High Adventure in the Netherlands of the Eighty Years War period
Although the novels in this volume are part of Baroness Orczy’s ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ series they are set in an earlier historical period than those which follow the adventures of the English daredevil during the turbulence of the French Revolution. Instead, this volume features tales of one of the Scarlet Pimpernels ancestors, Percy Blake (who, in these novels is Frans Hal’s adopted son and the subject of his famous ‘Laughing Cavalier’ portrait) and they take place in Holland in the years 1623-4. The hero of the first novel is one of three mercenaries and this is a swashbuckling tale of high adventure which includes, as the reader might expect, its fair share of intrigue, an assassination plot, romance and rescues. The second novel, ‘The First Sir Percy’, is a sequel and once again features Percy Blake in an adventure which takes place a few months after the first story. Naturally more skulduggery is afoot, but this time the action is played out against an invasion by the Spanish army under the Archduchess Isabella. These two classic and well-written historical adventures, in which the embryonic spirit of the ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ abides, are reminiscent of the ‘Three Musketeers’ and are sure to appeal to all aficionados of the series and the genre.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Beresteyn saw the whole picture before him. He had thrown open the door, and looked through the broken window at the precise moment when the Lord of Stoutenburg’s sword flew out of his hand. Then it was that Jan came running along, shouting to my lord. Stoutenburg turned quickly, saw his faithful lieutenant and caught sight of the pistols which he held. The next second, he had snatched one out of Jan’s hand, and the pale ray of a wintry sun penetrating through the mist found its reflection in a couple of steel barrels pointed straight at a laughing philosopher.
Beresteyn from within felt indeed as if his heart stood still for that one brief, palpitating second. Was Fate after all taking the decision for the future—Gilda’s and his—out of his hands into her own? Would a bullet end that vigorous life and still that merry laugh and that biting tongue for ever, and leave Nicolaes to be swayed once more by the dark schemes and arbitrary will of his friend Stoutenburg?
Fate was ready, calmly spinning the threads of human destinies. But there are some men in the world who have the power and the skill to take their destinies in their own hands. The philosopher and weaver of dreams, the merry Laughing Cavalier was one of these.
What the Lord of Stoutenburg had seen that he perceived equally quickly; he, too, had caught sight of Jan, and of the two steel barrels simultaneously levelled at him; he too, realised that the most skilled swordsman is but a sorry match against a pair of bullets.
But while Beresteyn held his breath and Stoutenburg tried to steady the trembling of his hand, he raised Bucephalus above his head and with a wild shout pointed toward the southern horizon far away.
“The Stadtholder’s guard!” he cried lustily, “they are on us! Sauve qui peut!”
Three cries of mad terror rent the air, there was a double detonation, a great deal of smoke. The horses in the sledge reared and plunged wildly, forcing those who were nearest to the vehicle to beat a precipitate retreat.
“At the horses’ heads, you wooden-headed bladder,” shouted Diogenes lustily. Pythagoras did his best to obey, while Socrates was nearly dragged off the box by the frightened horses. Heemskerk had already incontinently taken to his heels. Jan had dropped his weapon which Diogenes at once picked up. The Lord of Stoutenburg was preparing to fire again.
“Sauve qui peut, my lord!” cried Diogenes, “before I change my mind and put a hole through your heel, which will prevent your running away fast enough to escape the Stadtholder’s wrath.”
There was another detonation. The horses reared and plunged again. When Beresteyn once more obtained a clear view of the picture, he saw the Lord of Stoutenburg stretched out on his back upon the ground in a position that was anything but dignified and certainly very perilous, for Diogenes towering above him was holding him by both feet. The tall soldierly figure of the foreigner stood out clearly silhouetted against the grey, misty light: his head with its wealth of unruly brown curls was thrown back with a gesture that almost suggested boyish delight in some impish mischief, whilst his infectious laugh echoed and re-echoed against the walls of the molens and of the hut.
Jan was on his hands and knees crawling toward those two men—the conqueror and the conquered—with no doubt a vague idea that he might even now render assistance to my lord.
“Here, Pythagoras, old fat head,” cried Diogenes gaily, “see that our friend here does not interfere with me: and that he hath not a concealed poniard somewhere about his person, then collect all pistols and swords that are lying about, well out of harm’s way. In the meanwhile, what am I to do with his Magnificence? he is kicking like a vicious colt and that shoulder of mine is beginning to sting like fury.”
“Kill me, man, kill me!” cried Stoutenburg savagely, “curse you, why don’t you end this farce?”
“Because, my lord,” said Diogenes more seriously than was his wont, “the purest and most exquisite woman on God’s earth did once deign to bestow the priceless jewel of her love upon you. Did she know of your present plight, she would even now be pleading for you: therefore,” he added more flippantly, “I am going to give myself the satisfaction of making you a present of the last miserable shred of existence which you will drag on from this hour forth in wretchedness and exile to the end of your days. Take your life and freedom, my lord,” he continued in response to the invectives which Stoutenburg muttered savagely under his breath, “take it at the hands of the miserable plepshurk whom you so despise. It is better methinks to do this rather than fall into the hands of the Stadtholder, whose mercy for a fallen enemy would be equal to your own.”
Then he shouted to Pythagoras.
“Here, old compeer! search his Magnificence for concealed weapons, and then make ready to go. We have wasted too much time already.”
Despite Stoutenburg’s struggles and curses Pythagoras obeyed his brother philosopher to the letter. His lordship and Jan were both effectually disarmed now. Then only did Diogenes allow Stoutenburg to struggle to his feet. He had his sword in his left hand and Pythagoras stood beside him. Jan found his master’s hat and cloak and helped him on with them, and then he said quietly:
“The minutes are precious, my lord, ’tis a brief run to Ryswyk: my Lord of Heemskerk has gone and Mynheer Beresteyn has disappeared. Here we can do nothing more.”
“Nothing, my good Jan,” said Diogenes more seriously, “you are a brave soldier and a faithful servant. Take his Magnificence away to safety. You have well deserved your own.”
Stoutenburg gave a last cry of rage and of despair. For a moment it seemed as if his blind fury would still conquer reason and prudence and that he meant once more to make an attack upon his victorious enemy, but something in the latter’s look of almost insolent triumph recalled him to the peril of his own situation: he passed his hand once or twice over his brow, like a man who is dazed and only just returning to consciousness, then he called loudly to Jan to follow him, and walked rapidly away northwards through the fog.
Beresteyn went up to the broken window and watched him till he was out of sight, then he looked on Diogenes. That philosopher also watched the retreating figure of the Lord of Stoutenburg until the fog swallowed it up, then he turned to his friend.