Calvinist. "And the Prince of Orange—he failed—"
"Failed so often," remarked Mynheer Certain, "failed so utterly."
"A great name once," said the German, "a great gentle man, too. I was in Leipsic when he was married to the Elector's niece."
The merchant looked at him sharply.
"You were there?"
"I, yes. I used to work for the Elector's alchemist. What an excitement that marriage was!—the Prince was Catholic then and we all thought that it was a cruelty to the Princess," he laughed. "She has proved to be a mad woman and a wanton too, they say, a disgrace to a proud family."
"Speak of what you know," reproved the merchant sternly, "the name of the Princess of Orange is not for vulgar handling."
"I speak of what all the world knows," returned the young man lightly. "A great wedding," he repeated. "I saw the Prince once, but it seems a thousand years ago—now he is an outlaw like yourself, Mynheer Certain."
"He failed; he failed!" cried the Calvinist impatiently.
"Who was he to withstand Philip?" demanded the German, clapping on his hat. "Though he had titles which would fill a parchment roll and the revenue of an Emperor—yet Philip! 'Tis the greatest king in the world, what subject of his could dream rebellion against him?"
"He of whom you speak," said the merchant quietly, "is no subject of Philip, but a sovereign ruler—Prince of Orange, by the Grace of God."
"By the Grace of God," repeated the Calvinist. "May be yet, God will use him for our deliverance, but humanly speaking I have no hope of him."
"Nor I," added the clerk. "I am due at Heidelberg—so a good evening, sir."
"A good evening," answered the merchant courteously. The Calvinist rose; a life of continual persecution had given him a furtive look; the resignation taught by his stern faith lent some dignity to an appearance of poverty and despair. He was an elderly man and all his life had known nothing but the disappointments of a losing cause, the bitterness of being one of a despised minority.
"How long, O Lord, how long?" he murmured.
He drew his cloak precisely about him and left the room; when the door had closed his heavy tread could be heard mounting to the little room that was his temporary refuge in his wanderings.
The Netherlander stood motionless by the fire; at that moment the sense of the intense unreality of life came oyez him with terrible force.
He thought of the past and time ceased to exist. The days of his prosperity, the days of his exile, moments of anguish, moments of ease mingled together in one intricate pattern, all his life seemed without period or date, a con fusion of events and emotion.
A thousand years ago seemed the marriage of the Prince of Orange, the young man had said—the Netherlander had also been in Leipsic for that ceremony—a thousand years ago—it seemed no less to him...he recalled his own past, pleasant days of gaiety, sport and jest—so utterly lost that no magic could recall them, days when the world had been normal, when all things had moved, pleasantly in their accustomed grooves, days when he had not lacked respect, companions, money, nor leisure—days such as might come into another's life, never again into his...half reluctantly his mind travelled the chaos that had followed the ending of those pleasant times, the exile, poverty, humiliation, failure—the loss of all, the country from which he was banished, the wife who had deserted him, the friends who had died or fallen away from his perilous cause.
No shadow disturbed the composure of his serene face, but the great sadness that was in his eyes deepened, and tears filled them.
With the restless movement of one in pain, he turned from the hearth to the window.
It was raining heavily; the Netherlander looked out steadily at this view of rain, wet trees and loose sky.
A word used by the stranger who had just spoken to him continually recurred to his mind—the Prince of Orange had failed.
In this moment the man looking out at the rain was acknowledging failure, accepting it, failure so complete, until he stood stripped, barren, humiliated before his enemies, a landless exile, banned and proscribed.
Again his mind travelled back to the old days. He contemplated his downfall; he remembered that at one time he had counted on happiness as a right, taken it for granted. Now that seemed to him extraordinary.
He returned to the table and took a little notebook from his pocket, looked through it and laid it down, then he brought out a handful of money, some silver pieces and one piece of gold; this was all he possessed, and taking from his wallet a sheet of paper, he began writing a letter to his brother...
"In the long coffer in my room is a suit of grey and a pair of hosen you may have mended for me—I am in sore need of these and shall thank you for your kind offices could you find a cheap small horse? I need one for a good friend of mine who at present goes a-foot, this is a very necessary thing if the means could be found."
He was penning this letter with a certain haste, as if eager to be rid of a disagreeable task, when the door of the little parlour opened. The traveller at once and swiftly put away his letter.
Voices sounded in the passage and a woman entered the room.
She wore a brown cloth riding suit and carried her wet skirts high, showing her muddied boots; the rain had draggled the long black feather in her buff hat and the locks of reddish hair that had been blown across her wind-flushed face; she was handsome in an imposing, opulent fashion, but her expression was humble and sad.
—Mynheer Certain had risen from his seat at her entry and was turning away, but the instant's glance he had of the woman caused him to pause and glance at her again.
She, entering, came face to face with him and stood arrested in all movement, her face flushing with a look of bewilderment and joy.
The innkeeper behind her began talking of her lame horse and when he might be able to procure her another. She composed herself to answer him.
"If need be I can walk to the Castle," she said, "it is so near—and—I will rest a little while—"
She stopped and began pulling off her gloves.
The landlord left, and the man and woman looked at each other again.
"You remember me?" he said gently
"I was your servant," she answered, "—but you remember me?"
"My lady's waiting-woman, the heretic maid from Dresden—Rénée le Meuny. But perhaps you have changed that name?"
"No," she was looking at him breathlessly. "Why do you speak of me? What of yourself?"
All humility and reverence were in her words; her knees trembled and her lips quivered.
"How I have prayed for your Highness," she murmured. The tears sprang to her eyes. "All these years—" He was moved at that; his sensitive nature was touched by the thought of her remembering and praying when he had forgotten her utterly until he had come face to face with her again.
"—All these years," repeated Rénée le Meuny. "You were ever very loyal," he said kindly.
"Loyal?" she answered strangely.
"Loyal," he repeated. "I remember that I noticed that quality in you—from the first."
He recalled her now very clearly, her impassiveness and reserve, her endless patience before the caprices of an intolerable mistress, the stedfastness with which she had once or twice ventured to speak to him of her persecuted faith.
"I hope all is well with you," he said, and there was a certain tenderness mingled with the usual perfect courtesy of his manner; tenderness for the past and the part Rénée le Meuny had played therein.
She did not appear to hear what he was saying, so utterly absorbed was she by the wonder of meeting him, of seeing actually before her the man who had so long occupied her thoughts.
"We think of you so much at the Castle," she said, "so much."
"You are at the Castle?"
"With the good Electress, yea. She shelters so many—your Highness is coming to the Castle?"
"I had not thought to do so," he answered. "I have no news for the Elector Palatine. I travel as Mynheer Certain—to keep in touch with some agents of mine. My eventual goal is Dillenburg."
"But you will come to Heidelberg," she said, clasping her hands nervously. "You would not pass them by—they—I—we have waited so long for news of you—so patiently."
"I have no news," he said again and turned away his tired eyes.
"Your Highness must come," she pleaded. "Oh, your Highness will come!"
She strangely tempted him—to be among friends, to snatch a few hours of ease, of comfort, why not?
It had not been his intention to ask the sympathy even of those whom he knew would offer it lovingly, but this resolve of his now faltered; something in the personality of the woman swayed him; he had long lacked the devotion of a woman in his life; lately he had met few, refined and comely as Rénée le Meuny; once such women had been as plentiful round him as the flowers in his parterres and as little noticed, now they were a rarity; he even felt grateful to this lady who looked at him in an amaze of pleasure and reverence.
"Why should I not come?" he said with a smile. "It grows dark and you will need an escort to the Castle."
"You would ride with me?" she exclaimed. He was almost startled at her tone.
"Why should I not ride with you?" he asked gently. "I was your servant, one of the least of your servants," she said.
"I am a landless man now," he answered. "I have no servants, and but few friends—make these one more, Mademoiselle."
She moved a little away from him.
"To me," she said simply, "you are always William of Orange."
Slowly they rode together through the pine forest; the rain fell steadily yet gently, there was a faint warmth in the air like the first beginning of the beautiful heat of summer; here and there fresh green tipped the winter darkness of the trees.
They rode with a certain leisure as people who are at no haste to be at their journey's end. To the woman it was an episode of pure happiness in a life that had always been unhappy, to the man it was a pleasant interlude in a life of stress and turmoil unutterable; he rode his shabby hack and she the borrowed horse from the inn; their wet cloaks clung about them and the moisture dripped from their felt hats; the woman's heart glowed with a joy that made the grey afternoon as radiant to her as a midsummer noonday, her mind admitted nothing beyond the fact that they were riding alone together. It seemed incredible after all these years of patience, of abnegations, of dreams.
"You think often of the Netherlands?" asked the Prince.
"Often," she said. "I have wondered if I am ever to return to my unfortunate country—believe me I would go," she added, "if my going was of the least service, but I have always been one of the useless."
"We are all useless compared with our tasks," said the Prince gravely. "I feel myself a handful of dust before the wind, a straw before the tide."
"You are the guiding star of a whole nation," said Rénée le Meuny, "the hope of a Faith—the solace of a Cause." He smiled, turning on her his sad eyes.
"You are good to think that of me—it is their own courage guides and supports the Netherlanders, not II am a man who set himself against great odds and who has failed."
"But who is not defeated, Highness."
"No, not defeated," he assented quietly. "I have yet my brain, my two hands, the name—a name something loved—nothing else."
She looked at him; under the broad brim of his hat his dark face showed pale; the exact fine features had changed since the day she had seen him first; the day when he had mounted the stairs of Leipsic town hall to greet his bride, Anne of Saxony—the smooth olive cheek was hollowed, the brilliant eyes shadowed, in the thick close chestnut locks the white hairs were sprinkled; he looked infinitely tired, and there was great sadness in the resolute lines of his full lips.
Rénée remembered—remembered days of pomp and magnificence and this man moving through them, courted, beloved, and serene, a Prince, a Grandee of Spain, the greatest man in the Netherlands.
And the years between then and now were not so many, and yet she, his wife's waiting-woman, who had courtesied from his path with awe, had met him, a forlorn and penniless exile in a wayside inn, and they were riding together as equals.
Equals—her heart trembled at the word; she knew it was but another dream, that he would always remain a sovereign Prince and she a humble commoner, yet for the moment it was a dream with the semblance of reality; at least all outward sign of difference was done away with, they rode together as fellow exiles, as two of the same country and the same faith—as mere man and woman. And his wife was no longer between them; the worthless, faithless, wanton woman whom Rénée had laboured so long and patiently to save, was repudiated at last, insane in the care of her own kinsfolk.
"If we could ride for ever," thought Rénée, "if the world would stop about us and we could ride on like this through all eternity."
The rain ceased and the light of sunset showed in a faint blur through the straight dark stems of the trees, a pale saffron glow diffused itself through the wood, an indistinct gleam of sunshine quivered along the ground.
"Afterwards," said the Prince, looking at his companion, "when I am again lost in my obscure wanderings, I shall remember this ride very pleasantly."
She turned her glance to her gauntleted hands so slackly holding the reins.
"Count Louis is in health?" she asked. "He is so much spoken of at Heidelberg."
A look of tenderness softened the Prince's face at mention of his younger brother.
"Louis is well and gay," he answered. "His bright spirits help us all to have confidence in our desperate cause."
Rénée recalled her first meeting with Count Louis—the idle young gallant—she remembered too how she had despised him for his air of foppery—how he had shamed her judgment. She had also felt some contempt for the handsome gorgeous Prince of Orange and his political marriage, but that Rénée had now forgotten utterly.
"You remember the days in Brussels?" smiled the Prince, "the feasts, the tourneys—poor wild Brederode—Hoogstraaten—Egmount, Hoorne—my brother Adolphus—Bergen, Floris Montmorency all dead!—dead as the ashes of those festal fires, Mademoiselle."
"How will Philip answer to God for all these lives, all those other lives, obscure, miserable as these were great?"
He glanced at her still with that wistful smile about his lips.
"Philip? He has pleased his God and knows no other." Rénée was puzzled.
"But there surely is Judgment for such a man?"
"Who knows?" said William calmly. "Judgment is not in our hands, Mademoiselle, we perform our little task while we can and when our day is done—good night! So much to do, so little time to do it in!"
"You do not hate Philip?" she asked as the Calvinist had asked.
"I have hated him. These last years I have got beyond hate—and beyond despair. Mademoiselle, I have been very much in the depths—I have seen grief and sorrow very close. I have been in those places where a man leaves his life or his passions. I lived. I think there was nothing left of what I used to be but a certain faith in human endeavour, a certain hope in the triumph of this world's better things—even against a Philip."
She was silent, overwhelmed that he should thus speak to her.
"So I have hope, even for the Netherlands," continued the Prince. "So I have faith—even in the coming of that time when there shall be no one creed tryannizing over another creed. Even in that I have faith—but one can do so little—only all of us doing something may bring nearer the day of deliverance. So little!" he repeated softly, "to serve the truth as we see it—God as we know Him—justice as it is revealed to us—so little!"
"This from your Highness—who has done everything!"
"Lost everything. The two strangers I parted from just now spoke of my name and failure—coupled the words together!"
But as he spoke he smiled and his eyes were serene.
Rénée thought of all he had endured—defeat, humiliation, contempt, the endless endeavour, the slow patience, the vast energy, the indomitable resource that had again and again been wasted in a fruitless task.
"You will achieve," she said in a low voice, "such as your Highness always achieve."
"If I could do only a little," he answered quietly. "Lately I have been afraid they would kill me before I could do anything at all."
"Kill you?" she stammered.
"Philip thinks me of some importance still," he answered simply, with a little smile. "I am on the list of those he considers dangerous—the list on which he put Hoorne and Egmont."
"They—try to assassinate you?"
"Persistently. Philip has not forgotten that I escaped the net that caught the others."
Rénée's face quivered, she looked away.
"God would not let you be killed," she said. "Too many need your Highness."
He did not answer this; he too had his faith, but it was not so simple as hers; he did not think that Heaven had given him any special mission or would afford him any special protection; to him Eternal Truth and Eternal Justice were throned high above the mud and blood of the present strife, nor did he believe that his endeavours would be even noticed by that Vastness men called God; so far he was a fatalist, and to this point the Calvinist religion, that it had become most expedient for him to embrace, was congenial to him; but had it not been a matter of political wisdom he would not have joined any particular sect; narrowness was hateful to him and the very essence of the cause for which he had given everything was liberty of conscience.
They came out from the pine forest on to the high road; dusk was closing in and before them gleamed the lights in the windows of Heidelberg Castle.
As the Prince saw the Castle before him, his expression subtly changed; the moment of softness passed; like a shadow the reserved look of the man of great affairs, of one engaged in perilous causes and burdened with heavy secrets, came over his face.
"The Elector is at home?" he asked, and Rénée saw that he had already put her from his thoughts and was considering how this chance visit he had been persuaded into might be turned into political account.
"Yes, Monseigneur," she answered, instantly subduing herself to his service, "he will be most honoured at your Highness's coming."
"A pity," observed William, "that he is not so powerful as he is well meaning."
"He is very generous," said Rénée, loyal to the man whose little Court had sheltered her and so many of her co-religionists. "He does not refuse his protection to the most destitute and insignificant. The Electress, too, is wide in charity."
"Mademoiselle de Montpensier is with her?" asked the Prince.
"Yes, Highness. I am her particular attendant. At some peril to themselves their Highnesses shelter this lady, who fled from France to them—Monseigneur knows the story?"
"Of Mademoiselle de Montpensier, the abbess of Jouane?" smiled William, then added with a sudden gravity, "I do not know why I smile, her action showed great courage in the lady."
"Such courage, Monseigneur, for one enclosed in a convent since she was a child of eleven!" said Rénée eagerly, "but she is brave, the Princess, and strong."
"Such women are needed in these times," answered William. "Mademoiselle should marry and comfort some weary man."
Rénée knew that there had been long and persistent talk of a union between William's brother, Louis of Nassau, and Charlotte de Montpensier and she thought that it was to this that he alluded.
"The Electress is eager for such a marriage," she said, "but the Princess is dowerless; her father will give her nothing, and her sister, Madame de Bouillon, cannot."
"Many a man will wed without a dower now as many a woman without an establishment—your little princess will find her mate—she looks a woman for a home."
Rénée was startled.
"Your Highness has seen her?" she exclaimed.
"Once. When I first came to France." He dismissed the subject with a certain abruptness. "We are almost at the Castle, Mademoiselle. I trust your good offices," he added with a very winning courtesy, "to assure my welcome."
"Your Highness humbles me," breathed Rénée. This meeting with the Prince had changed everything for her, so suddenly, so utterly, that she was giddy with it.
In the courtyard he helped her to dismount; and held her gloved hand for a moment after she was standing beside him.
"I thank you for a pleasurable hour, Mademoiselle," he said, and his voice had a quality of gratitude as if he had not been lately used to such sympathy as she had offered him.
She turned towards the Castle entrance, and the Prince, taking off his shabby hat and shaking the water from the brim, followed her.
An officer standing in the hall stared curiously at the slim shabby man behind Rénée.
"The Elector!" she asked.
"His Highness"—he began.
As he spoke Frederic himself came down the wide stairs; beside his stern martial figure was the slender one of the young Count Christopher.
Rénée turned to them.
"Messieurs, I bring you a very notable guest."
"In very notable attire," added William, and he laughed. The Elector came swiftly down the stairs, his face coloured with pleasure. He put his hands on the Prince's shoulders and kissed him on either cheek.
Rénée sped past them, up the stairs and to the apartments of Mademoiselle de Montpensier.
"Mademoiselle," said Rénée breathlessly, "he is here!"
"Who is here, my dear?" asked the Princess. "Your knight at last? I thought that you must have one, Rénée."
Rénée turned away; her lips trembled, her throat was dry and she could not speak.
Charlotte de Bourbon did, not lift her eyes from her work.
This Princess, daughter of the proud Duc de Montpensier, who had been forced by her parents into a cloister at the age of eleven, who had taken her vows under protest, and abandoned her position as abbess in one of the most princely and wealthy establishments in France, to fly into the Palatinate and embrace the Reformed Faith, was a slight fair girl of no great appearance of energy or force of character.
Her features were small, her hair soft and fine, the chin was a little heavy, the eyes dark blue, her manner was one of, above all, serenity. She wore a puce-coloured gown and a falling ruff of delicate muslin covered with needlework.
"Who is he?" she asked again without looking up. "The Prince of Orange, Mademoiselle," answered Rénée quickly.
Now Charlotte dropped her work.
"The Prince of Orange!"
"Yes, Mademoiselle, he is now in the castle."
"Yes, I left him with the Elector."
Charlotte looked thoughtful; Rénée, who believed the common rumour that the Princess was interested in and would eventually marry Louis of Nassau, remarked, timidly.
"His Highness spoke of his brother—Count Louis, who is safe and well."
Charlotte glanced at her calmly; the serenity that had enabled Mademoiselle de Montpensier to support with dignity so many years of conventual life was always apparent in her demeanour, and Rénée, at least, had never seen any of the spirit that had urged her to break her enforced vows and escape her convent; there still seemed much of the abbess in Charlotte, the dignity of one trained to command, the poise of one who is remote from the world and impervious to worldly troubles.
"Do you think that I am so eager for news of Count Louis?" she asked pleasantly.
"Yes," said Rénée frankly; she was as intimate with the Princess as any woman, but Charlotte had a quality of elusive remoteness difficult to the warm and impulsive nature of the Fleming.
"You listen to gossip," smiled the Princess gently, "but I shall be glad to meet the Prince. He has been wonderful. I believe he will do something yet, even against Alva."
"He has given all he has," answered Rénée. "Everything—you cannot imagine how great and splendid he was, how magnificent—and now—like a beggar—lonely."
"You speak with great enthusiasm," said Charlotte, looking up. "You knew him very well?"
It was in Rénée's heart and almost on her lips to disclose her long-kept secret—"I love him," but something in the utter gentle calm of the Princess checked her; she kept a stern rein over her agitation and answered quietly.
"When I was with his wife I saw much of His Highness."
"Where is his wife?" asked Charlotte; the disastrous ending of the Prince's marriage was a thing hushed and mysterious; these two had never spoken of it before.
"I believe she may be at Dillenburg in the custody of Count John," said Rénée. "Count Louis told me that the Prince had repudiated her and that the Elector of Saxony was to take her back. She is mad."
"Poor wretch!" murmured Charlotte.
"There is no need to pity her, Mademoiselle, she made the Prince's life a humiliation and a misery. I knew her as few others could and there was no good in her. And when the trouble came she deserted him—and—and stooped to another man."
"I know," said the Princess, "therefore I say, 'poor wretch!' Do you not pity such as these, Rénée?
"Nay—at least for her I had no pity."
Charlotte was silent.
"And now the Prince is free," added Rénée. "Free? He considers himself free?"
"He is now a Protestant, and Protestant Divines have freed him from a union the woman trampled on."
Charlotte said no more; she folded away her silks and ribbons into a cedar-wood box.
The rain had begun again, heavy drops splashed down the wide chimney on to the log fire, a high wind shook the window behind the heavy curtain.
The Prince of Orange sat in the Elector's private cabinet and listened to his host speaking on the confusions and disorders that rent the nations. It was second nature in him to listen to all, to defer, to soothe, to conduct intricate intrigue secretly and use people while they thought they used him; he was still the accomplished diplomat he had been in the days of his power when the redoubtable Cardinal Granvelle had described him as "the most dangerous man in the Netherlands," and he still masked his abilities with that show of perfect good humour and tolerance that had always gained him so many adherents.
In his heart he was sick of all men; he himself saw so clearly, so straightly both the great issues that he had at heart and the means to achievement of these same issues, that it was weariness to him to have to wait always on the whims and crooked policies of others.
On every side these others baulked him; the Queen of England was a Protestant, but she would not help him, in despite of her half-promises, because it was not her policy to go to war with Spain, the Protestant Princes of Germany would not risk their all in an encounter with Alva, the French played fast and loose with Protestant and Romanist, Condé's little band with whom William and his brothers had thrown in their fortunes had been scattered like chaff; the Prince had no allies beyond his brothers, John, Louis and Henry, and no resources beyond his own apacity.
The Elector admired him and sympathized with both his cause and his situation, yet William would not even have troubled to visit Heidelberg had he not met Rénée le Meuny, so hopeless did he know it to be to ask Frederic for material.
So he listened to the good Elector's denunciation of Rome and Philip, Alva and the Inquisition, and in his heart was the great sadness and weariness of the man who has undertaken an almost impossible task and knows that he must shoulder it alone.
Frederic sat by the fireplace, his fine, rather heavy face was flushed and animated, his eyes shone under his grey hair and his mouth was firmly set between the grey moustaches and beard.
William, silent, shabby yet elegant, with his air of courteous attention, sat at the round table that occupied the centre of the room; his eyes were fixed intently on the Elector, yet when Frederic, ceasing his powerful yet vague reproaches against the supporters of the Christian faith, asked a sudden question it was with an effort that William recalled himself from his own straying thoughts to answer.
"Why do you rely on the French?" the Elector had demanded.
The Prince utterly unable and unwishful to explain his intricate policies to even such a loyal friend as Frederic, answered smoothly. "I doubt if I could tell why I try for French support," he said, "save that a desperate man clutches at straws. I do not, however, rely on them."
"'Twere wiser not to do so," remarked the Elector shrewdly. "Think you Catherine or her sons could play fair?"
"There is the Guise," replied William. "It is a country split with factions—one of their ambitious young Princes might be tempted."
"The kingdom of the Netherlands," said the Prince calmly.
"Ah, you would offer that?"
"My ideal would be a Republic," answered the Prince, "but I think that unattainable in these times. Therefore I would create a kingdom and offer it to the Prince who would deliver us from Philip and the Inquisition."
"A bold plan," said the Elector with admiration and a little amazement. "Your Highness really thinks it possible to completely deliver the Netherlands?"
"Then it is your Highness should have the throne of this new kingdom."
William appeared neither startled nor flattered; the idea was not new to him.
"A more powerful Protector than myself is needed, Highness. I am a landless man. I can neither command one chest of money nor one regiment of foot. The Netherlands require one who can liberate before he can rule."
"If there is a man in Europe can do that," declared the Elector, "it is yourself."
William slightly flushed.
"I have tried and failed. More than once. I have gathered armies to see them scattered, I have spent all I had with no results. I have lost all I ever had in this cause, all but life," he added, "for what am I now but a derision to Philip and Alva and an object of pity to the world? I undertook what I could not do. I shall try again, but it cannot be alone."
"Better alone than with treacherous help," said the Elector.
William did not answer; the vast schemes that he was meditating required the aid of nations, not only individuals; to attempt alone the task to which he had set his hand was to play a fool's part; he thought the Elector did not understand this but considered him a forlorn adventurer, and therefore he did not answer.
"Whom would you trust?" pursued Frederic. "France, Austria, England?"
"I work," replied the Prince, "with all three, with all—with any. I cannot too carefully choose my means for these ends I have in view—the liberation of the Netherlands and toleration for the Reformed Religion."
The Elector sighed; there was still that look of faint amazement in his face. It seemed quite hopeless to defy Philip, for he was sincere in his profession of the Reformed Faith and ardent in his championship of his co-religionists in the Netherlands.
For an instant the younger man's faith almost convinced him; he looked searchingly at William's steadfast face.
Supposing these golden dreams did come true, supposing the defeated Prince did snatch a nation from Philip's wrath and Alva's sword?
"You have great confidence in success, Highness?" he asked.
"I do not know," replied William slowly. "I cannot tell how long I have."
"You think that Philip pursues you?" asked Frederic gloomily.
"I know it. I was on the same list as Hoorne and Floris, Egmont and Bergen. The King will not rest till I have joined them, Highness."
"Assassination! the Spanish hound!" cried the Elector. "Death some way," said William. "They have tried several times. Once they will try and not fail."
"You think that?"
"Is it likely, Highness, that such a man as Philip would fail in such an aim?"
"This is a horrible thing for you to live with," muttered the Elector.
"I am used to it. I know that some day Philip's steel or bullet or poison will end me as it ended them. Unless the chance of battle saves me. The question is, how much I can accomplish first."
Frederic had no good answer ready; it seemed to him indeed unlikely that Philip who had set William under a ban, and resolved on his death by any means and at any cost, would allow to escape the last and most illustrious of the Netherlanders who had defied his authority.
The Prince's thoughts had travelled far from the subject; there was one question only he wished to put to the Elector. "How many men would you raise for me in the Palatinate?" talk of other matters was but waste of time, and he would consider his evening wasted if he could not obtain some promise of support from Frederic.
He rose and crossed to the hearth with the intention of asking the Elector for a levy of men; though he would very willingly have been silent on this matter to the Elector; but his policy had been too long that of ceaseless endeavour in every direction for him to leave unused this chance that had come his way.
He was about to speak when the door opened and two women entered the apartment.
The foremost was the Electress, she who had been the wife of the wild Beggar leader, Count Brederode, and her companion was Mademoiselle de Montpensier.
"Highness," said the Electress, addressing the Prince of Orange, "since you would not come to wait on us we are here to wait on you," she held out her hand frankly and smiled. "We used to know each other in Brussels, Monseigneur, will you ignore old friends?"
"I was in no trim to speak to ladies," answered William. "I go darkly, shadowed with misfortune, and would not offend gentle eyes nor sadden hearts."
As he spoke he looked at her wistfully, for in truth she reminded him of those old Brussels days—the days of youth and pleasure.
"I knew they would bring you their homage, Prince," smiled the Elector. "Your name is ever on their tongues—this," he drew forward his young guest, "this is Mademoiselle Charlotte de Bourbon, the Duc de Montpensier's daughter, lately of that faith, Highness, for which you fight."
The Prince glanced at her quickly; the Elector had drawn her into the golden circle of the lamplight.
In that moment Charlotte looked beautiful, her face was flushed and soft above the fine gauze ruff, the fair hair loosened about the low placid brow and the eyes shining with an eager light.
"We met before, twice," said William.
"Once at the Louvre—you were a very little maid, you stood in an alcove and watched the Queen of Scotland dance. It was a little while before King Henry died."
"You saw me? A funny little child! Soon after that they made me a nun."
"And now you have taken your freedom. With great courage."
The Princess impulsively caught the Elector's hand, while her eyes turned affectionately towards his wife.
"These saved me. I am homeless but for them. My father disowns me. I am exile as yourself, Highness; closed to me is France—but I am very happy here," she added instantly; despite her dignity there was a certain childishness about her as she spoke infinitely touching.
"She is not happy," said the Electress gently. "Who could be in such times as these? Who could be, cast from their home and their country? But we will find an establishment for her."
Frederic smiled kindly at the little refugee.
"She deserves good fortune, this fair heretic," he said.
Charlotte looked at the Prince, who was gazing at her very intently; he was recalling that morning, early in the year, soon after he had entered France, and how she had ridden by, an abbess with her train of nuns...and how she, even then, had wished him "God speed" on his perilous adventure.
Seeing his eyes on her she flushed, but her gaze was steady.
"What great talk have we interrupted with our coming?" she asked seriously.
The Elector shook his head.
"The Prince has said nothing. You must use your persuasions to make him talk, Mademoiselle."
"What of?" smiled William. "I have long since become rusty in subjects interesting to a lady's ears."
Charlotte looked at him gravely; he was impressed now, as he had been when he had seen her last, by a certain nobility in her face.
"Your Highness must not dismiss us as trifles now," she said. "Women can be of use, even in these times. We have changed as the men have changed—is it not so, Madame?" She turned to the Electress.
"At least we understand," was the gentle answer.
"Your Highness would never realize how we have followed your exploits, waited for news, hoped, prayed—and blessed you, Prince, you and Count Louis and Count John and all who fight."
William, looking at these two earnest and intelligent women, thought of the wife who still bore his name, the woman who had insulted him and his cause, who had deserted him and his faith and stooped to a low intrigue with one scarce a gentleman.
The pain of this thought caused him to turn away abruptly; he walked to the wide hearth, then turned again, facing the three.
None of them could have guessed his secret disease, but all saw the sudden cloud on his face and a little silence fell.
It was the Princess Charlotte who broke it; she did what was to William an amazing thing. She turned quietly to Frederic.
"How many men can you raise for his Highness?" she said.
William started to hear the question that had been so insistently in his own mind, started to hear her ask so quietly the question he, a Prince, had not cared to ask.
The Elector looked at her straightly, almost with a challenge.
"Who told you, Mademoiselle," he asked, "that I proposed to raise a levy for the Prince of Orange?" She answered simply:
"I was sure you would help to your utmost, Highness." She smiled as she added, "The Duke Christopher is eager to go."
"Ah, he has no secrets from you, eh?" smiled the Elector.
"I do not know his secrets, Highness, only this, that he is eager to volunteer under the Prince of Orange."
"Well, better that than to spend his life in sloth," he answered.
"And how many men can the Palatinate raise?" asked Charlotte.
"She has a courage," remarked the Electress with a smile.
"What courage?" asked Charlotte; she too was smiling. "Is it not true that the Elector is a Protestant Prince—and is it not true," she turned shyly to William, "that His Highness requires men for his campaign against Alva in the Netherlands?"
William had been watching this little scene with an intent curiosity.
"It is very true," he answered at once. "How can I thank my gracious advocate?"
"Thank the Elector," said Charlotte, "when he has given you the levy—and now a good night, for I have had my say. Before your going I shall see your Highness."
She took the arm of the Electress and the two were gone as quickly and unceremoniously as they had entered. Frederic turned to William.
"I will help you to the best of my power," he said, and held out his hand.
Charlotte left the Electress and ran up to her own chamber, where Rénée le Meuny sat by the fire.
"I have seen him," said Charlotte.
"The Prince?" Rénée looked up.
"I thought that he was here secretly and would see no one but the Elector," said Rénée slowly.
"What did you think of him?" she asked with reluctance.
Charlotte answered gravely.
"He is such as I should wish to marry, to serve and be with always."
They met again, the Prince and Charlotte de Bourbon; he, who was used to only a few hours' sleep, was up almost with the early spring dawn; the day was sunny and misty after yesterday's rain; she and Rénée were walking in the garden when the Prince found them.
At sight of him the waiting-woman withdrew herself, as she had withdrawn herself all her life, but her step was heavy and her shoulders drooped as she went.
The Princess greeted him with her simple serenity, trained to be composed and distant in graciousness.
"I wished to see you again, Mademoiselle," said William.
They fell into step side by side, walking slowly between the flower beds where the snowdrops showed beneath the bushes.
"You leave soon?" asked Charlotte.
"In a few hours."
"Your Highness is not long in any one place," she smiled. "No—an exile's life!"
"We are both exiles," said Charlotte, "and for the same cause."
"Tell me," he asked, "how you came to this great resolution, Mademoiselle, to leave all?"
It did indeed seem strange to him that she, a mere girl, should have dared to break her bonds, her vows, and return to the world from which she had been forever excluded and embrace the faith that was one with damnation to her people and her kin.
He was puzzled also because he did not see in her any great energy or force of character, she seemed rather simple and conformed.
Yet she had done this thing, uninfluenced and unaided.
"I never wished to be a nun," she answered. "When I took my vows I made a protest before the Novices. I was then eleven years old. I loathed the life—from the first."
"And you heard of what was taking place in the world?"
"A little. Something of this great new freedom that was coming—something of the great conflict in France—of what the Queen of Navarre and the Elector were doing, and my sister's lord, Monsieur de Bouillon. I thought it was the moment to free myself."
"And you left everything?"
She looked up at him as if she did not understand his meaning.
"I mean you lost your inheritance, your country and your home? Is this not so, Mademoiselle?" insisted William.
"Has not your Highness lost as much, and more?" she replied.
"Oh, I!" he smiled.
She continued looking at him, knitting her brows in the earnestness of her speech.
"And your life must have been pleasant, was it not?"
"Yes, I think it was, Mademoiselle."
"While mine was hateful to me—so mine was a very little sacrifice beside yours," said the Princess.
"And you," smiled William, "are a very little person beside me—and half my years."
"But Monsieur, you think me very foolish?"
"I wonder at you. I know what it was to break from all custom, old tradition—to renounce all that one had hitherto held sacred."
"But I," said Charlotte, "had never felt these things sacred."
"No," repeated the Princess. "I thought we all have the right to our own lives always—and freedom—I never believed in priests and I always thought one faith as good as another and the Reformed Faith a deal more convenient. And I never could believe the plaster statues were the Mothers of God, or the little wax Christmas babies Our Lord."
In these words, spoken with great earnestness, he saw now her strength, the calm force of her steadfast character, her common-sense view, undazzled by tradition; the simplicity of her character pleased his mind, itself so tortured by a thousand intricacies of thought, and the boldness of her outlook a little amazed him, accustomed as he was to numberless sophistries and hesitations, both in his own innermost beliefs and those of the men whom he dealt with.
"And you have never repented your step, Mademoiselle?" he asked.
"Oh, no. I am happy here."
Yet he saw that she was no enthusiast for the cause to which she had given such singular evidence of devotion.
"The religion was the excuse to leave the nun's life?"
"Yes," said Charlotte slowly, "had I not been forced to be a nun I might have been content with the old faith. My whole sympathy, though, is with the Protestants and I shall ever be a true professor of their faith."
He believed her; there was great loyalty, he saw, in her character, she would be very sincere in all her dealings.
They came to a little stone seat beneath an ash tree just covered with the first black buds and seated themselves. William found it pleasant to look at her, and as he looked a sense of her sweetness touched him very deeply; he imagined her as the centre of a home, as the mother of children, and the thought came to him—"If I had had such a woman these last years, how different my life would have been."
He spoke, prompted by these thoughts.
"Now you are in the world, Mademoiselle, you will do as the world does?"
She did not affect to misunderstand him.
"I wish to marry, Monsieur, when the time comes that one I can admire wishes for me, and to help in making life easy for one of your fighting men. But I am dowerless," she added with a smile.
"He who weds you will not look for a dowry," said William. "You have heard of my brother, Count Louis, and his admiration of you?"
"I have seen him," she answered. "He is not my suitor, Highness."
"Not openly as yet, he is afraid, because he has so little to offer."
She shook her head sadly.
"Too much for me to accept."
"Nay, in worldly gear nothing," said William, "but in himself he is a knight for any maiden's dreams, Mademoiselle."
"I do believe it," she answered simply.
She looked round at him; he was gazing at her and as their glances met she faintly coloured, but her eyes continued steadfast.
They were a strange contrast, she in her youth' and candour, in her spotless gown and linen, he in his worn maturity, his shabby clothes, his dark face sad and thoughtful, his reserved manner, his courtesy; yet they had something in common, for each had flung aside the shackles life had hung on them and now stood free.
And each nursed a dream; and though his was to free a nation, establish a religion and enthrone freedom securely in Europe, and hers was but to have her own house and her man to tend and her baby in her arms, still each was equally sincere, equally passionate, and this gave them in common the steadfastness imparted by a burning desire and a deep resolve.
For even as William meant to accomplish his tremendous aims, so Charlotte meant to accomplish her hidden hopes, but while he was active she was passive, while he strove she waited.
"If it should be Count Louis," he said, "I should be glad."
"I thank you for that," she answered, "but you speak of what is not in the hearts of either of us, Monseigneur."
While he was silent she spoke again, as if she had completely dismissed Count Louis from her thoughts. "Your Highness leaves here to-day?"
His face became graver; he had allowed himself this rare interval of distraction, with a feeling of relief, and now he thought with distaste upon the resumption of his task: "If I had my own home," he thought strangely, "this work of mine would seem different to me."
The thoughts of the Princess were working on different lines.
She leant forward a little, greatly interested.
"Your Highness has hopes from my country?"
"France could do everything."
"Alas, that my people are Catholic and on the side of your Highness's enemies."
"At least you are not," he said.
He put out his hand and took hers.
"You are my friend, are you not? Mademoiselle, good wishes such as yours do help as well as armies."
"But I would rather give you the armies," she smiled, colouring a little and letting her hand lie in his while she looked at him with her truthful eyes.
He kissed the fingers he held, then rose.
"I hope you will have good news of me," he said, "but you must expect bad, Mademoiselle. Meanwhile my pleasant hours pass, and I must leave Heidelberg."
She rose also and they looked at each other wistfully, as it they had more to say than words could at that moment express.
Then they parted.
He returned to the Castle to take his leave and Charlotte remained in the garden.
The bright sunshine of the early day had now changed into a fitful light obscured by clouds, the air became chilly and the Princess drew her wrap closer.
Presently she began gathering the snowdrops and Rénée, who had not returned to the palace, now perceived she was alone and joined her.
"The Prince has gone?" she asked.
"He has left to take his leave of the Elector," replied Charlotte.
She showed Rénée her flowers, but the other woman looked at the Princess and disliked her serene face.
"What a life is this!" she exclaimed.
Charlotte gave her a glance of surprise.
"You are tired of Heidelberg?"
"Tired of life."
"Your Highness would not understand."
"I do not know," replied Charlotte gravely. "I understand what it is to be dull and unhappy; you forget how many years I was a nun."
Rénée laughed bitterly.
"For longer years I have been a waiting-woman, exiled, dependent on charity."
"It is a weary life—it must be," said the Princess gently. Rénée was surprised, but not softened by her sympathy. "I think I will end it," she said with a sigh.
"How can you?"
"Some way—any way—I could return to the Netherlands—even on foot, and die as others are dying, every day."
"You serve better by waiting—the tide will turn—perhaps soon."
"I am tired of waiting," said Rénée passionately.
"I know—I know how tired I was, of the eventless life, the even days."
"But your Highness," said Rénée, "had the fortune to gain release."
"I had to make my own fortune."
"But you were a Princess, with powerful friends. I have no one. I am so obscure no one cares if I live or die; why should they, since neither my living nor dying can make any difference to any one."
She turned away abruptly, but not before the Princess had seen the tears in her eyes.
Charlotte put her hand on the elder woman's sleeve, and spoke, without attempting to look into her averted face.
"I do not know your special grief," she said gently, "but if it is mere loneliness—I know indeed what you suffer—believe me."
She paused a moment, then added sadly—
"Do you suppose that I am happy? Am I not also dependent on charity? Are these kind people my people? or even of my nation? I also am hopeless, penniless, cast out."
Rénée was silent.
"If ever," continued the Princess simply, "I should have the happiness to have a home, you shall share it."
Rénée turned and looked at her wildly.
"Truly your Highness does not understand," she said in a low voice. "Your Highness must forgive me—I am not well to-day. These winds give me pains in my head—I speak more than I mean and of things I do not understand how to express."
She moved away; Charlotte, looking after, shook her head.
More than once this barrier had come between them, friendly as they had been during their short acquaintance. Charlotte did not know, though Rénée did, that it was the difference in their natures that came between them, Charlotte was incapable of feeling passion or even of understanding it, and Rénée was capable of assuming, but not of feeling, the calm serenity that maintained the Princess through all her misfortunes.
Charlotte returned to the Castle and went to join the Electress in the still-room.
She did not even know exactly the hour when the Prince left the Castle, but Rénée was at an upper window watching for his departure.
She saw him ride away, wrapped in the shabby cloak, and her gaze followed him until the walls of Heidelberg hid him from her view.
And her heart ached after him with a great and intolerable yearning.
If she could have ridden behind him—as his foot-boy—as his slave, if she could be with him, to soften ever so little his troubles and discomforts—
But she was—as ever, useless.
And now he had gone and she must live on rumours again, such scraps of news as she could gather from people who never considered that she had any special interest in, or right to know of, the doings of William of Orange.
Long she remained looking from the window, gazing at the dull grey clouds that now filled the sky.
She recalled other times when she had watched him ride forth from his house in Brussels—his attire, his gay face, the gentlemen who had crowded round him, men who had all fallen victims to the wrath and the guile of Philip.
Egmont and Hoorne, who had died by public execution in the market-place, Berghen and Floris Montmorency, inveigled to Spain and strangled or poisoned in Spanish jails, Hoogstraaten and Adolphus of Nassau dead in battle, poor brave Brederode dead of a broken heart, who now was left of all those gallant nobles who had defied the tyrant king and the bigot priest? None save these two ruined men, William and Louis of Nassau.
"And how long have they?" thought Rénée, "for they also are under the ban of Spain."
She trembled for the lonely rider she had just seen depart and the tears washed the tired eyes that had so often wept for the Netherlands and William of Orange.
William, acting on a change of humour prompted AM, his visit to Heidelberg, decided not to go to Dillenburg.
The sight of those dear to him, his motherless children, the wreck of his once princely establishment, always disturbed him—now he felt he would not face them—and with empty news as always—to talk of further need of money, to demand new sacrifices from those who had already sacrificed almost everything—to be reminded, most painfully, of his mad wife and his son a prisoner in the hands of Philip.
This time he would avoid these things.
He turned aside instead to a little village on the edge of the Nassau lands and went to the house of a certain miller who was one of his agents; with great labour William had constructed an elaborate system of spies and agents in Germany, France and even the Netherlands and Spain; he had been trained by Charles V and was no novice in ways of guile, he even had his emissary in the very cabinet of Philip.
It was to pay for these things that he wore a threadbare suit and rode a worn hack.
One of his posts or messengers was waiting at the mill for news, on meeting the Prince in person, he handed him a packet in cipher that had come slowly from Spain, having been slipped secretly from one faithful hand to another.
William finished the letter to his brother that had been interrupted by the entrance of Rénée le Meuny and added a postscript telling of his whereabouts and asking Count John to come there and see him—"as for the moment I have no courage for Dillenburg."
He sent this on by the messenger who had brought him the news from Spain and took up his lodging in the mill-house.
The place was curiously peaceful with that sense of utter detachment from the world found in some rustic spots that are unvisited by change or trouble.
Behind, the hill rose to a little forest of chestnut and briar hedges where the first wild roses showed; a little vineyard and a little vegetable garden were attached to the house, both, at present, bare, with the fresh earth newly turned.
The mill-wheel, dark and dripping with weeds and slime, stood the other side of the house where the stream rushed past the rock on which the building stood.
Here the Prince must pass the empty hours, looking up at the high line of the bare chestnut trees against the cold blue sky, or down at the racing water.
Here, seated on a fallen log, he read the letter from Spain.
It told him little or nothing that he had not known or guessed before.
Spain was full of unrest, the King was desperately in want of money, the people were bent beneath the load of taxation, the Court favourites absorbed all, Philip was driven by the monks—"like a blinded mule."
Yet, as William knew, the King had his secret obstinate principles and ideas from which not even monks could have moved him.
If the Pope himself had preached tolerance and mercy, Philip would have given no heed, but would have quoted the council of Trent as the yardstick by which to measure Christians and have gone his way.
His was the terrible strength of bigotry, of a nature unbalanced by unlimited power, his was the unswerving purpose of a nature corrupt and cruel to the inmost fibre, the diseased, half-insane product of a degenerate race.
William had never deceived himself into thinking of Philip as a puppet in the hands of men like Granvelle and Alva or women like the Princess of Eboli—Philip in himself was terrible, awful and greatly to be feared.
His personal, ceaseless industry had woven the nets that had caught the grandees of the Netherlands, his personal flattery had lured Egmont to the block and Berghen to his secret death, his personal wish had forced the Inquisition on the Netherlands and imposed those edicts which had made a hideous ruin of a prosperous country and condemned to deaths of a horror unspeakable thousands of those innocent of all save the desire of liberty of conscience.
He had had willing, greedy and unscrupulous tools, but the mainspring of all their actions had been his own inexorable will, his unfaltering command, his pitiless intrigue, his insatiable cruelty.
Behind Alva, as behind Granvelle, was always Philip.
William knew that he had to struggle with Philip of Spain, that thin precise figure with the white face and reddish hair and beard, the bright blue eyes, and the under-hanging jaw that he had known in the old days when he was friend and favourite of Charles V.
What use the corruption, the faction, the intrigue, the financial embarrassments of Spain while Philip continued her unquestioned ruler—his narrow policies might involve in ruin his own empire as well as the countries subject to him, but they would never yield.
No peace, no agreement could ever be come to with Philip, who "would rather lose all his dominions than see them peopled with heretics," and who would never spare even his own in pursuance of his inflexible resolves, as he had not spared his miserable son. William had long ago faced this, he was fighting a foe who had stripped him of everything and was using infinite pains to deprive him of life itself. To fight Philip was like fighting wind and tide in a rudderless boat.
Yet the Prince of Orange never faltered in his belief that it could be done.
He slowly read the letter which contained details of the recent death of Hoorne's brother, Montigny.
The gallant young Netherlander, after long enduring the torture of a Spanish jail, had been secretly executed on the eve of Philip's third wife's entry into Spain.
The king knew that the dowager Countess of Hoorne had besought this bride, the Austrian Princess, to ask her son's life as a first favour from her husband and he had forestalled her petition.
William folded up the paper and stared down into the swirling mill-stream.
A slow colour mounted into his face; Montigny had been his friend—well he recalled him, young, honourable, and impetuous.
A brilliant life, full of promise—and because he had defied Philip it had ended in the executioner putting the cord round his neck.
William mused bitterly; he wondered, if ever he should even partially succeed, whether any of his friends would be there to rejoice with him.
Even now there were so few...he felt curiously lonely; yet if only they left him Louis, his beloved brother, and Henry, the boy who had so eagerly followed the fortunes of his elders, and John, the faithful and loyal—
Could these but remain there might yet be happiness snatched from bereavement.
He wished Louis would marry, and, thinking this, he thought of Charlotte de Bourbon.
She would make a man happy in his home; she was formed for that; his mind dwelt on her with great tenderness.
He had no passion to give any woman now—but he might need a wife. At this reflection he smiled to himself—she a renegade, a runaway nun, he a homeless exile.
And his wife lived, disgraced, mad, repudiated, she yet lived.
He thought of her with no pity; that loveless marriage of convenience had burnt itself out into bitter ashes indeed and he could rake no spark of sympathy nor kindness from them; but he thought of her son Maurice with affection—his only son, since that poor prisoner in Spain was dead to him and to the Netherlanders.
But Maurice "who may live to complete what I can scarcely begin"—William dwelt on him with pride—a fine boy, and again he thought, he and the others would be better for a home.
Count John came to the mill as fast as his horse could carry him, but the time of waiting had seemed long to William, who almost regretted that he had not pushed on to Dillenburg.
They met outside the mill-house, on the rocky banks of the stream.
John of Nassau was the most ordinary member of his house, he had neither the genius of his elder nor fire of his younger brothers, but he was dearly loved by all, and his character, loyal and courageous, was felt by them to be something always stable and unchanging in the midst of their shifting and desperate fortunes.
They could always turn to John, keeping up the home at Dillenburg, offering asylum and protection to the weaker members of the family, supplying what assistance he could.
He was not, perhaps, the man to have done what William and Louis had done, but rather one to go peacefully with the tide, but this made his self-sacrifice the finer, for he had practically ruined himself for the cause which his brothers had embraced and staked all, without a complaint, in a quarrel that was none of his seeking.
The Prince often thought, with a gratitude that was not unlike remorse, of what the quiet John had done for him without a thought of recompense or return and in his heavy moments it seemed to him as if he had dragged the whole of his family into an undeserved ruin.
The brothers sat down on the short dry grass.
"It is so dark in those small rooms," said William, "and I have grown enamoured of the open air."
He asked after all at Dillenburg, and John answered with an eagerness that was almost impatience; it was plain that he had great news to impart.
"You have something to tell me?" asked the Prince keenly.
"Something that you should have known before," replied the other with a certain reproach, "but you keep us so short of news—we know not of your whereabouts from one week to another."
"It is not so easy to send messengers," said William, "wandering as I do in disguise from place to place through unfriendly countries. Now give me your news."
His worn face slightly flushed in response to the obvious excitement of his brother's.
"Guess," said John, "from where it comes."
"Nay, their game is too cautious, they play but for their own profit—it is no great nation, but your Sea Beggars who have brought you fortune."
"The Sea Beggars!" said William, and the light died from his eyes.
He had no faith in these pirates who sailed his flag and held his charter and had long since dismissed them from his mind as of no profit and some disgrace to his cause.
Under his right as a sovereign Prince he had some years ago issued "letters of mark" to a number of Netherland nobles, with the idea that the ships they commanded would form the nucleus of a navy to annoy Philip and defend the Low Countries.
But his mandates had been disobeyed and his authority defied, and the Sea Beggars, as they called themselves, had degenerated into pirates, whose excesses had dishonoured their flag and whose plunder went no further than their own pockets.
The last that William had heard of them was that Elizabeth of England, in deference either to the continued protests of Philip, or because of the behaviour of the pirates themselves, had closed her ports to them and that they were, henceforth, without harbours or any refuge, but compelled to remain on the High Seas, without a base, and depending on coast raids, and now his brother told him that these ruffians, lately reduced to desperation, had brought him fortune.
"I had not looked to hear good news from De la Marck," smiled William.
John laid his hand on his brother's shabby sleeve. "He has descended on Brill—captured the Spanish garrison, received the keys in your name and hoisted your flag."
William coloured swiftly.
"De la Marck has done this?" he exclaimed, and he thought of the despair and contempt with which he had hitherto regarded his Admiral—as a useless instrument he had always considered him.
"Yes. We have now a base in the Netherlands, a town we can call our own. It is a great thing—the turning of the tide."
For one moment William shared his brother's enthusiasm; he saw this success as the beginning of a real change of fortune—himself taking up, by will of the people, the former stadtholderships he had held, Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht—then his native prudence, strengthened by so many disappointments, cast down his spirits.
"Can one trust De la Marck or his Beggars?" he asked sadly. "The thing is hasty, I will not build on it. I have better hopes in this tax of Alva, which he is resolved to enforce and which greatly rouses the Netherlands."
"That also works in our favour," agreed John. "There has not been so much dissatisfaction since Alva began to rule."
"That I count on—not on De la Marck!"
"But you are wrong," said John earnestly. "Have you heard Louis' news?"
"He is still at La Rochelle?"
"No—but descending into the Netherlands on Mons—he too, they say, called the Beggars hasty, but he is endeavouring to follow up their success, I believe he has affected some agreement with the French Huguenots, but his letters are brief."
William sat thoughtful.
"Louis was ever sanguine," he said, "and so he would fall on Mons, eh?"
"And you?" asked John.
"You would ask what I have done? I rely on Coligny, John—he is a great power, and may bring a quarter of France to our aid, the Protestant faction is strong there."
"And the King—the Queen-Mother?"
"I believe that they may think it wise to conclude a Protestant alliance—the marriage between the King's sister and the King of Navarre seems likely to be accomplished."
"You trust them?"
"Nay,—but I believe that expediency will force them to act in our interests—and on Coligny I do rely."
"What will you do?" asked John.
"I must a little while consider," replied the Prince; he rose, "let us into the house."
As they turned towards the mill he spoke again and abruptly.
"What of the Princess—Anne my wife?"
"She is at Beilstein still, under restraint—partially."
"She should be wholly so—we maintain her?"
"Yes—it is a heavy drain, William, her mad fancies cost dearly."
"She shall," replied the Prince with a most unusual force, "be returned to her people. And Jan Rubens?"
"Is still in prison."
"Let him go—to punish him would be to make the affair public, and, poor fool, we know whose fault it was."
"She did confess as much when writing to me to intercede for her."
"I will never," said William, "see her again, yet I would have her dishonour kept secret, for the sake of the name—and of Maurice."
That spring of 1572 was a time of great hope for the hitherto apparently lost cause of the Protestants and their leaders, the Nassau Princes and Admiral Coligny.
The bold capture of the Brill, though accompanied by many outrages and cruelties on the part of De la Marck, had undoubtedly been a turning-point in the long struggle between Philip and his Dutch subjects.
The rebels now possessed a town, had proclaimed their leader Stadtholder of three provinces and held a stronghold is the Netherlands, as the Huguenots held La Rochelle in France. Never had the country been more favourably inclined to throw off the dominion of Philip, never had Alva been so unpopular nor his agents so hated.
The tax of the tenth penny, proclaimed some time ago, but not so far enforced, had done more to rouse the people even than persecution and the Inquisition; even those who were prepared to abjure their faith were not prepared to submit to a tax that struck at the roots of their livelihood, and the menace of revolt was again heard threatening Philip from Zeeland to Brabant. But Alva was desperate as well as pitiless; he could get no money from Spain and did not hesitate in the ruthless expedient of wringing the last drops of blood from the country crushed by his tyranny.
The tax was enforced with great vigour, men now suffered for their property as they had formerly suffered for their religion, tradesmen who had proved obdurate were hanged outside their shops, merchants who protested were denounced to the Inquisition and hurried away to a secret death.
None the less the money came in slowly and the mutterings of revolt grew louder, and Alva, though he believed the Netherlanders crushed and the Prince of Orange broken, was angry enough to increase his cruelties and thereby the hatred felt against him.
The capture of the Brill had been a rude blow to Spanish pride and now Louis of Nassau was advancing on Mons with an army of French Huguenots, and a high tide of enthusiasm was rising for the Protestant cause and the Prince of Orange.
William himself was not idle; he did not wholly approve of the capture of the Brill, nor was his brother's impetuous march into Flanders entirely to his mind, but he knew how to take advantage of the reckless actions of other men.
His pamphlets, inciting citizens to protest and towns to revolt, were distributed, despite Alva's precautions, in the length and breadth of the Netherlands, and many a lampoon and pointed pasquinade found its way into the palace at Brussels and into the Viceroy's own hand.
Abroad also, politics now favoured the Reformed Faith. Elizabeth of England, despite the recent closing of her ports to the Sea Beggars, was not on friendly terms with Philip, whose dismissal of her ambassador to. Madrid she chose to regard as an affront, and she held out more than one tentative hope that she might help the Netherlanders when they had a little further helped themselves; William did not place much reliance on these half-promises, knowing that the Queen of England cared for neither rebels nor Calvinists and was certainly not ever likely to espouse a losing cause; at the same time she had good reason to both hate and fear Philip and might easily ally herself with any rising power which should threaten his dominion; the daughter of the Englishwoman who had displaced a Spanish Princess, the Protestant who was regarded by Catholics as illegitimate could not have anything but expediency in common with Philip of Spain, who had burnt alive and tortured to death many a less ardent Protestant than was Elizabeth of England herself.
But the Prince of Orange's greatest hopes were fixed on France.
It seemed that finally the shifting, dubious policies of the Italian Queen-Mother had decided on a pacific course with regard to the powerful party of the Protestants within her kingdom.
The marriage of her daughter Margaret, with Henry, son of Antony de Bourbon and the heroic Jeanne D'Albret, Queen of Navarre, was finally arranged and to take place that autumn, Coligny and his faction were more or less in favour and William's representations on behalf of the provinces listened to at least graciously.
It appeared not to be ungrateful to the Queen-Mother to put forward one of her younger sons as competitor for the sovereignty of the Netherlands when they should be wrested from Spain, nor was she at all averse to dealing underhand mischief to Philip. William of Orange cared for none of these intrigues, despised all these motives, but he believed that he could not free the Province without powerful foreign aid, and to obtain this he was prepared to make any sacrifice. He was willing to himself step into the background and offer the crown of the Netherlands to any Prince who would take them under his protection; he knew, in his heart, that while he lived, any such king would be only a puppet, and he had long since taken the measure of the degenerate princes of the House of Valois, yet he was prepared to use any of these who might come forward, to outwardly defer to them, to invest them with all show of authority as long as he could obtain the alliance of France to set against the might of Spain.
Not all his advisers agreed with him in this, but William did not see how he could succeed alone in the task he had undertaken. If when first he threw down the gage to Philip he had ever cherished such dreams, he had now long since dismissed them with other illusions of his youth.
Too clearly did he see the difficulties, to be dazzled by the dreams that still kept Louis on fire with enthusiasm and spurned him on to his reckless glorious deeds.
Yet he was not half-hearted in the cause in which he had staked and lost all—the spring had not blossomed into summer before he had once more taken the field and was marching towards Mons to effect a juncture with Louis who had now forced Mondvagon, the commander of the garrison, to surrender, and himself occupied the town.
William's troops were partly German mercenaries and partly levies supplied by the rebellious states of Holland and Zeeland, who had accepted him again as their Stadtholder, ignoring Philip's nominee, Count van Bossu.
Money began to come in, some provided by the State, some offered by private individuals, and William was encouraged.
He was still, by a ludicrous adhesion to formula, acting as Philip's lieutenant, as such he had been received by the estates "without prejudice to any of the customs and rights of the land," so, bound by judicial convention and the laws of the states he was defending, William defied Philip in Philip's name and carried on a revolution in the outward symbol of the power he was rebelling against.
Delay followed delay, before sufficient supplies were guaranteed to enable William to proceed in his campaign.
Louis was beleaguered in Mons, and as yet his brother was not strong enough to attempt to relieve him.
When at last the supplies came William crossed the Meuse and occupied Diest, Piulemont, Louvain, and Mechlin, which last town opened its gates and accepted his authority.
William had now every hope of being able to raise the siege of Mons, join his brother and march through the Netherlands, delivering the towns and calling the people to his standard as he proceeded.
He sat in his little tent this still August night and read letters from Admiral Coligny, promising him three thousand foot and twelve thousand arquebusiers which he was levying to help Louis in Mons.
William read the news and allowed his hopes to paint a glorious future...
Why not? he asked himself.
He and Coligny, the two of them together, could they not do something?
Freedom—liberty of conscience, the end of persecution, the return of prosperity, thriving cities with their busy market towns, a flourishing country-side, becoming powerful, respected, while such tyrannies as those of Philip decayed from their own inward rottenness and sank into oblivion.
A mad dream, yet such things had been?
So he mused; for all his astuteness and caution there was something mystic in his nature that responded to the unseen forces about him; to-night he felt them strongly. This sense of being withdrawn from himself soon became unbearable; he roused himself, made an abrupt movement and lifted his eyes. The tent flap was raised and a strange face was looking in on him, a face illumined by the lamp, yellow, haggard and lit by a melancholy smile.
"The Prince of Orange dreams?" said this stranger and advanced into the tent.
William regarded him steadily; the new-comer was a tall man wrapped in a large shabby black cloak.
William put his hand round to his dagger; he thought this was one of Philip's assassins; with his senses all alert he waited.
The stranger spread out his arms, which had been folded in his mantle, and thus showed that he was weaponless. "I am harmless," he said.
He was indeed such a thin and miserable creature that William's curiosity was mingled with pity.
"What errand have you come upon?" he asked. The other folded his arms again and gazed at him searchingly. "You do not remember me?"
"Yet we have many memories in common," replied the stranger. "I am a wise man, an astrologer."
"Now I recall you—the alchemist's assistant—Dubois."
"The man who foretold the death of your brother Adolphus."
"And mine," smiled William.
"And yours, Highness," said the astrologer sadly. The Prince was interested.
"Sit down and talk to me," he said.
Dubois obeyed and chose the little stool directly opposite the Prince.
There was between them only the bare table with the plain lamp.
"Tell me my fortunes," smiled the Prince. "To-night I am in a mounting mood and full of good augury."
The spirit raiser shook his head gloomily and fixed his eyes on the figure of the man before him.
William was seated on a folding camp chair of leather; behind him was a little desk covered with papers.
He had put aside his mantle, for the night was oppressively hot, and his slight figure was clad in the brown cloth beneath armour, high soft boots and a collar of white lawn.
His face was thin, the dark powerful eyes shadowed, the hair was mingled with grey on the temples, while he bore his forty years heavily, a man whose youth was utterly gone.
There was little trace now of the splendid young Prince who had come to Leipsic to marry Anne of Saxony, nor of the magnificent Grandee who had held his state in Brussels during the rule of Margaret of Parma.
"We have come to much the same level, Prince," said Dubois.
"You are a strange fellow," answered William. "Why are you in my camp?"
"I am like a dog, I follow where there is meat and drink."
"What did you come to tell me?"
"Your fortune, if you will."
"I make my own fortune."
"Let your Princely Grace tell me, then, what will your to-morrow be?"
"A short day," said William, "and one with a red sunset—do I not prophesy well?"
"Your Highness has much courage," said the astrologer. "Do you truly foresee this future before you?"
"I see," replied William, "that I shall no more escape Philip than my friends have escaped him, whom you have seen fall one by one."
"Louis and Henry and John," said the Prince. "I think the whole House of Nassau is dedicate to sacrifice."
Dubois did not answer and William too was silent, staring at the fantastic figure of the man; no prophecies could frighten the Prince, his own mind prophesied his own violent end, but he was confident that he might accomplish much before that, he cherished also a secret hope that the young Louis and the boyish Henry might be spared his fate and survive to see the triumphs he would not enjoy.
Dubois looked at him and sighed.
"And Coligny?" he said. "What does your Highness foresee for Coligny?"
William was startled.
"I had no dark thoughts for Coligny," he answered quickly.
"You hope much from France?"
"That is common knowledge."
Dubois looked at him long and earnestly as he replied.
"It were wise for your Highness to rely on none but yourself—so you will best escape disappointment." William smiled, but the old chill of disillusion touched his heart; he thought the fellow half mad, a trickster, yet his words had their effect, for William knew that he did rely on Coligny and the promised aid from France. His mood of tolerance for the charlatan vanished.
"You must learn less melancholy if you would be successful," he said, "and to-night—I listen to no forebodings—my star is in the ascendant," he added with a little smile. Dubois bowed, and without waiting for the piece of money William was about to give him in memory of Leipsic and Brussels days, left the tent as silently as he had entered. The Prince turned again to the Admiral's letter; his mood was still one of elation—he seemed to hear the cries of victory and all the ill-lit gloom of his tent was filled with the light of the dawn of another and triumphant day.
A great heat fell over the land; and the nights were as stifling as the days. The army of William of Orange moved forward under the blazing skies, always toward Mons.
As yet Alva had made no sign; they were unopposed, and at first everywhere the peasants rose to welcome them, believing that justice would follow in the wake of the banner of the Prince of Orange.
But William's advance began soon to be attended with the difficulties and perils inseparable from his enterprise and the humiliations always attendant on a leader of mercenaries.
Excess, pillage, and ruin began to mark the track of his army and he was as powerless to control the men he led as he had been powerless to control the wild pirates of De la Marck.
The villagers began to flee at their approach, the towns to shut their gates, preferring the tenth penny tax to the mercy of the German mercenaries. But William refused to be disheartened, even when Philip Marnix, Lord of Ste. Aldegonde, was discouraged and fell into a melancholy.
Ste. Aldegonde was, after the Nassau brothers, the Prince's truest friend and most trusted councillor, his eloquent pen was always at William's service and his writing had proved of material service in furthering the cause of the rebels in the Netherlands.
To his sensitive nature the conduct of the Prince's troops was a bitter grief.
He even ventured to remonstrate with the Prince for taking things too easily.
The little invading army had pressed on within two leagues of Mons; between them and the city was the army of Alva, under the command of Don Frederic de Toledo, his son.
Scouts had reported that their headquarters were at the little village of St. Florin, near one of the town gates.
William was cautiously making for this point; when the reinforcements arrived from France he intended to fall on the Spaniards and force his way in to his brother in Mons.
He had already managed to send a letter to Louis in which he conjured him to hold out until the arrival of Coligny and the Huguenots, and Louis had replied cheerfully; his faith was also placed on the French.
The Prince's lodging was in a deserted farmhouse, while the rambling out-buildings were occupied by troops and horses; none of the farm creatures were left save only the great flock of white pigeons that flew in and out of their half-ruined houses.
The Prince's residence had little changed the room; he had touched nothing; his mantle over the bed, his pistols on the bureau, his dog asleep in the square of sunlight on the floor, and a wallet full of papers on the linen press were the only signs of his occupation.
He had been several hours in the saddle, inspecting his army, and was tired.
He sat at the window, reclining in one of the deep old chairs.
When Ste. Aldegonde entered he hardly turned his head; the was interested in watching the play of the pigeons below as they chased each other across the warm bricks, ruffling their breasts and spreading their tails.
Ste. Aldegonde saw the Prince's fatigue, but was too full of his subject to refrain from speaking.
"Your Highness is pleased with your men?" he asked with some abruptness.
William slightly lifted his shoulders and did not answer.
"You are too easy," said Philip Marnix.
William looked at him with sudden keenness; it occurred to him, with a touch of bitter humour, that he had always been too easy—to all, from his wife to his dog, it was proof of it that Philip Marnix was so talking to him now.
"Go on with the indictment," he said, and again looked from the window.
Ste. Aldegonde was in earnest; he spoke of what had long rankled in his heart and disturbed his conscience.
"It were better for you to be as formerly," he said, "without a sword to answer your call, than to lead these cutthroats. Your soldiers," continued Ste. Aldegonde, "commit the very wrongs they come to redress."
"It is one of the ironies of life," replied the Prince, "that evil must be fought with evil."
"You cover yourself with discredit—you make your approach dreaded as much as the approach of Alva," he said.
"What would you have me do?" asked William. "Dismiss these mercenaries and wait to be captured by the Spanish—abandon Louis and fly back to Dillenburg?"
"There should be discipline and punishment," said Philip Marnix.
The Prince looked at him sternly, and spoke, contrary to his custom, with some passion.
"Have you not seen for yourself that I have tried these I If I were a great and sovereign Prince I might hang every man who touched the property of the poorest kind—I might make myself obeyed and feared. But I am a poor adventurer, Ste. Aldegonde, whose pay is miserable and whose authority is dubious, I am a rebel defying a great king—a man outlawed and exiled, shall I then get any but the desperate and the undisciplined to fight for me?"
"You have the greatest cause in the world!" cried Philip Marnix—"the cause of liberty."
"Find me saints and angels to sustain me," replied the Prince, "and we will keep this cause unsullied, but while I have to buy human assistance I shall have such an army as this I lead now. Do you not see it, Ste. Aldegonde?"
"I see, Highness, nothing but confusion," replied his friend bitterly.
"You take too near a view—look ahead and see the thing in the broad."
Philip Marnix walked up and down the polished floor. "De la Marck—do you approve of him?"
The Prince raised his eyebrows but answered gravely—
"The capture of the Brill has proved a turning-point for us."
"And a shame also. How many martyrs may not the Catholics make from De la Marck's victims? Did he not behead four Spanish captains?"
"Two for Egmont and two for Hoorne," said William. "And what of it? Do you think that this issue will be decided by gentle deeds? Do you think that all the fiends of hate and vengeance that Philip's men have roused in these wretched countries can be easily silenced? This was a peaceful people—if monks are murdered, blame the Inquisition which made the name of monk an infamy; if churches are sacked, blame the hideous deeds that were committed in the name of God; if the poor and helpless are wronged and slain, blame that tyranny which showed how little value the humble had in the eyes of Princes and of Governments."
He spoke quietly but with force and his words brought the colour into his thin face.
"You will then take any means to your end?" asked Ste. Aldegonde.
"I must take the only means or stand aside with folded hands."
"Is this the only means? You are Stadtholder again of three provinces, do you need men like De la Marck, troops like these German mercenaries?"
The Prince smiled at his friend's earnestness.
"I do indeed," he answered. "Think you that I am yet on stable ground?"
Philip Marnix looked away with a clouded face. "At least Coligny is a clean ally," he said.
"Coligny, yes!" answered William, "and his soldiers are men who fight not for money but for their faith—but they are not enough."
He rose, stretched himself and looked out of the window; he was ever in the hopes of seeing a messenger from the Admiral telling of his near approach; William had expected the arrival of the Huguenots before this, inasmuch as it had been agreed that the attack on the Spanish was to wait until French help was available and Louis would not be able to hold Mons much longer.
In the courtyard sat Dubois, the so-called astrologer, who had attached himself to the camp, where he was tolerated because of the amusement to be derived from his profession, which he was always willing to exercise in exchange for food, clothes or a handful of white money.
William half liked the melancholy seer, who had told hint his fortune on his wedding day and whom he had sheltered so long in his palace.
That Dubois had repaid this protection by allowing the Princess of Orange to use his laboratory as a place of rendezvous with the young lawyer, Jan Rubens, William did not know; so indifferent was he to the doings of little people that he would probably have cared nothing had he been aware of the charlatan's intrigues.
He now called Ste. Aldegonde and pointed out the tall thin figure of the wise man, seated huddled on the base of the wall that ran round the courtyard.
"See my astrologer," he smiled. "Shall I not have my court as well as Philip?"
But Philip Marnix was not the man to understand the Prince's lightness; his simple outlook could not appreciate William's complexity.
"Your Highness is too easy," he repeated.
"While we live in the world we must live as the world," said William, "when we are saints in heaven we may cease to jest and cease to sin."
"You are in a gay mood," replied Ste. Aldegonde.
"Oh, Philip, I do feel within me the portents of success. Shall we not all be happy when Coligny comes?"
He took his friend's arm and Ste. Aldegonde smiled.
William's personality was stronger than his cause in winning men.
"Let my wise man come up and he shall make you laugh."
So saying the Prince leant from the window and called to Dubois, who came slowly into the house.
The room faced west and the late sunshine now filled it from end to end.
The Prince sat in his low place, but Ste. Aldegonde was restless and ill at ease; William offered him wine; himself he drank cinnamon and barley water; he could live on water and black bread, but he was an epicure and fond of fine living and he could not drink the sour wines his companions found satisfying.
Dubois entered, and gave a glance full of suspicion at the slender figure and dark face of Ste. Aldegonde, then looked at the Prince.
"What did your Grace want with me?" he asked.
"We have a space of idleness," he said, "bring out your charts and read the future."
Dubois said nothing; he took his chin in his hand and stared out of the window.
William's glance followed the astrologer's look.
"Tell me I shall never enter Mons," he said. "You were always a merry prophet."
"I know nothing of Mons," returned Dubois with an angry air.
The Prince turned to look sharply at him.
"What mood are you in, fellow?" asked Ste. Aldegonde, who was vexed at the intrusion of the seer.
Dubois did not reply; his demeanour was strange, sullen and secretive.
He avoided the gaze of either of the gentlemen and continued to fix his eyes on the sunset.
"The spirits are recalcitrant to-day," said William. "Do they say nothing, friend?"
Dubois looked at him now, his features were drawn by a slow grin.
"They say that you had better not wait for Admiral Coligny."
"I am half of their opinion," returned William good-humouredly, "and minded to make the attack without him."
"Neither with nor without him will you enter Mons," replied Dubois. "Your Grace knows I have the second sight—to-day I see very clear."
Philip Marnix shivered; he was not free of the common superstitions and supernatural fears engendered in the minds of men; nor did the Prince scorn occult arts; he loved to search for the grain of truth usually hidden in the husks of the charlatan's tricks and fooleries.
"Tell me what you see," he said, and he leant forward a little.
"The air is full of portent," replied Dubois. "I see nothing clearly but disaster."
"Enough, enough!" cried Philip Marnix.
"Nay, I will hear," said the Prince. "Tell me what you know."
Dubois narrowed his eyes.
"I know that Admiral Coligny is dead."
This was so unexpected, so unlikely and so terrible that both listeners were startled into an exclamation.
"Dead some days," continued Dubois, careless of the impression he made. "I saw him last night walking up and down the camp and wringing his hands. He was all covered with wounds and had a rope round his neck."
"You turn my complaisance into an ugly jest," he said sternly.
"You bade me speak."
"And now unsay your words," cried Ste. Aldegonde in great agitation.
"I am silent," replied Dubois sullenly.
William recovered his composure.
"Tell me," he said quietly, "how should Coligny be in this manner slain?"
The seer shook his head.
"I only know that at this moment—and for this many a day past, Coligny's body has been hanging on the gallows and his spirit wailing up and down the camp—but who had eyes to see it?"
William looked at him thoughtfully.
"You give my jest a strange turn. If this were true it would be the bitterest news I could receive."
"Did I not tell you," replied Dubois with a certain eagerness, as if defending himself, "that it were better if you relied upon yourself—yourself alone, Prince?"
"Let him go," said Ste. Aldegonde nervously, "he does not know what he says. Why should your Grace discourage yourself with these hideous tales of folly?"
Dubois gave him a cunning look.
"You believe in what I say and you are afraid, Seigneur de Ste. Aldegonde."
"Why should I be afraid?" retorted Philip Marais fiercely.
The Prince, who had never taken his eyes off Dubois, now spoke.
"Whether you have a power or speak from wantonness," he said, "your words are useless. What can I do but wait?"
"Your Highness is a fatalist," returned Dubois with some admiration.
"What you will," said William, with a faint smile, at which Ste. Aldegonde greatly wondered. "Sometimes I can make events, more often I must wait on them—as now."
"I swear to you," said Dubois, with more life than he had yet shown, "that Gaspard de Coligny is dead and hanging on the gallows."
William gazed at him in silence.
The astrologer bowed and left the room.
The Prince looked at his friend, who was discomposed and flushed.
"You do not believe and yet you fear?"
"I think, Highness—supposing this fellow had received private information?"
They looked at each other.
"That is what I also thought," said William.
That evening arrived the stupendous news that on St. Bartholomew's and the wedding day of Margaret de Valois and Henry of Navarre all the Huguenots in Paris had been massacred by order of the Queen-Mother, and that Admiral Coligny, after having been butchered in his own home, had been flung from the window amid the insults of his assassins and then dragged to the public gallows.
For the first time in his career William was stunned by the extent of his misfortune; he remained, as did all the Protestants of Europe, bewildered and amazed.
The thing was so incredible, so sudden, had been prepared with such cunning secrecy, that it silenced like a blow delivered in the dark. Catherine de' Medici had completely deceived the Protestants, who were rejoicing at her alliance and at the marriage of her daughter with the Huguenot King of Navarre at the very moment when she was planning their utter destruction.
And utter destruction it had been; the defenceless victims gathered in Paris for the marriage festivities had no chance of resistance nor of escape; in the streets, houses, shops, in the palace itself, they were butchered where they stood and the lunatic king himself sat at his window and fired on the wretched fugitives in the courtyard.
The Admiral and his son-in-law had died a hideous and ignominious death and with them ended the party of the Huguenots in France.
William saw that very clearly; what had been a compact powerful movement led by a man of enthusiasm and genius had now ceased to exist; nor was there any hope that it might be re-created—at least for many years.
The flame of the Reformed Faith that had burnt so bravely and steadily in France was now quenched in blood; the Netherlands 'must look elsewhere for help.
At one blow William's strongest hopes had been swept away.
He could almost hear Philip's laughter and Granvelle's words of triumph; no reinforcements would come from France, no encouragement from Coligny. He stood alone, isolated with his little mercenary army, more or less in Alva's power.
And Louis too had been counting on French help, and
Louis had loved Coligny; William's heart ached for his brother facing this in the beleaguered city. The morning after he had received the news he sent again for the messenger that he might hear the incredible, horrible thing in full detail.
This messenger was an agent or spy of his own whose post was on the French frontier; he had heard the awful story from some hall-insane survivors who had fled from Paris and had at once travelled into the Low Countries to inform the Prince, whose ordinary agencies would not be able to get the news through for some time yet; he had brought with him some of these fugitives, who were lodging now at the village of Hermigny, near by the camp.
William received this man, Joort Van Pengers, who had been long in his employ, in his room in the farm-house.
The shock of the news had told on the Prince; he was pale from a sleepless night and moved heavily, with his chin sunk on his breast.
Van Pengers could tell him no more, he knew nothing beyond the bare facts.
"And Coligny, you do not know how Coligny died?"
"Only that he was murdered, Highness; they told different tales. But he was killed and thrown from the window and afterwards hung on the gallows."
William could still hardly believe that he had been so utterly deceived in his estimate of the French Court and what they would do. If this was Philip's doing, if he had engineered this to prevent the Huguenots bringing help to the Netherlanders, then, William admitted, this time he had been outwitted by the cunning of the Escurial; the blood rushed to his face with this thought and he stared with angry eyes at Van Pengers.
"So they killed him—butchered him like a rat in a corner. Poor, brave Coligny! He has gone after the others. As I shall go."
"God forbid!" cried Van Pengers.
"Ah, God "—said the Prince in a strange voice. "Why should He save me in preference to the others?"
The old Netherlander was not at a loss.
"Because your Highness is the very staff and support of a whole nation. What matter if the tree be lopped of its branches if the trunk remain?"
William did not answer; he shaded his tired eyes with his hand and looked down at the floor. He was recalling a certain day in the woods of Vincennes when he had ridden with the King of France, and Henry had spoken in rash confidence of a scheme undertaken in conjunction with Spain for secretly planning a massacre of "these pestilent Huguenots."
William, shocked and startled, had held his peace, but from then on he had felt that interest in, and sympathy for, the persecuted Protestants to whom he was now the guiding star.
Yet he had allowed himself to be fooled, to be taken unawares and unprepared; he had never trusted France any more than he had trusted Spain...yet he had been fooled.
Not an inkling of Catherine de' Medici's purpose had leaked out, nor from the cabinets of the Escurial had a single word of warning issued.
His spies had been at fault, his costly and elaborate system of secret service had failed.
And Louis was trapped in Mons and he was trapped outside, and Alva had but to move to crush them both.
William, in the bitterness of his grief and disappointment, felt himself a useless fool.
"I am no general and no statesman," he thought passionately, "and I had better give up this hopeless task."
Van Pengers, looking at him wistfully, waited for his further word.
The Prince roused himself to speak.
"The King of Navarre escaped?"
"Through good fortune and no lack of pains on the part of the Catholics. Most of his companions were slain."
"And the King was cognisant of this?"
"With his own hand he shot his subjects down," said the old man solemnly. "Many saw him, leaning from a window of the Louvre with a smoking carbine in his hand and shouting, 'Kill! kill!'"
"He is insane," said William.
"Ay," replied the Netherlander sadly, "but he is King of France."
The Prince looked sharply at him
"You are right," he said, "these madmen must be dealt with."
He sighed and glanced out of the window.
The meagreness of Van Penger's account disappointed him.
"You can tell me no more?" he asked.
"I have those under my protection who could tell your Highness everything."
"Why did you bring them here?" asked William sadly, "we can do nothing for any."
"Highness, these are two women"—
—"of gentle nature. They had no escort but myself and I was engaged to find your Highness. So they accompanied me, but I think their thought was Switzerland where one has friends."
"Who are they? I might know their names."
"I am sworn," said Van Pengers humbly, "not to give their names, but if your Highness will visit them I believe that they will tell you everything."
"Where do they lie?"
"We push on there to-night and make that our headquarters, since I alone must attempt to relieve Louis."
"Will your Grace see them?"
"If they will allow of it. Go ahead and acquaint them of my coming, Van Pengers."
That evening when the camp was struck and the little army moving nearer Mons, William rode to the tiny village of Hermigny and stopped at the humble cottage where the fugitives from Paris sheltered. Van Pengers, who had conducted him, ushered him into the kitchen and left.
A peasant woman was setting yellow bowls and wooden spoons on the round wooden table; she hastened shyly through a side door as William entered.
The place was very poor and made the Prince's lodging seem luxurious by contrast; a dim oil lamp gave the only light, the plaster walls were filled by rude shelves of crockery; in the wide open fireplace burnt a few boughs and sticks, over which hung an iron pot on a tripod.
So bad was the light that for a moment William did not see a girl who sat on a bench inside the ingle-nook and who was intently regarding him. When he observed her she moved, and came forward into the room.
She was no more than seventeen, fair with the fairness of some Frenchwomen, her features were firmly marked, her eyes large, her lips full.
Her gown was of a coarse dark woollen stuff, fastened by a leathern girdle.
Her desolate and pathetic appearance touched him; looking into her tragic eyes he could guess what St. Bartholomew had been.
"I am a widow, Monseigneur. Your brother, Count Louis, was at my wedding."
William looked at her; she stood near enough to the glow of the lamp for him to see that her eyes were swollen with weeping.
"Why did your Highness come?" she asked, without either smile or resentment, but dully, like one who has ceased to feel much.
"I hold myself the friend of all who suffer for Coligny," he said.
"I am Louise de Coligny," she said.
"The Admiral's daughter!"
"His daughter and Charles de Teligny's widow. Both are murdered."
For a moment he was too moved for speech—he raised her hand and pressed it closely between his and gazed into her face; in the delicate features of the daughter he could trace a resemblance to the father's noble countenance.
The girl's tears overflowed again and ran slowly down her cheeks.
"I loved your father," said William.
"I know. He spoke of you so often."
"I thought to meet him before Mons."
"To the last that was his intention—he was most hopeful of this enterprise."
She withdrew her hand from his and seated herself at the table, supporting her chin in her palm.
"And now he is gone—is dead," she said, "he and Charles—your Highness has heard of my husband?"
"Monsieur de Teligny—he whom the Queen of Navarre sent to Jouane to help in the escape of the Princess de Bourbon?"
"That was he. And now he is dead."
"What can I say?" answered the Prince gently. "He died a martyr."
"He died as they all died. All day the slaughter was—all day—in the morning the bells rang the signal and in the evening the work was not complete. They did not spare the women nor the little children—it was all blood, from the Louvre to the walls."
She rose, staring at the Prince.
"God let it be—though I saw it I can scarcely believe it."
"And I," said William in a tone of great sadness, "am helpless to avenge them."
"Vengeance will come from God," replied Louise de Coligny sternly.
William saw that she held the same strong faith as her father had cherished; an intensity of conviction in the truth of one particular creed, a sincere belief in the protection and justice of God that the Prince with his complex nature had often envied.
"Your messenger tells me you would hear how my father died," continued the girl. "Will your Highness be seated?"
He took the chair opposite to her; and the earthenware lamp cast a thick yellow light over his dark face and her pale features.
"He was wounded, Monseigneur. When he left the Louvre on the King of Navarre's wedding day one shot at him from the window of a house belonging to a creature of the Guise."
"It was the Guise—I knew!"
"He and his mother. The shot missed his heart but shattered his arm and his fingers."
She paused, steadying herself, then went on in a lower voice.
"I came to help my stepmother, Jacqueline, nurse him—my husband was with me. There began to be many rumours and many fears in Paris. That day—St. Bartholomew—the bells began to ring, very early—all over Paris.
"There were so many people in the streets I went to watch at the window to see what was afoot, and so I saw the Guise coming—with all his men behind him—all villains with the white bandage on their arm—Monseigneur, they broke into the house, only the Duke remained below.
"My husband ran out on to the stairs—they killed him and flung him into the hall.
"Jacqueline and I stood in front of my father. There was no one else, but they pulled us apart and sent a pike through his breast.
"He said no word and they dragged him to the window, and I, following, saw the Guise laugh and put his foot on him and his soldiers hacking at the corpse."
She was silent a moment, staring at the lamp, and William could not speak.
"I do not know what happened then—they overlooked us, I suppose. When night came on we fled and passed, somehow, the city gates—and so to your agent, of whom I had heard Charles speak, and he brought us here."
"Madame de Coligny is with you?"
"Yes. She is ill and quite broken in spirit."
"I do not think you will despair," said William.
"I wonder," said Madame de Teligny, "perhaps when I am very old I shall know peace and think of this as of a dream."
"And I, who am not so young, shall never see peace, I think."
"Your Highness was my father's great hope," continued the girl earnestly. "I know that he thought of you to the last."
He thought of Charlotte de Bourbon and compared her with the daughter of the Huguenot leader; they were very different, yet they both held this unconquerable faith, and he smiled half wistfully at this earnestness.
Yet it did encourage and hearten him to see these who had lost all themselves looking towards him with such trustfulness for the salvation of their common cause.
"Do you know Mademoiselle de Bourbon?" he asked.
"No, Highness, my husband saw her when she was Abbess of Jouane."
"Mademoiselle de Bourbon is at Heidelberg since this spring—you and Madame de Coligny would find a home there."
She shook her head.
"We would live quite hidden. We saved some of our jewels and we have friends in Switzerland. Van Pengers was my father's close confidant, he will escort us, if your Highness permits."
He did not attempt to argue with her.
"I will see Van Pengers takes you away before there is an engagement," he said.
And she answered, "Thank your grace, and commend me to Count Louis."
And so they parted.
William could get no message through to Louis and no word came to him from Mons.
But he knew that Louis must be aware that his brother was still pressing to his aid, despite the terrible disappointment of the French tragedy, and the thought of the Count and the little French garrison relying on him strengthened him into a firm resolve not to give up his task, despite the daily discouragements he received and the disheartened and even mutinous behaviour of the troops.
Meanwhile no news came from the Spanish camp; no scouts nor spies could bring any information as to the likely movements of Don Frederic, who remained at St. Florin, guarding the principal entrance into Mons.
The Prince fell into a resigned sadness, the reaction from his late brief period of hope.
He had no love for the things of war.
His heart was not in this work; his place was in the cabinet or in the Court; he himself knew his own strength; as a statesman he had no equal in Europe, as a general he was inferior to his brother Louis, and as an adventuring captain of mercenaries he was entirely unsuccessful.
On the night of the eleventh of September a council was held in his tent.
As he leant back in the deep chair that was his seat of state he looked at those gathered about him.
His scrutiny had the calm interest of the man who sees too much and too clearly; these men, honest, well meaning, faithful, yet seemed to him so infinitely small compared with his requirements as to be hardly of any account.
The dead friends of the past, Egmont, Montigny, Hoorne, Hoogstraaten, even Brederode, with all their faults, seemed gigantic in comparison with these with whom he had now to deal, and among whom he felt himself something of an alien.
There were none left of his peers, save only his brothers. Coligny had been his mental equal, and now Coligny was gone.
He clasped his long fingers under his chin and glanced from one to another of the little captains and petty burghers who comprised his council.
All were talking together, eager with advice and suggestion.
William was not listening, he knew that nothing they could say would alter his intentions or in the least sway his mind, for he intended to make an attack on the Spanish early the next morning.
Yet still he sat in his place, courteous and smiling, and not one of them but believed that he was pleased with them and considering and weighing their arguments.
The deputies of the three States were devoted in their expressions towards him, yet they preserved the fiction that Philip was still their king and master and that in his name they were fighting his generals.
This did not irritate William nor even cause him to smile, it was a sophistry pleasing to his own line of thought.
He would sooner fight Philip under forms of laws than openly avow himself a rebel, because, deep in his heart, there yet lingered the hope that he might force Philip to accept his terms and still remain Protector of the Netherlands. Some such thought animated the burghers, they were in revolt against Alva and the Inquisition and not against that far-away and vague figure, Philip of Spain.
One stated that no more trust was to be put in France, and a murmur of assent went up from the others.
"Not after St. Bartholomew," said a little deputy from Holland.
William spoke, almost for the first time since the meeting had assembled.
"Messieurs, we may have to use France, even after St. Bartholomew."
They all looked at him, and the Prince explained himself.
"What else have we to play against Spain?" he asked.
They accepted his bluntness, not reminding him of the fiction of their loyalty.
Only one said:
"Better to be under one's natural tyrant than a foreign one."
"I said France might be used—not submitted to."
"Ah, but can she be used?" asked Philip Marnix swiftly.
General voices echoed his distrust.
"The King is mad"—
"The Queen a sly Italian"—
"They have murdered all the honest men."
"Better trust England."
"Better," said William, "trust no one. Messieurs, I said use—use!"
He placed his hands on the table, leaning forward and looking at them.
"England is as crafty as France," he continued, "and both as crafty as Spain. Do you think there is any pity, any admiration, any charity for us in the heart of Elizabeth? She works her own policies for her own benefit, and if she give us reluctant promises or still more reluctant aid, it is because she sees her interest in so doing. Yet which of you would refuse her help?"
Ste. Aldegonde replied—
"At least she is Protestant and has disfigured herself with no great treachery."
"Such deeds as this of Bartholomew are not in the nature of the Northerners. The English will work in other ways."
"Let your Highness, then," said the Deputy from Utrecht, "deal with England, not with France."
But William would not relinquish the long-cherished idea of the French alliance.
"I must deal where I can, Monsieur," he replied. "Do you not see that the position is a desperate one?"
A captain of the German mercenaries ventured to remonstrate with the Prince.
"Highness, who is left in France? Is not the Queen of Navarre suddenly dead at the French Court and her son forced to abjure his faith? Coligny and his friends murdered?"
"Truly," replied the Prince. "I rely neither on the King of Navarre nor on the party of the Huguenots. These are no more to be considered, nor do I think that they will ever come to power again."
"Why then," asked Ste. Aldegonde, "does your Grace speak of using France?"
"I would use the Valois themselves."
"In what way?"
"By tempting their greed, their ambition and their vanity," said William calmly.
There was silence; no one agreed with him, and he smiled a little, perceiving this.
"It is soon to talk of this," he added pleasantly. "The next move is certainly in our own hands, Messieurs. It depends on us, and on us alone, whether or no we relieve Mons."
He rose, dismissing them; his easy courtliness and his long experience made him completely master in any such gathering; they accepted his opinion without further demur and left the tent.
The three States that now called him Stadtholder had already granted him larger powers than had ever been given before; he enjoyed a firmer foothold there than in any town in Belgium which had submitted to his authority.
Philip Marnix lingered.
William went to the entrance and looked out on to the night.
He did not regret his lost power and splendour, but he would never become content with helplessness and poverty; he meant to regain what he had lost or in the attempt find his grave.
"Ste. Aldegonde," he said, returning to the tent, "grow old."
William was in his forty-first year, yet he spoke seriously when he spoke of age.
He seated himself on the couch his friend had prepared.
"Old unto death," he said.
Ste. Aldegonde recognized the cry of the man who has lost everything, home, children, wife, a place in the world, and who has cared for these things and misses them bitterly.
"Your Highness was not made for this rough life," he answered sorrowfully.
"You think that I hunger after the flesh-pots?" smiled the Prince. "Not that—but I am sometimes very lonely."
Ste. Aldegonde's quick sympathy knew that he was thinking of that secret shame, that cankering grief, his wretched wife, whose miserable existence drained his purse as it dishonoured his name.
Whether he considered himself free or not Ste. Aldegonde did not know, so closely had the Nassau family concealed from even their friends the disgrace of the Princess of Orange and the particulars of her repudiation by her husband.
It was only known that he never saw her nor spoke of her and that she lived at Beilstein under the guardianship of Count John, but never came to Dillenburg.
"Do you think Count Louis will marry?" asked William suddenly.
"If he can find an heiress," said Ste. Aldegonde frankly.
The young Count, an easy lover and a favourite with women, had never disguised his intention of following the custom of his house and marrying a fortune.
But to hear this to-night did not please William.
"Heiresses do not wed with knight-errants," he replied. "I wish Louis would marry with Mademoiselle de Bourbon."
"It has been suggested—but would be, Highness, unpopular."
"Why?" asked the Prince keenly.
"Because she is penniless—a renegade"—
"Mat should endear her to the Protestants," smiled the Prince. "Well, well," said he "I think she is a woman to make a man happy. And now good night," he added, "we talk of nothing—like two old women."
As soon as he was alone he laid himself down to sleep, having only removed his boots and his collar.
Before William had put out the light he had looked to his weapons, fetched one of the pistols and placed it on the stool by his side.
He knew that he was well guarded, but he knew also that Philip's emissaries did not ever relax their efforts to destroy him, and with the dark came the thought of his constant danger of assassination.
The fate of Coligny had brought this danger more clearly to his mind.
The Admiral had been murdered in full day, in his own home, shortly after a friendly visit from the King...if he had thus fallen, what chance had the rebel and the exile?
William knew that his life hung by the slenderest thread of chance, and with each of his colleagues who fell he felt his own fate closing in upon him more relentlessly.
He pulled his mantle over him as well as the bed covering, for the tent was chilly, and soon his senses drowsed and he fell asleep.
He was roused by something wet and warm on his face, and then a shrill barking penetrated his ear.
All at once he realized that his dog was licking his face in the intervals of barking.
He sat up at once, putting out his hand to the creature, who whined in joyful excitement out of the darkness.
"Danger, eh, friend?" whispered the Prince, now collected and alert.
Hastily he fumbled his way to the chair and pulled on his boots, picked up his weapons, threw on his cloak and left the tent, the spaniel at his heels.
It was still completely dark, for the moon had set.
The Prince could not see what had happened; no sentries challenged him; the distant sounds of confusion grew louder.
He found his way to the tent of Ste. Aldegonde, and as he reached it some one gripped his arm.
"Who is it?"
William recognized the voice of Philip Marna.
"God be praised—they have surprised the camp, all are slain—I had two horses ready"—
"A night surprise!—the Spaniards! And I slept!"
He said nothing else; the sounds of the carnage grew louder about them—the army was being butchered as it slept.
A few officers joined Ste. Aldegonde; one had a torch; they helped William to a horse; then he spoke again.
"Give me the dog."
The little spaniel was lifted to his saddle; the others mounted; they could hear the Spanish musketry close behind them. They fled through the little village street and into the merciful darkness of the wet meadows.
A small party of soldiers were proceeding through the Low Countries towards the German frontier; four of their number carried a litter; the curtains of this were drawn back and a young man looked out with sad eyes on the passing landscape.
His head was raised on a pile of cushions, his features were sunken, his eyes dim, the fingers were pale and wasted. The remains of one-time comeliness showed in the shape of his small head and the fallen contours of his countenance, in his bright waving hair.
But disease and disappointment had marred his youth.
Melancholy dulled the face that had once been so gay and fearless, as the fever of agitation and hope deferred had prostrated the restless young body.
Such was Count Louis of Nassau, as he was carried from Mons to his home in Dillenburg.
The news of St. Bartholomew had overthrown health 6 already feeble from sickness, the autumn fever of the Low Countries, and the swift following disaster whereby William's troops had been cut to pieces in a night surprise had completed the work; Count Louis was ill of grief and the shock of the tragedy that had befallen his friends in France.
Louis had loved Coligny almost as a father and had himself been the star of the Huguenot party now destroyed.
Unable to any longer hold Mons, he had surrendered the town to Don Frederic, having obtained good terms and being allowed to march out with the honours of war.
His army, however, was disbanded, and he remained, like his brother, a defeated man, accompanied by only a small escort.
Late in the afternoon the little procession halted at a village and the Count was carried to the best room in the inn.
His brother had promised to meet him here; he sent anxiously to ascertain if the Prince had arrived. By his particular wish his couch had been drawn near the window and he lay on his side and looked out at the brilliant autumn afternoon.
Here was no trace of war nor of desolation; the prospect was soothing to the sick soldier, yet filled him with a sense of regret for his own inactivity.
The door was opened softly and the Prince of Orange entered, stooping his head to avoid the great entrance beam.
There was silence; neither knew of any word to say in this moment.
Louis put out his hand.
The younger brother was the first to speak.
"We have nothing but bitterness to discuss," he said. "The news of St. Bartholomew took my strength from me."
"And I was unable to help you."
"So Mons has gone. I think that the cause is lost." William looked at him intently.
"And you were always so hopeful!" he said very gently.
The sick man closed his eyes.
"That was while Coligny lived."
"The King is mad, It seems," said William evasively he did not care to disturb his brother's direct judgments with his own subtleties.
"I think," said Louis, "my heart broke when I heard of St. Bartholomew."
William did not reply.
With great tenderness he looked at his brother and pressed the feeble hand that lay in his.
"I go to Dillenburg," added the Count, "but when I can stand on my feet I will return."
"Something may yet be done," said the Prince. "Your news?" asked Louis.
"At least tell me what your position is."
"I have failed completely," he said, and there was a slight tremor in his voice.
The Count lay silent.
"I have," continued the Prince, "accomplished nothing from the moment I crossed the Meuse four years ago. Nothing. I thought recently that the tide had turned—the capture of the Brill and your success encouraged me. I met much enthusiasm and help in the Netherlands"—
"And all are discouraged?"
"More than that—they are terrified," replied the Prince quietly. "On all sides cities lose heart and fall away. One place after another has ceased to resist the Spaniards, one after another."
"And we have no foothold left?"
"I left a garrison in Poermond, but no sooner was I gone than they abandoned the town," said the Prince.
"Is no one left who had any affection for the cause?" exclaimed Louis.
"As I said, they are frightened, they see us powerless to protect them and they know what Alva—and what his master is."
But Louis could not so easily accept William's attitude of resignation.
"Only a short while since and all so hopeful!" he said.
"But now there is a great change—even our warmest sympathisers are discouraged. Coligny is no more."
"And it seems that we," returned Louis bitterly, "might as well have ceased to exist."
William rose without speaking.
"Do you see any hope?" persisted the Count, raising himself on one elbow.
"One place after another has ceased resisting the Spanish "—
"Haarlem and Alkmaar hold out?"
"Those two, yes."
"But have you no hopes of relieving either?"
"With the few Netherland troops that I have I will endeavour to do something—I might get further assistance from Germany or even from England, but, as I said, I have no hopes."
"I fear that in the end I shall find myself alone, abandoned by every one," continued the Prince, "death takes the stout-hearted and the faint-hearted fall back."
Louis clasped his hands and turned his distracted young face heavenwards with a look of despair and supplication.
"Out of the depths have I cried unto thee!" he said, "out of the depths, oh Lord!"
To William, God was very far away and as likely to listen to the supplications of Louis as to the prayers of Philip.
Yet the strength and comfort of a narrow and defined faith appealed to William in this moment of his utter discomfiture and overthrow.
"You think the Lord will help us, Louis?" he asked tenderly and with a certain wistfulness.
The younger brother replied firmly—
"I do believe it—though I have my moments of despair, I do believe it."
"Only not in Belgium," said William with a certain humour. "Here everything is lost."
"Where then would you plant your flag?"
"In the States of Holland."
"You will go there?"
"So I have determined—and you?"
"I have decided nothing. I have been, indeed, too weary."
"Poor Louis, you must stay awhile and help John at Dillenburg—there is much business there which you can do and he cannot."
"For a while, for a little while, but I shall join you very soon."
William returned to his side.
"Louis," he said, smiling, "will you not marry soon?"
"If your Grace will find me a good fortune," replied the Count.
"I did not think of that."
"Then let it be. I want money, but not a wife, William."
"I thought of Mademoiselle de Bourbon."
"Are my fortunes in good trim for a penniless marriage, think you?"
William lifted his shoulder.
"How can I keep a wife," continued the Count, "when I have not two suits to my back?"
"Mademoiselle de Bourbon does not think of worldly things."
"But I must."
"Which means that you will not think of her?" smiled William.
"In the way of marriage, no."
"I am sorry."
"Who am I," said Louis, "to think of marriage? Sooner should I choose my grave than my wife."
"Our graves are near to our hands, I well believe," replied the Prince quietly, "but I did not speak of an ordinary woman but of one well prepared to face misfortune."
"I think that of her also," said Louis, "but she is not for me, speak no more of it."
Louis looked at him in silence a little while, then William rose.
"What will you do?" asked Louis.
"I shall go to Holland," replied the Prince, "and there maintain my cause, or find my sepulchre."
"Sapis rejectus caput anguli."
Orange Medal, 1574.
A man sat before a great pile of papers neatly arranged on a black wood desk. The little cabinet about him was sombre and lit only by one high arched window, from which issued a pale light that fell coldly on the worker at the desk.
He had an air of being overwhelmed by his task, from which he never lifted his eyes. With neat patient fingers he sorted and docketed the papers, read, selected and arranged the letters, now and then writing comments on the margins or putting a query to some sentence that he did not understand.
He was a man of middle age, slight and of a remarkable appearance.
The pallor of his thin face was emphasized by his scanty red-gold hair and beard, his eyes were slightly bloodshot and had a blank but steady expression, his mouth was large, his law underhung, while broken teeth added to his appearance of ill health. He wore a suit of dull black taffeta, buttoned tight with gold buttons across his narrow chest, and a stiff little collar of pleated lawn high under his ears.
There was no ornament or object of beauty in the room, while above the desk hung an ebony crucifix on the white wall, and on the other side of the window was a picture of an emaciated saint, bleeding from many wounds, praying in the midst of a stormy landscape.
The whole had the air of a monk's cell, cheerless, austere, melancholy.
Such was the person and the occupation and the surrounding of Philip, King of Spain, ruler of the mightiest and wealthiest nation in the world.
Presently he came upon a letter that interested him more than any he had so far perused.
It was from the private secretary of the Duke of Alva, Viceroy in the Netherlands, to the King's chief secretary, and had been placed there for Philip's special attention.
This passage was underlined:
"The man who brought Coligny's head has offered to strike off the head of another who has injured Christianity as much as that scamp now in Hell."
Then he neatly wrote his commentary on the side margin of the parchment.
"I do not understand this, because I do not know where Coligny's head was taken, or whose this other head is, although it seems to be that of Orange. Certainly they had shown little pluck in not killing him, for that would be the best remedy."
As he finished writing the door was opened; the King looked up to see Cardinal Granvelle before him.
Philip glanced at the little brass clock on the desk; he did not wish to be interrupted, but on seeing that the Cardinal was exact to the time he had appointed for him, he said nothing, but sprinkled sand over his newly written note and put it away.
The Cardinal came forward with familiar ease; he appeared more worldly than the King, as he certainly was more graceful and urbane in appearance and manner.
Philip eyed him gloomily, then sighed, resting his elbows on the desk and the tips of his long fingers together. The Cardinal seated himself; his rich ecclesiastical dress, his jewels and his handsome smiling face lightened the gloom of the cabinet.
"Your Majesty wished to speak of the Netherlands?" he asked.
Philip had always relied on the Cardinal's knowledge and judgment of the rebellious heretic provinces, which he had ruled over the shoulder of Margaret of Parma in the early days.
"I have to let you know," said the King, "that I have decided to recall Alva."
The Cardinal bent his head.
He was not surprised at the decision, but rather that it had come so soon and without his knowledge; in it he traced the influence of Antonio Perez, the King's secretary, and the Princess of Eboli, Ruz de Gonez's widow, who were fast becoming more powerful than himself or any other adviser, open or secret.
"Alva has failed," added Philip with the ghastly calm with which he announced any news, good or bad.
"Not through lack of zeal," said Granvelle.
"He has failed," repeated the King as if the statement admitted of no qualification.
"Who will succeed?" asked Granvelle with slight bitterness; he was thinking that he also had failed in the task of ruling the Netherlands.
"Alva's letters," said Philip with the same calm which was not tinged by any disappointment or displeasure, "have for some time past spoken of nothing but failure."
He looked at Granvelle out of his implacable tired blue eyes.
"The tenth penny tax has failed—force has failed to raise money—the siege of Alkmaar has been raised, they have not yet taken Leiden."
"And Orange lives."
"And Orange lives," repeated the King impassively. "And while he lives the rebels will never be subdued."
"He and his brother," said Granvelle, "should be treated like Turks."
"Like Coligny," replied Philip.
"Where is the man to do it? There lacks the Guise here."
Philip drew a paper from one of the pigeon-holes of his desk and unfolded it.
It contained a list of all the nobles of the Low Countries who had incurred, either by protest or rebellion, the King's displeasure.
At the top was the name of William of Orange, beneath it that of his brother Louis.
These were the only two names unmarked.
The others had a cross in red ink at the side; the King handed the paper to Granvelle.
"Only two left," he remarked.
The Cardinal smiled; he knew that the red crosses meant that the dangerous enemy had in each case been disposed of, all, from Egmont to Montigny, by Philip's means.
"But the most dangerous remains," said the Cardinal.
"Yes—but it cannot be for long," replied Philip. "God will not for long permit such a monstrous rebel and heretic to live."
He meant what he said; he could not believe that his prayers, his penances, his self-inflicted sufferings, his austere laborious life, the tremendous efforts that he had made to repress heresy in his dominions would go for nothing in the eyes of Heaven, or that such a lost soul as the Prince of Orange would long escape the judgment of God.
In one just day of vengeance Coligny and his Huguenots had been swept away like a nest of hornets cast to the flames.
Philip waited for such another day to dawn over the Netherlands—for such another act of vengeance to take place.
He had ceased to expect Alva to accomplish this.
The ceaseless cruelties, the rigorous legal enactments, the iron rule and the military successes of Alva were not sufficient in the eyes of his master. He had not crushed the heretics—he had not slain the Prince of Orange.
On the contrary the great Rebel had established himself in Holland and Zeeland, held his Court at Delft and conducted a rival government to that of Brussels.
Louis of Nassau had reopened negotiations with the French and English and was reported to be leading a new army to the support of his brother. Meanwhile the Regent was completely at the end of his resources, unable to raise money, burdened by private debts and overwhelmed by public hatred. And Philip, poisoned against him by Antonio Perez and Ana de Mendoza, took a hard view of his failure.
"I had hoped better from the Duke of Alva," he said; this, from his reserve, was a notable expression of opinion.
Granvelle saw that the Viceroy would return in disgrace; the priest was not the man to put in a word for the fallen and he had never loved the haughty Alva.
He knew also the impossibility of altering any idea Philip might hold, and therefore was silent, though he thought in his heart that Alva had done all that could be done with an impossible task.
"Who takes his place, sire?" he asked, and he added the name that had been most discussed in this connection. "Medina Coeli?"
"No," said Philip slowly. "I think—the Grand Commander of Castile."
He looked thoughtfully down at his papers.
"The Netherlands must be subdued," he added, "and soon." He had used every weapon in his power and the rebels were still defiant.
From the midst of their blood and tears, from the ashes of their towns and the ruins of their country-side, they faced him undauntedly; he had sacrificed in vain one of the richest portions of his realm; in vain he had stamped out industry, commerce, trade and prosperity in his effort to stamp out heresy.
The provinces that had brought in a princely income to his father were now an immense drain on his almost bankrupt resources; but Philip did not care for this—gave no thought to it, any more than he had given any thought to the ruin he had inflicted on a large and flourishing portion of his kingdom by his recent expulsion of the Moriscos from Andalusia.
Now his mind was on the Prince of Orange, whom he hated.
"Your Eminence knows of a man suitable to the purpose? Of dealing with Orange as Coligny was dealt with?" he asked.
"The man I had in mind was one Gaspar D'Anastro, a Spaniard living in Antwerp," said Granvelle. "I believe for a reward he would find an instrument."
"Give him," said Philip, "whatever he should ask, Eminence."
"But since I spoke to your Majesty I have heard reports that have made my faith in the fellow slacken. It seems that he is more inspired by love of money than love of God."
"That is no matter," remarked the King, "as long as the deed be done."
"It shall be done, sire."
"I believe it—yet the man seems to me to bear a life charmed by evil arts."
"It is indeed difficult to come at him—several good Catholics have met their death before ever they could put foot in Delft."
"God will reward them," said Philip.
He took back his list from Granvelle and a slight gleam came into his passive eyes as he dwelt once more on the names of these, the flower of the Flemish nobility, who had fallen victims to the wrath of God and Philip.
And the Prince of Orange would fall too, even the Devil could not always protect such a man, the King thought.
He rose stiffly; it was the hour for his relaxation and his devotions.
To-day these would be long, for his news had been bad
The English had plundered several more of his silver ships, some money he had hoped to raise from the nobles of Castile had failed, several peculation on the part of his American Viceroys had come to light, the young Valois princes were again tampering with the accursed rebels.
And everywhere was a lack of money.
His brother, Don Juan of Austria, wrote frantic letters from Messina, entreating for means to follow up the victory of Lepanto, and threatening the loss of Tunis and La Goleta.
Philip had no money to send; besides Don Juan also had his enemies who whispered that he tried to found an Empire for himself in the East.
Granvelle rose and followed the King, who went into a little gallery which overlooked the garden; an autumn greyness was abroad and the sunless air was heavy.
In a chair of leather with her feet on a gold cushion, sat the Queen, Philip's fourth wife, Anne of Austria, daughter of the Emperor.
She was pretty in a gay vivacious style, but despite her smile and her quick movements she looked ill and unhappy.
By her side stood a pretty child, who was winding a ball of white yarn from an ebony frame.
Behind were the ladies, and here, as every where in the
Escurial, were priests.
Two walked up and down the gallery, the Queen's confessor sat with the waiting-women.
The whole group had a sad and formal air; they seemed people who had reduced life to an empty ceremony.
Philip looked kindly at his wife, but with far deeper affection at the child.
She was his favourite daughter and bore a likeness to her mother, the late French Queen, the lovely Isabelle de Valois.
Looking at her he sighed, thinking of her mother, whose death had been the deepest grief of his life, but he did not speak either to her or to the Queen and they remained dutifully silent.
Instead he turned to the priests, those eyes, ears and tongues of the Escurial, and keepers of his conscience. These were all about him instantly and he walked up and down the gallery with them, the Cardinal at his side.
The Queen's glance travelled after him; the child continued carding the yarn; she had already the austere manner of the Spanish Court.
The duennas yawned behind their tortoise-shell fans
It seemed as if nothing had ever happened or would ever happen to break the monotony of this ordered life.
The Queen took her gaze from the figure of her husband and glanced at the clouds, then down into the formal garden.
A clock struck.
Anne rose and, giving a little signal to her ladies, left the gallery.
It was the hour for prayers, which here were as regular as in any convent.
The Queen's confessor followed her, the other priests came behind with the King.
Among them was the one who had put Granvelle in touch with Gaspar D'Anastro, the Spanish merchant in Antwerp who had offered to find a man to assassinate the Prince of Orange.
"But I have since discovered a fellow better adapted to your Majesty's purpose," said this priest. "A young captain from Arragon, full of a devout spirit and much loyalty."
"Is he willing to undertake the business?" asked Philip.
"Very eager, sire."
"He knows the difficulties?"
"I believe him well aware of them—and also that he would shrink from nothing in the service of your Majesty." The King did not appear wholly convinced.
"Is he familiar with Flemish?" he asked, for he remembered that another emissary sent to murder William had failed to obtain an entry into Delft on account of his scant knowledge of the Flemish language and the strong Spanish accent which had betrayed him.
"I believe he is proficient in it," put in Granvelle. "He was in the service of the Council when I was in Brussels."
"He may try then," said the King.
"Is he one of these penniless fellows?" he added, as they entered the palace.
"I believe he can pay his own expenses," replied the priest. "But it would be worth your Majesty's while to give him a few ducats to further bind him to your service."
But Philip, always hampered by poverty, was chary of his ducats.
"I will promise him the cross of Santiago if he succeed," he answered. "And you, father, shall confess and absolve him before he starts."
They reached the door of the sombre chapel, where the Queen was already on her knees.
"Afterwards I myself will see this man," said Philip, on reflection that he had better judge of this creature of Granvelle's for himself.
He was unsparing in his attention to these petty details.
Dismissing all mundane business from his mind he entered the chapel and prostrated himself in abject adoration and supplication.
In a passion of self-abasement he prayed for the subjection of the heretics and the peaceful reign of the true faith, and declared to God, in a fervour of self-sacrifice, that if he had not yet done sufficient penances, if he had not yet been sufficiently punished by the loss of his dear wife and the tragic end of the insane son on whom so many high hopes had been placed, he was willing to meekly endure any misfortune that might be laid on him as long as he might be permitted to be the means of rooting out the heretics.
When the service was over, Philip rose from his devotions and went to interview the man who had undertaken to murder William of Orange.
Cardinal Granvelle had apartments in the Escurial, the only chambers in the huge building furnished with taste and luxury, for even the Queen's rooms were dull and sombre.
But the Burgundian priest had surrounded himself with something of the florid Flemish magnificence to which he had become used during his residence in the gorgeous capital of Brabant.
Stamped leather and tapestry adorned the walls, the furniture was rich and costly, the books choice and numerous, though nothing could soften the stiffness of the narrow window which admitted a cold light that no internal splendour could counteract.
Granvelle, a man of a soft and easy habit and of voluptuous tastes, did not like the Escurial, sometimes he confessed to himself that he did not like Spain.
To-day after he had left the King and Queen in the gallery he retired to his cabinet in a spirit of profound dissatisfaction.
Cardinal Granvelle was not a great man; his keen intelligence was continually irritated by this fact; he was not of noble birth and this pricked his pride; he was clever enough to see how far short his success fell of his ambitions, and this recognition of his own limit galled him unbearably. He was, after all, nothing but one of the many tools of Philip, and this position which entirely satisfied such as Antonio Perez or Alva was irksome to the Cardinal. He did not see how he could ever be other than what he was; his nearest approach to greatness had been when, as adviser to Margaret of Parma, he had been virtually Governor of the Netherlands.
That chance he had lost through the persistent opposition of the great Flemish nobles who had finally obtained his recall.
The Cardinal retained the bitterest hatred towards these men.
Most of them were dead; Philip had fully avenged himself on the opponents of his favoured Minister—Egmont and Hoorne on the block, Adolphus of Nassau and Hoogstraaten on the battlefield—Berghen and Floris de Montmorency in a Spanish prison—Brederode of a broken heart—it might seem as if the Cardinal could be satisfied.
But the Netherlands were not subdued—and William of Orange lived.
And this Prince the Cardinal regarded with an intensity of hatred that nothing but death could satisfy.
The Prince was ruined, discredited, humiliated, he had fallen from the position of one of the greatest grandees in the world to that of a penniless exile, but the Cardinal's hatred was not appeased nor his fear of his opponent at rest.
He had long ago called William the most dangerous man in the Netherlands and his opinion had not altered—even though the revolted Provinces were now crushed under the rule of Alva and the Nassau family had ruined themselves in vain for the cause which they had espoused. It was an exceeding grievance with the Cardinal that William was still alive; there seemed to him something miraculous in the rebel's constant escape from peril, the manner in which he perpetually evaded the meshes of Philip's net of intrigue and secret plot, as there was something miraculous in the way he was, in face of his constant misfortunes, able to maintain his influence among the Netherlanders, to lead parties in France and England, to raise armies and collect money, to now even hold a court in Delft.
It seemed to the Cardinal that if Philip could not destroy William, William would destroy Philip—
"—like a rat gnawing at the foundations of a house," he said to himself.
This thought, apart from his personal animosity to the man, affected him with a nobler grief—the Spanish Empire represented all that he believed in and admired and he was sincere in his passionate abhorrence of the heretic and the rebel.
"If I were a younger man," his thoughts continued, "I would track down the cursed Prince myself."
He rose impulsively and looked about him as if suddenly impatient of the confinement of the room.
An atmosphere of trouble and tumult pervaded his soul and coloured his surroundings; he saw himself as a mere detail in a vortex of events utterly beyond his control. His rage and irritation became so acute that he cast about for some one on whom to vent his mood.
The King was both the nearest and most satisfactory object on which to turn his venom; the Cardinal left his rich apartments for the dark and narrow chambers of Philip. As he passed up a steep cold staircase, he saw the Queen and her ladies cross the landing beneath him.
They were on their way from the chapel and carried their books of prayer.
Granvelle leant over the stair-rail and looked at them. He noticed, as he had never noticed before, the utter sadness of these women's faces.
They also seemed discontented, though housed in a palace and protected by the greatest King in the world.
Philip was kind and affectionate towards his wife, but the look on the young Austrian's face was that of cowed and sullen endurance; and Granvelle remembered the look on the frail features of the last Queen, a look of dumb terror—and on the face of Don Carlos, the King's only son—a look of fear and cunning—the stare and grin of insanity.
There was no happiness in the Escurial—what then was the good of any of it, since all of them were discontented—so thought the Cardinal with a certain fierce impatience, for he was one who wished for material joy and pleasure as proof and sign of power and place.
He was at once admitted, and Philip was as usual at his desk, writing one of his long despatches which were all penned by his own hand and compiled with the minutest care.
He worked harder than any clerk in his employment and with the persistent application of the dull-witted.
Granvelle despised him for this, yet he could not dissociate the man from the King and he always looked with a certain awe at this bent thin figure in the dull room—the man who could devote a nation to destruction by signing his name.
"I write to England," Philip said in that tone of respect he always used when speaking to a churchman, and as he liked Granvelle his manner was friendly as well as courteous.
He put down his pen and leant back in his chair; his eyes fixed Granvelle with a thoughtful look; his heavy lower lip was loose and flaccid, showing his broken teeth; the sagging skin showed the bony structure of the face.
Cardinal Granvelle considered him; this was not his ideal of King; he recalled that graceful yet robust figure, comely and at ease—William of Orange.
Had they met in private life William would not have considered Philip of sufficient capacity to be his humblest clerk; Granvelle knew this—he saw Philip as he was, mean of soul as of intelligence, but he was King of Spain.
And Granvelle saw in Philip another thing besides the fact of kingship; the obstinacy of bigotry and prejudice; the Cardinal respected this because it had again and again defeated his purpose and his wish.
His one satisfaction was that this quality in the King had also defeated the genius of the Prince of Orange. Philip pushed back his papers.
"England meddles in the Netherlands," he said as if he stated a secret.
"And France," answered the Cardinal gravely.
"The party of the rebels is very powerful in France," returned Philip with an air of utter gloom. "I think they will set up the Duc D'Anjou as a pretender in my provinces."
Granvelle did not wish to indulge the King in a minute discussion of events that were already argued threadbare; he knew to a nicety the exact position of the rebel Netherlanders in the politics of Europe.
He came to the point which was always uppermost in his own mind.
"It is the Prince of Orange, sire, who does you active mischief, both in England and France and the Empire."
Philip seemed to have forgotten his recent idea to remove the Prince; now he blinked like a man pushed from darkness into light.
"The Prince of Orange, yes," he muttered.
"He and no other, sire. Remove him and you go at ease in Europe. As you know and have decided, sire."
The King went off the main subject again.
"There are others—I hear Louis of Nassau would marry the Abbess of Jouane. God protect us," he shivered and crossed himself.
"There are no others," said the Cardinal firmly. "If the Prince were dead the rebellion would be dead and no more heard of these enemies of your Majesty in foreign states."
"None of those men matter—Count Louis is an adventurer, Count John a ruined, broken man, the rest are but the desperate knaves and fools that gather round any great villain."
"The Prince of Orange is also ruined," said the King slowly. "He has nothing left of all his possessions, he is disgraced through his wife. I am assured that he has neither credit nor abiding place anywhere save in that pestilent town of Delft."
"That is true, sire, but for all that your Majesty has no other enemy to reckon with save this one. I would not have you slacken in your endeavour to remove this ruffian."
Philip frowned; it irritated him to be convinced of what his minister told him; it was hard to realize that one whom he regarded as his rebel subject could be so dangerous.
"What power has this man?" he asked sullenly.
The answer—"the quality of greatness," was on Granvelle's lips, but he checked the words and replied, "The devil supports a thrice perjured heretic."
This satisfied Philip; he was used to fighting the devil; his eyes gleamed with a sombre enthusiasm.
"He must die, this William," he said; with his chin propped on his hand he considered the destruction of his enemy.
"The heretic escapes all efforts of your Majesty's wrath," the Cardinal reminded him. "We have heard no more of D'Anastro's man."
"I would he could have come to Spain," said Philip slowly. "As Egmont, Berghen and Floris Montmorency did."
"He was always cunning."
"If he had come to Madrid," continued the King, "he would have died."
"But the others," said Philip more cheerfully, "I have crushed. They pay their debt in Hell now."
"None of them mattered as the Prince matters, sire. And he escapes."
"He too will go," returned the King with more energy than he had yet shown. "Do you doubt that? Do you think, Eminence, that the Almighty God will long tolerate such a foul heretic?"
"Your Majesty should not rest day or night while this man lives."
Philip fired at that.
"Do I rest? Do I not labour incessantly? What have I not sacrificed in the cause of my God and my Realm? My eyes fail and my hand shakes and my head is weary, but I do not cease to labour."
There was something of grandeur in his words, but as he spoke his face had a sudden resemblance to his murdered son and the Cardinal lowered his glance, almost imperceptibly blenching from what gazed at him from the eyes of Philip.
"Is it for some sin of mine," continued the King, "that this man lives? I have done great penance for my sins. Have I not been punished? Did I not sacrifice my son?"
He looked round the room as if searching for a third presence.
"In His good time God will permit me to destroy this William."
"It should be done swiftly," urged the Cardinal.
"Have I not tried?" asked the King; his head fell forward a little, and his voice sounded hoarse and mournful.
"The instruments were wrong and it is hard to trace one who wanders in disguise—he has also spies and friends everywhere, even in the cabinet of your Majesty—yet the deed can be done—especially now he is often in Delft."
"They all play me false, but I am not deceived."
Granvelle knew that he was, and by those most in his confidence, such as Antonio Perez and the Princess of Eboli, yet the Cardinal winced, for Philip, believing in none, might at the slightest cause strike at all or any.
"I at least have been a very faithful servant," he said quietly; and it was the truth.
Philip was silent; either out of disbelief or because his thoughts had wandered.
The Cardinal held his peace, there was a certain weariness upon his spirit; to be with Philip made him melancholy.
"Alva," said the King suddenly out of the dusk. "I wonder if Alva is loyal?"
Granvelle was utterly amazed; even though he knew Alva was under recall he would not have believed that even Philip's untiring suspicions would fall on Alva, that brilliant and merciless instrument of Spanish power and Romanist wrath.
"The Duke of Alva," he ejaculated.
"Why did he put on the tenth penny tax?" demanded the King. "It has greatly inflamed the Netherlanders."
Granvelle could have laughed; he knew that the burden of the Viceroy's letters was one desperate demand for money which Philip never sent.
"The Duke could not govern without gold," he said. "Money is necessary—Resquesens will be the same." Philip broke in fiercely.
"Money. I have no money!" he cried, confessing with these words that all the boasted wealth of Spain was becoming exhausted in the effort to crush heresy in the Netherlands.
"But you have power, sire," said the Cardinal.
Philip's energy waned as quickly as it had flamed, he drooped in his chair like a sick man; his right hand reached out to the desk and grasped the quill with feeble haste.
"Candles," he said harshly, "candles. I must finish my dispatch."
But Philip did not write long even after the candles D had been brought; for once his mind turned from the petty detail to the large issue; Granvelle's words rankled in his mind; he could not but admit that the news from the Netherlands was far from good and that the Prince of Orange was still a perpetual goad in his side.
True, Haarlem had been reduced after a desperate resistance and laid in ashes, but Alkmaar had resisted successfully, Middleburg had fallen into the hands of the rebels, leaving them masters of the island of Zeeland and Walcheren and of the sea coast; on the sea itself they from the first had been, and still were, victorious.
The Prince of Orange had established himself in Delft and had surrounded himself with the nucleus of an independent state; he was known to be in close communication with France and England, and to be skilfully playing one against the other; how far he had succeeded in obtaining help from either, Philip did not know, but he was informed by his spies that the Duc d'Alençon had promised countenance and help to Louis of Nassau, who was in France endeavouring to raise troops with which to relieve Leiden, a city which stood for the Prince and had been long hardly pressed by the Spaniards.
He almost regretted Alva; Resquesens, the new Governor, was as poor a statesman and not so good a general, and his policy, less ferocious and bloodthirsty than that of his predecessor, had not proved any more successful in subduing the rebel heretics; how could the King forgive him the defeat of his Armada at Romerswael, which had left the rebels with the supremacy of the sea?
If Alva had failed and Resquesens had failed, who was to succeed!
Philip bit his quill and blinked at the candle flame. The door opened gently and a woman entered with a light yet decided step.
She wore a dark green gown and a black lace mantilla; her hair was dark and arranged in heavy masses either side of her sallow face, which was aquiline in feature and not beautiful save in the large and intelligent eyes.
She looked at Philip with something of the same expression with which Granvelle had looked at him—a mingling of disdain for the man and awe for the King.
She was Ana D'Eboli, widow of his Minister, for a long while his adviser and his lover, but in neither respect faithful to him, for Antonio Perez held what she had of heart and loyalty; no one deceived Philip more than these two to whom he extended that confidence of which he was usually so niggardly; the Princess D'Eboli believed that he trusted her completely, and so was, perhaps, overconfident in her bearing towards the King, but so far her domination and her fascination held him; she was absolutely the most brilliant person, the finest in wit and judgment, of any who had come in contact with him.
"Cardinal Granvelle has been with you," she said; she seated herself opposite the King; her presence filled the meagre chamber with a certain magnificence, her voice was caressing; but the disdain of the clever woman for the dull man was never wholly hidden.
"Granvelle worries me," said Philip; before Ana D'Eboli he permitted himself a little show of irritation; though long habit had made his impassive manner hardly capable of displaying any emotion.
"I believe that I have come to worry you also, sire," said the Princess.
"You have news?" The King knew that she had her own secret channels of information and that her spies were often quicker than his own; what he did not know was her intrigue with Antonio Perez and that the advancement of this man was the thread that held together all her actions; at present she intended to ruin the Governor of the Netherlands, who was the political enemy of Perez.
"I have news that Louis of Nassau is marching on Maastricht," she answered.
Philip sighed as was his habit to do when other men would have cursed; that he was profoundly agitated showed from his shaking hands as he clutched the arms of his chair.
"Which means raising the siege of Leiden," added Ana D'Eboli gently.
"God will protect us, God will deliver us," muttered the King.
"Not while Resquesens is your Majesty's Governor in the Netherlands."
The King shook his head dismally.
"There is no one else," he said.
But Ana D'Eboli had her own schemes; not only did she wish to disgrace Resquesens by a recall, but she wished to ruin another man by sending him to undertake the impossible and heart-breaking task of governing the Netherlands.
"Don John has been so successful with the Turks, surely he can crush the heretics," she replied.
The King stroked his chin.
"Don John," he said thoughtfully; he did not love his half brother, whose glorious achievements had cast so much splendour on his reign, for it was not in him to love youth and gaiety in a man; certainly he had raised Don John up but he was equally prepared to cast him down and there was an ingenuity about the suggestion of the Princess that pleased him; Resquesens was obviously incapable, Don John was clamouring for employment and possibly his brilliant gifts might avail where even Alva had failed.
"Do you think," he added cautiously, "that Don John is a match for the Prince of Orange?"
"No man is a match for that devil," answered the Princess decisively.
"But some day," said the King patiently, "God will permit that a knife or a bullet reach his heart."
"What of Gaspar D'Anastro's man?"
"I have heard nothing more."
The King turned his mind from this disagreeable subject.
"What troops has Louis of Nassau?" he asked.
"He has engaged the escort that was taking the Duc D'Anjou to Poland—other troops raised in France and German mercenaries."
"How will he pay these troops?" asked Philip bitterly.
Ana D'Eboli shrugged her shoulders.
"How have the Nassau family paid so far? They are ruined men—and yet they can always raise money—men—This should be the last time."
The King looked at her and a light blazed in his dull eyes.
"Whether or no it be the last time, rest assured that they will not succeed in their rebellion, even if I have to raze to the ground every town in the Netherlands."
"Your Majesty must be careful that the rebels do not raze the towns themselves—Count Louis, as I said, advances on Maastricht."
A light foam gathered on the King's lips and he stared fixedly in front of him.
His enemy seemed to loom monstrous before him, casting a dark shadow over his might and his power; menacing even the existence of his Empire; he saw William of Orange as evil incarnate before whom every weapon was powerless, and the rebellion of which he was the life and soul as a plague spot, which, spreading, would in time ruin all his kingdoms.
It seemed as if the rebels had nothing and he had everything; yet in truth he was cruelly hampered: embarrassed for money, surrounded by a corrupt Court and governing vast dominions by means of a network of minute and tortuous intrigue, watched with jealousy and suspicion by both England and France, each of whom were ready and eager to foment trouble in his realms, Philip of Spain was by no means completely master of his vast kingdom.
Still the odds were greatly on his side, and it remained a marvel to even his dull intelligence that the rebels could so long hold aloft the flag of their independence.
Ana D'Eboli was quick to see this feeling in him and to play upon it for her own purpose.
"Your Majesty's credit is sufficiently shaken already in the Netherlands," she said, "by the manner in which the Prince of Orange has been able to establish himself in Holland and Zeeland—this expedition of Count Louis must be crushed."
"It shall be."
"Your Majesty must see to it—under pain of your displeasure Resquesens must crush Count Louis—for on him are staked the hopes of all the rebels."
"Not on him, but on William of Orange," said Philip with a rare flash of insight. "Resquesens must do his utmost—can I do more than command him to do that?"
Ana D'Eboli saw that she had sufficiently pressed her point and deftly changed the subject.
"The ultimate end is not in doubt," she said.
"Nor the ultimate punishment," said the King grimly. Ana D'Eboli rose.
Even to her there was an oppression in the air of the King's cabinet; a terrible sense of dullness and gloom in the presence of the King.
She looked out of the narrow pointed window on to the unfinished gardens, cold in the still light of the February afternoon.
Like Granvelle had thought—so she thought—'what is the use of all of it since none of us are happy?
She leant her head against the mullions and the chilly gleam of the hidden sun was full on her sallow face.
At that moment the Princess D'Eboli felt as hungry for happiness as had ever Rénée le Meuny or any poor Netherland exile.
She asked herself the question with disdain—she had security, power, and even love, yet somehow her crooked life was not pleasing, even to herself; the close air of the Escurial seemed crowded with the presence of murdered men.
Ana. D'Eboli had had no pity for any of them; yet the thought of them oppressed her; she could not, either, soon forget those two who had died so near together—Isabelle de Valois and Don Carlos; to the first she had been indifferent, the second she had disliked—yet she did not care to reflect upon the sudden end of either Queen or Prince—Isabelle's fallen loveliness was as unpleasant to recall as the mad hideousness of the Prince.
She glanced, half furtively, at Philip.
He sat with his chin resting on his chest; his jaw had dropped a little and his eyes were half closed.
He looked both like his father, the great Emperor, in those last days of insane penitence, and his imbecile son whom he had been forced to destroy.
Ana D'Eboli did not care to look at him, and crept from the room.
In the first chamber through which she had to pass, the Queen and several of her women were gathered before a fire of pine logs which filled the musty chamber with a pleasant odour.
Anne of Austria was seated in a deep chair; her attire, though splendid in itself, was disordered, her ruff open round her full throat, threads of tumbled fair hair waved across a candid brow.
She had something of an air of nobility, and seemed as if she might have been, under some circumstances, happy and gay.
Ana D'Eboli came up behind her chair; the powerful favourite was familiar and even haughty with the foreign Queen; yet Philip loved Anne of Austria, though not to the extent with which he had loved Isabelle de Valois.
The Queen looked up with a clear glance from her grey-blue eyes.
She knew perfectly well the position and power of Ana D'Eboli and was not afraid of either; she had the nerve and spirit that her predecessor had lacked and she was the Emperor's daughter; besides being of the same blood as Philip and having something of his craft:
"With what gaieties shall we pass the time?" she asked.
She laughed and her laugh was hard.
"No one speaks of anything but this rebellion in the Netherlands," she added with malice, for she knew perfectly well that Ana D'Eboli had been with the King and conferring with him on this subject.
"It is something to talk of," said the Princess calmly. "Louis of Nassau has raised a large mercenary army and Count John finds the money."
The Queen made a little grimace.
"It is astonishing how Count John continues to find money," she remarked.
"His pocket is deep but it has a bottom," returned the Princess.
Anne of Austria smiled slowly.
"You may say the same of the coffers of Spain," she said.
"No," answered the Princess. "I do not think you can say that there is a limit to the resources of Spain, madam."
"Perhaps," said the Queen easily. "Count Louis is a gallant knight," she added.
The Spanish ladies glanced at each other; the bold speaking of their mistress filled them with mingled delight and awe; some crossed themselves when they heard her speak of the heretic rebel.
"A gallant knight your Majesty thinks?" asked the Princess with great bitterness and meaning in her tone.
Anne of Austria looked at her with complete composure and contempt scarcely concealed.
"I think," she said, "a gallant knight—such as one might admire—and love."
Again a little movement went through the waiting-women.
"And love?" echoed the Princess.
"Why not?" smiled the Queen. "Young,—audacious, leader of a desperate cause—such have always evoked love, madam."
"Among the light and frivolous, yes," returned the Princess. "They say that this Nassau is beloved by the renegade Abbess of Jouane—your Majesty has heard that?"
"She will marry some one—why not Louis of Nassau?" said the Queen.
"Certainly—a fitting match, the heretic and the nun," answered the Princess drily.
Anne of Austria slightly lifted her shoulders.
"I hear she also is beautiful—and young," she said, "therefore no doubt it is a fitting match."
"It is your Majesty's pleasure to be tolerant," remarked Ana D'Eboli sarcastically.
The Queen's shapely hand toyed with a little ornament of rubies.
"I was not trained in harshness," she replied quietly. "I can admire these rebel heretics when they are brave."
She looked into the logs and her face softened.
"And they are brave," she added. "I have heard tales—" she paused and smiled, as if at inner thoughts, "and the Nassau Princes—are they not fearless as lions?"
"The Devil doubtless gives them confidence," said Ana D'Eboli.
"Ah—the Devil—" repeated the Queen in a curious tone, still gazing into the fire.
"Your Majesty perhaps approves of the Devil?" asked the Princess.
Anne of Austria laughed with a superb indifference. "Sometimes," she answered.
The Princess's dark face flushed, for there was a certain insolence in the reply that seemed levelled at her, and the waiting-women shuddered at the royal blasphemy.
But the Queen remained unconcerned; fair she looked in the dull glow of the pine fire.
The creaking of a board caused the two women to lock round.
From behind the tall screen of stamped leather came the thin figure of the King.
In a moment the waiting-women were as if lifeless in their stiff attitudes of respect.
The Queen retained her indifferent position and looked at her husband with weary eyes; Ana D'Eboli withdrew into the vast shadows that filled the tall chamber; she had seen that Philip's first glance had turned to his wife and she could afford to sometimes remain in the background; besides she cared so little for Philip that it cost her no pang of jealousy to see his attention drawn to another woman.
"What do you muse about, madam?" asked Philip.
He put out his cold hand and touched her sleeve.
"On the glory of your Empire, sire, and the folly of those who rise in rebellion against you," said the Queen quietly.
The same day that Philip and Ana D'Eboli were discussing the expedition of Louis of Nassau, his brother was writing him from Delft a letter full of encouragement and hope.
To William of Orange this invasion of the Netherlands was of signal importance.
He hoped with those troops the now independent states of Holland and Zeeland could supply him, to effect a juncture with Count Louis that would effectually cut off and check the Royalist troops and draw them away from the siege of Leiden—he felt justified in contemplating a success more signal in its effects and more important in its results than even the capture of Brill.
As usual he had but little ground for these hopes, which depended entirely on himself and his family, and, also as usual, the difficulties were immense, and to any but a Nassau would have appeared stupendous. Louis' troops were all mercenaries whose services depended on their pay, and that pay depended on the personal efforts of William and Ma two brothers; a rising in the Provinces still under Resquesens was hardly to be expected, as these were still too firmly held in bondage by the Spanish, and the tiny Republic which William had founded was straining her utmost to maintain herself.
Still the Prince had found his foothold—he could call Delft his home and Holland his Kingdom—"Here I stay to conquer or to find my grave," he had said.
He was surrounded by men who were faithful to him, who believed in him, who were eager to carry out his commands, yet his soul was lonely for he had not a single confidant, save his brothers, who either fully understood his aims or the means by which he hoped to achieve them, no one on whose capacity and judgment he could rely.
Even Ste. Aldegonde had weakened through the rigours of a Spanish prison and wrote, sometimes despairing, counsels tinged by the gloom of his confinement.
Even he, once most enthusiastic of supporters, seemed to think William's task hopeless; Philip could not be with impunity defied; would it not be better to submit and trust to the King's mercy?
There remained only John and Louis. John, full of patience and trust, and Louis, as energetic and unflinching as the Prince himself.
These two were the Prince's great reliance—but there were two others equally eager and single-hearted in his cause, the youngest brother, Henry, and Duke Christopher, the son of the Elector Palatine.
Both these were now with Count Louis.
William recalled them as he sealed his letter to his brother.
And thinking of them he remembered his marriage day in Leipsic and how he and these young men had sat round in a dark room while the alchemist's assistant raised spirits by means of his magic table.
William recalled also how the seer had described a picture of red and black—a bloody fight beneath a sombre sky and men falling in the press never to rise again till the Judgment Day.
Aye, a violent death had the wise man predicted for all of them—it seemed likely enough.
Yet the man was only a charlatan earning his living as best he could—there was little need to think of his wild prophecies.
William's mind dwelt on that wedding day—no prophecy of that marriage's ending could have been wilder than the truth.
With what splendour had that marriage, barren in all save misery, been solemnized!
What would bride or bridegroom have said to one who could have shown them a mirror of the future? Ruin and exile for him, and for her dishonour and insanity.
William bent his head as he thought of that marriage.
The desertion of his wife and her faithlessness had been the last stab to the hunted and homeless Prince.
His present loneliness was to be traced to that mistaken marriage.
His children were with his brother, Count John, for he had nothing to offer them and he passed his life in the company of soldiers and servants; he often thought of his first wife, Anne of Egmont, and how pleasant she had made his days—he greatly lacked the sweet companionship of love and sympathy.
Restlessly he wandered up and down the room, which was that of a middle-class burgher.
There could not well be a greater contrast than between this and the Prince's palace in Brussels, yet compared with what his surroundings had been since his exile, it was luxury.
The Prince noticed neither the comfort nor the plainness; he had long ceased to take heed of what was about him.
His clothes now were of coarse cloth, his falling band of plain linen, his sword of the simplest workmanship, his shoes of rough leather; yet the innate grace of his figure and bearing was in no way affected by these things.
Presently he seated himself at his table by the window.
The fine profile was worn and haggard, all savour of youthfulness had gone, though the Prince was no more than in the prime of life.
All that was left of the gay cavalier and brilliant grandee 8 were the poise and manner of one equally at home with King and peasant, the gracious composure and the self-possessed diplomat.
He knew that he was surrounded by continual danger, that Philip's spies and assassins were continually on his track and that it could only be a question of time before his name was added to that of Egmont and Hoorne and those others on that list in the Escurial who had already satisfied the wrath of Spain. He could only hope that first a little time might be allowed him in which to do some of the work which he had before him and to forward the cause on which he had set his very heart.
This work was slow and at times distasteful; his present intrigues with the French Court were not pleasant to him; it could not be agreeable to the great champion of the Reformed Faith to deal with the King who had sanctioned Saint Bartholomew.
But William knew that if he stopped to use only clean tools he would never accomplish anything, and one of his favourite schemes was to pit France against Spain and secure, for the struggling little states he had rescued from Philip, the powerful protection of one of the Princes of the House of Valois.
So far he, and Louis as his agent, had succeeded not only in obtaining constant expressions of repentance for the infamous massacre from the Court of France, but also its formal assurances that henceforth it would not molest those of the Reformed Religion in its dominion and would aid to the utmost the cause of the United Provinces.
To such concessions was France driven by internal disorders, hatred of Spain and desire of the friendship of England and the hand of England's Queen for François de Valois.
Louis had raised soldiers there, had spoken and written fearlessly and boldly to King and Dowager, had a large party on his side which his confidence and ability made daily larger-but William was not one to be lulled by this appearance of success. His position was by no means brilliant; even Zeeland and Holland were not completely his; though Middleburg had fallen, Zeeland was divided by the loss of Haarlem and the siege of Leiden; the Estates were difficult and often irritating on the question of supplies, and though the patriots held the sea successfully, the land forces were mostly mercenary and therefore not to be depended on if the money raised now with such difficulty should fail.
So it was that William's hopes rested mostly on France; the Duke d'Alençon and the King of Poland had sworn assistance; the Prince knew both to be puppets of circumstance, but he believed he might pull their strings to his own purpose.
Putting his letter to Louis in his pocket he left the room and the house and stepped out on to the brick pathway that ran beside the canal; this was planted with lime trees, whose leafless boughs cast a pleasant tracing of shade, and were reflected in the quiet waters of the canal.
A small boat was moored in front of the steps that led from the causeway to the water in front of the Prince's house, and in this boat were seated two boys who were busily engaged in mending a kite.
The door of the house opposite stood open and near the step sat a woman knitting; by her knee stood a child engaged in unravelling her ball of wool.
The red tiled roofs were covered with pigeons that circled high and low.
Over all was the clear cold sky of early spring and the light of pale sunshine.
Standing here, by the quiet canal, watching the children at their play and the woman at her work it might almost seem as if it was a time of peace.
To William it appeared as a prophecy of what might yet be in the years to come—when all the land would be as this spot was now by chance; he thought of the time when men would go to and fro and not wonder at seeing peace about them, but accept it naturally and look upon war and violence as some dreadful dream—a thing to be imagined and read of, not to be experienced.
Not for him those days—yet it was pleasant to think that by his means and the means of those whom he inspired they might be at some distant date achieved.
Pleasant indeed to think that the children of their children might come to remember and bless the name of William of Orange as that of one who had secured to them the priceless gift of liberty.
The Prince turned towards the fortifications of the city.
He walked quickly, and passed over low bridges, under the gleaming windows of houses and before Gothic churches now spoiled of their original splendours and changed from their original uses; here and there an early tree was faintly veiled in green, here and there a hyacinth showed in a garden patch, or a few snowdrops pushed up through the dark earth.
There were very few people abroad, and those few, harmless folk, women, children, old men; all the strong manhood was at the war.
William came to the bridge that separated the great canal leading to Rotterdam from the smaller canal running through the city.
Here he paused and leaning on the low brick parapet gazed on the flat prospect of land and water already beginning to be blended by the thin mists of evening.
The paleness of the sky, reflected in the water, became silver, and on this gloomy surface of the canal rested the dark shape of boats, and by the low straight banks grew the straight dark spikes of reeds and grass.
A strong wind blew abroad over the land, the Prince felt it on his face like the touch of a cold hand.
As he gazed across the land which the inhabitants had rescued with such desperate courage from the sea and from the oppressor, the spread of cloud grew larger and rapidly enveloped the sweep of open sky, and the current of the wind rose higher like the swell of water rising against the land.
Still the Prince stood motionless on the bridge, a solitary figure fast being absorbed into the encroaching darkness which was hiding from his gaze the land that he loved, for it was the land on which he had planted his final standard, the spot of ground where he would maintain himself or die.
While he was deep in reverie a messenger from his house came hurrying through the gloomy streets.
He brought dispatches from Louis.
William read them by the light of the lantern his valet carried.
They were but a few lines that told that Louis was already marching into the heart of the enemy and hoped soon to effect a juncture with William between Delft and Rotterdam.
The winds blew round the Castle of Fauquemont, howled through the ruined portion and shook the doors and windows and lifted the tapestry in those rooms that were still habitable.
In one of these, which once had been a magnificent apartment, but had been despoiled when the castle had been ruined, the younger brothers of William of Orange sat at Council with the few dependable officers of their mercenary force which had advanced thus far into the enemy's country and was now encamped on the Meuse, in the Duchy of Limburg a few miles from Maastricht, the first objective of the expedition, the second and principal being the junction with William and the forces of the Estates at Bommel in Holland.
The other officers, French and Dutch, sat on such heavy chairs of state as the pillagers had left; on a great black table stood candles thrust into the necks of bottles and a stamp, for none of these Princes travelled with camp.
A fire of such logs as could be found near by burnt in the wide grate and gave a fugitive heat to a portion of the great cold chamber, and cast a flickering and sombre light on three young men seated by the black bed.
Of these Count Louis was by far the most remarkable, though all had in common a singular air of serene ardour, of bright youth and enthusiasm.
The Nassau brothers were alike in the elegance of their appearance, in their alert manner, but Louis had an added charm of face and deportment, an air of dignity and command that made him well fitted to be the leader of a noble and romantic cause.
He was now in the prime of life, his countenance, no longer so soft as it had been in the days of his extravagant youth, was eminently pleasing, his steady eyes were full of light and fire and the curls of his brown locks fell either side a brow still smooth.
He wore his armour, black damascened with gold, over which was knotted a scarf of orange silk, a high collar of white linen was buttoned under his chin; he was leaning slightly forward, his left hand on his hip.
His brother was darker and taller; he had the Nassau gaiety and had already proved himself to have the Nassau boldness and discretion; he wore a leathern coat and breeches marked by the pressure of his mail.
The Elector's son was a youth of a melancholy deportment but of steadfast eyes and mouth; he spoke little and seemed to greatly lean on the words of Count Louis; he was large and comely and was partially armed in heavy plate.
Louis held a little parchment on which was roughly drawn a map of the Meuse and the fortifications of the enemy, who was encamped on the opposite bank of the river.
He was explaining this to the assembled officers, who listened to him in a silence that was something gloomy.
Disaster had already marked the progress of the little army; they had been unable to cross the Meuse owing to the ice, which, insufficient to bear the passage of troops, had yet been sufficient to prevent the use of boats, more than a thousand of the mercenaries had deserted at the first hint of failure and Mendoza had inflicted on them a night surprise which had cost them seven hundred men.
In view of these facts the general opinion was that it was now necessary to abandon the project of taking Maastricht, which had been reinforced by the arrival of Braccamonte and Mondrogan with several companies of foot and horse.
"But we must," said Louis with great earnestness and firmness, "cross the Meuse and effect a juncture with the Prince in Holland else this expedition from which so much is hoped will prove fruitless."
They did not contradict; the whole project had been at best but a desperate enterprise and they were all soldiers of fortune.
"Besides," continued the young General, "the men become impatient, without some action one cannot hold them long satisfied."
It was not his policy to admit his financial position, even to his officers, but the truth was that his troops were on the verge of mutiny for lack of pay and he had nothing but promises to give them.
"Therefore," said Duke Christopher with a little smile, "since we cannot go backwards, we must go forward."
"Therefore," answered the Count, "I propose to move down the river to this point," he indicated it on the map, "and there to cross and give battle to the Spaniards. Mark me, gentlemen, if we are successful we shall go far to drive these devils out of the country."
To those listening to him there seemed nothing wild in these words, for they were men who lived on hope in the midst of desperate circumstances—and they knew that Count Louis had already accomplished much out of nothing and had re-arisen again and again from defeat to further endeavour.
As for the Count he believed what he said; even William bad declared that a decisive victory now and a successful juncture with his own troops would suffice to drive the Spaniards from Holland and Zeeland.
And in his heart Louis had still the hope of taking
Maastricht, despite Mondrogan and Braccamonte and their foot and horse.
Rising he went to the table and by the light of the guttering candles pointed out, on his rude map, the course he proposed to follow, along the right bank of the Meuse, between that river and the Rhine, towards Nemiuegen.
"There," he said, "we can cross the river and give battle to the forces of D'Avila. If we can achieve a victory now," he added, "half the Provinces will rise against Resquesens."
"If we turn back?" suggested one of the captains quietly.
"We leave the Hollanders to despair," replied Louis briefly.
"But we shall not turn back," said Count Henry, looking at his brother.
"No," said Louis.
There was a little silence.
Each man was thinking of what was likely to be the result of this venture, already attended by misfortune and becoming daily more doubtful in character.
It was no ordinary combat in which they proposed to engage but a battle in which they must conquer or most certainly fall victims to the wrath of the victors.
In these fierce struggles of mutual hate there was never any pity for the vanquished; and the little force of Louis was advancing into the enemy country with all means of escape closed behind it—and the enemy was skilful, powerful and ruthless.
The Count looked from one to another of his captains and, smiling, dismissed them.
Count Henry and Duke Christopher alone remained.
As the door closed on the last of the officers, another figure, hitherto concealed in the heavy shadows at the end of the room, crept forward into the ruddy gloom of the now dying fire.
A miserable figure, bent and shabby, with an unsteady gait and a cowering air, it crept to the embers and spread out shivering hands.
Count Louis, standing at the table, sunk in reverie, the open map in his hand, did not observe this figure, but the other two noticed him with a little movement of distaste.
It was Dubois, fallen on the extreme of evil fortune. Lately meeting the Count Louis in Paris he had presumed on his acquaintance with the Nassau family to attach himself to his person.
Nor had Louis shown himself other than kind to this wretch who was now reduced to the lowest means of making a miserable livelihood.
He remembered him at his brother's wedding in Leipsic and as belonging to his brother's establishment in Brussels.
The other two princes also remembered the fellow and his ghastly Leipsic prophecy and it did not please them to see him in attendance on Count Louis.
Louis, turning suddenly, saw him
"Ah, thou—for ever at my heels," he said, good-humouredly. "Like my dog—"
"Say rather a bird of prey or evil omen," remarked Duke Christopher gloomily.
Count Henry laughed; Louis, still gazing at the charlatan, smiled.
"See, these gentlemen are afraid of you, Dubois," he said.
The Frenchman wheeled round; his tall, bent figure was clearly outlined against the steady glow of the fire.
"Afraid of me?" he asked in a tone half sarcastic, "because I can see a little farther than most folk?"
"Aye," answered the Elector's son, "I for one am in no mood for dismal forebodings."
"What have I said of dismal?" replied the charlatan. Duke Christopher laughed shortly.
"I recall well enough what thou didst say at Leipsic when we meddled with the spirits, fellow!"
"Disaster and death to all, was it not?" asked Henry lightly.
"To all the House of Nassau," said Louis with a smiling gravity; "well, the war thou didst foretell has broken—the battles have been fought and one has been sacrificed of those thou didst name that day."
"Alas—!" muttered the charlatan. "Alas!"
"Why alas?" asked the Count Louis calmly. "We go our appointed way and so far all hath been in honour."
"Honour, yes," returned Dubois, "your lordship shall not lack in honour."
"In what then shall we lack?" asked Duke Christopher with some grimness.
The charlatan did not answer.
Count Louis, looking at him, spoke.
"No auguries of thine could be darker than those my own heart gives," he said.
These words of his, so at variance both with his usual enthusiastic cheerfulness and the tone he had taken at the council of war, echoed mournfully in the vast chamber.
The two young men looked at him sharply; Dubois did not turn.
"Has thou come to the end of thy hopefulness?" asked Duke Christopher.
"I do feel, deep in my soul," returned Louis steadily, "that this expedition of mine is destined to disaster."
"Disaster?" repeated Henry; it was strange to him to hear his brother use that word.
Louis threw back his head as if rousing himself from a reverie.
"Why should I speak like this to-night? I do not know. Never before have I felt so full of doubt—yet often before have our enterprises been as perilous."
The charlatan moved suddenly and came to the table; two of the candles had guttered and the Frenchman's pale and emaciated face appeared to the Count gazing through a veil of smoke.
"What sayest thou to these thoughts of mine?" he asked. "Have the spirits no cheerful assurances to give me?"
"It is a while since I saw the spirits," answered the charlatan, "but the air is heavy with portent and presage. That which your lordship feels is Heaven warning you to turn back."
"Heaven knows me better. The dear God for whom I battle could never suppose me a coward."
Dubois looked at him earnestly; both affection and sorrow showed in the faded eyes of the charlatan as he gazed at the young soldier.
"Is it cowardice to obey the dictates of the power above us, which warns us of oncoming defeat?" he asked, "and thereby tries to save us?"
"Man is not so easily turned aside from his destiny," said Duke Christopher, "and I, at least, since first I engaged in this cause, have never thought to outlive my youth."
Louis looked at him keenly.
"Thou also hast melancholy forebodings?" he asked quickly.
"No more now than always," replied the young Lutheran calmly. "We fight in a cause that is yet feeble and build a fabric whose bricks will take much blood to cement."
"The blood of the best and noblest," said Dubois, gazing at Count Louis.
"We cannot go back, for that means dishonour," said Count Henry.
He rose, and stretched himself; a sudden rush of wind lifted the few pieces of tapestry still covering the walls and shook them; Count Louis blew out the two guttering candles, leaving the apartment in partial darkness, for the fire was now only a few embers.
The charlatan glanced towards the window.
"It is near the hour of the dawn," he said.
"So late!" exclaimed Count Louis.
"Why, I would sleep a little before we march," said his brother and slipped his arm through that of the Elector's son.
Count Louis went to the window and lifting the iron bar that held the shutters in place flung them open.
The chamber faced east; the whole sky opposite was pale and luminous with light; but about the horizon lay banks of black clouds and the land lay dark and lifeless.
Count Louis stood with his hands resting on the sill and the pure cold air of early morning blew on his face. He thought of the brother waiting for him in tense anxiety, of the people of Holland expecting his coming with such joy and impatience, of how much hung on this battle that be must undertake despite all his own strange foreboding, and the misfortunes that must attend a defeat.
He might have still saved himself by a retreat, but he had never been of that temper to refuse to accept the odds of fate, never one to turn back before any obstacle.
His judgment told him that he must abandon Maastricht, but he resolved to endeavour with his last strength to effect the junction with his brother on which so much depended.
As he gazed at the east the clear sky brightened by the rays of the yet unseen sun.
Then, suddenly a light vaporous cloud arose and, as Count Louis looked, it turned red, flushing to a deep crimson until the whole heavens seemed stained by streaks of blood. And in that melancholy hour Louis of Nassau read his doom in the sky before him.
By the middle of April Louis of Nassau was encamped at the village of Mook, on the Meuse, near Cleves. Don Sancho D'Avila—the Spanish General, had out-marched him and now was facing him on the same side of the river which he had crossed by means of a bridge of boats.
The position of Louis was not favourable; behind he was hemmed in by a chain of hills, so that his superiority in cavalry was greatly discounted by the limited space in which he could move; he had with difficulty quelled a mutiny which had broken out on the eve of battle among the mercenaries, who had demanded their pay as was their custom to do at the moment when they considered their services most valuable; and he had received the news that De Hierges and Valdez were on their way with reinforcements for the Spaniards to the number of five or six thousand. More desperate than ever seemed his chances of success as that success became more needful and more precious in his sight.
Passionately did he long to effect the promised meeting with the Prince.
But before that could be accomplished he had to fight his way through the Spanish forces.
He had not wished for this battle, least of all under these circumstances, and he was acutely conscious that misfortune had followed his expedition from the first, but it was now obviously impossible to make the passage of the river without giving battle to the enemy, and there was nothing in the heart or mind of Louis of Nassau that bade him flinch from the inevitable conflict.
His cheerful and gallant demeanour had even persuaded the mercenaries to fight without further ado; Louis had pledged his honour for their pay, and neither he nor his brother had ever failed in that—those who fought for them had always been paid to the full extent of their engagement, even if Louis went without camp furniture and William had not the wherewithal to make a present to one who had done him a service; moreover, something, in even the lowest of the French and German adventurers, had responded to the figure of fortitude and honour represented by the young Count.
The day of battle dawned dull and stormy; low black clouds filled the sky.
The spring was late this year and in the minds of all men the winter seemed interminable and the summer very far away.
Count Louis armed in the bedroom of the farm-house that he had made his headquarters. A lantern hung on the whitewashed walls and through the small unshuttered window filtered the pallid glow of the yet unrisen sun.
Between these two lights stood the young commander; his squire had just left him and he was himself knotting the scarf of orange silk across his breast.
On the rush chair near the low bed where he had spent a few hours of rest, but not of sleep, were his casque with black plumes, his baton and his sword attached to the baldrick of embroidered leather given him by some French ladies.
Louis recalled the gentle donors when he came to fasten on his weapon; but there was no particular woman in his mind.
He was sorry for that; but he had never attached himself to the one woman who would have been alone in his thoughts at such a moment as this.
Though rumour had persistently coupled his name with that of the Abbess of Jouane, she was nothing to him but one among many gracious figures of women.
There was no one who would do more than heave a sigh—he had no lover.
With a little laugh he shrugged his shoulders—why should he think of these things now: he turned to the window and gazed at the grey land and river and wide pale sky, every moment brightening.
The nearer prospect was filled by his troops of foot and horse, now: beginning to move into the prearranged order of battle, some of the cavalry reaching as far as the hills that formed the horizon. As the Count looked his brother came behind him and touched his arm.
"The day is cold—a late spring," Louis said.
"The merrier when it comes," answered Henry with a certain gaiety.
"I think it will come too late for you and me," returned his brother. "The flowers of this year will not be for our gathering."
"I have never known you gloomy," said Count Henry. "What presentiment is this?"
"No presentiment—the conviction of my heart. Our task finishes to-day. What we have done, good or ill, stands to our names and we have no more time to efface it. Look well upon this sun—I think we shall not see another earthly dawn."
"God's Will be done," said Count Henry.
"I would first have taken the Prince's hand again—but he will understand."
"That we did our utmost," added Henry simply. He leant slightly from the window and gazed to where lay the gathering forces of Spain. "But why should you talk of defeat—we had such high hopes."
"My hopes have failed me," answered Louis—"for me this battle ends all."
Taking his baton of command in his hand he left the humble room and stepped through the adjoining kitchen into the open air.
Henry followed him; the two mounted their great Flemish steeds and turned towards the centre of the patriot troops.
They had scarcely started before they were joined by Duke Christopher, who rode a white horse of remarkable size and beauty trapped with fine scarlet leather and golden bosses.
The young knight was not so sternly melancholy as usual, and wore in his casque, beneath the white plumes, a bunch of spring flowers, against the polished steel.
"Will they give battle before the reinforcements arrive?" he asked, gazing in the direction of the enemy.
"Remembering Heilger Lee they may wait, yet I do not think so," returned Louis. "D'Avila is both bold and prudent and will not risk our slipping past him."
The sun rose above the hills, casting long rays of light on armour and lances, harness and cannon, muskets and pikes and the tiled roofs of the little village of Mook.
Duke Christopher looked towards this rising light which fell full on his comely face and raised his hand as if in salute.
"You also!" said Count Louis. "Do you say farewell?"
The Elector's son smiled at him.
"My auguries are even as thine—this day we are not destined to conquer, Count."
"Then it is foolish to do battle," said Count Henry lightly.
"But it is too late to turn back," answered Louis quietly. "Too late! The sun has already risen—our fate hangs upon the next few hours."
"When this sun sets this battle must be lost or won," said Duke Christopher.
"When this sun sets I at least shall be beyond the darkness," smiled Count Louis.
The three separated, each to take command of his own division.
The Spaniards still showed no sign of advancing and Louis began to be impatient for the battle to commence.
He rode from one part of the field to the other visiting his forces, which were now drawn up in full battle array; ten companies of infantry massed together in the centre and four squadrons of cavalry reaching as far as the low hills which circumscribed the field.
The forces of the enemy could be plainly discerned; the pikemen and musketeers to the right, the cavalry and sharpshooters to the left, with the carbineers in front and the Spanish lancers behind.
At the first hour of light the Spaniards had made an attack on the deep trench with which Count Louis had surrounded himself, and an intermittent skirmishing was taking place at this point without bringing on a general engagement.
The Spaniards, who had already received reinforcements to the number of a thousand men, were, in truth, debating the expediency of deferring the combat until the arrival of Valdez with about five thousand more troops which might be looked for by the following morning; at present the royalists were outnumbered by about three thousand men.
While the Spaniards were holding a hurried council of war, Louis was forcing them to a combat; his trumpets sounded a defiance and his army stood ready.
This challenge was soon answered by the shrill notes of the Spanish bugles, for D'Avila decided not to wait the reinforcements, lest, during the oncoming night Louis should contrive to effect the passage of the river and join his brother.
Therefore another assault was ordered on the trench, which was slowly carried, the royalists charging on the village, from which, however, they were soon expelled by the patriots, Louis having sent a large number of men to strengthen this point.
In a short time the battle involved almost the whole of the troops either side, the army of Louis and the army of D'Avila swaying to and fro in serried masses either side the disputed trench and village.
Louis sat motionless at the head of his cavalry, watching the struggle.
The sun had been soon obscured by light rising clouds and had disappeared behind their watery vapour to be seen no more that day; the first brightness of the morning had passed and the weather was dull and grey, cold too, with a fine thin wind blowing above the river and the wet marshes.
The clouds seemed to press low and heavily on the heads of the gathered armies, and lances and armour, swords and muskets, helmets and carbines gleamed here and there with a sinister brightness amid the dark confusion of the battle.
Count Louis glanced once up into the clouds, then, raising his baton, gave the order to charge.
His keen and practised eye had discerned that his infantry was beginning to break, and indeed almost before his cavalry was in motion, they had given way and were flying from their posts, completely routed, leaving the enemy in possession of the trench and the village.
Louis set his teeth as he saw his men going down like cornstalks before the tempest and hurled himself with fury upon the ranks of the Spanish horse.
The men who followed him in that desperate charge were not German mercenaries or any soldiers who fought for hire, but noble gentlemen of the Netherlands, stern patriots of Holland and Brabant and French Huguenots who had served under Coligny.
The hired cavalry was behind them, but these, pressing close behind their leader, bore the brunt of the battle as befitted the flower of the army.
With the first fury of their charge they bore down before them the carbineers who formed the vanguard of the royalist cavalry and who broke at once and fled in panic towards the river.
Rising in his stirrups and waving to his men Count Louis followed in pursuit; in the marshes and on the river bank the royalists went down, horse and man; the patriots only paused in their pursuit when the sullen waters of the river lapped at their horses' feet and they saw the fugitives either sinking beneath the sullied ripples or desperately swimming to the opposite bank; then Louis turned to see the issue of the general battle.
A confused action was now taking place on all parts of the field; the Spanish lances and the German Black Horse, who had withstood Louis's onslaught, had fallen on the remainder of his cavalry when they had retired to reload their weapons and a fierce and desperate conflict ensued.
Spaniard and Netherlander, German and Frenchman struggled together amid the smoke, the spurting flame, the flash of uplifted weapon; nodding plumes were struck to the ground, men fell from their horses to be trodden into the mud by frenzied hoofs, foot and cavalry were intermingled in one maddened mass; shouts and oaths of men rose with the cries of wounded animals and pierced with rage and terror the hoarse clamour of the encounter.
While Louis gazed he saw that the fight was going against him—even as his heart had predicted.
Galloping to the head of those who had followed him in his pursuit to the river bank, he dashed back to the centre of the conflict where his forces, horse and foot, were being borne down before the Spanish spears and the German lances.
Louis, galloping from one part of the field to another in the effort to rally his remaining men, saw that the day was lost before well begun.
Black clouds were rising from the horizon and closing over the grey vault of heaven; a low thunder rolled in the west and heavy drops of rain began to fall.
A Spanish captain, recognizing the Nassau chieftain by his orange scarf, rode at him full tilt; Louis drew his sword and struck the enemy down, then, controlling his plunging horse, turned to where the last nucleus of his cavalry were drawn together by the entrance to the village of Mook; at the head of them was Count Henry, taut as a bow in his saddle, keen as a hawk in his eager glance, waiting to see how best he could fall on the enemy and meet his own inevitable fate.
Louis rode to his side.
"The day is lost," he said, pointing to the bloody field above which the storm clouds hung low, "the fight is over, it is now but a carnage and a massacre."
The youngest Nassau looked towards the battle where so many fair and high hopes were being for ever shattered. "Let us," he answered, "make haste to die."
As he spoke they were joined by the Elector's son; his surtout hung in tatters over his armour and he held a broken sword in his hand.
"It is over!" he said, breathing heavily, "it is over and I have said farewell to life."
Louis of Nassau took the casque from his head and threw it away; his fair face and bright hair showed above his soiled armour; the little body of cavalry gathered about him; the thunder rolled louder; in the pause were the groans and shrieks of the dying and the fierce Spanish shouts of murderous revenge and triumph.
The three young princes clasped hands; their figures were illumined by the glare from some farm-houses near by which the Spaniards had fired; the rain fell on their uncovered heads.
Gathering their men about them with words of encouragement, they charged with the fury of despair into the midst of the dark and hideous fight.
And as they went a wild and miserable figure spray g from the shelter of some ruined cottages and hurled himself upon the bridle of Count Louis's rearing steed, finding at the side of the man who had been kind to him his own death in the midst of that battle he had predicted at Prince William's marriage feast.
For Dubois, the charlatan, the two Nassau princes, and Duke Christopher, the Elector's son, went down together on that day of woe and terror, and never, alive or dead, did any again behold them.
The fields round Heidelberg were full of flowers; the first days of May soft with sunshine lingered pleasantly over woods flushing into leaf, and banks of violets, narcissus, primroses and the young fronds of fern all fragrant in the damp richness of the forest.
Among these flowers, towards the fall of the day, Charlotte de Bourbon walked with Rénée le Meuny.
A silence that seemed to hold encompassed them, they wandered aimlessly between the slender trunks of the young aspen and the round massive trunks of the ancient beech trees.
The Princess carried a flat rush basket and now and then plucked and placed therein long-stalked flowers; but Rénée did not pick the blossoms though she moved so as not to tread them under foot.
A gentle light was diffused through the high branches so delicately covered with the budding green, and pale shadows fell over the slowly moving figures of the two women.
Charlotte de Bourbon wore a gown of violet cloth with a white cloak and hood; her hair was slightly disordered by the soft spring winds which had also brought a colour to her usually pale face.
Rénée's attire was plain and careless and ill accorded with the scene; her beauty was under its habitual eclipse of indifferency and apathy; lines of weariness were beginning to disfigure her smooth contours and sadness to dim the light of her eyes for life still passed her by and she had no longer the hopeful charms of youth to support her loneliness, no longer any service to perform with which to occupy her time; she missed even the exacting days of labour passed under the rule of Anne of Saxony, for then at least she was performing a self-imposed task and satisfying her own ideal—rendering the only service in her power to the only human being for whom she had ever cared.
But now—what was she but a useless dependent on charity, a creature devoted to little tasks any serving-maid could have performed as well.
Her most constant companion was the Princess Charlotte, but the two had not come close together; this was not the fault of the Frenchwoman, Rénée had no love, no confidence, no friendship to give to any one, all was concentrated in that one feeling that ran deep and secret as life itself.
Rénée thought of the Prince and nothing but the Prince, it was the devotion of the soldier for his captain, of the patriot for his leader, of the oppressed for his saviour—and the love of a woman for a man, all strengthened and idealized by time and distance until the passion had become an obsession, the devotion a creed, from which she had no distraction, no relief, nor would she find or accept any.
Charlotte de Bourbon, with the tact of one trained to observe and command, had always respected her reserve; the Princess herself had a self-contained nature that required no confidant, a firmness of purpose that required no support from others.
In their wandering they reached a bank where the primroses grew thick in clusters between the damp mosses and dead leaves of last year and there Charlotte seated herself, on the fallen bough of a beech tree which had sunk half into the earth.
With delicate fingers she picked the flowers to right and left of her and laid them in her basket.
"Do you think," she asked, lifting her eyes to Rénée, "that Louis of Nassau is dead?"
Rénée was a little startled at this calm in Charlotte, for she had always believed, in common with many others, that Count Louis was the chosen husband of the Princess.
"I know what you know, madam," she returned, "that only a few survived the fight of Mooker Heyde."
"Duke Christopher, too," said Charlotte thoughtfully, "and Count Henry—all gone together—it does not seem possible."
"The Elector will not believe it yet, so why should we?"
"In his heart the Elector believes it, though he will not wear mourning."
"He believes it?"
"I think so," returned the Princess quietly. "He told me this morning that he had received a dispatch from the Prince—His Highness has written and written to his brother and received no answer, and no news whatever of the Princes has come to him."
"It is too terrible," said Rénée, "such a disaster! Why has God turned away his face? All our hopes went down at Mooker Heyde."
"Nay," answered Charlotte. "William of Orange lives."
The waiting-woman looked at her swiftly.
"But His Highness cannot do everything," she murmured.
"Why, I think he can—do everything," said the Princess. She had picked all the primroses within reach and now sat with her hands in her lap.
"Even if these two other branches be lopped from the House of Nassau," she continued, "the cause is not lost—not while the Prince lives."
"Why—she never cared for the Count—never cared," thought Rénée; she leant against the mossy trunk of the great beech tree that threw a soft shade over the Princess; she was in darker shadow herself.
"You do not weep for Count Louis, madam?" she asked.
"Why should I weep?" returned the Princess. "He died young and splendid. What did the Elector say of his son?—'Better die thus than live in sloth or evil.'"
"Hard words for love to say, madam.'
"Brave words," returned the Princess.
Rénée was looking at her curiously.
"I could not take so calmly the loss of one beloved." Charlotte looked thoughtfully at her flowers.
"No," she said slowly. "Perhaps I could not—it is easy when one is heart free!"
"Heart free!" echoed Rénée. "Then Count Louis was nothing to you?"
Charlotte flushed at the abruptness of the question and Rénée coloured also when she realized what she had said. But the Princess answered gravely—
"He was no suitor of mine, if that is your meaning, though I know that our names have been coupled."
"Why, madam, what right have I to speak?" interrupted Rénée with a certain recklessness. "I have never been in the confidence of your Highness."
In some way, strange even to herself, she was troubled that Charlotte had not given her heart to Louis of Nassau.
"I have no confidences to give," replied the Princess serenely. "Believe me, none."
Rénée did not reply; her heart was weary; she was thinking of another forest, dull in its winter barrenness, through which she had ridden one magic day, with the hero of her dreams.
"Let us return," she said, "see how low the sun shines through the trees."
Rénée followed her in silence.
"I am thinking," continued Charlotte, "of the Prince of Orange."
Rénée looked at her intently.
"Is it not a sad life now and a lonely one?" added the Princess. "He had so many hopes on this enterprise—Think now, the suspense, the waiting, the anxiety and gradually the sure knowledge of disaster.
"You think more of him then, than of those who have fallen?"
"They are beyond my pity," answered Charlotte gravely. "Nay, pity I would not say, for who am I to pity such as the Prince?—but they suffer no more." Her voice faltered a little on the last words.
"Do you think that the Prince suffers?" asked Rénée slowly.
"He must suffer—one who has undertaken such a task—against such odds!" replied Charlotte. "And alone—he tells the Elector that there is no one in whom he can trust."
"He was always alone," said Rénée, "even in Brussels—he is better now than when he had his wife."
"Do not call her his wife, she is that no longer—the clergy have declared a divorce."
Rénée had not heard this news; it startled her to think that the Prince was free; her thoughts went to the wretched woman whom she had so long served.
"And Anne of Saxony?" she asked.
"She has been returned to her people," said Charlotte. "She is mad."
"Well for her when Death releases her," replied Rénée, "her life has been but suffering and she brought pleasure to none. I was much with her and I know the truth. The Prince was very patient and magnanimous, madam, and of a great kindness."
"He married for ambition," replied the Princess, "and therefore paid."
They had now reached the end of the wood and were passing through the last scattered trees.
The spring fields lay about them; the faint azure of the sky was stained by the rosy gold of sunset; pale clouds were piled about the western horizon and a low wind was abroad which gently shook the budding boughs and bent the frail early flowers and caused the two women to shiver a little within their cloaks.
Rénée, shading her eyes from the level rays of the sun, that she might see the pathway home, discerned a man coming towards them.
He was a ragged fellow and leant upon a stout stick. Mendicants who were, or claimed to be, wounded soldiers from the theatre of war, or fugitives from the persecutions in the Netherlands, were common enough; but this one, despite his attire, seemed to be of the better sort. "A soldier," said Rénée.
Charlotte turned and the man approached them, took off his ragged hat and very civilly asked the way to the Castle.
"You are a Fleming?" asked Rénée, speaking in her own tongue.
"Yes," he answered.
"Your speech shows it," answered Rénée; she looked keenly at his ragged leathern clothes, his emaciated figure and haggard face.
"You want the Castle?" asked Charlotte.
"Strange that must seem to you, madam," he answered with a smile and an air of breeding, "but I wish to see the Elector himself."
"You have news?" exclaimed the Princess, "we are from the Castle and you may speak fully to us, sir."
"I was one of Count Louis' officers, madam, and have escaped from the fight of Mooker Heyde," he answered.
"Then indeed the Elector will welcome you," said Charlotte. "Have you news of his son, Duke Christopher?"
"I last saw him in the fight, madam—he and Count Louis and Count Henry—and no man has seen them since, I think. All went down together in the battle."
"And none know how they died?" asked the Princess.
"How should one know in such a fight, madam?" he answered. "And after the fight there was great slaughter. And many were trampled into the marshes or burnt in the flames of the villages and the farmhouses which the Spaniards fired—who can tell which way these three princes died?"
"Does the Prince of Orange know this news?" asked Rénée.
"I have not been to Holland, madam, and know nothing. One hears rumours, reports—little is certain. Probably the Prince is at Bommel or Delft, by now he would know. This every one says—that Leiden is again beleaguered."
"This defeat has been indeed a disaster!" exclaimed Rénée.
"Yet not of great advantage to the Spaniards," replied the officer, "for there was a meeting among their troops after the battle and they marched on Brussels and occupied the city with much disorder. Nor is there the money to pay them or any means of quieting them."
Charlotte roused herself from her thoughts.
"You must tell these things to the Elector, we detain you, sir. Whether this victory be fruitful or barren to the enemy there is nothing can replace the loss of Count Louis."
The soldier responded with great animation and earnestness.
"He was beloved by all of us, madam—the soul of the army—the guiding -hand."
"A charming gentleman," said Charlotte, and the tears were in her eyes.
"Sweet and brave, madam, and of a great cheerfulness even in adversity."
"The Prince—" began Rénée.
"The Prince will weep for him, madam, even till the day of his own death."
"The Prince has but one brother left," said Charlotte as they turned towards the castle, "three princes lost from the House of Nassau since this bitter fight began."
"Do you think any will be left?" queried the soldier mournfully. "Ah, madam, it is not the House of Nassau only that has been stripped of its sons—many a noble family is desolate—when will the good times come that will repay for this time of tears?"
"If the Prince is spared," said the Princess, "we shall see these good times."
"The Prince?" replied the Netherlander, "have you faith that the Prince will be spared? His life is not worth a white piece—Philip's assassins are for ever on his track—it is but a question of time."
Charlotte caught hold of Rénée's arm; she laughed and her step was unsteady.
The waiting-woman stared down at her; her impulse was to shake her off; to speak to her with anger, demanding—"What is it to you that danger threatens the Prince of Orange?" But the Princess, all unconscious, clung to her as one woman will cling to another in a moment of agitation or trouble.
"The Prince must go—go," she said. "All our hopes are on the Prince."
Rénée read the truth in her flushed face and startled eyes.
She drew away so sharply that the Princess almost stumbled in her walk.
"When so many have gone is it likely that the Prince of Orange will be spared?" she demanded, harshly. "As certainly as Philip punished those others who offended him will he punish the Prince."
Charlotte gazed at her in amazement.
"You speak so strangely," she said.
"Do I?" smiled Rénée. "I have strange thoughts in my heart."
They had now reached the Castle gate and Rénée abruptly left her two companions and went to her own chamber in one of the turrets; there she flung herself on her knees beside her bed and rested her beautiful head on the pillow; from the narrow pointed window a little ray of the last light penetrated the shadows of the room and fell over her bowed figure.
She had surprised the secret of Charlotte de Bourbon, which was the same as her-own; the Princess also had made a hero of William of Orange—probably loved him.
And he was free—and she was of the same rank—the same faith.
Rénée understood now; it was not Louis but William who would be the husband of the exiled Princess.
And she—she was to play her old part—to be the confidante before marriage, the serving-maid afterwards—a convenient figure in the background. It would be different, yes, as Charlotte de Bourbon was different from Anne of Saxony.
But Rénée knew that the kindness of the new mistress would be as hard to bear as the harshness of the old.
And her days for patient self-sacrifice were gone by; she could not do again what she had once done.
She could not serve Charlotte's happiness as she had served Anne's misery; she could not again be a dependent in the house of the Prince.
"I want to die," she said, pressing her face to the pillow.
"I have never been any use and now I want to die." Presently, and before the hour of the supper, when her absence would be noticed, she rose and taking nothing with her but what little money she possessed, left the Castle. The keen evening air and the light of the moon pleased her; she turned her back on the Castle of Heidelberg and took the road by which the Netherlander had come.
Attended by a small mounted escort William of Orange rode from Delft to Polderwaert, a fortress between that city and Rotterdam.
A summer sun was overhead and the fields reclaimed from the sea were green with the first lush green of grain and grass.
High banked clouds, rising like battlements into the heavens, were reflected clearly in the motionless waters of the canal along the side of which the Prince rode.
His demeanour was melancholy, and, for the first time in this struggle of seven years, he appeared both ill and tired.
Mooker Heyde had gone as far to break his spirit as anything could; even his superb health had been shaken under the continued strain of waiting for news, the long anxiety, the final realization that Louis and Henry were both lost for ever—that his right hand, his own confidant, his beloved friend and ever faithful follower, had gone down in that dark battle where so many fair hopes had been trampled into the marshes by the Meuse.
Politically the defeat of the patriots had had but little effect upon' the fortunes of war, quickly followed as it had been by the mutiny of the Spanish troops and the success of Admiral Boisat, who after the victory of Bergen had sailed up the Scheldt and at Antwerp destroyed the fleet, which had escaped him on a former occasion, thus securing the supremacy of the Netherlanders on the sea, and Resquesens himself admitted that as long as they held that it would be impossible to bring them into complete subjection.
Of almost equal importance in the eyes of the Prince was the fact that the amnesty recently issued by Resquesens had entirely failed in its effect.
This document, by which Philip humbled himself so far as to offer a complete pardon to all of his rebels subjects who would return to the Romanist Church, had been accepted by none.
The Reformed religion had acquired too firm a hold among the Netherlanders and there was not one of them who was not prepared to combat to the last, both for the land of his birth and the religion of his adoption.
William, who for a moment had feared the effect of a general pardon coming so soon after the disheartening failure of Louis' expedition, had been exceedingly encouraged by the disdain with which it had been received.
But there was one consequence of Mooker Heyde which now almost entirely occupied his thoughts.
The beautiful city of Leiden, one of the fairest in the Netherlands, was now strictly beleaguered again, no less than eight thousand troops closely surrounding it; while the town itself was ungarrisoned and unprovisioned.
And they were depending on the Prince, who had entreated them to endure a siege of at least three months, earnestly promising them, as did the Estates of Holland, that relief was at hand, and that sooner than Leiden should perish as had perished Haarlem and other fair cities, taken by the Spaniards, the whole country would contend to the last man.
And the Prince felt that indeed the whole issue of the struggle was bound up in the fate of Leiden, if that city fell there was but little hope for the struggling Provinces.
Day and night he toiled, devising schemes for the rescue of the people whose sole trust was in him and who were passing long hours of anguished suspense waiting for the succour that had not yet come, which he had assured them of, and which they waited for.
Land relief was, since Mooker Heyde, out of the question.
There remained the sea.
Since the first the sea had been in William's mind as the means by which he could save his city.
Leiden was not on the sea—but the sea might come to Leiden.
Although the Spaniards held the coast from the Hague to Naardingen, the Prince held the dykes along the Meuse and Yssel.
The Estates were yet to be finally convinced of the absolute necessity of this bold and desperate plan, but the Prince was resolved that they should give their consent.
As he rode now he looked from right to left at the flat rich country, at the fair plenteous fields, the numerous windmills, the villages, orchards and country houses which he was prepared to give to the ocean to save Leiden.
A curious love for this country that was not his by birth filled his heart with a deep tenderness; the tenderness felt towards the thing for which he had forfeited everything, on which he had staked his all, and to which, he never doubted, his life would be finally sacrificed.
—"Or here to find my grave," he had said of Holland; and he knew that somewhere among the low fields, in one of these old churches that rose massive above the low line of the land, his body would rest—this was his home now and would be his tomb.
Might that tomb be among a free people and perhaps looked on with a little love by unborn generations—this was now his sole ambition; liberty for the future, a prosperous country flourishing in freedom.
He raised his eyes to the clouds and something in their loftiness touched his spirit.
"Ride," he said to the men behind him, "for the rain comes."
He wrapped his black cloak about him and shivered, for the fever was upon him.
For several days he had been ill, but the energy of his spirit had forced the weakness of his body, and to none had he admitted his state, which was betrayed by his pallid cheeks and languid eyes and the feebleness of his movements, usually so full of life and force.
When the little cavalcade rode into the courtyard of the Castle of Polderwaert the Prince nearly dropped from the saddle; he had been exercising great effort of will to maintain himself upright so long.
"I can no more to-day," he said with a smiling look, taking hold of the arm of one of his companions, Cornelius Van Mierop, the Receiver-General of Rotterdam, who, seeing him stagger, had hastened to his assistance, "never have I felt so weak," he added, "and never have I needed strength more."
They helped him upstairs to the little chamber furnished for his use and he sank with a sigh into the great rush-bottomed chair by the window.
He had scarcely flung off his hat and cloak before the commandant of the castle was in his presence and had presented him with a letter arrived that morning by carrier pigeon from Leiden.
With fingers that had lost their usual steadiness William tore open the missive.
As he read the feverish colour deepened in his worn face.
The letter was an appeal for help, a reminder of his promise—a statement of the fact that provisions were running out—that Leiden had endured almost as much as it was possible to endure.
The Prince crushed up the letter in his hand.
"The dykes must be cut," he exclaimed, "the sluices must be opened!"
"Your Highness must then persuade the Estates," said Van Mierop.
The Prince leant back in his chair, taken by a sudden weakness.
He stared out of the window and the landscape swam before his eyes.
The appeal of the starving city struck to his heart and brain like a tongue of flame.
"Leiden must be saved," he said passionately. "If she sinks the country sinks with her!"
"But to-night let your Highness repose," said his secretary, looking anxiously at his haggard face.
"Nay," replied William, "I have to write to the Estates."
Collecting his strength he rose with an effort and went to the little black desk in the corner of the chamber.
He called for candles, for the light was beginning to leave the room.
Refusing the services of his secretary he took up the quill. "What is it your Highness must write?" enquired Van Meirop, humbly standing before him.
"Mynheer," answered the Prince, looking at him with eyes unnaturally bright, "they starve in Leiden."
"Then let your Highness remember," returned Van Meirop earnestly, "that the hopes of this city are on your Highness."
"Do you think that I shall fail them?" asked the Prince quickly.
"I think," replied the Receiver-General, "that your health may fail your Highness."
But William shook his head with the confidence of a man who had never been sick nor feeble, nor had to give a thought to his body.
"My strength will last me for my work, Mynheer," he said.
He drew the paper towards him and began writing with eager haste.
With lucidity and force, eloquence and passion, he described the city of Leiden's plight and urged the one means of her relief—the cutting of the dykes.
As he sealed this epistle which was quickly written he turned to the Receiver-General who was seated near him, the other side of the candle glow.
"Mynheer, the sluices must be opened," he said; narrowing his eyes to watch the other's face.
Cornelius Van Meirop bent his head; he was thinking of his own fair villa and farm, achieved by a lifetime of labour, which he had hoped to leave to his children and which would be among the first to be swallowed by the waves once the sea was let in over Holland.
"How exactly does your Highness mean to relieve Leiden?" he asked.
William read the thoughts of the man before him and was pitiful towards them.
"Mynheer," he said gently, "I would open the sluices at Schiedam and Rotterdam and out the dykes along the Yssel. Then I would gather together the fleet at Rotterdam and Delfhaven and let them float to Leiden on the rising waters."
"But the Sand-scheiding, they can never pass that," answered Van Meirop.
He referred to a difficulty that had been in the Prince's mind from the first.
The Sand-scheiding was a great dyke within five miles of Leiden which city it shielded from the sea, and even if the ocean should rise high enough to permit vessels to float over this there were beyond it several mighty bulwarks built to defend the town against the water which it would be necessary to break through.
To add to the difficulty all this portion of reclaimed land, which contained rich pastures and several villages, was in the hands of the Spaniards, who also held the Sand-scheiding.
"It is difficult," admitted the Prince, "but it must be done. The Sand-scheiding must be stormed and pierced for the fleet to sail through."
"And if the wind is contrary?" asked Van Meirop, "and blows the fleet back or keeps it motionless, Highness?"
"They must wait till it sets fair."
"There are a thousand obstacles."
"What is our life," returned the Prince, "but the overcoming of obstacles?"
"If the thing is humanly possible your Highness can accomplish it," said Van Meirop.
William lifted his dark eyes, now so sunken and shadowed.
"It is strange to think that any have faith in me," he answered, "I feel myself so weak and impotent."
He raised his hand and let it fall on the desk; his breath was coming quickly and the flush of fever darkened his brow.
"I must to Rotterdam to-day," he said.
"To-day? It is already late, Highness."
"My work cannot stop for time nor season, Mynheer Van Meirop."
"What urges your Highness to Rotterdam?"
The Prince rose, steadying himself by holding on to the arms of the rush chair.
"I wish to press this question of the opening of the dykes—there is no time to be lost."
"Your Highness takes much to heart the fate of Leiden."
"Because with the fate of Leiden is bound the fate of Holland," said William, and handed his letter to the Estates, bidding it be dispatched immediately.
"And with the fate of Holland," he added, after a little, "is bound the fate of a new nation and many generations yet to come."
He picked up his cloak and slowly put it round his shoulders.
"Ah, Mynheer," he said, "we do not struggle for a little thing nor contend for a mean advantage but for what will be precious in the future."
But Van Meirop was thinking of his pleasant villa and fertile pastures that must be sacrificed to save Leiden and his face was gloomy; he was growing an old man and the struggle which was to strip him of everything seemed very long and the bright future it was to purchase very far away.
The Prince laid his hand gently on the Receiver-General's sleeve.
"Courage, friend, courage," he said quietly, "the good time comes—for all."
Van Meirop turned his face away quickly with the shamed tears in his eyes, for he saw that the Prince had read his thoughts, and there came quickly to his mind all that William had sacrificed in the cause of a country and a religion not by birth his own; sacrifices compared to which the poor little quota of such as he was indeed as nothing.
The Prince picked up his hat and left the chamber, followed by his secretary and Van Meirop.
When they took horse for Rotterdam the west was blazing red about a lake of molten gold where the sun was sinking below the watery horizon and the wide waters that traversed the pastures were also shot with gold.
William rode a little ahead of his companions; it did not seem to him that he was alone.
His thoughts turned, as they ever did when he was at a little leisure, to Count Louis, and it seemed to him he was accompanied by that young and martial figure that smiled at him with eyes of unquenchable hope and a look of love and confidence.
The Prince lay ill at Rotterdam; a humble house near the harbour was his lodging, and there he lay during the long days and close nights in a fever that now rose to delirium and now left him prostrate with utter weakness. The physicians could do nothing for him—it was, they said, an illness of the mind and unless he might have repose of brain and spirit they feared for his life.
But none could give him this repose while Leiden was unrelieved.
He had obtained the consent of the Estates to the cutting of the dykes and the opening of the sluices and the work was in progress, but it proceeded slowly.
In the interval he dictated letters of encouragement to the beleaguered city, of exhortation to the states and the relieving fleet, which, ready provisioned, lay waiting under the command of Admiral Boisat at Delfshaven.
Too long had he borne the burden of a nation struggling into freedom on his shoulders; even his perfect health had broken beneath the continued strain of mind and body.
His feeling of helplessness added to the agitation of his spirit; never before had he known what it was to have his body fail him and to lie helpless at the moment when he most needed his energy.
One afternoon he lay thus, and waking from a heavy sleep he looked about his room regarding it as if it was a strange place.
The windows were open wide on the sunshine; on the sill was a blue and white pot of coarse earthenware holding a plant of scarlet geranium which showed vivid in its red and green amid the encircling light.
The short curtains of coarse white linen very slightly waved in the delicate breeze.
The walls, half panelled wood and half whitewash, were full of shelves and open cupboards which held articles of brass and copper, china and earthenware in shining hues of blues and reds.
The Prince looked, and his mind flashed vividly back to the last appeal from Leiden reminding him of his promise to relieve them.
"We have endured the three months to which we pledged ourselves; we have held out two months with bread and a month without."
The sentence rang in his brain, he tried to move himself but fell back, for a fierce pain shot through his limbs.
He lay there helpless, and again his tired eyes travelled round the chamber.
This time they encountered the figure of a woman sitting in the corner of the room farthest from the bed.
She wore a plain dress of dark grey and a ruff of fine muslin, she had her back to the Prince, so that he could not see her face, only her red-gold hair.
Her hands passed quickly to and fro over a length of fine embroidery.
The Prince watched her with the interest of a sick man
He liked to see her there in her grace and calm, her delicate fingers working so steadily, her whole presence suggestive of repose and comfort. It was long since he had seen such a woman in any house or apartment of his; as this thought of his loneliness came to him he sighed.
Instantly the lady turned her head and looked at him.
Her face was perfectly familiar, but he could not give her a name nor tell where and when he had known her before.
He lay still, in a curious world of his own bred of fever and weakness, the thought the old life in Brussels was about him.
"Your Highness wishes for something?" asked the woman, laying down her work.
Her voice broke through the Prince's dreams; with an effort he recalled himself to the present.
"No," he answered, "only to know your name, which surely I knew once."
She smiled very faintly.
"Yes, your Highness knew it once."
She was beautiful with a beauty of sorrow and reserve.
Her eyes were slightly shadowed, her lovely mouth slightly strained and her look was both grave and inscrutable.
"I knew it once," repeated William slowly; languor held him motionless; his thought would go no further than the familiar stranger before him.
"In Brussels. You remember, Highness?"
He slightly shook his head on the pillow.
"And once since Brussels," repeated the woman quietly.
"At Heidelberg," she said; her clear cheeks delicately flushed; she began folding up her embroidery.
"Heidelberg," William repeated; he closed his eyes and thought.
The word brought before his mind a fair and gentle woman who had spoken in his cause and with whom he had talked in the Castle gardens—a fugitive vision of great sweetness.
It was not the first time that this memory had come to him; it was, indeed, one on which he loved to dwell.
"You were at Heidelberg?" his mind worked slowly.
"Yes, Highness," she hesitated a moment and then added: "We rode there together you and I, Prince, one March day."
He opened wide his eyes.
"One March day—a wet day. I remember—you are Rénée le Meuny."
"Who was in your service once."
"In Brussels—yes. In my—the service of the Princess."
He lay silent awhile, looking at her. Nor did she speak. He recalled her now very clearly and the interest and curiosity her loveliness and patient service had provoked—an interest and a curiosity soon forgotten—yet both revived now finding her here in these circumstances, and these feelings were deepened because he looked upon her as a link with that pleasant and cherished memory of another woman.
"You come from Heidelberg?" he asked.
"Some weeks ago I left the Castle, Highness," she replied.
"I was weary of my exile."
"I am a Fleming, Highness."
"Ah, yes!" He closed his eyes again and once more was for a little while silent.
"How goes life at Heidelberg?" he added presently.
"Highness, they are all sad for the fight at Mooker Heyde."
"The Elector would feel that, yes," answered William slowly.
He opened his eyes full as he spoke and looked at Rénée.
She was gazing at him steadily, her hands folded in her lap; slowly the Prince began to realize her personality—so far she had been but a memory, a name, some one from the Castle at Heidelberg.
"How have you come again into my service?" he asked with a faint smile.
She answered calmly—
"I came to Rotterdam when I heard that your Highness was here, sick—your steward is one who was with you formerly and so knows me. And so I obtained permission to wait on your Highness, seeing that you had no women in your household beyond a rough serving-maid."
"My household has long lacked women," replied William. "You, more than any other, know my long loneliness."
"As much as a man can be lonely you have been, Highness, I know."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because a woman can be lonely as no man ever is, Prince."
"A woman?" again his thoughts went to the Castle at Heidelberg and the young exile there.
"A woman can have no great occupation to distract her loneliness."
"Mothers and wives have much to do if they are earnest of soul and good of heart."
"Mothers and wives are not lonely," returned Rénée with a sudden flash in her large eyes. "I speak of women who are neither—or who have been and are now bereaved."
And still William thought of Charlotte de Bourbon among strangers, a dependent, and estranged from all her relatives—surely her loneliness was greater than his.
He moved his head impatiently, turning his eyes from Rénée and looking at the blue silk curtains in which the sunlight lay.
"Where are all the others?" he asked in a feeble voice.
"Does not your Highness remember that but a few hours ago you sent them away on various errands—soon after you received the dispatch from Leiden?"
"Leiden," muttered the Prince, turning to look at her again. "Ah, God, Leiden—"
"Leiden holds out, Highness."
"But how long can she hold out?" With a great effort he raised himself on his elbow. "Will the dykes never be cut—will Boisat never sail?"
"Your Highness must get well—for on you all depends."
"On me!" he laughed weakly. "And I am so useless. There needs," he added, "another, stronger than I and of greater influence. Therefore have I thought of France. Or England."
"No Prince from France or England could be as beloved as is your Highness in the Netherlands," said Rénée.
"But I have not the power to repay this love," answered William.
Rénée rose, still looking at him with earnest eager eyes. "Believe that you will accomplish that to which you have put your hand, Prince," she replied.
He gazed at her as steadily as she gazed at him; he seemed to recognize something strong and loyal and steadfast in this woman; something on which one might depend.
And this sense of her strength and faithfulness touched him as with a great comfort in the feebleness of his sickness and moved him to open his heart on a subject on which it had hitherto remained closed.
"You were the companion of Mademoiselle de Bourbon?" he asked.
Rénée very slightly drew her brows together. "Yes," she said quietly.
"You loved her, perhaps?"
"No," answered Rénée, "why should I love her, Prince?" she added with a certain fierceness.
"She seemed to me one who might—" he paused, and in his turn frowned a little.
"—inspire love?" finished Rénée calmly.
"One at least gentle and unfortunate—and courageous," said William.
"Yes," Rénée assented, "she has those qualities and she is, I suppose, unfortunate."
"Was there no talk of her espousals?"
"With Count Louis?"
"With any—my brother, no."
"No name was ever mentioned but his—a dowerless Princess does not so easily find a husband," replied Rénée.
"There is a sweet wife there," said the Prince.
A faint pallor overspread the face of the woman who listened; her heart seemed to shrink and shrivel as under an icy touch.
She put out her hand and rested it on the low mantel-shelf where stood the shining brass pots and candlesticks. Then, speaking slowly, she answered William's thoughts more than his words.
"Does your Highness mean to ask for the hand of Mademoiselle?"
A flush rose to the Prince's thin face.
"You would not think me mad if I had that intention?" he answered.
Closer closed the heart of Rénée; she watched with what eagerness he welcomed the boldness with which she had put into words what he perhaps had been shy to even think; she saw his distant look and knew that he had forgotten her save as some one who knew Charlotte de Bourbon.
"I am worn out," he added in a tired voice, "old before my time—penniless also and encumbered with obligations and debts."
"The Princess holds no better fortune," returned Rénée dully.
He glanced at her gratefully.
"You know her," he began, then paused. "Has she ever spoken of me?" he added at length.
"Yes." Rénée forced herself to the truth, she was looking down that she might not see the eager interest with which he awaited her answer.
"And in a kindly fashion?"
"With admiration, Prince."
William noticed the constraint of her tone but did not remotely guess the cause.
He raised himself in bed and spoke with animation.
"I would not force your confidence, I have no right to ask.—but this thing has been much in my mind of late—and now surely we may consider each other as a friend," he smiled, looking at her with great charm and sweetness, "and you can do me a service."
Rénée was silent; she did not raise her eyes nor move.
"Tell me," insisted the Prince, "if you believe, from your knowledge of Mademoiselle, that she would listen to my addresses?"
Rénée was still silent; his humility stung her; why should he be humble before Charlotte de Bourbon?
"Will you not?" added William, "answer me?"
Rénée looked at him; it was in her power to make him believe any lie she liked, for he would never suspect her of any motive for telling an untruth, she might assure him that the affections of the Princess were engaged, or that she was indifferent towards marriage.
But as she looked at him, eager, wistful, waiting for her answer, the truth rushed to her lips. She moved towards him with a sudden tenderness—almost a maternal tenderness.
"Rest assured," she said, "that Mademoiselle de Bourbon loves you."
Soon after the Prince's secretary returned and with him Cornelius Van Meirop.
William, raising himself up in bed, began discussing the prospects for the relief of Leiden and his answer to the appeal of that city.
Rénée moved from the room, and as she stood at the door she lingered a moment and looked back at the dark thin face of the Prince propped by the white bed pillows, looked at it intently as if to impress those features on her mind and went out into the sunny street.
The shallow steps of the simple house led to the wide flagged causeway that edged a deep canal. Full-leaved elm trees shaded both water and stone, where the sun penetrated the deep leafage it shone in vivid flakes in the ripples of the canal and in patches of gold on the worn stones and smooth trodden bricks.
The air was very warm and full of a distant murmur of noise, voices and all the interwoven sounds of a city. But here there was peace.
Through the open window of the house opposite Rénée could see the serving-maid polishing a brass dish.
While the only person in sight along the vista of the canal-way was a boy who floated a kite which fluttered feebly in the slight summer breeze.
She leant against one of the elm trees and looked up at the pots of geranium which marked the window of the Prince's room.
Strange that he should have chosen her as his confidante and from his own lips have confirmed what she had already guessed, the unspoken understanding between himself and Charlotte de Bourbon.
So he would marry again, and had already chosen his wife—a woman who, as Rénée knew, would not hesitate to accept him.
And she, the escaped nun, the exile, who had seen him but on one occasion and knew him only by hearsay, would be his companion, his confidante constantly with him, the sharer of his difficulties, his troubles and of that ultimate triumph in which Rénée never doubted.
It was natural that this should be so—natural that he should choose this wife, a woman of his own faith, who had suffered for that faith in much the same way as he had suffered, it was natural that her loneliness and exile, her unprotected state and the courage with which she had maintained her conviction and her liberty in front of the opposition of all her kin, should appeal to him, as it was natural that she should make a hero of the man who was the champion of the cause and the religion she had embraced.
Yet the confirmation of what she had guessed ever since her last interview with Charlotte de Bourbon, came with a certain shock.
Some things cannot be discounted; Rénée could no more have spared herself the pang she had that day received than she could have spared herself the pang of the Prince's death by knowing beforehand that he was doomed. Yet no hopes had been dashed to the ground, no prospects blighted—the Prince could never have been more to her than he was whether or no he had met Mademoiselle de Bourbon.
The gulf between them would be no wider than it was now, they could not be further removed than they had ever been. Yet, the sting, the grief and the bitterness remained and could not be argued away.
And in her heart she knew that Charlotte de Bourbon, as woman compared to woman, was of no finer quality than herself.—and she doubted if she could bring him as much devotion, as much love.
But she was the woman on whom his eye had fallen, the wife of his choice—while Rénée had always been the waiting-woman—a part of the background.
And circumstances had again combined to cast her into his service, to bring her into his presence as a dependent; she had not meant this to be so, when she had left Heidelberg it had been with no idea of seeing the Prince again, till knowing him ill and even lonely she had thought again of nothing but his service.
And with this result—that she had been forced to tell him that he had nothing to fear from Charlotte de Bourbon.
She would never forget his look of amaze and shame at having, as he thought, forced her confidence, the way the blood had rushed to his face, his quick attempt to turn aside her words, to make a jest of the whole matter—and yet, all the while, as Rénée well knew, he fixed in his heart a hope and a resolve—firmly and for ever.
"He will ask her hand on the first occasion that offers," thought Rénée, "and I may hear her marriage bells and see her arrive to meet him."
She tried to soothe the dull sickness of her spirit by thinking of all the sorrow and misfortune abroad in the world in this time of horror.
Of the starving women in Leiden who had to watch their children, of the maidens who had to see their lovers go forth, never to return, of the women whose husbands were taken from them, the exiled and defeated, the crying children, the laments of age and feebleness in this time of war.
It seemed to Rénée as if never again would the world be bright and gorgeous, never again would youth go gaily forth to greet the spring, and those dear to each other remain united in happy homes.
As her thoughts ran thus she looked at the boy with the kite, and the idea came to her that perhaps this child would live to see the peace she imagined for ever lost.
And this peace-once achieved, would last and blossom in an age which in all the present unhappiness of which she was part would be forgotten.
"What avail will that be to me?" thought Rénée. "I shall not have helped—I am no use to any—I will pass away, the children of the future will play over my dust."
She walked slowly along the causeway, thinking of her own story interwoven with the great events among which she moved, of the Prince, whose life had come so near to her yet from whom she was for ever separated, of the nation coming, with throes and agonies, into being about her, of whom she was part, yet in which somehow she seemed to have no interest.
Her enthusiasm was dead, her patriotism did not warm her; she had been exiled too long to any longer feel pleasure in her native land, or any longer feel the sense of home.
Her religion had become vague; the convictions for which her parents had died no longer seemed near and vital but far away and feeble.
In that moment she desired death; she thought how strange it was that one always had the means of death at hand and so seldom the will or the spirit to achieve this last means of deliverance.
Why had she so long endured life when at any moment she could have escaped from it.
Was it because some hope had lurked deep in her heart amid all her hopelessness—that there was still some use for her in the world?
She was still young—strange as it seemed to her to think it, life might yet hold something for her—some work, some duty, perhaps even some pleasure.
In this flutter of hope, youth and health asserted itself.
The warm air was about her, the sun overhead and the green leaves, even to her dulled spirit these things brought some comfort.
No passer-by would have thought the beautiful gracious woman, walking with leisured step in the sunshine, was so near despair, for the calm of long habit appeared the calm of serenity.
She reached the end of the canal and turned into another street of a poorer sort.
As she glanced down this a poor funeral met her eye; the coffin, covered by a simple black cloth, was borne aloft on the shoulders of four men.
There were no followers and no flowers—only in the doorway of the house from which the coffin had been carried stood an old woman with a bundle in her arms.
The desire for some distraction from her thoughts, moved Rénée to go up to this woman and ask whose body it was the four old men were carrying away.
The withered creature looked at her with the patient friendliness of the unfortunate.
"A woman," she answered.
Rénée gazed after the slender coffin.
"Why did she die?"
"Who knows? He was with Count Louis' army and she never heard of him since Mooker Heyde," was the answer.
"But Mooker Heyde—that is already some time ago," said Rénée.
"Ah, there was the baby coming, she lived for that. Then when it was born she lost her strength all at once—and went out. Like a lamp without oil."
"And the baby? faltered Rénée.
"A fortnight old, to-day. A girl."
The funeral had now passed out of sight; Rénée looked down at the bundle in the old woman's shrunken arms.
"Is this the baby?" she asked with a certain curious sense of awe.
The old woman raised the white shawl with pride. Rénée looked within.
Wrapped in an inner covering of white wool and linen lay a little baby asleep.
She wore a close cap of Flemish lace, the deep border of which fell over and shaded her minute face, which was of a marvellous delicacy and beauty. Her complexion was of a pearly fairness, a tiny hand, with the fingers outspread, lay on the edge of the shawl.
As Rénée gazed she felt as if her heart had been suddenly broken within her; her limbs trembled and the tears rushed to her eyes. The heartrending serenity of the baby seemed to her unendurable.
"Might I hold her in my arms?" she asked.
"Come into the house," returned the old woman readily. "I am alone and there is much to do. Sickness makes work."
Rénée followed her into the dark room, where the green lattices were drawn over the windows, excluding the sun, which only filtered here and there into the dusky atmosphere.
A door stood open into an inner room; set in the wall of this was the smooth white bed; here too the shutters were closed and the chamber was filled with a golden darkness.
Rénée looked about her; the white porcelain stove was lit, and before it were arranged the child's swaddling clothes, newly washed.
At the other end of the room was a wicker cradle filled with soft cushions.
"You are the grandmother?" asked Rénée.
"No. I am a stranger. They fled from Haarlem before the siege. Then he went to fight and she took lodgings with me. They had saved a little money."
"All gone now?"
"Some time since," replied the old woman quietly. Rénée looked at the little garments by the stove.
"And the baby?" she asked.
"I do what I can. But I am poor. My son is at the war and does not come back. The other works at an armourer's, but the pay is not good now."
The old woman spoke with a certain wistful eagerness as if she ventured to hope that this stranger who belonged obviously to the better sort might be interested in her miserable fortunes, hitherto too obscure and too ordinary to attract the attention of any.
"And the baby?" repeated Rénée.
"My son wants to send her to the hospital—I would keep her if I could. The pastor says he may find some one to take her. He paid for the funeral, but he too is poor."
And she suddenly smiled as if there was something diverting in this almost universal poverty and misery.
Rénée seated herself in a wand chair by the cradle. "Keep her for the time; I will think of something," she said.
The old woman crossed the room and placed the baby in Rénée's arms.
"You will take her perhaps?" she asked.
"I am not rich."
"Married, with little ones of your own?"
Rénée shook her head.
"I come from Heidelberg," she answered. "I was one of the Electress's women. Now I am in employment in the house where lodges the Prince."
"Ah, the Prince!" said the old woman. "Do you think him a great man, now?"
"Ah, you do? My son thinks Count Louis was the one; he maintains he would have saved us all if he had lived. Aye, that was a black day at Mooker Heyde!"
"The Prince will save us all," returned Rénée earnestly.
"God, He knows," said the old woman; she went into the inner room and began to rearrange the bed.
Now that she was alone Rénée timidly raised the baby and laid its face against her own.
With a hand that trembled she touched the tiny head, the clenched hand, the soft cheeks.
The baby moved and with a little cry awoke. The old woman came hurrying.
"You do not know how to hold her," she said indulgently. "Nay, I will not hurt her," pleaded Rénée.
The baby closed her eyes again and moved her head to and fro.
"She is hungry," said Rénée, with quick instinct interpreting the searching movement.
"I would have lived if the child had been mine," she added almost fiercely.
"Ah, she thought of her husband, that girl, and so she died.'
"But it is not certain that he is dead?"
"Who survived from Mooker Heyde?"
As she spoke the old woman took the child from Rénée's arms.
"She must have her food and go to sleep," she added, "before my son comes in."
"I will come in to-morrow and talk to you of the child," she said. "What is the name?"
"Van Posen, they called themselves. She was a goldsmith's daughter, she said."
"And the name of the baby?"
"She was christened Wilhelmina, because, the pastor said, of the Prince."
"I will come to-morrow," repeated Rénée.
She left the house and returned with a quick step to the Prince's house.
On the dark stairway she met William's secretary. He looked at her keenly.
"You seem as if you had had good news," he said, smiling it
Rénée smiled too.
"What of Leiden?" she counter-questioned.
"Boisat makes progress—if only the city can hold out!"
The days of a hot summer passed into the days of a stormy autumn and still Leiden was not relieved. The ocean had now overflowed the pierced dykes and was coming slowly to the relief of the beleaguered city.
But too slowly for the starving thousands in Leiden, who daily climbed the ramparts and the ancient tower of Hengist to gaze across the waste of waters for a sight of the sails of the fleet of Admiral Boisat. But the winds were contrary: Boisat was stranded at North Aa, in a depth of water not sufficient to float his smallest vessel, and the powerful forts which guarded Leiden, such as Zoeterwowde and Samnen, still remained in the possession of the Spaniards.
And though the patriots had made great advances, such as seizing the Sand-scheiding, there still remained in their way great obstacles, such as the mere by the city, the redoubts manned by the enemy and the ridges bristling with cannon which protected the approach to Leiden.
And the sea hung back and only slow and reluctant waves lapped the ruined crops, the abandoned houses, the desolate farmsteads, which seemed as if they had been sacrificed for nothing, while the fleet of Holland remained idle and impotent within sight of the starving town.
The Prince dragged himself from his bed to come on board Admiral Boisat's ship and inspect the gallant and desperate means being taken to relieve the despairing city.
He saw that all that human endeavour could do had been done and nothing could help now but the ocean, and he returned to Delft sad but not despairing.
Ste. Aldegonde, released from prison on parole, was with him and lodged with him in the quiet house at Delft which was now William's home.
The Prince loved his friend and trusted his affection, but no longer could he put faith in his fortitude and courage.
The continued misfortunes of the patriot cause, the seeming hopelessness of the task William had undertaken, the loss of all those stout hearts who had lent such a glory to the opening conflict, and his own personal experience of imprisonment at the hands of the Spaniards had combined to turn Ste. Aldegonde, once so ardent and confident, into a waverer and a doubter; only the Prince's personal influence over him prevented him from retiring in despair from an active part in the conflict.
He returned now from the visit to the fleet profoundly depressed.
The Prince, with that sense of humour no misfortune could destroy, laughed at his gloomy face.
"Thou art not in Leiden," he said as they sat at supper; "there is no need to starve."
Ste. Aldegonde sighed.
"You have ever too light a temper, Highness," he rejoined.
"Had my disposition been heavy it would have sunk beneath my misfortunes," returned the Prince. "Let me smile when I can, Ste. Aldegonde."
He leant back in the dark carved chair, and with a little movement of weariness, his head sunk against the black leathern cushions.
He was still pale and haggard from his recent illness, from which indeed he had hardly recovered, the comely face was thin, the eyes lacked something of their wonted fire and the white hairs had appeared thickly among the chestnut locks.
His dress was that of a burgher, grey cloth and riding boots and a little ruffled collar of native needlework.
Ste. Aldegonde looked at him and was not greatly encouraged.
He thought of the magnificent cavalier, rich and young, who had set out with his companions to break the power of Spain and in the quiet tired figure before him he could see nothing but the signs of failure.
William still smiled, looking at him as if he divined his thoughts.
"We shall conquer yet," he said.
"Your Highness is indomitable."
"You saw those Zeelanders to-day," continued the Prince, "you noticed the spirit of those men? They would sooner all perish, man by man, than abandon Leiden."
"They will not relieve Leiden."
"They will," said William. "They will."
"Does your Highness think that the city can hold out till the wind changes?"
Ste. Aldegonde shook his head.
"Have they not already captured fort after fort and driven the enemy from the great dyke."
"There are other forts—and the men."
"Yes," responded the Prince, "there are always difficulties in every enterprise. But we," he looked steadily into his friend's face, "are not here to enumerate them."
"God grant that your fortitude and hopefulness will be rewarded," returned Ste. Aldegonde in a moved voice.
"I have never," replied William quietly, "doubted the ultimate victory. But if we are doomed to perish, in the name of God be it so!"
He turned his head and looked out of the window at the quiet street where the last sunlight lay peacefully on brickwork and canal.
"At least," he added, "we shall have the honour to have done what no nation ever did before us—for we have defended and maintained ourselves in a small country against the tremendous efforts of a powerful enemy. And as long as the poor inhabitants here, even if they be deserted by all the world, hold firm, it will cost the Spaniards the half of Spain, in men and money, before they can make an end of us."
Ste. Aldegonde was, if only for the moment, and against his own private judgment, convinced. When the Prince spoke, even the waverers were silenced, even the most timid was reassured.
William looked again towards his friend.
"Why are you so sad? Do you think it nothing to have been born in these honourable times?"
"I would," replied Ste. Aldegonde, "have been born before these troubles began.
"Or a hundred years hence," smiled William, "when they are all forgiven—or, perhaps worse, are abroad for our grandchildren to battle with. But you are strong, Ste. Aldegonde. Humanity has no greater privilege than this—. to help in the establishment of liberty and truth."
"And I echo the Apostle—' what is truth '—and add what is liberty? Philip holds it God's truth that we are rebel traitors, swine fit only for the shambles. And that liberty consists in his liberty to do as he wishes."
"Liberty and truth," replied William, "are understood by the poorest and humblest, they know what is real liberty and what is genuine truth and for these things are prepared to die. These and not the standards of the Escurial are right."
"I think the King would die for his belief as cheerfully as any Calvinist."
"Aye," replied William. "Tyranny has its courage, and wrong its fortitude. But leave these matters, where we confuse ourselves with terms. I will talk to you on another theme."
As he spoke the Prince bent his steady eyes on his friend. "There is," he continued, "a matter I have had much in mind of late."
He paused thoughtfully.
"And now the time has come to speak of it," he added. "Highness, you arouse my curiosity," said Ste. Aldegonde, leaning forward a little across the supper table. "I shall surprise you," answered William; he suddenly laughed.
"It is a gay matter, then, Highness?"
"It is this—I have a mind to marry."
Ste. Aldegonde was more than surprised, he was startled, almost shocked.
"Your Highness thinks of marriage!"
Ste. Aldegonde evolved a thousand aspects of the case in his mind—William's previous marriage, the fact that the wretched Anne of Saxony still lived and was by many still considered as the Prince's wife—the dissension and bitterness the marriage of the Prince was likely to cause among Anne's German relations, whom it was most essential to keep in a good humour, and the general comment, not to say scandal, that was likely to be everywhere aroused.
On the other hand, as Ste. Aldegonde was quick to see, if the Prince married politically and wisely, his cause might be benefited, his influence extended, his coffers filled.
"You disapprove?" smiled the Prince.
"At one of my age and fortunes seeking a wife?"
Ste. Aldegonde warmed to the defence of his friend and Prince.
"Your Highness is yet young and your fortunes are such as any would be proud to share."
"My forty-two years weigh heavily upon me," replied William, "and I can give no marriage portion, nay, am burdened with debts and settlements."
"A good dowry would repair these."
"This lady has no dowry."
"The bride is chosen then!" exclaimed Aldegonde in amaze.
"Yes," replied William, "I do not speak of any marriage, but of a particular marriage."
"Politics—" began Ste. Aldegonde.
"For once," interrupted the Prince, "you must leave politics out of the question."
"Then why," asked the other in unfeigned astonishment, "should your Highness marry at all?"
The Prince slightly flushed.
"For affection, Ste. Aldegonde."
"Has it never occurred to you," added the Prince almost wistfully, "that I am very lonely?"
His friend had no answer; certainly he had given little thought to William's inner life; he had always considered him as the leader, the man of affairs, the soldier, he had never given a thought to the other side of the man, who, warm-hearted, must do without affection, who must be homeless, who, kindly and sociable in disposition, must spend many sad hours alone; he had never thought what it must mean to William to reflect on the misery of his last marriage, the outrage inflicted on him by his half-insane wife, the pain and humiliation of her desertion.
But now that the Prince spoke so, Ste. Aldegonde reflected on the matter—why should not this man be as other men?
"You marvel at me," said William, who had been watching him keenly.
"Nay, I was endeavouring to understand."
"I love the lady," said William simply.
His life of late years had brought him so little into contact with any woman of his own rank, that Ste. Aldegonde was completely puzzled.
"When has your Highness found time for love-making?" he asked with a little smile.
"There has been no love-making," answered the Prince gently.
"But your Highness seems sure of her consent," said Ste. Aldegonde.
Again William slightly flushed.
"She is of the same temper as myself—the same faith—her circumstances are even the same—an exile."
Still Ste. Aldegonde could not think who this lady might be.
"Why does your Highness give me this incomplete confidence?" he demanded bluntly.
"I will tell you all," returned William, "for I wish you to be my emissary to ask the hand of this gentlewoman."
"A poor proxy," smiled Ste. Aldegonde ruefully, "I have forgotten Court ways."
William slightly hesitated; the name of Charlotte de Bourbon had been so long treasured in the silent depths of his heart as something sacred that he disliked to divulge it even to the man whom he had chosen to be his ambassador to his beloved.
"It is Mademoiselle de Bourbon," he said at length. If Ste. Aldegonde was amazed before he was now completely stupefied.
He stared at William the Prince, so utterly impossible, from every point of view, seemed the match that he proposed; Ste. Aldegonde was a Calvinist, but even to him Charlotte de Bourbon was a renegade nun who had broken her vows—then, her name had been persistently associated with Louis of Nassau, then, again, she was friendless as well as penniless and could bring no friends, while she would certainly make, by her marriage with William, a host of enemies, she was estranged from her father and the Court of France and living on the charity of the Elector—in brief, the marriage was as impolitic and rash as any could well be.
William was prepared for this astonishment—he looked into Ste. Aldegonde's amazed face and laughed.
"I know your arguments," he said good-naturedly, "so spare them!"
"Your Highness has considered—"
"And the advantages of this match?"
"For once," returned William, "I would consult my own inclinations."
Ste. Aldegonde was silent.
"I sold myself once for wealth—once for political advantage," continued William sternly, "well for me that I am blessed in my son. You know something of what I have suffered from this Saxony marriage. Now I want peace—at least in my home."
"And this lady will give it to you?"
"I do believe it, Ste. Aldegonde."
William rose and pulled the bell cord and when the serving-maid came asked for lights; he wished to cut short the protests and arguments he knew that his friend was burning to make.
"You will—as soon as may be—undertake this mission to Heidelberg," he added.
Ste. Aldegonde made a gesture of despair.
"You know what will be said!"
"I can guess."
"No one will support you!"
"I am prepared for it."
"Even Count John will disapprove."
"Ste. Aldegonde—I have told you, this time I please myself."
He spoke smilingly yet with a touch of authority, and his friend could say no more.
Rénée Le Meuny had a room in the top story of a house in the Cathedral square at Delft and when the bells rang they filled it with sound.
It was the house of the verger, and he was old and his wife bedridden, so Rénée helped them in the house and in the church.
And in her leisure she worked the fine lace that she had learnt to do in Brussels and for which there was a good price when it could be sent to the markets in England and France.
So Rénée made her poor living her life had been always so circumscribed, her tastes so modest that she did not notice her present restriction.
Her poverty did not gall her, for she had all that she wanted.
And, after the long dissatisfaction of her life she seemed at last to have found peace, for the wide room with the smooth sloping floor and latticed window was shared by the refugee's baby.
Rénée, when she left the service of the Prince in Rotterdam had taken the child with her; the old woman had been glad to be rid of the embarrassment, and there had been an outbreak of the plague in the city rendering the air infected and unsafe for the little creature.
So Rénée had brought the baby to Delft, leaving her name with the armourer's mother in case any one should come to claim the child.
But this was unlikely indeed; little Wilhelmina seemed as certainly without friends or relatives as was Rénée herself.
An unbounded tenderness for the baby filled Willie's heart.
She took an interest in things that before she had not even noticed; in dresses, and laces and ribbons, because the baby must wear them, in children, because presently the baby would be as these; in the humble work of the house, the sweeping and cleaning, because everything must be kept sweet about the baby, in the fine work of her own fingers, the money for which would be needed soon when the baby grew bigger and needed, ah, so many things.
A girl was hired to take the baby out, but never further than the square, so that Rénée, seated at the window at her lace-making, might see them every time she raised her eyes.
It was wonderful how the old couple who had lost their all in the war, noticed and soon loved this tiny stranger, how soon she became the centre of interest in the quiet old house, the one pleasure for so many sad hearts.
It pleased her to go in the morning into the great church and help this old man clean and sweep and stack the huge stoves with wood ready for lighting a little before the service, for though it was yet early in the autumn the church was cold, especially in the evenings.
The church, stripped of all Popish decorations, the walls whitewashed from vaulted roof to floor, the windows with plain glass instead of coloured, was very wonderful to Rénée.
Her people had been among those whose blood had gone to pay for this liberty, for the freedom now enjoyed by the city of Delft and the worshippers who daily gathered in the cathedral of Saint Ursula.
The whitewashed interior, the unshaded windows, which filled every corner with a cold clear light, the hard benches and pulpit of plain dark wood all were to Rénée beautiful, for they seemed to her part of her inheritance—and one for which she had dearly paid.
And gradually she withdrew herself from her long isolation of mind and spirit and came more in touch with her fellow creatures, sharing their anxieties and hopes.
She would mingle with the other women after service and listen to their talk until she drew a certain comfort from these other lives passing so near her own and filled with cares and sorrows so much the same.
Often she saw the Prince, for he was much in Delft these days; occupied mostly for the relief of Leiden, which was yet beleaguered by the Spaniards despite all the efforts of Admiral Boisat.
But William never saw her; she had disappeared from his house in Rotterdam before he had recovered from the sickness and they had not spoken since he had asked her of Charlotte de Bourbon.
When he attended church Rénée watched his passing from her window and then followed, when concealed by one of the white pillars she could watch him throughout the short service; and before he rose to go she would slip away and from her window mark his return.
Sometimes, in the evening, when the baby was asleep she would carry her down in her wicker cradle and put her beside the verger's wife, who lay patient under her white linen coverlet, and leaving these two together she would go softly from the house, cross the dark square, pass the bridge over the canal and stand beneath the dwelling of the Prince.
Sometimes she would see him at a window, or returning late, nearly always she saw a light in his room.
If it chanced that he had left Delft and she did not know it, and coming there she found the house in darkness, she experienced a curious sense of disappointment.
She knew that he was contemplating a marriage with Mademoiselle de Bourbon.
The matter was common knowledge and she had had it direct from the mouth of the Prince's secretary, whom she had met by chance.
But it would not be yet, he had added, till Leiden was relieved the Prince would think of nothing else, and he wished to see his cause on a sure way to success before he thought of taking a wife—but next year—if things were happier—
Rénée was no longer disturbed by the thought of Charlotte de Bourbon, but she was glad that she had definitely severed her life from hers.
She felt her present existence happiness compared with that she had led at Heidelberg, though there she had been one of a Court and now she was little better than a maidservant.
The last days of September were cold and stormy and Rénée had to go into the church before the services to light the stoves and draw the heavy green curtains across those portions of the church not used, so as to make a little protection against the draughts.
There was one curtain across the space where there had once stood the altar and the lady chapel; this was large enough for a church in itself and beneath were burial vaults.
The verger remembered when it had all been canopied in gold tapestry and the altar had been dressed in purple and scarlet with candlesticks in Florentine copper, and the Host in a white shrine curtained with dove-coloured silk. And there had been seats for the monks in carved wood, lamps that burnt day and night.
And the church was now bare and cold and white. "It is well," said Rénée.
It was the first Sunday in October. The sullen stillness following a great storm had fallen over the land.
Huge masses of dark clouds lay piled on the horizon, a chill wind blew across the flat country and ruffled the waters of the canals.
Rénée was standing at the door of the church, and she shuddered in her grey cloth cloak; though it was yet early in the autumn the summer seemed very far away and a long leaden winter seemed to stretch ahead in an endless succession of short dull days and long stormy nights.
Rénée had rejoiced in the storm, because she knew that the strong easterly wind was driving the sea across the broken dykes and sending the ships of Admiral Boisat to the very gates of Leiden.
But these hopes, which she shared in common with the entire population, had been destroyed by a letter a carrier pigeon had brought from Boisat to the Prince and which told him of new difficulties, and announced that the storm had lulled before he had been able to pass the great mere and the almost impregnable forts which guarded the entrance to the city and unless another tempest should arise he would be obliged to make a long detour round Leiden, which would take more time than he believed the city could endure.
She shared the firm belief of the Prince that the fate of Leiden was representative of the fate of the little states which were just struggling into independent existence.
If that beautiful city fell there was little to hope for the rest of Holland.
If, on the other hand, Leiden should triumphantly resist, if Admiral Boisat should succeed in breaking the leaguer and driving off the besiegers, then the arms of the Netherlanders would have secured a victory such as had not fallen to their lot since the capture of Brill, and one that would be as instantaneous in its effects, material and moral, as had been that action of the Sea Beggars, which had meant the turn of the tide for the cause of the Netherlands.
The old verger joined Rénée in the doorway of the church.
He also looked at the clouds and the weather-vanes.
"The Prince will be anxious to-day," he said and pulled down the lapels of his cap over his ears.
"The Prince is always anxious," answered Rénée.
"Ay, I do not think he sleeps much of nights," muttered the old man. "He walks with a spring under his feet and a sword over his head. I dreamt last night he was dead, drowned in the waters that come to relieve Leiden."
He shambled back into the church and crouched near the stove by the door, warming his gnarled fingers.
Rénée instead remained at the door; she looked at the house where the old woman and the baby and the little hired maid waited alone.
They held their own service; the girl read the Bible to the old woman, and then they would pray together—for the Prince, for Holland and for the relief of Leiden. And between them, in her small cradle, lay little Wilhelmina.
A little smile curved Rénée's lips at the thought of the baby.
She seemed to hold a happy secret safe in her heart, something that consoled her, and even gave her a certain protection against sorrow.
Differently from her usual custom she did not return home to await till the service commenced but retreated into the shadow of the double doors.
The church was full that morning; young and old, rich and poor had come to offer up a prayer for Leiden.
Rénée saw the Prince coming across the square—she drew her hood closer across her face and moved further into the shadow.
William had his secretary and Ste. Aldegonde with him; he walked a little apart from these and absently returned the salutations of the people, most of whom passed him on the way to the church, for his step was slow this morning.
As he passed Rénée in the porch she marked how pale and haggard he looked.
She knew that he was thinking of the letter from Admiral Boisat.
Her eyes filled with unreasonable tears as she looked across at the figure of the Prince, seated erect, like a soldier on duty, opposite the place for the preacher and other clergy, where stood the great Bibles with their long green markers.
As she gazed at that slender figure in the coarse brown frieze, at that grave face so thoughtful and sad, her heart ached with intolerable longing for the old days—for the young cavalier with the smiling lips and the chestnut curls who had come and gone from the splendid mansion in Brussels.
She wondered if William ever thought of those times, contrasted with these bare walls and cold-lit spaces the luxurious church of Ste. Gudule, where he had worshipped amid the pomp of the Romanist faith.
She would not have had him other than he was; his very homeliness was proof of his self-sacrifice and heroism—he had given everything, even his youth; but being a woman her heart contracted with pain to think that the days of his gorgeous careless magnificence were gone for ever, that never more would he go hawking with his famous white falcons and hounds, laugh at a banquet or step the figures of a dance—such foolishness, thought Rénée, yet the tears ran down her cheeks.
She speculated eagerly as to what the Prince's thoughts were at this moment—did he recall the past or think of Charlotte de Bourbon—or was he thinking of nothing but Leiden?
None of these things were in the mind of William of Orange.
He had even for the moment forgotten the peril of Leiden.
Instead he dwelt with the recollection of a great sorrow, on the death of Count Louis; even now he could hardly realize that he would never see him again, never receive a letter from him—never hear news of him—he was dead, his body trampled into the marshes of Mooker Heyde.
William heard nothing of the sermon; it was with a start he turned to see one of his servants beside him who gave him a letter and hastened away to the back of the church.
A letter from Admiral Boisat.
The Prince broke the seal, glanced at the contents, and then sat still, his hand over his face.
A few moments later, at the termination of the service, he sent the letter up to the pulpit with the request for the pastor to read it aloud.
Leiden was relieved.
On the eleventh day of the June following the relief of Leiden William of Orange was married to Charlotte de Bourbon, despite the German Princes and the disapproval of his own party even including his brother John, hitherto so docile to all the schemes and projects of the Prince.
The wedding festivities were held at Dort, and soon after William brought his wife to the quiet house in Delft which was the sole marriage gift he was able to make, for, though he was on the eve of accepting the Government of Holland and Zeeland with sovereign powers and the name of Stadtholder, this meant little betterment in his private fortunes, which were encumbered by debts and settlements.
But the bride made no complaint at the modest maintenance offered her; secured by the declarations of the Protestant clergy in the legality of her position she accepted with grace and dignity the rôle of Princess of Orange and wife of the chief magistrate of the freed Provinces.
Rénée, living her quiet monotonous life, heard on every side a good report of the new Princess.
And somehow, within herself, she smiled; she had always known that Charlotte de Bourbon would not fail in anything she undertook.
That summer, soon after the solemn ceremony by which the Prince had accepted the government, Rénée resolved to wait upon Charlotte de Bourbon.
She chose a day when the Prince was absent at Rotterdam, put on her best gown and went to the house opposite the old church.
There was no more pomp than there had been in the old days; a maid-servant showed Rénée into the presence of her mistress.
Charlotte was seated in the window space, sewing; her bright hair and lace cap were all of exquisite freshness and neatness, her serene face bloomed with gentle contentment.
She rose with surprise.
"I did not know you were in Delft—I have so often thought of you."
Rénée came forward to kiss her hand, but Charlotte instead embraced her and led her to the seat near her own.
A silence and an embarrassment fell on Rénée; she sat mute, wishing she had not come.
The Princess noted her worn dress, her hands roughened with work, and her face which was a little hollowed and faded in tint, but still lovely beneath the plaits of red-brown hair.
Charlotte was acutely aware of something strange, closed and secret about the Fleming, something she had always been aware of, but had been too self-absorbed to dwell upon.
"You live here?" she asked gently; something prevented her from questioning Rénée as to the motive of her sudden leaving of Heidelberg or in any way forcing her confidence.
Rénée was prepared for this question.
"No," she said quickly. "I chance to be in Delft. I have no home."
The lie came readily to her lips; she had a desire that was almost passionate to disguise from Charlotte and from the Prince the life she had evolved for herself in Delft.
This and the existence of little Wilhelmina were secrets she would never divulge.
It was in Charlotte's heart and almost on her lips to ask her to enter her service; but again something, perhaps the sense of the aloof in Rénée, prevented her.
"I am glad that you came to see me," she said instead. "I am much alone."
Rénée looked at her sharply.
Charlotte's smile was not without sadness as she replied—
"You would not believe how absorbed His Highness is in affairs and how little I see of him."
"Yes," said Rénée, "he would have much to do now."
"So much—he works day and night. For the rest I have few friends. I am still the foreigner—the newcomer."
Rénée's eyes remained fixed steadily on the fair face of the Princess.
"Does it seem strange to your Highness," she asked, "to sit here the wife of William of Orange?"
"Sometimes it seems very strange," she answered simply. "You remember, at Heidelberg, how we used to talk of him but I always thought you would marry Count Louis."
The two women were silent for a moment and continued to look at each other.
"You think that I am very happy?" asked Charlotte at last, under her breath.
Rénée gave a little shudder but did not answer or move.
"I have made many enemies by my marriage," continued the Princess, "and I fear, plunged my lord into much dispute and imbroglio. Sometimes I think I did wrong."
"His Highness pleased himself," answered Rénée in a constrained tone.
"I brought him nothing," said Charlotte with the same simple frankness. "I can make a home for him and his children, that is all."
"Any woman could do that," thought Rénée; she averted her eyes and said aloud:
"It is curious you should speak as if you justified your marriage—to me, madam!"
"I know you have been a faithful friend to the Prince. You may have thought, as other friends of his have thought, that this marriage was wrong—a mistake."
Her eyes filled with tears as she spoke; as she continued her voice shook.
"Believe me—my great desire was to serve him—believe me—I suffer."
"Suffer?" Rénée was startled.
"I live with him in the midst of death—he never leaves me but I say farewell, thinking it may be farewell indeed—every day some new peril arises—do you think that Philip will suffer him to live?"
Rénée looking at her, saw that lines of care already marked the brow that had been so smooth, that the serene eyes were tired, saw that Charlotte, whom she had judged cold and precise, was after all a woman like herself, full of anguish that must be suppressed and fears that must be hidden.
"You could not think," continued the Princess, and her voice was quite broken now, "the letters he receives—the warnings, the threats, the scurrilous attacks. And Philip on the watch, always. Philip and his spies."
She clutched Rénée's hand desperately.
"Some day it will happen," she said, "and I may have to stand by."
Rénée's heart seemed suddenly unlocked; she burst into tears.
"I have thought of this—have I not thought of this—day and night!" she cried.
"It will happen," said Charlotte. "God help us." With a mutual instinct the women turned to each other and clasped hands.
Charlotte was the first to recover herself.
"Such fools we are, we die a thousand deaths," she said with a trembling smile.
"But you—you," stammered Rénée, "why are you so afraid? His Highness grows greater every day—a nation surrounds him now."
"The more reason Philip should seek to destroy him!"
"Nay," replied Rénée in great agitation. "Your Highness must not think of these things—"
"But you," said Charlotte, "did you not say you had thought of this—day and night?"
The blood beat in Rénée's tear-stained cheeks.
"Your Highness unnerved me," she murmured. "I—yes, I have had—fears—about the Prince," she paused, then added with an effort. "The Prince," she repeated, "the life of His Highness means so much to us Netherlanders."
"I know," replied the Princess, "take this comfort—. he has already done a work that not all the might of Philip can undo. He has established in Holland that which no earthly power can destroy. And if God gives him a few more years, you will see a great nation established in these states."
Rénée felt that she had been mistaken in Charlotte de Bourbon in judging her incapable of great emotion and noble feeling.
The woman who spoke now was the woman who had had the courage to fling off a vocation into which she had been forced, the spirit to renounce a creed that was hateful to her, to choose her own life and pursue her own course with unfaltering steps.
Under the precise manner of one trained since childhood to restraint, was the lofty spirit and serene soul of a good and sweet woman.
Rénée saw this; as she saw also that Charlotte suffered, that her life was one of anxiety and foreboding, and might at any moment be changed into the darkness of bitter anguish.
She loosened her hands from the gentle clasp of the Princess and turned away.
She no longer felt hard or bitter but humbled and abashed. Charlotte looked at her with puzzled eyes.
"You were very intimate—in the Prince's house in Brussels?" she asked.
"Yes—with the Princess."
Charlotte steadied her voice with a palpable effort. "Tell me—about her."
"About her? Madam, it seems another life."
"Yes—but I must think of her sometimes. You understand that."
Rénée had thought of her too; she knew the fate of Anne of Saxony.
Returned at length to her outraged and indignant relatives, divorced from the husband she had reviled and abandoned, separated from the children she had never cared for, and from the lover for whose ignoble sake she had cast the last remnants of her honour and dignity aside, the wretched Princess, whose mind was now completely gone, was now kept as a hopeless prisoner.
This punishment of the last Princess of Orange for a life that had indeed been full of fault and folly was no secret.
Rénée believed that Charlotte must know of it; but it was something that she could not speak of to the woman who occupied Anne's place.
"The Princess was mad," she said, "and His Highness ever magnanimous."
"He never—cared for her?"
"A marriage of convenience. But he was ever gentle and considerate. She might have been a happy woman."
"It was that I wished to know—you, so continually with her, must be aware of the truth."
"That is the truth, madam. She was mad—even before her marriage."
Charlotte was silent awhile, looking out over the sunny courtyard.
Then she spoke, suddenly.
"I asked you because I have her children with me. Maurice is a beautiful boy."
Rénée remembered him but vaguely; she had been continually with Anne and therefore had seen but little of the children, who had always lived apart from their mother.
"He has the spirit of his father," said Charlotte wistfully, and as she spoke Rénée divined another of her sorrows—that she was not the mother of the Prince's heir.
"The Princess's father was the great Elector Maurice," answered Rénée; "perhaps the young Count favours him."
"Would you like to see him?" she asked, and without waiting for an answer she pulled the bell-rope near to her hand.
"What am I to him?" answered Rénée; it seemed to her a curious fancy of Charlotte to speak of William's son.
In a few minutes he came.
The Prince's eldest son, Count Philip, remained, lost to his family and his country, a prisoner in Spain, and Maurice was his only other son, and, in the eyes of all, his heir.
He stood, a well-grown boy of eight years; he held a parrot on his wrist.
He was like neither of his parents; he showed promise of a heavier make than the Prince, and the thick hair that fell around his face was almost blonde.
His eyes, large and clear grey, were full of intelligence and he had already a very notable carriage, graceful and bold.
He glanced at the stranger with little interest; but
Rénée noted that for the Princess he had a smile of affection.
Charlotte asked him some trivial questions about the parrot and sent him away.
"You are fond of him, Highness?" asked Rénée. The Princess looked at her straightly.
"I try to train him to take his father's place when the time comes," she answered gravely. "Perhaps, after all, the Saxon marriage will not have been in vain."
She smiled at Rénée, who was silent, bewildered by this new point of view.
"You see I try to do my duty," added the Princess bravely. "And to help in the work of His Highness."
"God in His Mercy will maintain my innocence and my honour during my life and in future ages. As to my fortune and my life, I have dedicated both, long since, to His service." — William of Orange.
The Burgundian priest sat by the bedside of his sovereign. A low fever kept Philip in his room, but now the weakness of his illness was passing and he had summoned Granvelle to discuss with him the eternal business that for ever occupied his mind.
For the moment, however, he slept, and the Cardinal waited at his ease in the great chair that stood by the King's bed; the chamber was dark, overheated, the air heavy with the perfume of drugs and herbs.
It was yet early afternoon, but the shutters were closed and the glow of an oil lamp mingled with the red glimmer of the fire.
The black furniture threw heavy shadows on the walls hung with leather.
On the wall opposite to the foot of the bed hung an ebony crucifix, beneath it was a beautiful Italian picture recently purchased by the King.
At the side of the room an open door showed the antechamber, there waited the chamberlain, the doctor and the apothecary. They were all seated at a round table, and as Granvelle looked at their figures they seemed to him to be asleep.
The Cardinal himself yawned, but his active brain was alert; he sat motionless, withdrawn into the shadows, but his pose was full of energy, his eyes watchful.
With a bitter philosophy his acute judgment reviewed the recent events in the struggle in which he had taken so personal an interest, the scenes and actors of the world amid which he moved.
Eight years had passed since he had first suggested to Philip the wisdom of removing William of Orange by assassination, and that Prince still lived and by sheer skill of statecraft had guided the destinies of the rebel provinces until by the Pacification of Ghent he had secured the adhesion of seven states to the Union which defied Philip.
The Cardinal, never one to blink facts, did not deny to himself that William was so far the victor in the long and terrible conflict which he always considered to have begun that day the young Prince had come to defy him in his luxurious house outside Brussels.
The sudden death of the Governor, Resquesens, the subsequent confusion of the country left without a Viceroy and the mutiny of the Spanish soldiery, culminating in the ghastly sack of Antwerp—these events had been turned to good account by William of Orange.
And the new Governor, the famous brother of the King, Don John of Austria, the dupe of Philip, the victim of the hate and jealousy of Aña D'Eboli and Antonio Perez, what had he been but William's puppet?
The most brilliant hero in Christendom, the most charming of gentlemen had exerted his fascination in vain against the influence of the Prince of Orange, whom he could neither buy nor subdue.
In despair at his impossible task, overwhelmed by the steady power of the man 'who opposed him, all his gorgeous schemes laid in the dust, abandoned by the cold distrust of Philip in whose service he had obtained such deathless renown, the brilliant adventurer had died heartbroken.
And William of Orange pursued his way.
Granvelle hoped more from Don John's successor than he had ever hoped from that knight himself, Alexander of Parma, nephew of the King and son of the late Regent, the Duchess Margaret, now held the reins of government, and Granvelle had greater faith in the cold crafty Italian, energetic and masterful, than he ever had hoped from Don John, generous, and ambitious, worthless as a statesman and inferior to Parma as a soldier.
But even the qualities of Alexander Farnese had not as yet proved equal to the Prince of Orange.
He also had had his puppets, from behind whose back he had governed the states he had wrested from Philip.
First the Archduke Mathias, who had served his turn, and now a more formidable figure-head to flout and irritate Spain, to wit Francis Hercules, Duke of Anjou, brother of the King of France and in the favour of the Queen of England, even, as rumour still said, her future husband. This personage had William secured as his mask and protection, and the twisted policies of the Duke's mother, the Medicean Queen, were thus supporting the heretics against the King who had most rejoiced in the massacre of Saint Bartholomew.
It was a great thing for William to have thus obtained the open support of France, and the tacit support of England, and Granvelle could well imagine the satisfaction with which he allowed the French Prince to assume the trappings of Duke of Brabant and all the symbols of authority, while he, as ever sleeplessly watchful, patient and wary, continued to steer the ship of state through the perilous depths of wars and diplomacy.
What was Anjou?
No more than Mathias in power or prestige, and of the half-mad Valois blood.
Already he was tampering with Parma; Spain could always buy him if the price was high enough, he was but another royal adventurer, a mere counter in the game who might at any moment be swept from the board as Don John and Mathias and many another had already been swept.
But the Prince—he, now as always, was the man with whom Spain had to reckon. For years Granvelle had been constant to this one hope and aim—the accomplishment of the death of the Prince of Orange.
So far all private attempts on his life had failed. He had escaped these perils as he had survived the dangers and fatigues to which he was constantly exposed. His body seemed as sound and perfect as his mind, since it successfully resisted disease, weariness and almost super-human labour.
Louis of Nassau and Count Henry had gone now, also the young heir of the Elector—who indeed was left of those who had set out to defy Philip?
Only this one man.
"But all the others might have lived," said Granvelle in his heart, "could this great man but have been taken."
A feeling of despair overcame him as if William were protected by some supernatural power; it seemed little less than miraculous, even to the cynical mind of the Cardinal, that William had so long escaped every trap and snare when so many less illustrious and dangerous persons had fallen victim to the wrath of Philip.
It might have seemed as if every weapon had been tried, but the acute brain of Granvelle had evolved yet another means with which to strike at the heart of William of Orange.
As he sat there silent in the shadows by Philip's bed, he held a roll of parchment in his hands which was the most powerful instrument yet directed against the life of the rebel heretic.
The Cardinal had designed, and Philip had approved and signed, a Ban against the Prince as direct and wide embracing in its effects as any Bull of Excommunication issued by any Pope.
This document, after an elaborate preamble setting forth the crimes and treasons of the Prince from his first ingratitude to Philip till the Union of Utrecht, declared him "traitor and miscreant, enemy of ourselves and of the country. As such we banish him perpetually from our realms, forbidding all our subjects of whatever degree to communicate with him openly or privately, to administer to him. We allow all to injure him in property or life. We expose the said William of Nassau as an enemy of the human race—giving his property to all who may seize it. And if any one of our subjects or any stranger should be found sufficiently generous of heart to rid us of this pest, delivering him to us, alive or dead, or taking his life, we will cause to be furnished to him immediately after the deed shall have been done, the sum of twenty-five thousand crowns in gold. If he have committed any crime, however heinous, we promise to pardon him, and if he be not already noble, we will ennoble him for his valour."
Cardinal Granvelle knew these words, which were of his own dictating, by heart.
This time the net of Spain had been thrown wide—it was intended to catch all the villains of the world and turn them to the King's uses. All the swarming mercenaries, all the wandering ruffians, the scum of Europe, all the professional assassins of Italy and Spain, all the fanatics were now tempted and exhorted to remove this man.
They were promised the protection of Spain, admission to the ranks of the proudest nobility in the world, forgiveness of any crime they might have committed and a sum of money that represented a fortune.
Granvelle could not believe that among all those who would assuredly try for these prizes, there was not one who would eventually be successful.
And there was the moral effect of the Ban; the Cardinal greatly reckoned on that.
William's courage had been tried in many ways but he had not yet been tried by the supreme test of all-the certainty of assassination, the knowledge that all the villainy, cupidity and fanaticism of Europe was being urged and bribed to remove him—that poison might lurk in every dish he tasted, a dagger in the hand of every stranger who approached him.
"Let us see now," said the Cardinal to himself, "if this rogue is able to pursue his business unperturbed." Alva, Resquesens, Don John, Parma, Granvelle himself, had failed to bribe, cajole, or move this man, he had proved impervious to all attempts to win him and escaped all efforts to dispose of his life or his liberty; now the wrath of Spain was unmasked, her full venom and deadly sting were exposed—perhaps by the hand of some obscure ruffian she could accomplish what she had failed to do by means of her greatest captains, Princes and statesmen.
Philip stirred in the great bed and the Cardinal looked at his master.
So slight and thin was Philip that his meagre figure hardly showed beneath the massive coverlet, his head resting on the huge pillow looked like a mask placed there, so closely did the skin cling to his bones, so lifeless were the eyes, sunken and half closed.
As he looked at Philip his lip curled.
"The dupe of Ana D'Eboli and Antonio Perez!" he thought, "the puppet of a wanton and a rogue."
These two still ruled the Court of Spain; they had been able to bring to the dust Don John and to remove by murder his secretary Excordo, and still Philip suspected nothing of an intrigue of which he alone in Spain seemed ignorant.
Granvelle stared closer at the miserable wasted face of the King and the contempt deepened in his own countenance.
Philip suddenly opened his eyes and seeing Granvelle bending over him moved back his head a little and gazed at the Cardinal.
The contempt froze on Granvelle's face; he drew back with a cautious swiftness; the movement of one who has suddenly found himself too near something poisonous and fierce.
The King's pallid eyes fixed him with a steady stare; his straight gaze was terrible and Granvelle saw now no longer the sickly dupe, the prey of such as Perez and his lover, but the man who was ruler of half the world.
"I wished to read to your Majesty the finished version of the Ban," he said, smoothly.
"The Ban," repeated the King in a voice monotonous and weak. "I remember very well the contents. Twenty-five thousand crowns is too high."
"Your Majesty yourself wrote to the Prince of Parma that thirty thousand crowns would be well spent in this affair."
"But you," replied Philip, still staring at him with unblinking eyes, "dictated that letter. I always thought the sum too much."
He raised himself in bed and looked round to see if there was any food ready on the table by his side.
There was none 'and he stretched out a trembling yellow hand and struck the bell near him.
"No sum would be too high to pay for the removal of the Prince of Orange," said Granvelle, controlling his exasperation at Philip's parsimony, which was to him a continual source of irritation.
"But if we can get the work done for ten why offer twenty-five?" asked Philip.
"The higher the reward the greater number it will attract," answered Granvelle.
"There are many," insisted Philip, "who would do the business not for money but for the love of our Lord."
"Those who demand no pay need not receive any," said the Cardinal, "but there are very many neither good Catholics nor honest men who would do this thing for money."
"I regret the amount," said Philip; his chamberlain entered and the King ordered food.
"Sire," returned Granvelle, "it is not likely that the man who kills William of Orange will live to claim a reward."
"True," said Philip, brightening.
"He will almost certainly be captured and put to death by the Estates."
"But there will be his family," objected the King, depressed again
"Your Majesty can satisfy the family out of the property forfeited by the Prince of Orange."
Philip considered this suggestion so brilliant that he smiled, showing his teeth above the ragged line of red beard.
The idea of rewarding William's murderer out of William's own pocket gave him great pleasure; his eyes brightened and he continued to smile at Granvelle.
"The twenty-five thousand crowns can remain on the Ban," continued the Cardinal, "and your Majesty can make up the amount in lands—those in Franché-Comte, for instance."
The King nodded; his 'valet de chambre' was entering with a tray of food and this for the moment engaged his attention.
Granvelle folded up the copy of the Ban; he saw that it was useless to try and read it to the King while the latter was engaged in reviewing the young fowl cooked in wine, the mushrooms stuffed with snow, the spiced meats, the tarts, sweets and fruits that had been placed before him.
This rich food was always ready when the King called for it, as, even in sickness, he preserved an enormous appetite.
The Cardinal was something disgusted by this sight of Philip so intent on his meal; he himself was fond of luxurious living, but not to the exclusion of higher interests.
"Your Majesty is then satisfied with the wording of the Ban?"
"Surely," said Philip, testing the tenderness of the fowl with a knife, "we can say no more. When I hear the Prince has been taken off it will be a happier day for me than that of Saint Bartholomew," this reminding him of French affairs, he added mournfully, "I wish we could put a price on the head of the Duke of Anjou."
"He is a son of France," replied the Cardinal, "and for the moment we had better not meddle with him."
"Parma may buy him yet," answered the King. "Parma is the best man I have had in the Netherlands."
Granvelle did not endorse this statement; to hear another praised in the conduct of the Netherlands, reminded him of the ever galling subject of his own ill success there. Seeing the King absorbed in the meal, he took his leave; he was glad to be away from the close unhealthy air of the sick-chamber.
When he reached the corridor he opened the nearest window and leant out into the cold March air.
With a little smile he held up the Ban as if he traced the form of the man he hated in the loose flying grey clouds.
"A good many years since you defied me, William of Nassau, but perhaps now, at last—"
The June of that year the Ban was published in the Netherlands. If Philip had thrown aside the mask so now did William of Nassau.
His answer to the Ban was the 'Apology,' in which he defied the wrath of Spain, point by point defended his conduct and arraigned Philip for his crimes against liberty and honour as fearlessly and emphatically as Philip and Granvelle had arraigned him.
There was no longer any subtleties, any juggling of words between these two, Philip no longer flattered, William was no longer deferential; their long enmity had taken on another phase, it was now open, ruthless without disguise or hope of reconciliation, war to the death.
Philip gave William's life to the assassin, his property to the thief, his substance to the four winds of heaven. William in his reply gave Philip's actions to the judgment of all mankind.
Wherever the Ban was circulated the Apology went also, and before all noble minds William was vindicated.
And the months passed without producing either any outward sign of the effect of the Ban upon minds that were not noble but low, fanatic and mercenary.
William seemed too encircled by love and devotion, for any murderer's arm to reach him.
Neither was he, as Granvelle had hoped, in the least intimidated by Philip's awful threats.
Unmoved as ever by the machinations of his enemies and the extraordinary internal difficulties of a country that was yet divided, he proceeded to consolidate the position of the Provinces by act after act in which they asserted their freedom and threw off the Spanish yoke.
In the midsummer of 1581, the United Provinces solemnly and for ever renounced their allegiance to Philip; the sovereignty of Holland and Zeeland was vested in William, the other Provinces agreed to accept Francis of Anjou as the successor to Philip, the Prince from many motives having declined to accept the entire government and having only received that of the Northern States with extreme reluctance.
It had never been his desire to advance himself by the troubles of these times, and he was resolute not to incur the imputation of having contended for his own private fortunes instead of for the freedom of the Netherlands.
Besides, he believed that the struggling states would be safer under the protection of the brother of the King of France and the friend of England than trusting solely to him, a landless man, plunged deeply in danger and difficulty. For this reason he endeavoured, though without avail, to induce Holland and Zeeland to join the other Provinces in electing as their sovereign the Duke of Anjou—the union of all under one chief being his great desire.
That the French King's brother was the ideal person to fill this position the Prince did not pretend, but there was no one else offering; if assistance did not come from France there was nowhere it could come from; Anjou was an unknown quantity, but Ste. Aldegonde had spoken well of him; he was young—he might serve.
So, while William persuaded the States and persuaded himself, and it was generally considered probable that Anjou would marry the Queen of England, and thus a double protection be secured for the States, in the early spring of 1582, the Duke crossed from England, where he had been feted and flattered by Elizabeth, and landed at Flushing accompanied by an English escort.
A few days later he took the oaths at Kiel and entered Antwerp as Duke of Brabant.
His inauguration was made with a display of wealth, pomp and magnificence which astonished and vexed the French.
The Duke subscribed the constitutional pact of twenty-seven articles and was accepted as Duke of Brabant. The Prince who had placed him in this position had circumscribed his power, so that he was no more than a chief magistrate of a republic; the Frenchman made no protest, he swore the oaths glibly, but in his heart the unscrupulous adventurer was by no means pleased by the limitations imposed on an authority which he had hoped and expected would be absolute; he wanted not only Philip's place, but Philip's power.
For the moment the festivities offered by Antwerp, which pleased his idle and luxurious nature, wholly occupied his mind, but while preparing for the great banquet which he was giving on his birthday, a few weeks after his arrival, he suddenly expressed himself as tired of the position in which the Prince of Orange had placed him.
"I am not," he said, glancing round the little court of young nobles who surrounded him, "this Dutchman's doll."
He sat in a great gilt chair in the palace of Saint Michael, and a long mirror placed opposite him that he might view himself in his festival garment, reflected his entire figure.
The man whom Fate had chosen as the last rival to Philip on the troubled scene of the Netherlands, was now twenty-eight years old and of a singularly unprepossessing appearance.
When William had met him on the quay at Flushing he had glanced from him to the stately figure of the English nobleman who had accompanied him, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and William, looking from Elizabeth's favourite to Elizabeth's suitor, had but little hopes for the pretensions of Francis of Anjou.
His originally insignificant face was seamed by the scars of smallpox, which disease had so swollen and disfigured his nose that it appeared to be double.
His small light eyes sparkled with cunning and malice, his mouth was loose and ugly, a quantity of smooth fair hair was turned back from his narrow forehead and his stoop was so pronounced as to be almost a hump.
This miserable figure was clad in the utmost pomp and magnificence, perfumed, curled and adorned.
His doublet of white satin, stuffed to render more imposing his meagre proportions, was braided with gold and seed pearls, an enormous triple ruff of the finest needlework surrounded his face and from his shoulders hung a mantle of rich blue velvet lined with yellow satin.
Hose of fine white silk, garters of pearl and turquoise, gilt shoes completed his attire.
On his left arm he carried a muff of white fur, on his breast sparkled several jewelled chains, and in one ear was a long brilliant drop, attached to which was a plait of auburn hair, believed to be that of the Queen of England.
The demeanour of the Duke was in keeping with this elaborate attire; he was by no means depressed by his physical disabilities, but carried himself with the air of a handsome cavalier.
His little group of "mignons," as adorned, as scented and all more elegant than himself, stood in the embrasure of the handsome window talking together in whispers and eyeing their master.
From the moment of their landing they had seen and fostered the Duke's dislike of the Flemings and his antipathy to William of Orange.
They took as an outrage the limitations imposed on the man who would one day be King of France, they had not come to the Netherlands to be the servants of the States, but to lord it over the inhabitants of the Provinces as they were used to lord it over the French.
The debauched, criminal and tyrannical Court of the Valois was their model; Catholics, they despised heretics, nobles, they despised the burghers who largely composed the states, and always in want of money the wealth and splendour of such a city as Antwerp excited their envy and cupidity.
Such were the men let loose upon the soil of the Netherlands under the pretence of protecting their recently redeemed liberties.
Anjou shared these feelings.
He was not unintelligent and he had quickly seen what position William of Orange expected him to occupy and that Prince's motives in securing for him the sovereignty of the Provinces.
Neither of these was to his liking and he hated the man who, he felt, was merely using him for his own ends.
From the first he had resolved to outwit William; as he had not hesitated to endeavour to overcome the magnificent Leicester in the lists of love, so he did not hesitate to measure himself on the fields of diplomacy with the Prince of Orange.
He had already opened secret and tentative negotiations with Parma and was prepared to deliver to Spain all the liberties which he had so recently sworn to defend if he would find his own advancement in so doing.
But Parma was wary, the Duke saw but little to be gained in this direction, at least for the moment.
He began to be discontented with the whole adventure and to feel a deepening spite against the Prince of Orange.
"I will not be another Mathias!" he exclaimed aloud. "Nay, this Prince mistakes my quality."
"Truly," said one of the young nobles, "I warned your Grace from the first he was a fellow who spoke always with a double meaning. A man of a serpentine policy."
"Now, however," added another, "he deals with a son of France."
"Not a puppet like Mathias, poor fool."
"But a great Prince."
"He will soon find the difference."
Anjou listened to his flatterers with a satisfied air.
"Seigneurs," he said complacently, "you will see me very easily foil this Prince."
So calmly did the frivolous young adventurer talk of undoing the work at which William of Orange had laboured for twelve years and in which he had spent all his fortunes and energies, so lightly did he consider undermining the liberties which a whole brave people, at the cost of unutterable sacrifices had fought so long to redeem.
"Your Grace must make yourself master of Antwerp and other such cities," said one of the flatterers.
"In this town alone," remarked another, "there are treasures worth the sacking." And his dissipated eyes glittered, for he was encumbered with debts.
"Have you marked the goldsmiths' shops?" cried a third. "I never saw such jewels."
Anjou smiled as he listened; he intended to make himself absolute master of this wealth that had so dazzled his favourites.
"We shall see," he remarked, "who is lord in the Netherlands—myself or this Prince of Orange."
The Duke sipped his orange water and meditated his plans of thwarting the Prince of Orange and making himself complete master of the Provinces.
His reflections were suddenly interrupted by the abrupt opening of the door.
Ste. Aldegonde, pallid and disordered in appearance, stood upon the threshold.
Francis of Anjou, always on the outlook for violence and treachery, clapped his hand to the little Italian dagger he kept concealed in the folds of his breeches.
"What is this?" he asked.
Ste. Aldegonde moved his lips but did not answer at once. The Duke paled.
His suspicious mind scented some disaster, some mishap which would involve his own person.
"Mon Dieu, my friend, are you speechless?" he asked, rising.
"The Prince," stammered Ste. Aldegonde. "His Highness—"
The Duke still had his hand on the dagger, but he had regained his composure of manner.
"What has happened to my cousin the Prince?" he asked with a good show of concern.
"His Highness has been assassinated," returned Ste. Aldegonde.
Anjou staggered; he felt as if the ground had been cut beneath him.
"Assassinated," repeated Ste. Aldegonde, "shot through the head by a villain who presented a petition."
A few moments before Anjou was thinking with hatred and impatience of the restraining hand of William of Orange, now that he heard that the man who had placed him where he was had been murdered, he felt a sensation of terror as if he had been abandoned, as if some strength on which he leant had been suddenly withdrawn.
He kept his wits, however, through all his terror, and noticed that Ste. Aldegonde's distorted face was turned towards him, his bloodshot eyes keenly fixed on him.
"They suspect me," thought Anjou faintly, and with a lively pang he pre-visioned his probable fate if the Netherlanders held him responsible for the murder of the Prince.
"Has the assassin been caught?" he asked, pressing his handkerchief to his shaking lips.
"He was stabbed to death instantly by those about the Prince. Count Maurice guards the body."
"A—Spaniard?" queried the Duke.
"Highness, nothing is known yet."
"Certainly it is a Spaniard," said the Duke, taking courage; "these are the first fruits of the Ban."
"Will your Grace come to the Prince?" he breathed.
"What should I do?" demanded Anjou, trembling.
Ste. Aldegonde gave a dubious glance at the Prince in whose cause he had been so enthusiastic; he was beginning to doubt the wisdom of the choice of this new protector of the Netherlands.
"Highness," he said sternly, "the Prince's last words, as he fell were: 'Ah, what a servant His Highness loses in me!'—and now the place of your Grace is by his side."
"Mon Dieu!" exclaimed the Duke in agitation, gazing round at his pale and silent courtiers; "how do I know what humour the people are in that I should venture forth?"
"The clean conscience of your Highness will be your buckler," returned Ste. Aldegonde, who was still by no means certain that Anjou was not implicated in the recent crime.
"I had rather have a hundred armed men," said Anjou. "I do not like your Flemings when they are in an ugly mood."
"All the more reason that your Grace should show yourself to them. There is a terrible apprehension abroad—your Highness must face the people."
Anjou and his followers gazed at each other with expressions of undisguised dismay.
"I was abandoned of God the day I left England, where I was both honoured and safe!" exclaimed the Duke.
He stared at Ste. Aldegonde with an apprehension that was almost ludicrous.
"Mon Dieu, but I will not go forth," he added defiantly.
Ste. Aldegonde was spared an answer by the arrival of an officer of the Prince's household with the news that the young Count had found papers on the body of the assassin which proved him to have been inspired by one D'Anastro, a Spanish merchant long since in the pay of the Court of Spain; the crime was entirely the result of the Ban and the French were in no way responsible; the Count Maurice had at once communicated this news to the alarmed magistrates of the city, who were thus able to calm the people infuriated by the deed and apprehensive of another Saint Bartholomew.
Anjou gasped with relief at the conclusion of this recital.
"The young Count has shown great wisdom for his years," he remarked graciously. "As for the Prince I would have shed the last drop of my blood sooner than this should have happened. How goes His Highness?"
"He is conscious and he speaks," returned the officer, "but there is little hope of his life." And as he spoke the rough soldier broke into tears.
Gaspar D'Anastro, merchant and spy of Spain, had long dallied with the lucrative but dangerous prospect of murdering the Prince of Orange.
It was years since he had been mentioned to Granvelle as a man likely to do the deed.
At last, faced by the prospect of bankruptcy in his own affairs and tempted by the enormous reward offered by the Ban, having made a contract with Philip by which the King promised to award him the Cross of Santiago and eighty thousand pieces of silver for the successful accomplishment of the crime, Gaspar D'Anastro, Venero, his cashier, and Zimmerman, his priest, had combined together to inspire and bribe the poor fanatical fool Jean Jauregay to the execution of the deed for which their own courage failed them.
A vigorous research soon brought these facts to light; Venero and Zimmerman was arrested and wrote a full confession.
D'Anastro himself had contrived to leave the city and was now safe within Parma's lines.
But his hireling's shot had failed.
Early in April while the Prince still lay between life and death in his house near the citadel a woman and a child came to Antwerp and lodged in one of the many inns for travellers which occupied the great Cathedral Square.
This woman was Rénée le Meuny; she had left Delft for the first time since she had taken up her abode there, seven years before, with the infant daughter of the refugee of Rotterdam.
She had borne with what patience she could the long and terrible suspense that hung over the Netherlands during the illness of the Prince; at last she could no longer endure the waiting and the solitude of Delft, and thus came to Antwerp, feeling very lonely and strange in this great city so full of movement and commotion, the splendour of a court and the coming and going of troops of soldiers.
It was so long since Rénée had had any active part in life, any connection with the world in which she had been once at home, that she felt lost indeed on the tide of momentous events—a middle-aged provincial out of place and out of humour with her surroundings.
She had meant to present herself to the Princess of Orange; but now she lacked the courage to introduce herself once more to Charlotte de Bourbon, whom she had not seen since that interview in Delft, a few days after the wedding—and who would probably not know her now, she told herself.
So she sat day after day in the inn parlour or walked in the crowded streets, listening to men talking of the Prince, of the Duke—seeing the magistrates, the French and English lords, the burgher guards, the foreign soldiery go by—hearing always this one theme—the Prince, would the Prince recover?
How far she seemed to have travelled since his last illness when she had helped to nurse him in Rotterdam.
Then she had tended him with her own hands—now she must ask news of him in the street, like other humble strangers.
She had not spoken to him since his marriage. Nor, though she lived so near to where he had made his modest home, did she think he had ever seen her.
It had always been her fate to never touch his life deeply enough to be remembered by him, always been that the man who occupied her entire thoughts should never have one thought for her; Rénée had long since accepted this, a great calm had come to her with the passing of the years and the tending of a little child.
Yet as she sat now, amidst the strangers of an inn, lonely amid the noise and confusion of the magnificent city, she was astonished at the depth of her own feeling for the Prince, she marvelled herself at this love which had been powerful enough to outlive so much. For she was not thinking now of what the loss of the Prince would mean to the Netherlands or to the Reformed Religion, of his task unfinished or the triumph of Spain—she was thinking of the man himself, sick and in pain, consumed by anxiety and helpless.
She had been told that the Duke of Anjou, who was so far proceeding with his administration with tolerable discretion, visited him every day and that the Prince dictated letters from his sick-bed and still was the guiding spirit of the affairs of the Provinces.
"He will kill himself in this service," she had said, and she felt indignant with those who allowed him this labour.
One day she saw the Count Maurice ride past the windows, though only fifteen years of age he appeared in every way a man and to Rénée he seemed his uncle Count Louis thus returned to finish the fight he had left incomplete.
She had often seen him in Delft, but the lad had changed; he seemed to have assumed the mantle of his race, to be now both a prince and a warrior; so firmly and well had he taken his father's place from the very moment that Jauregay's shot was fired.
It was said openly that Anjou was afraid of him and stepped warily for fear of the eyes of Maurice.
The day on which she saw the young Count was afterwards remembered as a notable one by Rénée.
It was cold and stormy and in the afternoon a heavy rain fell.
Two ladies on horseback dismounted and took shelter in the inn parlour where Rénée sat lace-making.
She looked at the new-comers with interest and they greeted her with ready courtesy.
They were plainly of that world to which she had once belonged, but which she had left so long that she felt abashed before these strangers in their elegance.
Yet it was from their manner only that she judged their quality for their apparel was not rich.
Both wore riding suits of dark cloth that had seen good service and little plain high-crowned hats with heron plumes.
They were both of an age, but one far outshone the other in presence and beauty.
She had fixed Rénée's attention from the moment of her entrance.
Above the middle height, she had an air of dignity and of tranquillity very charming to behold; she seemed to Rénée the same type, as she was obviously of the same nationality, as Charlotte de Bourbon; but this lady had greater beauty and a more worldly air than the Princess, was gayer and more full of animation.
She attracted Rénée as Charlotte had never attracted her; she watched with a certain pleasure this graceful creature radiant with youth and health.
The lady smiled at little Wilhelmina, who was seated by the stove before a small pillow of blue linen on which she was carefully pricking out the pattern of a design of lace.
Rénée drew herself a little further into the corner, but the lady looked at her, smiled and spoke.
"I have such good news," she said, "that I must share it with all."
"Good news?" faltered Rénée, she thought at once of the Prince.
It seemed that he was also in the stranger's mind. "His Highness recovers," she said.
She took off her wet hat and shook out the dripping heron feather; her fair hair, loosened by the wind, hung in ringlets on to her close lawn ruff.
"Oh, Madam!" cried Rénée. "Is this true?"
"Certainly. We have just come from His Highness."
Rénée stared at her with wonder and envy; she had not then been mistaken in supposing that these ladies belonged to the great world.
"The blood had begun again to flow from the wound," continued the stranger, "when the Duke of Anjou's body physician thought of this expedient of healing it—one attendant after another to hold their thumb on the place day and night—and to-day the wound closed."
"And you may see by the look in His Highness' face that he is mending," added the other lady.
"God is merciful," said Rénée.
"The Prince will not be taken until he has done his work," replied the stranger who had spoken last.
But the other turned to her with great earnestness.
"So you count the powers of darkness so weak?" she asked. "Do we not know of those who were foully murdered before their work was done?"
"Truly I am sorry that the Prince trusts in Valois," returned her companion.
"Uses him, not trusts him, I hope," said the lady; "indeed when I met him in the Prince's house to-day it was difficult for me to pass him in silence."
"You are French and you think of Saint Bartholomew?" asked Rénée.
"Yes, madam," answered the fair stranger.
"You are a friend of your countrywoman, the Princess?" added Rénée, though she did not remember seeing either in Delft.
"Nay, we are but newly come to the Netherlands. Hitherto our place of exile has been Switzerland."
"I was for long an exile," said Rénée, "but now the Prince has secured for us Flemings a place we may call home."
"You live here?"
"No, in Delft. I came here because of my great anxiety to hear the truth about the condition of the Prince. There were so many rumours."
"But I doubt if you have come nearer the truth in Antwerp than in Delft," smiled the lady, "therefore I am glad to have met you and to tell you that truly His Highness mends—with my own eyes I saw him this morning. He may not yet speak, but he sits up in bed and writes."
"And the Princess?" asked Rénée.
"The Princess looked ill. She has hardly left his bedside and seemed worn with fear and hope. She said she had been living in the shadow of death ever since the Ban was published."
"Ah, the Ban," shuddered Rénée; that too was her constant terror.
"It was the Ban and not some French Plot?" she asked.
"Truly I think, though I believe the Valois capable of any baseness. The assassin had nought but Spanish papers in his pocket—a poor fanatical fool driven on by that villain his master—tempted by the rewards offered by Spain."
"And how many others will not that reward tempt?" asked Rénée.
"We must not think of that," said the stranger.
Again Rénée looked at the Frenchwoman with a certain pleasure, she reminded her of her own lost youth and the days in Brussels, so gallant was she in her beauty.
The dark clouds broke behind the tall tower of the cathedral, a pale sun came forth and sparkled in the wet streets.
A ray came into the dusky inn parlour, fell over the child intent on her pins and cushion, the two ladies glanced at the weather and took their leave, giving a gentle "adieu" to Rénée.
She went to the window to watch them ride away and her gaze was almost wistful.
"Who are they?" she asked the wife of the host, who entered with her hands full of shining brass platters and dishes. "Do you know those two French ladies?"
"It is the widow of Admiral Coligny, and the fair one is his son's widow, Madame de Teligny."
"Ah—they have their residence here?"
"For the moment they are in Antwerp—the Princess has received them kindly, being her countrywomen. Both widowed by Saint Bartholomew! It is strange that they can live under a Valois!"
"For the moment Anjou is our good friend," said Rénée, but without much conviction—she had heard nothing but distrust and dislike of the Duke ever since she had been in Antwerp; but she was loyal to the policy of the Prince—she believed there must be some merit in the man whom he protected.
"We need no good friends of that kind," returned the stout Fleming as she arranged her platters on the shelves. "The Prince is our only friend."
"But Anjou is now our Duke."
"And a sad thing. Why could not His Highness himself take this charge to rule over us as he has done over Holland and Zeeland, instead of giving us this Frenchman as our plaster?"
Rénée smiled; in her heart she agreed with the roughly expressed convictions of the housewife; it seemed to her that William was indeed the fitting ruler of the country he had himself built up with such immense toil and labour.
But she respected, if she could not altogether understand, William's policy in endeavouring to secure for the Netherlands a royal protector and the friendship of two great nations by his choice of the Duke of Anjou to take the place of Philip as sovereign of the United provinces; and she knew also, what had been well hinted abroad, the oaths Anjou had had to take prior to his installation as Duke of Brabant, and the way he was bound hand and foot by limitations and restrictions until in reality he had little more power than the unfortunate Archduke Mathias had possessed.
What she did not know was that the Frenchman had been quick to notice that his position was not that of arbitrary kingship which he had hoped for and that he was only waiting his opportunity to assert what he and his followers considered his rights.
The square was now full of sun and revealed a vast sweep of sky behind the cathedral; this sky had the blueness of spring.
Rénée thought of that long dead spring so memorable for her, when she had first seen the Prince at Leipsic; how clearly she could recall his magnificent figure lightly mounting the stairs to where the bride stood in her splendid garments.
Anne of Saxony was dead now; released for ever from her prison, from her shame and misery; and her son was almost a man, and one who had already shown himself worthy of his father and his grandfather, the great Elector whose name he bore.
Rénée wondered if the Prince forgave Anne when he looked on her splendid boy.
Rénée opened the lattice and looked out into the street.
Her mind was still busy with those memories; she recalled Count Louis—a boy he had seemed then, frivolous and shallow.
When she had found him lolling over the counter of the alchemist's shop her judgment of him had been severe.
Now it was so long since he had gone down in the bloody press of Mooker Heyde that men were beginning to forget his name.
Gone too the young son of the Elector, gone Count Adolphus and Count Henry, those youths who had seemed born to ease and pleasure.
How many were left of that brilliant retinue that had accompanied William to Leipsic? Most had met a violent and terrible end for this cause which was yet hanging in the balance.
And now he, the leader, the soul of the enterprise, lay brought near to death by that same hand which had crushed the others.
It seemed to Rénée that Philip was as great as he was awful, that the decrees of the Escurial were never in vain.
As the others had gone so, she thought, William would be taken.
This attempt had failed, but the next and the next—if this once a miracle had saved him—there might come a time when the blow would be struck more surely.
And always there were Granvelle and Philip, watching, alert and implacable.
Rénée felt that not all the love of the Netherlands could for ever shield William from the deep design and craft of Philip.
She turned again into the room, put on the child's cloak and led her out into the streets now flushed with the full light of the evening sun.
There was an air of joyousness abroad in Antwerp—so soon had the news spread that the Prince was mending.
Rénée Le Meuny stayed in Antwerp till after the great thanksgiving service for the recovery of the Prince which was offered in the cathedral amid the profound joy and emotion of the people.
Once more she knelt in church behind William, watching that frail figure on which the strength of the whole nation depended.
When the Prince had risen from his sickness he had been anew implored to accept for ever the Countship of Holland and Zeeland, and this time had not been able to resist the outburst of love and enthusiasm evoked by his peril and his recovery.
Rénée had heard that the Prince was to take the charge of ruling the Northern Provinces, they to thus entirely sever their connection with the Empire and remain a Republic under his Stadtholdership.
Thus, so far, the crime inspired by Philip had but served to closely unite his enemies in his despite and defiance.
The Prince's superb constitution had brought him unscathed through the ordeal he had undergone; he was neither stooping nor feeble as he stood in the great church returning thanks to God for allowing him a few more years of toil.
To Rénée he seemed little changed save that he was pale from loss of blood and his simple presence seemed the more splendid beside the glittering magnificence of the deformed Anjou.
The new Duke of Brabant was on his right hand and on his left was Count Maurice girt with a sword and wearing the air of a man.
But the Princess was not there.
This surprised Rénée; she had heard that Charlotte had a light fever, but she had not supposed it serious enough to prevent her staying away on this great occasion.
The next day Rénée was preparing to return to Delft when she received the news, then flying from mouth to mouth, and making a commotion in the city, that the Princess's illness was so suddenly grave that the physician had little hope of saving her life.
The news gave Rénée a curious shock; the Princess was nothing to her, she told herself, had now indeed become almost a stranger.
But the curious feeling of tenderness that had come over her when she had spoken to Charlotte after her marriage, revived in her now.
No one had thought much about the Princess during the long strain of the Prince's illness, now it was over and she was dying they might judge how she had suffered.
Rénée could imagine what a life of anxiety and tension she had led since the publication of the Ban, she could understand how her strength, already enfeebled, had been lavishly spent in the service of the Prince; she had done more than she was able and now she paid.
Jauregay had found a victim after all; Philip might now add another to his list, a woman's name, as surely killed by him as had been Egmont or Montigny.
Rénée recalled the old days at Heidelberg with a strange affection.
She could not grudge Charlotte a happiness which had been so dearly paid for and so short-lived.
Leaving little Wilhelmina in charge of the host's wife Rénée went to the Prince's house near the citadel and asked if she might wait upon the Princess.
There seemed little hope of this request being granted in such a moment, but Rénée gave her name to the usher.
Charlotte had always lived in a fashion so modest and simple that there was nothing strange in humble folk demanding her presence.
The reception of Anjou in Antwerp was the first time since her own wedding on which the Princess had mingled in any kind of pomp.
Hitherto she had lived like any burgher's wife in the quiet house in Delft, tending her own children and those of Anne of Saxony with equal devotion and care.
After a little delay Rénée was admitted to the antechamber.
"The Princess is then not so ill," she thought, "or they would never have brought me here."
A chamber-woman came forward and asked her name: "If you are Rénée le Meuny who was at Heidelberg, Her Highness will see you."
"I am Rénée le Meuny."
"Will you then come to the bed of the Princess, madam?" Rénée passed from the crowded anteroom into the bedroom.
She felt surprised that Charlotte should have remembered her, yet it would have been strange if the Princess should have forgotten those long first days of her exile when Rénée was her constant companion.
The bedroom was dark, and furnished by a set of tapestries representing sea pieces, brought by the Princess from Delft.
The bed itself, of huge proportions, was hung with purple satin and covered with a quilt of needlework. Charlotte de Bourbon was sitting up, propped by pillows.
She was so changed that she seemed only a remembrance of her former self.
Rénée would hardly have recognized in this ghastly and haggard woman the blooming girl of Heidelberg or the fair matron of Delft.
Death had already embraced Charlotte de Bourbon and the imprint of his cold kiss was on her cheek.
She saw Rénée at once and smiled.
That smile went to Rénée's heart; the tears filled her eyes as she stood hesitant on the threshold.
The room was full of people—pastors, women officials, ushers and children.
The Prince was not there, being engaged in the affairs of 14 the city, but it was the first time that day he had left her and then only on the assurance of the physicians that she was better.
The Princess had indeed shown such an increase of strength that hopes began to be entertained of her recovery.
Even now a doctor was bending down to assure her that the fever was past and she had only to rest and wait for strength.
Charlotte de Bourbon looked up at him and slightly shook her head.
"I feel the life here," and she laid her hand above her heart, "leaving me."
Rénée had now reached the bedside.
"I am glad you have come," said Charlotte earnestly. "Highness, I could not hope that you would recall me." Charlotte smiled.
"You always played a part with me, Rénée le Meuny. Tell me the truth now, I am surely dying."
Rénée stood with bent head; she was alone with the Princess in the shadow of the bed curtains; the others had withdrawn to the back of the chamber.
"I wished to see your Highness," said Rénée at last. Charlotte lay silent, gazing at her. Her very eyes appeared pallid, and her figure was supported on so many cushions it seemed to be utterly without life.
Now that Rénée's vision became used to the dim shadows of the bedplace she saw that the Princess's right arm was folded round a bundle of fine linen.
It reminded Rénée of that bundle she had taken from the old woman's arms in Rotterdam seven years ago.
"The baby," she said.
"My last baby," answered Charlotte. "They call her Emilia Secunda."
Rénée bent lower and looked at the face sleeping so peacefully.
"See what the nuns miss," smiled Charlotte, then she added: "I am sorry to have brought His Highness nothing but girls."
"What should the Prince need with sons?" asked Rénée.
"True he has his heir, if ever God release him from that Spain. And he has Maurice."
She looked at Rénée with a certain wistfulness.
"I tried to make Maurice love me. Do you not think him a noble boy?"
"A knight like Count Louis."
"I meant him to redeem it all—the Saxon marriage—his mother's life. And having no sons of my own—"
Her eyes remained open but their sudden light seemed to fail.
"I can hear the shot now," she added. "I have never slept of nights since the Ban. Did you think they would do that—put a price on his head? Even Philip—"
She paused and her head sank a little to one side: Rénée knelt on the wide bed step to be nearer to her; the curtains enclosed them.
"You live in Delft?" said the Princess suddenly.
Rénée flushed hotly; she had imagined she was so safely hidden in the old house in the church square, and all the while the Princess had known.
"I would have had you for my friend," continued Charlotte, "but I saw you did not wish it."
"Nay, madam," cried Rénée. "I have been so useless, I did think myself forgotten of all. I am the keeper of the church now the old man is dead."
"I know," said Charlotte.
"—and I have a little child I brought up—a refugee's child, madam."
"I know that, also."
"—and these things made my life. Why should I think of such as Your Highness?"
Charlotte smiled in silence and Rénée shivered lest her long concealed secret was at last discovered.
"The Prince too considered you as his friend and would have been glad to have had you in his house," said Charlotte.
Rénée looked up; she saw that the Princess did not know.
"But why speak of these things?" continued Charlotte. "These days are over—"
"Oh, madam, we shall all return to Delft."
"My life is over."
"Your Highness must not think so."
"Rénée, do not maintain with me the pitiful fiction of the doctor towards his patient. I would I could live since my lord lives. But I feel my strength go from me as water goes from a vessel."
The child stirred in her arm and she was too weak to lift her up.
"Put her on the other side," she said to Rénée. "So—my little girl—see what fair hair she has. Think—she may live to see the strife over and all these present wounds healed."
"Her life will see the death of Philip," returned Rénée. A long shudder shook the Princess.
"Think you that my lord will escape Philip?" she murmured.
"Has he not just been saved, as by the direct hand of God?"
Charlotte was silent a moment; then she said, under her breath:
"I rejoice that I must die first."
She touched the hand Rénée rested on the edge of the quilt.
"Go to my house in Delft after I am dead and ask for my chamber-woman. I have thought of you and your little child. Stay in Delft, near him. He needs all his friends."
"My dwelling will never change."
"And if His Highness marries again, wait on that lady and seek to be a friend to her. Look you, he will marry, he is not one who can live alone."
Her fingers tightened over Rénée's hand.
"You remember the days in Heidelberg?"
"I knew so little. I only guessed at life."
Her eyes closed and she seemed to think profoundly;
Rénée waited, listening to the sick woman's difficult breath.
"Was it not strange, my marriage?" said Charlotte. "I have wondered since where I found the courage to do what I did."
Rénée was silent; her life had given her no chance for courage or action; but she believed she also could have fulfilled a noble destiny.
"And now it is all over. And I have been with him such a short while. You remember how we used to speak of him? And Count Louis? I saw him last night in my dream—I dreamt of Mooker Heyde."
"Strange that your Highness should think now of Mooker Heyde."
"I did dream of that—and as the fever overcame me I heard the rush of armies and saw the three young Princes all stained with blood and they encouraged me—saying—'You too, who are only a woman, can die in this quarrel,' and I saw all the marsh, black and wet."
Her head drooped lower and she took her hand from Rénée and laid it above her heart.
"I have so little time," she continued with a faint smile "Lift me up, for I feel as if I fall into the blackness of nothingness."
Rénée raised her on the deep pillows and gently taking the child from her laid it on the side of the bed.
Charlotte moved a little and seemed to stretch her limbs as with a slight sigh of ease or relief.
"I feel as if I have done nothing," she murmured, "and I meant to do so much, though it is well that we do not know how short a time we have or we should not have the courage to go on."
She lifted her shadowed eyes and looked up at Rénée's face.
"You—" she asked with great earnestness, "you think I have failed? You must have thought that I had a presumption in marrying His Highness."
Rénée laughed weakly.
"I brought him nothing. I meant to do so much to help build this nation up. I had dreams of great things. It has just been a round of little cares and one long anxiety."
Her lips trembled and her eyes closed; it seemed to Rénée that she was very weak.
Rénée moved back and looked round the heavy curtains to call some one; but Charlotte heard and stretched out her hand.
"Do not go," she said.
Rénée took the cold fingers.
"Good-bye," said Charlotte de Bourbon. "May your life be blessed at last in the name of God and His Reformed religion."
When she had spoken she lay silent, breathing slowly and with difficulty.
Rénée bent and kissed her hand, then left the deep shadow of the bed.
She saw the silent people moving from the door and the Prince entering.
Without a glance about him, he came to the bedside of his wife and Rénée shrank into the crowd.
She went her way and that afternoon taught the child a new pattern in lace-making.
Two days later the Princess died and Rénée was one of the two thousand that followed her funeral.
Of all those who heard the news of the thanksgiving in Antwerp that celebrated the recovery of the Prince of Orange, none received a keener shock of bitter personal disappointment than a certain little clerk, in the employment of John Duprêle, secretary to Count Mansfield, Governor of the County of Luxembourg.
When this little clerk had heard of the supposed death of William of Orange he had gone on his knees and thanked God.
"Not only for the justice done on a great traitor," he said, "but also because now there is no need for me to put myself in danger."
For this Balthazar Gerard had for five years nourished an idea.
It was no less than the assassination of the Prince of Orange.
This fanatical desire had been flamed by the publication of the Ban and motives of cupidity tinged the promptings of religious fervour.
These intermingled feelings returned with renewed strength when he heard of the marvellous recovery of the Prince.
As a preliminary step he resigned his appointment, and proceeded to Trêves, which city he had selected because it was the seat of a large Jesuit college.
It was the intention of Balthazar Gerard to obtain the advice of these holy fathers before proceeding further on his way.
His journey was considerably lightened by news from the Netherlands.
The Duke of Anjou and his minions had broken loose and set the French soldiery on to Antwerp, pillaging that rich and unfortunate city as thoroughly as had the Spaniards during the famous mutiny.
The Prince of Orange, so the report said, had been completely deceived, and had trusted, in common with the magistrates, to the oaths sworn by Anjou as Duke of Brabant and sovereign of the Netherlands.
Therefore, although in the city at the time, he found himself without means to make any resistance against the assault of the French troops.
At the same moment a concerted attempt had been made on Dunkirk, Bruges, Vilvorde and Ghent, the intention of the Duke being to exclusively establish the Romanist religion, make himself absolute master of the Provinces and deprive William of the sovereignty of the Northern States.
Whether this plan had been wholly successful or not did not yet appear, but at least, it was obvious that the Prince of Orange had nourished a creature as dangerous and poisonous as any sent against him by Philip and that the infant commonwealth had found for a protector one who was ready to put his sword to her throat and his hand in her pocket.
Gerard dined at a humble inn and was further heartened by hearing of the success of the Duke of Parma, who had taken instant advantage of the confusion caused in the Netherlanders by the action of Anjou.
"But none of these successes are of any use while Orange lives," said one sitting near to Gerard, and the eyes of the little clerk gleamed as he nodded in silence.
That night before he went to bed he prayed for these three great Princes, the King of Spain, the Duke of Parma and the Duke of Anjou.
And he added a humble petition that he might be permitted to be the instrument to remove that odious heretic and very cunning villain, William of Orange.
The next morning he presented himself at the college of the Jesuits and, by the use of Count Mansfield's name, obtained an audience of the regent.
There were two priests in the room; one sat at a table and the other stood behind him.
Gerard soon saw that the seated personage was the regent of the college and made a low obeisance, kissing the fingers that the priest extended.
"You have important business?" asked the Jesuit with some severity; he was a man of a graceful figure and a noble pose; he looked with some disapproval at the meagre person of the little clerk. "You have sent me an impression of Count Mansfield's seals," he added and he glanced at the imprint in red wax Gerard had sent in with the name of the Governor of Luxembourg. "Has Count Mansfield sent you?"
"No, I stole the seals, reverend father."
The Jesuit leant back in his chair and looked narrowly at the little man before him.
"You stole the seals?"
"Yes. I was in the employment of the Count's secretary and I took the impress of all the seals—for which sin I need absolution."
The Jesuit did not answer.
He saw a young man, narrow-chested, undersized, with a bilious complexion, muddy eyes and bad teeth, with an air of timidity and reserve; his whole personality appeared one of utter insignificance.
His clothes were of a piece with his figure, worn and out of fashion, but neat and clean.
The Jesuit looked at him with scant favour, he did not believe that such an one could have anything to say worth hearing; yet he was rather interested in the story of Mansfield's seals.
"Why did you steal these seals?" he asked.
"I thought they would be useful in gaining the confidence of the rebels," Gerard replied. "I know the taking of them was a great sin against God and Count Mansfield. And for that I hope to be forgiven."
"Why should you wish to go among the rebels?" demanded the Jesuit.
"Reverend father," he said, "I hope to kill the Prince of Orange. I have had this design for six years."
"My son," said the regent with more friendliness than he had yet shown, "you show a laudable spirit."
"And now I require advice as to how I may set about this business."
The two Jesuits exchanged glances.
"Maybe you think that I am presumptuous," added Gerard.
"I certainly think the affair holds many difficulties," returned the priest.
"I am prepared for them—and for the danger," said the little clerk.
The Jesuit pondered.
The project broached by Gerard was certainly one which he was bound to encourage; at the same time he knew that ever since the publication of the Ban the Low Countries had swarmed with men eager to take the life of William of Orange, and where all these had failed it was not in the least likely that this obscure little civilian would succeed.
"What grounds have you for hopes in this enterprise?" asked the Jesuit at last. "You have heard of the attempts of Salseda and Baza—and later Pietro Dovdogno?"
"All these things I know," returned the little clerk patiently, "and certainly these gentlemen were unfortunate—and it is for the very reason of the failure of these others that I have resolved to do the deed myself.
"This is a spirit much to be commended," said the regent of the Jesuits, "and may God bless your holy ardour. Yet I cannot but see danger and trouble in this matter of the forging of Count Mansfield's seals."
"For that I am sorry, as I said," returned Gerard, "and wish your absolution."
"Let it not rest on your conscience, my son," answered the priest. "And so surely as you accomplish this plan so you shall not only be forgiven this theft, but be ennobled and rewarded."
"And if I lose my life?" asked Gerard.
"Then you shall be enrolled among the company of saintly martyrs who have suffered for the Holy Faith."
A look of exalted enthusiasm shone in Gerard's pale eyes.
"Will you give me your blessing, reverend father?" he demanded.
"Assuredly, and all the spiritual comfort that may be."
Here the other priest, thinking his superior was transgressing the limits of prudence, touched him lightly on the sleeve and smoothly addressed Gerard.
"We Jesuits deal more in affairs of the other world than in this," he remarked, "and I should advise that this business was laid before His Highness, the Prince of Parma."
Gerard looked disappointed, as he had hoped for more introductions and perhaps money; he did not need to come to Trêves to be told to put his plan before Philip's general.
But the regent of the Jesuits had taken the cue from his secretary.
"It would be ill accepted by all," he said, "if we were to meddle in politics, and certainly I can give you no better advice than to do this."
Meagre and miserable he looked, and little hope had either of the priests that he would ever get as far as the presence of Parma.
"Our blessing and our encouragement," said the Jesuit, "and if you are determined on this course—"
Gerard drew himself erect.
"You think I am too mean to accomplish this thing?" he asked quietly.
Out of his humility, his commonplace servility and abnegation something seemed to emanate that held silent the two priests, who till now had held him hardly worth the time he occupied by his discourse.
"Perhaps you think it is not for me," continued Gerard, "but this man must die. It was certain even before the publication of the Ban," he said. "As it was certain who would be the instrument. I—Balthazar Gerard. I tell you that was bound to be, for I am he who is to do this task."
"He who is so convinced of the success of his mission is well armed," returned the Jesuit. "Get you to Father Gery, the Franciscan at Tournay, and he will give you letters to some one about Parma's person."
"I will go to Tournay to-morrow," said Gerard resolutely. The priest opened a box and took out a gold piece which he handed to the little clerk.
"This will help you on your way, my son," he said; "His Highness will further supply you if he thinks well of your story."
"Whether the Prince of Parma is willing or no to pay my expenses I will carry this thing through."
The Jesuit gave Gerard his blessing and instructions where to find Father Gery at Tournay, and the Burgundian left the college and returned to his chamber under the leads of the inn.
Besides the Jesuit's charity all that he possessed in the world were a few white bits and the residue of the miserable savings with which he had left Luxembourg—a hoard he wished to leave untouched. This, however, did not in the least dishearten him, he did not doubt that his further needs would be supplied.
He was sorry not to have received more direct and definite assistance, but rested on the interview with Father Gery.
After prayer and telling his beads he crept downstairs to the tavern kitchen, from whence issued a rich smell of cooking that had roused his appetite.
Shivering in among the bolder and more prosperous folk who were crowding round the table, or the fire, with their plates and dishes, Balthazar Gerard ordered a frugal meal and listened eagerly to the political gossip that was passing.
The news from the Netherlands was not so triumphant as had at first seemed; the burghers of Antwerp had flown to arms, and had driven forth the treacherous French with great loss; Anjou himself had been forced to flee, leaving behind him even his personal effects, and the city remained in the hands of the Prince of Orange.
The similar attempts on the other cities of the Netherlands had likewise failed.
The little clerk was vexed, but he did not lose heart.
"All these troubles will be ended when I have dispatched the Prince of Orange," he thought as he munched his supper, which comforted him marvellously.
"What have I accomplished," said William of Orange, "after so much danger, so many losses?—nothing."
He quietly folded up and sealed the packet of papers that he had been reading; papers that showed what base treachery, what low motives and ignoble cunning were undermining the fabric of the new republic he was so laboriously erecting amid the stormy politics of Europe.
Among these documents that he put by was a letter from Catherine de Medici left behind in her son's lodging on his flight from Antwerp, which urged him to re-establish the Catholic religion in the Netherlands and promised him the hand of the Infanta of Spain as a reward.
The other papers proved the fact that Anjou was holding secret meeting with the agents of Parma and that the extent of his demands was the only reason why the bargain had not yet been concluded by which he was to sell himself to Spain.
The powerful Prince who was to protect the Provinces had proved an impudent adventurer, empty of shame and capable only of mean attempts at his own aggrandisement, regardless alike of honour, policy or prudence.
Parma dealt with him simply because there was only one sickly life between him and the throne of France, and for the same reason William had to disguise his wrath and contempt; France must not be offended, nor Elizabeth of England, who also had her word to say for this miserable Anjou.
He locked his desk and went into the outer room that looked on the courtyard; he was expecting his brother John and Ste. Aldegonde.
It was strange to find himself alone; he was so used to business occupying every minute of his time.
He seated himself in the great black chair by the fireplace and reviewed the result of his long labours—a position perilous and doubtful, a task but half achieved.
He had founded a republic in the Northern States, but he had not yet accomplished that union of the Provinces which he had striven for from the first moment of his defiance of Philip, and the treachery of Anjou rendered this object yet more difficult of attainment.
He had been betrayed by one in whom he had believed, whom he had placed in a position of trust and honour.
The defection of the Duke of Anjou, his attempt to seize by force the Netherland cities entrusted to his protection, his secret plots with Parma had rendered the position of the Prince of Orange even more delicate and perilous than it had been before.
It was impossible for him to openly break with the French and found a Union of the States independent of all outside assistance, for he knew well that the Provinces were still too weak to stand alone.
Even such as Anjou must be tolerated rather than range against them such powerful enemies as France and England—for they had no other friends. The Empire was cold and Germany almost openly hostile, while in Alexander Farnese the Prince had an opponent, beside whom even Alva had been as nothing.
Brilliant, subtle, unscrupulous, equally an adept at the game of war and the game of politics, the Prince of Parma was an enemy to be feared.
And William did fear him, as much as it was in his nature to fear any one, for in Parma he was matched with a man who called forth his utmost skill and daring.
In the first intercepted correspondence he had noted with what art Parma played Anjou, how he had read that rogue, and was using him—and at Spain's own price.
Philip's fifth Governor seemed to be able to accomplish the almost superhuman task of ruling that confusion to which tyranny and bigotry had reduced the Spanish administration in the Low Countries.
William felt neither baffled nor daunted by the Italian Prince, but to a certain extent he felt himself held in check by him and saw himself as considerably weakened as the enemy was considerably strengthened by the betrayal of Anjou.
A great weariness came over him as he surveyed the vast field of the endless struggle, for though he knew himself full of health and vigour, still his best years were behind him.
"And what have I accomplished?" he asked himself again. "If one of Spain's hired rogues was to kill me tomorrow would this work I have done endure?"
A melancholy touched him at the thought. There was Maurice, he had great hopes of Maurice—but he might be taken before his son was a man, while his heir, Count Buren, remained in the hands of Philip.
But the future—that was still his—still stretched ahead of him.
Much might be accomplished, much should be accomplished if Philip's assassins did not succeed in adding his name to that long list in the drawer of the King's private bureau in the Escurial.
A sad smile touched William's lips as he reflected how completely it was in the power of any mean ruffian to end and therefore largely destroy his work.
Even now, bitterly as he had been disappointed in Anjou, he began at once to consider how he might best repair the damage caused by his treachery and still make use of this base son of France.
His brother and Ste. Aldegonde came upon him while he was thus deep in reflection.
They reproached him with the ease with which they had been able to enter his presence—there was not even a sentry at the gate.
"Nay, there should have been," smiled William. "I must keep more state."
Count John looked at him.
"You make a jest of it," he said, "but others cannot forget the Ban."
The Prince looked at the only brother this quarrel had left him.
"Think you I can evade the Ban by a sentry at the door?" he asked.
"You can take precautions," replied Ste. Aldegonde anxiously.
The Prince smiled again, not in bravado but in resignation.
"To take precautions is to die a thousand times," he answered, "to suspect all who come near me, to doubt the bread I eat, the water I drink—and I have lived too long in this easy fashion. I cannot now adopt a close suspicious habit."
"Yet it were well your Grace did," said Count John gravely, "for the spies of Spain are in every part."
"And therefore it is useless to avoid them," laughed the Prince, taking his brother's arm and rising; "remember I am a Calvinist. What God ordains man may not avoid."
"Amen," said Ste. Aldegonde. "Yet your Highness might have a sentry at the gate."
"You shall be satisfied," said the Prince, still smiling, then, as he looked from one face to another—his two faithful lieutenants, the only two left of those who had started with him in the morning of this enterprise, the sudden tears smote his eyes.
"Come," he said with an effort, "let us get to our politics."
With a charming, half deprecating gesture he laid his hand on his brother's shoulder.
"I fear I shall displease you," he said, almost wistfully.
"Your Highness is ever doing that," returned the Count with a certain grimness, for he guessed what the Prince was going to say.
"Ay," added Ste. Aldegonde, "we have had some inkling of your Highness's intentions from your letters."
"And what has brought me to Delft but the hope to dissuade you," said Count John, "since I have long ago left all active part in the governing of these Provinces of yours-but I do suppose it is useless to argue with you."
"Quite useless," answered the Prince quietly.
"Then," said the Count bluntly, "I am to believe that you refuse the sovereignty of these Provinces, so often urged?"
"I refuse any honour but that I have as the chief magistrate of these Northern States."
"And instead offer the country to that false rogue, Anjou?"
"Brother," said William gravely, "we must not offend France."
"As soon Spain as France—if there must be a tyrant why not keep the old one?" asked the Count with some bitterness.
Ste. Aldegonde was silent; though he heartily approved of what the Count said he did not feel at much liberty to endorse him, as he had been of those most completely deceived in Anjou, one of those who had most warmly urged him on William.
"I cannot enter now," said the Prince, "into all those fine arguments and devious reasonings which have made me so hold my mind, even after this rude treachery which shows how poor a creature is this French Duke. But this I know and do maintain that without some powerful foreign Prince to set against Philip we are no better than lost. And at this moment no one offers but this Anjou."
"A vermin," said Count John.
"A son of France," answered William drily, "and the friend of England. Parma cannot offend him, do you think we dare to?"
"Better offend him than give him our throats to cut," returned his brother.
"He did not succeed before in his attempt on our liberties, and this time shall be so hedged about he will be powerless—believe me, I have played better men than Anjou to my own ends."
Ste. Aldegonde answered—
"That is where we are sore, Highness. Why should you play other men? Why not yourself, this is your work—take the reward of it!"
William knew that in these blunt, almost rough words of his old friend, was expressed the sentiment of the whole people whom he had liberated and championed, but he was not moved.
"I am a landless man with a price on my head," he answered simply, "and such is not the man the Provinces need."
There was nothing to be said in answer to the bold truth of the first statement, but Count John replied stoutly to the second.
"You and you only are the man this nation needs, no Prince could mean to the Netherlands what you mean." William shook his head.
"You will not persuade me," he answered. "If my first reason was not strong enough I have yet another."
"What other can there be?" asked Ste. Aldegonde, "since it is impossible that your Highness is afraid of the dangers of the post."
"Nay," replied William simply. "I had not thought of that, and as for dangers I do believe I am already involved up to the neck in them and have nothing more to lose but my life, and that worth but a poor price."
"What other consideration then can move you?" demanded Count John.
William looked straightly at him as he answered—
"I have lost everything—and without regret, I have endured much and shall not lament, there is one thing I will do for my own sake, one course I will take to please myself—I will not make it possible for men to say I have done what I have done for ambition. I will not be open to the charge that in this struggle I have found my advantage."
They spoke to him no more about his acceptance of these honours, but in their hearts they were not convinced.
When he was alone again William went to the window and looked out into the cold twilight. The quiet night seemed full of figures, pressing onwards to new events, new struggles, new victories.
Philip was there and Parma-but William did not see a third—the shabby figure of a little clerk walking the dusty road from Trêves to Tournay to save the coach fare.
Balthazar Gerard had his interview with Father Gery at Tournay and received much encouragement from that learned Franciscan whereby he was considerably heartened and strengthened in his project.
But this priest had the same delicacy as the Jesuits of
Trêves in mingling with affairs politic and could give Gerard no practical assistance beyond repeating the advice to lay the matter before the Prince of Parma.
He supplied some money for the present meagre needs of the little clerk and urged him to put his case without delay before the Governor of the Netherlands.
But he was still baffled by his insignificance and his poverty.
His few miserable savings he had hitherto kept untouched, for he was haunted by the fear that he might be baulked in his design by actual lack of pence.
The months went by and he still hung about Tournay, earning a little money by clerk's work, brooding ever on the same idea.
He had frequent recourse to Father Gery and was an enthusiastic attendant at the Franciscan church.
At last in the spring, and, as he realized with impatience, nearly two years since Jauregay's attempt, he resolved to wait no longer for some outside assistance which seemed as if it was indeed never forthcoming, but to follow the advice of Father Gery and seek out the Prince of Parma.
Accordingly he packed his poor belongings into a wallet that he strapped on to his back and proceeded to near Oudenarde, where the Governor then held his court and camp, having profited by the treachery of Anjou to advance into the enemy's country and cast his eye on Bruges and Ghent.
Before he had left Tournay Gerard had written a letter in which he set forth what he proposed to do and his reasons for doing it; one copy of this letter he left in the hands of the Principal of the Franciscan college, the other he kept inside his shabby doublet for presentation to Parma.
At Oudenarde, then but recently captured from the rebels, he again put himself in touch with the priests, quoting Father Gery, and by this means obtained an introduction to one of the councillors of the Prince, a certain D'Assonleville, to whom he delivered the letter he had written for Parma.
While he was waiting for a response to this epistle he heard the news that the fourth marriage of the Prince of Orange, that with Louise de Teligny, had been rendered popular by the birth of a son.
Gerard heard this news with a yet grimmer determination to remove one who still further added to his manifold offences by this blasphemous marriage with the daughter-in-law of that arch heretic Coligny.
A few days after the delivery of his letter, he was summoned into the presence of the Prince of Parma, who had but recently returned from an attack on Ypres and Bruges—which two cities he looked to see soon fall into his hands.
Parma had not been particularly impressed by the letter Gerard had written with so much pains and enthusiasm, and he was cynical of any one succeeding in taking the life of the Prince of Orange, so many had tried and failed, so many had taken payment and not even tried, and William was now established and guarded in the city of Delft among his own people and it was by no means easy for any foreigner to gain access to the city.
Therefore, though Parma had been long looking for some one to rid him of the man who was effectually preventing him from reducing the chronic rebellion of the Netherlands, he would not have accorded an interview to the runaway civilian if Gerard in his letter had not spoken of a new plan by which to reach the person of the Prince—"a trap to bait the fox."
These words interested Parma, for hitherto all attempts on William had been direct—to get him by guile was a scheme that recommended itself to the subtle Alexander Farnese.
He received Gerard in the plain room of the modest house he occupied when in Oudenarde; the Prince of wholly martial tastes and not given to any frivolity or display though his life was full of a sombre magnificence, he held no court in the proper sense of the word and fixed his residence where he pitched his camp during a vice-royalty that was one long campaign. D'Assonleville conducted Gerard into the presence of the Prince, who was alone with Haultfenne, another of his councillors.
The only splendour in the apartment gathered in the person of Parma, whose bronze satins were closely worked with pearl and gold, whose triple ruff was of finest lace and whose sword and baldrick shone with jewels.
He stood in the embrasure of the latticed window and faced Gerard directly on his entrance.
Tall, with the powerful and graceful figure of an athlete and the carriage of an accomplished swordsman, his features were of a serene and regular beauty, his complexion pale, his expression at once cold and haughty. His face was marred by the eyes, which were hard and steady and something menacing in their look.
Such was the person who directed his searching and contemptuous glance at Balthazar Gerard; a glance before which many a more exalted individual had quailed.
But the little clerk returned his scrutiny with the same self-possession and absolute calm with which he had fronted the priests at Trêves and at Tournay.
He was not abashed either by Alexander's splendid presence nor discouraging frown, but stepped into the centre of the room and made his reverence.
The Prince came to the point.
"You have a project to remove William of Nassau?" he asked.
"Your Highness," said Gerard, "I have had this project for seven years."
"And it was quickened by the publication of the Ban, eh?" demanded Parma cynically.
Gerard eyed him without flinching.
"For the matter of my reward I will trust to the liberality of His Majesty. I do not do this for money—but because of the unalterable determination I have to kill the Prince of Orange."
"And whence comes this determination?" asked Alexander.
"The reasons are set forth in my letter," answered Balthazar.
Parma replied haughtily and briefly—
"I do not recall thy letter. Thy reasons?"
The little clerk was not abashed.
"Is it not enough," he asked with some dignity, "that I am a faithful Catholic and loyal subject of His Majesty and that this Prince is a wretch who has brought much evil on my religion and my King?"
Alexander regarded him closely, and he was not prepossessed in Gerard's favour.
"Dost thou not know," he asked with a cold smile, "that every day men come to me on this errand? Men of all nationalities and breeds? Art thou aware that I have listened to French, Scotch, English, Italian, Irish, Germans, all coming with tales like thine, all promising me to dispatch the Prince of Orange?"
"I know," answered the little clerk quietly, "that many have come forward—but I am he who was ordained to do this deed."
The two regarded each other for a moment in silence.
Parma was still not greatly impressed by the shabby little stranger; he could not believe him capable of a deed of daring and of bloodshed.
"Hast thou the courage for this enterprise?" he asked, without attempting to disguise his disdain.
"Yes," replied Gerard, almost as if he answered a question of little importance.
Parma glanced at Haultfenne, the councillor who stood beside him in the window space.
"I think that this fellow does not know what he talks of," he remarked.
"I should advise your grace to listen to him," returned the other. "It seems to me that he is very much in earnest."
Parma lifted his brows and again fixed his hard cold glance on Gerard.
"Disclose to me thy plan for approaching the person of the Prince of Orange," he demanded.
Gerard, who had maintained the same attitude of complete composure, answered at once.
"I have the idea of going to Delft and applying to some friend of the Prince, and representing myself as a heretic, a Calvinist ruined for his faith and wishing for some employment—I will show Mansfield's seals as a guarantee of my truth and I will complain of the cruelties I have undergone, saying that my father was executed for his religion. I shall gain the confidence of those about Nassau and sooner or later shall surely obtain access to his person."
"And then?" asked Parma drily.
"Then," answered Gerard quietly, "I shall kill him with any weapon I may have in my hand."
"Does your Grace think I shall fail like Jauregay did?" he asked. "My hand will not tremble nor my wit fail."
"And art thou not aware how slight are thy chances of escape and how horrid is the death these rebels will give thee?" asked Parma, not because he in the least cared what became of Gerard; he would have thought the death of the Prince of Orange cheap at the cost of the lives of a thousand such—he wished to test the nerve of the little clerk.
"If I die, I die a martyr," quietly replied Gerard. "The holy fathers have assured me that. And I shall have rendered a great service to His Majesty, who I hope will not forget my poor family."
"Certainly," said Parma, "if you do this thing you lose your life, and the reward shall be paid to your family, if you escape, to you."
"Then I am indeed happy!" exclaimed Gerard with enthusiasm.
"But I tell you this," added Alexander, "there are at present four men in Delft, all unknown to the other and of different nationalities, all seeking to encompass the death of the Nassau."
"If they succeed I am relieved from my task," said Gerard, "but I do not think they will succeed, since I am the man ordained to do this thing."
Parma again glanced at Haultfenne and very slightly lifted his shoulders.
"Go thy ways," he said, "only do not ask me for a white piece in advance, I have paid too many and to no purpose."
Gerard was considerably disappointed at this statement; he saw the old lack of money which had meant such a long delay in the execution of his task again rising up to hamper and perhaps defeat him.
Parma saw how his face fell and this completed his bad opinion of the man; he thought he was, after all, but after the money, like so many other of these adventurers who had come to him with the same scheme.
Therefore he said brusquely:
"I need to make economies, my friend. If thou art in earnest, thou wilt accomplish this design without my bounty."
"This will I do," said Gerard, "and in a short while you shall hear from me."
Parma waved his hand to D'Assonleville to take away the little clerk.
Gerard followed the councilor out into the street. D'Assonleville turned to his companion with some curiosity.
"And what will you do now, my son?" he asked kindly. "I shall go to Delft—the Governor has encouraged me, has he not?"
"Certainly he has encouraged you, but remember you must not involve the Prince of Parma," said D'Assonleville, leading him by the arm, "you must not say, even under torture, that he encouraged you and thereby expose him to the vengeance of frantic rebels."
"I shall not," replied Gerard, "even under torture."
"God give you courage and fortitude," said the councillor. They had now reached the door of Gerard's lodging near the gate.
The little clerk hesitated on the step.
"If you could get His Highness to advance me fifty crowns," he began timidly, stroking his thin beard.
But D'Assonleville was firm on that point.
"It is useless. His Highness has paid too often for nothing."
"But this time it will not be for nothing," replied Gerard. The councillor lifted his shoulders.
"The Prince is a hard man. Especially in the matter of money. I have no hope at all," said D'Assonleville, to close the subject.
Gerard sighed again.
"Well," he answered, "I will pay my own expenses, and, as I told His Highness, you shall hear of me—and in a short while."
"All the world will hear of you," returned the councillor warmly. "You will earn the gratitude of Spain and gain for yourself an immortal name. Haste to Delft," he concluded, "lest one get before thee in this glorious deed."
"You shall hear of me," repeated Gerard with trembling lips, "you shall hear of me."
He hastened upstairs to his attic room and pulled out the pitiful hoard that was his last resource.
With the strictest economy and most painful self-denial it would be enough to take him to Delft.
A sigh escaped him at the thought of Parma's parsimony; but, after all, what did this matter if he could achieve his grand, his supreme object?
With a rush of enthusiasm he went on his knees and thanked God for the possession of the few coins that rendered the journey to Delft possible.
Rene Le Meuny was present at the christening of the Prince's infant son in the church of which she was now the sole guardian, who was christened Frederick Henry after his two royal sponsors.
The new Princess of Orange had seen Rénée in Delft and was not to be denied her acquaintanceship.
Louise de Teligny was of a nature different from Charlotte de Bourbon, neither so shy nor so placid, and she had not listened to Rénée's desire for quiet retirement nor found it ridiculous that the wife of William of Orange should be friends with such as Rénée le Meuny.
"I knew we should love each other when I saw you in the inn at Antwerp," she had said and Rénée could not resist her; so after all these years she became intimate in the house opposite the old Kirk where she had gone to watch the light in the Prince's windows when she first came to Delft.
William received her as an old friend; probably, thought Rénée, he recalled Heidelberg and Charlotte de Bourbon.
Nothing seemed strange to her now, not even the sight of this foreigner as mistress of the Prince's house.
Jealousy was dead in Rénée; Louise did not trouble her as Charlotte had troubled her; she felt a kindness that was almost maternal for the beautiful high-spirited young woman who had known suffering and poverty.
The position of the Princess, as had been at first that of her predecessor, was sufficiently isolated and even lonely, and she chose to make a companion of Rénée, who submitted, though with a sense of irony, to this friendship which formed another link in the chain which bound her life to that of William of Orange.
The spring of the birth of the Prince's third son was a time of anxiety and trial for the Netherlanders; the defection of the Prince of Chimay, and of William's brother-in-law, Count van der Berg, had involved the Provinces in the loss of several important cities, including Bruges, and Parma was known to be straining every nerve to crush the patriots.
William was pushing negotiations with Anjou, who had retired to Cambrai, and endeavouring to persuade him to come to terms for the resumption of the government of the Netherlands; meanwhile preparations were being made for the formal installation of the Prince as Stadtholder of the Northern Provinces, a position he had finally accepted; whether or no he ever achieved his cherished ambition of uniting the entire seventeen provinces under one ruler, here at least he had established liberty and independence and the Reformed religion on a basis that the rudest shocks of tyranny were not likely to disturb.
And despite the general perils, alarms and anxieties that beset the little Republic, from the Prince down to his humblest soldier there reigned in this spring of 1684 a feeling of hopefulness, of confidence, almost of joyousness.
All seemed to feel that their most cruel trials were over, their bitterest suffering completed.
And men even forgot the Ban.
In May Rénée was walking with the Princess of Orange beside the quay.
The lime trees were already far advanced in leaf and cast a shadow on the waters of the canal that sparkled with light.
The Prince was absent and the Princess had begged Rénée's company.
"I hope to be trusted and loved in this country where I have made my home," she had said simply, "but, at present, I am only a foreigner."
"You have your son, madam," Rénée had answered, "all love you because of him."
They walked now quietly side by side, Rénée in her severe grey gown, the beautiful hair, now threaded with grey, bound back beneath a linen cap, the still beautiful face framed by a stiff ruff of pleated lawn.
The French Princess was simple also in her attire, but she always went more splendidly than her royal predecessor.
"Tell me," she said, "looking back over your life, does it not seem strange?"
"Strange?" echoed Rénée. "Nay, madam, nothing seems strange to me now."
"To me my life seems curious beyond any tale—to see this revolt—this new nation formed, to have watched His Highness as you have watched him engaged in this long struggle, to see him change as you must have seen him change. What things we live through," said the Princess; she was thinking of Saint Bartholomew when her young husband had been murdered so soon after the wedding, when she, but a child in years, had been turned from her home, an exile.
"What things we forget," she added.
"Nay," said Rénée, "what has once entered our hearts never leaves it, madam—but our hearts close sometimes and we lose the key—but forget, no, no."
Louise looked curiously at this woman whom she had taken into her confidence, but of whom she knew so little, and she wondered what Rénée's memories were and what was the secret of her loneliness.
"Here comes M. de Villars," said Rénée, "and he has a stranger with him."
The Princess glanced along the quay and saw Mynheer de Villars, a pastor and confidential friend of the Prince, approaching, accompanied by a young man in a shabby suit.
"A Frenchman?" said the Princess, "a refugee?"
The couple approached and the clergyman dismissed the young man, who with a humble reverence turned away down a side street.
Louise was sorry for him because he was so plain and humble looking, but she did not like his face, which appeared to her to be singularly unprepossessing.
"Who is your friend?" she asked M. de Villars. "A poor refugee."
"I thought so—your charity shelters a number of such!" smiled Louise.
"His father was an executed Calvinist, he himself has long secretly professed the faith."
"What does he want?"
"Have you spoken to the Prince?" asked Louise, her pity struggling with her repulsion.
"Yes, and his Grace told me to send him to Biron, at Cambrai."
"I am glad he is leaving Delft," said the Princess impulsively. "I think he has a villainous face."
The pastor smiled indulgently.
"Poor Gaion! He is an honest soul, madam, and most religious."
The Princess was as quick to withdraw her opinion as she had been to voice it.
"You must not listen to me, Mynheer de Villars—a woman's foolish judgment of a face!"
The pastor was still eager to defend one whom he had taken under his protection.
"Since he has been at Delft, madam, he has never missed a church service and I have not seen him without a Bible under his arm."
"I withdraw," smiled Louise, "I withdraw, Mynheer."
"Nay," returned the pastor, "I admit that your Highness is right inasmuch as the fellow has an insignificant aspect—a poor mien, but I have conversed with him, and observed him, and found him honest and sincere."
"Then I am glad you have found him employment," said the Princess. "Was he not pleased to go to France?"
"Nay, madam, he seemed strangely disappointed from the first, he expressed a most earnest desire to be near the Prince, for whom he has a great devotion."
Rénée had listened with little interest to this conversation; the young man had not attracted her attention as he had attracted that of the Princess.
She was wondering if the Prince would return that night to Delft, she was speculating on how went his affairs with the Duke of Anjou; her thoughts were never long from William and his business.
M. de Villars dismissed, the two women turned to the Prince's house.
There were one or two soldiers at the gate, for the rest the place was like the house of any burgher or merchant.
Rénée would have gone home but the Princess pressed her to enter and the two went up to Louise's chamber where the infant Count Frederick Henry lay in his cradle and the Prince's sister, Catherine, sat at a frame, embroidering.
Louise seated herself with a little sigh; she did not yet fit as perfectly into her place as had Charlotte de Bourbon; she was still a stranger among strangers.
But when the step and voice of the Prince were heard below she rose at once alert and animated.
Rénée remained listening to the chatter of the nurses and watching the calm countenance of the Prince's sister.
She soon rose to take her leave; Wilhelmina had a maid now, but Rénée did not leave her long alone.
As she descended the curved dark stairs the Prince came from the dining-room and, turning, stood across her path.
He was then fifty-one years of age, still retained a look of youth and an expression of unconquerable energy; he still wore his broad-leaved hat and his doublet and travelling cloak of grey frieze.
Rénée wondered if he thought of the Brussels days as he looked at her; she knew that she too had changed—she knew that if she meant anything to him, she must mean strange memories.
"Your Grace is thoughtful," she said, for he continued to look at her without speaking.
"I am wondering about this work of mine, these poor people," he answered simply. "Daily the difficulties increase—I know not how I do even what I do."
He sighed, like a man over-fatigued.
"I always think of you as one who knew Count Louis," he added irrelevantly. "I dreamt of him the other night. I take it as a good omen."
He ascended the stairs and Rénée to allow him to pass stepped into a little archway that was sunk into the wall. With extraordinary vividness there came before her eyes the picture of her first meeting with him, when he had mounted the stairs of Leipsic Town Hall in all his magnificence...She seemed to see beside her the figure of Anne of Saxony...
The Prince saluted her kindly and passed up the stairs. Rénée went her way.
In the July of that year Francis Gaion, the young Calvinist who had claimed the protection of M. de Villars and of the Prince, returned to Delft, carrying important dispatches.
On a Sunday morning he sat, dusty and shabby, in the hall of the Prince's house; William was still in bed and the dispatches had been taken up to his chamber.
This was a moment of triumph for Balthazar Gerard, calling himself Francis Gaion, for not only had he returned to Delft, but he was actually in the house of the Prince; he could not doubt that his long patient waiting would be at length rewarded and that he would finally find himself in the presence of William of Nassau.
He had been patient and humble, he had gone to France, though greatly against his wish, and he had waited till the chance had come for his return; his good conduct and his piety had earned him the confidence of Marshal Biron, and finally he had been chosen as the messenger to send to Delft.
He was tired and ill-fed and poor; his services had been paid with a sum sufficient only for his bare living, but the calm and desperate character hidden under his miserable exterior never faltered in the fixed idea of the one terrible design.
He felt content now, like a man who has reached his goal and needs but to put out his hand to take the prize which is the reward of his toils and labours.
He was in Delft, he had the confidence of the rebels, it was but a question of patience.
As he sat there, staring out at the sunshine and turning over in his mind under what excuse he might introduce himself into the presence of William, he was touched on the shoulder by the Prince's secretary and told that His Highness wished to see him immediately.
Gerard rose; his countenance was so agitated that the secretary thought that he was overwhelmed at the honour suddenly vouchsafed him and encouraged him kindly.
The messenger followed up the dark stairway to the private apartments of the Prince.
He was ushered directly into William's bed-chamber; the secretary left him alone with the man whom he hated and by whose death he meant to satisfy his conscience, obtain worldly honours and heavenly glory.
The Prince was in bed, unarmed.
The Burgundian's emotion was so considerable that he could not speak; he stood within the door, a shambling meagre figure, staring at the man sitting up in bed.
William, too, was troubled.
For the dispatches of Biron contained the news of the death of the Duke of Anjou.
The Valois had succumbed to a ghastly and rapid illness of the same nature as that which had proved mortal in his brother, King Charles, and William must now choose another figure-head for his scheme of consolidation of the Netherlands.
The death of this worthless young man had upset schemes long pondered and deeply cherished. The loss of Anjou might mean the loss of the friendship of England and France.
William lifted his eyes from the documents scattered over the bed coverlet and looked at the messenger.
"You are one Gaion, who was recommended to me by M. de Villars?" he asked.
"I am he, Highness," said Gerard. "In the service of M. de Schoneval."
But William did not notice the messenger's agitation, his thoughts were entirely absorbed by the news which he had just received.
He saw in the persecuted Calvinist whom the pastor had recommended to him, a young man of an insignificant aspect and thought no more of him.
"You were at Cambrai on the occasion of the death of the Duke?" he asked.
"Then you can give me more details than are contained in these dispatches."
Gerard could hardly answer; his mind was concentrated on the one thing; that here was his enemy, the heretic rebel, the cause of so much woe to His Majesty and to the Holy Church, lying alone before him, unarmed and helpless.
The great opportunity so long prayed for and toiled for had at last arrived; and had found him unprepared.
For he was without weapons; had he possessed even a two-inch dagger he would have used it; he even thought of his bare hands, but one glance at the Prince showed him that William was by far the stronger man and could easily have defended himself.
The Prince waited for a reply, he thought the fellow stupid or embarrassed.
"What name did they give this illness of the Duke?" he asked again.
"Poison, monseigneur," stammered Gerard. "Some said poison."
"Was it so sudden?"
"Very sudden, monseigneur. He was taken with great pains, so they said."
William turned over the papers thoughtfully; he remembered Saint Bartholomew; he believed his wife would say the horrible deaths of the Valois Princes were well deserved.
"And there is nothing known, nothing suspected?" he asked.
"Nothing," replied Gerard. "His Grace was not much lamented."
"Why no," said William drily, "he had done little to be beloved."
"And his death was a just punishment for his crimes," said Gerard, who had hated Anjou for allowing himself to be used by William against Philip.
The Prince thought that the messenger, as a Calvinist, referred to Anjou's attempt on the liberties of the States.
"Ah, my friend," he answered, "this young man was a Prince of France and as such useful to the poor provinces."
"Nevertheless he perished as a reward of his crimes," said Gerard stubbornly. "And so will perish all who follow his example."
William noticed the curious emphasis of these words and smiled
"You have but little charity, Francis Gaion."
"Towards the enemies of the faith I have neither charity nor pity, monseigneur."
The Prince sighed.
"Intolerance is a hideous thing," he said, "but how uselessly do I make war on it! Ye who abhor the Romaniste must ye imitate them in that?"
"Was John Calvin tolerant, monseigneur?" asked Gerard.
"Had he been he would have been a greater man," replied the Prince. "I stand neither for John Calvin nor for any other teacher, but for liberty and enlightenment in all things. Know you any other particulars concerning the death of his Grace?"
Gerard controlled himself to answer calmly.
"It was all terror and confusion, monseigneur—some said the Duke had been poisoned."
"But the motive, the murderer?" asked William, who was thinking of Spain.
"They talked of a woman, monseigneur."
"You are surprised, monseigneur?"
"Surprised, no—but I had not thought of it," replied the Prince.
"Your Highness thought of politics?"
"I thought of Parma—or of Granvelle," said William. Gerard started; his limbs were so shaking with excitement that he had to lean against the bedpost to support himself.
"Of Parma!" he cried.
"Parma has his murderers," answered William, "and Granvelle his agents."
Gerard controlled himself; he put his hand to his trembling mouth.
"There was no talk of Parma," he said in a dull voice.
"Nay, he may be clear of this—Spain could have bought Anjou, as all the world knows, but Parma is thrifty and might have found this the cheaper way."
"Yes, Parma is thrifty," thought Gerard, "or I should not be standing here weaponless!"
And he felt bitter against D'Assonleville who had refused to advance him the money with which he could have bought a dagger to carry always about his person.
As it was this golden opportunity was lost—lost, and he could only stare at the Prince and bite his finger with vexation.
"That is all," said William, dismissing him.
"A passport—a passport," stammered Gerard, clutching at any excuse to return into the presence of the Prince.
"A passport?" William looked up from the papers which he was re-reading.
"I have to return to Cambrai, monseigneur. I am attached to the service of M. de Schoneval," returned Gerard.
"I will see later about the passport—you will stay a few days in Delft?"
"Yes, monseigneur," said Gerard, and in his heart he added, "I shall not leave Delft while you, monster, are alive."
There was now nothing for him to do but to take his leave.
He slowly descended the stairs and noticed the shallow arch near the vestibule.
As well as he was able he observed the plan of the building, which was old and rambling, having in former times been the residence of the priors attached to the church opposite.
He noticed that the dining-room was to the right of the vestibule, and that to reach the Prince's apartments above, the dark bend of stairs containing the arch had to be passed.
He went to further inspect the building, but was interrupted by a young man of about eighteen, fair and martial in appearance, who entered suddenly from the courtyard.
Gerard knew him for Count Maurice.
He passed without a glance at the Burgundian, who bowed humbly.
Slowly he crossed the courtyard and lingered about the house to observe the outside; in making the plan for his escape he would need to know the arrangements of the building.
He had already marked that the left wall formed one side of a narrow lane which ran alongside the Prince's stables to the city ramparts.
Now he was noticing with a keen eye where the sentry was posted, the position of the gate and the height of the walls.
The people began to enter the church opposite for the morning service.
Gerard approached the gate and watched them, an orderly procession crossing the little bridge over the canal passing under the shade of the limes and entering the wide porch of the church.
The sentry, who had long been aware of the solitary little stranger hesitating round the courtyard, now came from his place and spoke to him.
"Have you any further business with the Prince?" he asked pleasantly.
Gerard glanced up at the good-natured Netherlander; he saw here an opportunity to further his supreme purpose, which now, as ever, halted for lack of means.
"I am one of Sieur de Schoneval's gentlemen," he said, "and have come with a message from Cambrai, and truly I would join those pious people opposite, but in such attire how can I enter the church? I was ashamed to approach His Highness in these weeds!"
And he pointed to his broken shoes, threadbare hose and shabby garment.
"Is it lack of means hinders you, friend?" asked the sentry.
"Even that," replied Gerard. "I am a poor Calvinist of Bescanon who lost all because of my faith."
At this moment a young officer entered from the street and the sentry approached him, telling him of Gerard's plight.
"And I think he lacks a good meal as much as a pair of shoes, Mynheer," added the halberdier.
"I will speak to the Prince," replied the officer, after a glance at Gerard. "It is the little clerk who was recommended by M. de Villars."
"The same," said the soldier, "a poor little fellow, always starving."
The officer went towards the house and the sentry returned to Gerard.
"The captain is speaking to the Prince about your needs," he said.
"The Prince!" Gerard lowered his eyes. "I am sorry to disturb His Highness for such as I."
"His Highness never sends any one away," returned the soldier. "You should have told him your situation before."
"I was ashamed," murmured Gerard.
"Oh," said the halberdier, "as for that, His Highness has himself starved and gone in broken shoes."
Gerard glancing sideways under his lids saw the officer returning and his heart gave a great leap; was he at last to obtain the money wherewith to carry out his purpose.
The young captain approached him smiling.
"His Highness at once sends you this for your immediate wants, and he says he will speak to M. de Villars about you and tell him to see that you are supplied for your return journey."
As he spoke he put into Gerard's hand three gold pieces.
At finding himself at last in possession of the means to accomplish his design such a deep exultation shook his soul, but the next instant the little clerk was humble and downcast and profuse in his gratitude.
The people had all passed into the church now and the great doors were shut.
Gerard hurried along the quayside with William's bounty clasped tightly in his hot hand.
"I will repay your heirs out of King Philip's reward," he said, and laughed aloud, for the joke pleased him; he was indeed supremely happy.
The money was sufficient to buy a weapon and to leave enough for his journey from Delft, if, indeed, it was God's will that he should escape.
It would also procure him the pair of shoes and hose he must have to avoid comment on his return to the Prince's house.
He now turned to the outskirts of the town towards the Rotterdam canal where no one who had noticed him that morning would be likely to see him Here he found a modest tavern of the sort usually favoured by him, and entering ordered a meagre meal, the cost of which was covered by the few pence of his own he had left. William's charity was left untouched for William's murder. Frugality was a choice and a habit with Gerard, he did not notice the scantiness of his meal; the three gold coins laid carefully in the rusty pouch from which he never took his hands afforded him such infinite satisfaction, that, rather than disturb them, he would have gone without food at all, though he had not eaten since yesterday.
It gave him a pleasant sensation also to look round the tavern at these jolly fresh-faced heretics and rebels, so comfortable and secure in their eating and drinking and to think that he, the little insignificance they did not even notice, would shortly throw them into terror and confusion and despair.
He exulted in the thought that he was alone against all these, that he alone in this city stood for the true faith and the true King, and his hatred of the man whom he had come to kill, and of the people by whom he was surrounded filled him with strength like wine.
He had laid his plans of escape, but he knew that they were not likely to succeed; this, however, did not trouble him in the least, for Balthazar Gerard was absolutely without fear.
When he had finished his meal he approached a soldier who was drinking beer by the door and asked him if he knew of a shop where he could buy a good pistol.
"I know of many such," replied the soldier briskly, "but you must pay a high price these days."
He glanced at Gerard and added, with the patronage of the soldier towards the civilian, "Do you know a good pistol, Mynheer?"
Gerard was at once deprecating.
"Nay, I cannot pretend to much knowledge of these things—but the truth is, I have a long journey to undertake to Cambrai. I have come unarmed and will not so return. The roads are dangerous for one alone."
The Netherlander agreed.
"As long as those dogs of Spaniards pollute the land." Gerard shivered with a sensation of rage; his light eyes flickered.
"So if you know where I could get a weapon," he repeated meekly.
"As for that, as I said, it is a question of price—if you like to pay—"
"I cannot afford much," said Gerard quickly. "And I need bullets, there is a kind of chopped slugs I have a fancy for."
"Well," answered the soldier reflectively, "I have such a weapon myself I would sell you for a' reasonable sum."
He went and fetched a pair of small pistols from a pile of his possessions he had heaped on the floor in the corner.
Gerard looked at them keenly; they were in good condition, which was all that he required for his purpose. After a long chaffering over the price, he secured the weapons for a moderate sum, together with a supply of bullets.
The next day Balthazar Gerard employed in purchasing his shoes and hose and a pair of bladders which he meant to distend with air and fasten to his person when he should cross the city moat; for his desperate plan of escape was this: to run down the lane at the side of the Prince's house, scale the ramparts and drop into the moat; once he could pass the water unobserved he had every hope of gaining Parma's lines.
But he remembered the fate of Jean Jauregay and knew that this might very likely be his—or a worse if he was captured alive by the infuriated Netherlanders, this thought did not, even now, on the eve of his attempt cause him to hesitate or even shudder; his courage was as complete as his resolution.
When in Cambrai he had managed to purchase from one of the attendants of the Duke's physician a small quantity of a virulent poison which he had declared he wanted for a cat which annoyed him by continually penetrating into his chamber. With this he now thoroughly saturated three of the bullets he had purchased and then carefully loaded the weapon.
After which he said his prayers, and imploring a blessing on his great enterprise.
He prayed for his own soul (it was a matter of regret to him that he had not been able to confess and obtain absolution since he had left Cambrai, where he had secretly visited one of the Duke's priests), for the Duke of Parma and the King of Spain, for Cardinal Granvelle and the holy Spanish Inquisition.
The next morning, after a night of sound sleep, he left his room, and, armed with his pistols, he started for the Prince's house.
As he crossed the wide square he saw a woman and a child coming towards him.
He had trained himself not to forget faces and he remembered that this was the lady whom he had seen walking with Louise de Teligny along the canal the day that M. de Villars had sent him to France in the suite of M. de Schoneval.
It occurred to him that, as she was a friend of the Princess, she might be useful in obtaining an entrance for him into the Prince's house. Therefore he approached and saluted her.
Rénée did not remember him, but seeing him so humble and inoffensive she smiled.
"I am the poor Gaion, madam," said Gerard, "who was with M. de Villars one day when he met you walking with Her Highness."
Rénée recalled him.
"Ah, you have returned to Delft—for long?"
"No, madam, I must return to France, even to-day—I go now to see if I may obtain a passport—you see I am armed for the journey," he added with a smile, for he had seen Rénée glance at the pistols.
"The roads are dangerous?"
"For a civilian travelling alone, yes."
He walked beside Rénée across the square; she did not notice the repulsiveness in his appearance that had impressed the Princess; to her he was a poor little refugee, one of the drift and wreckage left from Spanish cruelty, and she was sorry for him.
And the fierce and implacable spirit that was hidden in the miserable exterior of the man who walked beside her was hating her bitterly as a type of the rebel heretic to him utterly abominable.
He hated her grave fair face, her plain attire, her precise white linen of cap and kerchief, he hated the serious blonde-haired child in the long grey kirtle and modest hood.
"It is your daughter?" he asked.
"The child of a refugee like yourself," replied Rénée. "Her father went down at Mooker Heyde with Count Louis—how long ago it seems!"
"Long enough for Count Louis to be forgotten," replied Gerard.
"Nay, he will never be forgotten, while the House of Nassau is remembered, and that will be to the end of time," replied Rénée proudly.
"The Prince at least will be remembered," said Gerard
"Among the greatest of men."
"And I," said Gerard quietly, "I also hope to make a name—even one that may be written alongside that of the Prince."
Rénée glanced at him curiously; she had not credited him with being either crazy or ambitious.
"Well, you are still young," she answered, humouring him.
He lifted his shoulders and suddenly laughed.
They were admitted without difficulty into the Prince's house.
Rénée went upstairs to the apartments of the Princess to present to her some of her exquisite lace that she had just finished.
Gerard loitered round the entrance-hall until one of the Prince's secretaries spoke to him, when he asked for a passport.
He was told that one would be given him; that it was, in fact, ready and only required the Prince's signature.
At this moment and before Gerard could well realize it, the Prince turned the corner of the stairs and crossed the vestibule to go to the dining-room.
The Princess was beside him, leaning on his arm, her youth and vivacity contrasted with his dignity and stateliness.
He pressed forward and Louise saw him and knew him instantly.
Her former impression of him was revived so vividly that she could not forbear an exclamation.
"What is that fellow doing here?"
The Prince turned.
"A passport," muttered Gerard.
"See that the passport is made out," said William and went on.
"It is a villainous face," murmured Louise.
But the Prince reassured her, saying it was only the messenger from Cambrai come for his papers, and so they passed into the dining-room.
The secretary asked Gerard to come into his chamber, but the Burgundian excused himself, saying he had a headache and desired the fresh air; indeed he looked so pale that his words were easily believed.
"Besides," he added, "it is a fine sight to see the Prince and his family. I would like to behold them pass again. You do not know, monsieur, what it means to me to look upon William of Nassau."
So he was allowed to remain in the courtyard, where for two hours he wandered up and down, none amongst those who came and went taking any notice of his insignificance.
Rénée from an upper window, where she stayed with the Princess's women, observed him and was sorry for him, he looked so shrunken and puny and drew aside so humbly from every passer-by.
Presently Gerard stepped out of the sunshine into the darkness of the vestibule.
There was no one about, but he could hear sounds from the dining-room and the voice of the Prince, cheerful, animated.
Gerard turned and stepped into the arch he had noticed on descending from the Prince's chamber two days before.
Though the stairs were lighted by the large window half-way up, the vestibule was in darkness and the arch which concealed Gerard was in the complete shadow of the door.
At the back of it a narrow entrance opened on to the lane which led to the ramparts; it was by this that Gerard intended to make his escape.
The Prince appeared in the door leading from the dining-room; he was talking to the Burgomaster of Leewarden, his guest, and said something about the future of Friesland.
"No future for you," whispered Gerard, "here ends the history of William of Orange."
He fixed his eyes with an intensity of hatred on the noble figure of the Prince as he leisurely crossed the narrow vestibule, as if he wished to imprint on his memory the last look and gesture of his victim.
William was smiling; he put his foot on the lower stair and turned his head to speak to the burgomaster.
Gerard stepped from the arch; he was but two paces from William and he discharged the three poisoned balls full at the Prince's body.
"Now the King's vengeance is complete!" cried Gerard, and dashed out of the door beside his hiding place.
A little shriek rose from the women; William fell backwards into the arms of his master of the house.
"God have mercy on my soul!" he exclaimed. "God have mercy on this poor people!"
His hat fell off, revealing his face already distorted with the terrible expression of the final agony; he sank on to the stairs.
"He is dying," said Count Maurice, and, lifting up his father in his strong, young arms, he conveyed him, with the assistance of the burgomaster and the master of the house back into the dining-room.
They laid him on a couch; the meal from which he had just risen was still on the table; no one could believe what had happened; Louise fell on her knees and tried to loosen his ruff and doublet but her fingers laboured uselessly at the fastenings.
"Do you commend your soul to Christ?" asked Catherine Swartzburg.
"Yes," said William, and on the word the last breath passed his lips.
"Dead," said Maurice, bending over him, "dead—oh, my father."
The room was full of the frightened household; Rénée was in the crowd, catching the ghastly truth as it passed from one trembling lip to another.
She saw the murderer dragged in through the side door from which he had made his escape covered with the filth into which he had fallen, bleeding from rough usage, but calm and triumphant.
"I would come a thousand miles to do this deed again," he said.
She was pushed along in the press, the little girl clinging to her hand. One word was on every one's tongue, it beat in her brain as the sound of the sea beats in the brain of the watcher at the window near by—this one word—"dead, dead, dead."
It seemed to her that all life had ceased everywhere, and that these were but ghosts that ran and cried and commanded and lamented.
Thrust against a corner of the dining-table she saw, through the moving press of figures, a glimpse of that still form on the couch, not the face, but the shapely body and one fine hand with the fingers curled inwards slackly. The burden of the murmur about her forced itself on her stunned consciousness.
"Dead—dead," she said aloud.
A young man passing turned at these words.
"The Prince is dead," he answered, "but the Netherlands live."
"How do they live—now?" cried Rénée.
"In such as these," he pointed to the child, "and in me, Maurice of Nassau."