“Yes, brother,” he answered, “for you and Elsa it may come right, but not for me in this world, for I—I have sold myself to the devil and—got no pay.”
After that for a while no one spoke; all felt that the situation was too tragic for speech; even the follies, and indeed the wickedness, of Adrian were covered up, were blotted out in the tragedy of his utter failure, yes, and redeemed by the depth of his atonement.
The grey light of the summer morning began to grow on the surface of the great inland sea. Far behind them they beheld the sun’s rays breaking upon the gilt crown that is set above the tower of St. Bavon’s Church, soaring over the lost city of Haarlem and the doomed patriots who lay there presently to meet their death at the murderer’s sword. They looked and shuddered. Had it not been for Adrian they would be prisoners now, and what that meant they knew. If they had been in any doubt, what they saw around must have enlightened them, for here and there upon the misty surface of the lake, or stranded in its shallows, were the half-burnt out hulls of ships, the remains of the conquered fleet of William the Silent; a poor record of the last desperate effort to relieve the starving city. Now and again, too, something limp and soft would cumber their oars, the corpse of a drowned or slaughtered man still clad perchance in its armour.
At length they passed out of these dismal remains of lost men, and Elsa could look about her without shuddering. Now they were in fleet water, and in among the islands whereon the lush summer growth of weeds and the beautiful marsh flowers grew as greenly and bloomed as bright as though no Spaniard had trampled their roots under foot during all those winter months of siege and death. These islets, scores and hundreds of them, appeared on every side, but between them all Martha steered an unerring path. As the sun rose she stood up in the boat, and shading her eyes with her hand to shut out its level rays, looked before her.
“There is the place,” she said, pointing to a little bulrush-clad isle, from which a kind of natural causeway, not more than six feet wide, projected like a tongue among muddy shallows peopled by coots and water-hens with their red-beaked young.
Martin rose too. Then he looked back behind him and said;
“I see the cap of a sail upon the skyline. It is Ramiro.”
“Without doubt,” answered Martha calmly. “Well, we have the half of an hour to work in. Pull, bow oar, pull, we will go round the island and beach her in the mud on the further side. They will be less likely to see us there, and I know a place whence we can push off in a hurry.”
ADRIAN COMES HOME AGAIN
They landed on the island, wading to it through the mud, which at this spot had a gravelly bottom; all of them except Elsa, who remained on the boat to keep watch. Following otter-paths through the thick rushes they came to the centre of the islet, some thirty yards away. Here, at a spot which Martha ascertained by a few hurried pacings, grew a dense tuft of reeds. In the midst of these reeds was a duck’s nest with the young just hatching out, off which the old bird flew with terrified quackings.