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Title: The Laughing Cavalier
Author: Emmuska Orczy
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Edition: 1
Language: English
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Date first posted: July 2006
Date most recently updated: July 2009

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The Laughing Cavalier
Emmuska Orczy



AN APOLOGY

Does it need one?

If so it must also come from those members of the Blakeney family in
whose veins runs the blood of that Sir Percy Blakeney who is known to
history as the Scarlet Pimpernel--for they in a manner are responsible
for the telling of this veracious chronicle.

For the past eight years now--ever since the true story of The Scarlet
Pimpernel was put on record by the present author--these gentle, kind,
inquisitive friends have asked me to trace their descent back to an
ancestor more remote than was Sir Percy, to one in fact who by his life
and by his deeds stands forth from out the distant past as a conclusive
proof that the laws which govern the principles of heredity are as
unalterable as those that rule the destinies of the universe. They have
pointed out to me that since Sir Percy Blakeney's was an exceptional
personality, possessing exceptional characteristics which his friends
pronounced sublime and his detractors arrogant--he must have had an
ancestor in the dim long ago who was, like him, exceptional, like him
possessed of qualities which call forth the devotion of friends and
rancour of enemies. Nay, more! there must have existed at one time or
another a man who possessed that sunny disposition, that same
irresistible laughter, that same careless insouciance and adventurous
spirit which were subsequently transmitted to his descendants, of whom
the Scarlet Pimpernel himself was the most distinguished individual.

All these were unanswerable arguments, and with the request that
accompanied then I had long intended to comply. Time has been my only
enemy in thwarting my intentions until now--time and the multiplicity of
material and documents to be gone through ere vague knowledge could be
turned into certitude.

Now at last I am in a position to present not only to the Blakeneys
themselves, but to all those who look on the Scarlet Pimpernel as their
hero and their friend--the true history of one of his most noted
forebears.

Strangely enough his history has never been written before. And yet
countless millions must during the past three centuries have stood
before his picture; we of the present generation, who are the proud
possessors of that picture now, have looked on him many a time, always
with sheer, pure joy in our hearts, our lips smiling, our eyes sparkling
in response to his; almost forgetting the genius of the artist who
protrayed him in the very realism of the personality which literally
seems to breathe and palpitate and certainly to laugh to us out of the
canvas.

Those twinkling eyes! how well we know them! that laugh! we can almost
hear it; as for the swagger, the devil-may-care arrogance, do we not
condone it, seeing that it has its mainspring behind a fine straight
brow whose noble, sweeping lines betray an undercurrent of dignity and
of thought.

And yet no biographer has--so far as is known to the author of this
veracious chronicle--ever attempted to tell us anything of this man's
life, no one has attempted hitherto to lift the veil of anonymity which
only thinly hides the identity of the Laughing Cavalier.

But here in Haarlem--in the sleepy, yet thriving little town where he
lived, the hard-frozen ground in winter seems at times to send forth a
memory-echo of his firm footstep, of the jingling of his spurs, and the
clang of his sword, and the old gate of the Spaarne through which he
passed so often is still haunted with the sound of his merry laughter,
and his pleasant voice seems still to rouse the ancient walls from their
sleep.

Here too--hearing these memory-echoes whenever the shadows of evening
draw in on the quaint city--I had a dream. I saw him just as he lived,
three hundred years ago. He had stepped out of the canvas in London, had
crossed the sea and was walking the streets of Haarlem just as he had
done then, filling them with his swagger, with his engaging personality,
above all with his laughter. And sitting beside me in the old tavern of
the "Lame Cow," in that self-same tap-room where he was wont to make
merry, he told me the history of his life.

Since then kind friends at Haarlem have placed documents in my hands
which confirmed the story told me by the Laughing Cavalier. To them do I
tender my heartfelt and grateful thanks. But it is to the man
himself--to the memory of him which is so alive here in Haarlem--that I
am indebted for the true history of his life, and therefore I feel that
but little apology is needed for placing the true facts before all those
who have known him hitherto only by his picture, who have loved him only
for what they guessed.

The monograph which I now present with but few additions of minor
details, goes to prove what I myself had known long ago, namely, that
the Laughing Cavalier who sat to Frans Hal for his portrait in 1624 was
the direct ancestor of Sir Percy Blakeney, known to history as the
Scarlet Pimpernel.

EMMUSKA ORCZY



THE PROLOGUE HAARLEM--MARCH 29th, 1623

The day had been spring-like--even hot; a very unusual occurrence in
Holland at this time of year.

Gilda Beresteyn had retired early to her room. She had dismissed Maria,
whose chatterings grated upon her nerves, with the promise that she
would call her later. Maria had arranged a tray of dainties on the
table, a jug of milk, some fresh white bread and a little roast meat on
a plate, for Gilda had eaten very little supper and it might happen that
she would feel hungry later on.

It would have been useless to argue with the old woman about this
matter. She considered Gilda's health to be under her own special
charge, ever since good Mevrouw Beresteyn had placed her baby girl in
Maria's strong, devoted arms ere she closed her eyes in the last long
sleep.

Gilda Berensteyn, glad to be alone, threw open the casement of the
window and peered out into the night.

The shadow of the terrible tragedy--the concluding acts of which were
being enacted day by day in the Gevangen Poort of 'S Graven Hage--had
even touched the distant city of Haarlem with its gloom. The eldest son
of John of Barneveld was awaiting final trial and inevitable
condemnation, his brother Stoutenburg was a fugitive, and their
accomplices Korenwinder, van Dyk, the redoubtable Slatius and others
were giving away under torture the details of the aborted conspiracy
against the life of Maurice of Nassau, Stadtholder of Holland,
Gelderland, Utrecht, and Overyssel, Captain and Admiral-General of the
State, Prince of Orange, and virtual ruler of Protestant and republican
Netherlands.

Traitors all of them--would-be assassins--the Stadtholder whom they had
planned to murder was showing them no mercy. As he had sent John of
Barneveld to the scaffold to assuage his own thirst for supreme power
and satisfy his own ambitions, so he was ready to send John of
Barneveld's sons to death and John of Barneveld's widow to sorrow and
loneliness.

The sons of John of Barneveld had planned to avenge their father's death
by the committal of a cruel and dastardly murder: fate and the treachery
of mercenary accomplices had intervened, and now Groeneveld was on the
eve of condemnation, and Stoutenburg was a wanderer on the face of the
earth with a price put upon his head.

Gilda Beresteyn could not endure the thought of it all. All the memories
of her childhoodwere linked with the Barnevelds. Stoutenburg had been
her brother Nicolaes' most intimate friend, and had been the first man
to whisper words of love in her ears, ere his boundless devotion and his
unscrupulous egoism drove him into another more profitable marriage.

Gilda's face flamed up with shame even now at recollection of his
treachery, and the deep humiliation which she had felt when she saw the
first budding blossom of her girlish love so carelessly tossed aside by
the man whom she had trusted.

A sense of oppression weighed her spirits down to-night. It almost
seemed as if the tragedy which had encompassed the entire Barneveld
family was even now hovering over the peaceful house of Mynheer
Beresteyn, deputy burgomaster and chief civic magistrate of the town of
Haarlem. The air itself felt heavy as if with the weight of impending
doom.

The little city lay quiet and at peace; a soft breeze from the south
lightly fanned the girl's cheeks. She leaned her elbowson the
window-sill and rested her chin in her hands. The moon was not yet up
and yet it was not dark; a mysterious light stil lingered on the horizon
far away where earth and sea met in a haze of purple and indigo.

From the little garden down below there rose the subtle fragrance of
early spring--of wet earth and budding trees, and the dim veiled
distance was full of strange sweet sounds, the call of night-birds, the
shriek of sea-gulls astray ffrom their usual haunts.

Gilda looked out and listened--unable to understand this vague sense of
oppression and foreboding: when she put her finger up to her eyes, she
found them wet with tears.

Memories rose from out the past, sad phantoms that hovered in the scent
of the spring. Gilda had never wholly forgotten the man who had once
filled her heart with his personality, much less could she chase away
his image frim her mind now that a future of misery and disgrace was all
that was left to him.

She did not know what had become of him, and dared not ask for news.
Mynheer Beresteyn, loyal to the House of Nassau and to its prince, had
cast out of his heart the sons of John of Barneveld whom he had once
loved. Assassins and traitors, he would with his own lips have condemned
them to the block, or denounced them to the vengence of the Stadtholder
for their treachery against him.

The feeling of uncertainty as to Stoutenburg's fate softened Gilda's
heart toward him. She knew that he had become a wanderer on the face of
the earth, Cain-like, homeless, friendless, practically kinless; she
pitied him far more than she did Groeneveld or the others who were
looking death quite closely in the face.

She was infinitely sorry for him, for him and for his wife, for whose
sake he had been false to his first love. The gentle murmur of the
breeze, the distant call of the waterfowl, seemed to bring back to
Gilda's ears those whisperings of ardent passion which had come from
Stoutenburg's lips years ago. She had listened to them with joy then,
with glowing eyes cast down and cheeks that flamed up at his words.

And as she listened to these dream-sounds others more concrete mingled
with the mystic ones far away: the sound of stealthy footsteps upon the
flagged path of the garden, and of a human being breathing and panting
somewhere close by, still hidden by the gathering shadows of the night.

She held her breath to listen--not at all frightened, for the sound of
those footsteps, the presence of that human creature close by, were in
tune with her mood of expectancy of something that was foredoomed to
come.

Suddenly the breeze brought to her ear the murmur of her name, whispered
as if in an agony of pleading:

"Gilda!"

The Prologue Part 2

She leaned right out of the window. Her eyes, better accustomed to the
dim evening light, perceived a human figure that crouched against the
yew hedge, in the fantastic shadow cast by the quaintly shaped peacock
at the corner close to the house.

"Gilda!" came the murmur again, more insistent this time.

"Who goes there?" she called in response: and it was an undefinable
instinct stronger than her will that caused her to drop her own voice
also to a whisper.

"A fugitive hunted to his death," came the response scarce louder than
the breeze. "Give me shelter, Gilda--human bloodhounds are on my track."

Gilda's heart seemed to stop its beating; the human figure out there in
the shadows had crept stealthily nearer. The window out of which she
leaned was only a few feet from the ground; she stretched out her hand
into the night.

"There is a projection in the wall just there," she whispered hurriedly,
"and the ivy stems will help you...Come!"

The fugitive grasped the hand that was stretched out to him in pitying
helpfulness. With the aid of the projection in the wall and of the stems
of the century-old ivy, he soon cleared the distance which separated him
from the windowsill. The next moment he had jumped into the room.

Gilda in this impulsive act of mercy had not paused to consider either
the risks or the cost. She had recognised the voice of the man whom she
had once loved, that voice called to her out of the depths of boundless
misery; it was the call of a man at bay, a human quarry hunted and
exhausted, with the hunters close upon his heels. She could not have
resisted that call even if she had allowed her reason to fight her
instinct then.

But now that he stood before her in rough fisherman's clothes, stained
and torn, his face covered with blood and grime, his eyes red and
swollen, the breath coming quick, short gasps through his blue, cracked
lips, the first sense of fear at what she had done seized hold of her
heart.

At first he took no notice of her, but threw himself into the nearest
chair and passed his hands across his face and brow.

"My God," he murmured, "I thought they would have me to-night."

She stood in the middle of the room, feeling helpless and bewildered;
she was full of pity for the man, for ther is nothing more unutterably
pathetic than the hunted human creature in its final stage of apathetic
exhaustion, but she was just beginning to co-ordinate her thoughts and
they for the moment were being invaded by fear.

She felt more than she saw, that presently he turned his hollow,
purple-rimmed eyes upon her, and that in them there was a glow half of
passionate will-power and half of anxious, agonizing doubt.

"Of what are you afraid, Gilda?" he asked suddenly, "surely not of me?"

"Not of you, my lord," she replied quietly, "only for you."

"I am a miserable outlaw now, Gilda," he rejoined bitterly, "four
thousand golden guilders await any lout who chooses to sell me for a
competence."

"I know that, my lord...and marvel why you are here? I heard that you
were safe--in Belgium."

He laughed and shrugged his shoulders.

"I was safe there," he said, "but I could not rest. I came back a few
days ago, thinking I could help my brother to escape. Bah!" he added
roughly, "he is a snivelling coward..."

"Hush! for pity's sake," she exclaimed, "someone will hear you."

"Close that window and lock the door," he murmured hoarsely. "I am
spent--and could not resist a child if it chose to drag me at this
moment to the Stadtholder's spies."

Gilda obeyed him mechanically. First she closed the window; then she
went to the door listening against the panel with all her senses on the
alert. At the further end of the passage was the living-room where her
father must still be sitting after his supper, poring over a book on
horticulture, or mayhap attending to his tulip bulbs. If he knew that
the would-be murderer of the Stadtholder, the prime mover and instigator
of the dastardly plot was here in his house, in his daughter's
chamber...Gilda shuddered, half-fainting with terror, and her trembling
fingers fumbled with the lock.

"Is Nicolaes home?" asked Stoutenburg, suddenly.

"Not just now," she replied, "but he, too, will be home anon...My father
is at home..."

"Ah!...Nicolaes is my friend...I counted on seeing him here...he would
help me I know...but your father, Gilda, would drag me to the gallows
with his own hand if he knew that I am here."

"You must not count on Nicolaes either, my lord," she pleaded, "nor must
you stay here a moment longer...I heard my father's step in the passage
already. He is sure to come and bid me good-night before he goes to
bed..."

"I am spent, Gilda," he murmured, and indeed his breath came in such
feeble gasps that he could scarce speak. "I have not touched food for
two days. I landed at Scheveningen a week ago, and for five days have
hung about the Gevangen Poort of S' Graven Hage trying to get speech
with my brother. I had gained the good will of an important offical in
the prison, but Groeneveld is too much of a coward to make a fight for
freedom. Then I was recognized by a group of workmen outside my dead
father's house. I read recognition in their eyes--knowledge of me and
knowledge of the money which that recognition might mean to them. They
feigned indifference at first, but I had read their thoughts. They drew
together to concert over their future actions and I took to my heels. It
was yesterday at noon, and I have been running ever since, running,
running, with but brief intervals to regain my breath and beg for a
drink of water--when thirst became more unendurable than the thought of
capture. I did not even know which way I was running till I saw the
spires of Haarlem rising from out the evening haze; then I thought of
you, Gilda, and of this house. You would not sell me, Gilda, for you are
rich, and you loved me once," he added hoarsely, while his thin, grimy
hands clutched the arms of the chair and he half-raised himself from his
seat, as if ready to spring up and to start running again; running,
running until he dropped.




Chapter I--New Year's Eve

If the snow had come down again or the weather been colder or wetter, or
other than what it was...

If one of the three men had been more thirsty, or the other more
insistent...

If it had been any other day of the year, or any other hour of any other
day...

If the three philosophers had taken their walk abroad in any other
portion of the city of Haarlem...

If...

Nay! but there's no end to the Ifs which I might adduce in order to
prove to you beyond a doubt that but for an extraordinary conglomeration
of minor circumstances, the events which I am about to relate neither
would nor could ever have taken place.

For indeed you must admit that had the snow come down again or the
weather been colder, or wetter, the three philosophers would mayhap all
have felt that priceless thirst and desire for comfort which the
interior of a well-administered tavern doth so marvelously assuage. And
had it been any other day of the year or any other hour of that same day
of they year 1623, those three philosophers would never have thought of
wiling away the penultimate hour of the dying year by hanging round the
Grootemarkt in order to see the respectable mynheer burghers and the
mevrouws their wives, filing into the cathedral in a sober and orderly
procession, with large silver-clasped Bibles under their arms, and that
air of satisfied unctuousness upon their faces which is best suited to
the solemn occasion of watch-night service, and the desire to put
oneself right with Heaven before commencing a New Year of commercial and
industrial activity.

And had those three philosophers not felt any desire to watch this same
orderly procession they would probably had taken their walk abroad in
another portion of the city from whence...

But now I am anticipating.

Events crowded in so thickly and so fast, during the last hour of the
departing year and the first of the newly-born one, that it were best
mayhap to proceed with their relation in the order in which they
occurred.

For, look you, the links of a mighty chain had their origin on the steps
of the Stadhuis, for it is at the foot of these that three men were
standing precisely at the moment when the bell of the cathedral struck
the penultimate hour of the last day of the year 1623.

Mynheer van der Meer, Burgomaster of Haarlem, was coming down those same
steps in the company of Mynheer van Zilcken, Mynheer Beresteyn and other
worthy gentlemen, all members of the town council and all noted for
their fine collections of rare tulips, the finest in the whole of the
province of Holland.

There was great rivalry between Mynheer van der Meer, Mynheer van
Zilcken and Mynheer Beresteyn on the subject of their tulip bulbs, on
which they expended thousands of florins every year. Some people held
that the Burgomaster had exhibited finer specimens of 'Semper Augustus'
than any horticulturist in the land, while others thought that the
'Scwarzer Kato' shown by Mynheer Beresteyn had been absolutely without a
rival.

And as this group of noble councilors descended the steps of the
Stadhuis, preparatory to joining their wives at home and thence
escorting them to the watch-night service at the cathedral, their talk
was of tulips and of tulip bulbs, of the specimens which they possessed
and the prices which they had paid for these.

"Fourteen thousand florins did I pay for my 'Schwarzer Kato'," said
Mynheer Beresteyn complacently, "and now I would not sell it for twenty
thousand."

"There is a man up at Overveen who has a new hybrid now, a sport of
'Schone Juffrouw'--the bulb has matured to perfection, he is putting it
up for auction next week," said Mynheer van Zilcken.

"It will fetch in the open market sixteen thousand at least," commented
Mynheer van der Meer sententiously.

"I would give that for it and more," rejoined the other, "if it is as
perfect as the man declares it to be."

"Too late," now interposed Mynheer Beresteyn with a curt laugh, "I
purchased the bulb from the man at Overveen this afternoon. He did not
exaggerate its merits. I never saw a finer bulb."

"You bought it?" exclaimed the Burgomaster in tones that were anything
but friendly towards his fellow councilor.

"This very afternoon," replied the other. "I have it in the inner pocket
of my doublet at this moment."

And he pressed his hand to his side, making sure that the precious bulb
still reposed next to his heart.

"I gave the lout fifteen thousand florins for it," he added airily, "he
was glad not to take the risks of an auction, and I equally glad to
steal a march on my friends."

The three men who were leaning against the wall of the Stadhuis, and who
had overheard this conversation, declared subsequently that they learned
then and there an entirely new and absolutely comprehensive string of
oaths, the sound of which they had never even known of before, from the
two solemn and sober town councilors who found themselves baulked of a
coveted prize. But this I do not altogether believe; for these three
eavesdroppers had already forgotten more about swearing than all the
burghers of Haarlem put together had ever known.

In the meantime the town councilors had reached the foot of the steps:
here they parted company and there was a marked coldness in the manner
of some of them toward Mynheer Beresteyn, who still pressed his hand
against his doublet, in the inner pocket of which reposed a bit of
dormant vegetation for which he had that same afternoon paid no less a
sum than fifteen thousand florins.

"There goes a lucky devil," said a mocking voice in tones wherein
ripples of laughter struggled for ever for mastery. It came from one of
the three men who had listened to the conversation between the town
councilors on the subject of tulips and of tulip bulbs.

"To think," he continued, "that I have never seen as much as fifteen
thousand florins all at once. By St. Bavon himself do I swear that for
the mere handling of so much money I would be capable of the most heroic
deeds...such as killing my worst enemy...or...or...knocking that obese
and self-complacent councilor in the stomach."

"Say but the word, good Diogenes," said a gruff voice in response, "the
lucky devil ye speak of need not remain long in possession of that bulb.
He hath name Beresteyn...I think I know whereabouts he lives...the hour
is late...the fog fairly dense in the narrow streets of the city...say
but the word..."

"There is an honest man I wot of in Amsterdam," broke in a third voice,
one which was curiously high-pitched and dulcet in its tones, "an honest
dealer of Judaic faith, who would gladly give a couple thousands for the
bulb and ask no impertinent questions."

"Say but the word, Diogenes..." reiterated the gruff voice solemnly.

"And the bulb is ours," concluded the third speaker in his quaint
high-pitched voice.

"And three philosophers will begin the New Year with more money in their
wallets than they would know what to do with," said he of the
laughter-filled voice. "'Tis a sound scheme, O Pythagoras, and one that
under certain circumstances would certainly commend itself to me. But
just now..."

"Well?" queried the two voices--the gruff and the
high-pitched--simultaneously, like a bassoon and a flute in harmony,
"just now what?"

"Just now, worthy Socrates and wise Pythagoras, I have three whole
florins in my wallet, and my most pressing creditor died a month
ago--shot by a Spanish arquebuse at the storming of Breda--he fell like
a hero--God rest his soul! But as to me I can afford a little while--at
any rate for to-night!--to act like a gentleman rather than a common
thief."

"Bah!" came in muffled and gruff tones of disgust, "you might lend me
those three florins--'twere the act of a gentleman..."

"An act moreover which would eventually free me from further scruples,
eh?" laughed the other gaily.

"The place is dull," interposed the flute-like tones, "'twill be duller
still if unworthy scruples do cause us to act like gentlemen."

"Why! 'tis the very novelty of the game that will save our lives from
dullness," said Diogenes lightly, "just let us pretend to be gentlemen
for this one night. I assure you that good philosophers though ye both
are, you will find zest in the entertainment."

It is doubtful whether this form of argument would have appealed to the
two philosophers in question. The point was never settled, for at that
precise moment Chance took it on herself to forge the second link in
that remarkable chain of events which I have made it my duty to relate.

From across the Grootemarkt, there where stands the cathedral backed by
a network of narrow streets, there came a series of ear-piercing
shrieks, accompanied by threatening cries and occasional outbursts of
rough, mocking laughter.

"A row," said Socrates laconically.

"A fight," suggested Pythagoras.

Diogenes said nothing. He was already half way across the Markt. The
others followed him as closely as they could. His figure, which was
unusually tall and broad, loomed weirdly out of the darkness and out of
the fog ahead of them, and his voice with that perpetual undertone of
merriment rippling through it, called to them from time to time.

Now he stopped, waiting for his companions. The ear-piercing shrieks,
the screams and mocking laughter came more distinctly to their ears, and
from several by-streets that gave on the Market Place, people came
hurrying along, attracted by the noise.

"Let us go round behind the Fleishmarkt," said Diogenes, as soon as his
two friends had come within earshot of him, "and reach the rear of the
cathedral that way. Unless I am greatly mistaken the seat of yonder
quarrel is by a small postern gate which I spied awhile ago at the
corner of Dam Straat and where methinks I saw a number of men and women
furtively gaining admittance: they looked uncommonly like Papists, and
the postern gate not unlike a Romanist chapel door."

"Then there undoubtedly will be a row," said Socrates dryly.

"And we are no longer likely to find the place dull," concluded
Pythagoras in a flute-like voice.

And the three men, pulling their plumed hats well over their eyes,
turned without hesitation in the wake of their leader. They had by tacit
understanding unsheathed their swords and were carrying them under the
folds of their mantles. They walked in single file, for the street was
very narrow, the gabled roofs almost meeting overhead at their apex,
their firm footsteps made no sound on the thick carpet of snow. The
street was quite deserted and the confused tumult in the Dam Straat only
came now as a faint and distant echo.

Thus walking with rapid strides the three men soon found themselves once
more close to the cathedral: it loomed out of the fog on their left and
the cries and the laughter on ahead sounded more clear and shrill.

The words "for the love of Christ" could be easily distinguished;
uttered pleadingly at intervals by a woman's voice they sounded ominous,
more especially as they were invariably followed by cries of "Spaniards!
Spies! Papists!" and a renewal of loud and ribald laughter.

The leader of the little party had paused once more, his long legs
evidently carried him away faster than he intended: now he turned to his
friends and pointed with his hand and sword on ahead.

"Now, wise Pythagoras," he said, "wilt thou not have enjoyment and to
spare this night? Thou didst shower curses on this fog-ridden country,
and call it insufferably dull. Lo! what a pleasing picture doth present
itself to our gaze."

Whether the picture was pleasing or not depended entirely from the point
of view of spectator or participant. Certes it was animated and moving
and picturesque; and as three pairs of eyes beneath three broad-brimmed
hats took in its several details, three muffled figures uttered three
simultaneous gurgles of anticipated pleasure.

In the fog that hung thickly in the narrow street it was at first
difficult to distinguish exactly what was going on. Certain it is that a
fairly dense crowd, which swelled visibly every moment as idlers joined
in from many sides, had congregated at the corner of Dam Straat, there
where a couple of resin torches, fixed in iron brackets against a tall
stuccoed wall, shed a flickering and elusive light on the forms and
faces of a group of men in the forefront of the throng.

The faces thus exposed to view appeared flushed and heated--either with
wine or ebullient temper--whilst the upraised arms, the clenched fists
and brandished staves showed a rampant desire to do mischief.

There was a low postern gate in the wall just below the resin torches.
The gate was open and in the darkness beyond vague moving forms could be
seen huddled together in what looked like a narrow unlighted passage. It
was from this huddled mass of humanity that the wails and calls for
divine protection proceeded, whilst the laughter and the threats came
from the crowd.

From beneath three broad-brimmed hats there once more came three
distinct chuckles of delight, and three muffled figures hugged naked
swords more tightly under their cloaks.




Chapter II--THE FRACAS BY THE POSTERN GATE

Thus am I proved right in saying that but for the conglomeration of
minor circumstances within the past half hour, the great events which
subsequently linked the fate of a penniless foreign adventurer with that
of a highly honorable and highly esteemed family of Haarlem never would
or could have occurred.

For had the three philosophers adhered to their usual custom of retiring
to the warmth and comfort of the Lame Cow, situate in the Kleine Hout
Straat, as soon as the as the streets no longer presented an agreeable
lolling place, they would never have known the tumult that went on at
this hour under the very shadow of the cathedral.

But seeing it all going on before them, what could they do but join in
the fun?

The details of the picture which had the low postern gate for its
central interest were gradually becoming more defined. Now the figure of
a woman showed clearly under the flickering light of the resin torches,
a woman with rough, dark hair that hung loosely round her face, and bare
arms and legs, of which the flesh, blue with cold, gleamed weirdly
against the dark oak paneling of the gate.

She was stooping forward, with arms outstretched and feet that vainly
tried to keep a foothold of the ground which snow and frost had rendered
slippery. The hands themselves were not visible, for one of them was
lost in the shadows behind her and the other disappeared in the grip of
six or eight rough hands.

Through the mist and in the darkness it was impossible to see whether
the woman was young or old, handsome or ill-favored, but her attitude
was unmistakable. The men in the forefront of the crowd were trying to
drag her away from the shelter of the gate to which she clung with
desperate obstinacy.

Her repeated cries of "For the love of Christ!" only provoked loud and
bibulous laughter. Obviously she was losing her hold on the ground, and
was gradually being dragged out into the open.

"For the love of Christ, let me go, kind sirs!"

"Come out quietly then," retorted one of the men in front, "let's have a
look at you."

"We only want to see to color of your eyes," said another with mock
gallantry.

"Are you Spanish spies or are you not? that's all that we want to know,"
added a third. "How many black-eyed wenches are there among ye? Papists
we know you are."

"Papists! Spanish spies!" roared the crowd in unison.

"Shall we bait the Papists too, O Diogenes?" came in dulcet tones from
out the shadow of the stuccoed wall.

"Bah! women and old men, and only twenty of these," said his companion
with a laugh and a shrug of his broad shoulders, "whilst there are at
least an hundred of the others."

"More amusing certainly," growled Socrates under the brim of his hat.

"For the love of Christ," wailed the woman piteously, as her bare feet
buried in the snow finally slid away from the protecting threshold, and
she appeared in the full light of the resin torches, with black unkempt
hair, ragged shift and kirtle and a wild terror-stricken look in her
black eyes.

"Black eyes! I guessed as much!" shouted one of the men excitedly.
"Spaniards I tell you, friends! Spanish spies all of them! Out you come,
wench! out you come!"

"Out you come!" yelled the crowd. "Papists! Spanish spies!"

The woman gave a scream of wild terror as half a dozen stones hurled
from the rear of the crowd over the heads of the ringleaders came
crashing against the wall and the gate all around her.

One of these stones was caught in mid air.

"I thank thee, friend," cried a loud, mocking voice that rang clearly
above the din, "my nose was itching and thou didst strive to tickle it
most effectually. Tell me does thine itch too? Here's a good cloth
wherewith to wipe it."

And the stone was hurled back into the thick of the crowd by a sure and
vigorous hand even whilst a prolonged and merry laugh echoed above the
groans and curses of the throng.

For an instant after that the shouts and curses were still, the
crowd--as is usual in such cases--pausing to see whence this unexpected
diversion had come. But all that could be seen for the moment was a dark
compact mass of plumed hats and mantles standing against the wall, and a
triple glint as of steel peeping from out the shadows.

"By St. Bavon, the patron saint of this goodly city, but here's a feast
for philosophers," said that same laughter-loving voice, "four worthy
burghers grappling with a maid. Let go her arm I say, or four pairs of
hands will presently litter the corner of this street, and forty fingers
be scattered amongst the refuse. Pythagoras, wilt take me at two
guilders to three that I can cut off two of these ugly, red hands with
one stroke of Bucephalus whilst Socrates and thou thyself wilt only
account for one apiece?"

Whilst the merry voice went rippling on in pleasant mocking tones, the
crowd had ample time to recover itself and to shake off its surprise.
The four stalwarts on in front swore a very comprehensive if
heterogeneous oath. One of them did certainly let go the wench's arm
somewhat hastily, but seeing that his companions had recovered courage
and the use of their tongue, he swore once again and more loudly this
time.

"By that same St. Bavon," he shouted, "who is this smeerlap whose
interference I for one deeply resent? Come out, girl, and show thyself
at once, and we'll deal with thy protector later."

After which there were some lusty shouts of applause at this determined
attitude, shouts that were interrupted by a dulcet high-pitched voice
saying quietly:

"I take thee, friend Diogenes. Two guilders to three: do thou strike at
the pair of hands nearest to thee and while I count to three..."

From the torches up above there came a sharp glint of light as it struck
three steel blades, that swung out into the open.

"One--two--"

Four pairs of hands, which had been dragging on the woman's arm with
such determined force, disappeared precipitately into the darkness, and
thus suddenly released, the woman nearly fell backwards against the
gate.

"Pity," said the dulcet voice gently, "that bet will never be decided
now."

An angry murmur of protest rose from the crowd. The four men who had
been the leaders of the gang were pushed forward from the rear amidst
shouts of derision and brandishing of fists.

"Cowards! cowards! cowards! Jan Tiele, art not ashamed? Piet, go for
them! There are only three! Cowards to let yourselves be bullied!"

The crowd pushed from behind. The street being narrow, it could only
express its desire for a fight by shouts, it had no elbow-room for it,
and could only urge those in the forefront to pick a quarrel with the
interfering strangers.

"The blessing of God upon thee, stranger, and of the Holy Virgin..."
came in still quivering accents from out the darkness of the passage.

"Let the Holy Virgin help thee to hold thy tongue," retorted he who had
the name Diogenes, "and do thou let my friend Socrates close this
confounded door."

"Jan Tiele!" shouted some one in the crowd, "dost see what they are
doing? the gate is being closed..."

"And bolted," said a flute-like voice.

"Stand aside, strangers!" yelled the crowd.

"We are not in your way," came in calm response.

The three muffled figures side by side in close if somewhat unnumerical
battle array had taken their stand in front of the postern gate, the
heavy bolts of which were heard falling into their sockets behind them
with a loud clang. A quivering voice came at last from behind the iron
judas in the door.

"God will reward ye, strangers! we go pray for you to the Holy
Virgin..."

"Nay!" rejoined Diogenes lightly, "twere wiser to pray for Jan Tiele, or
for Piet or their mates--some of them will have need of prayers in about
five minutes from now."

"Shame! cowards! plepshurk! At them, Jan! Piet! Willem!" shouted the
crowd lustily.

Once more stones were freely hurled, followed by a regular fusillade of
snowballs. One of these struck the crown of a plumed hat and knocked it
off the wearer's head. A face, merry, a trifle fleshy perhaps, but with
fine, straight brow, eyes that twinkled and mocked and a pair of full,
joyous lips adorned by a fair upturned moustache, met the gaze of an
hundred glowering eyes and towered half a head above the tallest man
there.

As his hat fell to the ground, the man made a formal bow to the yelling
and hooting crowd:

"Since one of you has been so kind as to lift my hat for me, allow me to
formally present myself and my friends here. I am known to my compeers
and to mine enemies as Diogenes," he said gravely, "a philosopher of
whom mayhap ye have never heard. On my left stands Pythagoras, on my
right Socrates. We are all at your service, including even my best
friend who is slender and is made of steel and hat name Bucephalus--he
tells me that within the next few minutes he means to become intimately
acquainted with Dutch guts, unless ye disperse and go peaceably back to
church and pray God to forgive ye this act of cowardice on New Year's
eve!"

The answer was another volley of stones, one of which hit Socrates on
the side of the head.

"With the next stone that is hurled," continued Diogenes calmly, "I will
smash Jan Tiele's nose: and if more than one come within reach of my
hand, then Willem's nose shall go as well."

The warning was disregarded: a shower of stones came crashing against
the wall just above the postern gate.

"How badly these Dutchmen throw," growled Socrates in his gruff voice.

"This present from thy friends in the rear, Jan Tiele," rejoined
Diogenes, as he seized that worthy by the collar and brandished a stone
which he had caught in its flight. "'Tis they obviously who do not like
the shape of thy nose, else they had not sent me this wherewithal to
flatten it for thee."

"I'll do that, good Diogenes," said Pythagoras gently, as he took both
the stone and the struggling Jan Tiele from his friend's grasp, "and
Socrates will see to Willem at the same time. No trouble, I give thee my
word--I like to do these kind of jobs for my friends."

An awful and prolonged howl from Jan Tiele and from Willem testified
that the jobs had been well done.

"Papists! Spaniards! Spies!" roared the crowd, now goaded to fury.

"Bucephalus, I do humbly beg thy pardon," said Diogenes as he rested the
point of his sword for one moment on the frozen ground, then raised it
and touched it with his forehead and with his lips, "I apologize to thee
for using thee against such rabble."

"More stones please," came in a shrill falsetto from Pythagoras, "here's
Piet whose nose is itching fit to make him swear."

He was a great adept at catching missiles in mid-air. These now flew
thick and fast, stones, short staves, heavy leather pouches as well as
hard missiles made of frozen snow. But the throwers were hampered by one
another: they had no elbow-room in this narrow street.

The missiles for the most part fell wide of the mark. Still! the numbers
might tell in the end. Socrates' face was streaming with blood: a clump
of mud and snow had extinguished one of the torches, and a moment ago a
stone had caught Diogenes on the left shoulder.

The three men stood close together, sword in hand. To the excited gaze
of the crowd they scarcely seemed to be using their swords or to heed
those of their aggressors who came threateningly nigh. They stood quite
quietly up against the wall, hardly making a movement, their sword hand
and wrist never appeared to stir, but many who had been in the forefront
had retired howling and the snow all around was deeply stained with red:
Jan Tiele and Willem had broken noses, and Piet had lost one ear.

The three men were hatless and the faces of two of them were smeared
with blood. The third, taller and broader than the others--stood between
them, and with those that passed him closely he bandied mocking words.

"Spaniards! Papists!" yelled the crowd.

"If I hear those words again," he retorted pleasantly, "I'll run three
of you through on Bucephalus as on a spit, and leave you thus ready for
roasting in hell. We are no Spaniards. My father was English, and my
friend Pythagoras here was born in a donkey-shed, whilst Socrates first
saw the light of day in a traveling menagerie. So we are none of us
Spaniards, and you can all disperse."

"Papists!"

"And if I hear that again I'll send the lot of you to hell."

"Art thou Samson then, to think thyself so strong?" shouted a shrill
voice close to him.

"Give me thy jawbone and I'll prove thee that I am," he retorted gaily.

"Spies!" they cried.

"Dondersteen!" he shouted in his turn, swearing lustily, "I am tired of
this rabble. Disperse! disperse, I tell ye! Bucephalus, my friend wilt
have a taste of Dutch guts? Another ear? a nose or two? What, ye will
not go?"

"Spaniards! Spies! Papists!"

The crowd was gathering unto itself a kind of fury that greatly
resembled courage. Those that were behind pushed and those that were in
front could no longer retreat. Blood had begun to flow more freely and
the groans of the wounded had roused the bellicose instincts of those
whose skin was still whole. One or two of the more venturesome had made
close and gruesome acquaintance with the silent but swift Bucephalus,
whilst from the market place in the rear the numbers of the crowd thus
packed in this narrow street corner swelled dangerously. The new-comers
did not know what had happened before their arrival. They could not see
over the heads of the crowd what was going on at this moment. So they
pushed from behind and the three combatants with their backs against the
wall had much difficulty in keeping a sufficiently wide circle around
them to allow their swords free play.

Already Socrates, dizzy from the blood that was streaming down his
sharp, hooked nose, had failed to keep three of his foremost assailants
at bay: he had been forced to yield one step and then another, and the
elbow of his sword arm was now right up against the wall. Pythagoras,
too, was equally closely pressed, and Diogenes had just sent an
over-bold lout sprawling on the ground. The noise was deafening. Every
one was shouting, many were screaming or groaning. The town guard,
realizing at last that a tumult of more than usual consequence was going
on in some portion of the city, had decided to go and interfere; their
slow and weighty steps and the clang of their halberds could be heard
from over the Grootemarkt during the rare moments when shouts and clamor
subsided for a few seconds only to be upraised again with redoubled
power.

Then suddenly cries of "Help!" were raised from the further end of Dam
Straat, where it debouches on the bank of the Spaarne. It was a woman's
voice that raised the cry, but men answered it with calls for the guard.
The tumult in front of the postern gate now reached its climax, for the
pressure from behind had become terrible, and men and women were being
knocked down and trampled on. It seemed as if the narrow street could
not hold another human soul, and yet apparently more and more were
trying to squeeze into the restricted space. The trampled, frozen snow
had become as slippery as a sheet of glass, and if the guard with their
wonted ponderous clumsiness charged into the crowd with halberds now,
then Heaven help the weak who could not elbow a way out for themselves;
they would be sure to be trampled under foot.

Every one knew that on such occasions many a corpse littered the roads
when finally the crowd disappeared. Those of sober sense realized all
this, but they were but small units in this multitude heated up with its
own rage, and intoxicated with the first hope of victory. The three
strangers who, bare-headed, still held their ground with their backs to
the wall were obviously getting exhausted. But a little more
determination--five minutes respite before the arrival of the guard, a
few more stones skillfully hurled and the Papists, Spaniards or
Spies--whatever they were--would have paid dearly for their impudent
interference.

"Papists, have ye had enough?" yelled the crowd in chorus as a stone
well thrown hit the sword arm of the tallest of the three men--he whose
mocking voice had never ceased its incessant chatter.

"Not nearly enough," he replied loudly, as he quietly transferred
faithful Bucephalus from his right hand to his left.

"We are just beginning to enjoy ourselves," came in dulcet tones from
the small man beside him.

"At them! at them! Papists! Spies!"

Once more a volley of stones.

"Dondersteen! but methinks we might vary the entertainment," cried
Diogenes lustily.

Quicker than a flash of lightening he turned, and once more grasping
Bucephalus in the partially disabled hand he tore with the other the
resin torch out of its iron socket, and shouting to his two companions
to hold their ground he, with the guttering lighted torch, charged
straight into the crowd.

A wild cry of terror was raised, which echoed and re-echoed from one end
of the street to the other, reverberated against the cathedral walls,
and caused all peaceable citizens who had found refuge in their homes to
thank the Lord that they were safely within.

Diogenes, with fair hair fluttering over his brow, his twinkling eyes
aglow with excitement, held the torch well in front of him, the sparks
flew in all directions, the lustiest aggressors fled to right and left,
shrieking with horror. Fire--that most invincible weapon--had
accomplished what the finest steel never could have done; it sobered and
terrified the crowd, scattered it like a flock of sheep, sent it running
hither and thither, rendering it helpless by fear.

In the space of three minutes the circle round the three combatants was
several metres wide, five minutes later the corner of the street was
clear, except for the wounded who lay groaning on the ground and one or
two hideous rags of flesh that lay scattered among heaps of stones, torn
wallets, staves and broken sticks.

From the precincts of the Grootemarkt the town guard were heard using
rough language, violent oaths and pikes and halberds against the
stragglers that were only too eager now to go peaceably back to their
homes. The fear of burnt doublets or kirtles had effectually sobered
these overflowing tempers. There had been enough Papist baiting to
please the most inveterate seeker after excitement this night.

A few youths, who mayhap earlier in the evening had indulged too freely
in the taverns of the Grootemarkt, were for resuming the fun after the
panic had subsided. A score of them or so talked it over under the
shadow of the cathedral, but a detachment of the town guard spied their
maneuvers and turned them all back into the market place.

The bell of the cathedral slowly struck the last hour of this memorable
year; and through the open portals of the sacred edifice the cathedral
choir was heard intoning the First Psalm.

Like frightened hens that have been scared, and now venture out again,
the worthy burghers of Haarlem sallied out from the by-streets into the
Grootemarkt, on their way to watch-night service: Mynheer the
burgomaster, and mynheer the town advocate, and the mevrouws their
wives, and the town councilors and the members of the shooting guilds,
and the governors and governesses of the Almshouses. With ponderous
Bibles and prayer-books under their arms, and cloaks of fur closely
wrapped round their shoulders, they once more filled the Grootemarkt
with the atmosphere of their solemnity. Their serving men carried the
torches in front of them, waiting women helped the mevrouws in their
unwieldy farthingales to walk on the slippery ground with becoming
sobriety.

The cathedral bells sent forth a merry peal to greet the incoming year.




Chapter III--AN INTERLUDE

And at the corner of Dam Straat, where the low postern gate cuts into
the tall stuccoed wall, there once more reigned silence as of the grave.

Those that were hurt and wounded had managed to crawl away, the town
guard had made short work of it all; the laws against street brawling
and noisy assemblies were over severe just now; it was best just to hide
a wound and go nurse it quietly at home. Fortunately the fog favored the
disturbers of the peace. Gradually they all contrived to sneak away, and
later on in the night to sally forth again for watch-night revelries,
looking for all the world as if nothing had happened.

"Tumult? Papist baiting? Was there really any Papist baiting this night?
Ah! those foreign adventurers do fill our peaceful city with their
noise."

In the Dam Straat the fog and the darkness reigned unchallenged. The
second torch lay extinguished on the ground, trampled out under the heel
of a heavy boot. And in the darkness three men were busy readjusting
their mantles and trying to regain possession of their hats.

"A very unprofitable entertainment," growled Socrates.

"Total darkness, not a soul in sight and cold fit to chill the inner
chambers of hell," assented Pythagoras.

"And no chance of adding anything to the stock of three guilders which
must suffice us for to-night," concluded Diogenes, airily.

He was carefully wiping the shining blade of Bucephalus with the corner
of Pythagoras' mantle.

"Verrek jezelf! and what the d---l?" queried the latter in a high
falsetto.

"My mantle is almost new," said Diogenes reproachfully; "thou would'st
not have me soil it so soon?"

"I have a hole in my head fit to bury those three guilders in," murmured
Socrates with a sigh.

"And I a bruised shoulder," laughed Diogenes, "which hath engendered an
unquenchable thirst."

"I wouldn't sell my thrust for any money this night," assented
Pythagoras.

"To the 'Lame Cow', then, O Pythagoras, and I'll toss thee for the first
drink of hot ale."

"Ugh! but my head feels mightily hot and thick," said Socrates, somewhat
huskily.

"Surely thou canst walk as far as the 'Lame Cow'?" queried Pythagoras,
anxiously.

"I doubt me," sighed the other.

"Ale!" whispered Diogenes, encouragingly; "warm, sparkling, spicy ale!"

"Hm! hm!" assented the wounded man feebly.

"Easy! easy, my friend," said Diogenes, for his brother philosopher had
fallen heavily against him.

"What are we going to do?" moaned Pythagoras, in his dulcet tones. "I
have a thirst...and we cannot leave this irresponsible fool to faint
here in the fog."

"Hoist him up by the seat of his breeches then, on to my back," retorted
Diogenes lightly. "The 'Lame Cow' is not far, and I too have a thirst."

Socrates would have protested. He did not relish the idea of being
tossed like a bale of goods on his friend's back. But he could only
protest by word of mouth, to which the others paid no heed; and when he
tried to struggle he rolled, dizzy and faint, almost to the ground.

"There's nothing for it," piped Pythagoras with consummate philosophy.
"I couldn't carry him if I tried."

Diogenes bent his broad back and rested his hands on his thighs, getting
as firm a hold of the slippery ground as he could. Socrates for the
moment was like a helpless log. There was much groping about in the
darkness, a good deal of groaning, and a vast amount of swearing.
Socrates had, fortunately, not fainted, and after a little while was
able to settle down astride on his friend's back, his arms around the
latter's neck, Pythagoras giving vigorous pushes from the rear.

When Diogenes, firmly grasping the wounded man's legs, was at last able
to straighten himself out again, and did so to the accompaniment of a
mighty groan and still more mighty oath, he found himself confronted by
two lanthorns which were held up within a few inches of his nose.

"Dondersteen!" he ejaculated loudly, and nearly dropped his
half-conscious and swaying burden on the ground.

"What is it now, Jakob?" queried a woman's voice peremptorily.

"I cannot see clearly, lady," replied one of the lanthorn-bearers--"two
men, I think."

"Then do thy thoughts proclaim the a liar, friend," said Diogenes
lightly, "there are three men here at this lady's service, though one is
sick, the other fat, and the third a mere beast of burden."

"Let me see them, Jakob," ordered the woman, "I believe they are the
same three who..."

The lanthorn-bearers made way for the lady, still holding the lanthorns
up so that the light fell fully on the quaint spectacle presented by the
three philosophers. There was Socrates perched aloft, his beard-like
face smeared with blood, his eyes rolling in their effort to keep open,
his thin back bent nearly double so that indeed he looked like a huge
plucked crow the worse for a fight, and perched on an eminence where he
felt none to secure. And below him his friend with broad shoulders
bending under the burden, his plumed hat shading his brow, his merry,
twinkling eyes fixed a little in front of him, his mocking lips ready
framed for a smile or an oath, his hands which supported the legs of
poor wounded Socrates struggling visibly toward the hilt of his sword.
And peeping round from behind him the short, rotund form of Pythagoras,
crowned with a tall sugar-loaf hat which obviously had never belonged to
him until now, for it perched somewhat insecurely above his flat, round
face, with the small, upturned nose slightly tinged with pink and the
tiny eyes, round and bright as new crowns.

Undoubtedly the sight was ludicrous in the extreme, and the woman who
looked on it now burst into a merry peal of laughter.

"O Maria! dost see them?" she said, turning to her companion, an elderly
woman in sober black gown and coif of tinsel lace. "Hast ever seen
anything so quaint?"

She herself was young, and in the soft light of the two lanthorns
appeared to the three philosophers as passing fair.

"Socrates, thou malapert," said Diogenes sternly, "take my hat off my
head at once, and allow me to make obeisance to the lady, or I'll drop
thee incontinently on thy back."

Then, as Socrates half mechanically lifted the plumed hat from his
friend's head, the latter bowed as well as he could under the
circumstances and said gallantly--

"Thy servants, lady, and eternally grateful are we for a sight of thee
at this moment when the world appeared peculiarly fog-ridden and
unpleasant. Having been the fortunate cause of thy merriment, might we
now crave thy permission to continue our way. The weight of my friend up
there is greater than his importance warrants, and I don't want to drop
him ere we reach a haven of refuge, where our priceless thirst will
soon, I hope, find solace."

The delicate face of the young girl had suddenly become more grave.

"Your pardon, gentle sirs," she said, with a pretty mixture of
imperiousness and humility; "my levity was indeed misplaced. I know ye
now for the same three brave fellows who were fighting a few moments ago
against overwhelming odds, in order to protect a woman against a rowdy
crowd. Oh, it was a valorous deed! My men and I were on our way to
watch-night service, and saw it all from a distance. We dared not come
nigh, the rabble looked so threatening. All I could do was to shout for
help, and summon the town guard to come to you aid. It was you, was it
not?" she added, regarding with great wondering blue eyes the three
curious figures who stood somewhat sheepishly before her.

"Yes, fair lady," piped Pythagoras, in his neatest falsetto, "we were
the three men who, in face of well-nigh overwhelming odds, did save a
defenseless woman from the insolent rabble. My friend who is perched up
there was severely wounded in the fray, I myself received so violent a
blow in the stomach that a raging thirst has since taken possession of
my throat and,--"

He stopped abruptly and murmured a comprehensive oath. He had just
received a violent kick in the shins from Diogenes.

"What the h--?" he muttered.

But Diogenes paid no heed to him; looking on the dainty picture before
him, with eyes that twinkled whilst they did not attempt to conceal the
admiration which he felt, he said, with elaborate gallantry, which his
position under the burden of Socrates' swaying figure rendered
inexpressibly droll--

"For the help rendered to us all at the moment of distress, deign to
accept, mejuffrouw, our humble thanks. For the rest, believe me, our
deed was not one of valor, and such as it was is wholly unworthy of the
praise thou dost deign to bestow upon it. I would tell thee more," he
added whimsically, "only that my friend behind me is violently kicking
the calves of my legs, which renders the elegant flow of language
well-nigh impossible. I stopped him talking just now--he retaliates...it
is but just."

"Gentle sir," said the girl, who obviously had much ado to preserve her
gravity, "your modesty doth but equal your gallantry. This do I see
quite plainly. But if at any time I can do aught to express in a more
practical manner the real admiration which I feel your worth I pray you
command me. Alas! brave men are few these days! But my father's name is
known throughout Holland; his wealth and influence are vast. I pray you
tell me, can I do aught for you now?"

She spoke so artlessly and at the same time with such gentle dignity, it
was small wonder that for the nonce even the most talkative of all
philosophers was dumb, and that his habitual mocking banter failed to
cross his lips. The girl was young and exquisitely pretty; the stiff,
unwieldy costume of the time failed to conceal altogether the graceful
slenderness of her figure, just as the prim coif of gold and silver
tissue failed to hold the unruly golden curls in bondage. The light from
the lanthorns fell full on her face, and round her throat, beneath her
fur-lined cloak, there was a glimmer of starched linen and lace, whilst
gems in her ears and on her breast lent her an air of elegance and even
of splendor.

Pythagoras in the rear heaved a deep sigh; he drew in his breath
preparatory to a long and comprehensive oration. "Can I do aught for
ye?" the lady had said: a lady who was rich and influential and willing.
Ye thunders and lightnings! when but three guilders stood between three
philosophers and absolute penury! Ye hails and storms! what an
opportunity! He would have approached the lady, only Diogenes' wide
shoulders blocked him out from her view.

"Can I do aught for you now?" she reiterated gently.

"Raise thy hand to my lips," said Diogenes lightly; "momentarily I have
not the use of my own."

She hesitated, but only for a brief moment, then did just what he asked.
She held her hand to his lips, mayhap one second longer than was
absolutely necessary, and her eyes, large, deep, and shy, looked for
that one second into a pair of merry mocking ones. Then she sighed,
whether with satisfaction or embarrassment I would not undertake to say,
and asked with a gracious smile--

"And what is your next wish, gentle sir?"

"Thy leave to continue our journey to the 'Lame Cow,'" he replied
airily; "my friend up there is getting damnably heavy."

She drew back, visibly surprised and hurt.

"I do not detain ye," she said curtly, and without another word she
turned to her lanthorn-bearers and ordered them to precede her; she also
called to her duenna to follow; but she did not bestow another look on
the three men, nor did she acknowledge the respectful farewell which
came from the lips of the beast of burden.

The next moment she had already crossed the road toward the cathedral,
and she and her escort were swallowed up by the fog.

"Well, of all the d--d idiots that ever..." swore Pythagoras, in his
shrillest tones.

Even Socrates pulled himself together in order to declare emphatically
that Diogenes was a confounded fool.

"I pray thee raise they hand to my lips," mimicked Pythagoras mockingly.
"Verrek jezelf!" he muttered under his breath.

"If you do not hold your tongue, O wise Pythagoras," retorted Diogenes
with all his wonted merriment, "I'll even have to drop Socrates on top
of you in order to break your head."

"But 'tis a fortune--the promise of a fortune which you let slip so
stupidly."

"There is a certain wisdom even in stupidity sometimes, Pythagoras, as
you will discover one day, when your nose is less red and your figure
less fat. Remember that I have three guilders in my pocket, and that our
thirst hath not grown less. Follow me now, we've talked enough for
to-night."

And he started walking down the street with long and rapid strides,
Socrates up aloft swaying about like a dummy figure in carnival time,
and Pythagoras--still muttering a series of diversified oaths--bringing
up the rear.




Chapter IV--WATCH-NIGHT

And am I not proved fully justified in my statement that but for many
seemingly paltry circumstances, the further events which I am about to
place on record, and which have been of paramount importance to the
history of no less than two great and worthy families, never would have
shaped themselves as they did.

For who could assert that but for the presence of three philosophers on
the Grootemarkt on the eve of the New Year, and their subsequent
interference in the fray outside the Papist convent door in the Dam
Straat, who could assert, I say, that but for these minor circumstances
Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn would have condescended to exchange half a dozen
words with three out-at-elbows, homeless, shiftless, foreign adventurers
who happened to have drifted into Haarlem--the Lord only knew for what
purpose with what hopes.

Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn had been well and rigidly brought up; she was
well educated, and possessed more knowledge than most young girls of her
social standing or of her age. Mynheer Beresteyn, her father, was a
gentleman of vast consideration in Haarlem, and as his two children had
been motherless as soon as the younger one saw the light of day, he had
been doubly careful in his endeavours that his daughter should in no way
feel the lack of that tender supervision of which it had pleased God to
deprive her.

Thus she had been taught early in life to keep herself aloof from all
persons save those approved of by her father or her brother--a young man
of sound understanding, some half dozen ears older than herself. As for
the strangers who for purposes of commerce of other less avowable
motives filled the town of Haarlem with their foreign ways--which oft
were immoral and seldom sedate--she had been strictly taught to hold
these in abhorrence and never to approach such men either with word or
gesture.

Was it likely, then, that she ever would have spoken to three thriftless
knaves?--and this at a late hour of the night--but for the fact that she
had witnessed their valour from a distance, and with queenly
condescension hoped to reward them with a gracious word.

The kiss imprinted upon her hand by respectful, if somewhat bantering,
lips had greatly pleased her: such she imagined would be the homage of a
vassal proud to have attracted the notice of his lady paramount. The
curtly expressed desire to quit her presence, in order to repair to a
tavern, had roused her indignation and her contempt.

She was angered beyond what the circumstance warranted, and while the
minister preached an admirable and learned watch-night sermon she felt
her attention drifting away from the discourse and the solemnity of the
occasion, whilst her wrath against a most unworthy object was taking the
place of more pious and charitable feelings.

The preacher had taken for his text the sublime words from the New
Testament: "The greatest of these is charity." He thought that the first
day of the New Year was a splendid opportunity for the good inhabitants
of Haarlem to cast of all gossiping and back-biting ways and to live
from this day forth in greater amity and benevolence with one another.
"Love thy neighbour as thyself," he adjured passionately, and the
burghers, with their vrouws in their Sunday best, were smitten with
remorse of past scandal-mongering, and vowed that in the future they
would live in perfect accord and good-will.

Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn, too, thought of all her friends and
acquaintances with the kindliest of feelings, and she had not a harsh
thought for anyone in her heart...not for anyone, at any rate, who was
good and deserving...As for that knavish malapert with the merry,
twinkling eyes and the mocking smile, God would not desire her to be in
charity with him; a more ungrateful, more impertinent wretch, she had
never met, and it was quite consoling to think of all that Mynheer
Beresteyn's influence could have done for those three ragamuffins, and
how in the near future they must all suffer abominable discomfort,
mayhap with shortage of food and drink, or absence of shelter, when no
doubt one of them at least would remember with contrition the
magnanimous offer of help made to him by gracious lips, and which he had
so insolently refused.

So absorbed was Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn in these thoughts that she never
even noticed that the watch-night service was over, and the minister
already filing out with the clerk. The general exodus around her
recalled her to herself and also to a sense of contrition for the absent
way in which she had assisted at this solemn service.

She whispered to Maria to wait for her outside the church with the men.

"I must yet pray for a little while alone," she said. "I will join you
at the north door in a quarter of an hour."

And she fell on her knees, and was soon absorbed in prayer.

Maria found the two serving men in the crowd, and transmitted to them
her mistress's orders. The cathedral had been very full for the service,
and the worshippers took a long time filing out; they lingered about in
the aisles, exchanging bits of city gossip and wishing one another a
happy New Year.

The verger had much ado to drive the goodly people out of the edifice,
no sooner had he persuaded one group of chatterers to continue their
conversation on the Groote-markt outside, than another batch seemed to
loom out of the shadows, equally determined to conclude its gossip here
in the warmth, before sallying forth once more into the foggy midnight
air.

"I must close the cathedral for the night," the worthy man repeated
piteously, "do you think that I don't want to get home and eat my
watch-night supper at a reasonable hour. Move on there, my masters, move
out please! My orders are to have the church closed before one o'clock."

He came on a group of men who sat together in the shadow of a heavy
pillar close behind the pulpit.

"Now then, mynheers," he said, "'tis closing time."

But those that were there made no sign to obey.

"All right, Perk," said one of them in a whisper, "we are not going just
yet."

"Aye, but ye are," retorted the verger gruffly, for he was cross now and
wanting his supper, "what should I allow ye to stay for?"

"For the memory of Jan!" was the whispered response.

The verger's manner changed in an instant, the few words evidently bore
some portentous meaning of which he held the key--and I doubt not but
that the key was made of silver.

"All right, mynheers," he said softly, "the church will be clear in a
few minutes now."

"Go round, Perk," said he who had first spoken, "and let us know when
all is safe."

The verger touched his forelock and silently departed. Those that were
there in the shadow by the great pillar remained in silence awaiting his
return. The congregation was really dispersing now, the patter of
leather shoes on the flagstones of the floor became gradually more
faint; then it died out altogether. That portion of the Grote Kerk where
is situate the magnificent carved pulpit was already quite dark and
wholly deserted save for that group of silent, waiting figures that
looked like shadows within the shadows.

Anon the verger returned. He had only been absent a few minutes.

"Quite safe now, mynheers," he said, "the last of them has just gone
through the main door. I have locked all the doors save the West. If you
want anything you will find me there. I can leave this one light for
you, the others I must put out."

"Put them out, Perk, by all means," was the ready response. "We can find
our way about in the dark."

The verger left them undisturbed; his shuffling steps were heard gliding
along the flagstones until their murmur died away in the vastness of the
sacred edifice.

The group of men who sat behind the pulpit against the heavy pillar, now
drew their rush chairs closer to one another.

There were six of them altogether, and the light from the lamp above
illumined their faces, which were stern looking, dark and of set
determination. All six of them were young' only one amongst them might
have been more than thirty years of age; that a great purpose brought
them here to-night was obvious from their attitude, the low murmur of
their voices, that air of mystery which hung round them, fostered by the
dark cloaks which they held closely wrapped round their shoulders and
the shadows from the pillar which they sought.

One of them appeared to be the centre of their interest, a man, lean and
pallid-looking, with hollow purple-rimmed eyes, that spoke of night
vigils or mayhap unavowed, consuming thoughts. The mouth was hard and
thin, and a febrile excitement caused his lips to quiver and his hand to
shake.

The others hung upon his words.

"Tell us some of your adventures, Stoutenburg!" said one of them
eagerly.

Stoutenburg laughed harshly and mirthlessly.

"They would take years in telling," he said, "mayhap one day I'll write
them down. They would fill many a volume."

"Enough that you did contrive to escape," said another man, "and that
you are back here amongst us once more."

"Yes! in order to avenge wrongs that are as countless by now as the
grains of sand on the sea-shore," rejoined Stoutenburg earnestly.

"You know that you are not safe inside Holland," suggested he who had
first spoken.

"Aye, my good Beresteyn, I know that well enough," said Stoutenburg with
a long and bitter sigh. "Your own father would send me to the gallows if
he had the chance, and you with me mayhap, for consorting with me."

"My father owes his position, his wealth, the prosperity of his
enterprise to the Stadtholder," said Beresteyn, speaking with as much
bitterness as his friend. "He looked upon the last conspiracy against
the life of the Prince of Orange as a crime blacker than the blackest
sin that ever deserved hell...If he thought that I...at the present
moment..."

"Yes I know. But he has not the power to make you false to me, has he,
Nicolaes?" asked Stoutenburg anxiously. "You are still at one with us?"

"With you to the death!" replied Beresteyn fervently, "so are we all."

"Aye! That we are," said the four others with one accord, whilst one of
them added dryly:

"And determined not to fail like the last time by trusting those paid
hirelings, who will take your money and betray you for more."

"Last February we were beset with bunglers and self-seekers," said
Stoutenburg, "my own brother Grneveld was half-hearted in everything
save the desire to make money. Slatius was a vindictive boor, van Dyk
was a busy-body and Korenwinder a bloated fool. Well! they have paid
their penalty. Heaven have their souls! But for God's sake let us do the
work ourselves this time."

"They say the Stadtholder is sick unto death," said one of the men
sombrely. "Disease strikes with a surer hand sometimes than doth the
poniard of an enemy."

"Bah! I have no time to waste waiting for his death," retorted
Stoutenburg roughly, "there is an opportunity closer at hand and more
swift than the wear watching for the slow ravages of disease. The
Stadtholder comes to Amsterdam next week, the burghers of his beloved
city have begged of him to be present at the consecration of the Western
Kerk, built by Mynheer van Keyser, as well as at the opening of the East
India Company's new hall. He plays up for popularity just now. The
festivals in connection with the double event at Amsterdam have tempted
him to undertake the long journey from the frontier, despite his failing
health. His visit to this part of the country is a golden opportunity
which I do not intend to miss."

"You will find it very difficult to get near the Stadtholder on such an
occasion," remarked Beresteyn. "He no longer drives about unattended as
he used to do."

"All the escort in the world will not save him from my revenge," said
Stoutenburg firmly. "Our position now is stronger than it has ever been.
I have adherents in every city of Holland and of Zealand, aye, and in
the south too as far as Breda and in the east as far as Arnhem. I tell
you, friends, that I have spread a net over this country out of which
Maurice of Orange cannot escape. My organisation too is better than it
was. I have spies within the camp at Sprang, a knot of determined men
all along the line between Breda and Amsterdam, at Gouda, at
Delft...especially at Delft."

"Why specially there?" asked Beresteyn.

"Because I have it in my mind that mayhap we need not take the risks of
accomplishing our coup in Amsterdam itself. As you say it might be very
difficult and very dangerous to et at the Stadtholder on a public
occasion...But Delft is on the way...Maurice of Orange is certain to
halt at Delft, if only in order to make a pilgrimage to the spot where
his father was murdered. He will, I am sure, sleep more than one night
at the Prinsenhof...And from Delft the way leads northwards past
Ryswyk--Ryswyk close to which I have had my headquarters three weeks
past--Ryswyk, my friends!" he continued, speaking very rapidly almost
incoherently in his excitement, "where I have arms and ammunition,
Ryswyk, which is the rallying point for all my friends...the molens! You
remember?...close to the wooden bridge which spans the Schie...I have
enough gunpowder stored at that molens to blow up twenty wooden
bridges...and the Stadtholder with his escort must cross the wooden
bridge which spans the Schie not far from the molens where I have my
headquarters...I have it all in my mind already...I only wait to hear
news of the actual day when the Stadtholder leaves his camp...I can tell
you more to-morrow, but in the meanwhile I want to know if there are a
few men about here on whom I can rely at a moment's notice...whom I can
use as spies or messengers...or even to lend me a hand at Ryswyk in case
of need...thirty or forty would be sufficient...if they are good
fighting men...I said something about this in my message to you all."

"And I for one acted on your suggestion at once," said one of the
others. "I have recruited ten stout fellows: Germans and Swiss, who know
not a word of our language. I pay them well and they ask no questions.
They will fight for you, spy for you, run for you, do anything you
choose, and can betray nothing, since they know nothing. They are at
your disposal at any moment."

"That is good, and I thank you, my dear Heemskerk."

"I have half a dozen peasants on my own estate on whom I can rely," said
another of Stoutenburg's friends. "They are good fighters, hard-headed
and ready to go through fire and water for me. They are as safe as
foreign mercenaries, for they will do anything I tell them and will do
it without asking the reason why."

"I have another eight or ten foreigners to offer you," said a third,
"they come from a part of Britain called Scotland so I understand. I
picked them up a week ago when they landed at Scheveningen and engaged
them in my service then and there."

"And I can lay my hand at any moment on a dozen or so young apprentices
in my father's factory," added a fourth, "they are always ready for a
frolic or a fight and ready to follow me to hell if need be."

"You see that you can easily count on three dozen men," concluded
Beresteyn.

"Three dozen men ready to hand," said Stoutenburg, "for our present
needs they should indeed suffice. Knowing that I can reckon on them I
can strike the decisive blow when and how I think it best. It is the
blow that counts," he continued between set teeth, "after that
everything is easy enough. The waverers hang back until success is
assured. But our secret adherents in Holland can be counted by the
score, in Zealand and Utrecht by the hundred. When Maurice of Orange has
paid with his own blood the penalty which his crimes have incurred, when
I can proclaim myself over his dead body Stadtholder of the Northern
Provinces, Captain and Admiral General of the State, thousands will
rally round us and flock to our banner. Thousands feel as we do, think
as we do, and know what we know, that John of Barneveld will not rest in
his grave till I, his last surviving son, have avenged him. Who made
this Republic what she is? My father. Who gave the Stadtholder the might
which he possesses? My father. My father whose name was revered and
honoured throughout the length and breadth of Europe and whom an
ingrate's hand hath branded with the mark of traitor. The Stadtholder
brought my father to the scaffold, heaping upon him accusations of
treachery which he himself must have known were groundless. When the
Stadtholder sent John of Barneveld to the scaffold he committed a crime
which can only be atoned for by his own blood. Last year we failed. The
mercenaries whom we employed betrayed us. My brother, our friends went
the way my father led, victims all of them of the rapacious ambition,
the vengeful spite of the Stadtholder. But I escaped as by a miracle!--a
miracle I say it was, my friends, a miracle wrought by the God of
vengeance, who hath said: 'I will repay!' He hath also said that
whosoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed! I am
the instrument of his vengeance. Vengeance is mine! 'tis I who will
repay!"

He had never raised his voice during this long peroration, but his
diction had been none the less impressive because it was spoken under
his breath. The others had listened in silence, awed, no doubt, by the
bitter flood of hate which coursed through every vein of this man's body
and poured in profusion from his lips. The death of father and brother
and of many friends, countless wrongs, years of misery, loss of caste,
of money and of home had numbed him against every feeling save that of
revenge.

"This time I'll let no man do the work for me," he said after a moment's
silence, "if you will all stand by me, I will smite the Stadtholder with
mine own hand."

This time he had raised his voice, just enough to wake the echo that
slept in the deserted edifice.

"Hush!" whispered one of his friends, "Hush! For God's sake!"

"Bah! The church is empty," retorted Stoutenburg, "and the verger too
far away to hear. I'll say it again, and proclaim it loudly now in this
very church before the altar of God: I will kill the Stadtholder with
mine own hand!"

"Silence in the name of God!"

More than one muffled voice had uttered the warning and Beresteyn's hand
fell heavily on Stoutenburg's arm.

"Hush, I say!" he whispered hoarsely, "there's something moving there in
the darkness."

"A rat mayhap!" quoth Stoutenburg lightly.

"No, no...listen!...some one moves...some one has been there...all
along...

"A spy!" murmured the others under their breath.

In a moment every man there had his hand on his sword: Stoutenburg and
Beresteyn actually drew theirs. They did not speak to one another for
they had caught one another's swift glance, and the glance had in it the
forecast of a grim resolve.

Whoever it was who thus moved silently out of the shadows--spy or merely
indiscreet listener--would pay with his life for the knowledge which he
had obtained. These men here could no longer afford to take any risks.
The words spoken by Stoutenburg and registered by them all could be made
the stepping stones to the scaffold if strange ears had caught their
purport.

They meant death to someone, either to the speakers or to the
eavesdropper; and six men were determined that it should be the
eavesdropper who must pay for his presence here.

They forced their eyes to penetrate the dense gloom which surrounded
them and one and all held their breath, like furtive animals that await
their prey. They stood there silent and rigid, a tense look on every
face; the one light fixed in the pillar above them played weirdly on
their starched ruffs scarce whiter than the pallid hue of their cheeks.

Then suddenly a sound caught their ears, which caused each man to start
and to look at his nearest companion with set inquiring eyes; it was the
sound of a woman's skirt swishing against the stone-work of the floor.
The seconds went by leaden-footed and full of portentous meaning. Each
heart-beat beneath the vaulted roof of the cathedral to-night seemed
like a knell from eternity.

How slow the darkness was in yielding up its secret!

At last as the conspirators gazed, they saw the form of a woman emerging
out of the shadows. At first they could only see her starched kerchief
and a glimmer of jewels beneath her cloak. Then gradually the
figure--ghostlike in this dim light--came more fully into view; the face
of a woman, her lace coif, the gold embroidery of her stomacher all
became detached one by one, but only for a few seconds, for the woman
was walking rapidly, nor did she look to right or left, but glided along
the floor like a vision--white, silent, swift--which might have been
conjured up by a fevered brain.

"A ghost!" whispered one of the young men hoarsely.

"No. A woman," said another, and the words came like a hissing sound
through his teeth.

Beresteyn and Stoutenburg said nothing for a while. They looked silently
on one another, the same burning anxiety glowing in their eyes, the same
glance of mute despair passing from one to the other.

"Gilda!" murmured Stoutenburg at last.

The swish of the woman's skirt had died away in the distance; not one of
the men had attempted to follow her or to intercept her passage.

Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn, no spy of course, just a chance eavesdropper!
But possessed nevertheless now of a secret which meant death to them
all!

"How much did she hear think you?" asked Stoutenburg at last.

He had replaced his sword in his scabbard with a gesture that expressed
his own sense of fatality. He could not use his sword against a
woman--even had that woman not been Gilda Beresteyn.

"She cannot have heard much," said one of the others, "we spoke in
whispers."

"If she had heard anything she would have known that only the west door
was to remain open. Yet she has made straight for the north portal,"
suggested another.

"If she did not hear the verger speaking she could not have heard what
we said," argued a third somewhat lamely.

Every one of them had some suggestion to put forward, some surmise to
express, some hope to urge. Only Beresteyn said nothing. He had stood
by, fierce and silent ever since he had first recognized his sister;
beneath his lowering brows the resolve had not died out of his eyes, and
he still held his sword unsheathed in his hand.

Stoutenburg now appealed directly to him.

"What do you think of it, Beresteyn?" he asked.

"I think that my sister did hear something of our conversation," he
answered quietly.

"Great God!" ejaculated the others.

"But," added Beresteyn slowly, "I pledge you mine oath that she will not
betray us."

"How will you make sure of that?" retorted Stoutenburg, not without a
sneer.

"That is mine affair."

"And ours too. We can do nothing, decide on nothing until we are sure."

"Then I pray you wait for me here," concluded Beresteyn. "I will bring
you a surety before we part this night."

"Let me go and speak to her," urged Stoutenburg.

"No, no, 'tis best that I should go."

Stoutenburg made a movement as if he would detain him, then seemed to
think better of it, and finally let him go.

Beresteyn did not wait for further comment from his friends but quickly
turned on his heel. The next moment he was speeding away across the vast
edifice and his tall figure was soon swallowed up by the gloom.




Chapter V--BROTHER AND SISTER

The verger on guard at the west door had quietly dropped to sleep. He
did not wake apparently when Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn slipped past him
and out through the door.

Beresteyn followed close on his sister's heels. He touched her shoulder
just as she stood outside the portal, wrapping her fur cloak more snugly
over her shoulders and looking round her, anxious where to find her
servants.

"'Tis late for you to be out this night, Gilda," he said, "and alone."

"I am only alone for the moment," she replied quietly. "Maria and Jakob
and Piet are waiting for me at the north door. I did not know it would
be closed."

"But why are you so late?"

"I stayed in church after the service."

"But why?" he insisted more impatiently.

"I could not pray during service," she said. "My thoughts wandered. I
wanted to be alone for a few moments with God."

"Did you not know then that you were not alone?"

"No. Not at first."

"But...afterwards...?"

"Your voice, Nicolaes, struck on my ear. I did not want to hear. I
wanted to pray."

"Yet you listened?"

"No. I did not wish to listen."

"But you heard?"

She gave no actual reply, but he could see her profile straight and
white, the curved lips firmly pressed together, the brow slightly
puckered, and from the expression of her face and of her whole attitude,
he knew that she had heard.

He drew in his breath, like one who has received a blow and has not yet
realized how deeply it would hurt. His right hand which was resting on
his hip tore at the cloth of his doublet, else mayhap it would already
have wandered to the hilt of his sword.

He had expected it of course. Already when he saw Gilda gliding out of
the shadows with that awed, tense expression on her face, he knew that
she must have heard...something at least...something that had horrified
her to the soul.

But now of course there was no longer any room for doubt. She had heard
everything and the question was what that knowledge, lodged in her
brain, might mean to him and to his friends.

Just for a moment the frozen, misty atmosphere took on a reddish hue,
his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth, a cold sweat broke out upon
his forehead.

He looked around him furtively, fearfully, wondering whence came that
hideous, insinuating whisper which was freezing the marrow in his bones.
No doubt that had she spoken then, had she reproached or adjured, he
would have found it impossible to regain mastery over himself. But she
looked so unimpassioned, so still, so detached, that self-control came
back to him, and for the moment she was safe.

"Will you tell me what you did hear?" he asked after awhile, with
seeming calm, though he felt as if his words must choke him, and her
answer strike him dead.

"I heard," she said, speaking very slowly and very quietly, "that the
Lord of Stoutenburg has returned and is trying to drag you and others
into iniquity to further his own ambitious schemes."

"You wrong him there, Gilda. The Lord of Stoutenburg has certain wrongs
to avenge which cry aloud to Heaven."

"We will not argue about that, Nicolaes," she said coldly. "Murder is
hideous, call it what you will. The brand of Cain doth defame a man and
carries its curse with it. No man can justify so dastardly a crime. 'Tis
sophistry to suggest it."

"Then in sending Barneveld to the scaffold did the Prince of Orange call
that curse upon himself, a curse which--pleas the God of
vengeance!--will come home to him now at last."

"'Tis not for you, Nicolaes, to condemn him, who has heaped favours,
kindness, bounties upon our father and upon us. 'Tis not for you, the
Stadtholder's debtor for everything you are, for everything that you
possess, 'tis not for you to avenge Barneveld's wrongs."

"'Tis not for you, my sister," he retorted hotly, "to preach to me your
elder brother. I alone am responsible for mine actions, and have no
account to give to any one."

"You owe an account of your actions to your father and to me, Nicolaes,
since your dishonour will fall upon us too."

"Take care, Gilda, take care!" he exclaimed hoarsely, "you speak of
things which are beyond your ken, but in speaking them you presume on my
forebearance...and on your sex."

"There is no one in sight," she said calmly, "you may strike me without
fear. One crime more or less on your conscience will soon cease to
trouble you."

"Gilda!" he cried with sudden passionate reproach.

At this involuntary cry--in which the expression of latent affection for
her struggled with that of his rage and of his burning anxiety--all her
own tender feelings for him, her womanliness, her motherly instincts
were reawakened in an instant. They had only been dormant for awhile,
because of her horror of what she had heard. And that horror of a
monstrous deed, that sense of shame that he--her brother--should be so
ready to acquiesce in a crime had momentarily silenced the call of
sisterly love. But this love once re-awakened was strong enough to do
battle in her heart on his behalf: the tense rigidity of her attitude
relaxed, her mouth softened, her eyes filled with tears. The next moment
she had turned fully to him and was looking pleadingly into his face.

"Little brother," she murmured gently, "tell me that it is not true.
That it was all a hideous dream."

He looked down on her for a moment. It pleased him to think that her
affection for him was still there, that at any rate his personal safety
might prove a potent argument against the slightest thought of
indiscretion on her part. She tried to read his thoughts, but everything
was dark around them both, the outline of his brow and mouth alone stood
clearly out from the gloom: the expression of his eyes she could not
fathom. But womanlike she was ready to believe that he would relent. It
is so difficult for a woman to imagine that one whom she loves is really
prone to evil. She loved this brother dearly, and did not rasp the fact
that he had reached a point in his life when a woman's pleading had not
the power to turn him from his purpose. She did not know how deeply he
had plunged into the slough of conspiracy, and that the excitement of it
had fired his blood to the exclusion of righteousness and of loyalty.
She hoped--in the simplicity of her heart--that he was only misled, that
evil counsels had only temporarily prevailed. Like a true woman she
still saw the child in this brother who had grown to manhood by her
side.

Therefore she appealed and she pleaded, she murmured tender words and
made fond suggestions, all the while that his heart was hard to
everything except to the one purpose which she was trying to thwart.

Not unkindly but quite firmly he detached her clinging arms from round
his neck.

"Let us call it a dream, little sister," he said firmly, "and do you try
and forget it."

"That I cannot, Nicolaes," she replied, "unless you will promise me..."

"To betray my friends?" he sneered.

"I would not ask you to do that: but you can draw back...it is not too
late...For our father's sake, and for mine, Nicolaes," she pleaded once
more earnestly. "Oh think, little bother, think! It cannot be that you
could countenance such a hideous crime, you who were always so loyal and
brave! I remember when you were quite a tiny boy what contempt you had
for little Jakob Steyn because he told lies, and how you thrashed Frans
van Overstein because he ill-treated a dog...Little brother, when our
father was ruined, penniless, after that awful siege of Haarlem, which
is still a hideous memory to him, the Prince of Orange helped him with
friendship and money to re-establish his commerce, he stood by him
loyally, constantly, until more prosperous days dawned upon our house.
Little brother, you have oft heard our father tell the tale, think...oh,
think of the blow you would be dealing him if you lent a hand to
conspiracy against the Prince. Little brother, for our father's sake,
for mine, do not let yourself be dragged into the toils of that
treacherous Stoutenburg."

"You call him treacherous now, but you loved him once."

"It is because I loved him once," she rejoined earnestly, "that I call
him treacherous now."

He made no comment on this, for he knew in his heart of hearts that what
she said was true. He knew nothing of course of the events of that night
in the early spring of the year when Gilda had sheltered and comforted
the man who had so basely betrayed her; but for her ministration to him
then, when exhausted and half-starved he sought shelter under her roof,
in her very room--he would not have lived for this further plotting and
this further infamy, nor yet to drag her brother down with him into the
abyss of his own disgrace.

Of this nocturnal visit Gilda had never spoken to anyone, not even to
Nicolaes who she knew was Stoutenburg's friend, least of all to her
father, whose wrath would have fallen heavily on her had he known that
she had harboured a traitor in his house.

"Stoutenburg lied to me, Nicolaes," she now said, seeing that still her
brother remained silent and morose, "he lied to me when he stole my
love, only to cast it away from him as soon as ambition called him from
my side. And as he lied then, so will he lie to you, little brother, he
will steal your allegiance, use you for his own ends and cast you
ruthlessly from him if he find you no longer useful. Yes, I did love him
once," she continued earnestly, "when he thought of staining his hands
with murder my love finally turned to contempt. This new infamy which he
plots hath filled the measure of my hate. Turn from him, little brother,
I do entreat you with my whole soul. He has been false to his God, false
to his prince, false to me! He will be false to you!"

"It is too late, Gilda," he retorted sombrely, "even if I were so
minded, which please God! I am not."

"It is never too late to draw back from such an abyss of shame."

"Be silent, girl," he said more roughly, angered that he was making no
headway against her obstinacy. "God-verdomme! But I am a fool indeed to
stand and parley here with you, when grave affairs wait upon my time.
You talk at random and of things you do not understand: I had no mind to
argue this matter out with you."

"I do not detain you, Nicolaes," she said simply with a sigh of bitter
disappointment. "If you will but call Maria and the men who wait at the
north door, I can easily relieve you of my presence."

"Yes and you can go home to your pots and pans, to your sewing and your
linen-chest, and remember to hold your tongue, as a woman should do, for
if you breathe of what you have heard, if you betray Stoutenburg who is
my friend, it is me--your only brother--whom you will be sending to the
scaffold."

"I would not betray you, Nicolaes," she said.

"Or any of my friends?"

"Or any of your friends."

"You swear it?" he urged.

"There is no need for an oath."

"Yes, there is a pressing need for an oath, Gilda," he retorted sternly.
"My friends expect it of you, and you must pledge yourself to them, to
forget all that you heard to-night and never to breathe of it to any
living soul."

"I cannot swear," she replied, "to forget that which my memory will
retain in spite of my will: nor would I wish to forget, because I mean
to exert all the power I possess to dissuade you from this abominable
crime, and because I mean to pray to God with all my might that He may
prevent the crime from being committed."

"You may pray as much as you like," he said roughly, "but I'll not have
you breathe a word of it to any living soul."

"My father has the right to know of the disgrace that threatens him.

"You would not tell him?" he exclaimed hoarsely.

"Not unless..."

"Unless what?"

"I cannot say. 'Tis all in God's hands and I do not know yet what my
duty is. As you say I am only a woman, and my place is with my pots and
pans, my sewing and my spindle. I have no right to have thoughts of mine
own. Perhaps you are right, and in that case my father must indeed be
the one to act. But this I do swear to you, Nicolaes, that before you
stain your hand with the blood of one who, besides being your sovereign
lord, is your father's benefactor and friend, I will implore God above,
that my father and I may both die ere we see you and ourselves so
disgraced."

Before he could detain her by word or gesture she had slipped past him
and turned to walk quickly toward the façade of the cathedral. An
outstanding piece of masonry soon hid her from his view. For the moment
he had thoughts of following her. Nicolaes Beresteyn was not a man who
liked being thwarted, least of all by a woman, and there was a sense of
insecurity for him in what she had said at the last. His life and that
of his friends lay in the hands of that young girl who had spoken some
very hard words to him just now. He loved her as a brother should, and
would not for his very life have seen her in any danger, but he had all
a man's desire for mastery and hatred of dependence: she had angered and
defied him, and yet remained in a sense his master.

He and his friends were dependent on her whim--he would not call it
loyalty or sense of duty to be done--it was her whim that would hold the
threads of a conspiracy which he firmly believed had the welfare of
Holland and of religion for its object, and it was her whim that would
hold the threat of the scaffold over himself and Stoutenburg and the
others. The situation was intolerable.

He ground his heel upon the stone and muttered an oath under his breath.
If only Gilda had been a man how simple would his course of action have
been. A man can be coerced by physical means, but a woman...and that
woman his own sister!

It was hard for Nicolaes Beresteyn, to have to think the situation out
calmly, dispassionately, to procrastinate, to let the matter rest at any
rate until the next day. But this he knew that he must do. He felt that
he had exhausted all the arguments, all the reasonings that were
consistent with his own pride; and how could he hope to coerce her into
oaths or promises of submission here in the open street and with Maria
and Jakob and Piet close by--eavesdropping mayhap?

Gilda was obstinate and had always been allowed more latitude in the way
of thing things out for herself than was good for any woman; but
Nicolaes knew that she would not take any momentous step in a hurry. She
would turn the whole of the circumstances over in her mind and as she
said do some praying too. What she would do afterwards he dared not even
conjecture.

For the moment he was forced to leave her alone, and primarily he
decided to let his friends know at once ho the matter stood.

He found them waiting anxiously for his return. I doubt if they had
spoken much during his absence. A chorus of laconic inquiry greeted him
as soon as his firm step rang out upon the flagstones.

"Well?"

"She has heard everything," he said quietly, "but, she will not betray
us. To this I pledge ye my word."




Chapter VI--THE COUNSELS OF PRUDENCE

Neither Stoutenburg nor any of the others had made reply to Beresteyn's
firmly spoken oath. They were hard-headed Dutchmen, every one of them:
men of action rather than men of words: for good or ill the rest of the
world can judge them for ever after by their deeds alone.

Therefore when the spectre of betrayal and of subsequent death appeared
so suddenly before them they neither murmured nor protested. They could
not in reason blame Beresteyn for his sister's presence in the cathedral
this night, nor yet that her thoughts and feelings in the matter of the
enmity between the Stadtholder and the Barneveld family did not coincide
with their own.

Silently they walked across the vast and lonely cathedral and filed one
by one out of the western door where Perk still held faithful watch.
Stoutenburg, their leader, had his lodgings in a small house situate at
the top of the Kleine Hout Straat, close to the well-known hostelry at
the sign of the "Lame Cow." This latter was an hostelry of unimpeachable
repute and thither did the six friends decide to go ere finally going
home for the night.

It had been decided between them some time ago that those who were able
to do so would show themselves in public as much as possible during the
next few days, so as to ward off any suspicion of intrigue which their
frequent consorting in secluded places might otherwise have aroused.

Out in the open they thought it best to disperse, electing to walk away
two and two rather than in a compact group which might call forth the
close attention of the night watchmen.

Stoutenburg linked his arm in that of Beresteyn.

"Let the others go on ahead," he said confidentially, "you and I,
friend, must understand one another ere we part for this night."

Then as Beresteyn made no immediate reply, he continued calmly:

"This will mean hanging for the lot of us this time, Nicolaes!"

"I pray to God..." exclaimed the other hoarsely.

"God will have nought to say in the matter, my friend," retorted
Stoutenburg dryly, "'tis only the Stadtholder who will have his say, and
do you think that he is like to pardon..."

"Gilda will never..."

"Oh, yes, she will," broke in Stoutenburg firmly; "be not deluded into
thoughts of security. Gilda will think the whole of this matter over for
four and twenty hours at the longest, after which, feeling herself in an
impasse between her affection for you and her horror of me, she will
think it her duty to tell your father all that she heard in the
cathedral to-night."

"Even then," said Beresteyn, hotly, "my father would not send his only
son to the gallows."

"Do you care to take that risk?" was the other man's calm retort.

"What can I do?"

"You must act decisively and at once, my friend," said Stoutenburg
dryly, "an you do not desire to see your friends marched off to torture
and the scaffold with yourself following in their wake."

"But how? How?" exclaimed Beresteyn.

His was by far the weaker nature of the two: easily led, easily swayed
by a will stronger than his own. Stoutenburg wielded vast influence over
him; he had drawn him into the net of his own ambitious schemes, and had
by promises and cajolery won his entire allegiance. Now that destruction
and death threatened Nicolaes through his own sister--whom he sincerely
loved--he turned instinctively to Stoutenburg for help and for advice.

"It is quite simple," said the latter slowly. "Gilda must be temporarily
made powerless to do us any harm."

"How?" reiterated Beresteyn helplessly.

"Surely you can think of some means yourself," retorted Stoutenburg
somewhat impatiently. "Self-preservation is an efficient sharpener of
wits as a rule, and your own life is in the hands of a woman now, my
friend."

"You seem to forget that that woman is my sister. How can I conspire to
do her bodily harm?"

"Who spake of bodily harm, you simpleton?" quoth Stoutenburg with a
harsh laugh, "'tis you who seem to forget that if Gilda is your sister
she is also the woman whom I love more than my life...more than my
ambition...more even than my revenge..."

He paused a moment, for despite his usual self-control his passion at
this moment threatened to master him. His voice rose harsh and
quivering, and was like to attract the notice of passers-by. After a
moment or two he conquered his emotion and said more calmly:

"Friend, we must think of our country and of our faith; we must think of
the success of our schemes: and, though Gilda be dear to us
both--infinitely dear to me--she must not be allowed to interfere with
the great object which we hope to attain. Think out a way therefore of
placing her in such a position that she cannot harm us: have her
conveyed to some place where she can be kept a prisoner for a few days
until I have accomplished what I have set out to do."

Then as Beresteyn said nothing, seeming to be absorbed in some new train
of thought, Stoutenburg continued more persuasively:

"I would I could carry her away myself and hold her--a beloved
prisoner--while others did my work for me. But that I cannot do: for
'twere playing the part of a coward and I have sworn before the altar of
God that I would kill the Stadtholder with mine own hand. Nor would I
have the courage so to offend her: for let me tell you this, Nicolaes,
that soaring even above my most ambitious dreams, is the hope that when
these have been realized, I may ask Gilda to share my triumph with me."

"Nor would I have the courage so to offend my sister...my father," said
Beresteyn. "You speak of carrying her off, and holding her a prisoner
for eight days perhaps, or even a fortnight. How can I, her own brother,
do that? 'Tis an outrage she would never forgive: my father would curse
me...disinherit me...turn me out of house and home..."

"And will he not curse you now, when he knows--when to-morrow mayhap,
Gilda will have told him that you, his son, have joined hands with the
Lord of Stoutenburg in a conspiracy to murder the Prince of Orange--will
he not disinherit you then? Turn you out of house and home?"

"Hold on for mercy's sake," exclaimed Beresteyn, who bewildered by the
terrible alternative thus put ruthlessly before him, felt that he must
collect his thoughts, and just--for the moment at any rate--put away
from him the tempter who insinuated thoughts of cowardice into his
brain.

"I'll say no more, then," said Stoutenburg quietly, "think it all over,
Nicolaes. My life, your own, those of all our friends are entirely in
your hands: the welfare of the state, the triumph of our faith depend on
the means which you will devise for silencing Gilda for a few brief
days."

After which there was silence between the two men. Beresteyn walked more
rapidly along, his fur-lined cloak wrapped closely round him, his arms
folded tightly across his chest and his hands clenched underneath his
cloak. Stoutenburg on the other hand was also willing to let the matter
drop and to allow the subtle poison which he had instilled into his
friend's mind to ferment and bring forth such thoughts as would suit his
own plans.

He knew how to gauge exactly the somewhat vacillating character of
Nicolaes Beresteyn, and had carefully touched every string of that
highly nervous organization till he left it quivering with horror at the
present and deathly fear for the future.

Gilda was a terrible danger, of that there could be no doubt. Nicolaes
had realized this to the full: the instinct of self-preservation was
strong in him: he would think over Stoutenburg's bold suggestion and
would find a way how to act on it. And at the bottom of his tortuous
heart Stoutenburg already cherished the hope that this new complication
which had dragged Gilda into the net of his own intrigues would also
ultimately throw her--a willing victim--into his loving arms.




Chapter VII--THREE PHILOSOPHERS AND THEIR FRIENDS

Whereupon Chance forged yet another link in the chain of a man's
destiny.

I pray you follow me now to the tapperij of the "Lame Cow." I had not
asked you to accompany me thither were it not for the fact that the
"Lame Cow" situate in the Kleine Hout Straat not far from the Cathedral,
was a well-ordered and highly respectable tavern, where indeed the sober
merry-makers of Haarlem as well as the gay and gilded youth of the city
were wont to seek both pleasure and solace.

You all know the house with its flat façade of red brick, its small
windows and tall, very tall gabled roof that ends in a point high up
above the front door. The tapperij is on your left as you enter. It is
wainscotted with oak which was already black with age in the year 1623;
above the wainscot the walls are white-washed, and Mynheer Beek, the
host of the "Lame Cow," who is a pious man, has hung the walls round
with scriptural texts, appropriate to his establishment, such as: "Eat,
drink and be merry!" and "Drink thy wine with a merry heart!"

From which I hope that I have convinced you that the "Lame Cow" was an
eminently orderly place of conviviality, where worthy burghers of
Haarlem could drink ale and hot posset in the company of mevrouws, their
wives.

And it was to this highly praised and greatly respected establishment
that three tired-out and very thirsty philosophers repaired this New
Year's night, instead of attending the watch-night service at one of the
churches.

Diogenes, feeling that three guilders still reposed safely in his
wallet, declared his intention of continuing his career as a gentleman,
and a gentleman of course could not resort to one of those low-class
taverns which were usually good enough for foreign adventurers.

And thus did Fate have her will with him and brought him here this
night.

Moreover the tap-room of the "Lame Cow" wore a very gay appearance
always on New Year's night. It was noted for its clientèle on that
occasion, for the good Rhenish wine which it dispensed, and for the gay
sight engendered by the Sunday gowns of the burghers and their ladies
who came here after service for a glass of wine and multifarious relish.

As the night was fine, despite the hard frost, Mynheer Beek expected to
be unusually busy. Already he had arranged on the polished tables the
rows of pewter platters heaped up with delicacies which he knew would be
in great request when the guests would begin to arrive: smoked sausage
garnished with horseradish, roasted liver and slabs of cheese.

The serving wenches with the sleeves of their linen shifts tucked well
up above their round red arms, their stolid faces streaming with
perspiration, were busy polishing tables that already were over-polished
and making pewter mugs to shine that already shone with a dazzling
radiance.

For the nonce the place was still empty and the philosophers when they
entered were able to select the table at which they wished to sit--one
near the hearth in which blazed gigantic logs, and at which they could
stretch out their limbs with comfort.

At Diogenes' suggestion they all made hasty repairs to their disordered
toilet, and readjusted the set of their collars and cuffs with the help
of the small mirror that hung close by against the wall.

Three strange forms of a truth that were thus mirrored in turns.

Socrates with a hole in his head, now freshly bandaged with a bit of
clean linen by the sympathetic hand of a serving maid: his hooked nose
neatly washed till it shone like the pewter handle of a knife, his
pointed cranium but sparsely furnished with lanky black hair peeping out
above the bandage like a yellow wurzel in wrappings of paper. His arms
and legs were unusually long and unusually thin, and he had long lean
hands and long narrow feet, but his body was short and slightly bent
forward as if under the weight of his head, which also was narrow and
long. His neck was like that of a stork that has been half-plucked, it
rose from out the centre of his ruffled collar with a curious undulating
movement, which suggested that he could turn it right round and look at
the middle of his own back. He wore a brown doublet of duffle and brown
trunks and hose, and boots that appeared to be too big even for his huge
feet.

Beside him Pythagoras looked like the full stop in a semi-colon, for he
was but little over five feet in height and very fat. His doublet of
thick green cloth had long ago burst its buttons across his protuberent
chest. His face, which was round as a full moon, was highly coloured
even to the tip of his small upturned nose, and his forehead, crowned by
a thick mass of red-brown hair which fell in heavy and lanky waves down
to his eyebrows, was always wet and shiny. He had a habit of standing
with legs wide apart, his abdomen thrust forward and his small podgy
hands resting upon it. His eyes were very small and blinked incessantly.
Below his double chin he wore a huge bow of starched white linen, which
at this moment was sadly crumpled and stained, and his collar which also
had seen more prosperous days was held together by a piece of string.

Like his friend Socrates, his trunk and hose were of worsted, and he
wore high leather boots which reached well above the knee and looked to
have been intended for a much taller person. The hat, with the tall
sugar-loaf crown, which he had picked up after the fray in the Dam
Straat, was much too small for his big round head. He tried, before the
mirror, to adjust it at a becoming angle.

In strange contrast to these two worthies was their friend whom they
called Diogenes. He himself, had you questioned him ever so closely,
could not have told you from what ancestry or what unknown parent had
come to him that air of swagger and of assurance which his avowed penury
had never the power to subdue. Tall above the average, powerfully built
and solidly planted on firm limbs he looked what he easily might have
been, a gentleman to the last inch of him. The brow was fine and broad,
the nose sensitive and well shaped, the mouth a perfect expression of
gentle irony. The soft brown hair, abundant and unruly, lent perhaps a
certain air of untamed wildness to the face, whilst the upturned
moustache and the tiny tuft below the upper lip accentuated the look of
devil-may-care independence which was the chief characteristic of the
mouth.

But the eyes were the most remarkable feature of all. They shone with an
unconquerable merriment, they twinkled and sparkled, and smiled and
mocked, they winked and they beckoned. They were eyes to which you were
obliged to smile in response, eyes that made you laugh if you felt ever
so sad, eyes that jested even before the mouth had spoken, and the mouth
itself was permanently curved into a smile.

Unlike his two companions, Diogenes was dressed not only with scrupulous
care but with a show of elegance. His doublet though well-worn was
fashioned of fine black cloth, the slashed sleeves still showed remnants
of gold embroidery, whilst the lace of his pleated collar was of
beautiful design.

Having completed their toilet the three friends sat at their table and
sipped their ale and wine in comparative silence for a time. Socrates,
weary with his wound, soon fell asleep with his arms stretched out
before him and his head resting in the bend of his elbow.

Pythagoras too nodded in his chair; but Diogenes remained wide awake,
and no doubt Mynheer Beek's wine gave him pleasing thoughts, for the
merry look never fled from his eyes.

Half an hour later you would scarce have recognised the tapperij from
its previous orderly silence, for at about one o'clock it began to fill
very fast. Mynheer Beek's guests were arriving.

It was still bitterly cold and they all came into the warm room clapping
their hands together and stamping the frozen snow off their feet, loudly
demanding hot ale or mulled wine, to be supplemented later on by more
substantial fare.

The two serving wenches were more busy, hotter and more profusely
streaming with moisture than they had ever been before. It was "Käthi
here!" and "Luise, why don't you hurry?" all over the tapperij now; and
every moment the noise became louder and more cheery.

Every corner of the low, raftered room was filled to overflowing with
chairs and tables. People sat everywhere where a perch was to be
found--on the corners of the tables and on the window sill and many sat
on the floor who could not find room elsewhere. The women sat on the
men's knees, and many of them had children in their arms as well. For
indeed, on watch-night, room had to be found for every one who wanted to
come in; no one who wanted to drink and to make merry must be left to
wander out in the cold.

A veritable babel of tongues made the whitewashed walls echo from end to
end, for Haarlem now was a mightily prosperous city, and there were a
great many foreign traders inside her walls, and some of these had
thought to make merry this night in the famed tap-room of the "Lame
Cow," French merchants with their silks, English ones with fine cloths
and paper, then there were the Jew dealers from Frankfurt and Amsterdam,
and the Walloon cattle drovers from Flanders.

Here and there the splendid uniform of a member of one of the shooting
guilds struck a note of splendour among the drabs and russets of worsted
doublets and the brilliant crimson or purple sashes gleamed in the
feeble light of the tallow candles which spluttered and flickered in
their sconces.

Then amongst them all were the foreign mercenaries, from Italy or
Brabant or Germany, or from God knows where, loud of speech, aggressive
in appearance, carrying swords and wearing spurs, filling the place with
their swagger and their ribaldry.

They had come to the Netherlands at the expiration of the truce with
Spain, offering to sell their sword and their skin to the highest
bidder. They seemed all to be friends and boon companions together,
called each other queer, fantastic names and shouted their rough jests
to one another across the width of the room. Homeless, shiftless,
thriftless, they knew no other names save those which chance or the
coarse buffoonery of their friends had endowed them with. There was a
man here to-night who was called Wry-face and another who went by the
name of Gutter-rat. Not one amongst them mayhap could have told you who
his father was or who his mother, nor where he himself had first seen
the light of day; but they all knew of one another's career, of one
another's prowess in the field at Prague or Ghent or Madgeburg, and they
formed a band of brothers--offensive and defensive--which was the
despair of the town-guard whenever the law had to be enforced against
any one of them.

It was at the hour when Mynheer Beek was beginning to hope that his
guests would soon bethink themselves of returning home and leaving him
to his own supper and bed, that a party of these worthies made noisy
interruption into the room. They brought with them an atmosphere of
boisterous gaiety with their clanking spurs and swords, their loud
verbiage and burly personality.

"Hech da!" yelled one of these in a stentorian voice, "whom have we
there, snug and cosy in the warmest corner of this hole but our three
well-beloved philosophers. Diogenes, old compeer," he shouted still
louder than before, "is there room in your tub for your friends?"

"Plenty round this table, O noble Gutter-rat," shouted Diogenes in
joyful response, "but let me give you warning that space as well as
common funds are running short, and that every newcomer who wants to sit
must stand the others a draught of ale apiece; that is the price of a
corner of this bench on which ye may sit if ye have a mind."

"Done with you," agreed all the newcomers lustily, and with scant
ceremony they pushed their way through the closely packed throng.

They took no notice of the mutterings of more sober customers, angered
at seeing their mantles crushed or feeling their toes trodden on. It
suddenly seemed as if the whole place belonged to these men and that the
peaceful burghers of the city were only here on suffrance.

The three philosophers had already called for some old Rhenish wine on
draught. Käthi and Luise brought pewter jugs and more goblets along.
Soon Gutter-rat and his friends were installed at the table, squeezed
against one another on the narrow wooden benches. Pythagoras had already
rolled off his corner seat and was sitting on the floor; Diogenes was
perched on the corner of the table.

Socrates roused by the noise, opened a pair of heavy eyes and blinked
round him in astonishment. Gutter-rat deposited his bulky form close
beside him and brought his large and grimy hand down on the shoulder of
the sleepy philosopher.

"Hello, wise Socrates," he cried in his rough, husky voice, "I hope you
have been having pleasant dreams."

"No, I have not," growled Socrates laconically.

"Take no heed of him," laughed Diogenes, "he has a hole in his head
through which his good temper has been oozing out bit by bit. And yet if
you'll all believe me he has been reposing there so peacefully and
snoring so lustily that I thought he must be dreaming of Heaven and the
last trumpet call."

"I was dreaming of all the chances which Pythagoras and I have missed
to-night owing to your d--d nonsense," said Socrates, who was more sulky
now than he had been before he went to sleep.

Pythagoras uttered a prolonged sigh and gazed meditatively down into the
depths of his mug of ale. Gutter-rat and the others looked inquiringly
from one philosopher to the other.

"Diogenes been at his tricks again?" asked Gutter-rat.

Socrates and Pythagoras nodded in their gloomy response.

"Gallantry, eh? some beauteous damsel, to succour whom we throw our
life, our best chances away?" continued the other with ironical
sympathy, the while Diogenes' entire face was wreathed in one huge,
all-embracing smile. Gutter-rat admonished him with solemn voice and
uplifted finger.

"Conduct unworthy a philosopher," he said.

"If he had only injured himself," growled Socrates.

"And let us enjoy the gifts which a beneficent goddess was ready to pour
into our lap," added Pythagoras dulcetly from the floor.

"Let's hear the story," concluded Gutter-rat.

The others clapped their mugs against the table-top and shouted: "The
story! the story!" to the accompaniment of din that drowned all other
noises in the room.

Pythagoras from his lowly position began his narrative in a faint,
injured tone of voice. He related the incidents of this night from the
moment when the chance of possessing oneself with but little trouble of
a tulip bulb worth fifteen thousand florins was so airily flouted, down
to the awful moment when a young and beauteous lady made offers of
influence and money which were equally airily refused.

Gutter-rat and the others listened attentively. They specially relished
the exciting incidents connected with the affray in Dam Straat, the
breaking of Jan Tiele's nose and the dispersal of the mob with the aid
of a lighted torch.

"Bravo! Splendid!" they shouted at intervals and loudly expressed their
regret at having missed such furious fun.

Socrates threw in a word or two now and then, when Pythagoras did not
fully explain his own valourous position in the fight, but Diogenes said
nothing at all; he allowed his comrade to tell the tale his own way; the
recollection of it seemed to afford him vast amusement for he hummed a
lively tune to himself all the while.

Pythagoras now was mimicking his friend, throwing into this performance
all the disgust which he felt.

"Raise thy hand to my lips, mejuffrouw," he said mincing his words,
"momentarily I have not the use of mine own."

His round, beady eyes appealed to his listeners for sympathy, and there
is no doubt that he got that in plenty.

Gutter-rat more especially highly disapproved of the dénouement of what
might have proved a lucrative adventure.

"The rich jongejuffrouw might even have fallen in love with you," he
said sternly to Diogenes, "and endowed you with her father's wealth and
influence."

"That's just my complaint," said Pythagoras, "but no! what else do you
think he said earlier in the evening?"

"Well?"

"Tonight we'll behave like gentlemen," quoted the other with
ever-growing disgust, "and not like common thieves."

"Why to-night?" queried Gutter-rat in amazement. "Why more especially
to-night?"

Pythagoras and Socrates both shrugged their shoulders and suggested no
explanation. After which there was more vigorous clapping of mugs
against the table-top and Diogenes was loudly summoned to explain.

"Why to-night? why tonight?" was shouted at him from every side.

Diogenes' face became for one brief moment quite grave--quite grave be
it said, but for his eyes which believe me could not have looked grave
had they tried.

"Because," he said at last when the shouts around him had somewhat
subsided, "I had three guilders in my wallet, because my night's lodging
is assured for the next three nights and because my chief creditor has
died like a hero. Therefore, O comrades all! I could afford the luxury."

"What luxury?" sneered Gutter-rat in disgust, "to refuse the patronage
of an influential burgher of this city, backed by the enthusiasm of the
beauteous damsel, his daughter?"

"To refuse all patronage, good comrade." assented Diogenes with
emphasis.

"Bah! for twenty-four hours!..."

"Yes! for twenty-four hours, friend Gutter-rat, while those three
florins last and I have a roof over my head for which I have already
paid...I can for those four and twenty hours afford the luxury of doing
exactly and only what it pleases me to do."

He threw up his head and stretched out his massive limbs with a gesture
of infinite satisfaction, his merry mocking glance sweeping over the
company of watch-night revellers, out-at-elbows ragamuffins, and sober
burghers with their respectable vrouws, all of whom were gaping on him
open-mouthed.

"For four and twenty hours, my dear Gutter-rat," he continued after a
long sigh of contentment, "that is during this day which has just dawned
and the night which must inevitably follow it, I am going to give myself
the luxury of speaking only when I choose and of being dumb if the fancy
so takes me...while my three florins last and I know that I need not
sleep under the stars, I shall owe my fealty only to my whim--I shall
dream when and what I like, sing what I like, walk in company or alone.
For four and twenty hours I need not be the ivy that clings nor the hose
that is ragged at the knee. I shall be at liberty to wear my sash awry,
my shoes unbuckled, my hat tilted at an angle which pleases me best.
Above all, O worthy rat of the gutter, I need not stoop for four and
twenty hours one inch lower than I choose, or render aught to Cæsar for
Cæsar will have rendered naught to me. On this the first day of the New
Year there is no man or woman living who can dictate to me what I shall
do, and to-night in the lodgings for which I have paid, when I am asleep
I can dream that I am climbing up the heights toward a mountain top
which mayhap doth not quite stretch as far as the clouds, but which I
can reach alone. To-day and to-night I am a man and not a bit of ribbon
that flutters at the breath of man or woman who has paid for the
fluttering with patronage."

Gradually as he spoke and his fresh young voice, sonorous with
enthusiasm rang clearly from end to end of the raftered room,
conversation, laughter, bibulous songs were stilled and every one turned
to look at the speaker, wondering who he could be. The good burghers of
Haarlem had no liking for the foreign mercenaries for whom they
professed vast contempt because of their calling, and because of the
excesses which they committed at the storming of these very walls, which
event was within the memory of most. Therefore, though they were
attracted by the speaker, they were disgusted to find that he belonged
to that rabble; but the women thought that he was goodly to look upon,
with those merry, twinkling eyes of his, and that atmosphere of
light-heartedness and a gaiety which he diffused around him. Some of the
men who were there and who professed knowledge in such matters, declared
that this man's speech betrayed him for an Englishman.

"I like not the race," said a pompous man who sat with wife and kindred
round a table loaded with good things. "I remember the English Leicester
and his crowd, men of loose morals and doubtful piety; braggarts and
roisterers we all thought them. This man is very like some of them in
appearance."

"Thou speakest truly, O wise citizen of this worthy republic," said
Diogenes, boldly answering the man's low-spoken words, "my father was
one of the roisterers who came in English Leicester's train. An
Englishman he, of loose morals and doubtful piety no doubt, but your
sound Dutch example and my mother's Dutch blood--Heaven rest her
soul--have both sobered me since then."

He looked round at the crowd of faces, all of which were now turned
toward him, kindly faces and angry ones, contemptuous eyes and
good-natured ones, and some that expressed both compassion and reproof.

"By the Lord," he said, and as he spoke he threw back his head and burst
into a loud and prolonged fit of laughter, "but I have never in my life
seen so many ugly faces before."

There was a murmur and many angry words among the assembly. One or two
of the men half rose from their seats, scowling viciously and clenching
their fists. Master Beek perspiring with anxiety saw these signs of a
possible fray. The thought drove him well-nigh frantic. An affray in his
establishment on New Year's morning! it was unthinkable! He rushed round
to his customers with a veritable dictionary of soothing words upon his
tongue.

"Gentlemen! gentlemen," he entreated, "I beg of you to calm
yourselves...I humbly beseech you to pay no heed to these men..."

"Plepshurk! Insolent rabble!" quoth a corpulent gentleman who was
crimson with wrath.

"Yes, mynheer, yes, yes," stammered Beek meekly, "but they are
foreigners...they...they do not understand our Dutch ways...but they
mean no harm...they..."

Some of the younger men were not easily pacified.

"Throw them out, Beek," said one of them curtly.

"They make the place insufferable with their bragging and their
insolence," muttered another.

Diogenes and his friends could not help but see these signs of latent
storm, and Mynheer Beek's feeble efforts at pacifying his wrathful
guests. Diogenes had laughed long and loudly, now he had to stop in
order to wipe his eyes which were streaming; then quite casually he drew
Bucephalus from its scabbard and thoughtfully examined its blade.

Almost simultaneously the fraternity of merry-makers at his table also
showed a sudden desire to examine the blade of their swords and
immediately half a dozen glints of steel caught the reflection of tallow
candles.

I would not assert that order was restored because of these unconscious
gestures on the part of the insolent rabble aforesaid, but certain it is
that within the next few seconds decorum once more prevailed as if magic
had called it forth.

Mynheer Beek heaved a sigh of relief.

"All that you said just now was well spoken, sir," broke in a firm voice
which proceeded from a group of gentlemen who sat at a table next to the
one occupied by the philosophers and their friends, "but 'twere
interesting to hear what you propose doing on the second day of this New
Year."

Diogenes was in no hurry to reply. The man who had just spoken sat
directly behind him, and Bucephalus--so it seemed--still required his
close attention. When he had once more replaced his faithful friend into
its delicately wrought scabbard he turned leisurely round and from the
elevated position which he still occupied on the corner of the table he
faced his interlocutor.

"What I propose doing?" he quoth politely.

"Why yes. You said just now that for four and twenty hours you were free
to dream and to act as you will, but how will it be to-morrow?"

"To-morrow, sir," rejoined Diogenes lightly, "I shall be as poor in
pocket as the burghers of Haarlem are in wits, and then..."

"Yes? and then?"

"Why then, sir, I shall once more become an integral portion of that
rabble to which you and your friends think no doubt that I rightly
belong. I shall not have one silver coin in my wallet and in order to
obtain a handful I shall be ready to sell my soul to the devil, my skin
to the Stadtholder..."

"And your honour, sir?" queried the other with a sneer, "to whom will
you sell that precious guerdon to-morrow?"

"To you, sir," retorted Diogenes promptly, "an you are short of the
commodity."

An angry word rose to the other man's lips, but his eyes encountered
those of his antagonist and something in the latter's look, something in
the mocking eyes, the merry face, seemed to disarm him and to quench his
wrath. He even laughed good-humouredly and said:

"Well spoken, sir. You had me fairly there with the point of your
tongue. No doubt you are equally skilful with the point of your
rapier..."

"It shall be at your service after to-morrow, sir," rejoined Diogenes
lightly.

"You live by the profession of arms, sir? No offence, 'tis a noble
calling, though none too lucrative I understand."

"My wits supply, sir, what my sword cannot always command."

"You are ambitious?"

"I told my friends just now wherein lay my ambition."

"Money--an independent competence...so I understand. But surely at your
age, and--if you will pardon mine outspokenness--with your looks, sir,
women or mayhap one woman must play some part in your dreams of the
future."

"Women, sir," retorted Diogenes dryly, "should never play a leading rôle
in the comedy of a philosopher's life. As a means to an
end--perhaps...the final dénouement..."

"Always that one aim I see--a desire for complete independence which the
possession of wealth alone can give."

"Always," replied the other curtly.

"And beyond that desire, what is your chief ambition, sir?"

"To be left alone when I have no mind to talk," said Diogenes with a
smile which was so pleasant, so merry, so full of self-deprecating irony
that it tempered the incivility of his reply.

Again the other bit his lip, checking an angry word; for some
unexplained reason he appeared determined not to quarrel with this
insolent young knave. The others stared at their friend in utter
astonishment.

"What fly hath bitten Beresteyn's ear?" whispered one of them under his
breath. "I have never known him so civil to a stranger or so unwilling
to take offence."

Certainly the other man's good humour did not seem to have abated one
jot; after an imperceptible moment's pause, he rejoined with perfect
suavity:

"You do not belie your name, sir, I heard your friends calling you
Diogenes, and I feel proud that you should look on me as Alexander and
call on me to stand out of your sunshine."

"I crave your pardon, sir," said Diogenes somewhat more seriously, "my
incivility is unwarrantable in the face of your courtesy. No doubt it
had its origin in the fact that like my namesake I happened to want
nothing at the moment. To-morrow, sir, an you are minded to pay for my
services, to ask for my sword, my soul or my wits, and in exchange will
offer me the chance of winning a fortune or of marrying a wife who is
both rich and comely, why sir, I shall be your man, and will e'en
endeavour to satisfy you with the politeness of my speech and the
promptness and efficiency of my deeds. To-morrow, sir, you and the devil
will have an equal chance of purchasing my soul for a few thousand
guilders, my wits for a paltry hundred, my skin for a good supper and a
downy bed--to-morrow the desire will seize me once again to possess
wealth at any cost, and my friends here will have no cause to complain
of my playing a part which becomes a penniless wastrel like myself so
ill--the part of a gentleman. Until then, sir, I bid you good-night. The
hour is late and Mynheer Beek is desirous of closing this abode of
pleasure. As for me, my lodgings being paid for I do not care to leave
them unoccupied."

Whereupon he rose and to Mynheer Beek--who came to him with that same
ubiquitous smile which did duty for all the customers of the "Lame
Cow"--he threw the three silver guilders which the latter demanded in
payment for the wine and ale supplied to the honourable gentleman: then
as he met the mocking glance of his former interlocutor he said with a
recrudescence of gaiety:

"I still have my lodgings, gentle sir, and need not sell my soul or my
skin until after I have felt a gnawing desire for breakfast."

With a graceful flourish of his plumed hat he bowed to the assembled
company and walked out of the tap-room of the "Lame Cow" with swagger
that would have befitted the audience chamber of a king.

In his wake followed the band of his boon companions, they too strode
out of the place with much jingle of steel and loud clatter of heavy
boots and accoutrements. They laughed and talked loudly as they left and
gesticulated with an air of independence which once more drew upon them
the wrathful looks and contemptuous shrugs of the sober townsfolk.

Diogenes alone as he finally turned once again in the doorway
encountered many a timid glance levelled at him that were soft and
kindly. These glances came from the women, from the young and from the
old, for women are strange creatures of whims and of fancies, and there
was something in the swaggering insolence of that young malapert that
made them think of breezy days upon the sea-shore, of the song of the
soaring lark, of hyacinths in bloom and the young larches on the edge of
the wood.

And I imagine that their sluggish Dutch blood yielded to these
influences and was greatly stirred by memories of youth.




Chapter VIII--THE LODGINGS WHICH WERE PAID FOR

And once again Chance set to with a will and forged yet another link in
that mighty chain which she had in hand.

For was it not in the natural course of things that the three
philosophers, weary and thirsty as they were, should go and seek solace
and material comfort under the pleasing roof of the "Lame Cow"--which as
I remarked before was reputed one of the best conducted hostelries in
Haarlem, and possessing a cellar full of wines and ales which had not
its equal even in Amsterdam.

And was it not equally natural since the Lord of Stoutenburg lodged not
far from that self-same hostelry--again I repeat one of the soberest in
Haarlem--that his friends should choose to join him in the tap-room
there ere parting from one another on this eventful night.

Stoutenburg and his family were but little known in these parts and the
hue and cry after the escaped traitor had somewhat abated these few
months past: moreover he was well disguised with beard and cloak and he
kept a broad-brimmed hat pulled well down over his brow. On watch-night
too, the burghers and their vrouws as well as the civic and military
dignitaries of the town had plenty to do to think on their own enjoyment
and the entertainment of their friends: they certes were not on the
look-out for conspiracies and dangerous enemies within their gates.

Stoutenburg had sat well screened from general observation within a dark
recess of the monumental fireplace. Nicolaes Beresteyn, the most
intimate of all his friends, sat close to him, but neither of them spoke
much. Beresteyn was exceptionally moody; he appeared absorbed in thought
and hardly gave answer to those who attempted to draw him into
conversation. Stoutenburg, on the other hand affected a kind of grim
humour, and made repeated allusions to scaffold or gallows as if he had
already wholly resigned himself to an inevitable fate.

The others sipped their mulled wine and tried to chat themselves out of
the burning anxiety which Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn's presence in the
cathedral had awakened in their hearts. They had made great efforts not
to seem pre-occupied and to be outwardly at least as gay as any of the
other watch-night revellers in the room.

But with their thoughts fixed upon that vision of awhile ago--a woman
appearing before them within twenty paces of the spot where death to the
Stadtholder had just been loudly proclaimed amongst them--with that
vision fixed upon their minds, they found light conversation and
ordinary manner very difficult to keep up.

The peroration of the young adventurer had proved a welcome diversion:
it had immediately aroused Stoutenburg's interest. He it was who first
drew Beresteyn's attention to it, and he again who checked the angry
words which more than once rose to his friend's lips at the insolent
attitude affected by the knave.

And now when the latter finally swaggered out of the room it was
Stoutenburg who made a sign to Beresteyn and then immediately rose to
go.

Beresteyn paid his account and went out too, in the wake of his friend.

With the advent of the small morning hours the snow once more began to
fall in large sparse flakes that lay thick and glistening where they
fell. At the end of the Kleine Hout Straat where the two men presently
found themselves, the feeble light of a street lamp glimmered through
this white fluttering veil: with its help the group of foreign
mercenaries could be dimly seen in the distance as they took leave of
one another.

The tall form of Diogenes, crowned with his plumed hat, was easily
distinguishable amongst them. He with his two special friends, fat
Pythagoras and lean Socrates, remained standing for a few moments at the
corner of the street after the others had departed: then only did the
three of them turn and walk off in the direction of the Oude Gracht.

For some reason, as unexplainable as that which had guided their conduct
at the "Lame Cow," Beresteyn and Stoutenburg, quite unconscious of the
cold, elected to follow.

Was it not Chance that willed it so? Chance who was busy forging a chain
and who had need of these two men's extraordinary interest in a nameless
adventurer in order to make the links of that chain fit as neatly as she
desired.

At the bottom of the Klein Hout Straat, where it abuts on the Oude
Gracht, the three philosophers had again paused, obviously this time in
order to take leave of one another. The houses here were of a peculiarly
woe-be-gone appearance, with tiny windows which could not possibly have
allowed either air or light to penetrate within, and doors that were
left ajar and were creaking on their hinges, showing occasional glimpses
of dark unventilated passages beyond and of drifts of snow heaped up
against the skirting of the worm-eaten, broken-down wooden floors. They
were miserable lodging-houses of flimsy construction and low rentals,
which the close proximity of the sluggish canal rendered undesirable.

The ground floor was in most instances occupied by squalid-looking
shops, from which fetid odours emanated through the chinks and cracks of
the walls. The upper rooms were let out as night-lodgings to those who
were too poor to afford better quarters.

Diogenes with all his swagger and his airs of an out-at-elbows gentleman
evidently was one of those, for he was now seen standing on the
threshold of one of these dilapidated houses and his two friends were
finally bidding him good-night.

By tacit consent Beresteyn and Stoutenburg drew back further into the
shadow of the houses opposite. There appeared to be some understanding
between these two men, an understanding anent a matter of supremely
grave import, which caused them to stand here on the watch with feet
buried in the snow that lay thick in the doorways, silently taking note
of every word spoken and of every act that occurred on the other side of
this evil-smelling street.

There seemed to be no need for speech between them; for the nonce each
knew that the other's thoughts were running in the same groove as his
own; and momentarily these thoughts were centered into a desire to
ascertain definitely if it was the tallest and youngest of those three
knaves over there who lodged in that particular house.

It was only when the fat man and the lean one had finally turned away
and left their comrade on the doorstep that the watchers appeared
satisfied and nodding silently to one another made ready to go home.
They had turned their steps once more toward the more salubrious and
elegant quarter of the city, and had gone but a few steps in that
direction when something occurred behind them which arrested their
attention and caused them to look back once more.

The Something was a woman's cry, pitiful in the extreme: not an unusual
sound in the streets of a prosperous city surely, and one which under
ordinary circumstances would certainly not have aroused Stoutenburg's or
Beresteyn's interest. But the circumstances were not ordinary; the cry
came from the very spot where the two men had last seen the young
stranger standing in the doorway of his lodgings and the appeal was
obviously directed toward him.

"Kind sir," the woman was saying in a quavering voice, "half a guilder I
entreat you for the love of Christ."

"Half a guilder, my good woman," Diogenes said in response, "'Tis a
fortune to such as I. I have not a kreutzer left in my wallet, 'pon my
honour!"

Whereupon the two men who watched this scene from the opposite side of
the street saw that the woman fell on her knees, and that beside her
there stood an old man who made ready to follow her example.

"It's no use wearing out your stockings on this snow-covered ground, my
good girl," said Diogenes good-humouredly. "All the kneeling in the
world will not put half a guilder into my pocket nor apparently into
yours."

"And father and I must sleep under the canal bridge and it is so
bitterly cold," the woman moaned more feebly.

"Distinctly an uncomfortable place whereat to spend a night," rejoined
the philosopher, "I have slept there myself before now, so I know."

Seemingly he made an attempt to turn incontinently on his heel, for the
woman put out her hands and held on to his cloak.

"Father is crippled with ague, kind sir, he will die if he sleeps out
there to-night," she cried.

"I am afraid he will," said Diogenes blandly.

In the meanwhile, Pythagoras and Socrates, who evidently had not gone
very far, returned in order to see what was going on, on their friend's
doorstep. It was Pythagoras who first recognized the wench.

"Thunder and lightning," he exclaimed, "'tis the Papist!"

"Which Papist?" queried Diogenes.

"Yes, gentle sirs," said the woman piteously, "you rescued me nobly this
evening from that awful, howling mob. My father and I were able to go to
midnight mass in peace. May God reward you all. But," she added naïvely,
"'twas no good preventing those horrid men from killing us, if we are to
die from cold and hunger under the bridge of the canal."

All of which was not incomprehensible to the two men on the watch who
had heard a graphic account of the affray in Dam Straat as it was told
by Pythagoras in the tap-room of the "Lame Cow." And they both drew a
little nearer so as not to lose a word of the scene which they were
watching with ever growing interest. Neither of them attempted to
interfere in it, however, though Beresteyn at any rate could have poured
many a guilder in the hands of those two starving wretches, without
being any the poorer himself and though he was in truth not a
hard-hearted man.

"The wench is right," now said Diogenes firmly, "the life which we
helped to save, we must not allow to be frittered away. I talked of
stockings, girl," he added lightly, "but I see thy feet are bare...
Brrr! I freeze when I look at thee..."

"For a quarter guilder father and I could find a lodging..."

"But Dondersteen!" he exclaimed, "did I not tell thee that I have not
one kreutzer in my wallet, and unless my friends can help thee..."

"Diogenes thou speakest trash," interposed Pythagoras softly.

"We must both starve of cold this night," moaned the woman in despair.

"Nay ye shall not!" said Diogenes with sudden decision. "There is a room
in this very house which has been paid for three nights in advance. Go
to it, wench, 'tis at the very top of the stairs, crawl thither as fast
as thou canst, dragging thy ramshackle parent in thy wake. What ho
there!" he shouted at the top of his ringing voice, "what ho my worthy
landlord! What ho!"

And with his powerful fists he began pounding against the panels of the
door which swung loosely under the heavy blows.

Stoutenburg and Beresteyn drew yet a little nearer: they were more
deeply interested than ever in all that was going on outside this
squalid lodging house.

The three philosophers were making a sufficiency of noise to wake half
the street and within a very few minutes they succeeded in their
purpose. Through one or two of the narrow frames overhead heads appeared
enveloped in shawls or cloaks, and anon the landlord of the house came
shuffling down the passage, carrying a lighted, guttering taper.

The two silent watchers could not see this man, but they could hear him
grumbling and scolding audibly in short jerky sentences which he
appeared to throw somewhat tentatively at his rowdy lodger.

"Late hour of the night," they heard him muttering. "New Year's
morning...Respectable house...noise to attract the town guard..."

"Hadst thou turned out of thy bed sooner, O well-beloved lord of this
abode of peace," said Diogenes cheerily, "there would have been less
noise outside its portals. Had I not loved thee as I do, I would not
have wakened thee from thy sleep, but would have acted in accordance
with my rights and without bringing to thy ken a matter which would
vastly have astonished thee in the morning."

The man continued to mutter, more impatiently this time:

"New Year's morning...respectable citizen...work to do in the
morning...undesireable lodgers..."

"All lodgers are desirable who pay for their lodging, O wise landlord,"
continued Diogenes imperturbably, "I have paid thee for mine, for three
nights from this day and I herewith desire thee to place my palatial
residence at the disposal of this jongejuffrouw and of mynheer her
father."

The man's mutterings became still more distinct.

"Baggage...how do I know?...not bound to receive them..."

"Nay! but thou are a liar, Master Landlord," quoth Diogenes still
speaking quite pleasantly, "for the lodgings being mine, I have the
right to receive in them anybody whom I choose. Therefore now do I give
thee the option, either to show my guests straightway and with
meticulous politeness into my room, or to taste the power and weight of
my boot in the small of thy back and the hardness of my sword-hilt
across thy shoulders."

This time the man's mutterings became inaudible. Nicolaes Beresteyn and
Stoutenburg could only guess what was passing in the narrow corridor of
the house opposite. The one moment there was a heart-rending howl, which
suggested that the landlord's obduracy had lasted a few moments too long
for the impatient temper of a philosopher; but the howl was not repeated
and soon Diogenes' clear voice rang out lustily again:

"There! I knew that gentle persuasion would prevail. Dearly beloved
landlord, now I pray thee guide the jongejuffrouw and mynheer her father
to my sleeping chamber. It is at thy disposal, wench, for three nights,"
he added airily, "make the most of it; and if thou hast aught to
complain of my friend the landlord, let me know. I am always to be found
at certain hours of the day within the congenial four walls of the 'Lame
Cow'. Good-night then and pleasant dreams."

What went on after that the watchers could, of course, not see. The
wench and the old man had disappeared inside the house, where, if they
had a spark of gratitude in them, they would undoubtedly be kneeling
even now at the feet of their whimsical benefactor.

The next moment the interested spectators of this stirring little scene
beheld the three philosophers once more standing together at the corner
of the street under the feebly flickering lamp and the slowly falling
snow; the door of the lodging-house had been slammed to behind them and
the muffled heads had disappeared from out the framework of the windows
above.

"And now, perhaps you will tell us what you are going to do," said
Pythagoras in flute-like tones.

"There is not a bed vacant in the dormitory where I sleep," said
Socrates.

"Nor would I desire to sleep in one of those kennels fit only for dogs
which I cannot imagine how you both can stomach," quoth Diogenes
lightly; "the close proximity of Pythagoras and yourself and of al those
who are most like you in the world would chase pleasing sleep from mine
eyelids. I prefer the Canal."

"You cannot sleep out of doors in this h--l of a cold night," growled
Socrates.

"And I cannot go back to the 'Lame Cow' for I have not a kreutzer left
in my wallet wherewith to pay for a sip."

"Then what the d---l are you going to do?" reiterated Pythagoras
plaintively.

"I have a friend," said Diogenes after a slight pause.

"Hm?" was the somewhat dubious comment on this fairly simple statement.

"He will give me breakfast early in the morning."

"Hm!"

"'Tis but a few hours to spend in lonely communion with nature."

"Hm!"

"The cathedral clock has struck three, at seven my good Hals will ply me
with hot ale and half his hunk of bread and cheese."

"Hals?" queried Socrates.

"Frans Hals," replied Diogenes; "he paints pictures and contrives to
live on the proceeds. If his wife does not happen to throw me out, he
will console me for the discomforts of this night."

"Bah!" ejaculated Pythagoras in disgust, "a painter of pictures!"

"And a brave man when he is sober."

"With a scold for a wife! Ugh! what about your playing the part of a
gentleman now?"

"The play was short, O wise Pythagoras," retorted Diogenes with
imperturbable good humour, "the curtain has already come down upon the
last act. I am once more a knave, a merchant ready to flatter the
customer who will buy his wares: Hech there, sir, my lord! what are your
needs? My sword, my skin, they are yours to command! so many guilders,
sir, and I will kill your enemy for you, fight your battles, abduct the
wench that pleases you. So many guilders! and when they are safely in my
pocket I can throw my glove in your face lest you think I have further
need of your patronage."

"'Tis well to brag," muttered Pythagoras, but you'll starve with cold
this night."

"But at dawn I'll eat a hearty breakfast offered me by my friend Frans
Hals for the privilege of painting my portrait."

"Doth he really paint thy portrait, O handsome Diogenes?" said
Pythagoras unctuously.

"Aye! thou ugly old toad. He has begun a new one, for which I have
promised to sit. I'll pay for the breakfast he gives me, by donning a
gorgeous gold embroidered doublet which he once stole from somewhere, by
putting my hand on my hip, tilting my hat at a becoming angle, and
winking at him by the hour whilst he paints away."

"Hm! after a night of wandering by the canal in the fog and snow and
sharing the meagre breakfast of a half-starved painter, methinks the
portrait will be that of a knight of the rueful countenance."

"Indeed not, old compeer," said Diogenes with a hearty laugh, "it shall
be the portrait of a Laughing Cavalier."




Chapter IX--The Painter of Pictures

After this episode Chance had little to do with the further events of
this veracious chronicle.

Men took their destiny in their own hands and laughed at Fate and at the
links of the chain which she had been forging so carefully and so
patiently ever since she began the business on the steps of the Stadhuis
a few short hours ago.

Beresteyn and Stoutenburg walking home together in the small hours of
New Year's morning spoke very little together at first. They strode
along side by side, each buried in his own thoughts, and only a few curt
remarks passed at intervals between them.

But something lay on the minds of both--something of which each desired
to speak to the other, yet neither of them seemed willing to be the
first to broach the absorbing topic.

It was Stoutenburg who at last broke the silence.

"A curious personality, that knave," he said carelessly after awhile,
"an unscrupulous devil as daring as he is reckless of consequences I
should say...yet trustworthy withal...what think you?"

"A curious personality as you say," replied Beresteyn vaguely.

"He might have been useful to us had we cared to pay for his
services...but now 'tis too late to think of further accomplices...new
men won or bought for our cause only mean more victims for the gallows."

"You take a gloomy view of the situation," said Beresteyn sombrely.

"No! only a fatalistic one. With our secret in a woman's keeping... and
that woman free and even anxious to impart it to one of my most bitter
enemies...I can see nought that can ward off the inevitable."

"Except..."

"Yes, of course," rejoined Stoutenburg earnestly. "If you, Nicolaes, are
ready to make the sacrifice which alone could save us all."

"It is a sacrifice which will involve my honour, my sister's love for
me, my father's trust..."

"If you act wisely and circumspectly, my friend," retorted Stoutenburg
dryly, "neither your father nor Gilda herself need ever know that you
had a share in...in what you propose to do."

Beresteyn made no reply and he and his friend walked on in silence until
they reached the small house close to the "Lame Cow" where Stoutenburg
had his lodgings. Here they shook hands before parting and Stoutenburg
held his friend's hand in his tightly grasped for a moment or two while
he said earnestly:

"It is only for a few days, Nicolaes, a few days during which I swear to
you that--though absent and engaged in the greatest task that any man
can undertake on this earth--I swear to you that I will keep watch over
Gilda and defend her honour with my life. If you will make the sacrifice
for me and for my cause, Heaven and your country will reward you beyond
your dreams. With the death of the Stadtholder my power in the
Netherlands will be supreme, and herewith, with my hand in yours, I
solemnly plight my troth to Gilda. She was the first woman I ever loved,
and I have never ceased to love her. Now she fills my heart and soul
even--at times--to the exclusion of my most ambitious hopes.
Nicolaes--my friend--it is in your power to save my life as well as your
own: an you will do it, there will be no bounds to my gratitude."

And Beresteyn replied calmly:

"The sacrifice which you ask of me I will make: I will take the risk for
the sake of my country and of my faith. To-morrow at noon I will come to
your lodgings and tell you in detail all the arrangements which I shall
have made by then. I have no fear for Gilda. I believe that Heaven has
guided my thoughts and footsteps to-night for the furtherance of our
cause."

After which the two men took final leave of one another: Stoutenburg's
tall lean form quickly disappeared under the doorway of the house,
whilst Beresteyn walked rapidly away up the street.

Now it was close on ten o'clock of New Year's morning. Nicolaes
Beresteyn had spent several hours in tossing restlessly under the warm
eiderdown and between the fine linen sheets embroidered by his sister's
deft hands. During these hours of sleeplessness a plan had matured in
his mind which though it had finally issued from his own consciousness
had really found its origin in the reckless brain of Willem van
Stoutenburg.

Beresteyn now saw himself as the saviour of his friends and of their
patriotic cause. He felt that in order to carry out the plan which he
firmly believed that he himself had conceived, he was making a noble
sacrifice for his country and for his faith, and he was proud to think
that it lay in his power to offer the sacrifice. That this same
sacrifice would have his own sister for victim, he cared seemingly very
little. He was one of those men in whose hearts political aims outweigh
every tender emotion, and he firmly believed that Gilda would be richly
rewarded by the fulfilment of that solemn promise made by Stoutenburg.

Exquisite visions of satisfied ambition, of triumph and of glory chased
away sleep: he saw his friend as supreme ruler of the State, with powers
greater than the Princes of Orange had ever wielded: he saw Gilda--his
sister--grateful to him for the part which he had played in re-uniting
her to the man whom she had always loved, she too supreme in power as
the proud wife of the new Stadtholder. And he saw himself as the Lord
High Advocate of the Netherlands standing in the very shoes of that same
John of Barneveld whose death he would have helped to avenge.

These and other thoughts had stirred Nicolaes Beresteyn's fancy while he
lay awake during these the first hours of the New Year, and it was
during those self-same hours that a nameless stranger whom his compeers
called Diogenes had tramped up and down the snow-covered streets of
Haarlem trying to keep himself warm.

I am very sorry to have to put it on record that during that time he
swore more than once at his own softheartedness which had caused him to
give up his hard but sheltered paillasse to a pair of Papists who were
nothing to him and whom probably he would never see again.

"I begin to agree with that bloated puff-ball Pythagoras," he mused
dejectedly once, when an icy wind, blowing straight from the North Sea,
drove the falling snow into his boots, and under his collar, and up his
sleeves, and nearly froze the marrow in his bones, "it is but sorry
pleasure to play at being a gentleman. And I had not many hours of it
either," he added ruefully.

Even the most leaden-footed hours do come to an end however. At one half
after six Diogenes turned his steps toward the Peuselaarsteeg where
dwelt his friend Frans Hals, the painter of pictures. Fortunately
Mevrouw Hals was in a fairly good temper, the last portrait group of the
officers of St. Joris' Shooting Guild had just been paid for, and there
was practically a new commission to paint yet another group of these
gentlemen.

And Mynheer van Zeller the deputy bailiff had bought the fancy picture
too, for which that knave Diogenes had sat last year, so Mevrouw Hals
was willing to provide the young man with a savoury and hot breakfast if
he were willing once again to allow Frans to make a picture of his
pleasant face.

Mevrouw Hals being in rare good humour, the breakfast was both
substantial and savoury. Diogenes, who was starved with cold as well as
with hunger, did great honour to all that was laid before him: he ate
heartily while recounting his adventures of the past night to his
friend.

"All that trouble for a Papist wench," said the painter as
contemptuously as Pythagoras himself would have done, "and maybe a
Spaniard too."

"Good-looking girl," quoth Diogenes dryly, "and would make you a good
model, Frans. For a few kreutzers she'd be glad enough to do it."

"I'll have none of these vixens inside my house," interposed Mevrouw
Hals decisively, "and don't you teach Frans any of your loose ways, my
man."

Diogenes made no reply, he only winked at his friend. No doubt he
thought that Hals no longer needed teaching.

The two men repaired to the studio, a huge bare room littered with
canvases, but void of furniture, save for an earthenware stove in which
fortunately a cheerful fire was blazing, a big easel roughly fashioned
of deal, a platform for the model to stand on, and two or three
rush-bottomed chairs: there was also a ramshackle dowry chest, black
with age, which mayhap had once held the piles of homemade linen brought
as a dowry by the first Mevrouw Hals: now it seemed to contain a
heterogeneous collection of gaudy rags, together with a few fine
articles of attire, richly embroidered relics of more prosperous days.

The artist went straight up to the chest and from out the litter he
selected a bundle of clothes which he handed over to his friend.

"Slip into them as quickly as you can, old compeer," he said, "my
fingers are itching to get to work."

And while he fixed the commenced picture on the easel and set out his
palette, Diogenes threw off his shabby clothes and donned the gorgeous
doublet and sash which the painter had given him.




Chapter X--The Laughing Cavalier

We all know every fold of that doublet now, with its magnificent
sleeves, crimson-lined and richly embroidered, its slashings which
afford peeps of snowy linen, and its accessories of exquisite lace; the
immortal picture then painted by Frans Hals, and which he called the
Laughing Cavalier, has put its every line on record for all times.

Diogenes wore it with delight. Its splendour suited his swaggering air
to perfection: its fine black cloth, delicate lace and rich silk sash
set off to perfection his well-proportioned massive figure.

A joy to the artist every bit of him, the tone, the pose, the line, the
colour and that face full of life, of the joy of living, that merry
twinkle in the eyes, that laugh that for ever hovers on the lips.

We all stand before it, marvelling at the artist's skill, for we know
that the portrait is true to the life; we know that it is true, because
we know the man; his whole character is there indelibly writ upon the
canvas by the master-hand of a genius:--Diogenes the soldier of fortune
is there, the man who bows to no will save to his own, too independent
to bow to kindred or to power, the man who takes life as he finds it,
but leavens it with his own gaiety and the priceless richness of his own
humour: we know him for his light-hearted gaiety, we condone his
swagger, we forgive his reckless disregard of all that makes for
sobriety and respectability. The eyes twinkle at us, the mouth all but
speaks, and we know and recognize every detail as true; only the fine,
straight brow, the noble forehead, the delicate contour of the nose and
jaw puzzle us at times, for those we cannot reconcile with the man's
calling or with his namelessness, until we remember his boast in the
tavern of the "Lame Cow" on New Year's morning: "My father was one of
those who came in English Leicester's train."

So we see him now standing quite still, while the artist is absorbed in
his work: his tall figure very erect, the head slightly thrown back, the
well-shaped hand resting on the hip and veiled in folds of filmy lace.
And so did Mynheer Nicolaes Beresteyn see him as he entered the artist's
studio at ten o'clock of that same New Year's morning.

"A happy New Year to you, my good Hals," he said with easy
condescension. "Vervloekte weather, eh--for the incoming year! there
must be half a foot of snow in the by-streets by now."

With that same air of graciousness he acknowledged the artist's
obsequious bow. His father Mynheer Councillor Beresteyn was an avowed
patron of Frans Hals and the hour had not yet struck in civilized Europe
when wealth would go hat in hand bowing to genius and soliciting its
recognition. In this year of grace 1624 genius had still to hold the hat
and to acknowledge if not to solicit the kindly favours of wealth.

Nicolaes Beresteyn did not know exactly how to greet the man with whom
he had a few hours ago bandied arguments in the tap room of a tavern,
and whom--to tell the truth--he had expressly come to find. The
complaisant nod which he had bestowed on Frans Hals did not somehow seem
appropriate for that swaggering young knight of industry, who looked
down on him from the high eminence of the model's platform so that
Nicolaes was obliged to look well up, if he wished to meet his glance at
all.

It was the obscure soldier of fortune who relieved the pompous burgher
of his embarrassment.

"Fate hath evidently not meant that we should remain strangers, sir," he
said lightly, "this meeting after last night's pleasing amenities is
indeed unexpected."

"And most welcome, sir, as far as I am concerned," rejoined Nicolaes
pleasantly. "My name is Nicolaes Beresteyn and right glad am I to renew
our acquaintance of last night. I had no idea that my friend Hals could
command so perfect a model. No wonder that his pictures have become the
talk of the town."

He turned back to Hals now with a resumption of his patronizing manner.

"I came to confirm my father's suggestion, my good Hals, that your
should paint his portrait and at the price you named yourself. The
officers of St. Joris' Guild are also desirous, as I understand, of
possessing yet another group from your brush."

"I shall be honoured," said the artist simply

"'Tis many an ugly face you'll have to paint within the next few months,
my friend," added Diogenes lightly.

"My father is reckoned one of the handsomest men in Holland," retorted
Beresteyn with becoming dignity.

"And the owner of the finest tulip bulbs in the land," said the other
imperturbably. "I heard him tell last night that he had just given more
florins for one bit of dried onion than I have ever fingered in the
whole course of my life."

"Fortune, sir, has not dealt with you hitherto in accordance with your
deserts."

"No! 'tis my sternest reproach against her."

"There is always a tide, sir, in a man's fortunes."

"Mine I feel, sir, is rising at your call."

There was a moment's pause now while the two men looked on one another
eye to eye, appraising one another, each counting on his opponent's
worth. Then Nicolaes suddenly turned back to Frans Hals.

"My good Hals," he said, "might I crave a favour from your friendship?"

"I am at your service, mynheer, now as always as you know," murmured the
artist, who indeed was marvelling what favour so illustrious a gentleman
could ask of a penniless painter of portraits.

"'Tis but a small matter to you," rejoined Nicolaes, "but it would be of
great service to me. I desire to hold private conversation with this
gentleman. Could I do so in your house without attracting anybody's
attention?"

"Easily, sir. This room though none too comfortable is at your disposal.
I have plenty of work to do in another part of my house. No one will
come in here. You will be quite undisturbed."

"I am infinitely obliged to you. 'Tis but half-an-hour's privacy I
desire...providing this gentleman will grant me the interview."

"Like my friend Hals," rejoined Diogenes suavely, "I am, sir, at your
service. The tides are rising around me, I feel them swelling even as I
speak. I have an overwhelming desire to ride on the crest of the waves,
rather than to duck under them against my will."

"I hope this intrusion will not retard your work too much, my good
Hals," said Beresteyn with somewhat perfunctory solicitude when he saw
that the artist finally put his brushes and palatte on one side, and in
an abstracted manner began to dust a couple of rickety chairs and then
place them close to the stove.

"Oh!" interposed Diogenes airily, "the joy of being of service to so
bountiful a patron will more than compensate Frans Hals for this
interruption to his work. Am I not right, old friend?" he added with
just a soupçon of seriousness in the mocking tones of his voice.

Hals murmured a few words under his breath which certainly seemed to
satisfy Beresteyn for the latter made no further attempt at apology, and
only watched with obvious impatience the artist's slow progress out of
the room.

As soon as the heavy oaken door had fallen-to behind the master of this
house, Beresteyn turned with marked eagerness to Diogenes.

"Now, sir," he said, "will you accord me your close attention for a
moment. On my honour it will be to your advantage so to do."

"And to your own, I take it, sir," rejoined Diogenes, as he stepped down
from the elevated platform and sat himself astride one of the ricketty
chairs facing his interlocutor who had remained standing. "To your own
too, sir, else you had not spent half an hour in that vervloekte weather
last night pacing an insalubrious street in order to find out where I
lodged."

Nicolaes bit his lip with vexation.

"You saw me?" he asked.

"I have eyes at the back of my head," replied the young man. "I knew
that you followed me in company with a friend all the way from the door
of the 'Lame Cow' and that you were not far off when I announced my
intention of sleeping under the stars and asking my friend Frans Hals
for some breakfast later on."

Beresteyn had quickly recovered his equanimity.

"I have no cause to deny it," he said.

"None," assented Diogenes.

"Something, sir, in your manner and your speech last night aroused my
interest. Surely you would not take offence at that."

"Certainly not."

"And hearing you speak, a certain instinct prompted me to try and not
lose sight of you if I could by some means ascertain where you lodged.
My friend and I did follow you: I own it, and we witnessed a little
scene which I confess did you infinite credit."

Diogenes merely bowed his head this time in acknowledgement.

"It showed, sir," resumed Nicolaes after a slight pause, "that you are
chivalrous to a fault, brave and kindly: and these are just the three
qualities which I--even like your illustrious namesake--have oft sought
for in vain."

"Shall we add, also for the sake of truth, sir," said Diogenes
pleasantly, "that I am obviously penniless, presumably unscrupulous and
certainly daring, and that these are just the three qualities which
you...and our friend...most require at the present moment in the man
whom you wish to pay for certain services."

"You read my thoughts, sir."

"Have I not said that I have eyes at the back of my head?"

And Nicolaes Beresteyn wondered if that second pair of eyes were as
merry and mocking and withal as inscrutable as those that met his now.

"Well," he said as if with suddenly conceived determination, "again I
see no cause why I should deny it. Yes, sir, you have made a shrewd
guess. I have need of your services, of your chivalry and of your valour
and...well, yes," he added after an instant's hesitation, "of your
daring and your paucity of scruples too. As for your penury, why, sir,
if you like, its pangs need worry you no longer."

"It all sounds very tempting, sir," said Diogenes with his most winning
smile, "suppose now that we put preliminaries aside and proceed more
directly with our business."

"As you will."

Nicolaes Beresteyn now took the other chair and brought it close to his
interlocutor. Then he sat down and sinking his voice to a whisper he
began:

"I will be as brief and to the point as I can, sir. There are secrets as
you know the knowledge of which is oft-times dangerous. Such an one was
spoken of in the cathedral last night after watch-night service by six
men who hold their lives in their hands and are ready to sacrifice it
for the good of their country and of their faith."

"In other words," interposed Diogenes with dry humour, "six men in the
cathedral last night decided to murder some one for the good of this
country and of their faith and for the complete satisfaction of the
devil."

"'Tis false!" cried Beresteyn involuntarily.

"Be not angered, sir, I was merely guessing--and not guessing methinks
very wide of the mark. I pray you proceed. You vastly interest me. We
left then six men in the cathedral after watch-night service plotting
for the welfare of Holland and the established Faith."

"Their lives, sir," resumed Beresteyn more calmly, "depend on the
inviolability of their secret. You are good at guessing--will you guess
what would happen to those six men if their conversation last night had
been overheard and their secret betrayed."

"The scaffold," said Diogenes laconically.

"And torture."

"Of course. Holland always has taken the lead in civilization of late."

"Torture and death, sir," reiterated Beresteyn vehemently. "There are
six men in this city to-day whose lives are at the mercy of one woman."

"Oho! 'twas a woman then who surprised those six men in their endeavour
to do good to Holland and to uphold the Faith."

"Rightly spoken, sir! To do good to Holland and to uphold the Faith!
those are the two motives which guide six ardent patriots in their
present actions and cause them to risk their lives and more, that they
may bring about the sublime end. A woman has surprised their secret, a
woman pure and good as the stars but a woman for all that, weak in
matters of sentiment and like to be swayed by a mistaken sense of what
she would call her duty. A woman now, sir, holds the future happiness of
Holland, the triumph of Faith and the lives of six stalwart patriots in
the hollow of her hand."

"And 'tis with the lives of six stalwart patriots that we are most
concerned at the moment, are we not?" asked Diogenes blandly.

"Put it as you will, sir, I cannot expect you--a stranger--to take the
welfare of Holland and of her Faith so earnestly as we Dutchmen do. Our
present concern is with the woman."

"Is she young?"

"Yes."

"Pretty?"

"What matter?"

"I don't know. The fact might influence mine actions. For of course you
wish to put the woman out of the way."

"Only for a time and from my soul I wish her no harm. I only want to
place her out of the reach of doing us all a grievous wrong. Already she
has half threatened to speak of it all to my father. The idea is
unthinkable. I want her out of the way for a few days, not more than ten
days at most. I want her taken out of Haarlem, to a place of safety
which I will point out to you anon, and under the care of faithful
dependents who would see that not a hair on her head be injured. You
see, sir, that what I would ask of you would call forth your chivalry
and need not shame it; it would call forth your daring and your
recklessness of consequences and if you will undertake to do me service
in this, my gratitude and that of my friends as well as the sum of 2,000
guilders will be yours to command."

"About a tenth part of the money in fact which your father, sir, doth
oft give for a bulb."

"Call it 3,000, sir," said Nicolaes Beresteyn, "we would still be your
debtors."

"You are liberal, sir."

"It means my life and that of my friends, and most of us are rich."

"But the lady--I must know more about her. Ah sir! this is a hard matter
for me--A lady--young--presumably fair--of a truth I care naught for
women, but please God I have never hurt a woman yet."

"Who spoke of hurting her, man?" queried Nicolaes haughtily.

"This abduction--the State secret--the matter of life and death--the
faithful dependent--how do I know, sir, that all this is true?"

"On the word of honour of a gentleman!" retorted Beresteyn hotly.

"A gentleman's honour is easily attenuated where a woman is concerned."

"The lady is my own sister, sir."

Diogenes gave a long low whistle.

"Your sister!" he exclaimed.

"My only sister and one who is dearly loved. You see, sir, that her
safety and her honour are dearer to me than mine own."

"Yet you propose entrusting both to me," said Diogenes with a mocking
laugh, "to me, a nameless adventurer, a penniless wastrel whose trade
lies in his sword and his wits."

"Which must prove to you, sir, firstly how true are my instincts, and
secondly how hardly I am pressed. My instinct last night told me that in
this transaction I could trust you. To-day I have realized more fully
than I did last night that my sister is a deadly danger to many, to our
country and to our Faith. She surprised a secret, the knowledge of which
had she been a man would have meant death then and there in the chapel
of the cathedral. Had it been a brother of mine instead of a sister who
surprised our secret, my friends would have killed him without
compunction and I would not have raised a finger to save him. Being a
woman she cannot pay for her knowledge with her life; but her honour and
her freedom are forfeit to me because I am a man and she is a woman. I
am strong and she is weak; she has threatened to betray me and my
friends and I must protect them and our cause. I have decided to place
her there where she cannot harm us, but some one must convey her
thither, since I must not appear before her in this matter. Therefore
hath my choice fallen on you, sir, for that mission, chiefly because of
that instinct which last night told me that I could trust you. If my
instinct should prove me wrong, I would kill you for having cheated me,
but I would even then not regret what I had done."

He paused and for a moment looked straight into the laughter-loving face
of the man in whose keeping he was ready to entrust with absolute
callousness the safety and honour of one whom he should have protected
with his life. The whole face, even now seemed still to laugh, the eyes
twinkled, the mouth was curled in a smile.

The next moment the young adventurer had risen to his full height. He
picked up his hat which lay on the platform close beside him and with it
in his hand he made an elaborate and deep bow to Nicolaes Beresteyn.

"Sir?" queried the latter in astonishment.

"At your service, sir," said Diogenes gaily, "I am saluting a greater
blackguard that I can ever hope to be myself."

"Insolent!" exclaimed Nicolaes hotly.

"Easy, easy, my good sir," interposed the other calmly, "it would not
suit your purpose or mine that we should cut one another's throat. Let
me tell you at once and for the appeasing of your anxiety and that of
your friends that I will, for the sum of 4,000 guilders, take
Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn from this city to any place you may choose to
name. This should also ease your pride, for it will prove to you that I
also am a consummate blackguard and that you therefore need not stand
shamed before me. I have named a higher sum than the one which you have
offered me, not with any desire to squeeze you, sir, but because
obviously I cannot do this work single-handed. The high roads are not
safe. I could not all alone protect the lady against the army of
footpads that infest them, I shall have to engage and pay an escort for
her all the way. But she shall reach the place to which you desire me to
take her, to this I pledge you my word. Beyond that...well! you have
said it yourself, by her knowledge of your secret she has forfeited her
own safety; you--her own brother--choose to entrust her to me. The rest
lies between you and your honour."

An angry retort once more rose to Nicolaes Beresteyn's lips, but
commonsense forced him to check it. The man was right in what he said.
On the face of it his action in entrusting his own sister into the
keeping of a knight of industry, a nameless wastrel whose very calling
proclaimed him an unscrupulous adventurer, was the action of a coward
and of a rogue. Any man with a spark of honour in him--would condemn
Nicolaes Beresteyn as a blackguard for this deed. Nevertheless there was
undoubtedly something in the whole personality of this same adventurer
that in a sense exonerated Nicolaes from the utter dishonour of his act.

On the surface the action was hideous, monstrous, and cowardly, but
beneath that surface there was the undercurrent of trust in this one
man, the firm belief born of nothing more substantial than an intuition
that this man would in this matter play the part of a gentleman.

But it is not my business to excuse Nicolaes Beresteyn in this. What
guided him solely in his present action was that primary instinct of
self-preservation, that sense which animals have without the slightest
knowledge or experience on their part and which has made men play at
times the part of a hero and at others that of a knave. Stoutenburg who
was always daring and always unscrupulous where his own ambitious
schemes were at stake had by a careful hint shown him a way of
effectually silencing Gilda during the next few days. Beresteyn's mind
filled to overflowing with a glowing desire for success and for life had
readily worked upon the hint.

And he did honestly believe--as hundreds of misguided patriots have
believed before and since--that Heaven was on his side of the political
business and had expressly led along his path this one man of all others
who would do what was asked of him and whom he could trust.




Chapter XI--The Bargain

There had been silence in the great, bare work-room for some time,
silence only broken by Beresteyn's restless pacing up and down the
wooden floor. Diogenes had resumed his seat, his shrewd glance following
every movement of the other man, every varied expression of his face.

At last Nicolaes came to a halt opposite to him.

"Am I to understand then, sir," he asked, looking Diogenes straight
between the eyes and affecting not to note the mocking twinkle within
them, "that you accept my proposition and that you are prepared to do me
service?"

"Absolutely, sir," replied the other.

"Then shall we proceed with the details?"

"An it please you."

"You will agree to do me service for the sum of 4,000 guilders?"

"In gold."

"Of course. For this sum you will convey Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn out of
Haarlem, conduct her with a suitable escort and in perfect safety to
Rotterdam and there deliver her into the hands of Mynheer Ben Isaje--the
banker--who does a vast amount of business for me and is entirely and
most discreetly devoted to my interests. His place of business is
situated on the Schiedamsche Straat and is a house well known to every
one in Rotterdam seeing that Mynheer Ben Isaje is the richest
money-lending Jew in the city.

"That is all fairly simple, sir," assented Diogenes.

"You will of course tender me your oath of secrecy."

"My word of honour, sir. If I break that I would be as likely to break
an oath."

"Very well," said Beresteyn after a moment's hesitation during which he
tried vainly to scrutinize a face which he had already learned was quite
inscrutable. "Shall we arrange the mode of payment then?"

"If you please."

"How to obtain possession of the person of the jongejuffrouw is not my
business to tell you. Let me but inform you that to-day being New Year's
day she will surely go to evensong at the cathedral and that her way
from our home thither will lead her along the bank of the Oude Gracht
between the Zijl Straat where our house is situate and the Hout Straat
which debouches on the Groote Markt. You know the bank of the Oude
Gracht better than I do, sir, so I need not tell you that it is lonely,
especially at the hour when evensong at the cathedral is over. The
jongejuffrouw is always escorted in her walks by an elderly duenna whom
you will of course take to Rotterdam, so that she may attend on my
sister on the way, and by two serving men whose combined courage is not,
of course, equal to your own. This point, therefore, I must leave you to
arrange in accordance with your desire."

"I thank you, sir."

"In the same way it rests with you what arrangements you make for the
journey itself; the providing of a suitable carriage and of an adequate
escort I leave entirely in your hands."

"Again I thank you."

"I am only concerned with the matter itself, and with the payment which
I make to you for your services. As for your route, you will leave
Haarlem by the Holy Cross gate and proceed straight to Bennebrock, a
matter of a league or so. There I will meet you at the half-way house
which stands at the cross-roads where a signpost points the way to
Leyden. The innkeeper there is a friend of mine, whose natural
discretion has been well nurtured by frequent gifts from me. He hath
name Praff, and will see to the comfort of my sister and of her duenna,
while you and I settle the first instalment of our business, quite
unbeknown to her. There, sir, having assured myself that my sister is
safe and in your hands, I will give over to you the sum of 1,000
guilders, together with a letter writ by me to the banker Ben Isaje of
Rotterdam. He knows Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn well by sight, and in my
letter I will ask him, secondly to see that she is at once conveyed,
still under your escort, to his private residence which is situate some
little distance out of the city between Schiedam and Overschie on the
way to Delft, and lastly, to hand over to you the balance of 3,000
guilders still due then by me to you."

He paused a moment to draw breath after the lengthy peroration, then as
Diogenes made no comment, he said somewhat impatiently:

"I hope, sir, that all these arrangements meet with your approval!"

"They fill me with profound respect for you, sir, and admiration for
your administrative capacities," replied Diogenes, with studied
politeness.

"Indeed I do flatter myself..." quoth the other.

"Not without reason, sir. The marvellous way in which you have provided
for the safety of three-fourths of your money, and hardly at all for
that of your sister, fills me with envy which I cannot control."

"Insolent..."

"No, no, my good sir," interposed Diogenes blandly, "we have already
agreed that we are not going to quarrel, you and I...we have too great a
need for one another; for that 3,000 guilders--which, after deductions,
will be my profit in this matter--means a fortune to a penniless
adventurer, and you are shrewd enough to have gauged that fact, else you
had not come to me with such a proposal. I will do you service, sir, for
the 3,000 guilders which will enable me to live a life of independence
in the future, and also for another reason, which I would not care to
put into words, and which you, sir, would fail to understand. So let us
say no more about all these matters. I agree to your proposals and you
accept my services. To-night at ten o'clock I will meet you at the
half-way house which stands in the hamlet of Bennebrock at the
cross-roads where a signpost points the way to Leyden."

"To-night! That's brave!" exclaimed Beresteyn. "You read my thoughts,
sir, even before I could tell you that delay in this affair would render
it useless."

"To-night then, sir," said Diogenes in conclusion, "I pray you have no
fear of failure. The jongejuffrouw will sleep at Leyden, or somewhere
near there, this night. The city is distant but half-a-dozen leagues,
and we can ready it easily by midnight. From thence in the morning we
can continue our journey, and should be in sight of Rotterdam
twenty-four hours later. For the rest, as you say, the manner of our
journey doth not concern you. If the frost continues and we can travel
by sledge all the way we could reach Rotterdam in two days; in any
event, even if a thaw were to set in we should not be more than three
days on the way."

He rose from his chair and stood now facing Beresteyn. His tall figure,
stretched to its full height, seemed to tower above the other man,
though the latter was certainly not short; but Diogenes looked
massive--a young lion sniffing the scent of the desert. The mocking
glance, the curve of gentle irony were still there in eyes and mouth,
but the nostrils quivered with excitement, with the spirit of adventure
which never slept so soundly but that it awakened at a word.

"And now, sir," he said, "there are two matters both of equal
importance, which we must settle ere I can get to work."

"What may these be, sir?"

"Firstly the question of money. I have not the wherewithal to make
preparations. I shall have to engage a sleigh for to-night, horses, an
escort as far as Leyden. I shall have to make payments for promises of
secrecy..."

"That is just, sir. Would 200 guilders meet this difficulty?"

"Five hundred would be safer," said Diogenes airily, "and you may deduct
that sum from your first payment at Bennebrock."

Beresteyn did not choose to notice the impertinent tone which rang
through the other man's speech. Without wasting further words, he took a
purse from his wallet, and sitting down on one corner of the model's
platform, he emptied the contents of the purse upon it.

He counted out five hundred guilders, partly in silver and partly in
gold. These he replaced in the purse and then handed it over to
Diogenes. The latter had not moved from his position during this time,
standing as he did at some little distance so that Beresteyn had to get
up in order to hand him the money. Diogenes acknowledged its receipt
with a courteous bow.

"And what is the other matter, sir?" asked Nicolaes, after he had placed
the rest of his money back into his wallet, "what is the other matter
which we have failed to settle?"

"The jongejuffrouw, sir...I am a comparative stranger in Haarlem...I do
not know the illustrious lady by sight."

"True, I had not thought of that. But this omission can very easily be
remedied...if you, sir, will kindly call our friend Hals; he has, an I
mistake not, more than one sketch of my sister in his studio and a
half-finished portrait of her as well."

"Then I pray you, sir," rejoined Diogenes airily, "do you go and
acquaint our mutual friend of your desire to show me the half-finished
portrait of the jongejuffrouw, for I must now exchange this gorgeous
doublet of a prosperous cavalier for one more suited to this day's
purpose."

And he immediately proceeded to undress without paying the slightest
heed to Beresteyn's look of offended dignity.

It was no use being angry with this independent knave; Nicolaes
Beresteyn had found that out by now, therefore he thought it best to
appear indifferent to this new display of impudence and himself to go
and seek out Frans Hals as if this had been his own intention all along.

Inwardly fuming but without uttering another word he turned on his heel
and went out of the room, slamming the door to behind him.




Chapter XII--THE PORTRAIT

When Beresteyn returned to the studio in the company of Frans Hals they
found Diogenes once more clad in his own well-fitting and serviceable
doublet.

The artist looked bitterly disappointed at the sight, but naturally
forbore to give vent to his feelings in the presence of his exalted
patron.

Apparently he had been told what was required, for he went straight up
to a large canvas which stood at the further end of the room with its
face to the wall, and this he brought out now and placed upon the easel.

"It is an excellent likeness of my sister," said Nicolaes with his usual
gracious condescension, to the artist, "and does your powers of faithful
portraiture vast credit, my good Hals. I pray you, sir," he added
calling to Diogenes, "come and look at it."

The latter came and stood in front of the easel and looked on the
picture which was there exhibited for his gaze.

Among the hard lessons which varying Fortune teaches to those whom she
most neglects, there is none so useful as self-control. Diogenes had
learned that lesson early in his life, and his own good humour often had
to act as a mask for deeper emotions. Now, when in the picture he
recognized the woman who had spoken to him last night after the affray,
in the Dam Straat, his face in no sense expressed surprise, it still
smiled and mocked and twinkled, and neither of the two men who stood by
guessed that he had seen the original of this dainty picture under
peculiar circumstances not many hours before.

That portrait of Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn is one of the finest ever
painted by Frans Hals, the intense naturalness of the pose is perfect,
the sweet yet imperious expression of the face is most faithfully
portrayed. Diogenes saw her now very much as he had seen her last night,
for the artist had painted the young head against a dark background and
it stood out delicate as a flower, right out of the canvas and in full
light.

The mouth smiled as it had done last night when first she caught sight
of the ludicrous apparition of one philosopher astride on the shoulders
of the other, the eyes looked grave as they had done when she humbly,
yet gracefully begged pardon for her levity. The chin was uplifted as it
had been last night, when she made with haughty condescension her offers
of patronage to the penniless adventurer, and there was the little hand
soft and smooth as the petal of a rose which had rested for one moment
against his lips.

And looking on the picture of this young girl, Diogenes remembered the
words which her own brother had spoken to him only a few moments ago;
"her honour and her safety are forfeit to me. I would kill you if you
cheated me, but I would not even then regret what I had done."

The daughter of the rich city burgher was, of course, less than nothing
to the nameless carver of his own fortunes; she was as far removed from
his sphere of life as were the stars from the Zuyder Zee, nor did women
as a sex play any serious part in his schemes for the future, but at the
recollection of those callous and selfish words, Diogenes felt a wave of
fury rushing through his blood; the same rage seized his temper now as
when he saw a lout once plucking out the feathers of a song bird, and he
fell on him with fists and stick and left him lying bruised and
half-dead in a ditch.

But the hard lesson learned early in life stood him in good stead. He
crossed his arms over his broad chest and anon his well-shaped hand went
up to his moustache and it almost seemed as if the slender fingers
smoothed away the traces of that wave of wrath which had swept over him
so unaccountably just now, and only left upon his face those lines of
mockery and of good-humour which a nature redolent of sunshine had
rendered indelible.

"What think you of it, sir?" asked Beresteyn impatiently, seeing that
Diogenes seemed inclined to linger over long in his contemplation of the
picture.

"I think, sir," replied the other, "that the picture once seen would for
ever be imprinted on the memory."

"Ah! it pleases me to hear you say that. I think too that it does our
friend Hals here infinite credit. You must finish that picture soon, my
good Frans. My father I know is prepared to pay you well for it."

Then he turned once more to Diogenes.

"I'll take my leave now, sir," he said, "and must thank you for so
kindly listening to my proposals. Hals, I thank you for the hospitality
of your house. We meet again soon I hope."

He took up his hat and almost in spite of himself he acknowledged
Diogenes' parting bow with one equally courteous. Patron and employé
stood henceforth on equal terms.

"And you desire to see me again to-day, sir," he said before finally
taking his leave, "I shall be in the tapperij of the 'Lame Cow' between
the hours of four and five and entirely at your service."

After that he walked out of the room escorted by Frans Hals, and
Diogenes who had remained alone in the big, bare studio, stood in front
of Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn's portrait and had another long look at it.

A whimsical smile sat round his lips even as they apostrophized the
image that looked so gravely on him out of the canvas.

"You poor, young, delicate creature!" he murmured, "what of your
imperious little ways now? your offers of condescension, your gracious
wiping of your dainty shoes on the commoner herd of humanity? Your own
brother has thrown you at the mercy of a rogue, eh? A rogue whose valour
must needs be rewarded by money and patronage!...Will you recognise him
to-night I wonder, as the rogue he really is? the rogue paid to do work
that is too dirty for the exalted gentlemen's hands to touch? How you
will loathe him after to-night!"

He drew in his breath with a quaint little sigh that had a thought of
sadness in it, and turned away from the picture just as Frans Hals
re-entered the room.

"When this picture is finished," he said at once to his friend, "your
name, my dear Hals, will ring throughout Europe."

"'Tis your picture I want to finish," said the other reproachfully, "I
have such a fine chance of selling it the day after to-morrow."

"Why the day after to-morrow?"

"The Burgomaster, Mynheer van der Meer, comes to visit my studio. He
liked the beginnings of the picture very much when he saw it, and told
me then that he would come to look at it again and would probably buy
it."

"I can be back here in less than a week. You can finish the picture
then. The Burgomaster will wait."

The artist sighed a plaintive, uncomplaining little sigh and shrugged
his shoulders with an air of hopelessness.

"You don't know what these people are," he said, "they will buy a
picture when the fancy seizes them. A week later they will mayhap not
even look at it. Besides which the Burgomaster goes to Amsterdam next
week. He will visit Rembrandt's studio, and probably buy a picture
there..."

His speech meandered on, dully and tonelessly, losing itself finally in
incoherent mutterings. Diogenes looked on him with good-natured
contempt.

"And you would lick the boots of such rabble," he said.

"I have a wife and a growing family," rejoined the artist, "we must all
live."

"I don't see the necessity," quoth Diogenes lightly, "not at that price
in any case. You must live of course, my dear Hals," he continued,
"because you are a genius and help to fill this ugly grey world with
your magnificent works, but why should your wife and family live at the
expense of your manhood."

Then seeing the look of horror which his tirade had called forth in the
face of his friend, he said with more seriousness:

"Would the price of that picture be of such vital importance then?"

"It is not the money so much," rejoined Frans Hals, "though God knows
that that would be acceptable, but 'tis the glory of it to which I had
aspired. This picture to hang in the Stanhuis, mayhap in the reception
hall, has been my dream these weeks past; not only would all the wealthy
burghers of Haarlem see it there, but all the civic dignitaries of other
cities when they come here on a visit, aye! and the foreign ambassadors
too, who often come to Haarlem. My fame then would indeed ring
throughout Europe...It is very hard that you should disappoint me so."

While he went on mumbling in his feeble querulous voice, Diogenes had
been pacing up and down the floor apparently struggling with insistent
thoughts. There was quite a suspicion of a frown upon his smooth brow,
but he said nothing until his friend had finished speaking. Then he
ceased his restless pacing and placed a hand upon Hals' shoulder.

"Look here, old friend," he said, "this will never do. It seems as if I,
by leaving you in the lurch to-day, stood in the way of your advancement
and of your fortune. That of course will never do," he reiterated
earnestly. "You the friend, who, like last night, are always ready to
give me food and shelter when I have been without a grote in my pocket.
You who picked me up ten years ago a shoeless ragamuffin wandering
homeless in the streets, and gave me a hot supper and a bed, knowing
nothing about me save that I was starving...for that was the beginning
of our friendship was it not, old Frans?"

"Of course it was," assented the other, "but that was long ago. You have
more than repaid me since then...when you had the means... and now there
is the picture..."

"To repay a debt is not always to be rid of an obligation. How can I
then leave you in the lurch now?"

"Why cannot you stay and sit for me to-day...The light is fairly
good..."

"I cannot stay now, dear old friend," said the other earnestly, "on my
honour I would do my duty by you now if I only could. I have business of
the utmost importance to transact to-day and must see to it forthwith."

"Then why not to-morrow?...I could work on the doublet and the lace
collar to-day, by putting them on a dummy model...All I want is a good
long sitting from you for the head...I could almost finish the picture
to-morrow," he pleaded in his peevish melancholy voice, "and the
Burgomaster comes on the next day."

Diogenes was silent for awhile. Again that puzzled frown appeared
between his brows. To-morrow he should be leaving Leyden on his way to
Rotterdam; 1,000 guilders would be in his pocket, and 3,000 more would
be waiting for him at the end of his journey...To-morrow!...

Frans Hals' keen, restless eyes followed every varying expression in the
face he knew so well.

"Why should you not give up your day to me to-morrow?" he murmured
peevishly. "You have nothing to do."

"Why indeed not?" said the other with a sudden recrudescence of his
usual gaiety. "I can do it, old compeer! Dondersteen, but I should be a
smeerlap if I did not. Wait one moment...Let me just think...Yes! I have
the way clear in my mind now...I will be here as early as I was to-day."

"By half-past seven o'clock the light is tolerable," said the artist.

"By half-past seven then I shall have donned the doublet, and will not
move off that platform unless you bid me, until the shadows have
gathered in, in the wake of the setting sun. After that," he added with
his accustomed merry laugh, "let Mynheer, the Burgomaster come, your
picture shall not hang fire because of me."

"That's brave!" said Frans Hals more cheerily. "If you will come I can
do it. You will see how advanced that sleeve and collar will be by
half-past seven to-morrow."

His voice had quite a ring in it now; he fussed about in his studio,
re-arranged the picture on the easel, and put aside the portrait of
Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn; Diogenes watched him with amusement, but the
frown had not quite disappeared from his brow. He had made two promises
to-day, both of which he would have to fulfil at all costs. Just now, it
was in a flash, that the thought came to him how he could help his
friend and yet keep his word to Beresteyn. A quick plan had formed
itself in his mind for accomplishing this--he saw in a mental vision the
forced run on the ice back to Haarlem and back again in the wake of the
sleigh. It could be done with much pluck and endurance and a small
modicum of good luck, and already his mind was made up to it, whatever
the cost in fatigue or privations might be.

But time was pressing now. After a renewed and most solemn promise he
took leave of Frans Hals, who already was too deeply absorbed in work to
take much notice of his friend. The glorious, self-centred selfishness
of genius was in him. He cared absolutely nothing for any worry or
trouble he might cause to the other man by his demand for that sitting
on the morrow. The picture mattered--nothing else--and the artist never
even asked his friends if he would suffer inconvenience or worse by
sacrificing his day to it to-morrow.




Chapter XIII--THE SPANISH WENCH

An hour later in the tap-room of the "Lame Cow" Diogenes had finished
explaining to his brother philosophers the work which ha had in hand and
for which he required their help. The explanation had begun with the
words filled with portentous charm:

"There will be 500 guilders for each of you at the end of our journey."

And they knew from many and varied experiences of adventures undertaken
in amicable trilogy that Diogenes would be as good as these words.

For the rest they did not greatly trouble themselves. There was a lady
to be conveyed with respect and with safety, out of Haarlem and as far
as Rotterdam, and it was in Rotterdam that the 500 guilders would reward
each man for his obedience to orders, his circumspection at all times
and his valour if necessity arose. From this hour onwards and throughout
the journey friend Diogenes would provide for everything and see that
his faithful compeers lacked in nothing. Temperance and sober conduct
would be the order paramount, but with that exception the adventure
promised to be as exciting as it was lucrative.

It was good to hear the guilders jingling in Diogenes' wallet, and
though he was sparing of them in the matter of heady ale or strong
wines, he scattered them liberally enough on smoked sausage, fried
livers and the many other delicacies for which his brother philosophers
had a fancy and for which the kitchen of the "Lame Cow" was famous.

When they had all eaten enough and made merry on a little good ale and
the prospects of the adventure, they parted on the doorstep of the
tavern, Diogenes to attend to business, the other two to see the horses
and the sleigh for this night. These were to be in readiness at the
point where the street of the Holy Cross abuts on the left bank of the
Oude Gracht. Three good saddle horses were wanted--thick-set Flanders
mares, rough shod against the slippery roads; also a covered sledge,
with two equally reliable horses harnessed there to and a coachman of
sober appearance on the box. Socrates and Pythagoras were required to
scour the city for these, and to bespeak them for seven o'clock this
evening, Diogenes undertaking to make payment for them in advance. There
were also some warm rugs and wraps to be bought, for the night would be
bitterly cold and the lady not prepared mayhap with a cloak sufficiently
heavy for a lengthy journey.

All these matters having been agreed upon, Socrates and Pythagoras
started to walk toward the eastern portion of the city where several
posting inns were situated and where they hoped to find the conveyance
which they required as well as the necessary horses. Diogenes on the
other hand turned his steps deliberately southwards.

After a few minutes brisk walking he found himself at the further end of
the Kleine Hout Straat, there where stood the ricketty, half-mildewed
and wholly insalubrious house which had previously sheltered him. The
door as usual was loose upon its hinges and swinging backwards and
forwards in the draught with a squeaking, melancholy sound. Diogenes
pushed it further open and went in. The same fetid smells, peculiar to
all the houses in this quarter of the city, greeted his nostrils, and
from the depths of the dark and dank passage a dog gave a perfunctory
bark.

Without hesitation Diogenes now began the ascent of the creaking stairs,
his heavy footfall echoing through the silent house. On one or two of
the landings as he mounted he was greeted by pale, inquiring faces and
round inquisitive eyes, whilst ghostlike forms emerged out of hidden
burrows for a moment to look on the noisy visitor and then equally
furtively vanished again.

On the topmost landing he halted; here a small skylight in the roof
afforded a modicum of light. Two doors confronted him, he went up to one
of them and knocked on it loudly with his fist.

Then he waited--not with great patience but with his ear glued to the
door listening to the sounds within. It almost seemed as if the room
beyond was the abode of the dead, for not a sound reached the listener's
ear. He knocked again, more loudly this time and more insistently. Still
no response. At the other door on the opposite side of the landing a
female figure appeared wrapped in a worsted rag, and head half hidden by
a linen coif was thrust forward out of the darkness behind it.

"They's won't answer you," said the apparition curtly. "They are
strangers...only came last night, but all this morning when the landlord
or his wife knocked at the door they simply would not open it."

"But I am a friend," said Diogenes, "the best I fancy that these poor
folk have."

"You used to lodge here until last night."

"Why yes. The lodgings are mine, I gave them up to these poor people who
had nowhere else to go."

"They won't answer you," reiterated the female apparition dolefully and
once more retired into its burrow.

The situation was becoming irritating. Diogenes put his mouth against
the keyhole and shouted "What ho, there! Open!" as lustily as his
powerful lungs would allow.

"Dondersteen!" he exclaimed, when even then he received no response.

But strange to relate no sooner was this expletive out of his mouth,
than there came a cry like that of a frightened small animal, followed
by a patter of naked feet upon a naked floor; the next moment the door
was thrown invitingly open, and Diogenes was able to step across its
thresh-hold.

"Dondersteen!" he ejaculated again, "hadst thou not opened, wench, I
would within the next few seconds have battered in the door."

The woman stood looking at him with great, dark eyes in which joy,
surprise and fear struggled for mastery. Her hair though still unruly
was coiled around her head, her shift and kirtle were neatly fastened,
but her legs and feet were bare and above the shift her neck and
shoulders appeared colourless and attenuated. Eyes and hair were dark,
and her skin had the olive tint of the south, but her lips at this
moment looked bloodless, and there was the look of starvation in her wan
face.

Diogenes walked past her into the inner room. The old man was lying on
the bed, and on the coverlet close to him a much fingered prayer-book
lay open. The woman slipped noiselessly past the visitor and quietly put
the prayer-book away.

"You have come to tell us that we must go," she said in an undertone as
she suddenly faced the newcomer.

"Indeed, that was not my purpose," he replied gaily, "I have come on the
contrary to bring you good news, and it was foolish of you to keep me
dangling on your doorstep for so long."

"The landlord hates us," she murmured, "because you forced him last
night to take us in. He came thundering at the door early this morning,
and threatened to eject us as vagabonds or to denounce us as Spanish
spies. I would not open the door to him, and he shouted his threats at
us through the keyhole. When you knocked just now I was frightened. I
thought that he had come back."

Her voice was low and though she spoke Dutch fluently her throat had in
it the guttural notes of her native land. A touch of the gipsy there
must be in her, thought Diogenes as he looked with suddenly aroused
interest on the woman before him, her dark skin, the long, supple limbs,
the velvety eyes with their submissive, terrified look.

With embarrassed movements she offered the only chair in the room to her
visitor, then cast shy, timorous glances on him as he refused to sit,
preferring to lean his tall figure against the white-washed wall. She
thought that never in her life had she seen any man so splendid and her
look of bold admiration told him so without disguise.

"Well!" he said with his quaint smile, "I am not the landlord, nor yet
an enemy. Art thou convinced of that?"

"Yes, I am!" she said with a little sigh, as she turned away from him in
order to attend to the old man, who was moaning peevishly in bed.

"He has lost the use of speech," she said to Diogenes as soon as she had
seen to the old man's wants, "and to-day he is so crippled that he can
scarcely move. We ought never to have come to this horrible cold part of
the country," she added with a sudden tone of fierce resentment. "I
think that we shall both die of misery before we leave it again."

"Why did you come her then at all?" asked Diogenes.

"We wandered hither, because we heard that the people in this city were
so rich. I was born not far from here, and so was my mother, but my
father is a native of Spain. In France, in Brabant where we wandered
before, we always earned a good living by begging at the church doors,
but here the people are so hard..."

"You will have to wander back to Spain."

"Yes," she said sullenly, "as soon as I have earned a little money and
father is able to move, neither of which seems very likely just now."

"Ah!" he said cheerily, "that is, wench, where I proclaim thee wrong! I
do not know when thy father will be able to move, but I can tell thee at
this very moment where and how thou canst earn fifty guilders which
should take thee quite a long way toward Spain."

She looked up at him and once more that glance of joy and of surprise
crept into her eyes which had seemed so full of vindictive anger just
now. With the surprise and the joy there also mingled the admiration,
the sense of well-being in his presence.

Already he had filled the bare, squalid room with his breezy
personality, with his swagger and with his laughter; his ringing voice
had roused the echoes that slept in the mouldy rafters and frightened
the mice that dwelt in the wainscoting and now scampered hurriedly away.

"I," she said with obvious incredulity, "I to earn fifty guilders! I
have not earned so much in any six months of my life."

"Perhaps not," he rejoined gaily. "But I can promise thee this; that the
fifty guilders will be thine this evening, if thou wilt render me a
simple service."

"Render thee a service," she said, and her low voice sounded quite
cooing and gentle, "I would thank God on my knees if I could render thee
a service. Didst thou not save my life..."

"By thy leave we'll not talk of that matter. 'Tis over and done with
now. The service I would ask of thee, though 'tis simple enough to
perform, I could not ask of anyone else but thee. An thou'lt do it, I
shall be more than repaid."

"Name it, sir," she said simply.

"Dost know the bank of the Oude Gracht?" he asked.

"Well," she replied.

"Dost know the Oudenvrouwenhuis situated there?"

"Yes!"

"Next to its outer walls there is a narrow passage which leads to the
Remonstrant Chapel of St. Pieter."

"There is, sir. I know it."

"This evening at seven o'clock then thou'lt take thy stand at the corner
of this passage facing the Oude Gracht; and there thou wilt remain to
ask alms from the passers-by. Thou'rt not afraid?"

"Afraid of what, sir?"

"The spot is lonely, the passage leads nowhere except to the chapel,
which has been deserted these past five years."

"I am not afraid."

"That's brave! After evensong is over at the cathedral, one or two
people will no doubt come thy way. Thou'lt beg them for alms in the
usual way. But anon a lady will come accompanied by a duenna and
preceded by two serving men carrying lanthorns. From her thou must ask
insistently, and tell her as sad a tale of woe as thou canst think on,
keeping well within the narrow passage and inducing her to follow thee."

"How shall I know the lady? There may be others who go past that way,
and who might also be escorted by a woman and two serving men."

"The men wear green and purple livery, with peaked green caps trimmed
with fur. Thou canst not mistake them even in the dark, for the light of
the lanthorns which they carry will be upon them. But I will be in the
passage close behind thee. When I see her coming I will warn thee."

"I understand," she said, nodding her head slowly once or twice as if
she were brooding over what she thought. "But surely that is not all
that I can do for thee."

"Indeed it is, and therefore none too difficult. Having drawn the lady
in the shadow by thy talk, contrive to speak to her, telling her of thy
troubles. If anything occurs after that to surprise or mayhap frighten
thee, pay no heed to it, but take at once to thy heels and run straight
home here, without looking to right or left. No one will molest thee, I
give thee my word."

"I understand!" she reiterated once more.

"And wilt thou do as I ask?"

"Of course. My life is thine; thou didst save it twice. Thou hast but to
command and I will obey."

"We'll call it that," he said lightly, "since it seems to please thee.
To-night then at seven o'clock, I too, will be on the spot to place the
fifty guilders in thy hand."

"Fifty guilders!" she exclaimed almost with ecstasy, and pressed her
hands to her breast. "My father and I need not starve or be homeless the
whole of this winter."

"Thou'lt make tracks for Spain very soon," he rejoined carelessly, for
he had accomplished his business and was making ready to go.

She threw him a strange look, half defiant yet almost reproachful.

"Perhaps!" she said curtly.

He took leave of her in his usual pleasant, airy manner, smiling at her
earnestness and at her looks that reminded him of a starving dog which
he had once picked up in the streets of Prague and kept and fed for a
time, until he found it a permanent home. When he gave the dog away to
some kindly people who promised to be kind to it, it threw him, at
parting, just such a look as dwelt in the dark depths of this girl's
eyes now.

The old cripple on the bed had fallen into a torpor-like sleep. Diogenes
cast a compassionate glance on him.

"Thou canst take him to better quarters in a day or two," he said, "and
mayhap give him some good food...Dondersteen!" he exclaimed suddenly,
"what art doing, girl?"

She had stoop and kissed his hand. He drew it away almost roughly, but
at the timid look of humble apology which she raised to him, he said
gently:

"By St. Bavon thou'rt a funny child! Well? what is it now?" he asked,
for she stood hesitating before him, with a question obviously hovering
on her lips.

"I dare not," she murmured.

"Art afraid of me then?"

"A little."

"Yet there is something thou desirest to ask?"

"Yes."

"What is it? Quickly now, for I must be going."

She waited for a moment or two trying to gain courage, whilst he watched
her, greatly amused.

"What is it?" he reiterated more impatiently.

Then a whispered murmur escaped her lips.

"The lady?"

"Yes. What of her?"

"Thou dost love her?" she stammered, "and wilt abduct her to-night
because of thy love for her?"

For a second or two he looked on her in blank amazement, marvelling if
he had entrusted this vital business to a semi-imbecile. Then seeing
that indeed she appeared in deadly earnest, and that her great,
inquiring but perfectly lucid eyes were fixed upon him with mute
insistence, he threw back his head and laughed till the very rafters of
the low room shook with the echo of his merriment.

"Dondersteen!" he said as soon as he felt that he could speak again,
"but thou truly art a strange wench. Whatever did put that idea into thy
head?"

"Thou dost propose to abduct her, I know that," she said more firmly. "I
am no fool, and I understand I am to be the decoy. The dark passage, the
lonely spot, thy presence there...and then the occurrence, as thou
saidst, that might surprise or frighten me...I am no fool," she repeated
sullenly, "I understand."

"Apparently," he retorted dryly.

"Thou dost love her?" she insisted.

"What is it to thee?"

"No matter; only tell me this, dost thou love her?"

"If I said 'yes'," he asked with his whimsical smile, "wouldst refuse to
help me?"

"Oh no!"

"And if I said 'no'?"

"I should be glad," she said simply.

"Then we'll say 'no!'," he concluded lightly, "for I would like to see
thee glad."

And he had his wish, for quite a joyous smile lit up her small, pinched
face. She tripped quite briskly to the door and held it open for him.

"If thou desirest to speak with me again," she said, as he finally took
his leave, "give four raps on the door at marked intervals. I would fly
to open it then."

He thanked her and went down stairs, humming a lively tune and never
once turning to look on her again. And yet she was learning over the
ricketty banisters watching his slowly descending figure, until it
disappeared in the gloom.




Chapter XIV--After Evensong

Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn had spent many hours in church this New Year's
Day, 1624. In spite of the inclemency of the weather she had attended
Morning Prayer and Holy Communion and now she was back again for
Evensong.

The cathedral was not very full for it. Most people were making merry at
home to celebrate the festival; so Gilda had a corner of the sacred
building all to herself, where she could think matters over silently and
with the help of prayer. The secret of which she had gained knowledge
was weighing heavily on her soul; and heart-rending doubts had assailed
her all night and throughout the day.

How could she know what was the right thing to do?--to allow a crime of
which she had fore-knowledge, to be committed without raising a finger
to prevent it? or to betray her own brother and his friends--a betrayal
which would inevitably lead them to the scaffold?

Her father was of course her great refuge, and to-night through Evensong
she prayed to God to guide her, as to whether she should tell everything
to her father or not. She had warned Nicolaes that she might do so, and
yet her very soul shrank from the act which to many would seem so like
betrayal. Cornelius Beresteyn was a man of rigid principles and
unyielding integrity. What he might do with the knowledge of the
conspiracy in which his own son was taking a leading part, no one--not
even his daughter--could foresee. In no case would she act hurriedly.
She hoped against all hope that mayhap Nicolaes would see his own
treachery in its true light and turn from it before it was too late, or
that God would give her some unmistakable sign of what He willed her to
do.

Perplexed and wretched she stayed long on her knees and left the church
after every one else. The night was dark and though the snow had left
off falling momentarily, the usual frosty mist hung over the city.
Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn wrapped her fur-lined cloak closely round her
shoulders and started on her homeward walk, with Maria by her side and
Jakob and Piet on in front carrying their lanthorns.

Her way took her firstly across the Groote Markt then down the Hout
Straat until she reached the Oude Gracht. Here her two serving men kept
quite close in front of her for the embankment was lonely and a
well-known resort for evil doers who found refuge in the several dark
passages that run at right angles from the canal and have no outlet at
their further end.

Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn followed rapidly in the wake of her lanthorn
bearers and keeping Maria--who was always timorous on dark nights and in
lonely places--quite close to her elbow. Every footstep of the way was
familiar to her. Now the ground was frozen hard and the covering of snow
crisp beneath her feet as she walked, but in the autumn and the spring
the mud here was ankle-deep, save on one or two rare spots in front of
the better houses or public buildings where a few stones formed a piece
of dry pavement. Such a spot was the front of the Oudenvrouwenhuis with
its wide oaken gateway and high brick walls. The unmade road here was
always swept neatly and tidily; during the rainy seasons the mud was
washed carefully away and in the winter it was kept free from snow.

Beyond it was a narrow passage which led to the Chapel of St. Pieter,
now disused since the Remonstrants had fallen into such bad odour after
the death of Olden Barneveld and the treachery of his sons. The corner
of this passage was a favourite haunt for beggars, but only for the
humbler ones--since there is a hierarchy even amongst beggars, and the
more prosperous ones, those known to the town-guard and the
night-watchmen, flocked around the church porches. In this spot where
there were but a few passers-by, only those poor wretches came who
mayhap had something to hide from the watchful eyes of the guardians of
this city, those who had been in prison or had deserted from the army,
or were known to be rogues and thieves.

Gilda Beresteyn, who had a soft heart, always kept a few kreutzers in
the palm of her hand ready to give to any of these poor outcasts who
happened to beg for alms along the embankment, but she never liked to
stop here in order to give those other alms, which she knew were oft
more acceptable than money--the alms of kindly words.

To-night, however, she herself felt miserable and lonely and the voice
that came to her out of the darkness of the narrow passage which leads
to the Chapel of St. Pieter was peculiarly plaintive and sweet.

"For the love of Christ, gentle lady," murmured the voice softly.

Gilda stopped, ready with the kreutzers in her hand. But it was very
dark just here and the snow appeared too deep to traverse; she could not
see the melancholy speaker, though she knew of course that it was a
woman.

"Bring the lanthorn a little nearer, Jakob," she said.

"Do not stop, mejuffrouw, to parley with any of these scamps," said
Maria as she clung fearsomely to her mistress's cloak.

"For the love of Christ, gentle lady!" sighed the pitiable voice out of
the darkness again.

Jakob brought the lanthorn nearer.

Some half a dozen steps up the passage a pathetic little figure appeared
to view, the figure of a woman--a mere girl--with ragged shift and bare
legs half buried in the depths of the snow.

Gilda without hesitation went up to her, money in hand, her own feet
sinking in ankle deep into the cold, white carpet below. The girl
retreated as the kind lady advanced, apparently scared by the two men
who had paused one at each corner of the passage holding their lanthorns
well above their heads.

"Don't be frightened, girl," said Gilda Beresteyn gently, "here's a
little money. You look so cold, poor child!"

The next moment a double cry behind her caused her to turn in a trice:
she had only just time to take in the terrifying fact that Piet and
Jakob had dropped their lanthorns to the ground even as thick dark
cloths were thrown over their heads--before she found herself firmly
seized round the waist by a powerful arm whilst some kind of scarf was
wound quickly round her face.

She had not the time to scream, the enveloping scarf smothered her cry
even as it formed in her throat. The last thing of which she was clearly
conscious was of a voice--which strangely enough sounded
familiar--saying hurriedly:

"Here, take thy money, girl, and run home now as fast as thy feet will
take thee."

After that, though she was never totally unconscious, she was only dimly
aware of what happened to her. She certainly felt herself lifted off the
ground and carried for some considerable distance. What seemed to her a
long, long time afterwards she became aware that she was lying on her
back and that there was a smell of sweet hay and fresh straw around her.
Close to her ear there was the sound of a woman moaning. The scarf still
covered her face, but it had been loosened so that she could breathe,
and presently when she opened her eyes, she found that the scarf only
covered her mouth.

As she lay on her back she could see nothing above her. She was not cold
for the straw around her formed a warm bed, and her cloak had been
carefully arranged so as to cover her completely, whilst her feet were
wrapped up snugly in a rug.

It was only when complete consciousness returned to her that she
realized that she was lying in an object that moved: she became
conscious of the jingling of harness and of occasional unpleasant
jolting, whilst the darkness overhead was obviously caused by the roof
of a vehicle.

She tried to raise herself on her elbow, but she discovered that loose,
though quite efficient bonds held her pinioned down; her arms, however,
were free and she put out her hand in the direction whence came the
muffled sound of a woman moaning.

"Lord! God Almighty! Lord in Heaven!" and many more appeals of a like
character escaped the lips of Gilda's companion in misfortune.

"Maria! Is it thou?" said Gilda in a whisper. Her hand went groping in
the dark until it encountered firstly a cloak, then an arm and finally a
head apparently also enveloped in a cloth.

"Lord God Almighty!" sighed the other woman feebly through the drapery.
"Is it mejuffrouw?"

"Yes, Maria, it is I!" whispered Gilda, "whither are they taking us,
thinkest thou?"

"To some lonely spot where they can conveniently murder us!" murmured
Maria with a moan of anguish.

"But what became of Piet and Jakob?"

"Murdered probably. The cowards could not defend us."

Gilda strained her ears to listen. She hoped by certain sounds to make
out at least in which direction she was being carried away. Above the
rattle and jingle of the harness she could hear at times the measured
tramp of horses trotting in the rear, and she thought at one time that
the sleigh went over the wooden bridge on the Spaarne and then under the
echoing portals of one of the city gates.

Her head after awhile began to ache terribly and her eyes felt as if
they were seared with coal. Of course she lost all count of time: it
seemed an eternity since she had spoken to the girl in the dark passage
which leads to the chapel of St. Pieter.

Maria who lay beside her moaned incessantly for awhile like a fretful
child, but presently she became silent.

Perhaps she had gone to sleep. The night air which found its way through
the chinks of the hood came more keen and biting against Gilda's face.
It cooled her eyes and eased the throbbing of her head. She felt very
tired and as if her body had been bruised all over.

The noises around her became more monotonous, the tramping of the horses
in the rear of the sleigh sounded muffled and subdued. Drowsiness
overcame Gilda Beresteyn and she fell into a troubled, half-waking
sleep.




Chapter XV--THE HALT AT BENNEBROCK

For a long time she had been half-awake, ever since the vehicle had
stopped, which must have been ages and ages ago. She had lain in a kind
of torpor, various sounds coming to her ear as through the veil of
dreams: there was Maria snoring contentedly close by, and the horses
champing their bits and pawing the hard-frozen ground, also there was
the murmur of voices, subdued and muffled--but she could not distinguish
words.

Not for a long time at any rate--an interminably long time!

Her body and limbs felt quite numb, pleasantly warm under the rugs and
cloaks, only her face rejoiced in the cold blast that played around it
and kept her forehead and eyes cool.

Once it seemed to her as if out of the darkness more than one pair of
eyes were looking down on her, and she had the sense as of a warm rapid
breath that mingled with the pure frosty air. After which some one
murmured:

"She is still unconscious."

"I think not," was the whispered reply.

She lay quite still, in case those eyes came to look on her again. The
murmuring voices sounded quite close to the sleigh now, and soon she
found that by holding her breath, and straining her every listening
faculty she could detach the words that struck her ear from all the
other sounds around her.

Two men, she thought, were speaking, but their voices were never once
raised above a whisper.

"You are satisfied?" she heard one of these saying quite distinctly.

"Entirely!" was the response.

"The letter to Ben Isaje?"

"I am not like to lose it."

"Hush! I heard a sound from under the hood."

"'Tis only the old woman snoring."

"I wish you could have found a more comfortable sledge."

"There was not to be had in Haarlem to-day. But we'll easily get one in
Leyden."

In Leyden! Gilda's numbed body quivered with horror. She was being taken
to Leyden and further on still by sleigh! Her thoughts at present were
still chaotic but gradually she was sorting them out, one or two
becoming more clear, more insistent than the rest.

"I would like the jongejuffrouw to have something to eat and drink,"
came once more in whispers from out the darkness. "I fear that she will
faint!"

"No! no!" came the prompt, peremptory reply, "it would be madness to let
her realize so soon where she is. She knows this place well."

A halt on the way to Leyden! and thence a further journey by sledge!
Gilda's thoughts were distinctly less chaotic already. She was beginning
to marshal them up in her mind, together with her recollections of the
events of the past twenty-four hours. The darkness around her, which was
intense, and the numbness of her body all helped her to concentrate her
faculties on these recollections first and on the obvious conclusions
based upon her position at the present moment.

She was being silenced effectually because of the knowledge which she
had gained in the cathedral last night. The Lord of Stoutenburg,
frightened for his plans, was causing her to be put out of his way.
Never for a moment did she suspect her own brother in this. It was that
conscienceless, ambitious, treacherous Stoutenburg! at most her brother
was blindly acquiescent in this infamy.

Gilda was not afraid. Not even when this conviction became fully matured
in her mind. She was not afraid for herself, although for one brief
moment the thought did cross her mind that mayhap she had only been
taken out of Haarlem in order that her death might be more secretly
encompassed.

But she was cast in a firmer mould than most women of her rank and
wealth would be. She came of a race that had faced misery, death and
torture of over a century for the sake of its own independence of life
and of faith, and was ready to continue the struggle for another hundred
years if need be for the same ideals, and making the same sacrifices in
order to attain them. Gilda Beresteyn gave but little thought to her own
safety. Life to her, if Stoutenburg's dastardly conspiracy against the
Stadtholder was successful and involved her own brother, would be of
little value to her. Nicolaes' act of treachery would break her father's
heart; what matter if she herself lived to witness all that misery or
not.

No! it was her helpless at this moment that caused her the most
excruciating soul-agony. She had been trapped and was being cast aside
like a noxious beast, that is in the way of men. Like a child that is
unruly and has listened at the keyhole of the door, she was being
punished and rendered harmless.

Indeed she had no fear for her safety; the few words which she had
heard, the presence of Maria, all tended to point out that there would
be no direct attempt against her life. It was only of that awful crime
that she thought, the crime which she had so fondly hoped that she might
yet frustrate: it was of the Stadtholder's safety that she thought and
of her brother's sin.

She also thought of her poor father who, ignorant of the events which
had brought about this infamous abduction, would be near killing himself
with sorrow at the mysterious disappearance of his only daughter. Piet
and Jakob would tell how they had been set on in the dark--footpads
would be suspected, the countryside where they usually have their haunts
would be scoured for them, but the high road leading to Leyden would
never mayhap be watched, and certainly a sleigh under escort would never
draw the attention of the guardians of the peace.

While these thoughts whirled wildly in her brain it seemed that
preparations had been and were being made for departure. She heard some
whispered words again:

"Where will you put up at Leyden?"

"At the 'White Goat.' I know the landlord well."

"Will he be awake at so late an hour?"

"I will ride ahead and rouse his household. They shall be prepared for
our coming."

"But..."

"You seem to forget, sir," came in somewhat louder tones, "that all the
arrangements for this journey were to be left entirely to my
discretion."

For the moment Gilda could catch no further words distinctly: whether a
quarrel had ensued or not she could not conjecture, but obviously the
two speakers had gone some little distance away from the sledge. All
that she could hear was--after a brief while of silence--a quaint
muffled laugh which though it scarce was distinguishable from the murmur
of the wind, so soft was it, nevertheless betrayed to her keenly
sensitive ear an undercurrent of good-humored irony.

Again there seemed something familiar to her in the sound.

After this there was renewed tramping of heavy feet on the snow-covered
ground, the clang of bits and chains, the creaking of trace, the subdued
call of encouragement to horses:

"Forward!" came a cheery voice from the rear.

Once more they were on the move; on the way to Leyden--distant six
leagues from her home. Gilda could have cried out now in her misery. She
pictured her father--broken-hearted all through the night, sending
messengers hither and thither to the various gates of the city, unable
no doubt to get satisfactory information at this late hour: she pictured
Nicolaes feigning ignorance of the whole thing, making pretence of
anxiety and grief. Torturing thoughts kept her awake, though her body
was racked with fatigue. The night was bitterly cold, and the wind, now
that they had reached open country, cut at times across her face like a
knife.

The sledge glided along with great swiftness now, over the smooth, thick
carpet of snow that covered the long, straight road. Gilda knew that the
sea was not far off: but she also knew that every moment now she was
being dragged further and further away from the chance of averting from
her father and from her house the black catastrophe of disgrace which
threatened them.




Chapter XVI--LEYDEN

It seemed that from some church tower far away a clock struck the hour
of midnight when the sledge at last came to a halt.

Worn out with nerve-racking thoughts, as well as with the cruel monotony
of the past four hours, Gilda felt her soul and body numb and lifeless
as a stone. There was much running and shouting round the vehicle, of
horses' hoofs resounding against rough cobble-stones, of calls for
ostler and landlord.

Then for awhile comparative quietude. Maria still snored unperturbed,
and Gilda, wide-eyed and with beating heart, awaited further events.
Firstly the hood of the sledge in which she lay was lifted off: she
could hear the ropes and straps being undone, the tramp of feet all
round her and an occasional volley of impatient oaths. Then out of the
darkness a pleasant voice called her somewhat peremptorily by name.

"Mejuffrouw Beresteyn!"

She did not reply, but lay quite still, with wide-open eyes like a bird
that has been tracked and knows that it is being watched. Maria uttered
a loud groan and tried to roll over on her side.

"Where have those murderers taken us to now?" she muttered through the
veil that still enveloped her mouth.

The pleasant voice close to Gilda's ear, now called out more loudly:

"Here, Pythagoras, Socrates! lift the mevrouw out of the sleigh and
carry her up to the room which the landlord hath prepared for the
ladies."

Maria immediately gave vent to violent shrieks of protest.

"How dare ye touch me!" she screamed at the top of her voice, "ye
murdering devils dare but lay a finger on a respectable woman and God
will punish you with pestilence and dislocation and..."

It must be presumed that neither Pythagoras nor Socrates were greatly
upset by the mevrouw's curses, for Gilda, who was on the alert for every
movement and for every sound, was well aware that Maria's highly
respectable person was presently seized by firm hands, that the shawl
round her face was pressed more tightly against her mouth--for her
screams sounded more muffled--and that despite her struggles, her cries
and her kicking she was lifted bodily out of the sledge.

When these disquieting sounds had died down the same pleasant voice
broke in once again on Gilda's obstinate silence.

"Mejuffrouw Beresteyn!" it reiterated once again.

"Dondersteen! but 'tis no use lying mum there, and pretending to be
asleep," it continued after awhile, since Gilda certainly had taken no
notice of the call, "that old woman made enough noise to wake the dead."

Still not a sound from Gilda, who--more like a cowering bird than
ever--was trying with widely-dilated eyes to pierce the darkness around
her, in order to see something of the enemy. She saws the outline of a
plumed hat like a patch of ink against the sky above, and also a pair of
very broad shoulders that were stooping toward the floor of the sledge.

"Hey!" shouted the enemy with imperturbable cheerfulness, "leave that
door wide open, I'll carry the jongejuffrouw in myself. She seems to be
unconscious."

The words roused Gilda out of her attitude of rigid silence,--the words
which she looked on as awful threat, and also the sensation that the
loose bonds which had pinioned her down to the vehicle were being
undone.

"I am not unconscious," she said aloud and quite calmly, "and was quite
aware just now that you laid rough hands on a helpless woman. Since I am
equally helpless and in your power I pray you to command what I must
do."

"Come! that's brave! I knew that you could not be asleep," rejoined the
enemy with inveterate good-humour, "but for the moment, mejuffrouw, I
must ask you to descend from this sleigh. It has been a vastly
uncomfortable vehicle for you to travel in, I fear me, but it was the
best that we could get in Haarlem on New Year's day. An you will deign
to enter this humble hostelry you will find the mevrouw there, a
moderately good supper and something resembling a bed, all of which I am
thinking will be highly acceptable to you."

While the enemy spoke, Gilda had a few seconds in which to reflect.
Above all things she was a woman of sense and one who valued her own
dignity; she knew quite well that the making of a scene outside an inn
in a strange town and at this hour of the night could but result in a
loss of that dignity which she so highly prized, seeing that she was
entirely at the mercy of men who were not likely to yield either to her
protests or to her appeals.

Therefore, when she felt that she was free to move, she made every
effort to raise herself; uncomfortably these long hours of weary
motionless lying on her back, had made her limbs so numb that they
refused her service. She made one or two brave attempts to hide her
helplessness, but when she wanted to draw up her knees, she nearly cried
with the pain of trying to move them out of their cramped position.

"It were wiser methinks," quoth the enemy with a slight tone of mockery
in his cheerful voice, "it were wiser to accept the help of my arms.
They are strong, firm and not cramped. Try them, mejuffrouw, you will
have no cause to regret it."

Quite involuntarily--for of a truth she shrank from the mere touch of
this rascal who obviously was in the pay of Stoutenburg, and doing the
latter's infamous work for him--quite involuntarily then, she placed her
hand upon the arm which he had put out as a prop for her.

It was as firm as a rock. Leaning on it somewhat heavily she was able to
struggle to her knees. This made her venturesome. She tried to stand up;
but fatigue, the want of food, the excitement and anxiety which she had
endured, combined with the fact that she had been in a recumbent
position for many hours, caused her to turn desperately giddy. She
swayed like a young sapling under the wind, and would have fallen but
that the same strong arm firm as a rock was there to receive her ere she
fell.

I suppose that dizziness deprived her of her full senses, else she would
never have allowed that knave to lift her out of the sledge and then to
carry her into a building, and up some narrow and very steep stairs, but
this Diogenes did do, with but scant ceremony; he thought her protests
foolish, and her attempts at lofty disdain pitiable. She was after all
but a poor, helpless scrap of humanity, so slight and frail that as he
carried her into the house, there was grave danger of his crushing her
into nothingness as she lay in his arms.

Despite her pride and her aloofness he found it in his heart to pity her
just now. Had she been fully conscious she would have hated to see
herself pillowed thus against the doublet of so contemptible a knave;
and here she was absolutely handed over body and soul to a nameless
stranger, who in her sight, was probably no better than a menial--and
this by the cynical act of one who next to her father was her most
natural protector.

Yes, indeed he did pity her, for she seemed to him more than ever like
that poor little song-bird whom a lout had tortured for his own pleasure
by lucking out its feathers one by one. It seemed monstrous that so
delicate a creature should be the victim of men's intrigues and
passions. Why! even! her breath had the subtle scent of tulips as it
fanned his cheeks and nostrils when he stooped in order to look on her.

In the meanwhile he had been as good as his word. He had pushed on to
Leyden in advance of the cortège, had roused the landlord of this
hostelry and the serving wenches, and scattered money so freely that
despite the lateness of the hour a large square room--the best in the
house, and scrupulously clean as to the red-tiled floor and walnut
furniture--was at once put at the disposal of the ladies of so noble a
travelling company.

The maids were sent flying hither and thither, one into the kitchen to
make ready some hot supper, the other to the linen press to find the
finest set of bed linen all sweetly laid by in rosemary.

Diogenes, still carrying Gilda, pushed the heavy panelled door open with
his foot, and without looking either to right or left of him made
straight for the huge open hearth, wherein already logs of pinewood had
been set ablaze, and beside which stood an armchair, covered with
Utrecht velvet.

Into its inviting and capacious depths he deposited his inanimate
burden, and only then did he become aware of two pairs of eyes, which
were fixed upon him with very different expression. A buxom wench in
ample wide kirtle of striped duffle, had been busy when he entered in
spreading clean linen sheets upon the narrow little bed built in the
panelling of the room. From under her quaint winged cap of starched lace
a pair of very round eyes, blue as the Ryn, peeped in naïve undisguised
admiration on the intruder, whilst from beneath her disordered coif
Maria threw glances of deadly fury upon him.

Could looks but kill, Maria certes would have annihilated the low rascal
who had dared to lay hands upon the noble jongejuffrouw. But our friend
Diogenes was not a man to be perturbed either by admiring or condemning
looks. He picked up a footstool from under the table and put it under
the jongejuffrouw's feet; then he looked about him for a pillow, and
with scant ceremony took one straight out of the hands of the serving
wench who was just shaking it up ready for the bed. His obvious
intention was to place it behind the jongejuffrouw's head, but at this
act of unforgivable presumption Maria's wrath cast aside all restraint.
Like a veritable fury she strode up to the insolent rascal, and snatched
the pillow from him, throwing on him such a look of angry contempt as
should have sent him grovelling on his knees.

"Keep thy blood cool, mevrouw," he said with the best of humour, "thy
looks have already made a weak-kneed coward of me."

With the dignity of an offended turkey hen, Maria arranged the pillow
herself under her mistress's head, having previously shaken it and
carefully dusted off the blemish caused upon its surface by contact with
an unclean hand. As for the footstool, she would not even allow it to
remain there where that same unclean hand had placed it; she kicked it
aside with her foot and drew up her small, round stature in a
comprehensive gesture of outraged pride.

Diogenes made her a low bow, sweeping the floor with his plumed hat. The
serving wench had much ado to keep a serious countenance, so comical did
the mevrouw look in her wrath, and so mirth-provoking the gentleman with
his graceful airs and unruffled temper. Anon laughter tickled her so
that she had to run quickly out of the room, in order to indulge in a
fit of uncontrolled mirth, away from the reproving glances of mevrouw.

It was the pleasant sound of that merry laughter outside the door that
caused the jongejuffrouw to come to herself and to open wide, wondering
eyes. She looked around her, vaguely puzzled, taking in the details of
the cosy room, the crackling fire, the polished table, the inviting bed
that exhaled an odour of dried rosemary.

Then her glance fell on Diogenes, who was standing hat in hand in the
centre of the room, with the light from the blazing logs playing upon
his smiling face, and the immaculate whiteness of his collar.

She frowned. And he who stood there--carelessly expectant--could not
help wondering whether with that swift contemptuous glance which she
threw on him, she had already recognized him.

"Mejuffrouw," he said, thus checking with a loud word the angry
exclamation which hovered on her lips, "if everything here is not
entirely in accordance with your desires, I pray you but to command and
it shall be remedied if human agency can but contrive to do so. As for
me, I am entirely at your service--your major domo, your servant, your
outrider, anything you like to name me. Send but for your servant if you
have need of aught; supper will be brought up to you immediately, and in
the meanwhile I beg leave to free you from my unwelcome company."

Already there was a goodly clatter of platters, and of crockery outside,
and as the wench re-entered anon bearing a huge tray on which were set
out several toothsome things, Diogenes contrived to make his exit
without encountering further fusillades of angry glances.

He joined his friends in the tap-room downstairs, and as he was young,
vigorous and hungry he set to with them and ate a hearty supper. But he
spoke very little and the rough jests of his brother philosophers met
with but little response from him.




Chapter XVII--AN UNDERSTANDING

At one hour after midnight the summons came.

Maria, majestic and unbending, sailed into the tap-room where Pythagoras
and Socrates were already stretched out full-length upon a couple of
benches fast asleep and Diogenes still struggling to keep awake.

"The noble Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn desires your presence," she said
addressing the latter with lofty dignity.

At once he rose to his feet, and followed Maria up the stairs and into
the lady's room. From this room an inner door gave on another smaller
alcove-like chamber, wherein a bed had been prepared for Maria.

Gilda somewhat curtly ordered her to retire.

"I will call you, Maria," she said, "when I have need of you."

Diogenes with elaborate courtesy threw the inner door open, and stood
beside it plumed hat in hand while the mevrouw sailed past him, with
arms folded across her ample bosom, and one of those dignified glances
in her round eyes that should have annihilated this impious malapert,
whose face--despite its airs of deference, was wreathed in an obviously
ironical smile.

It was only when the heavy oaken door had fallen to behind her duenna
that Gilda with an imperious little gesture called Diogenes before her.
He advanced hat in hand as was his wont, his magnificent figure very
erect, his head with its wealth of untamed curls slightly bent. But he
looked on her boldly with those laughter-filled twinkling eyes of his
and since he was young and neither ascetic nor yet a misanthrope, we may
take it that he had some considerable pleasure in the contemplation of
the dainty picture which she presented against the background of dull
gold velvet: her small head propped against the cushions, and feathery
curls escaping from under her coif and casting pearly, transparent
shadows upon the ivory whiteness of her brow. Her two hands were resting
each on an arm of the chair, and looked more delicate than ever now in
the soft light of the tallow candles that burned feebly in the pewter
candelabra upon the table.

Diogenes for the moment envied his friend Frans Hals for the power which
the painter of pictures has placing so dainty an image on record for all
time. His look of bold admiration, however, caused Gilda's glance to
harden, and she drew herself up in her chair in an attitude more
indicative of her rank and station and of her consciousness of his
inferiority.

But not with a single look or smile did she betray whether she had
recognized him or not.

"Your name?" she asked curtly.

His smile broadened--self-deprecatingly this time.

"They call me Diogenes," he replied.

"A strange name," she commented, "but 'tis of no consequence."

"Of none whatever," he rejoined, "I had not ventured to pronounce it,
only that you deigned to ask."

Again she frowned: the tome of gentle mockery had struck unpleasantly on
her ear and she did not like that look of self-satisfied independence
which sat on him as if to the manner born, when he was only an abject
menial, paid to do dirty work for his betters.

"I have sent for you, sir," she resumed after a slight pause, "because I
wished to demand of you an explanation of your infamous conduct. Roguery
and vagabondage are severely punished by our laws, and you have brought
your neck uncommonly near the gallows by your act of highway robbery. Do
you hear me?" she asked more peremptorily, seeing that he made no
attempt at a reply.

"I hear you, mejuffrouw."

"And what is your explanation?"

"That is my trouble, mejuffrouw. I have none to offer."

"Do you refuse then to tell me what your purpose is in thus defying the
laws of the land and risking the gallows by laying hands upon me and
upon my waiting woman in the open streets, and by taking me away by
brute force from my home?"

"My purpose, mejuffrouw, is to convey you safely as far as Rotterdam,
where I will hand you over into the worthy keeping of a gentleman who
will relieve me of further responsibility with regard to your precious
person."

"In Rotterdam?" she exclaimed, "what should I do in Rotterdam?"

"Nothing, I imagine," replied Diogenes dryly, "for you would not remain
there longer than is necessary. I am the bearer of written orders to
that same gentleman in Rotterdam that he shall himself conduct you under
suitable escort--of which I no doubt will still form an integral
part--to his private residence, which I am told is situate outside the
city and on the road to Delft."

"A likely story indeed!" she rejoined vehemently, "I'll not believe it!
Common theft and robbery are your purpose, nothing less, else you had
not stolen my purse from me nor the jewels which I wore."

"I had to take your purse and your jewels from you, mejuffrouw," he said
with perfect equanimity, "else you might have used them for the purpose
of slipping through my fingers. Wenches at wayside inns are easily
amenable to bribes, so are the male servants at city hostelries. But
your purse and the trinkets which you wore are safely stowed away in my
wallet. I shall have the honour of returning them to you when we arrive
in Rotterdam."

"Of returning them to me," she said with a contemptuous laugh, "do
knaves like you ever return stolen property?"

"Seldom, I admit," he replied still with unruffled good-humour.
"Nevertheless an exception hath often proved a rule. Your purse and
trinkets are here," he added.

And from his wallet he took out a small leather purse and some loose
jewellery which he showed to her.

"And," he added ere he once more replaced them in his wallet, "I will
guard them most carefully until I can return them to you in Rotterdam,
after which time 'twil be some one else's business to see that you do
not slip through his fingers."

"And you expect me to believe such a senseless tale," she rejoined
contemptuously.

"There are many things in this world and the next, mejuffrouw," he said
lightly, "that are true though some of us believe them not."

"Nay! but this I do believe on the evidence of mine own eyes--that you
stole my money and my jewels and have no intention of returning them to
me."

"Your opinion of me, mejuffrouw, is already so low that it matters
little surely if you think me a common thief as well."

"My opinion of you, sir, is based upon your actions."

"And these I own stand in formidable array against me."

She bit her lip in vexation and her slender fingers began to beat a
tattoo on the arm of her chair. This man's placidity and inveterate
good-humour were getting on her nerves. It is hard when one means to
wound, to find the surest arrows falling wide of the mark. But now she
waited for a moment or two lest her irritation betrayed itself in the
quiver of her voice; and it was only when she felt quite sure that it
would sound as trenchant and hard as she intended that it should, that
she said abruptly:

"Who is paying you, sir, for this infamy?"

"One apparently who can afford the luxury," he replied airily.

"You will not tell me?"

"Do you think, mejuffrouw, that I could?"

"I may guess."

"It should not be difficult," he assented.

"And you, sir," she continued more vehemently, "are one of the many
tools which the Lord of Stoutenburg doth use to gain his own political
ends."

"The Lord of Stoutenburg?"

It was impossible for Gilda Beresteyn to gauge exactly whether the
astonishment expressed in that young villain's exclamation was real or
feigned. Certainly his mobile face was a picture of puzzlement, but this
may have been caused only by his wondering how she could so easily have
guessed the name of his employer. For as to this she was never for a
moment in doubt. It was easy enough for her to piece together the series
of events which had followed her parting from her brother at the
cathedral door. Stoutenburg, burning with anxiety and glowing with his
ardent desire for vengeance against the Stadtholder, had feared that
she--Gilda--would betray the secret which she held, and he had paid this
knave to take her out of the way. Stoutenburg and his gang! it could be
no one else! she dared not think that her own brother would have a share
in so dastardly an outrage. It was Stoutenburg of course! and this
smiling knave knew it well! aye! even though he murmured again and this
time to the accompaniment of smothered oaths:

"Stoutenburg? Bedonderd!"

"Aye!" she said loftily, "you see that I am not deceived! 'tis the Lord
of Stoutenburg who gave you money to play this trick on me. He paid you!
paid you, I say, and you, a man who should be fighting for your country,
were over ready to make war upon a woman. Shame on you! shame I say!
'tis a deed that should cause you to blush, if indeed you have a spark
of honesty in you, which of a truth I do gravely doubt."

She had worked herself up into an outburst of indignation and flung
insult upon insult on him in the vague hope indeed of waking some
slumbering remnant of shame in his heart, and mayhap ruffling that
imperturbable air of contentment of his, and that impudent look of
swagger most unbecoming in a menial.

By naming Stoutenburg, she had certainly brought to light many things
which Diogenes had only vaguely suspected. His mind--keen and shrewd
despite his follies--recalled his interview with Nicolaes Beresteyn in
the studio of Frans Hals; all the details of that interview seemed
suddenly to have gained significance as well as lucidity. The lofty talk
anent the future of Holland and the welfare of the Faith was easily
understandable in this new light which the name of Stoutenburg had cast
upon it. Stoutenburg and the welfare of Holland! a secret the possession
of which meant death to six selfless patriots or the forfeiture mayhap
of her good name and her honour to this defenceless girl! Stoutenburg at
the bottom of it all! Diogenes could have laughed aloud with triumph so
clear now was the whole scheme to him! There was no one living who did
not think that at some time or other Stoutenburg meant to come back and
make yet one more attempt to wipe a blood-stain from the annals of his
country by one equally foul.

One of Barneveld's sons had already paid for such an attempt with his
life; the other had escaped only in order to intrigue again, to plot
again, and again to fail. And this poor girl had by a fortuitous mishap
overheard the discussion of the guilty secret. Stoutenburg had come back
and meant to kill the Stadtholder: Nicolaes Beresteyn was his accomplice
and had callously sacrificed his innocent sister to the success of his
friend's schemes.

If out of this network of intrigues a sensible philosopher did not
succeed in consolidating his independence with the aid of a substantial
fortune, then he was neither so keen nor so daring as his friends and he
himself supposed!

And Gilda wondered what went on in his mind for those twinkling eyes of
his never betrayed any deeper thought: but she noticed with great
mortification that the insults which she had heaped upon him so freely
had not shamed him at all, for the good-humoured smile was not effaced
from his lips, rather did the shapely hand wander up to the moustache in
order to give it--she thought--a more provoking curl.

"I still await your answer," she said haughtily, seeing that his
prolonged silence savoured of impertinence.

"I humbly crave your pardon, mejuffrouw," he said pleasantly, "I was
absorbed in wonderment."

"You marvelled, sir, how easily I saw behind your schemes, and saw the
hand which drove you in the harness?"

"Your pardon, mejuffrouw. I was pondering on your own words. You deigned
to say just now that I--a man should be fighting for my country."

"And you are worthy, sir, to be called a man."

"Quite so," he said whimsically. "But even if I did lay claim to the
title, mejuffrouw, how could I fight for my country when my country doth
not happen to be at war just now."

"Your country? What pray might your country be? Not that this concerns
me in the least," she added hastily.

"Of course not," he rejoined blandly.

"What is your country, sir?"

"England."

"I do not like the English."

"Nor do I, mejuffrouw. But I was unfortunately not consulted as to my
choice of a fatherland: nor doth it change the fact that King James of
England is at peace just now with all the world."

"So you preferred to earn a dishonest living by abducting innocent
women, to further the intrigues of your pay-master."

"It is a harsh exposition," he said blandly, "of an otherwise obvious
fact."

"And you are not ashamed."

"Not more than is necessary for my comfort."

"And cannot I move you, sir," she said with sudden warmth, "cannot an
appeal to you from my lips rouse a feeling of manhood within you. My
father is a rich man," she continued eagerly, "he hath it in his power
to reward those who do him service; he can do so far more effectually
than the Lord of Stoutenburg. Sir! I would not think of making an appeal
to your heart! no doubt long ago you have taught it to remain cold to
the prayers of a woman in distress: but surely you will listen to the
call of your own self-interest. My father must be nigh heart-broken by
now. The hours have sped away and he knows not where to find me."

"No! I have taken very good care of that, mejuffrouw. We are at Leyden
now, but we left Haarlem through the Groningen gate. We travelled North
first, then East, then only South...Mynheer Beresteyn would require a
divining rod wherewith to find you now."

It seemed unnecessary cruelty to tell her that, when already despair had
seized on her heart, but she would not let this abominable rogue see how
deeply she was hurt. She feigned not to have noticed the purport of his
words and continued with the same insistent eagerness:

"Torn with anxiety, sir, he will be ready with a rich reward for one who
would bring his only daughter safely home to him. I know not what the
Lord of Stoutenburg hath promised you for doing his abominable work for
him, but this I do assure you that my father will double and treble
whatever sum you choose to name. Take me back to him, sir, now, this
night, and to-morrow morning you could count yourself one of the rich
men of Haarlem."

But Diogenes with half-closed eyes and gentle smile slowly shook his
head.

"Were I to present myself before Mynheer Beresteyn to-night, he would
summon the town guard and I should count myself as good as hanged
to-morrow."

"Do you measure other men's treachery then by your own?"

"I measure other men's wrath by mine, mejuffrouw--and if a rogue had
stolen my daughter, I should not rest until I had seen him hanged."

"I pledge you my word--" she began hotly.

"And I mine, mejuffrouw," he broke in a little more firmly than he had
spoken hitherto, "that I will place you safely and I pray God in good
health, into the care of a certain gentleman in Rotterdam. To this is my
word of honour pledged and even such a mean vagabond as I is bound by a
given word."

To this she made no reply. Perhaps she felt that in his last words there
lurked a determination which it were useless to combat. Her pride too
was up in arms. How could she plead further to this rascal who met the
most earnest appeal with a pert jest? who mocked at her distress, and
was impervious alike to prayers and to insults?

"I see," she said coldly, "that I do but waste my time in calling on
your honour to forego this infamous trickery. Where there is no
chivalry, there can be neither honour nor pity. I am in your hands,
helpless because I am a woman. If it is the will of God that I should so
remain, I cannot combat brute force with my feeble strength. No doubt He
knows best! and also I believe doth oft give the devil power to triumph
in the sight of men. After this night, sir, I will no longer defame my
lips by speaking to you. If you have a spark of compassion left in your
heart for one who hath never wronged you, I but ask you to relieve me of
your presence as much as you can during the weary hours of this
miserable journey."

"Have I your leave to go at once?" he said with unalterable cheerfulness
and made hast to reach the door.

"Only one moment more must I detain you," she rejoined haughtily. "I
wish you to understand that from this hour forth until such time as it
pleaseth God to free me from this humiliating position, I will follow
your commands to the best of my ability; not because I recognize your
right to dictate them but because I am helpless to oppose you. If I and
my waiting woman obey your orders meekly, if we rise when so ordered,
are ready to start on the way whenever so compelled, get in or out of
the vehicle at the first word from you, can we at least rest assured
that we shall be spared further outrage?"

"Do you mean, mejuffrouw, that I must no longer attempt to lift you out
of a coach or to carry you up to your chamber, even if as to-night you
are faint and but half-conscious?" he asked with whimsical earnestness.

"I desire, sir, that you and those who help you in this shameful work,
do in future spare me and my woman the insult of laying hands upon our
persons."

He gave a long, low whistle.

"Dondersteen." he exclaimed flippantly, "I had no thought that so much
hatred and malice could lurk in the frail body of a woman...'tis true,"
he added with a shrug of the shoulders, "that a rogue such as I must of
necessity know very little of the workings of a noble lady's mind."

"Had you known aught of mine, sir," she retorted coldly, "you would have
understood that it is neither hatred nor malice which I feel for you and
for those who are paying you to do this infamy...what I feel is only
contempt."

"Is that all?" he queried blandly. "Ah, well, mejuffrouw, then am I all
the more indebted to you for the great honour which you have done me
this hour past."

"Honour? I do not understand. It was not in my mind to do you honour."

"I am sure not. You did it quite unconsciously and the honour was
enhanced thereby. You honoured me, mejuffrouw," he said while a tone of
earnestness crept into his merry voice, "by trusting me--the common
thief, the cut-throat, the hired brigand, alone in your presence for a
whole hour, while the entire household here was abed and your duenna
snoring contentedly in a room with locked door close by. During that
hour your tongue did not spare my temper for one moment. For this
recognition of manly forbearance and chivalry--even though you choose to
deny their existence--do I humbly thank you. Despite--or perhaps because
of your harsh estimate of me--you made me feel to-night almost a
gentleman."

With his habitual elegance of gesture he swept her a deep bow, then
without another word or look and with firm, ringing steps he walked
quickly out of the room.




Chapter XVIII--THE START

Once the door safely closed behind him, he heaved a deep sigh as if of
intense relief and he passed his hand quickly across is brow.

"By St. Bavon," he murmured, "my friend Diogenes, thou hast had to face
unpleasantness before now--those arquebusiers at Magdeburg were
difficult to withstand, those murderous blackguards in the forests of
Prague nearly had thy skin, but verdommt be thou, if thou hast had to
hold thy temper in bounds like this before. Dondersteen! how I could
have crushed that sharp-tongued young vixen till she cried for
mercy...or silenced those venomous lips with a kiss!...I was sore
tempted indeed to give her real cause for calling me a knave..."

In the tap-room downstairs he found Pythagoras and Socrates curled up on
the floor in front of the hearth. They were fast asleep, and Diogenes
did not attempt to wake them. He had given them their orders for the
next day earlier in the evening and with the promise of 500 golden
guilders to be won by implicit obedience the two worthies were not like
to disobey.

He himself had his promise to his friend Hals to redeem...the flight
along the frozen waterways back to Haarlem, a few hours spent in the
studio in the Peuselaarsteeg, then the return flight to rejoin his
compeers and the jongejuffrouw at the little hamlet of Houdekerk off the
main road; thither he had ordered them to proceed in the early morning
there to lie perdu until his return. Houdekerk lay to the east of Leyden
and so well off the beaten track that the little party would be safely
hidden there during the day;--he intended to be with them again well
before midnight of the next day. For the nonce he collected a few
necessary provisions which he had ordered to be ready for him--a half
bottle of wine, some meat and bread, then he made his way out of the
little hostelry and across the courtyard to the stables where the horses
had been put up. The night was singularly clear: the waning moon after
she had emerged from a bank of low-lying clouds, lit up the surrounding
landscape with a radiance that was intensely blue.

Groping his way about in the stables Diogenes found his saddle which he
himself had lifted off his horse, and from out the holster he drew a
pair of skates. With these hanging by their straps upon his arm, he left
the building behind him and turned to walk in the direction of the
river.

The little city lay quite peaceful and still under the weird brilliancy
of the moon which threw many-hued reflections on the snow-covered
surfaces of roofs and tall gables. It was piercingly cold, the silver
ribbon of the Rhyn wound its graceful course westward to the North Sea
and from beyond its opposite bank a biting wind swept across the dykes
and over the flat country around, chasing myriads of crisp snowflakes
from their rest and driving them in wanton frolic round and round into
little whirlpools of mist that glistened like the facets of diamonds.

Diogenes had walked briskly along; the skates upon his arm clicked at
every one of his movements with a pleasing metallic sound. He chose a
convenient spot on the river bank whereon to squat on the ground, and
fastened on his skates.

After which he rose and for a moment stood looking straight out
northwards before him. But a few leagues--half a dozen at most--lay
between him Haarlem. The Rhyn as well as the innumerable small polders
and lakes had left--after the autumn floods--their usual trail of narrow
waterways behind them which, frozen over now, joining, intersecting and
rejoining again formed a perfect, uninterrupted road from hence to the
northern cities. It had been along these frozen ways that the daring and
patriotic citizens of Leyden had half a century ago kept up
communication with the outer world during the memorable siege which had
lasted throughout the winter, and it was by their help that they were
able to defy the mighty investing Spanish army by getting provisions
into the beleaguered city.

A young adventurer stood here now calmly measuring in his mind the
distance which he would have to traverse in the teeth of a piercing gale
and at dead of night in order to satisfy the ambition of a friend. It
was not the first time in his hazardous career that he had undertaken
such a journey. He was accustomed to take all risks in life with
indifference and good humour, the only thing that mattered was the
ultimate end: an exciting experience to go through, a goodly competence
to earn, a promise to fulfil.

Up above, the waning moon seemed to smile upon his enterprise; she lay
radiant and serene on her star-studded canopy of mysterious ethereal
indigo. Diogenes looked back on the little hostelry, which lay some
little distance up the street at right angles to the river bank. Was it
his fancy or one of those many mysterious reflections thrown by the
moon? but it certainly seemed to him as if a light still burned in one
of the upper windows.

The unpleasant interview with the jongejuffrouw had evidently not
weighed his spirits down, for to that distant light he now sent a loud
and merry farewell.

Then deliberately facing the bitter blast he struck out boldly along the
ice and started on his way.




Chapter XIX--In the Kingdom of the Night

Heigh-ho! for that run along the ice--a matter of half a dozen leagues
or so--at dead of night with a keen north-easterly wind whipping up the
blood, and motion--smooth gliding motion--to cause it to glow in every
vein.

Heigh-ho! for the joy of living, for the joy in the white, ice-covered
world, the joy in the night, and in the moon, and in those distant
lights of Leyden which gradually recede and diminish--tiny atoms now in
the infinite and mysterious distance!

What ho! a dark and heavy bank of clouds! whence come ye, ye disturbers
of the moon's serenity? Nay! but we are in a hurry, the wind drives us
at breathless speed, we cannot stay to explain whence we have come.

Moon, kind moon, come out again! ah, there she is, pallid through the
frosty mist, blinking at this white world scarce less brilliant than
she.

On, on! silently and swiftly, in the stillness of the night, the cruel
skates make deep gashes on the smooth skin of the ice, long even strokes
now, for the Meer is smooth and straight, and the moon--kind
moon!--marks an even silvery track, there where the capricious wind has
swept it free of snow.

Hat in hand for the wind is cool and good, and tames the hot young blood
which a woman's biting tongue has whipped into passion.

"The young vixen," shouts a laughing voice through the night, "was she
aware of her danger? how I could have tamed her, and cowed her and
terrified her! Did she play a cat and mouse game with me I
wonder...Dondersteen! if I thought that..."

But why think of a vixen now, of blue eyes and biting tongues, when the
night with unerring hand clothes the landscape with glory. One word to
the north-east wind and he sweeps the track quite clear and causes
myriads of diamonds to fly aimlessly about, ere they settle like tiny
butterflies on tortuous twigs, and rough blades of coarse grass. One
call to the moon and she partially hides her face, painting the haze
around her to a blood-red hue; now a touch of blue upon the ice, further
a streak of emerald, and then the tender mauves of the regal mantle of
frost.

Then the thousand sounds that rise all around: the thousand sounds which
all united make one vast, comprehensive silence: the soughing of the
wind in the bare poplar trees, the rattle of the tiny dead twigs and
moaning of the branches; from far away the dull and ceaseless rumble
which speaks of a restless sea, and now and again the loud and
melancholy boom of the ice, yielding to the restless movements of the
water beneath.

The sounds which make up silence--silence and loneliness, nature's
perfect repose under its downy blanket of snow, the vast embrace of the
night stretching out into infinity in monotonous flatnesses far away, to
the mysterious mists which lie beyond the horizon.

Oh! for the joy of it all! the beauty of the night, the wind and the
frost! and the many landmarks which loom out of the darkness one by one,
to guide that flying figure on its way; the square tower of the old
Katwyk-binnen church, the group of pollard willows at the corner of
Veenenburg Polder, the derelict boats on the bank of the Haarlemer Meer,
and always from the left that pungent smell of the sea, the brine and
the peculiar odour which emanates from the dykes close by, from the wet
clay and rotting branches of willows that protect man against the
encroachment of the ocean.

On, on, thou sole inhabitant of this kingdom of the night! fly on thy
wings of metal--hour after hour--midnight--one--two--three--where are
the hours now? there are no hours in the kingdom of the night! On, on,
for the moon's course is swift and this will be a neck to neck race. Ah!
the wicked one! down she goes, lower and lower in her career, and there
is a thick veil of mist on the horizon in the west! Moon! art not
afraid? the mists will smother thee! Tarry yet awhile! tarry ere thou
layest down on the cold, soft bed! thy light! give it yet awhile!--two
hours! one hour until thou hast outlined with silver the openwork tower
of Haarlem's Groote Kirk.

On, on, for a brief hour longer how can one pause even to eat or drink?
there is no hunger in the kingdom of night, no thirst, no fatigue! and
this a neck to neck race with the moon.

Ah Dondersteen! but thou art beaten, fair moon! Let the mists embrace
thee now! sink! fall! die as thou list, there is the tower of St. Bavon!
and we defy the darkness now!

Here it comes creeping like a furtive and stealthy creature wiping out
with thick black cloth here a star and there the tip of a tall poplar
tree, there a shrub, there a clump of grass! Take care, traveller, take
care! that was not just the shadow from the bank, it was a bunch of
reeds that entangle the feet and bring the skater down on to his face
and will drag him, if he be not swift and alert, right under into the
water under the ice.

Take care! there is danger everywhere now in this inky blackness! danger
on the ice, and upon the bank, danger in the shadows that are less dark
than the night!

Darker and darker still, until it seemed as if the night's brush could
not hold a more dense hue. The night--angered that she hath been so long
defied--has overtaken the flying skater at last. She grips him, she
holds him, he dare not advance, he will not retreat. Haarlem is there
not one whole league away and he cannot move from where he is, in the
midst of the Meer, on her icy bosom, with shadows as tangible as human
bodies hemming him in on every side.

Haarlem is there! the last kiss of the moon before she fell into that
bed of mist, was for St. Bavon's tower, which then seemed so near. Since
then the night had wiped out the tower, and the pointed gables which
cluster around, and the solitary skater is a prisoner in the fastness of
the night.




Chapter XX--BACK AGAIN IN HAARLEM

They were terribly weary hours, these last two which the soldier of
fortune, the hardened campaigner had to kill before the first streak of
pallid, silvery dawn would break over the horizon beyond the Zuyder Zee.

Until then it meant the keeping on the move, ceaselessly, aimlessly, in
order to prevent the frost from biting the face and limbs, it meant
wearily waiting in incessant, nerve-racking movement for every quarter
of an hour tolled by the unseen cathedral clock; it meant counting these
and the intervening minutes which crawled along on the leaden stilts of
time, until the head began to buzz and the brain to ache with the
intensity of monotony and of fatigue. It meant the steeling of iron
nerves, the bracing of hardy sinews, the keeping the mind clear and the
body warm.

Two hours to kill under the perpetual lash of a tearing north wind,
gliding up and down a half league of frozen way so as not to lose the
track in the darkness and with a shroud of inky blackness to envelop
everything around!

The hardened campaigner stood the test as only a man of abnormal
physique and body trained to privations could have stood it. As soon as
the thin grey light began to spread over the sky and picked out a few
stunted snow-covered trees, one by one, he once more started on his way.

He had less than a league to cover now, and when at last the cathedral
tower boomed out the hour of seven he was squatting on the back of the
Oude Gracht in Haarlem, and with numbed fingers and many an oath was
struggling with the straps of his skates.

A quarter of an hour later he was installed in his friend's studio in
front of a comfortable fire and with a mug of hot ale in front of him.

"I didn't think that you really meant to come," Frans Hals had said when
he admitted him into his house in response to his peremptory ring.

"I mean to have some breakfast now at any rate, my friend," was the
tired wayfarer's only comment.

The artist was too excited and too eager to get to work to question his
sitter further. I doubt if in Diogenes' face or in his whole person
there were man visible traces of the fatigues of the night.

"What news in Haarlem?" he asked after the first draught of hot ale had
put fresh life into his veins.

"Why? where have you been that you've not heard?" queried Hals
indifferently.

"Away on urgent business affairs," replied the other lightly; "and what
is the news?"

"That the daughter of Cornelius Beresteyn, the rich grain merchant and
deputy burgomaster of this city, was abducted last night by brigands and
hath not to my knowledge been found yet."

Diogenes gave a long, low whistle of well-feigned astonishment.

"The fact doth not speak much for the guardians of the city," he
remarked dryly.

"The outrage was very cleverly carried out, so I've heard said; and it
was not until close upon midnight that the scouts sent out by Mynheer
Beresteyn in every direction came back with the report that the brigands
left the city by the Groningen gate and were no doubt well on their way
north by then."

"And what was done after that?"

"I have not heard yet," replied Hals. "It is still early. When the
serving woman comes she will tell us the latest news. I am afraid I
can't get to work until the light improves. Are you hungry? Shall I get
you something more solid to eat?"

"Well, old friend," rejoined the other gaily, "since you are so
hospitable..."

By eight o'clock he was once more ensconced on the sitter's platform,
dressed in a gorgeous doublet and sash, hat on head and hand on hip,
smiling at his friend's delight and eagerness in his work.

Hals in the meanwhile had heard further news of the great event which
apparently was already the talk of Haarlem even at this early hour of
the day.

"There seems to be no doubt," he said, "that the outrage is the work of
those vervloekte sea-wolves. They have carried Gilda Beresteyn away in
the hope of extorting a huge ransom out of her father."

"I hope," said Diogenes unctuously, "that he can afford to pay it."

"He is passing rich," replied the artist with a sigh. "A great patron of
the arts...it was his son you saw here yesterday, and the portrait which
I then showed you was that of the unfortunate young lady who has been so
cruelly abducted."

"Indeed," remarked Diogenes ostentatiously smothering a yawn as if the
matter was not quite so interesting to him--a stranger to Haarlem--as it
was to his friend.

"The whole city is in a tumult," continued Hals, who was busily working
on his picture all the while that he talked, "and Mynheer Beresteyn and
his son Nicolaes are raising a private company of Waardgelders to pursue
the brigands. One guilder a day do they offer to these volunteers and
Nicolaes Beresteyn will himself command the expedition."

"Against the sea-wolves?" queried the other blandly.

"In person. Think of it, man! The girl is his own sister."

"It is unthinkable," agreed Diogenes solemnly.

All of which was, of course, vastly interesting to him, since what he
heard to-day would be a splendid guidance for him as to his future
progress southwards to Rotterdam. Nicolaes Beresteyn leading an
expedition of raw recruits in pursuit of his sister was a subject
humorous enough to delight the young adventurer's sense of fun; moreover
it was passing lucky that suspicion had at once fallen on the
sea-wolves--a notorious band of ocean pirates whose acts of pillage and
abduction had long since roused the ire of all northern cities that had
suffered from their impudent depredations. Diogenes congratulated
himself on the happy inspiration which had caused him to go out of
Haarlem by its north gate and to have progressed toward Groningen for a
quarter of an hour or so, leaving traces behind him which Nicolaes
Beresteyn would no doubt know how to interpret in favour of the
"sea-wolves" theory. He could also afford to think with equanimity now
of Pythagoras and Socrates in charge of the jongejuffrouw lying
comfortably perdu at a wayside inn, situated fully thirteen leagues to
the south of the nearest inland lair, which was known to be the halting
place of the notorious sea-robbers.

Indeed, his act of friendship in devoting his day to the interests of
Frans Hals had already obtained its reward, for he had gathered valuable
information, and his journey to Rotterdam would in consequence be vastly
more easy to plan.

No wonder that Frans Hals as he worked on the picture felt that he had
never had such a sitter before; the thoughts within redolent of fun, of
amusement at the situation, of eagerness for the continuation of the
adventure seemed to bubble and to sparkle out of the eyes, the lines of
quiet humour, of gentle irony appeared ever mobile, ever quivering
around the mouth.

For many hours that day hardly a word passed between the two men while
the masterpiece was in progress, which was destined to astonish and
delight the whole world for centuries to come. They hardly paused a
quarter of an hour during the day to snatch a morsel of food; Hals,
imbued with the spirit of genius, begrudged every minute not spent in
work and Diogenes, having given his time to his friend, was prepared
that the gift should be a full measure.

Only at four o'clock when daylight faded, and the twilight began to
merge the gorgeous figure of the sitter into one dull, grey harmony, did
the artist at last throw down brushes and palette with a sigh of
infinite satisfaction.

"It is good," he said, as with eyes half-closed he took a final survey
of his sitter and compared the living model with his own immortal work.

"Have you had enough of me?" asked Diogenes.

"No. Not half enough. I would like to make a fresh start on a new
portrait of you at once. I would try one of those effects of light of
which Rembrandt thinks that he hath the monopoly, but which I would show
him how to treat without so much artificiality."

He continued talking of technicalities, rambling on in his usual
fretful, impatient way, while Diogenes stretched out his cramped limbs,
and rubbed his tired eyes.

"Can I undress now?"

"Yes. The light has quite gone," said the artist with a sigh.

Diogenes stood for a long time in contemplation of the masterpiece, even
as the shadows of evening crept slowly into every corner of the studio
and cast their gloom over the gorgeous canvas in its magnificent scheme
of colour.

"Am I really as good looking as that?" he asked with one of his most
winning laughs.

"Good looking? I don't know," replied Hals, "you are the best sitter I
have ever had. To-day has been one of perfect, unalloyed enjoyment to
me."

All his vulgar, mean little ways had vanished, his obsequiousness, that
shifty look of indecision in the eyes which proclaimed a growing vice.
His entire face flowed with the enthusiasm of a creator who has had to
strain every nerve to accomplish his work, but having accomplished it,
is entirely satisfied with it. He could not tear himself away from the
picture, but stood looking at it long after the gloom had obliterated
all but its most striking lights.

Then only did he realise that he was both hungry and weary.

"Will you come with me to the 'Lame Cow,'" he said to his friend, "we
can eat and drink there and hear all the latest news. I want to see
Cornelius Beresteyn if I can; he must be deeply stricken with grief and
will have need of the sympathy of all his well-wishers. What say you?
Shall we get supper at the 'Lame Cow'?"

To which proposition Diogenes readily agreed. It pleased his spirit of
adventure to risk a chance a chance encounter in the popular tavern with
Nicolaes Beresteyn or the Lord of Stoutenburg, both of whom must think
him at this moment several leagues away in the direction of Rotterdam.
Neither of these gentlemen would venture to question him in a public
place; moreover it had been agreed from the first that he was to be
given an absolutely free hand with regard to his plans for conducting
the jongejuffrouw to her ultimate destination.

Altogether the afternoon and evening promised to be more amusing than
Diogenes had anticipated.




Chapter XXI--A GRIEF-STRICKEN FATHER

Frans Hals had not been guilty of exaggeration when he said that the
whole city was in turmoil about the abduction of Gilda Beresteyn by that
impudent gang of ocean-robbers who called themselves the sea-wolves.

On this subject there were no two opinions. The sea-wolves had done this
deed as they had done others of a like nature before. The abduction of
children of rich parents was one of their most frequent crimes: and many
a wealthy burgher had had to pay half his fortune away in ransom for his
child. The fact that a covered sledge escorted by three riders who were
swathed in heavy mantles had been seen to go out of the city by the
northern gate at seven o'clock last evening, was held to be sufficient
proof that the unfortunate jongejuffrouw was being conveyed straightway
to the coast where the pirates had their own lairs and defied every
effort which had hitherto been made for their capture.

On this the 2nd day of January, 1624--rather less than twenty-four hours
after the abduction of Gilda Beresteyn, the tapperij of the "Lame Cow"
presented an appearance which was almost as animated as that which had
graced it on New Year's night. Every one who took an interest in the
terrible event went to the "Lame Cow" in the hope of finding another
better informed than himself.

Men and women sat round the tables or leaned against the bars discussing
the situation: every one, of course, had a theory to put forward, or a
suggestion to offer.

"'Tis time the old law for the raising of a corps of Waardgelders by the
city were put into force once more," said Mynheer van der Meer the
burgomaster, whose words carried weight. "What can a city do for the
preservation of law and order if it has not the power to levy its own
military guard?"

"My opinion is," said Mynheer van Zeller, who was treasurer of the
Oudemannenhuis and a personage of vast importance, "that we in this city
ought to close our gates against all this foreign rabble who infest us
with their noise and their loose ways. Had there not been such a crowd
of them here for the New Year you may depend on it that Jongejuffrouw
Beresteyn would not have had to suffer this dastardly abomination."

Others on the other hand thought that the foreign mercenaries now within
the city could be utilised for the purpose of an expedition against the
sea-wolves.

"They are very daring and capable fighters," suggested Mynheer van
Beerenbrock--a meek, timid but vastly corpulent gentleman of great
consideration on the town council, "and more able to grapple with
desperate brigands than were a levy of raw recruits from among our young
townsfolk."

"Set a rogue to fight a rogue, say I," assented another pompous burgher.

Cornelius Beresteyn sat at a table with his son and surrounded by his
most influential friends. Those who knew him well declared that he had
aged ten years in the past few hours. His devotion to his daughter was
well known and it was pitiable to see the furrows in his cheeks wet with
continuously falling tears. He sat huddled up within himself, his elbows
resting on the table, his head often buried in his hands when emotion
mastered him, and he felt unable to restrain his tears. He looked like a
man absolutely dazed with the immensity of his grief, as if some one had
dealt him a violent blow on the hand which had half-addled his brain.

Throughout the day his house had been positively invaded by the frequent
callers who, under a desire to express their sympathy, merely hid their
eagerness to learn fresh details of the outrage. Cornelius Beresteyn,
harassed by this well-meaning and very noisy crowd and feeling numb in
mind and weary in body, had been too feeble to withstand the urgent
entreaties of his friends who had insisted on dragging him to the "Lame
Cow," where the whole situation--which had become of almost national
importance--could be fully and comprehensively discussed.

"You want to get your daughter back, do you not, old friend?" urged
Mynheer van der Meer the burgomaster.

"Of course," assented Beresteyn feebly.

"And you want to get her back as quickly as possible," added the pompous
treasurer of the Oudemannenhuis.

"As quickly as possible," reiterated Beresteyn vaguely.

"Very well then," concluded the burgomaster, in tones of triumph which
suggested that he had gained a great victory over the obstinate will of
his friend, "what you must do, my good Beresteyn, is to attend an
informal council which I have convened for this afternoon at the 'Lame
Cow' and whereat we will listen to all the propositions put forward by
our fellow-townsmen for the speedy capture of those vervloekte brigands
and the liberation of your beloved daughter."

In the meanwhile an untoward accident had momentarily arrested the
progress of the original band of volunteers who, under the leadership of
Nicolaes Beresteyn, had started quite early in the morning on the
Groningen route in pursuit of the sea-wolves. Nicolaes, namely, on
remounting his horse after a brief halt at Bloemendal, had slipped on
the snow covered ground; his horse jumped aside and reared and, in so
doing, seriously wrenched Nicolaes; right arm, almost dislocating his
shoulder and causing him thereby such excruciating pain that he nearly
fainted on the spot.

Further progress on horseback became an impossibility for him, and two
of the volunteers had much difficulty in conveying him back to Haarlem,
where, however, he displayed the utmost fortitude by refusing to waste
his time in being examined and tended by the bone-setter, and declaring
that since he could not take an active part in the campaign against the
vervloekte malefactors he would give every moment of his time and every
faculty he possessed for the organisation of an effective corps of
soldiery capable of undertaking a successful punitive expedition.

He joined his father in the tap-room of the "Lame Cow," and though he
was obviously in great pain with his arm and shoulder which he had
hastily and perfunctorily tied up with his sash, he was untiring in his
suggestions, his advice, his offers of money and of well-considered
plans.

Unbeknown to anyone save to him, the Lord of Stoutenburg sat in the dark
recess of the tapperij deeply interested in all that was going on. He
knew, of course, every detail of the plot which Nicolaes Beresteyn had
hatched at his instigation and--hidden as he was in his obscure
corner--it pleased his masterful mind to think that the tangled skein of
this affair which these solemn and pompous burghers were trying to
unravel had been originally embroiled by himself.

He listened contemptuously and in silence to the wild and oft senseless
talk which went on around him; but when he caught sight of Diogenes
swaggering into the room in the wake of the painter Frans Hals he very
nearly betrayed himself.

Nicolaes Beresteyn too was dumbfounded. For the moment he literally
gasped with astonishment, and was quite thankful that his supposedly
dislocated shoulder furnished a good pretext for the string of oaths
which he uttered. But Diogenes, sublimely indifferent to the
astonishment of his patron, took a seat beside his friend at one of the
vacant tables and ordered a substantial super with a bottle of very
choice wine wherewith to wash it down, all of which he evidently meant
to pay for with Nicolaes' money. The latter could do nothing but sit by
in grim silence while the man whom he had paid to do him service ate and
drank heartily, cracked jokes and behaved for all the world as if he
were a burgher of leisure plentifully supplied with money.

Time was going on: the subject of the expedition against the sea-wolves
had been fully discussed and certain resolutions arrived at, which only
lacked the assent of the burgomaster sitting in council and of Cornelius
Beresteyn--the party chiefly interested in the affair--in order to take
effect on the morrow.

Gradually the tap-room became less and less full: one by one the eager
and inquisitive townsfolk departed in order to impart what news they had
gleaned to their expectant families at home.

Nicolaes Beresteyn, inwardly fuming and fretting with rage, had been
quite unable to stay on quietly while Diogenes sat not twenty paces away
from him, wasting his patron's time and money and apparently in the best
of humours, for his infectious laugh rang from end to end of the
raftered room; he had soon assembled a small crowd of boon-companions
round his table, whom he treated to merry jests as well as to Mynheer
Beek's most excellent wine; but when he leaned forward bumper in hand
and actually had the audacity loudly to pledge the noble Beresteyn
family and to wish the heroic Nicolaes speedy mending of his broken
bones, the latter rose with a muttered curse and, having taken a curt
farewell from his friends, he strode glowering out of the room.

The Lord of Stoutenburg--as unobtrusive and silent as was his wont--rose
quietly a few minutes later and followed in the wake of his friend.




Chapter XXII--A DOUBLE PLEDGE

Cornelius Beresteyn had now only a few of his most intimate friends
beside him, and when Frans Hals had finished his supper he ventured to
approach the rich patron of arts and present his own most respectful
expressions of sympathy.

Softened by grief the old man was more than usually gracious to the
artist.

"'Tis a bitter blow, my good Hals," he said dully.

"Please God, those devils have only an eye on your money, mynheer," said
the artist consolingly. "They will look on the jongejuffrouw as a
valuable hostage and treat her with the utmost deference in the hopes of
getting a heavy ransom from you."

"May you be speaking truly," sighed Cornelius with a disconsolate shake
of the head, "but think what she must be suffering now, while she is
uncertain of her own fate, poor child!"

"Alas!"

"This delay is killing me, Hals," continued the old man, who in the
midst of his more pompous friends seemed instinctively drawn to the
simple nature of this humble painter of pictures. "The burgomaster means
well but his methods are slow and ponderous. All my servants and
dependents have joined the first expedition toward Groningen, but God
knows how they will get on, now that Nicolaes no longer leads them. They
have had no training in such matters, and will hardly know how to
proceed."

"You really want some one who is daring and capable, mynheer, some one
who will be as wary as those vervloekte sea-wolves and beat them at
their own game. 'Tis not so much the numbers that you want as the one
brain to direct and to act."

"True! true, my good Hals! But our best men are all at the war fighting
for our religious and political liberties, while we--the older citizens
of our beloved country with our wives and our daughters--are left a prey
to the tyranny of malefactors and of pirates. The burgomaster hopes to
raise and efficient corps of volunteers by to-morrow...but I doubt me if
he will succeed... I have sent for help, I have spared no money to
obtain assistance...but I am an old man myself, and my son alas! has
been rendered helpless at the outset, through no fault of his own..."

"But surely there are young men left in Haarlem whom wanton mischief
such as this would cause to boil with indignation."

"There are few young men left in Haarlem, my friend," rejoined Beresteyn
sadly, "the Stadtholder hath claimed the best of them. Those who are
left behind are too much engrossed in their own affairs to care greatly
about the grief of an old man, or a wrong done to an innocent girl."

"I'll not believe it," said Hals hotly.

"Alas, 'tis only too true! Men nowadays--those at any rate who are left
in our cities--no longer possess that spirit of chivalry or of adventure
which caused our forebears to give their life's blood for justice and
for liberty."

"You wrong them, mynheer," protested the artist.

"I think not. Think on it, Hals. You know Haarlem well; you know most
people who live in the city. Can you name me one man who would stand up
before me to-day and say boldly: 'Mynheer, you have lost your daughter:
evil-doers have taken her from her home. Here am I ready to do you
service, and by God do I swear that I will bring your daughter back to
you!' So would our fathers have spoken, my good Hals, before commerce
and prosperity had dulled the edge of reckless gallantry. By God! they
were fine men in those days--we are mere pompous, obese, self-satisfied
shopkeepers now."

There was a great deal of bitter truth in what Cornelius Beresteyn had
said: Hals--the artist--who had listened to the complacent talk that had
filled this room awhile ago--who knew of the commercial transaction that
nowadays went by the name of art-patronage--he knew that the old man was
not far wrong in his estimate of his fellow-countrymen in these recent
prosperous times.

It was the impulsive, artistic nature in him which caused him to see
what he merely imagined--chivalry, romance, primeval notions of bravery
and of honour.

He looked round the room--now almost deserted--somewhat at a loss for
words that would soothe Beresteyn's bitter spirit of resentment, and
casually his glance fell on the broad figure of his friend Diogenes,
who, leaning back in his chair, his plumed hat tilted rakishly across
his brow, had listened to the conversation between the two men with an
expression of infinite amusement literally dancing in his eyes. And it
was that same artistic, impulsive nature which caused Frans Hals then to
exclaim suddenly:

"Well, mynheer! since you call upon me and on my knowledge of this city,
I can give you an answer forthwith. Yes! I do know a man, now in
Haarlem, who hath no thought of commerce or affairs, who possess that
spirit of chivalry which you say is dead among the men of Holland. He
would stand up boldly before you, hat in hand and say to you: 'Mynheer,
I am ready to do you service, and by God do I swear that I will bring
your daughter back to you, safe and in good health!' I know such a man,
mynheer!"

"Bah! you talk at random, my good Hals!" said Beresteyn with a shrug of
the shoulders.

"May I not present him to you, mynheer?"

"Present him? Whom?...What nonsense is this?" asked the old man, more
dazed and bewildered than before by the artist's voluble talk. "Whom do
you wish to present to me?"

"The man who I firmly believe would out of pure chivalry and the sheer
love of adventure do more toward bringing the jongejuffrouw speedily
back to you than all the burgomaster's levies of guards and punitive
expeditions."

"You don't mean that, Hals?--'twere a cruel jest to raise without due
cause the hopes of a grief-stricken old man."

"'Tis no jest, mynheer!" said the artist, "there sits the man!"

And with a theatrical gesture--for Mynheer Hals had drunk some very good
wine after having worked at high pressure all day, and his excitement
had gained the better of him--he pointed to Diogenes, who had heard
every word spoken by his friend, and at this denouement burst into a
long, delighted, ringing laugh.

"Ye gods!" he exclaimed, "your Olympian sense humour is even greater
than your might."

At an urgent appeal from Hals he rose and, hat in hand, did indeed
approach Mynheer Beresteyn, looking every inch of him a perfect
embodiment of that spirit of adventure which was threatening to be
wafted away from these too prosperous shores. His tall figure looked of
heroic proportions in this low room and by contrast with the small,
somewhat obese burghers who still sat close to Cornelius, having
listened in silence to the latter's colloquy with the artist. His bright
eyes twinkled, his moustache bristled, his lips quivered with the
enjoyment of the situation. The grace and elegance of his movements,
born of conscious strength, added dignity to his whole personality.

"My friend hath name Diogenes," said Frans Hals, whose romantic
disposition revelled in this presentation, "but there's little of the
philosopher about him. He is a man of action, an invincible swordsman,
a--"

"Dondersteen, my good Hals!" ejaculated Diogenes gaily, "you'll shame me
before these gentlemen."

"There's naught to be ashamed of, sir, in the eulogy of a friend," said
Cornelius Beresteyn with quiet dignity, "and 'tis a pleasure to an old
man like me to look on one so well favoured as yourself. Ah, sir! 'tis
but sorrow that I shall know in future...My daughter...you have
heard...?"

"I know the trouble that weighs on your soul, mynheer," replied Diogenes
simply.

"You have heard then what your friend says of you?" continued the old
man, whose tear-dimmed eyes gleamed with the new-born flicker of hope.
"Our good Hals is enthusiastic, romantic...mayhap he hath
exaggerated...hath in fact been mistaken..."

It was sadly pathetic to see the unfortunate father so obviously
hovering 'twixt hope and fear, his hands trembled, there was an appeal
in his broken voice, an appeal that he should not be deceived, that he
should not be thrown back from the giddy heights of hope to the former
deep abyss of despair.

"My daughter, sir..." he murmured feebly, "she is all the world to
me...her mother died when she was a baby...she is all the world to
me...they have taken her from he...she is so young, sir...so
beautiful...she is all the world to me...I would give half my fortune to
have her back safely in my arms..."

There was silence in the quaint old-world place after that--silence only
broken by the suppressed sobs of the unfortunate man who had lost his
only daughter. The others sat round the table, saying no word, for the
pathos evoked by Beresteyn's grief was too great for words. Hals' eyes
were fixed on his friend, and he tried in vain to read and understand
the enigmatical smile which hovered in every line of that mobile face.
The stillness only lasted a few seconds: the next moment Diogenes'
ringing voice had once more set every lurking echo dancing from rafter
to rafter.

"Mynheer!" he said loudly, "you have lost your daughter. Here am I to do
you service, and by God I swear that I will bring your daughter safely
back to you."

Frans Hals heaved a deep sigh of satisfaction. Cornelius Beresteyn,
overcome by emotion, could not at first utter a word. He put out his
hand, groping for that of the man who had fanned the flames of hope into
living activity.

Diogenes, solemnly trying to look grave and earnest, took the hand thus
loyally offered to him. H could have laughed aloud at the absurdity of
the present situation. He--pledged by solemn word of honour to convey
Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn to Rotterdam and there to place her into the
custody of Ben Isaje, merchant of that city, he--carrying inside his
doublet an order to Ben Isaje to pay him 3,000 guilders, he--known to
the jongejuffrouw as the author of the outrage against her person, he
was here solemnly pledging himself to restore her safely into her
father's arms. How this was to be fulfilled, how he would contrive to
earn that comfortable half of a rich Haarlem merchant's fortune, he
had--we may take it--at the present moment, not the remotest idea: for
indeed, the conveying of the jongejuffrouw back to Haarlem would be no
difficult matter, once his promise to Nicolaes Beresteyn had been
redeemed. The question merely was how to do this without being denounced
by the lady herself as an impudent and double-dealing knave, which
forsooth she already held him to be.

Cornelius and his friends, however, gave him no time for further
reflection. All the thinking out would have to be done presently--no
doubt on the way between Haarlem and Houdekerk, and probably in a mist
of driving show--for the nonce he had to stand under the fire of
unstinted eulogy hurled at him from every side.

"Well spoken, young man!"

"'Tis gallant bearing forsooth!"

"Chivalry, indeed, is not yet dead in Holland."

"Are you a Dutchman, sir?"

To this direct query he gave reply:

"My father was one of those who came in English Leicester's train, whose
home was among the fogs of England and under the shadow of her white,
mysterious cliffs. My mother was Dutch and he broke her heart..."

"Not an unusual story, alas, these times!" quoth a sober mynheer with a
sigh. "I know of more than one case like your own, sir. Those English
adventurers were well favoured and smooth tongued, and when they gaily
returned to their sea-girt island they left a long trail behind them of
broken hearts--of sorrowing women and forsaken children."

"My mother, sir, was a saint," rejoined Diogenes earnestly, "my father
married her in Amsterdam when she was only eighteen. She was his wife,
yet he left her homeless and his son fatherless."

"But if he saw you, sir, as you are," said Cornelius Beresteyn kindly,
"he would surely make amends."

"But he shall not see me, sir," retorted Diogenes lightly, "for I hate
him so, because of the wrong he did to my mother and to me. He shall
never even hear of me unless I succeed in carving mine own independent
fortune, or contrive to die like a gentleman."

"Both of which, sir, you will surely do," now interposed Beresteyn with
solemn conviction. "Your acts and words do proclaim you a gentleman, and
therefore you will die one day, just as you have lived. In the
meanwhile, I am as good as my word. My daughter's safety, her life and
her honour are worth a fortune to me. I am reputed a wealthy man. My
business is vast, and I have one million guilders lying at interest in
the hands of Mynheer Bergansius the world-famed jeweller of Amsterdam.
One-half that money, sir, shall be yours together with my boundless
gratitude, if you deliver my daughter out of the hands of the
malefactors who have seized her person and bring her back safe and sound
to me."

"If life is granted me, sir," rejoined Diogenes imperturbably, without a
blush or a tremor, "I will find your daughter and bring her safely to
you as speedily as God will allow me."

"But you cannot do this alone, sir..." urged Cornelius, on whom doubt
and fear had not yet lost their hold. "How will you set to work?"

"That, mynheer, is my secret," rejoined Diogenes placidly, "and the
discussion of my plans might jeopardise their success."

"True, sir; but remember that the anxiety which I suffer now will be
increased day by day, until it brings me on the threshold of the grave."

"I will remember that, mynheer, and will act as promptly as may be; but
the malefactors have twenty-four hours start of me. I may have to
journey far ere I come upon their track."

"But you will have companions with you, sir? Friends who will help and
stand by you. Those sea-wolves are notorious for their daring and their
cruelty...they may be more numerous too than you think..."

"The harder the task, mynheer," said Diogenes with his enigmatical
smile, "the greater will be my satisfaction if I succeed in fulfilling
it."

"But though you will own to no kindred, surely you have friends?"
insisted Beresteyn.

"Two faithful allies, and my sword, the most faithful of them all,"
replied the other.

"You will let me furnish you with money in advance, I hope."

"Not till I have earned it, mynheer."

"You are proud, sir, as well as chivalrous," retorted Cornelius.

"I pray you praise me not, mynheer. Greed after money is my sole motive
in undertaking this affair."

"This I'll not believe," concluded Beresteyn as he now rose to go. "Let
me tell you, sir, that by your words, your very presence, you have put
new life, new hope into me. Something tells me that I can trust
you...something tells me that you will succeed... Without kith or
kindred, sir, a man may rise to fortune by his valour: 'tis writ in your
face that your are such an one. With half a million guilders so earned a
man can aspire to the fairest in the land," he added not without
significance, "and there is no father who would not be proud to own such
a son."

He then shook Diogenes warmly by the hand. He was a different man to the
poor grief-stricken rag of humanity who had entered this tavern a few
hours ago. His friends also shook the young man by the hand and said a
great many more gracious and complimentary words to him which he
accepted in grave silence, his merry eyes twinkling with the humour of
it all.

The worthy burghers filed out of the tap-room one by one, in the wake of
Cornelius. It was bitterly cold and the snow was again falling: they
wrapped their fur-lined mantles closely round them ere going out of the
warm room, but their hats they kept in their hands until the last, and
were loth to turn their backs on Diogenes as they went. They felt as if
they were leaving the presence of some great personage.

It was only when the heavy oaken door had fallen to for the last time
behind the pompous soberly-clad figures of the mynheers and Diogenes
found himself alone in the tapperij with his friend Frans Hals that he
at last gave vent to that overpowering sense of merriment which had all
along threatened to break its bonds. He sank into the nearest chair:

"Dondersteen! Dondersteen!" he exclaimed between the several outbursts
of irrepressible laughter which shook his powerful frame and brought the
tears to his eyes, "Gods in Olympia! have you ever seen the like? Verrek
jezelf, my good Hals, you should go straight to Paradise when you die
for having brought about this heaven-born situation. Dondersteen!
Dondersteen! I had promised myself two or three hours' sleep, but we
must have a bottle of Beek's famous wine on this first!"

And Frans Hals could not for the life of him understand what there was
in this fine situation that should so arouse Diogenes' mirth.

But then Diogenes had always been an irresponsible creature, who was
wont to laugh even at the most serious crisis of his life.




Chapter XXIII--A SPY FROM THE CAMP

"Come to my lodgings, Nicolaes. I have good news for you and you do no
good by cooling your temper here in the open."

Stoutenburg, coming out of his lodgings half an hour later to look for
his friend, had found Beresteyn in the Hout Straat walking up and down
like a caged beast in a fury.

"The vervloekte Keerl! the plepshurk! the smeerlap!" he ejaculated
between his clenched teeth. "I'll not rest till I have struck him in the
face first and killed him after!"

But he allowed Stoutenburg to lead him down the street to the narrow
gabled house where he lodged. Neither of them spoke, however; fury
apparently beset them both equally, the kind of fury which is dumb, and
all the more fierce because it finds no outlet in words.

Stoutenburg led the way up the wooden stairs to a small room at the back
of the house. There was no light visible anywhere inside the building,
and Nicolaes, not knowing his way about, stumbled upwards in the dark
keeping close to the heels of his friend. The latter had pushed open the
door of his room. Here a tallow candle placed in a pewter sconce upon a
table shed a feeble, flickering light around. The room by this scanty
glimmer looked to be poorly but cleanly furnished; there was a curtained
bed in the panelling of the wall, and a table in the middle of the room
with a few chairs placed in a circle round it. On one of these sat a man
who appeared to be in the last stages of weariness. His elbows rested on
the table and his head was buried in his folded arms. His clothes looked
damp and travel-stained; an empty mug of ale and a couple of empty
plates stood in front of him, beside a cap made of fur and a pair of
skates.

At the sound made by the opening of the door and the entrance of the two
men, he raised his head and seeing the Lord of Stoutenburg he quickly
jumped to his feet.

"Sit down, Jan," said Stoutenburg curtly, "you must be dog-tired. Have
you had enough to eat and drink?"

"I thank you, my lord, I have eaten my fill," replied Jan, "and I am not
so tired now that I have had some rest."

"Sit down," reiterated Stoutenburg peremptorily, "and you too, my good
Nicolaes," he added as he offered a chair to his friend. "Let me just
tell you the news which Jan has brought, and which should make you
forget even your present just wrath, so glorious, so important is it."

He went up to a cabinet which stood in one corner of the room, and from
it took a bottle and three pewter mugs. These he placed on the table and
filled the mugs with wine. Then he drew another chair close to the table
and sat down.

"Jan," he resumed, turning to Beresteyn, "left the Stadtholder's camp at
Sprang four days ago. He has travelled the whole way along the frozen
rivers and waterways only halting for the nights. The news which he
brings carries for the bearer of such splendid tidings its own glorious
reward; Jan, I must tell you, is with us heart and soul and hates the
Stadtholder as much as I do. Is that not so, Jan?"

"My father was hanged two years ago," replied Jan simply, "because he
spoke disparaging words of the Stadtholder. Those words were called
treason, and my father was condemned to the gallows merely for speaking
them."

Stoutenburg laughed, his usual harsh, mirthless laugh.

"Yes! that is the way justice is now administered in the free and
independent United Provinces," he said roughly; "down on your knees, ye
lumbering Dutchmen! lick the dust off the boots of His Magnificence
Maurice of Nassau Prince of Orange! kiss his hand, do his bidding! give
forth fulsome praise of his deeds!...How long, O God? how long?" he
concluded with a bitter sigh.

"Only for a few more days, my lord," said Jan firmly. "The Stadtholder
left his camp the same day as I did. But he travels slowly, in his
sledge, surrounded by a bodyguard of an hundred picked men. He is sick
and must travel slowly. Yesterday he had only reached Dordrecht,
to-day--if my information is correct--he should sleep at Ijsselmunde.
But to-morrow he will be at Delft where he will spend two days at the
Prinsenhof."

"At Delft!" exclaimed Stoutenburg as he brought his clenched fist down
upon the table. "Thank God! I have got him at last."

He leaned across nearer still to Nicolaes and in his excitement clutched
his friend's wrists with nervy trembling fingers, digging his nails into
the other man's flesh till Beresteyn could have screamed with pain.

"From Delft," he murmured hoarsely, "the only way northwards is along
the left bank of the Schie, the river itself is choked with ice-floes
which renders it impassible. Just before Ryswyk the road crosses to the
right bank of the river over a wooden bridge which we all know well.
Half a league to the south of the bridge is the molens which has been my
headquarters ever since I landed at Scheveningen three weeks ago; there
I have my stores and my ammunition. Do you see it all, friend?" he
queried whilst a feverish light glowed in his eyes. "Is it not God who
hath delivered the tyrant into my hands at last? I start for Ryswyk
to-night with you to help me, Nicolaes, with van Does and all my friends
who will rally round me, with the thirty or forty men whom they have
recruited for placing at my disposal. The molens to the south of the
wooden bridge which spans the Schie is our rallying point. In the night
before the Stadtholder starts on his way from Delft we make our final
preparations. I have enough gunpowder stowed away at the mill to blow up
the bridge. We'll dispose it in its place during that night. Then you,
Nicolaes shall fire the powder at the moment when the Stadtholder's
escort is half way across the bridge...In the confusion and panic caused
by the explosion and the collapse of the bridge our men can easily
overpower the Prince's bodyguard--whilst I, dagger in hand, do fulfil
the oath which I swore before the altar of God, to kill the Stadtholder
with mine own hand."

Gradually as he spoke his voice became more hoarse and more choked with
passion; his excitement gained upon his hearers until both Nicolaes
Beresteyn his friend and Jan the paid spy and messenger felt their blood
tingling within their veins, their throats parched, their eyes burning
as if they had been seared with living fire. The tallow-candle flickered
in its socket, a thin draught from the flimsily constructed window blew
its flame hither and thither, so that it lit up fitfully the faces of
those three men drawn closely together now in a bond of ambition and of
hate.

"'Tis splendidly thought out," said Beresteyn at last with a sigh of
satisfaction. "I do not see how the plan can fail."

"Fail?" exclaimed Stoutenburg with a triumphant laugh, "of course it
cannot fail! There are practically no risks even. The place is lonely,
the molens a splendid rallying point. We can all reach it by different
routes and assemble there to-morrow eve or early the next day. That
would give us another day and night at least to complete our
preparations. I have forty barrels of gunpowder stowed away at the mill,
I have new pattern muskets, cullivers, swords and pistols... gifts to me
from the Archduchess Isabella...enough for our coup...Fail? How can we
fail when everything has been planned, everything thought out? and when
God has so clearly shown that He is on our side?"

Jan said nothing for the moment; he lowered his eyes not caring just
then to encounter those of this leader, for the remembrance had suddenly
flashed through his mind of that other day--not so far distant yet--when
everything too had been planned, everything thought out and failure had
brought about untold misery and a rich harvest for the scaffold.

Beresteyn too was silent now. Something of his friend's enthusiasm was
also coursing through his veins, but with him it was only the enthusiasm
of ambition, of discontent, of a passion for intrigue, for plots and
conspiracies, for tearing down one form of government in order to make
room for another--but his enthusiasm was not kept at fever-heat by that
all-powerful fire of hate which made Stoutenburg forget everything save
his desire for revenge.

The latter had pushed his chair impatiently aside and now was pacing up
and down the narrow room like some caged feline creature waiting for its
meal. Beresteyn's silence seemed to irritate him for he threw from time
to time quick furtive glances on his friend.

"Nicolaes, why don't you speak?" he said with sudden impatience.

"I was thinking of Gilda," replied the other dully.

"Gilda? Why of her?"

"That knave has betrayed me I am sure. He has hidden her away somewhere,
not meaning to stick to his bargain with me, and then has come back to
Haarlem in order to see if he can extort a large ransom for her from my
father."

"Bah! He wouldn't dare...!"

"Then why is he here?" exclaimed Beresteyn hotly. "Gilda should be in
his charge! If he is here, where is Gilda?"

"Good God, man!" ejaculated Stoutenburg, pausing in his restless walk
and looking somewhat dazed on his friend, as if he were just waking from
some feverish sleep. "Good god! you do not think that..."

"That her life is in danger from that knave?" rejoined Beresteyn
quietly. "Well, no! I do not think that...I do not know what to
think...but there is a hint of danger in that rascal's presence here in
Haarlem to-day."

He rose and mechanically re-adjusted his cloak and looked round for his
hat.

"What are you going to do?" asked Stoutenburg.

"Find the knave," retorted the other, "and wring his neck if he does not
give some satisfactory account of Gilda."

"No! no! you must not do that...not in a public place at any rate...the
rascal would betray you if you quarrelled with him...or worse still you
would betray yourself. Think what it would mean to us now--at this
moment--if it were known that you had a hand in the abduction of your
sister...if she were traced and found! think what that would
mean--denunciation--failure--the scaffold for us all!"

"Must I leave her then at the mercy of a man who is proved to be both a
liar and a cheat?"

"No! you shall not do that. Let me try and get speech with him. He does
not know me; and I think that I could find out what double game he is
playing and where our own danger lies. Let me try and find him."

"How can you do that?"

"You remember the incident on New Year's Eve, when you and I traced that
cursed adventurer to his own doorstep?"

"Yes!"

"Then you remember the Spanish wench and the old cripple to whom our man
relinquished his lodging on that night."

"Certainly I do."

"Well! yesterday when the hour came for the rascal to seize Gilda, I
could not rest in this room. I wanted to see, to know what was going on.
Gilda means so much to me, that remorse I think played havoc with my
prudence then and I went out into the Groote Markt to watch her come out
of church. I followed her at a little distance and saw her walking
rapidly along the bank of the Oude Gracht. She was accosted by a woman
who spoke to her from out the depths of the narrow passage which leads
to the disused chapel of St. Pieter. Gilda was quickly captured by the
brute whom you had paid to do this monstrous deed, and I stood by like
an abject coward, not raising a hand to save her from this cruel
outrage."

He paused a moment and passed his hand across his brow as if to chase
away the bitter and insistent recollection of that crime of which he had
been the chief instigator.

"Why do you tell me all that?" queried Beresteyn sombrely. "What I did,
I did for you and for the triumph of your cause."

"I know, I know," replied Stoutenburg with a sigh, "may Heaven reward
you for the sacrifice. But I merely acted for mine own selfish ends, for
my ambition and my revenge. I love Gilda beyond all else on earth, yet I
saw her sacrificed for me and did not raise a finger to save her."

"It is too late for remorse," retorted Beresteyn roughly, "if Gilda had
been free to speak of what she heard in the cathedral on New Year's Eve,
you and I to-day would have had to flee the country as you fled from it
once before, branded as traitors, re-captured mayhap, dragged before the
tribunal of a man who has already shown that he knows no mercy. Gilda's
freedom would have meant for you, for me, for Heemskerk, van Does and
all the others, torture first and a traitor's death at the last."

"You need not remind me of that," rejoined Stoutenburg more calmly.
"Gilda has been sacrificed for me and by God I will requite her for all
that she has endured! My life, my love are hers and as soon as the law
sets me free to marry she will have a proud position higher than that of
any other woman in the land."

"For the moment she is at the mercy of that blackguard..."

"And I tell you that I can find out where she is."

"How?"

"The woman who accosted Gilda last night, who acted for the knave as a
decoy, was the Spanish wench whom he had befriended the night before."

"You saw her?"

"Quite distinctly. She passed close to me when she ran off after having
done her work. No doubt she is that rascal's sweetheart and will know of
his movements and of his plans. Money or threats should help me to
extract something from her."

"But where can you find her?"

"At the same lodgings where she has been these two nights, I feel sure."

"It is worth trying," mused Beresteyn.

"And in the meanwhile we must not lose sight of our knave. Jan, my good
man, that shall be your work. Mynheer Beresteyn will be good enough to
go with you as far as the tapperij of the 'Lame Cow,' and there point
out to you a man whom it will be your duty to follow step by step this
evening until you find out where he intends to pitch his tent for the
night. You understand?"

"Yes, my lord," said Jan, smothering as best he could an involuntary
sigh of weariness.

"It is all for the ultimate triumph of our revenge, good Jan" quoth
Stoutenburg significantly, "the work of watching which you will do this
night is at least as important as that which you have so bravely
accomplished these past four days. The question is, have you strength
left to do it?"

Indeed the question seemed unnecessary now. At the word "revenge" Jan
had already straightened out his long, lean figure and though traces of
fatigue might still linger in his drawn face, it was obvious that the
spirit within was prepared to fight all bodily weaknesses.

"There is enough strength in me, my lord," he said simply, "to do your
bidding now as always for the welfare of Holland and the triumph of our
faith."

After which Stoutenburg put out the light, and with a final curt word to
Jan and an appeal to Beresteyn he led the way out of the room, down the
stairs and finally into the street.




Chapter XXIV--THE BIRTH OF HATE

Here the three men parted; Beresteyn and Jan to go to the "Lame Cow"
where the latter was to begin his work of keeping track of Diogenes, and
Stoutenburg to find his way to the squalid lodging house which was
situate at the bottom of the Kleine Hout Straat where it abuts on the
Oude Gracht.

It had been somewhat impulsively that he had suggested to Beresteyn that
he would endeavour to obtain some information from the Spanish wench as
to Diogenes' plans and movements and the whereabouts of Gilda, and now
that he was alone with more sober thoughts he realised that the
suggestion had not been over-backed by reason. Still as Beresteyn had
said: there could be no harm in seeking out the girl. Stoutenburg was
quite satisfied in his mind that she must be the rascal's sweetheart,
else she had not lent him an helping hand in the abduction of Gilda, and
since he himself was well supplied with money through the generosity of
his rich friends in Haarlem, he had no doubt that if the wench knew
anything at all about the rogue, she could easily be threatened first,
then bribed and cajoled into telling all that she knew.

Luck in this chose to favour the Lord of Stoutenburg, for the girl was
on the doorstep when he finally reached the house where two nights ago a
young soldier of fortune had so generously given up his lodgings to a
miserable pair of beggars. He had just been vaguely wondering how best
he could--without endangering his own safety--obtain information as to
which particular warren in the house she and her father inhabited, when
he saw her standing under the lintel of the door, her meagre figure
faintly lit up by the glimmer of a street-lamp fixed in the wall just
above her head.

"I would have speech with thee," he said in his usual peremptory manner
as soon as he had approached her, "show me the way to thy room."

Then as, like a frightened rabbit, she made ready to run away to her
burrow as quickly as she could, he seized hold of her arm and reiterated
roughly:

"I would have speech of thee, dost hear? Show me the way to thy room at
once. Thy safety and that of thy father depend on thy obedience. There
is close search in the city just now for Spanish spies."

The girl's pale cheeks took on a more ashen hue, her lips parted with a
quickly smothered cry of terror. She knew--as did every stranger in
these Dutch cities just now--that the words "Spanish spy" had a magical
effect on the placid tempers of their inhabitants, and that many a
harmless foreign wayfarer had suffered imprisonment, aye and torture
too, on the mere suspicion of being a "Spanish spy."

"I have nothing to fear," she murmured under her breath.

"Perhaps not," he rejoined, "but the man who shelters and protects thee
is under suspicion of abetting Spanish spies. For his sake 'twere wiser
if thou didst obey me."

Stoutenburg had every reason to congratulate himself on his shrewd
guess, for at his words all resistance on the girl's part vanished, and
though she began to tremble in every limb and even for a moment seemed
ready to swoon, she murmured words which if incoherent certainly sounded
submissive, and then silently led the way upstairs. He followed her
closely, stumbling behind her in the dark, and as he mounted the
ricketty steps he was rapidly rehearsing in his mind what he would say
to the wench.

That the girl was that abominable villain's sweetheart he was not for a
moment in doubt, her submission just now, at the mere hint of the
fellow's danger, showed the depth of her love for him. Stoutenburg felt
therefore that his success in obtaining what information he wanted would
depend only on how much she knew. In any case she must be amenable to a
bribe for she seemed wretchedly poor; even in that brief glimpse which
he had had of her by the dim light of the street-door lamp, he could not
help but see how ragged was her kirtle and how pinched and wan her face.

On the landing she paused and taking a key from between the folds of her
shift she opened the door of her lodging and humbly begged the gracious
mynheer to enter. A tallow candle placed upon a chair threw its feeble
light upon the squalid abode, the white-washed walls, the primitive
bedstead in the corner made up of deal planks and covered with a
paillasse and a thin blanket. From beneath that same blanket came the
gentle and fretful moanings of the old cripple.

But Stoutenburg was far too deeply engrossed in his own affairs to take
much note of his surroundings; as soon as the girl had closed the door
behind her, he called her roughly to him and she--frightened and
obedient--came forward without a word, standing now before him, with
hanging arms and bowed head, whilst a slight shiver shook her girlish
form from time to time.

He dragged a chair out to the middle of the room and sat himself astride
upon it, his arms resting across the back, his booted and spurred feet
thrust out in front of him, whilst his hollow, purple-rimmed eyes with
their feverish glow of ever-present inward excitement were fixed upon
the girl.

"I must tell thee, wench," he began abruptly, "that I mean to be thy
friend. No harm shall come to thee if thou wilt answer truthfully
certain questions which I would ask of thee."

Then as she appeared too frightened to reply and only cast a furtive,
timorous glance on him, he continued after a slight pause:

"The man who protected thee against the rabble the other night, and who
gave thee shelter afterwards, the man in whose bed thy crippled father
lies at this moment--he is thy sweetheart, is he not?"

"What is that to you?" she retorted sullenly.

"Nothing in itself," he said quietly. "I merely spoke of it to show thee
how much I know. Let me tell thee at once that I was in the tavern with
him on New Year's Eve when his boon-companions told the tale of how he
had protected thee against a crowd; and that I was in this very street
not twenty paces away when in response to thy appeal he gave up his room
and his bed to thee, and for thy sake paced the streets for several
hours in the middle of the night in weather that must have frozen the
marrow in his bones."

"Well? What of that?" said the girl simply. "He is kind and good, and
hath that pity for the poor and homeless which would grace many a noble
gentleman."

"No doubt," he retorted dryly, "but a man will not do all that for a
wench, save in expectation of adequate payment for his trouble and
discomfort."

"What is that to you?" she reiterated, with the same sullen earnestness.

"Thou art in love with that fine gallant, eh, my girl?" he continued
with a harsh, flippant laugh, "and art not prepared to own to it. Well!
I'll not press thee for a confession. I am quite satisfied with thine
evasive answers. Let me but tell thee this, that the man whom thou
lovest is in deadly danger of his life."

"Great God, have pity on him!" she exclaimed involuntarily.

"In a spirit of wanton mischief--for he is not so faithful to thee as
thou wouldst wish--he has abducted a lady from this city, as thou well
knowest, since thou didst lend him thy help in the committal of this
crime. Thou seest," he added roughly, "that denials on thy part were
worse than useless, since I know everything. The lady's father is an
important magistrate in this city, he has moved every process of the law
so that he may mete out an exemplary punishment to the blackguard who
has dared to filch his daughter. Hanging will be the most merciful
ending to thy lover's life, but Mynheer Beresteyn talks of the rack, of
quartering and of the stake, and he is a man of boundless influence in
the administration of the law."

"Lord, have mercy upon us," once again murmured the wretched girl whose
cheeks now looked grey and shrunken; her lips were white and quivering
and her eyes with dilated pupils were fixed in horror on the harbinger
of this terrible news.

"He will have none on thy sweetheart, I'll warrant thee unless..."

He paused significantly, measuring the effect of his words and of that
dramatic pause upon, the tense sensibilities of the girl.

"Unless...what?" came almost as a dying murmur from her parched throat.

"Unless thou wilt lend a hand to save him."

"I?" she exclaimed pathetically, "I would give my hand...my tongue ...my
sight...my life to save him."

"Come!" he said, "that's brave! but it will not be necessary to make
quite so violent a sacrifice. I have great power too in this city and
great influence over the bereaved father," he continued, lying
unblushingly, "I know that if I can restore his daughter to him within
the next four and twenty hours, I could prevail upon him to give up
pursuit of the villain who abducted her, and to let him go free."

But these words were not yet fully out of his mouth, before she had
fallen on her knees before him, clasping her thin hands together and
raising up to his hard face large, dark eyes that were brimful of tears.

"Will you do that then, O my gracious lord," she pleaded. "Oh! God will
reward you if you will do this."

"How can I, thou crazy wench," he retorted, "how can I restore the
damsel to her sorrowing father when I do not know where she is?"

"But--"

"It is from thee I want to hear where the lady is."

"From me?"

"Why yes! of course! Thou art in the confidence of thy lover, and
knowest where he keeps the lady hidden. Tell me where she is, and I will
pledge thee my word that thou and he will have nothing more to fear."

"He is not my lover," she murmured dully, "nor am I in his confidence."

She was still on her knees, but had fallen back on her heels, with arms
hanging limp and helpless by her side. Hope so suddenly arisen had
equally quickly died out of her heart, and her pinched face expressed in
every line the despair and misery which had come in its wake.

"Come!" he cried harshly, "play no tricks with me, wench. Thou didst own
to being the rascal's sweetheart."

"I owned to my love for him," she said simply, "not to his love for me."

"I told thee that he will hang or burn unless thou art willing to help
him."

"And I told thee, gracious sir, that I would give my life for him."

"Which is quite unnecessary. All I want is the knowledge of where he
keeps the lady whom he has outraged."

"I cannot help you, mynheer, in that."

"Thou wilt not!"

"I cannot," she reiterated gently. "I do not know where she is."

"Will fifty guilders help thy memory?" he sneered.

"Fifty guilders would mean ease and comfort to my father and me for many
months to come. I would do much for fifty guilders but I cannot tell
that which I do not know."

"An hundred guilders, girl, and the safety of thy lover. Will that not
tempt thee?"

"Indeed, indeed, gracious sir," she moaned piteously, "I swear to you
that I do not know."

"Thou dost perjure thyself and wilt rue it, wench," he exclaimed as he
jumped to his feet, and with a loud curse kicked the chair away from
him.

The Lord of Stoutenburg was not a man who had been taught to curb his
temper; he had always given way to his passions, allowing them as the
years went on to master every tender feeling within him; for years now
he had sacrificed everything to them, to his ambition, to his revenge,
to his loves and hates. Now that this fool of a girl tried to thwart him
as he thought, he allowed his fury against her full rein, to the
exclusion of reason, of prudence, or ordinary instincts of chivalry. He
stooped over her like a great, gaunt bird of prey and his thin claw-like
hand fastened itself on her thin shoulder.

"Thou liest, girl," he said hoarsely, "or art playing with me? Money
thou shalt have. Name thy price. I'll pay the all that thou wouldst ask.
I'll not believe that thou dost not know! Think of thy lover under
torture, on the rack, burnt at the stake. Hast ever seen a man after he
has been broken on the wheel? his limbs torn from their sockets, his
chest sunken under the weights--and the stake? hast seen a heretic burnt
alive...?"

She gave a loud scream of agony: her hands went up to her ears, her eyes
stared out of her head like those of one in a frenzy of terror.

"Pity! pity! my lord, have pity! I swear that I do not know."

"Verdomme!" he cried out in the madness of his rage as with a cruel
twist of his hand he threw the wretched girl off her balance and sent
her half-fainting, cowering on the floor.

"Verdommt be thou, plepshurk," came in a ringing voice from behind him.

The next moment he felt as if two grapnels made of steel had fastened
themselves on his shoulders and as if a weight of irresistible power was
pressing him down, down on to his knees. His legs shook under him, his
bones seemed literally to be cracking beneath that iron grip, and he had
not the power to turn round in order to see who his assailant was. The
attack had taken him wholly by surprise and it was only when his knees
finally gave way under him, and he too was down on the ground, licking
the dust of the floor--as he had forced the wretched girl to do--that he
had a moment's respite from that cruel pressure and was able to turn in
the direction whence it had come.

Diogenes, with those wide shoulders of his squared out to their full
breadth, legs apart and arms crossed over his mighty chest was standing
over him, his eyes aflame and his moustache bristling till it stood out
like the tusks of a boar.

"Dondersteen!" he exclaimed as he watched the other man's long, lean
figure thus sprawling on the ground, "this is a pretty pass to which to
bring this highly civilized and cultured country. Men are beginning to
browbeat and strike the women now! Dondersteen!"

Stoutenburg, whose vocabulary of oaths was at least as comprehensive as
that of any foreign adventurer, had--to its accompaniment--struggled at
last to his feet.

"You..." he began as soon as he had partially recovered his breath. But
Diogenes putting up his hand hastily interrupted him:

"Do not speak just now, mynheer," he said with his wonted good-humour.
"Were you to speak now, I feel that your words would not be
characterized by that dignity and courtesy which one would expect from
so noble a gentleman."

"Smeerlap!--" began Stoutenburg once more.

"There now," rejoined the other with imperturbable bonhomie, "what did I
tell you? Believe me, sir, 'tis much the best to be silent if pleasant
words fail to reach one's lips."

"A truce on this nonsense," quoth Stoutenburg hotly, "you took me
unawares--like a coward..."

"Well said, mynheer! Like a coward--that is just how I took you--in the
act of striking a miserable atom of humanity--who is as defenceless as a
sparrow."

"'Tis ludicrous indeed to see a man of your calling posing as a
protector of women," retorted Stoutenburg with a sneer. "But enough of
this. You find me unarmed at this moment, else you had already paid for
this impudent interference."

"I thank you, sir," said Diogenes as he swept the Lord of Stoutenburg a
deep, ironical bow, "I thank you for thus momentarily withholding
chastisement from my unworthiness. When may I have the honour of calling
on your Magnificence in order that you might mete unto me the punishment
which I have so amply deserved?"

"That chastisement will lose nothing by waiting, since indeed your
insolence passes belief," quoth Stoutenburg hotly. "Now go!" he added,
choosing not to notice the wilfully impertinent attitude of the other
man, "leave me alone with this wench. My business is with her."

"So is mine, gracious lord," rejoined Diogenes with a bland smile, "else
I were not here. This room is mine--perhaps your Magnificence did not
know that--you would not like surely to remain my guest a moment longer
than you need."

"Of a truth I knew that the baggage was your sweetheart--else I had not
come at all."

"Leave off insulting the girl, man," said Diogenes whose moustache
bristled again, a sure sign that his temper was on the boil, "she has
told you the truth, she knows nothing of the whereabouts of the noble
lady who has disappeared from Haarlem. An you desire information on that
point you had best get it elsewhere."

But Stoutenburg had in the meanwhile succeeded in recovering--at any
rate partially--his presence of mind. All his life he had been
accustomed to treat these foreign adventurers with the contempt which
they deserved. In the days of John of Barneveld's high position in the
State, his sons would never have dreamed of parleying with knaves, and
if--which God forbid!--one of them had dared then to lay hands on any
member of the High Advocate's family, hanging would certainly have been
the inevitable punishment of such insolence.

Something of that old haughtiness and pride of caste crept into the
attitude of the Lord of Stoutenburg now, and prudence also suggested
that he should feign to ignore the rough usage which he had received at
the hands of this contemptible rascal. Though he was by no means
unarmed--for he never went abroad these days without a poniard in his
belt--he had, of a truth, no mind to engage in a brawl with this young
Hercules whose profession was that of arms and who might consequently
get easily the better of him.

He made every effort therefore to remain calm and to look as dignified
as his disordered toilet would allow.

"You heard what I said to this girl?" he queried, speaking carelessly.

"You screamed loudly enough," replied Diogenes lightly. "I heard you
through the closed door. I confess that I listened for quite a long
while: your conversation greatly interested me. I only interfered when I
thought it necessary."

"So then I need not repeat what I said," quoth the other lightly.
"Hanging for you, my man, unless you tell me where you have hidden
Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn."

"I? What have I to do with that noble lady, pray?"

"It is futile to bandy words with me. I know every circumstance of the
disappearance of the lady, and could denounce you to the authorities
within half an hour, and see you hanged for the outrage before sunrise."

"Then I do wonder," said Diogenes suavely, "that your Magnificence doth
not do this, for of a truth you must hate me fairly thoroughly by now."

"Hate you, man? I'd gladly see you hang, or better still broken on the
wheel. But I must know from you first where you have hidden the
jongejuffrouw."

"If I am to hang anyway, sir, why should I trouble to tell you?"

"The lady is my affianced wife," said Stoutenburg haughtily, "I have
every right to demand an explanation from you, why you are here when by
the terms of your contract with my friend Nicolaes Beresteyn you should
at this moment be on your way to Rotterdam, escorting the jongejuffrouw
to the house of Ben Isaje, the banker...You see that I am well
informed," he added impatiently, seeing that Diogenes had become
suddenly silent, and that a curious shadow had spread over his
persistently smiling face.

"So well informed, sir," rejoined the latter after a slight pause, and
speaking more seriously than he had done hitherto, "so well informed
that I marvel you do not know that by the terms of that same contract I
pledged my word to convey the jongejuffrouw safely to a certain spot and
with all possible speed, but that further actions on my part were to
remain for mine own guidance. I also pledged my word of honour that I
would remain silent about all these matters."

"Bah!" broke in Stoutenburg roughly, "knaves like you have no honour to
pledge."

"No doubt, sir, you are the best judge of what a knave would do."

"Insolent...do you dare...?"

"If you like it better, sir, I'll say that I have parleyed long enough
with you to suit my temper. This room is mine," he added, speaking every
whit as haughtily as did the other man. "I have business with this
wench, and came here, desirous to speak with her alone, so I pray you
go! this roof is too lowly to shelter the Lord of Stoutenburg."

At mention of his name Stoutenburg's sunken cheeks took on the colour of
lead, and with a swift, instinctive gesture, his hand flew to the hilt
of the dagger under his doublet. During this hot and brief quarrel with
this man, the thought had never entered his mind that his identity might
be known to his antagonist, that he--a fugitive from justice and with a
heavy price still upon his head--was even now at the mercy of this
contemptible adventurer whom he had learnt to hate as he had never hated
a single human soul before now.

Prudence, however, was quick enough to warn him not to betray himself
completely. The knave obviously suspected his identity--how he did that,
Stoutenburg could not conjecture, but after all he might only have drawn
a bow at a venture: it was important above all not to let him see that
that bow had struck home. Wherefore after the first instant of terror
and surprise he resumed as best he could his former haughty attitude,
and said with well-feigned carelessness:

"The Lord of Stoutenburg? Do you expect his visit then? What have you to
do with him? 'Tis dangerous, you know, to court his friendship just
now."

"I do not court his friendship, sir," replied Diogenes with his gently
ironical smile; "the Lord of Stoutenburg hath many enemies these days;
and, methinks, that if it came to a question of hanging he would stand
at least as good a chance of the gallows as I."

"No doubt, an you knew how to lay hands on him; you would be over ready
to denounce him to the Stadtholder for the sake of the blood-money which
you would receive for this act."

"Well played, my lord," retorted Diogenes with a ringing laugh.
"Dondersteen! but you apparently think me a fool as well as a knave. Lay
my hands on the Lord of Stoutenburg did you say? By St. Bavon, have I
not done so already? aye! and made him like the dust, too, at my feet? I
could sell him to the Stadtholder without further trouble--denounce him
even now to the authorities only that I do not happen to be a vendor of
swine-flesh--or else..."

A double cry interrupted the flow of Diogenes' wrathful eloquence: a cry
of rage from Stoutenburg and one of terror from the girl, who all this
while--not understanding the cause and purport of the quarrel between
the two men--had been cowering in a remote corner of the room anxious
only to avoid observation, fearful lest she should be seen.

But now she suddenly ran forward, swift as a deer, unerring as a cat,
and the next moment she had thrown herself on the upraised arm of
Stoutenburg in whose hand gleamed the sharp steel of his dagger.

"Murder!" she cried in a frenzy of horror. "Save thyself! he will murder
thee!"

Diogenes, as was his wont, threw back his head and sent his merry laugh
echoing through the tumble-down house from floor to floor, until, in
response to that light-heartedness which had burst forth in such a
ringing laugh, pallid faces were lifted wearily from toil, and around
thin, pinched lips the reflex of a smile came creeping over the furrows
caused by starvation and misery.

"Let go his arm, wench," he cried gaily; "he'll not hurt me, never fear.
Hatred has drawn a film over his eyes and caused his hand to tremble.
Put back your poniard, my lord," he added lightly, "the penniless
adventurer and paid hireling is unworthy of your steel. Keep it whetted
for your own defence and for the protection of the gracious lady who has
plighted her troth to you."

"Name her not, man!" cried Stoutenburg, whose arm had dropped by his
side, but whose voice was still hoarse with the passion of hate which
now consumed him.

"Is her name polluted through passing my lips? Yet is she under my
protection, placed there by those who should have guarded her honour
with their life."

"Touch my future wife but with the tips of thy fingers, plepshurk, and
I'll hang thee on the nearest tree with mine own hands."

"Wait to threaten, my lord, until you have the power: until then go your
way. I--the miserable rascal whom you abhor, the knave whom you
despise--do give you your life and your freedom which, as you well know,
I hold at this moment in the hollow of my hand. But remember that I give
it you only because to my mind one innocent woman has already suffered
quite enough because of you, without having to mourn the man whom she
loves and being widowed ere she is a wife. Because of that you may go
out of this room a free man--free to pursue your tortuous aims and your
ambitious scheme. They are naught to me and I know nothing about them.
But this I do know--that a woman has been placed in my charge by one who
should deem her honour more sacred than his own; in this infamy I now
see that you too, my lord, have a hand. The lady, you say, is your
future wife, yet you placed her under my care--a knave, a
rascal--miserable plepshurk was the last epithet which you applied to
me--you! who also should have guarded her good name with your very life.
To suit your own ends, you entrusted her to me! Well! to suit mine own
I'll not let you approach her, until--having accomplished the errand for
which I am being paid--I will myself escort the lady back to her father.
To this am I also pledged! and both these pledges do I mean to fulfil
and you, my lord, do but waste your time in arguing with me."

The Lord of Stoutenburg had not attempted to interrupt Diogenes in his
long peroration. All the thoughts of hatred and revenge that sprang in
his mind with every word which this man uttered, he apparently thought
wisest to conceal for the moment.

Now that Diogenes, after he had finished speaking, turned
unceremoniously on his heel and left Stoutenburg standing in the middle
of the room, the latter hesitated for a few minutes longer. Angry and
contemptuous words were all ready to his lips, but Diogenes was paying
no heed to him; he had drawn the girl with him to the bedside of the
cripple, and there began talking quietly in whispers to her. Stoutenburg
saw that he gave the wench some money.

Smothering a final, comprehensive oath the noble lord went quietly out
of the room.

"How that man doth hate thee," whispered the girl in awe-struck tones,
as soon as she saw that the door had closed behind him. "And I hate him
too," she added, as she clenched her thin hands, "he is cruel, coarse
and evil."

"Cruel, coarse and evil?" said Diogenes with a shrug of his wide
shoulders, "and yet there is a delicate, innocent girl who loves him
well enough to forget all his crimes and to plight her troth to him.
Women are strange creatures, wench--'tis a wise philosopher who steers
widely clear of their path."




Chapter XXV--AN ARRANT KNAVE

In the street below, not far from the house which he had just quitted,
Stoutenburg came on Nicolaes and Jan ensconced in the dark against a
wall. Beresteyn quickly explained to his friend the reason of his
presence here.

"I came with Jan," he said, "because I wished to speak with you without
delay."

"Come as far as the cathedral then," said Stoutenburg curtly. "I feel
that in this vervloekte street the walls and windows are full of ears
and prying eyes. Jan," he added, turning to the other man, "you must
remain here and on no account lose sight of that rascal when he leaves
this house. Follow him in and out of Haarlem, and if you do not see me
again to-night, join me at Ryswyk as soon as you can, and come there
prepared with full knowledge of his plans."

Leaving Jan in observation the two men made their way now in the
direction of the Groote Markt. It was still very cold, even though there
was a slight suspicion in the air of a coming change in the weather: a
scent as of the south wind blowing from over the estuaries, while the
snow beneath the feet had lost something of its crispness and purity.
The thaw had not yet set in, but it was coquetting with the frost,
challenging it to a passage of arms, wherein either combatant might
completely succumb.

As Stoutenburg had surmised the porch of the cathedral was lonely and
deserted, even the beggars had all gone home for the night. A tiny lamp
fixed into the panelling of the wall flickered dimly in the draught.
Stoutenburg sat down on the wooden bench--dark and polished with age,
which ran alongside one of the walls, and with a brusque and febrile
gesture drew his friend down beside him.

"Well?" he asked in that nervous, jerky way of his, "What is it?"

"Something that will horrify you, just as it did me," replied Beresteyn,
who spoke breathlessly as if under stress of grave excitement. "When I
parted from you awhile ago, I did what you asked me to do. I posted Jan
outside the door of the tapperij after I had pointed out our rogue to
him through the glass door. Imagine my astonishment when I saw that at
that moment our rascal was in close conversation with my father."

"With your father?"

"With my father," reiterated Beresteyn. "That fool, Hals, was with him,
and there were another half dozen busybodies sitting round the table.
Our man was evidently the centre of interest; I could not then hear what
was said, but at one moment I saw that my father shook him cordially by
the hand."

"Vervloekte Keerl!" exclaimed Stoutenburg.

"I didn't know at first what to do. I didn't want to go into the
tapperij and to show myself just then, but at all costs I wished to know
what my father and that arrant rascal had to say to one another. So,
bidding Jan on no account to lose sight of the man, I made my way round
to the service door behind the bar, and there bribed one of the wenches
to let me stand under the lintel and to remain on the watch. It was
quite dark where I stood and I had a good view of the tapperij without
fear of being seen, and as my father and that cursed adventurer were
speaking loudly enough I could hear all that they said."

"Well?" queried Stoutenburg impatiently.

"Well, my friend," quoth Beresteyn with slow emphasis, "that vervloekte
scoundrel was making a promise to my father to bring Gilda safely back
to Haarlem, and my father was promising him a fortune as his reward."

"I am not surprised," remarked Stoutenburg calmly.

"But..."

"That man, my friend, is the most astute blackguard I have ever come
across in the whole course of my life. His English blood I imagine hath
made him into a thorough-going rogue. He has played you false--always
did mean to play you false if it suited his purpose! By God, Nicolaes!
what fools we were to trust one of these foreign adventurers. They'll do
anything for money, and this man instead of being--as we thought--an
exception to the rule, is a worse scoundrel than any of his compeers. He
has simply taken Gilda a little way out of Haarlem, and then came back
here to see what bargain he could strike with your father for her
return."

"Gilda is some way out of Haarlem," rejoined Beresteyn thoughtfully.
"Jan and I heard that knave talking to his friend Hals later on. Hals
was asking him to sup and sleep at his house. But he declined the
proffered bed, though he accepted the supper: 'I have a journey before
me this night,' he said, 'and I must leave the city at moonrise.' It
seemed to me that he meant to travel far."

"She may be still at Bennebrock, or mayhap at Leyden--he could not have
taken her further than that in the time. Anyhow it would be quite easy
for him to go back to her during the night, and bring her into Haarlem
to-morrow. Friend!" he added earnestly, "the situation is
intolerable--unthinkable! After all that we have done, the risks which
we have taken, Gilda's return now--a certain denunciation from her--and
failure and death once more stare us in the face, and this time more
insistently."

"It is unthinkable, as you say," cried Beresteyn vehemently, "but the
situation is not so hopeless as you seem to think. I can go at once to
my father and denounce the rogue to him. I can tell him that I have
reason to believe that the man to whom he has just promised a fortune
for the return of Gilda is the very man who hath abducted her."

"Impossible," said Stoutenburg calmly.

"Why?"

"Your father would have the man arrested, he would be searched, and
papers and letters writ by you to Ben Isaje of Rotterdam will be found
in his possession. These papers would proclaim you the prime mover in
the outrage against your sister."

"True! I had not thought of that. But, instead of going to my father, I
could denounce the rascal to the city magistrate on suspicion of having
abducted my sister. Van der Meer would give me the command of the town
guard sent out to arrest him, I could search him myself and take
possession of all his papers ere I bring him before the magistrate."

"Ah! the magistracy of Haarlem moves with ponderous slowness. While that
oaf, Van der Meer, makes preparations for sending out the town guard,
our rogue will slip through our fingers, and mayhap be back in Haarlem
with Gilda ere we find him again."

"Let me have Jan and one or two of Heemskerk's mercenaries," urged
Beresteyn, "we could seize him and his papers to-night as soon as he
leaves the city gates."

"Then, out of revenge," said Stoutenburg, "he will refuse to tell us
what he hath done with Gilda."

"Bah!" retorted Beresteyn cynically, "here in Haarlem we can always
apply torture."

"Then, if he speaks, Gilda can be back here in time to denounce us all.
No, no, my friend," continued Stoutenburg firmly, "let us own at once
that by trusting that scoundrel we have run our heads into a noose out
of which only our wits can extricate us. We must meet cunning with
cunning, treachery if need be with treachery. Gilda--of course--must not
remain at the mercy of brigands, but she must not be given her freedom
to do us the harm which she hath already threatened. Remember this,
Nicolaes," he added, placing his hand upon his friend's shoulder and
forcing him to look straight into his own feverishly glowing eyes,
"remember that, when all these troubles are over, Gilda will become my
wife. The devotion of my entire life shall then compensate her for the
slight wrong which fate compels us to do her at this moment. Will you
remember that, my friend?"

"I do remember it," replied the other, "but..."

"And will you try and trust me as you would yourself?"

"I do trust you, Willem, as I would trust myself; only tell me what you
want to do."

"I want to bring that knave to the gallows without compromising you and
the success of our cause," said Stoutenburg firmly.

"But how can you do it?"

"That I do not know yet; I have only vague thoughts in my mind. But
hate, remember, is a hard and very efficient task-master, and I hate
that man, Nicolaes, almost as much as I hate the Prince of Orange. But
'tis the Prince's death which I want first; because of this my hatred of
the rascal must lie dormant just a few days. But it shall lose nothing
by waiting, and already I see before me visions of an exemplary revenge
which shall satisfy you and gratify my hate."

"Can I help you in any way?"

"Not at present; I have no definite plans just now. All I know is that
we must possess ourselves of the rascal's person as well as of Gilda
without the risk of compromising ourselves. In this, of course, we have
now Jan's valuable help; he is a splendid leader and entirely
trustworthy where the cause of his own hatred against the Prince is
served."

"And, of course, you have the thirty or forty men--mercenaries and
louts--whom Heemskerk, van Does and the others have been recruiting for
you."

"Exactly. I can easily detail half a dozen of them to follow Jan. That
is our first move, my good Beresteyn," he added emphatically, "to gain
possession of Gilda, and to capture the rascal. Only tell me this, what
are the papers now in that knave's possession which might compromise you
if they were found?"

"I had to write a letter to Ben Isaje, telling him to convince himself
that Gilda was safe and in good health, ere he paid the rascal a sum of
3,000 guilders. This letter is writ in mine own hand and signed with my
name. Then there is a formal order to Ben Isaje to pay over the money,
but that was writ in the usual way by the public scrivener and is signed
with the cypher which I always use in all monetary transactions with the
Jew. He keeps these formal documents in his archives and all his clients
use a cypher in the same way."

"How is that formal order worded?"

"As far as I remember it runs thus: 'In consideration of valuable
services rendered to me by the bearer of this note, I desire you to pay
him the sum of 3,000 guilders out of my monies which lie with you at
interest.' The cypher signature consists of the words 'Schwarzer Kato'
surmounted by a triangle."

"And is that cypher known to anyone save to Ben Isaje?"

"Alas! it is known to my father. We both use it for private business
transactions."

"But to Gilda" insisted Stoutenburg. "Would Gilda know it if she saw
it?"

"She could not be certain of it...though, of course, she might guess.
'Schwarzer Kato' is the name of a tulip raised by my father, and the
triangle is a sign used sometimes by our house in business. But it would
be mere conjecture on her part."

"Then everything will still be for the best, never fear, my good
Beresteyn," exclaimed Stoutenburg, whose hard, cruel face was glowing
with excitement. "Chance indeed has been on our side throughout this
business. An you will trust me to finish it now; you'll have no cause
for anxiety or regrets. Come! let us find Jan at once! I have a few
orders to give him, and then mean to be on my way to Ryswyk to-night."

He rose to his feet and now the glitter in his hollow eyes appeared
almost inhuman. He was a man whose whole soul fed upon hatred, upon
vengeance planned and accomplished, upon desire for supreme power; and
at this moment his scheme for murdering the Stadtholder was backed by
one for obtaining possession of the woman he loved, and being revenged
on the man who had insulted and jeered at him.

Beresteyn, always ready to accept the leadership of his friend, followed
him in silence down the street. After awhile they once more came upon
Jan, who apparently had never moved all this while from his post of
observation.

"Well?" asked Stoutenburg in a scarce audible whisper, "has he not gone
yet?"

"Not yet," replied Jan.

Stoutenburg cast a quick, almost furtive glance in the direction of the
house where he had experienced such dire humiliation a brief half hour
ago. A curious whistling sound escaped through his clenched teeth, a
sound such as many a wild beast makes when expectant of prey. Then he
drew Jan further away from the house, fearful lest his words were wafted
toward it on the wind.

"Keep him in sight, Jan," he commanded, "until he goes to the house of
Mynheer Hals in the Peuselaarsteg, whither he means to go for supper.
There you may safely leave him for an hour, and go directly to the house
of my Lord of Heemskerk whom you know. Ask him for half a dozen of his
foreign mercenaries; tell him they are for my immediate service. These
men will then help you to keep our knave in sight. He will leave Haarlem
at moonrise, and you must never lose his track for a moment. Presently
he should be escorting a lady in the direction of Rotterdam. If he does
this--if he travel south toward that city, do not molest him, only keep
him in sight, and the moment he arrives at Rotterdam come and report to
me at Ryswyk. But," he added more emphatically, "if at any time it
appears to you that he is turning back with the lady toward Haarlem come
upon him at once with your men and seize him together with any
companions he may have with him. You understand?"

"Perfectly, my lord. While he travels southwards with the lady, we are
only to keep him in sight; when he and the lady arrive at Rotterdam we
must report to you at Ryswyk, but the moment he turns back toward
Haarlem we are to fall on him and seize him and his companions."

"The lady you will treat with the utmost respect," resumed Stoutenburg
with an approving nod, "the rascal and his companions you may mishandle
as much as you like, without, however, doing them mortal injury. But
having taken the whole party prisoner, you will forthwith convey them to
the molens at Ryswyk, where you will find me. Now is all that clear?"

"Nothing could be clearer, my lord," repeated Jan firmly. "We follow him
while he travels south, but seize him with his company and the lady if
he turn back toward Haarlem. Nothing could be easier."

"You will not let him slip through your fingers, Jan?" said Stoutenburg
earnestly.

Jan laughed and shrugged his shoulders.

"You said that this work would help to forward our cause," he said
simply. "I ask no questions. I believe you and obey."

"That's brave! And you will take great care of the lady, when she falls
into your hands?"

"I understand that she is my lord's future lady," rejoined Jan, with the
same simplicity which makes the perfect soldier and the perfect servant,
and which promised obedience without murmur and without question.

"Yes, Jan. The lady is my future wife," said Stoutenburg. "Treat her as
such. As for the man...I want him alive...do not kill him, Jan, even if
he provoke you. And he will do that by his insolence, I know."

"My lord shall have his enemy alive," said Jan, "a helpless
prisoner...but alive."

"Then good luck to you, Jan," concluded Stoutenburg with a sigh of
satisfaction. "I am well pleased with you. In the near future I shall be
happy to remember that the high offices of State and those around my
person must be filled by those who have well deserved of them."

He put out his thin, nervy hand and Jan fell on one knee in order to
kiss it with fervour and respect. The son of John of Barneveld could
still count on the loyalty of a few who believed in him, and who looked
on his crimes as a necessary means to a glorious end.

A few moments later Beresteyn and Stoutenburg had disappeared in the
darkness of the narrow street, and Jan remained alone at his post of
observation.




Chapter XXVI--BACK TO HOUDEKERK

And now back once more in the kingdom of the night and of the frost, of
the darkness and of silence, back along the ice ways on a swift and
uninterrupted flight.

The moon is less kind now, fitful and coy; she will not peep out from
behind the banks of clouds save at rare intervals; and the clouds are
heavy; great billows, clumsy in shape as if weighted with lead; the moon
plays a restless game of hide and seek amongst them for the bewilderment
of the skater, to whom last night she was so kind.

They come tumbling in more and more thickly from the south--those
clouds--driven more furiously by the gusty wind. Brother north-easter
has gone to rest, it is the turn of the south wind now--not the soft
south wind of summer, but a turbulent and arrogant fellow who bellows as
loudly as he can, and who means to have a frolic in this world of ice
and snow from which his colder brethren have exiled him until now.

Straight at the head of the skater, it expended the brunt of its fury,
sending his hat flying in one direction and in wanton delight leading
him into a mad chase after it; then when once more he was on his
way--hat in hand this time--it tore with impish glee at his hair,
impeded his movements, blew doublet and sash awry.

What a chase! what a fight! what a run! But dondersteen! we do defy
thee, O frolicsome south wind! aye, and the darkness too! Back to
Houdekerk, the first stage on the road to fortune.

It is not nearly so cold now that brother north-easter has yielded to
his madcap brother from the south! gusty and rough and a hand-to-hand
fight for progress all the time, with tears running down the cheeks, and
breath coming in gasps from the chest! It is not so cold, and the ice is
less crisp, its smooth skin is furrowed and wrinkled, soft and woolly
beneath the touch of the steel blades; but the snow still lies thickly
upon the low-lying ground, and holds in its luminous embrace all the
reflections which the capricious moon will lend it.

For the first half hour, while the moon was still very brilliant and the
night air very still, it seemed to Diogenes as if the loneliness around
him was only fictitious, as if somewhere--far away mayhap--men moved in
the same way as he did, swiftly and silently over the surface of the
ice. It seemed to him in fact that he was being followed.

He tried to make sure of this, straining his ears to listen, and now and
then he caught very distinctly the sound of the metallic click of
several pairs of skates. His senses, trained to over-acuteness through
years of hard fighting and of campaigning, could not easily be deceived;
and presently there was no doubt in his mind that Nicolaes Beresteyn or
the Lord of Stoutenburg had set spies upon his track.

This knowledge caused him only to set his teeth, and to strike out more
vigorously and more rapidly than before; those who followed him were
fairly numerous--over half a dozen he reckoned--the only chance of
evading them was, therefore, in flight. He took to noting the rolling
banks of cloud with a more satisfied eye, and when, after the first hour
or so, the light of the waning moon became more dim and even at times
disappeared completely, he took the first opportunity that presented
itself of making a détour over a backwater of the Meer, which he knew
must bewilder his pursuers.

Whether the pursuit was continued after that, he could not say. His eyes
trying to pierce the gloom could tell him nothing; but there were many
intricate little by-ways just south of the Meer over backwaters and
natural canals, which he knew well, and over these he started on an
eccentric and puzzling career which was bound to baffle the spies on his
track.

Whenever he spoke subsequently of the many adventures which befell him
during the first days of this memorable New Year, he never was very
explicit on the subject of this night's run back to Houdekerk.

As soon as he had rid himself--as he thought--of his pursuers, he
allowed his mind to become more and more absorbed in the great problem
which confronted him since he had pledged his word to Mynheer Beresteyn
to bring the jongejuffrouw safely back to him.

He now moved more mechanically over the iceways, taking no account of
time or space or distance, only noting with the mere eye of instinct the
various landmarks which loomed up from time to time out of the fast
gathering darkness.

This coming darkness he welcomed, for he knew his way well, and it would
prove his staunch ally against pursuit. For the rest he was conscious
neither of cold, of hunger nor of fatigue. Pleasant thoughts helped to
cheer his spirits and to give strength to his limbs. His brief visit to
Haarlem had indeed been fruitful of experiences. A problem confronted
him which he had made up his mind to solve during his progress across
the ice in the night. How to keep his word to Nicolaes Beresteyn, and
yet bring the jongejuffrouw safely back to her father.

She would not, of course, willingly follow him, and his would once again
be the uncongenial task of carrying her off by force if he was to
succeed in his new venture.

A fortune if he brought her back! That sounded simple enough, and the
thought of it caused the philosopher's blood to tingle with delight.

A fortune if he brought her back! It would have to be done after he had
handed her over into the care of Mynheer Ben Isaje at Rotterdam. He was
pledged to do that, but once this was accomplished--his word to Nicolaes
Beresteyn would be redeemed.

A fortune if he brought her back! And when he had brought her back she
would tell of his share in her abduction, and instead of the fortune
mayhap the gallows would be meted out to him.

'Twas a puzzle, a hard nut for a philosopher to crack. It would be the
work of an adventurer, of a man accustomed to take every risk on the
mere chance of success.

But Gilda's image never left him for one moment while his thoughts were
busy with that difficult problem. For the first time now he realized the
utter pathos of her helplessness. The proud little vixen, as he had
dubbed her a while ago, was after all but a poor defenceless girl tossed
hither and thither just to suit the ambitions of men. Did she really
love that unscrupulous and cruel Stoutenburg, he wondered. Surely she
must love him, for she did not look the kind of woman who would plight
her troth against her will. She loved him and would marry him, her small
white hand, which had the subtle fragrance of tulips, would be placed in
one which was deeply stained with blood.

Poor young vixen, with the sharp tongue that knew how to hurt and the
blue eyes that could probe a wound like steel! It was strange to think
that their soft glances were reserved for a man whose heart was more
filled with hate for men than with love for one woman.

"If I loved you, little vixen," he once murmured apostrophizing the
elusive vision which lightened the darkness around him, "if I loved you,
I would break my word to that dastard who is your brother...I would not
take you to Rotterdam to further his ambition, but I would carry you off
to please myself. I would take you to some distant land, mayhap to my
unknown father's home in England, where the sounds of strife and hatred
amongst men would only come as a faint and intangible echo. I would take
you to where roses bloom in profusion, and where in the spring the
petals of apple-blossoms would cover you like a mantle of fragrant snow.
There I would teach that sharp tongue of yours to murmur words of
tenderness and those perfect blue eyes to close in the ecstasy of a
kiss. But," he added with his habitual light-hearted laugh, "I do not
love you, little vixen, for heigh-ho! if I did 'twere hard for my peace
of mind."

When Diogenes neared the town of Leyden he heard its church clocks ring
out the hour of three. Close by the city walls he took off his skates,
preferring to walk the short league which lay between him and Houdekerk.

He was more tired than he cared to own even to himself, and the last
tramp along the road was inexpressibly wearisome. But he had seen or
heard nothing more of his pursuers; he was quite convinced that they had
lost track of him some hours ago. The south wind blew in heavy gusts
from over the marshlands far away, and the half-melted snow clung sticky
and dank against the soles and heels of his boots. A smell of dampness
in the air proclaimed the coming triumph of the thaw. The roads, thought
Diogenes, would be heavy on the morrow, impassable mayhap to a sledge,
and the jongejuffrouw would have to travel in great discomfort in a
jolting vehicle.

At last in the near distance a number of tiny lights proclaimed the
presence of a group of windmills. It was in one of these that Pythagoras
and Socrates had been ordered to ask for shelter--in the fifth one down
the road, which stood somewhat isolated from the others; even now its
long, weird arms showed like heavy lines of ink upon the black
background of the sky.

Diogenes almost fell up against the door; he could hardly stand. But the
miller was on the look-out for him, having slept only with half an eye,
waiting for the stranger whose emissaries had already paid him well. He
carried a lanthorn and a bunch of keys; his thin, sharp head was
surmounted with a cotton nightcap and his feet were encased in thick
woollen hose.

It took him some time to undo the many heavy bolts which protected the
molens against the unwelcome visits of night marauders, and before he
pushed back the final one, he peered through a tiny judas in the door
and in a querulous voice asked the belated traveller's name.

"Never mind my name," quoth Diogenes impatiently, "and open thy door,
miller, ere I break it in. I am as tired as a nag, as thirsty as a dog
and hungry as a cat. The jongejuffrouw is I trust safe: I am her major
domo and faithful servant, so open quickly, or thy shoulder will have to
smart for the delay."

I have Diogenes' own assurance that the miller was thereupon both
obedient and prompt. He--like all his compeers in the neighborhood--found
but scanty living in the grinding of corn for the neighbouring
peasantry, there was too much competition nowadays and work
had not multiplied in proportion. Optimists said that in a few years
time the paralysing effects of the constant struggle against Spain would
begin to wear off, that the tilling of the soil would once more become a
profitable occupation and that the molens which now stood idle through
many days in the year would once more become a vast storehouse of
revenue for those who had continued to work them.

But in the meanwhile the millers and their families were oft on the
verge of starvation, and some of them eked out a precarious livelihood
by taking in wayfarers who were on their way to and from the cities and
had sundry reasons--into which it was best not to inquire--for
preferring to sleep and eat at one of these out-of-the-way places rather
than in one of the city hostelries.

Diogenes had made previous acquaintance with his present landlord; he
knew him to be a man of discretion and of boundless cupidity, two very
useful qualities when there is a secret to be kept and plenty of money
wherewith to guard it.

Therefore did Diogenes order his companions to convey the jongejuffrouw
to the molens of Mynheer Patz, and there to keep guard over her until
his own return.

Patz looked well after his belated guest's material comfort. There was
some bread and cheese and a large mug of ale waiting for him in the
wheel-house and a clean straw paillasse in a corner. The place smelt
sweetly of freshly ground corn, of flour and of dry barley and maize,
and a thin white coating of flour--soft to the touch as velvet--lay over
everything.

Diogenes ate and drank and asked news of the jongejuffrouw. She was well
but seemed over sad, the miller explained; but his wife had prepared a
comfortable bed for her in the room next to the tiny kitchen. It was
quite warm there and Mevrouw Patz had spread her one pair of linen
sheets over the bed. The jongejuffrouw's serving woman was asleep on the
kitchen floor; she declared herself greatly ill-used, and had gone to
sleep vowing that she was so uncomfortable she would never be able to
close an eye.

As for the two varlets who had accompanied the noble lady, they were
stretched out on a freshly made bed of straw in the weighing-room.

Patz and his wife seemed to have felt great sympathy for the
jongejuffrouw, and Diogenes had reason to congratulate himself that she
was moneyless, else she would have found it easy enough to bribe the
over-willing pair into helping her to regain her home.

He dreamt of her all night; her voice rang in his ear right through the
soughing of the wind which beat against the ill-fitting windows of the
wheel-house. Alternately in his dream she reviled him, pleaded with him,
heaped insults upon him, but he was securely bound and gagged and could
not reply to her insults or repulse her pleadings. He made frantic
efforts to tear the gag from his mouth, for he wished to tell her that
he had not lost his heart to her and cared nothing for the misery which
she felt.




CHAPTER XXVII--THENCE TO ROTTERDAM

He only caught sight of the jongejuffrouw later on in the morning when
she came out of the molens and stepped into the sledge which stood
waiting for her at the door.

The thaw had not been sufficiently heavy, nor had it lasted a sufficient
number of hours to make a deep impression on the thick covering of snow
which still lay over the roads. The best and quickest mode of
travelling--at any rate for the next few hours--would still be by
sledge, the intervening half-dozen leagues that lay between Houdekerk
and Rotterdam could be easily covered in the day provided an early start
was made and no long halts allowed for meals.

Diogenes had made arrangements for the start to be made by seven
o'clock. A dull light of pale rosy grey hung over the snow-covered
landscape, and far away on the horizon line that same rose-grey light
was just assuming a more brilliant hue. He sent Mevrouw Patz up to the
jongejuffrouw to acquaint her with the plans for the day, and to beg her
to give these her approval. Mevrouw Patz returned with the message that
the jongejuffrouw was ready to start at any hour which Mynheer would
command and was otherwise prepared to obey him in all things.

So Diogenes, standing well out of sight, watched Gilda as she came out
of the door of the molens and remained for one moment quite still,
waiting for the sledge to draw up. She looked fragile this morning, he
thought, and her face looked tiny and very pale within the soft frame of
the fur hood which covered her head. For a second or two it seemed to
him as if she was looking round somewhat anxiously, with a frown upon
her smooth forehead--puzzled and almost frightened--as if she expected
and at the same time feared to see some one or something.

The next second the cloud appeared to lift from her face and Diogenes
even thought--but in this he may have been mistaken--that a sigh of
relief escaped her lips.

After that she stepped into the sledge, closely followed by Maria.

Pythagoras and Socrates had been well drilled in their duties toward the
jongejuffrouw and Diogenes noted with satisfaction that his brother
philosophers did their best to make the lady as comfortable as possible
with a pillow or two bought at Leyden the day previously and the warm
rugs from Haarlem which they wrapped carefully round her feet. Maria,
dignified and unbending, did her best to prevent those rascals from
doing their duty in this manner, but soon her own wants got the better
of her pride, and shivering with cold she was glad enough to allow
Pythagoras to roll a thick horse-cloth about her knees.

A few moments later a start was made to the accompaniment of lusty
cheering from the miller and his wife, both of whom were pleasant--even
obsequious to the last.

The stolid peasant who held the reins urged his horses on to a brisk
trot as soon as they had reached the flat open road. The three
philosophers rode at some little distance behind the sledge, ready only
to push forward if some marauder or footpad showed signs of molesting
the sledge.

Diogenes caught only a few brief glimpses of the jongejuffrouw during
the day; once at Zegwaard where there was a halt for dinner, then at
Zevenhuisen and Hillegersberg where horses and men were ready for a
rest. But she never seemed to see him, passing quickly in and out of the
small huts or cottages to which Pythagoras or Socrates escorted her from
a respectful distance. She never spoke to either of these worthies on
those occasions, nor did she question any orders for halting or
re-starting.

To those who attended on her, however, at the halting places, to the
cottagers or millers who brought her milk and bread to eat she was
graciousness itself, and whenever it was time to go, Diogenes before
leaving had invariably to listen to the loud praises of the beautiful
jongejuffrouw with the sweet, sad face.

As to his own existence, she seemed hardly aware of it; at Zevenhuisen,
when she went back to the sledge, Diogenes was not very far from where
she passed. Moreover he was quite sure that she had seen him, for her
head was turned straight in the direction where he stood, hat in hand,
waiting to see her comfortably settled in the sledge, before remounting.
It was in the early part of the afternoon and once more bitterly
cold--no doubt she felt the return of the frost, for she seemed to give
a little shiver and pulled the hood more closely over her face.

The roads had been very heavy earlier in the day with their carpet of
partially melted snow, but now this surface had frozen once more and the
track was slippery like glass under the sledge, but terribly trying for
the horses.

Progress was necessarily slow and wearisome both to man and beast, and
the shades of evening were beginning to gather in very fast when at last
the wooden spire of Rotterdam's Groote Kerk emerged out of the frozen
mist.

Diogenes--as he had done before at Leyden and at Zegwaard--pushed on
ahead now; he wanted to reach the house of Ben Isaje in advance of the
jongejuffrouw and prepare the Hebraic gentleman against her coming. The
little town with its intricate network of narrow streets intersected by
canals did not seem imposing to the eye. Diogenes marvelled with what
thoughts the jongejuffrouw would survey it--wondering no doubt if it
would prove the end of her journey or merely a halt on the way to some
other place more distant still from her home.

Ben Isaje appeared to be a person of some consequence in Rotterdam, for
the moment he questioned a passer-by as to where the Jewish Mynheer
resided, there were plenty of willing tongues ready to give him
information.

Having followed accurately the instructions which were given to him,
Diogenes found himself presently at the top of a street which was so
narrow that he reckoned if he stretched out his legs, his feet would be
knocking against opposite walls. Anyhow, it looked almost impassable for
a rider. He peered down it somewhat dubiously. It was very badly
lighted; two feeble lamps alone glimmered at either end of it, and not a
soul was in sight.

Close to where his horse was standing at the corner of that same street
the word "Tapperij" writ in bold letters and well lit by a lamp placed
conveniently above it, invited the tired wayfarer to enter. This
philosopher was not the man to refuse so insinuating an invitation. He
dismounted and leaving his horse in charge of an ostler, he entered the
tap-room of the tiny hostel and, being both tired and thirsty, he
refreshed himself with a draught of good Rhyn wine.

After which he collected more information about the house of Mynheer Ben
Isaje. It was situate about midway down that narrow street round the
corner, and was easily distinguishable through its crooked and
woe-begone appearance, and the closely shuttered projecting window on
the ground floor.

A very few minutes later Diogenes had identified the house from the
several descriptions which had been given him. Ben Isaje's abode proved
to be a tiny shop with a tall pointed gable sitting above it like a
sugar-loaf hat. Its low casement window was securely barred with stout
wooden shutters, held in place by thick iron bars. The upper part of the
house looked to be at perpetual enmity with the lower, for it did not
sit straight, or even securely above the humble ground floor below. The
upper floor moreover projected a good three feet over the front door and
the shop window, whilst the single gable sat askew over the lot.

From the house itself--as Diogenes stood somewhat doubtfully before
it--there came the pungent odour of fried onions, and from the one next
door an equally insistent one of damp leather. The philosopher thought
that it was high time to swear, and this he did lustily, anathematizing
in one comprehensive oath every dirty Hebrew and every insalubrious
Dutch city that he had ever come across.

After which he examined the abode of Mynheer Ben Isaje more closely. In
the pointed gable, just under the roof, a tiny window with a light
behind it seemed to be blinking out of the darkness like the single eye
of some inebriate loafer. Seeing that the small casement was partially
open and concluding that some one at any rate must be making use of that
light up there, Diogenes at last made up his mind to knock at the door;
and as there was no knocker and he never carried a riding whip he gave
the substantial oak panel a vigorous kick with his boot.

Whereupon the light up above immediately went out, just as if the
one-eyed inebriate had dropped off to sleep.

This sudden extinguishing of the light, however, only served to prove to
Diogenes that some one was up and astir inside the house, so without
more ado he proceeded to pound more forcibly against the door with his
foot, to shout at the top of his voice, and generally to make a rousing
noise--an art of which he was past master.

Soon he heard a soft grating behind the judas, and he felt--more than he
saw--that a pair of eyes were peering at him from within.

"Open, Mynheer Ben Isaje," he cried loudly and peremptorily, "ere I
rouse this entire evil-smelling neighbourhood with my calls. Open I tell
you ere I break in your door first and your nose--which I suspect to be
over long and over ruddy--afterwards."

"'Tis too late to transact business now," came in a feeble high-pitched
voice from behind the narrow judas, "too late and too dark. The shop is
closed."

"'Tis not with your shop that I have to do, master," quoth Diogenes
impatiently, "but with yourself, if indeed you are Mynheer Ben Isaje, as
I gravely suspect that you are."

"What do you want with Ben Isaje?" queried the timorous voice, "he hath
gone home for the night. His house is situate . . ."

"His house shall be verdommt if you parley any longer behind that
grating, man; aye and this shop too, for if you do not open that door
immediately I will break the windows, for my business brooks no delay,
and I must needs get into this house as best I can."

But despite his threat, no attempt was made to draw the bolts from
within, whereupon Diogenes, whose stock of patience was never
inexhaustible, and who moreover wished to give value to his threats,
took a step backwards and then with a sudden spring threw his whole
weight against the oak door; a proceeding which caused the tumbledown
house to shake upon its foundations.

The next moment the timorous voice was once more raised behind the
judas:

"Kindly have patience, gentle sir. I was even now about to open."

Diogenes heard the drawing of more than one heavy bolt, then the
grinding of a key in the lock; after which the door was partially
opened, and a thin face with hooked nose and sunken cheeks appeared in
the aperture.

To imagine that any man could hold a door against Diogenes when he
desired to pass through it was to be totally unacquainted with that
philosopher. Her certainly would have smashed in the door of Ben Isaje's
abode with his powerful shoulders had it been kept persistently closed
against him; but as it was, he only gave it a push with his knee,
flinging it wide open thereby, and then stepped coolly into the narrow
ill-lighted passage.

There was a blank wall each side of him, and a door lower down on the
left; straight ahead a narrow ladder-like staircase was half lost in the
gloom.

The anxious janitor had hastily retreated down the dark passage at sight
of the towering figure which now confronted him, and in his fright he
must have dropped the lanthorn which apparently he had been carrying.
There it lay on the floor, fortunately still alight, so Diogenes picked
it up and holding it high above his head he took a closer survey of the
man.

"You are Ben Isaje," he said calmly as he held the light close to the
man's face and then let it travel over his spare and shrinking form;
"your dress and nose do proclaim your race. Then pray tell me what was
the use of making such a to-do, seeing that I had business with you and
therefore meant to come in. . . . Now take this lanthorn and lock your
front door again, after which you had best conduct me to a room where I
can talk privately with you."

No doubt there was something in the stranger's face and attitude which
reassured the Jew, for after a few more seconds of anxious hesitance, he
did take the lanthorn from Diogenes' hand and then shuffled back to the
street door which he once more carefully barred and bolted.

After which with the aid of one of the many large keys which hung by a
steel chain in a bunch from his waist, he unlocked the door in the
passage and standing a little to one side he bade his belated guest walk
in.



Chapter XXVIII--CHECK

The room into which Diogenes now stepped looked at first sight to be
almost devoid of furniture: it was only when the Jew had entered and
placed the lanthorn down upon a wooden table at one end of the room that
the philosopher realized where he was.

The dark low walls showed themselves lined with solid oak chests and
presses, each with massive hinges and locks, rusty and covered with
dust, but firm enough to withstand for many an hour the depredations of
thieves. Ben Isaje was obviously a jeweller by trade and this was the
shop where he kept his precious goods: no wonder then that he looked
with obvious fear on his belated visitor with the powerful shoulders and
vigorous limbs, seeing that to all appearances he was at the moment
alone in the house.

Like all jewellers settled in the Dutch cities at this time Ben Isaje
carried on a number of other trades--some of which were perhaps not
altogether avowable. He acted as banker and moneylender, and general
go-between in financial transactions, some of which had political aims.
Discretion was of necessity his chief stock-in-trade, and his small
cargo of scruples he had thrown overboard long ago.

He was as ready now to finance a conspiracy against the Stadtholder as
against the Archduchess or Don John, provided he saw huge monetary
profits in the deal, and received bribes with a calm conscience both
from Maurice of Nassau and the Lord of Stoutenburg. But once he was
liberally paid he would hold to his bond: it was only by keeping the
good graces of all political parties that he remained free from
molestation.

Diogenes had known exactly what to expect when Nicolaes Beresteyn gave
him the letter and bond to present to Ben Isaje; he was, therefore, not
surprised in the least when he saw before him the true type of financial
agent whom already he had met more than once in his life before.

Ben Isaje, who was the depositary of vast sums of money placed in his
house by clients of substance and of note, wore a long, greasy kaftan of
black cloth, which was worn threadbare at the elbows and the knees, and
the shop wherein he transacted business both for governments and private
individuals which oft times involved several million guilders, had only
a few very ricketty chairs, one or two tables blackened with dirt and
age, and a piece of tattered carpet in one corner as sole expressions of
comfort.

But all these facts were of course none of Diogenes' business. At his
host's invitation he had sat down on one of the ricketty chairs and then
proceeded to extract some papers from out the inner lining of his
doublet.

"It would save time," he began dryly, and seeing that the man still eyed
him with suspicion, "if you would cease to deny that you are Ben Isaje,
jeweller of Rotterdam. I have here some papers which I must deliver into
the said Ben Isaje's own hands: they are writ by Mynheer Nicolaes
Beresteyn of Haarlem and do explain the purport of my visit here."

"From Nicolaes Beresteyn," quoth the other with an obvious sigh of
relief. "Why did you not name him before, sir? I am always at Mynheer
Nicolaes Beresteyn's commands. Indeed my name is Ben Isaje. An you have
cause to doubt it, sir..."

"Dondersteen! but I never did doubt it, man, from the moment I saw the
end of your hooked nose through the aperture of your door. So no more
talk now, I pray you. Time is getting on. Here is the letter which
Mynheer Beresteyn bade me present to you."

He handed over the letter to Ben Isaje which was writ in Beresteyn's own
hand and duly signed with his own name. The Jew took it from him and
drawing a chair close to the light on the table he unfolded the paper
and began to read.

Diogenes the while examined him attentively. He was the man who after
this night would have charge of Gilda, at the bidding of her own
brother; he--Diogenes--would after this night become a free agent, his
pledge to Beresteyn would be redeemed and he would be free--in an hour's
time mayhap--to work for his own ends--to restore the jongejuffrouw to
her sorrowing father, by taking her by force from this old Jew's keeping
and returning with utmost speed and in utmost secrecy the very way he
had just come. A fortune of 500,000 guilders awaited him in Haarlem,
provided he could cajole or threaten Gilda in keeping his share of her
original abduction a secret for all times.

How this could be done he had not yet thought on; but that it could be
done he had no manner of doubt. An interview with the lady either this
night or on the morrow, a promise to take her back to her father at once
if she swore a solemn oath never to betray him, and he might be back in
Leyden with her to-morrow eve and in possession of a fortune the
following day.

No wonder then, that with these happy thoughts whirling in his head, he
could scarcely restrain his temper while Ben Isaje read the long letter
through, and then re-read it again a second time.

"Have you not finished, sir?" he exclaimed at last with marked
impatience, "meseems the letter is explicit enough."

"Quite explicit, sir, I thank you," replied Ben Isaje, as he slowly
folded up the letter and slipped it into the pocket of his kaftan. "I am
to assure myself that the Jongejuffrouw Gilda Beresteyn, who is in your
charge, is safe and well and hath no grave complaints to make against
you, beyond that you did seize her by force in the streets of Haarlem.
After which I am to see that she is conveyed with respect and safety to
my own private house which is situate outside this city, or to any other
place which I might think fitting, and there to keep her in comfort
until such time as Mynheer Beresteyn desires. All that is quite clearly
set forth in the letter, sir, and also that in payment for your services
you are to receive the sum of 3,000 guilders which I am to give you in
exchange for the formal bond which you will duly present."

The Jew spoke very deliberately--too deliberately, in fact, for
Diogenes' endurance. Now he broke in impatiently.

"Is that all that is set forth in the letter?"

The Jew smiled somewhat sardonically.

"Not quite all," he said, "there is, of course, question in it of
payment to myself."

"And certain conditions too, I imagine attached to such payment. I know
that Mynheer Beresteyn is prudent beyond his years."

"There is but one condition, sir, which enjoins me to keep a watchful
eye on the jongejuffrouw once she is under my roof: to set a watch over
her and her movements, and never, if possible, to let her out of my
sight; he suggests that she might at any time make an attempt at escape,
which he strictly commands me to frustrate, and in point of fact he
desires me to look upon his sister as a prisoner of war not even to be
let out on parole."

Diogenes' low, prolonged whistle was his only comment on what he had
just heard.

"Mynheer Beresteyn also suggests to me, sir," continued the Jew with
marked affability, "the advisability of keeping a watchful eye over you
until such time as the jongejuffrouw is safely housed under my roof."

"You will find that injunction somewhat more difficult to follow, my
friend, than you imagine," retorted Diogenes with a ringing laugh, "an
you'll take my advice you will have extra watchmen posted outside your
door."

"I have valuable things as well as monies stored in this house, sir,"
rejoined the Jew simply. "I have a picked guard of ten men sleeping here
every night, and two watchmen outside my door until dawn."

Once more a long, low whistle escaped from the philosopher's lips.

"You are careful, my friend!" he said lightly.

"One has to be careful, sir, against thieves and house-breakers."

"And will your picked guard of ten men escort the jongejuffrouw to your
private house this night?"

But the other slowly shook his head in response.

"The lady and her escort," he said, "must, I fear me, accept the
hospitality of this hovel for to-night."

"But..."

"My wife is away, sir, visiting her father in Dordrecht. She will only
be home to-morrow. In the meanwhile my house is empty, and I am spending
my nights here as well as my days."

"But..."

"It will not be a great hardship for the jongejuffrouw, sir," broke in
the Jew again, "she will be made as comfortable for the night as may
be--she and her attendant too. I have a serving woman here who will see
to the beds and the supper. Then to-morrow I can send a messenger to my
private house to prepare my wife the moment she arrives, against the
coming of the jongejuffrouw. 'Tis situate but half a league from here,
and she would then be sure of a welcome equal to her worth."

Then as Diogenes was silent--since he felt perplexed and anxious at this
unlooked-for turn of events and this first check to his plans--Ben Isaje
continued with even greater affability than heretofore:

"Indeed, sir, and is it not better for the lady's own comfort? She will
be over-fatigued when she arrives, and delighted--I know--at finding a
nice bed and supper ready for her. Is it not all for the best?" he
reiterated pleasantly.

But Diogenes was not satisfied. He did not like the idea of losing sight
of Gilda altogether, quite so soon.

"I do not care to leave the jongejuffrouw," he said, "until I see her
safely on her way to your house."

"Nor need you leave her, sir. There is a small room at the back of this
shop, to which you are heartily welcome for the night. It is usually
occupied by some of my guard, but they can dispose themselves in other
rooms in the house. They are sturdy fellows, sir, and well-armed,"
continued the Jew, not without significance, "and I trust that they will
not disturb you with their noise. Otherwise, sir, you are most welcome
to sleep and sup under this roof."

Diogenes murmured vague thanks. Indeed, he was not a little troubled in
his mind. The plans which he had formed for the second abduction of
Gilda would prove more difficult of execution than he had supposed. The
Jew had more than the customary prudence of his race, and Beresteyn had
made that prudence and the measures which it suggested a condition of
payment.

Between the prudence of Beresteyn and that of Ben Isaje, it was
difficult to see how an adventurous plan could succeed. Three
philosophers against a picked guard of ten men, with two more to keep
watch outside the door, did not seem a promising venture. But Diogenes
would not have been the happy-go-lucky soldier of fortune that he was,
had he paused for long at this juncture in order to brood over likely
failure, or had he not been willing to allow Chance a goodly share in
the working out of his destiny.

It certainly was useless to argue any of these matters further with Ben
Isaje; fate had willed it that the philosopher should spend this night
under the same roof as the jongejuffrouw with a watch of twelve picked
men--not counting the Jew himself--set over him, and to rebel against
that fate now were puerile and useless.

So he murmured more audible thanks for the proffered hospitality, and
put on as good-humoured an air over the matter as he could.

From the distance now there came the sound of jingling bells and the
clatter of horses' hoofs upon the cobblestones of the streets.

"'Tis the jongejuffrouw," exclaimed Diogenes, springing to his feet.

"The sledge cannot turn into this narrow way," rejoined Ben Isaje, "will
you go meet the lady, sir, at the top of the street where she must needs
dismount, and escort her hither, while I go to give orders to the
serving woman. Your men," he added, as Diogenes at once rose and went to
the door, "and the horses can put up at the hostelry close by where no
doubt they have halted even now."

But already Diogenes was half way down the passage; soon he was at the
front door fumbling in the dark for the heavy bolts. Ben Isaje followed
him more deliberately, lanthorn in hand. He unlocked the door, and the
next moment Diogenes was once more out in the street, walking rapidly in
the direction whence came the occasional pleasing sound of the tinkling
of sleigh-bells.




Chapter XXIX--CHECK AGAIN

Though the jongejuffrouw seemed inexpressibly tired and weak, her
attitude toward Diogenes lost nothing of its cold aloofness. She was
peeping out under the hood of the sledge when he approached it, and at
sight of him she immediately drew in her head.

"Will you deign to descend, mejuffrouw," he said with that slight tone
of good-humoured mockery in his voice which had the power to irritate
her. "Mynheer Ben Isaje, whose hospitality you will enjoy this night,
lives some way up this narrow, insalubrious street, and he has bidden me
to escort you to his house."

Silently, and with a great show of passive obedience, Gilda made ready
to step out of the sledge.

"Come, Maria," she said curtly.

"The road is very slippery, mejuffrouw," he added warningly, "will you
not permit me--for your own convenience' sake--to carry you as far as
Ben Isaje's door?"

"It would not be for my convenience, sir," she retorted haughtily, "an
you are so chivalrously inclined perhaps you would kindly convey my
waiting woman thither in your arms."

"At your service, mejuffrouw," he said with imperturbable good temper.

And without more ado, despite her screams and her struggles, he seized
Maria round her ample waist and round her struggling knees at the moment
that she was stepping out of the sledge in the wake of her mistress.

The lamp outside the hostel at the corner illumined for a moment Gilda's
pale, wearied face, and Diogenes saw that she was trying her best to
suppress an insistent outburst of laughter.

"Hey there!" he shouted, "Pythagoras, Socrates, follow the jongejuffrouw
at a respectful distance and see that no harm come to her while I lead
the way with this feather-weight in my arms."

Nor did he deposit Maria to the ground until he reached the door of Ben
Isaje's house; here, when the mevrouw began to belabour him with her
tongue and with her fists, he turned appealingly to Gilda:

"Mejuffrouw," he said merrily, "is this abuse not unmerited? I did but
obey your behests and see how I must suffer for mine obedience."

But Gilda vouchsafed him no reply, and in the darkness he could not see
if her face looked angered or smiling.

Ben Isaje, hearing the noise that went on outside his house, had already
hastened to open the door. He welcomed the jongejuffrouw with obsequious
bows. Behind him in the dark passage stood a lean and towzled-looking
serving woman of uncertain years who was as obsequious as her master.
When Gilda, confused and wearied, and mayhap not a little tired,
advanced timorously into the narrow passage, the woman rushed up to her,
and almost kneeling on the floor in the lowliness of her attitude, she
kissed the jongejuffrouw's hand.

Diogenes saw nothing more of Gilda and Maria after that. They vanished
into the gloom up the ladder-like staircase, preceded by the towzled but
amiable woman, who by her talk and clumsy attempts at service had
already earned Maria's fulsome contempt.

"You, too, must be hungry, sir," murmured a smooth affable voice close
to Diogenes' elbow. "There is a bite and a drink ready for you; will you
sup, sir, ere you go to bed?"

Before, however, following Ben Isaje into the shop Diogenes exchanged a
few words with his brother philosophers, who, impassive and
unquestioning, had escorted the jongejuffrouw to the door, and now stood
there awaiting further orders. Diogenes suggested their getting supper
and a bed in the hostelry at the top of the street in company with their
driver; the horses too should all be stabled there.

"I am going to spend the night under this tumble-down roof," he said,
"but remember to sleep with one eye open and be prepared for a summons
from me at any hour of the night or morning. Until that comes, however,
do not leave the hostel. Care well for the horses, we may have need of
them to-morrow. Good-night! pleasant dreams! Do not forget that
to-morrow five hundred guilders will fill each of your pockets. In the
meanwhile here is the where-withal to pay for bed and supper."

He gave them some money and then watched the two quaint figures, the
long one and the round one, until they were merged in the blackness of
the narrow street. Then he went within. Ben Isaje once more closed and
bolted the front door and the two men then went together into the shop.

Here an appetizing supper had been laid ready upon the table and a
couple of tallow candles burned in pewter sconces.

Ben Isaje at once invited his guest to eat and drink.

"Not before we have settled our business together, master," said the
latter as he dragged a chair towards him, and sitting astride upon it,
with his shapely legs thrust well out before him, he once more drew a
paper from out the lining of his doublet.

"You are satisfied," he resumed after a slight pause, "that the lady
whom I have had the honour of bringing into your house is indeed the
Jongejuffrouw Gilda Beresteyn, sister of your client Mynheer Nicolaes
Beresteyn of Haarlem?"

"I am quite satisfied on that point," replied the Jew, whose thin, bent
form under the rigid folds of the black kaftan looked curiously weird in
the feeble yellow light. His face was narrow and also waxlike in hue and
the flickering candle-light threw quaint, distorted shadows around his
long hooked nose.

"Then," said Diogenes blandly while he held out a folded paper to Ben
Isaje, "Here is the bond signed by Mynheer Beresteyn wherein he orders
you to pay me the sum of 3,000 guilders in consideration of the services
which I have rendered him."

But Ben Isaje did not take the paper thus held out to him.

"It is too late," he said quietly, "to transact business to-night."

"Too late!" exclaimed Diogenes with a blunt oath. "What in thunder do
you mean?"

"I mean, sir, that you must try and curb your natural impatience until
to-morrow."

"But I will not curb mine impatience another moment, plepshurk," cried
the philosopher in a rage, "I have fulfilled my share of a bargain, 'tis
only a verdommte Keerl who would shirk paying his own share on the
nail."

"Nor would Mynheer Beresteyn desire me to shirk his responsibilities, I
assure you," rejoined the Jew suavely, "and believe me, sir, that you
will not lose one grote by waiting until the morrow. Let a good supper
and a comfortable bed freely offered you atone for this unimportant
delay. You still hold Mynheer Beresteyn's bond: to-morrow at the first
business hour you shall be paid."

"But why any delay at all?" thundered Diogenes, who indeed misliked this
way of doing business. "Why not pay me the money now?--at once, I will
gladly forego the supper and sit all night upon your door-step, but have
my money in my pocket."

"Unfortunately, sir," said Ben Isaje with imperturbable amiability, "I
am quite helpless in the matter. I am not the sole master of this
business, my wife's brother shares my profits and my obligations.
Neither of us is at liberty to pay out a large sum of money, save in the
presence of the other."

"You and your partner know how to trust one another." said Diogenes with
a laugh.

The Jew made no comment on this, only shrugged his shoulders in that
calm manner peculiar to his race, which suggests the Oriental
resignation to compelling fate.

Diogenes--inwardly fuming--thought over the matter very quietly for a
few moments: it was obviously as useless to argue this matter out with
Ben Isaje, as it had been to combat his dictum anent the jongejuffrouw
spending the night under his roof, and as usual the wholesome lesson of
life which the philosopher had learnt so thoroughly during his
adventurous career stood him in good stead now: the lesson was the one
which taught him never to waste time, temper or words over a purposeless
argument.

That one shrug of Isaje's shoulders had told him with dumb eloquence
that no amount of persuasion on his part would cause the banker to
swerve from his determination. The money would be forthcoming on the
morrow but not before, and there were ten picked men somewhere in the
house at the present moment to prevent Diogenes from settling this
matter in a primitive and efficient way by using his fists.

So in this instance too--disappointed though he was--he quickly regained
his good humour. After all, the Jew was right: a night's delay would not
spell a loss, and was well compensated for by a good supper and cosy
bed.

With his habitual light-hearted laugh and careless shrug of the
shoulders, he folded the paper up again and once more slipped it
carefully into the inner lining of his doublet.

"You are right, sir," he said, "'twere foolish to allow choler to spoil
the appetite. I am as hungry as the dog of a Spaniard. By your leave
I'll test the strength of your ale and to-morrow ere I leave your house
you shall pay me over the money in the presence of your trusting
brother-in-law. Until then the bond remains with me, and I hold myself
responsible for the safety of the jongejuffrouw. So I pray you be not
surprised if I forbid her removal from this house until I have exchanged
this bond for the sum of 3,000 guilders."

After which he drew his chair close to the table, and fell to all its
good cheer with a hearty will. Ben Isaje, hospitable and affable to the
last, waited on him with his own hands.




Chapter XXX--A NOCTURNE

It was only natural that, though tired as he was and enjoying an
unusually contented mind, Diogenes was nevertheless unable to get to
sleep.

He had had a very good supper and had parted at an early hour from his
host. Ben Isaje had been amiable even deferential to the last, and
indeed there had been nothing in the Jew's demeanour to arouse
misgivings in the most suspicious mind.

The lean and towzled serving woman had prepared a clean and comfortable
bed in the narrow alcove within the wall panelling of the small room
which adjoined the shop, but though the weary philosopher wooed sleep
with utmost persistence, it resolutely refused to be lured to his
pillow. At first the arrival of the night watchmen had kept him away:
for they made their entrance with much jangling of swords and loud and
lusty talk. There was apparently a good solid partition between his room
and the shop because as soon as the watchmen were settled at their post
their voices only reached Diogenes' ear like a muffled murmur.

A door gave from this room on the passage and this he had carefully
locked; but it hung loosely on its hinges and the slightest noise in the
house--a heavy footfall overhead or in the shop--would cause it to
rattle with a weird, intermittent sound which sent sleep flying baffled
away.

There were thoughts too which crowded in upon him--pleasant thoughts as
well as others that were a trifle sad--the immediate future with its
promise of a possible fortune loomed brightly enough, but the means to
that happy end was vaguely disturbing the light-hearted equanimity of
this soldier of fortune accustomed hitherto to grip Chance by the hair
whenever she rushed past him in her mad, whirling career, and without
heeding those who stood in his way.

But suddenly the whole thing seemed different, and Diogenes himself
could not have told you why it was so. Thoughts of the future and of the
promises which it held disturbed when they should have elated him: there
was a feeling in him which he could not analyse, a feeling wherein a
strange, sweet compassion seemed to form the main ingredient. The
philosopher who had hitherto viewed life through the rosy glasses of
unalterable good-humour, who had smiled at luck and ill-luck, laughed at
misfortune and at hope, suddenly felt that there was something in life
which could not be dismissed light-heartedly, something which really
counted, though it was so intangible and so elusive that even now he
could not give it a name.

The adventurer, who had slept soundly and dreamlessly in camp and on the
field, in the streets of a sacked town or the still smouldering
battlements of a fortress, could find no rest in the comfortable bed so
carefully prepared for him in the house of Ben Isaje the Jew. The murmur
of voices from the shop, low and monotonous, irritated his nerves, the
rattling of the door upon its hinges drove him well-nigh distracted.

He heard every noise in the house as they died out one by one; the voice
of the serving woman bidding the jongejuffrouw "good-night," the
shuffling footsteps of the old Jew, the heavy tread of Maria overhead,
and another, light and swift which--strangely enough--disturbed him more
completely than the louder sounds had done.

At last he could stand his present state no longer, he felt an
unpleasant tingling to the very tips of his fingers and the very roots
of his hair; it seemed to him as if soft noiseless steps wandered
aimlessly outside his door; furtive tiny animals with feet of velvet
must have run down the stairs and then halted, breathless and terrified,
on the other side of those rattling wooden panels.

He sat up in bed and groping for his tinder he struck a light; then he
listened again. Not a sound now stirred inside the house, only the wind
soughed through the loose tiles of the roof, and found out the chinks
and cracks of the ill-fitting window, through which it blew with a
sharp, whistling sound. From the shop there came the faint murmur of
some of the watchmen snoring at their post.

Beyond that, nothing. And yet Diogenes, whose keen ear was trained to
catch the flutter of every twig, the movement of every beast, could have
sworn that someone was awake at this moment, in this house besides
himself--someone who breathed and trembled on the other side of the
door.

Without a moment's hesitation he slipped on his clothes as quickly as he
could, then he pulled the curtains across in front of the alcove and
paused for one second longer in order to listen.

He had certainly not been mistaken. Through the stillness of the house
he heard the soughing of the wind, the snoring of the watchmen, and that
faint, palpitating sound outside in the passage--that sound which was as
the breathing of some living, frightened thing.

Then he walked as noiselessly as he could up to the door, and with a
sudden simultaneous turn of key and handle he opened it suddenly.

It opened outwards, and the passage beyond was pitch dark, but there in
front of him now, white as a ghost, white as the garment which she wore,
white as the marble statue of the Madonna which he had seen in the
cathedral at Prague, stood the jongejuffrouw.

The candle which she carried flickered in the draught, and thus
flickering it lit up her large blue eyes which she kept fixed upon him
with an expression half defiant yet wholly terrified.

Frankly he thought at first that this was an apparition, a vivid
embodiment of the fevered fancies which had been haunting him. No wonder
therefore that he made no movement toward her, or expressed the
slightest astonishment at seeing her there, all alone, in the middle of
the night, not five paces away from him.

Thus they stood looking at one another for some time in absolute
silence; she obviously very frightened, hesitating betwixt audacity and
immediate flight, and he puzzled and with a vague sense of unreality
upon him, a sense as of a dream which yet had in it the pulsating
vividness of life.

She was the first to break this silence which was beginning to be
oppressive. Gilda Beresteyn was not a timid woman nor was hers a
character which ever vacillated once her mind was made up. The step
which she had taken this night--daring and unconventional as it was--had
been well thought out: deliberately and seriously she had weighed every
danger, every risk which she ran, even those which in her pure-minded
innocence she was not able fully to appreciate. Now though she was
scared momentarily, she had no thought of turning back.

The old stiff-necked haughtiness of her race did not desert her for a
moment, even though she was obviously at a disadvantage in this
instance, and had come here as a suppliant.

"I wished to speak with you, sir," she said, and her voice had scarce a
tremor in it, "my woman was too timorous to come down and summon you to
my presence, as I had ordered her to do; so I was forced to come
myself."

Though she looked very helpless, very childlike in her innocence, she
had contrived to speak to him like a princess addressing a menial,
holding her tiny head very high and making visible efforts to still the
quivering of her lips.

There was something so quaint in this proud attitude of hers under the
present circumstances, that despite its pathos Diogenes' keen sense of
humour was not proof against it, and that accustomed merry smile of his
crept slowly over every line of his face.

"I am ever at your service, mejuffrouw," he said as gravely as he could,
"your major domo, your valet...I always await your commands."

"Then I pray you take this candle," she said coldly, "and stand aside
that I may enter. What I have to say cannot be told in this passage."

He took the candle from her, since she held it out to him, and then
stepped aside just as she had commanded, keeping the door wide open for
her to pass through into the room. She was holding herself very erect,
and with perfect self-possession she now selected a chair whereon to
sit. She wore the same white gown which she had on when first he laid
hands on her in the streets of Haarlem, and the fur cloak wherein she
had wrapped herself had partially slid from her shoulders.

Having sat down, close to the table, with one white arm resting upon it,
she beckoned peremptorily to him to close the door and to put the candle
down; all of which he did quite mechanically, for the feeling had come
back to him that the white figure before him was only a vision--or
mayhap a dream--from which, however, he hoped not to awaken too soon.

"At your command, mejuffrouw," was all that he said, and he remained
standing quite close to the door, with half the width of the room
between himself and her.

But to himself he murmured under his breath:

"St. Bavon and the Holy Virgin, do ye both stand by me now!"

"I do not know, sir," she began after awhile, "if my coming here at this
hour doth greatly surprise you, but in truth the matter which brings me
is so grave that I cannot give a thought to your feelings or to mine
own."

"And mine, mejuffrouw, are of such little consequence," he said
good-humouredly seeing that she appeared to wait for a reply, "that it
were a pity you should waste precious time in considering them."

"Nor have I come to talk of feelings, sir. My purpose is of deadly
earnestness. I have come to propose a bargain for your acceptance."

"A bargain?"

"Yes. A bargain," she reiterated. "One I hope and think that you will
find it worth while to accept."

"Then may I crave the honour of hearing the nature of that bargain,
mejuffrouw?" he asked pleasantly.

She did not give him an immediately reply but remained quite still and
silent for a minute or even two, looking with wide-open inquiring eyes
on the tall figure of the man who had--to her mind--done her such an
infinite wrong. She noted and acknowledged quite dispassionately the air
of splendour which became him so well--splendour of physique, of youth
and of strength, and those laughing eyes that questioned and that
mocked, the lips that always smiled and the straight brow with its noble
sweep which hid the true secret of his personality. And once again--as
on that evening at Leyden--she fell almost to hating him, angered that
such a man should be nothing better than a knave, a mercenary rogue paid
to lend a hand in unavowable deeds.

He stood her scrutiny as best he could, answering her look of haughty
condescension with one of humble deference; but the smile of gentle
irony never left his lips and tempered the humility of his attitude.

"You have owned to me, sir," resumed Gilda Beresteyn at last, "that you
have been paid for the infamous work which you are doing now; for laying
hands on me in the streets of Haarlem and for keeping me a prisoner at
the good will of your employer. To own to such a trade, sir, is to admit
oneself somewhat below the level of honest men. Is that not so?"

"Below the level of most men, mejuffrouw, I admit," he replied
imperturbably.

"Had it not been for that admission on your part, I would never have
thought of coming to you with a proposal which..."

"Which you never would have put before an honest man," he broke in with
perfect equanimity, seeing that she hesitated.

"You anticipate my thought, sir: and I am glad to find that you will
make my errand even easier than I had hoped. Briefly then let me tell
you--as I told you at Leyden--that I know who your paymaster is. A man
has thought to perpetrate a crime against me, for a reason which no
doubt he deemed expedient and which probably he has not imparted to you.
Reasons and causes I imagine, sir, are no concern of yours. You take
payment for your deeds and do not inquire into motives. Is that not so?"

This time Diogenes only made a slight bow in acknowledgement of her
question. He was smiling to himself more grimly than was his wont, for
he had before him the recollection of the Lord of Stoutenburg--cruel,
coarse, and evil, bullying and striking a woman--and of Nicolaes
Beresteyn--callous and cynical, bartering his sister's honour and safety
to ensure his own. To the one she had plighted her troth, the other was
her natural protector, dear to her through those sweet bonds of
childhood which bind brother and sister in such close affection. Yet
both are selfish, unscrupulous rogues, thought the philosopher, though
both very dear to her, and both honest men in her sight.

"That being so, sir," she resumed once more, "meseems that you should be
equally ready to do me service and to ask me no questions, provided that
I pay you well."

"That, mejuffrouw," he said quietly, "would depend on the nature of the
service."

"It is quite simple, sir. Let me explain. While my woman and I were
having supper upstairs, the wench who served us fell to gossiping,
telling us the various news of the day which have filtered through into
Rotterdam. Among other less important matters, sir, she told us that the
Prince of Orange had left his camp at Sprang in order to journey
northwards to Amsterdam. Yesterday he and his escort of one hundred
men-at-arms passed close to this city; they were making for Delft where
the Prince means to spend a day or two before proceeding further on his
journey. He sleeps at the Prinzenhof in Delft this night."

"Yes, mejuffrouw?" he said, for suddenly her manner had changed;
something of its coolness had gone from it, even if the pride was still
there. While she spoke a warm tinge of pink flooded her cheeks; she was
leaning forward, her eyes bright and glowing were fixed upon him with a
look of eagerness and almost of appeal, and her lips were moist and
trembling, whilst the words which she wished to speak seemed to be dying
in her throat.

"What hath the progress of the Prince of Orange to do with your most
humble and obedient servant?" he asked again.

"I must speak with the Prince of Orange, sir," she said while her voice
now soft and mellow fell almost like a prayer on his ear. "I must go to
him to Delft not later than to-morrow. Oh! you will not refuse me
this...you cannot...I..."

She had clasped her hands together, her eyes were wet with tears, and as
she pleaded, she bent forward so low in her chair, that it seemed for a
moment as if her knees would touch the ground. In the flickering
candle-light she looked divinely pretty thus, with all the cold air of
pride gone from her childlike face. A gentle draught stirred the fair
curls round her head, the fur cloak had completely slipped down from her
shoulders and her white dress gave more than ever the air of that
Madonna carved in marble which he had seen once in the cathedral at
Prague.

The philosopher passed a decidedly shaking hand across his forehead: the
room was beginning to whirl round him, the floor to give way under his
feet. He fell to thinking that the mild ale offered to him by Ben Isaje
had been more heady than he had thought.

"St. Bavon," he murmured to himself, "where in Heaven's name are ye now?
I asked you to stand by me."

It was one of those moments--perfect in themselves--when a man can
forget everything that pertains to the outer world, when neither
self-interest nor ordinary prudence will count, when he is ready to
jeopardize his life, his career, his future, his very soul for the
ecstasy which lies in the one heaven-born minute. Thus it was with this
philosopher, this man of the moment, the adventurer, the soldier of
fortune; the world which he had meant to conquer, the fortune which he
had vowed to win seemed to slip absolutely away from him. This
dream--for it was after all only a dream, it was just too beautiful to
be reality--the continuance of this dream seemed to him to be all that
mattered, this girl--proud and pleading--a Madonna, a saint, a child of
innocence, was the only perfect, desirable entity in this universe.

"St. Bavon, you rogue! you are playing me false!" he murmured, as the
last vestige of self-control and of prudence threatened to fall away
from him.

"Madonna," he said as with a quick movement he came forward and bent the
knee before her, "I entreat you to believe that whatever lies in my
power to do in your service, that will I gladly do. How can I refuse,"
he added whilst that immutable smile, gentle, humourous, faintly
ironical, once more lit up his face as he looked straight into hers,
"how can I refuse to obey since you deign to plead to me with those
lips? how can I withstand your appeal when it speaks to me through your
eyes?"

"You will let me do what I ask?" she exclaimed with a little cry of joy,
for his attitude was very humble and his voice yielding and kind; he was
kneeling at some little distance from her, which was quite becoming in a
mercenary knave.

"If it be in my power, Madonna!" he said simply.

"Then will I pay you well," she continued eagerly. "I have thought it
all out. I am rich you know, and my bond is as good as that of any man.
Do you but bring me inkhorn and paper, I will give you a bond for 4,000
guilders on Mynheer Ben Isaje himself, he hath monies of mine own in
trust and at interest. But if 4,000 guilders are not enough, I pray you
name your price; it shall be what you ask."

"What do you desire me to do, Madonna?"

"I desire you to escort me to Delft so that I may speak with the Prince
of Orange."

"The Prince of Orange is well guarded. No stranger is allowed to enter
his presence."

"I am not a stranger to him. My father is his friend; a word from me to
him, a ring of mine sent in with a request for an audience and he will
not refuse."

"And having entered the presence of the Stadtholder, mejuffrouw, what do
you propose to say to him?"

"That, sir, is naught to you," she retorted coldly.

"I pray you forgive me," he said, still humbly kneeling, "but you have
deigned to ask my help, and I'll not give it unless you will tell me
what your purpose is."

"You would not dare..."

"To make conditions for my services?" he said speaking always with
utmost deference, "this do I dare, mejuffrouw, and my condition is for
acceptance or refusal--as you command."

"I did not ask for your help, sir," she said curtly. "I offered to pay
you for certain services which I desire you to render me."

Already her look of pleading had gone. She had straightened herself up,
prouder and more disdainful than before. He dared to make conditions!
he! the mercenary creature whom any one could buy body and soul for
money, who took payment for doing such work as would soil an honest
man's hands! It was monstrous! impossible, unthinkable. She thought that
her ears had deceived her or that mayhap he had misunderstood.

In a moment at her words, at the scornful glance which accompanied them,
he had risen to his feet. The subtle moment had gone by; the air was no
longer oppressive, and the ground felt quite steady under him. Calm,
smiling, good-tempered, he straightened out his massive figure as if to
prepare himself for those shafts which her cruel little tongue knew so
well how to deal.

And inwardly he offered up a thanksgiving to St. Bavon for this cold
douche upon his flaming temper.

"I did not misunderstand you, mejuffrouw," he said lightly, "and I am
ready to do you service--under a certain condition."

She bit her lip with vexation. The miserable wretch was obviously not
satisfied with the amount which she had named as payment for his
services, and he played some weak part of chivalry and of honour in
order to make his work appear more difficult, and to extract a more
substantial reward from her. She tried to put into the glance which she
now threw on him all the contempt which she felt and which truly
nauseated her at this moment. Unfortunately she had need of him, she
could not start for Delft alone, marauders and footpads would stop her
ever reaching that city. Could she have gone alone she were not here now
craving the help of a man whom she despised.

"Meseems," she said coldly after a slight pause, "that you do wilfully
misunderstand our mutual positions. I am not asking you to do anything
which could offend your strangely susceptible honour, whose vagaries, I
own, I am unable to follow. Will 10,000 guilders satisfy your erratic
conscience? or did you receive more than that for laying hands on two
helpless women and dragging one--who has never done you any wrong--to a
depth of shame and sorrow which you cannot possibly fathom?"

"My conscience, mejuffrouw," he replied, seemingly quite unperturbed at
her contemptuous glance and insulting speech, "is, as you say, somewhat
erratic. For the moment it refuses to consider the possibility of
escorting you to Delft unless I know what it is that you desire to say
to the Prince of Orange."

"If it is a question of price..."

"It is not a question of price, mejuffrouw," he broke in firmly, "let
us, an you will allow it, call it a question of mine erratic
conscience."

"I am rich, sir...my private fortune..."

"Do not name it, mejuffrouw," he said jovially, "the sound of it would
stagger a poor man who has to scrape up a living as best he can."

"Forty thousand guilders, sir," she said pleading once more eagerly, "an
you will take me to Delft to-morrow."

"Were it ten hundred thousand, mejuffrouw, I would not do it unless I
knew what you wished to say to the Stadtholder."

"Sir, can I not move you," she implored, "this means more to me than I
can hope to tell you." Once again her pride had given way before this
new and awful fear that her errand would be in vain, that she had come
here as a suppliant before this rogue, that she had humbled her dignity,
entreated him almost knelt to him, and that he, for some base reason
which she could not understand, meant to give himself the satisfaction
of refusing the fortune which she did promise him.

"Can I not move you," she reiterated, appealing yet more earnestly, for,
womanlike, she could not forget that moment awhile ago, when he had
knelt instinctively before her, when the irony had gone from his smile,
and the laughter in his mocking eyes had yielded to an inward glow.

He shook his head, but remained unmoved.

"I cannot tell you, sir," she urged plaintively, "what I would say to
the Prince."

"Is it so deadly a secret then?" he asked.

"Call it that, an you will."

"A secret that concerns his life?"

"That I did not say."

"No. It was a guess. A right one methinks."

"Then if you think so, sir, why not let me go to him?"

"So that you may warn him?"

"You were merely guessing, sir..."

"That you may tell him not to continue his journey," he insisted,
speaking less restrainedly now, as he leaned forward closer to her, her
fair curls almost brushing against his cheek as they fluttered in the
draught.

"I did not say so," she murmured.

"Because there is a trap laid for him...a trap of which you know..."

"No, no!" she cried involuntarily.

"A trap into which he may fall...unknowingly...on his way to the north."

"You say so, sir," she moaned, "not I..."

"Assassins are on his track...an attempt will be made against his
life...the murderers lie in wait for him...even now...and you,
mejuffrouw, who know who those murderers are..."

A cry of anguish rose to her lips.

"No, no, no," she cried, "it is false...you are only guessing...remember
that I have told you nothing."

But already the tense expression on his face had gone. He drew himself
up to his full height once more and heaved a deep breath which sounded
like a sigh of satisfaction.

"Yet, in your candour, mejuffrouw, you have told me much," he said
quietly, "confirmed much that I only vaguely guessed. The Stadtholder's
life is in peril and you hold in your feeble little hands the threads of
the conspiracy which threatens him...is that now why you are here,
mejuffrouw...a prisoner, as you say, at the goodwill of my employer? I
am only guessing, remember, but on your face, meseems that I can read
that I do guess aright."

"Then you will do what I ask?" she exclaimed with a happy little gasp of
renewed hope.

"That, mejuffrouw, is I fear me impossible," he said quietly.

"Impossible? But--just now..."

"Just now," he rejoined with affected carelessness, "I said, mejuffrouw,
that I would on no account escort you to Delft without knowing what your
purpose is with the Prince of Orange. Even now I do not know, I merely
guessed."

"But," she entreated, "if I do own that you have guessed aright--partly
at any rate--if I do tell you that the Stadtholder's life might be
imperilled if I did not give him a timely word of warning, if..."

"Even if you told me all that, mejuffrouw," he broke in lightly, "if you
did bring your pride down so far as to trust a miserable knave with a
secret which he might sell for money on the morrow--even then, I fear
me, I could not do what you ask."

"But why not?" she insisted, her voice choking in her throat in the
agony of terrible doubt and fear.

"Because the man of whom you spoke just now, the man whom you love,
mejuffrouw, has been more farseeing, more prudent than you or I. He hath
put it out of my power to render you this service."

"How?"

"By warning Mynheer Ben Isaje against any attempt at escape on your
part, against any attempt at betrayal on mine. Mynheer Ben Isaje is
prepared: he hath a guard of ten picked men on the watch, and two more
men outside his door. If you tried to leave this house with me without
his consent he would prevent you, and I am no match alas! for twelve
men."

"Why should he guard me so?"

"Because he will not be paid if he keep not watch over you."

"But I'll swear to return straightway from Delft. I'll only speak with
the Prince and return immediately...Money! always money!" she cried with
sudden vehemence, "a great man's life, the honour of a house, the
salvation of the land, are these all to be sacrificed because of the
greed and cupidity of men?"

"Shall I call Mynheer Ben Isaje?" asked Diogenes placidly, "mayhap,
mejuffrouw, that you could persuade him more easily than me!"

But at this she rose to her feet as suddenly as if she had been stung:
the colour in her cheeks deepened, the tears were dry in her eyes.

"You," she exclaimed, and there was a world of bitter contempt in the
tome of her voice, "persuade you who have tricked and fooled me, even
while I began to believe in you? You, who for the past half hour have
tried to filch a secret from me bit by bit! with lying words you led me
into telling you even more than I should! and I, poor fool! thought that
I had touched your heart, or that at least there was some spark of
loyalty in you which mayhap prompted you to guess that the Prince was in
danger. Fool that I was! miserable, wretched fool! to think for a moment
that you would lend a hand in aught that was noble and chivalrous! I
would I had the power to raise the blush of shame in your cheeks, but
alas! the shame is only for me, who trusting in your false promises and
your lies have allowed my tongue to speak words which I would give my
life now to unsay--for me who thought that there was in you one feeble
spark of pity or of honour. Fool! fool that I was! when I forgot for one
brief moment that it was your greed and cupidity that were the props
without which this whole edifice of infamy had tottered long ago;
persuade you to do a selfish deed! you the abductor of women, the paid
varlet and mercenary rogue who will thieve and outrage and murder for
money!"

She sank back in her chair and, resting her arms upon the table, she
buried her face in them, for she had given way at last to a passionate
fit of weeping. The disappointment was greater than she could bear after
the load of sorrow which had been laid on her these past few days.

When she heard through the chatterings of a servant that the Stadtholder
was at Delft this very night, the memory of every word which she had
heard in the cathedral on New Year's Eve came back to her with renewed
vividness. Delft! she remembered the name so well and Ryswyk close by,
the only possible way for a northward journey! Then the molens which
Stoutenburg had said were his headquarters, where he stored arms and
ammunition and enough gunpowder to blow up the wooden bridge which spans
the Schie and over which the Stadtholder and his bodyguard must pass.

Every word that Stoutenburg and her brother and the others had spoken
that night, rang now in her ears like a knell: Delft, Ryswyk, the
molens, the wooden bridge! Delft, Ryswyk, the molens, the wooden bridge!
Delft...

Delft was quite near, less than four leagues away...the Stadtholder was
there now...he could be warned before it was too late...and she could
warn him without compromising her brother and his friends...Then it was
that she remembered that in the room below there slept a knave who would
do anything for gold.

Thus she had run down to him full of eagerness and full of hope. And now
he had refused to help her, and worse still had guessed at a secret
which, if he bartered or sold it, meant death to her brother and his
friends.

Contempt and hate had broken down her spirit. Smothering both, she was
even now ready to fall on her knees to plead with him, to pray, to
implore...if only that could have moved him...if only it meant safety
for the Stadtholder and not merely a useless loss of pride and of
dignity.

Anger and misery and utter hopelessness! they were causing her tears,
and she hated this man who had her in his power and mocked her in her
misery: and there was the awful thought that the Stadtholder was so
near--less than four leagues away! Why! had she been free she could have
run all the way to him--that hideous crime, that appalling tragedy in
which her brother would bear a hand, could be averted even now if she
were freed! Oh! the misery of it! the awful, wretched helplessness! in a
few days--hours mayhap--the Stadtholder would be walking straight into
the trap which his murderers had set for him...the broken bridge! the
explosion! the assassin at the carriage door! He saw it all as in a
vision of the future, and her brother in the midst of it all with hands
deeply stained in blood.

And she could avert it all--the crime, the sorrow, the awful, hideous
shame if only she were set free.

She looked up at last, ashamed of her tears, ashamed that a rogue should
have seen how keenly she suffered.

She looked up and turned to him once more. The flickering light of the
candles fell full upon his splendid figure and upon his face: it was the
colour of ashes, and there was no trace of his wonted smile around his
lips: the eyes too looked sunken and their light was hid beneath the
drooping lids. Her shafts which she had aimed with such deadly precision
had gone home at last: in the bitterness of her heart she apparently had
found words which had cut him like a lash.

Satisfied at least in this she rose to go.

"There is nothing more to say," she said as calmly as she could, trying
to still the quivering of her lips: "as you say, Mynheer Ben Isaje has
carefully taken the measure of your valour and it cannot come up to a
dozen picked men, even though life and honour, country and faith might
demand at least an effort on their behalf. I pray you open the door. I
would--for mine own sake as well as your own--that I had not thought of
breaking in on your rest."

Without a word he went to the door, and had his hand on the latch ready
to obey her, when something in his placid attitude irritated her beyond
endurance. Woman-like she was not yet satisfied: perhaps a thought of
remorse at her cruelty fretted her, perhaps she pitied him in that he
was so base.

Be that as it may, she spoke to him again:

"Have you nothing then to say?" she asked.

"What can I say, mejuffrouw?" he queried in reply, as the ghost of his
wonted smile crept swiftly back into his pale face.

"Methought no man would care to be called a coward by a woman, and
remain silent under the taunt."

"You forget, mejuffrouw," he retorted, "that I am so much less than a
man...a menial, a rogue, a vagabond--so base that not even the slightest
fear of me did creep into your heart...you came to me, here, alone at
dead of night with an appeal upon your lips, yet you were not afraid,
then you struck me in the face like you would a dog with a whip, and you
were no more afraid of me than of the dog whom you had thrashed. So base
am I then that words of mine are not worthy of your ear. Whatever I
said, I could not persuade you that for one man to measure his strength
against twelve others were not an act of valour, but one of senseless
foolishness. I might tell you that bravery lies oft in prudence but
seldom in foolhardiness, but this I know you are not in a mood now to
believe. I might even tell you," he continued with a slight return to
his wonted light-hearted carelessness, "I might tell you that certain
acts of bravery cannot be accomplished without the intervention of
protecting saints, and that I have found St. Bavon an admirable saint to
implore in such cases, but this I fear me you are not like to
understand. So you see, mejuffrouw, that whatever I said I could not
prove to you that I am less of a blackguard than I seem."

"You could at least prove it to this extent," she retorted, "by keeping
silence over what you may have guessed."

"You mean that I must not sell the secret which you so nearly
betrayed...have no fear, mejuffrouw, my knowledge of it is so scanty
that the Stadtholder would not give me five guilders for it."

"Will you swear..."

"Such a miserable cur as I am, mejuffrouw," he said lightly, "is surely
an oath-breaker as well as a liar and a thief--what were the good of
swearing?...But I'll swear an you wish..." he added gaily.

"Surely you..." she began.

But with a quick gesture he interrupted her.

"Dondersteen, mejuffrouw," he said more firmly than he had yet spoken
before, "if beauty in you is tempered with pity, I entreat you to spare
me now: even knaves remember become men sometimes and my patron Saint
Bavon threatens to leave me in the lurch."

He held open the door for her to pass through, and gravely held out one
of the pewter candles to her. She could not help but take it, though
indeed she felt that the last word between that rogue and herself had
not by any means been spoken yet. But she hardly looked at him as she
sailed past him out of the room, her heavy skirt trailing behind her
with a soft hissing sound.

As soon as she heard the door shut to behind her, she ran up the stairs
back to her own room with all speed, like a frightened hare.

Had she remained in the passage one instant longer she would have heard
a sound which would have terrified her; it was the sound of a prolonged
and ringing laugh which roused the echoes of this sleeping house, but
which had neither mirth nor joy in its tone, and had she then peeped
through a key-hole she would have seen a strange sight. A man who in the
flickering candlelight looked tall and massive as a giant took up one of
the wooden chairs in the room, and after holding it out at arm's length
for a few seconds, he proceeded to smash it viciously bit by bit until
it lay a mass of broken débris at his feet.




Chapter XXXI--THE MOLENS

Less than half a league to the southeast of Ryswyk--there where the
Schie makes a sharp curve up toward the north--there is a solitary
windmill--strange in this, that it has no companions near it, but stands
quite alone with its adjoining miller's hut nestling close up against it
like a tiny chick beside the mother hen, and dominates the mud flats and
lean pastures which lie for many leagues around.

On this day which was the fourth of the New Year, these mud flats and
the pasture land lay under a carpet of half-melted snow and ice which
seemed to render the landscape more weird and desolate, and the molens
itself more deserted and solitary. Yet less than half a league away the
pointed gables and wooden spires of Ryswyk break the monotony of the
horizon line and suggest the life and movement pertaining to a city,
however small. But life and movement never seem to penetrate as far as
this molens; they spread their way out toward 'S Graven Hage and the
sea.

Nature herself hath decreed that the molens shall remain solitary and
cut off from the busy world, for day after day and night after night
throughout the year a mist rises from the mud flats around and envelops
the molens as in a shroud. In winter the mist is frosty, in summer at
times it is faintly tinged with gold, but it is always there and through
it the rest of the living world--Ryswyk and 'S Graven Hage and Delft
further away only appear as visions on the other side of a veil.

Just opposite the molens, some two hundred paces away to the east, the
waters of the Schie rush with unwonted swiftness round the curve; so
swiftly in fact that the ice hardly ever forms a thick crust over them,
and this portion of an otherwise excellent waterway is--in the
winter--impracticable for sleighs.

Beyond this bend in the river, however, less than half a league away,
there is a wooden bridge, wide and strongly built, across which it is
quite easy for men and beasts to pass who have come from the south and
desire to rejoin the great highway which leads from Delft to Leyden.

In the morning of that same fourth day in the New Year, two men sat
together in what was once the weighing-room of the molens; their fur
coats were wrapped closely round their shoulders, for a keen
north-westerly wind had found its way through the chinks and cracks of
tumble-down doors and ill-fitting window frames.

Though a soft powdery veil--smooth as velvet to the touch and made up of
a flour and fine dust--lay over everything, and the dry, sweet smell of
corn still hung in the close atmosphere, there was little else in this
room now that suggested the peaceful use for which it had been
originally intended.

The big weighing machines had been pushed into corners, and all round
the sloping walls swords, cullivers and muskets were piled in orderly
array, also a row of iron boxes standing a foot or so apart from one
another and away from any other objects in the room.

The silence which reigned over the surrounding landscape did not find
its kingdom inside this building, for a perpetual hum, a persistent
buzzing noise as of bees in their hives, filtrated through the floor and
the low ceiling of this room. Men moved and talked and laughed inside
the molens, but the movement and the laughter were subdued as if muffled
in that same mantle of mist which covered the outside world.

The two men in the weighing-room were sitting at a table on which were
scattered papers, inkhorns and pens, a sword, a couple of pistols and
two or three pairs of skates. One of them was leaning forward and
talking eagerly:

"I think you can rest satisfied, my good Stoutenburg," he said, "our
preparations leave nothing to be desired. I have just seen Jan, and
together we have despatched the man Lucas van Sparendam to Delft. He is
the finest spy in the country, and can ferret out a plan or sift a
rumour quicker than any man I know. He will remain at Delft and keep the
Prinzenhof under observation: and will only leave the city if anything
untoward should happen, and then he will come straight here and report
to us. He is a splendid runner, and can easily cover the distance
between Delft and this molens in an hour. That is satisfactory is it
not?"

"Quite," replied Stoutenburg curtly.

"Our arrangements here on the other hand are equally perfect," resumed
Beresteyn eagerly, "we have kept the whole thing in our hands...
Heemskerk and I will be at our posts ready to fire the gunpowder at the
exact moment when the advance guard of the Prince's escort will have
gone over the bridge...you, dagger in hand, will be prepared to make a
dash for the carriage itself...our men will attack the scattered and
confused guard at a word from van Does...What could be more simple, more
perfect than that? Yourself, Heemskerk, van Does and I...all of one
mind...all equally true, silent and determined...You seem so restless
and anxious...Frankly I do not understand you."

"It is not of our preparations or of our arrangements that I am
thinking, Nicolaes," said Stoutenburg sombrely, "these have been thought
out well enough. Nothing but superhuman intervention or treachery can
save the Stadtholder--of that am I convinced. Neither God nor the devil
care to interfere in men's affairs--we need not therefore fear
superhuman intervention. But 'tis the thought of treachery that haunts
me."

"Bah!" quoth Beresteyn with a shrug of the shoulders, "you have made a
nightmare of that thought. Treachery? there is no fear of treachery.
Yourself, van Does, Heemskerk and I are the only ones who know anything
at this moment of our plans for to-morrow. Do you suspect van Does of
treachery, or Heemskerk, or me?"

"I was not thinking of Heemskerk or of van Does," rejoined Stoutenburg,
"and even our men will know nothing of the attack until the last moment.
Danger, friend, doth not lie in or around the molens; it lurks at
Rotterdam and hath name Gilda."

"Gilda! What can you fear from Gilda now?"

"Everything. Have you never thought on it, friend? Jan, remember, lost
track of that knave soon after he left Haarlem. At first he struck
across the waterways in a southerly direction and for awhile Jan and the
others were able to keep him in sight. But soon darkness settled in and
along many intricate backwaters our rogue was able to give them the
slip."

"I know that," rejoined Beresteyn somewhat impatiently. "I was here in
the early morning when Jan reported to you. He also told you that he and
his men pushed on as far as Leyden that night and regained the road to
Rotterdam the following day. At Zegwaard and again at Zevenhuizen they
ascertained that a party consisting of two women in a sledge and an
escort of three cavaliers had halted for refreshments at those places
and then continued their journey southwards. Since then Jan has found
out definitely that Gilda and her escort arrived early last night at the
house of Ben Isaje of Rotterdam, and he came straight on here to report
to you. Frankly I see nothing in all this to cause you so much anxiety."

"You think then that everything is for the best?" asked Stoutenburg
grimly, "you did not begin to wonder how it was that--as Jan ascertained
at Zegwaard and at Zevenhuizen--Gilda continued her journey without any
protest. According to the people whom Jan questioned she looked sad
certainly, but she was always willing to restart on her way. What do you
make of that, my friend?"

Once more Beresteyn shrugged his shoulders.

"Gilda is proud," he said. "She hath resigned herself to her fate."

Stoutenburg laughed aloud.

"How little you--her own brother--know her," he retorted. "Gilda
resigned? Gilda content to let events shape themselves--such events as
those which she heard us planning in the Groote Kerk on New Year's Eve?
Why, my friend, Gilda will never be resigned, she will never be content
until she hath moved earth and heaven to save the Stadtholder from my
avenging hand!"

"But what can she do now? Ben Isaje is honest in business matters. It
would not pay him to play his customers false. And I have promised him
two thousand guilders if he keeps her safely as a prisoner of war, not
even to be let out on parole. Ben Isaje would not betray me. He is too
shrewd for that."

"That may be true of Ben Isaje himself; but what of his wife? his sons
or daughters if he have any? his serving wenches, his apprentices and
his men? How do you know that they are not amenable to promises of heavy
bribes?"

"But even then..."

"Do you not think that at Rotterdam every one by now knows the Prince's
movements? He passed within half a league of the town yesterday; there
is not a serving wench in that city at this moment who does not know
that Maurice of Nassau slept at Delft last night and will start
northwards to-morrow."

"And what of that?" queried Beresteyn, trying to keep up a semblance of
that carelessness which he was far from feeling now.

"Do you believe then that Gilda will stay quietly in the house of Ben
Isaje, knowing that the Prince is within four leagues of her
door?...knowing that he will start northwards to-morrow...knowing that
my headquarters are here--close to Ryswyk...knowing in fact all that she
knows?"

"I had not thought on all that," murmured Beresteyn under his breath.

"And there is another danger too, friend, greater perhaps than any
other," continued Stoutenburg vehemently.

"Good G--d, Stoutenburg, what do you mean?"

"That cursed foreign adventurer--"

"What about him?"

"Have you then never thought of him as being amenable to a bribe from
Gilda."

"In Heaven's name, man, do not think of such awful eventualities!"

"But we must think of them, my good Beresteyn. Events are shaping
themselves differently to what we expected. We must make preparations
for our safety accordingly, and above all realise the fact that Gilda
will move heaven and earth to thwart us in our plans."

"But she can do nothing," persisted Beresteyn sullenly, "without
betraying me. In Haarlem it was different. She might have spoken to my
father of what she knew, but she would not do so to a stranger, knowing
that with one word she can send me first and all of you afterwards to
the scaffold."

Stoutenburg with an exclamation of angry impatience brought his clenched
fist crashing down upon the table.

"Are you a child, Beresteyn," he cried hotly, "or are you willfully
blind to your danger and to mine? I tell you that Gilda will never allow
me to kill the Prince of Orange without raising a finger to save him."

"But what can I do?"

"Send for Gilda at once, to-night," urged Stoutenburg, "convey her under
escort hither...in all deference...in all honour... she would be here
under her brother's care."

"A woman in this place at such a moment," cried Beresteyn; "you are mad,
Stoutenburg."

"I shall go mad if she is not here," rejoined the other more calmly,
"the fear has entered into my soul, Nicolaes, that Gilda will yet betray
us at the eleventh hour. That fear is an obsession...call it premonition
if you will, but it unmans me, friend."

Beresteyn was silent now. He drew his cloak closer round his shoulders,
for suddenly he felt a chill which seemed to have crept into his bones.

"But it is unpractical, man," he persisted with a kind of sullen
despair. "Gilda and another woman here...to-morrow...when not half a
league away..."

"Justice will be meted out to a tyrant and an assassin," broke in
Stoutenburg quietly. "Gilda is not a woman as other women are, though in
her soul now she may be shrinking at the thought of this summary
justice, she will be strong and brave when the hour comes. In any case,"
he added roughly, "we can keep her closely guarded, and in the miller's
hut, with the miller and his wife to look after her, she will be as safe
and as comfortable as circumstances will allow. We should have her then
under our own eyes and know that she cannot betray us."

As usual Beresteyn was already yielding to the stronger will, the more
powerful personality of his friend. His association with Stoutenburg had
gradually blunted his finer feelings; like a fly that is entangled in
the web of a spider, he tried to fight against the network of intrigue
and of cowardice which hemmed him in more and more closely with every
step that he took along the path of crime. He was filled with remorse at
thought of the wrong which he had done to Gilda, but he was no longer
his own master. He was being carried away by the tide of intrigue and by
the fear of discovery, away from his better self.

"You should have thought on all that sooner, Stoutenburg," he said in
final, feeble protest, "we need never have sent Gilda to Rotterdam in
the company of a foreign adventurer of whom we knew nothing."

"At the time it seemed simple enough," quoth Stoutenburg impatiently,
"you suggested the house of Ben Isaje the banker and it seemed an
excellent plan. I did not think of distance then, and it is only since
we arrived at Ryswyk that I realized how near all these places are to
one another, and how easy it would be for Gilda to betray us even now."

Beresteyn was silent after that. It was easy to see that his friend's
restless anxiety was eating into his own soul. Stoutenburg watched him
with those hollow glowing eyes of his that seemed to send a magnetic
current of strong will-power into the weaker vessel.

"Well! perhaps you are right," said Beresteyn at last, "perhaps you are
right. After all," he added half to himself, "perhaps I shall feel
easier in my conscience when I have Gilda near me and feel that I can at
least watch over her."

Stoutenburg, having gained his point, jumped to his feet and drew a deep
breath of satisfaction.

"That's bravely said," he exclaimed. "Will you go yourself at once to
Rotterdam? with two or three of our most trusted men you could bring
Gilda here with absolute safety; you only need make a slight detour when
you near Delft so as to avoid the city. You could be here by six o'clock
this evening at the latest, and Jan in the meanwhile with a contingent
of our stalwarts shall try and find that abominable plepshurk again and
bring him here too without delay."

"No, no," said Beresteyn quickly, "I'll not go myself. I could not bear
to meet Gilda just yet. I will not have her think that I had a hand in
her abduction and my presence might arouse her suspicions."

Stoutenburg laughed unconcernedly.

"You would rather that she thought I had instigated the deed. Well!" he
added with a careless shrug, "my shoulders are broad enough to bear the
brunt of her wrath if she does. An you will not go yourself we will give
full instructions to Jan. He shall bring Gilda and her woman hither with
due respect and despatch, and lay the knave by the heels at the same
time. Ten or a dozen of our men or even more can easily be spared
to-day, there is really nothing for them to do, and they are best out of
mischief by being kept busy. Now while I go to give Jan his instructions
do you write a letter to Ben Isaje, telling him that it is your wish
that Gilda should accompany the bearer of your sign-manual."

"But..."

"Tush, man!" exclaimed Stoutenburg impatiently, while a tone of contempt
rang through his harsh voice, "You can so word the letter that even if
it were found it need not compromise you in any way. You might just have
discovered that your sister was in the hands of brigands, and be sending
an escort to rescue her; Gilda will be grateful to you then and ready to
believe in you. Write what you like, but for God's sake write quickly.
Every moment's delay drives me well-nigh distraught."

With jerky, feverish movements he pushed paper and inkhorn nearer to
Beresteyn, who hesitated no longer and at once began to write.
Stoutenburg went to the door and loudly called for Jan.

Ten minutes later the letter was written, folded and delivered into
Jan's keeping, who was standing at attention and recapitulating the
orders which had been given him.

"I take a dozen men with me," he said slowly, "and we follow the course
of the Schie as far as Rotterdam. Fortunately it is passable practically
the whole of the way."

Stoutenburg nodded in approval.

"I present this letter to Mynheer Ben Isaje, the banker," continued Jan,
"and ask him at once to apprise the jongejuffrouw that she deign to
accompany us."

"Yes. That is right," quoth Stoutenburg, "but remember that I want you
above all things to find that foreigner again. You said that he was
sleeping last night in Mynheer Ben Isaje's house."

"So I understood, my lord."

"Well! you must move heaven and earth to find him, Jan. I want him
here--a prisoner--remember! Do not let him slip through your fingers
this time. It might mean life or death to us all. By fair means or foul
you must lay him by the heels."

"It should not be difficult, my lord," assented Jan quietly. "I will
pick my men, and I have no doubt that we shall come across the foreigner
somewhere in the neighbourhood. He cannot have gone far, and even if he
left the city we will easily come on his track."

"That's brave, Jan. Then come straight back here; two or three of your
men can in the meanwhile escort the jongejuffrouw, who will travel by
sledge. You must avoid Delft of course, and make a détour there."

"I had best get horses at Rotterdam, my lord; the sledge can follow the
left bank of the Schie all the way, which will be the best means of
avoiding Delft."

"And remember," concluded Stoutenburg in his most peremptory manner,
"that you must all be back here before ten o-clock to-night. The
jongejuffrouw first and you with the foreigner later. It is not much
more than eight o'clock now; you have the whole day before you. Let the
sledge pull up outside the miller's hut, everything will be ready there
by then for the jongejuffrouw's reception; and let your watchwords be
'Silence, discretion, speed!'--you understand?"

"I understand, my lord," replied Jan simply as he gave a military
salute, then quietly turned on his heel and went out of the room.

The two friends were once more alone straining their ears to catch every
sound which came to them now from below. Muffled and enveloped in the
mist, the voice of Jan giving brief words of command could be distinctly
heard, also the metallic click of skates and the tramping of
heavily-booted feet upon the ground. But ten minutes later all these
sounds had died away. Jan and his men had gone to fetch Gilda--the poor
little pawn moved hither and thither by the ruthless and ambitious hands
of men.

Beresteyn had buried his head in his hands, in a sudden fit of
overpowering remorse. Stoutenburg looked on him silently for awhile, his
haggard face appeared drawn and sunken in the pale grey light which
found its way through the tiny window up above. Passion greater than
that which broke down the spirit of his friend, was tearing at his
heart-strings; ambition fought with love, and remorse with
determination. But through it all the image of Gilda flitted before his
burning eyes across this dimly-lighted room, reproachful and sweet and
tantalizingly beautiful. The desire to have her near him in the greatest
hour of his life on the morrow, had been the true mainspring which had
prompted him to urge Beresteyn to send for her. It seemed to him that
Gilda's presence would bring him luck in his dark undertaking so heavily
fraught with crime, and with a careless shrug of the shoulders he was
ready to dismiss all thoughts of the wrong which he had done her, in
favour of his hopes, his desire, his certainty that a glorious future in
his arms would compensate her for all that he had caused her to endure.




Chapter XXXII--A RUN THROUGH THE NIGHT

That same morning of this forth day of the New Year found Gilda
Beresteyn sitting silent and thoughtful in the tiny room which had been
placed at her disposal in the house of Mynheer Ben Isaje, the banker.

A few hours ago she had come back to it, running like some frightened
animal who had just escaped an awful--but unknown--danger, and had
thrown herself down on the narrow bed in the alcove in an agony of soul
far more difficult to bear than any sorrow which had assailed her during
the last few days.

A great, a vivid ray of hope had pierced the darkness of her misery, it
had flickered low at first, then had glowed with wonderful intensity,
flickered again and finally died down as hope itself fell dying once
more in the arms of despair.

The disappointment which she had endured then amounted almost to
physical pain; her heart ached and beat intolerably and with that
disappointment was coupled a sense of hatred and of humiliation,
different to any suffering she had ever had to bear before.

A man could have helped her and had refused: he could have helped her to
avert a crime more hideous than any that had ever blackened the pages of
this country's history. With that one man's help she could have stopped
that crime from being committed and he had refused... nay more! he had
first dragged her secret from her, word by word, luring her into
thoughts of security with the hope that he dangled before her.

He knew everything now; she had practically admitted everything save the
identity of those whose crime she wished to avert. But even that
identity would be easy for the man to guess. Stoutenburg, of course, had
paid him to lay hands on her...but her brother Nicolaes was
Stoutenburg's friend and ally, and his life and that of his friends were
now in the hands of that rogue, who might betray them with the knowledge
which he had filched from her.

No wonder that hour after hour she lay prostrate on the bed, while these
dark thoughts hammered away in her brain. The Prince of Orange walking
unknowingly straight to his death, or Nicolaes--her brother--and his
friends betrayed to the vengeance of that Prince. Ghosts of those who
had already died--victims to that same merciless vengeance--flitted in
the darkness before her feverish fancy: John of Barneveld, the Lord of
Grneveld, the sorrowing widows and the fatherless children ...and in
their trail the ghost of the Stadtholder, William the Silent
murdered--as his son would be--at Delft, close to Ryswyk and the molens,
where even now Nicolaes her brother was learning the final lesson of
infamy.

When in the late morning Maria came into the room to bring her mistress
some warm milk and bread, and to minister to her comforts, she found her
dearly loved jongejuffrouw wide-eyed and feverish.

But not a word could she get out of Gilda while she dressed her hair,
except an assurance that their troubles--as far as Maria could gauge
them--would soon be over now, and that in twenty-four hours mayhap they
would be escorted back to Haarlem.

"When, I trust, that I shall have the joy of seeing three impudent
knaves swing on gibbets in the market place," quoth Maria decisively,
"and one of them--the most impudent of the lot--drawn and quartered, or
burnt at the stake!" she added with savage insistence.

When Gilda was ready dressed, she asked for leave to speak with Mynheer
Ben Isaje. The Jew, obsequious and affable, received her with utmost
deference, and in a few words put the situation before her. Mevrouw
Isaje, he said, was away from home: he had not been apprised of the
jongejuffrouw's coming, or his wife would have been ready to receive her
at his private house, which was situate but half a league out of
Rotterdam. But Mevrouw Isaje would return from the visit which she had
been paying to her father in the course of the afternoon, until that
hour Mynheer Ben Isaje begged that the jongejuffrouw would look upon
this miserable hovel as her property and would give what orders she
desired for the furtherance of her comfort. In the afternoon, he
concluded, an escort would once more be ready to convey the
jongejuffrouw to that same private house of his, where there was a nice
garden and a fine view over the Schie instead of the confined outlook on
squalid houses opposite, which was quite unworthy of the jongejuffrouw's
glance.

Gilda did not attempt to stay the flow of Ben Isaje's eloquence: she
thanked him graciously for everything that he had already done for her
comfort.

Maria--more loquacious, and bubbling over with indignation--asked him
when this outrageous confinement of her person and that of her exalted
mistress at the hands of brigands would cease, and if Mynheer Ben Isaje
was aware that such confinement against the jongejuffrouw's will would
inevitably entail the punishment of hanging.

But thereupon Mynheer Ben Isaje merely rubbed his thin hands together
and became as evasive first and then as mute as only those of his race
can contrive to be.

Then Gilda--making an effort to speak unconcernedly--asked him what had
become of the men who had brought her hither from Haarlem.

"They spent half the night eating and drinking at the tavern,
mejuffrouw," said the Jew blandly.

"Ah!" rejoined Gilda quietly, "methought one of them had found
hospitality under your roof."

"So he had, mejuffrouw. But this morning when I called him--for I had
some business to transact with him--I found his room already empty. No
doubt he had gone to join his companions at the tavern. But the rascal's
movements need not disturb the jongejuffrouw for one moment. After
to-day she need never set eyes on him again."

"Save when he is hanging on a gibbet in the Groote Markt," broke in
Maria viciously. "I for one never go to see such sights, but when that
rascal hangs it shall be a holiday for me to go and get a last look at
him."

Later on in the day, Ben Isaje, more affable and obsequious than he had
ever been, came to announce to the jongejuffrouw that her sledge was
awaiting her at the top of the street.

Silently and resignedly as had been her wont these past two days Gilda
Beresteyn, wrapping her cloak and hood closely round her, followed
Mynheer Ben Isaje out of the house. Maria walked immediately behind her,
muttering imprecations against brigands, and threatening dire
punishments against every Jew.

Though it was only three o'clock in the afternoon, it was already quite
dark in this narrow street, where tall gables almost touched one another
at the top: only from the tiny latticed windows feeble patches of yellow
light glimmered weirdly through the fog.

The sledge was waiting at the top of the street, as Mynheer Ben Isaje
had said. Gilda shuddered as soon as she caught sight of it again; it
represented so much that was vivid and tangible of her present anxiety
and sorrow. It stood upon an open market-place, with the driver sitting
up at his post and three horses harnessed thereto. The small tavern was
at the corner on the left, and as Gilda walked rapidly up to the sledge,
she saw two of the men who had been escorting her hitherto, the thin man
with the abnormally long legs, and the fat one with the red nose and
round eyes: but of the third tall, splendid figure she did not catch one
glimpse.

The two men nudged one another as she passed, and whispered excitedly to
one another, but she could not hear what they said, and the next moment
she found herself being handed into the vehicle by Ben Isaje, who
thereupon took humble leave of her.

"You are not coming with us, mynheer?" she asked in astonishment.

"Not...not just yet, mejuffrouw," murmured the Jew somewhat
incoherently, "it is too early yet in the afternoon...er...for me
to...to leave my business...I have the honour to bid the jongejuffrouw
'Godspeed.'"

"But," said Gilda, who suddenly misliked Ben Isaje's manner, yet could
not have told you why, "the mevrouw--your wife--she is ready to receive
me?"

"Of a truth--certainly," replied the man. Gilda would have given much to
question him further. She was quite sure that there was something
strange in his manner, something that she mistrusted; but just as she
was about to speak again, there was a sudden command of "Forward!" the
driver cracked his whip, the harness jingled, the sledge gave a big
lurch forward and the next moment Gilda found herself once more being
rushed at great speed through the cold night air.

She could not see much round her, for the fog out in the open seemed
even more dense than it was inside the city and the darkness of the
night crept swiftly through the fog. All that she knew for certain was
that the city was very soon left behind, that the driver was urging his
horses on to unusual speed, and that she must be travelling along a
river bank, because when the harness rattled and jingled less loudly
than usual, she could hear distinctly the clink of metal skates upon the
ice, as wayfarers no doubt were passing to and fro.

Solitary as she was--for Maria and her eternal grumblings were poor
company--she fell to thinking again over the future, as she had done not
only last night but through the past few interminable days; it almost
seemed as if she had never, never thought of anything else, as if those
same few days stretched out far away behind her into dim and nebulous
infinity.

During those days she had alternately hoped and feared and been
disappointed only to hope again: but the disappointment of last night
was undoubtedly the most bitter that she had yet experienced. So bitter
had it been that for a time--after its intense poignancy had gone--her
faculties and power of thinking had become numbed, and now--very
gradually, unknown at first even to herself, hope shook itself free from
the grip of disappointment and peeped up at her out of the abyss of her
despair.

Did that unscrupulous knave really have the last word in the matter? had
his caprice the power to order the destiny of this land and the welfare
of its faith?

Bah! the very thought was monstrous and impossible. Was the life of the
Prince of Orange to be sacrificed because a rascal would not help her to
give him that word of warning which might save him even now at the
eleventh hour?

No! Gilda Beresteyn refused to believe that God--who had helped the
armies of the Netherlands throughout their struggle against the might of
Spain--would allow a rogue to have so much power. After all, she was not
going to be shut up in prison! she was going to the house of ordinary,
respectable burghers; true, they were of alien and of despised faith,
but they were well-to-do, had a family, serving women and men.

Surely among these there would be one who--amenable to cajoleries or to
promises--would prove to be the instrument sent by God to save the
Stadtholder from an assassin's dagger!

Gilda Beresteyn, wrapped in this new train of thought, lost count of
time, of distance and of cold: she lived during one whole hour in the
happiness of this newly-risen hope, making plans, conjecturing,
rehearsing over in her mind what she would say, how she would probe the
loyalty, the kindness of those who would be around her to-night.

Delft was so near! and after all even Maria might be bribed to forget
her fears and her grievances and to become that priceless instrument of
salvation of which Gilda dreamed as the sledge flew swiftly along
through the night.

It was Maria who roused her suddenly out of these happy fancies. Maria
who said plaintively:

"Shall we never get to that verdommte house. The Jew said that it was
only situate half a league from Rotterdam."

"We must be close to it," murmured Gilda.

"Close to it!" retorted Maria, "we seem to be burning the ground under
the horses' hoofs--we have left Rotterdam behind us this hour past...It
is the longest half league that I have ever known."

"Peep out under the hood, Maria. Cannot you see where we are?"

Maria peeped out as she was bid.

"I can see the lights of a city far away on our right," she said. "From
the direction in which we have been going and the ground which we have
covered I should guess that city to be Delft."

"Delft!" exclaimed Gilda, smothering a louder scream.

The driver had just pulled up his horses, allowing them to go at a walk
so as to restore their wind and ease them for awhile. Gilda tried her
best to peer through the darkness. All that she could see were those
lights far away on the right which proclaimed the distant city.

A chill struck suddenly to her heart. Ben Isaje had lied! Why? She was
not being taken to his house which was situate half a league outside
Rotterdam...then whither was she being taken? What new misery, what new
outrage awaited her now?

The lights of the distant city receded further and further away from her
view, the driver once more put his horses at a trot, the sledge moved
along more smoothly now: it seemed as if it were going over the surface
of the river. Delft was being left behind, and the sledge was following
the course of the Schie...on toward Ryswyk...

The minutes sped on, another quarter of an hour, another half hour,
another hour in this dread suspense. The driver was urging his horses
unmercifully: he gave them but little rest. It was only when for a few
brief moments he put them at walking pace, that Gilda heard--all around
her as it seemed--that metallic click of skates which told her that the
sledge was surrounded by men who were there to watch over her and see
that she did not escape.




Chapter XXXIII--THE CAPTIVE LION

Beresteyn was sitting at the table in the weighing-room of the molens:
his elbows rested on the table, and his right hand supported his head;
in the feeble light of the lanthorn placed quite close to him, his face
looked sullen and dark, and his eyes, overshadowed by his frowning
brows, were fixed with restless eagerness upon the narrow door.

Stoutenburg, with hands crossed over his chest, with head bare and
collar impatiently torn away from round his neck, was pacing up and down
the long, low room like a caged beast of prey.

"Enter!" he shouted impatiently in response to a loud knock on the door.
Then as Jan entered, and having saluted, remained standing by the door,
he paused in his feverish walk, and asked in a curiously hoarse voice,
choked with anxiety:

"Is everything all right, Jan?"

"Everything, my lord."

"The jongejuffrouw?..."

"In the hut, my lord. There is a good fire there and the woman is
preparing some hot supper for the lady."

"How does she seem?"

"She stepped very quietly out of the sledge, my lord, the moment I told
her that we had arrived. She asked no questions, and walked straight
into the hut. Meseemed that the jongejuffrouw knew exactly where she
was."

"The woman will look after her comforts will?"

"Oh, yes, my lord, though she is only a rough peasant, she will try and
do her best, and the jongejuffrouw has her own waiting woman with her as
well."

"And the horses?"

"In the shed behind the hut."

"Look after them well, Jan: we may want to use them again to-morrow."

"They shall be well looked after, my lord."

"And you have placed the sentry outside the hut?"

"Two men in the front and two in the rear, as you have commanded, my
lord."

Stoutenburg drew a deep breath of satisfaction: but anxiety seemed to
have exhausted him, for now that his questions had been clearly
answered, he sank into a chair.

"All well, Nicolaes," he said more calmly as he placed a re-assuring
hand upon his friend's shoulder.

But Nicolaes groaned aloud.

"Would to God," he said, "that all were well!"

Smothering an impatient retort Stoutenburg once more turned to Jan.

"And what news of the foreigner?" he queried eagerly.

"We have got him, my lord," replied Jan.

"By G--d!" exclaimed Stoutenburg, "how did you do it?"

His excitement was at fever pitch now. He was leaning forward, and his
attitude was one of burning expectancy. His hollow eyes were fixed upon
Jan's lips as if they would extract from them the glad news which they
held. Whatever weakness there was in Stoutenburg's nature, one thing in
him was strong--and that was hatred. He could hate with an intensity of
passion worthy of a fine cause. He hated the Stadtholder first, and
secondly the nameless adventurer who had humiliated him and forced him
to lick the dust: wounded in his vanity and in his arrogance he was
consumed with an inordinate desire for revenge. The hope that this
revenge was now at last in sight--that the man whom he hated so
desperately was now in his power--almost caused the light of mania to
dance in his glowing eyes.

"How did you do it, Jan?" he reiterated hoarsely.

"It was not far from the molens," said Jan simply, "until then he gave
us the slip, though we spied him just outside Delft on our way to
Rotterdam this morning. My impression is that he went back to Rotterdam
then, and that he followed the jongejuffrouw's sledge practically all
the way. Close to the molens he was forced to draw a little nearer as it
was getting very dark and probably he did not know his way about. I am
convinced that he wished to ascertain exactly whither we were taking the
jongejuffrouw. At an rate, I and some of our fellows who had lagged in
the rear caught sight of him then..."

"And you seized him?" cried Stoutenburg with exultant joy.

"He was alone, my lord," replied Jan with a placid smile, "and there
were seven of us at the time. Two or three of the men, though, are even
now nursing unpleasant wounds. I myself fared rather badly with a
bruised head and half-broken collar-bone...The man is a demon for
fighting, but there were seven of us."

"Well done, Jan!" cried Beresteyn now, for Stoutenburg had become
speechless with the delight of this glorious news; "and what did you do
with the rogue?"

"We tied him securely with ropes and dragged him along with us. Oh! we
made certain of him, my lord, you may be sure of that. And now I and
another man have taken him down into the basement below and we have
fastened him to one of the beams, where I imagine the northwest wind
will soon cool his temper."

"Aye, that it will!" quoth Stoutenburg lustily. "Take the lanthorn, Jan,
and let us to him at once. Beresteyn, friend, will you come too? Your
hand like mine must be itching to get at the villain's face."

The two men took good care to wrap their cloaks well round their
shoulders and to pull their fur caps closely round their ears. Thus
muffled up against the bitterness of the night, they went out of the
molens, followed by Jan, who carried the lanthorn.

Outside the door, steep, ladder-like steps led to the ground. The place
referred to by Jan as "the basement" was in reality the skeleton
foundations on which the molens rested. These were made up of huge
beams--green and slimy with age, and driven deep down into the muddy
flat below. Ten feet up above, the floor of the molens sat towering
aloft. Darkness like pitch reigned on this spot, but as Jan swung his
lanthorn along, the solid beams detached themselves one by one out of
the gloom, their ice-covered surface reflected the yellow artificial
light, and huge icicles of weird and fantastic shapes like giant arms
and fingers stretched out hung down from the transverse bars and from
the wooden frame-work of the molens above.

To one of the upright beams a man was securely fastened with ropes wound
round about his body. His powerful muscles were straining against the
cords which tied his arms behind his back. A compassionate hand had put
his broad-brimmed hat upon his head, to protect his ears and nose
against the frost, but his mighty chest was bare, for doublet and shirt
had been torn in the reckless fight which preceded final capture.

Jan held up the lanthorn and pointed out to my lord the prisoner whom he
was so proud to have captured. The light fell upon the pinioned figure,
splendid in its air of rebellious helplessness. Here was a man,
momentarily conquered it is true, but obviously not vanquished and
though the ropes now cut into his body, though the biting wind lashed
his bare chest, and dark stains showed upon his shirt, the spirit within
was as free and untrammelled as ever--the spirit of independence and of
adventure which is willing to accept the knockdown blows of fate as
readily and cheerfully as her favours.

Despite the torn shirt and the ragged doublet there was yet an air of
swagger about the whole person of the man, swagger that became almost
insolent as the Lord of Stoutenburg approached. He threw back his head
and looked his sworn enemy straight in the face, his eyes were laughing
still, and a smile of cool irony played round his lips.

"Well done, Jan!" quoth Stoutenburg with a deep sign of satisfaction. He
was standing with arms akimbo and legs wide apart, enjoying to the full
the intense delight of gazing for awhile in silence on his discomfitted
enemy.

"Ah! but it is good," he said at last, "to look upon a helpless rogue."

"'Tis a sight then," retorted the prisoner lightly, "which your
Magnificence hath often provided for your friends and your adherents."

"Bah!" rejoined Stoutenburg, who was determined to curb his temper if he
could, "your insolence now, my man, hath not the power to anger me. It
strikes me as ludicrous--even pathetic in its senselessness. An I were
in your unpleasant position, I would try by submission to earn a slight
measure of leniency from my betters."

"No doubt you would, my lord," quoth Diogenes dryly, "but you see I have
up to now not yet come across my betters. When I do, I may take your
advice."

"Verdommte Keerl! What say you, Beresteyn," added Stoutenburg turning to
his friend, "shall we leave him here to-night to cool his impudence, we
can always hang him to-morrow."

Beresteyn made no immediate reply, his face was pale and haggard, and
his glance--shifty and furtive--seemed to avoid that of the prisoner.

"You must see that the fellow is well guarded, Jan," resumed Stoutenburg
curtly, "give him some food, but on no account allow him the slightest
freedom."

"My letters to Ben Isaje," murmured Beresteyn, as Stoutenburg already
turned to go. "Hath he perchance got them by him still?"

"The letters! yes! I have forgotten!" said the other. "Search him, Jan!"
he commanded.

Jan put down the lanthorn and then proceeded to lay rough hands upon the
captive philosopher; he had a heavy score to pay off against him--an
aching collar-bone and a bruised head, and the weight of a powerful fist
to avenge. He was not like to be gentle in his task. He tore at the
prisoner's doublet and in his search for a hidden pocket he disclosed an
ugly wound which had lacerated the shoulder.

"Some of us took off our skates," he remarked casually, "and brought him
down with them. The blades were full sharp, and we swung them by their
straps; they made excellent weapons thus; the fellow should have more
than one wound about him."

"Three, my good Jan, to be quite accurate," said Diogenes calmly, "but
all endurable. I had ten about me outside Prague once, but the fellows
there were fighting better than you, and in a worthier cause."

Jan's rough hands continued their exhaustive search; a quickly smothered
groan from the prisoner caused Stoutenburg to laugh.

"That sound," he said, "was music to mine ear."

Jan now drew a small leather wallet and a parchment roll both from the
wide flap of the prisoner's boot. Stoutenburg pounced upon the wallet,
and Beresteyn with eager anxiety tore the parchment out of Jan's hand.

"It is the formal order to Ben Isaje," he said, "to pay over the money
to this knave. Is there anything else, Jan?" he continued excitedly, "a
thinner paper?--shaped like a letter?"

"Nothing else, mynheer," replied Jan.

"Did you then deliver my letter to Ben Isaje, fellow?" queried Beresteyn
of the prisoner.

"My friend Jan should be able to tell you that," he replied, "hath he
not been searching the very folds of my skin."

In the meanwhile Stoutenburg had been examining the contents of the
wallet.

"Jewellery belonging to the jongejuffrouw," he said dryly, "which this
rogue hath stolen from her. Will you take charge of them, Nicolaes? And
here," he added, counting out a few pieces of gold and silver, "is some
of your own money."

He made as if he would return this to Beresteyn, then a new idea seemed
to strike him, for he put all the money back into the wallet and said to
Jan:

"Put this wallet back where you found it, Jan, and, Nicolaes," he added
turning back to his friend, "will you allow me to look at that bond?"

While Jan obeyed and replaced the wallet in the flap of the prisoner's
boot, Beresteyn handed the parchment to Stoutenburg. The latter then
ordered Jan to hold up the lanthorn so that by its light he might read
the writing.

This he did, twice over, with utmost attention; after which he tore off
very carefully a narrow strip from the top of the document.

"Now," he said quietly, "this paper, wherever found, cannot compromise
you in any way, Nicolaes. The name of Ben Isaje who alone could trace
the cypher signature back to you, we will scatter to the winds."

And he tore the narrow strip which he had severed from the document into
infinitesimal fragments, which he then allowed the wind to snatch out of
his hand and to whirl about and away into space. But the document itself
he folded up with ostentatious care.

"What do you want with that?" asked Beresteyn anxiously.

"I don't know yet, but it might be very useful," replied the other. "So
many things may occur within the next few days that such an ambiguously
worded document might prove of the utmost value."

"But...the signature..." urged Beresteyn, "my father..."

"The signature, you told me, friend, is one that you use in the ordinary
way of business whilst the wording of the document in itself cannot
compromise you in any way; it is merely a promise to pay for services
rendered. Leave this document in my keeping; believe me, it is quite
safe with me and might yet be of incalculable value to us. One never
knows."

"No! one never does know," broke in the prisoner airily, "for of a truth
when there's murder to be done, pillage or outrage, the Lord of
Stoutenburg never knows what other infamy may come to his hand."

"Insolent knave!" exclaimed Stoutenburg hoarsely, as with a cry of
unbridled fury he suddenly raised his arm and with the parchment roll
which he held, he struck the prisoner savagely in the face.

"Take care, Stoutenburg," ejaculated Beresteyn almost involuntarily.

"Take care of what," retorted the other with a harsh laugh, "the fellow
is helpless, thank God! and I would gladly break my riding whip across
his impudent face."

He was livid and shaking with fury. Beresteyn--honestly fearing that in
his blind rage he would compromise his dignity before his
subordinates--dragged him by the arm away from the presence of this man
whom he appeared to hate with such passionate intensity.

Stoutenburg, obdurate at first, almost drunk with his own fury, tried to
free himself from his friend's grasp. He wanted to lash the man he hated
once more in the face, to gloat for awhile longer on the sight of his
enemy now completely in his power. But all around in the gloom he
perceived figures that moved; the soldiers and mercenaries placed at his
disposal by his friends were here in numbers: some of them had been put
on guard over the prisoner by Jan, and others had joined them, attracted
by loud voices.

Stoutenburg had just enough presence of mind left in him to realize that
the brutal striking of a defenceless prisoner would probably horrify
these men, who were fighters and not bullies, and might even cause them
to turn from their allegiance to him.

So with desperate effort he pulled himself together and contrived to
give with outward calm some final orders to Jan.

"See that the ropes are securely fastened, Jan," he said, "leave half a
dozen men on guard, then follow me."

But to Beresteyn, who had at last succeeded in dragging him away from
this spot, he said loudly:

"You do not know, Nicolaes, what a joy it is to me to be even with that
fellow at last."

A prolonged laugh, that had a note of triumph in it, gave answer to this
taunt, whilst a clear voice shouted lustily:

"Nay! we never can be quite even, my lord; since you were not trussed
like a capon when I forced you to lick the dust."




Chapter XXXIV--PROTESTATIONS

Half-an-hour later, the Lord of Stoutenburg was in Gilda's presence. He
was glad enough that Nicolaes Beresteyn--afraid to meet his sister--had
refused to accompany him. He, too, felt nervous and anxious at thought
of meeting her face to face at last. He had not spoken to her since that
day in March when he was a miserable fugitive--in a far worse plight
than was the wounded man tied with cords to a beam. He had been a hunted
creature then, every man's hand raised against him, his life at the
mercy of any passer-by, and she had given him shelter freely and
fearlessly--shelter and kind words--and her ministrations had brought
him luck, for he succeeded in reaching the coast after he parted from
her, and finding shelter once more in a foreign land.

Since then her image had filled his dreams by night and his thoughts by
day. His earlier love for her, smothered by ambition, rose up at once
more strong, more insistent than before; it became during all these
months of renewed intrigues and plots the one ennobling trait in his
tortuous character. His love for Gilda was in itself not a selfish
feeling; neither ambition nor the mere gratification of obstinate desire
entered in its composition. He loved Gilda for herself alone, with all
the adoration which a pious man would have given to his God, and while
one moment of his life was occupied in planning a ruthless and dastardly
murder, the other was filled with hopes of a happier future, with Gilda
beside him as his idolized wife. But though his love was in itself pure
and selfless, he remained true to his unscrupulous nature in the means
which he adopted in order to win the object of his love.

Even now, when he entered her presence in the miserable peasant's hut
where he chose to hold her a prisoner, he felt no remorse at the
recollection of what she must have suffered in the past few days; his
one thought was--now that he had her completely under his control--how
he could best plead his cause first, or succeed in coercing her will if
she proved unkind.

She received him quite calmly, and even with a gracious nod of the head,
and he thought that he had never seen her look more beautiful than she
did now, in her straight white gown, with that sweet, sad face of hers
framed by a wealth of golden curls. In this squalid setting of
white-washed walls and rafters blackened with age, she looked indeed--he
thought--like one of those fairy princesses held prisoner by a wicked
ogre--of whom he used to read long ago when he was a child, before sin
and treachery and that insatiable longing for revenge had wholly
darkened his soul.

With bare head and back bent nearly double in the depth of his homage he
approached his divinity.

"It is gracious of you, mejuffrouw, to receive me," he said forcing his
harsh voice to tones of gentleness.

"I had not the power to refuse, my lord," she replied quietly, "seeing
that I am in your hands and entirely at your commands."

"I entreat you do not say that," he rejoined eagerly, "there is no one
here who has the right to command save yourself. 'Tis I am in your hands
and your most humble slave."

"A truce to this farce, my lord," she retorted impatiently. "I were not
here if you happened to be my slave, and took commands from me."

"'Tis true mayhap that you would not be here, now, mejuffrouw," he said
blandly, "but I could only act for the best, and as speedily as I could.
The moment I heard that you were in the hands of brigands I moved heaven
and earth to find out where you were. I only heard this morning that you
were in Rotterdam..."

"You heard that I was in the hands of brigands," she murmured almost
gasping with astonishment, "you heard this morning that I was in
Rotterdam...?"

"I sent spies and messengers in every direction the moment I heard of
the abominable outrage against your person," he continued with
well-feigned vehemence. "I cannot even begin to tell you what I endured
these past three days, until at last, by dint of ruse and force, I was
able to circumvent the villains who held you captive, and convey you
hither in safety and profound respect until such time as I can find a
suitable escort to take you back to your father."

"If what you say is true, my lord, you could lend me an escort at once,
that I might return to my dear father forthwith. Truly he must have
broken his heart by now, weeping for me."

"Have I not said that I am your slave?" he rejoined gently, "an you
desire to return to Haarlem immediately, I will see about an escort for
you as quickly as may be. The hour is late now," he added
hypocritically, "but a man can do much when his heart's desire lies in
doing the behests of a woman whom he worships."

Though she frowned at these last words of his, she leaned forward
eagerly to him.

"You will let me go...at once...to-night?"

"At once if it lies in my power," he replied unblushingly, "but I fear
me that you will have to wait a few hours; the night is as dark as
pitch. It were impossible to make a start in it. To-morrow, however..."

"Tomorrow?" she cried anxiously, "'Tis to-night that I wish to go."

"The way to Haarlem is long..." he murmured.

"'Tis not to Haarlem, my lord, but to Delft that I long to go."

"To Delft?" he exclaimed with a perfect show of astonishment.

She bit her lip and for the moment remained silent. It had, indeed, been
worse than folly to imagine that he--of all men in the world--would help
her to go to Delft. But he had been so gentle, so kind, apparently so
ready to do all that she asked, that for a moment she forgot that he and
he alone was the mover of that hideous conspiracy to murder which she
still prayed to God that she might avert.

"I had forgotten, my lord," she said, as tears threatened to choke her
voice, "I had forgotten."

"Forgotten? What?" he asked blankly.

"That you are not like to escort me to Delft."

"Why not to Delft, an you wish to go there?"

"But..." she murmured, "the Stadtholder..."

"Ah!" he exclaimed, "now I understand. You are thinking of what you
overheard in the cathedral of Haarlem."

"Indeed, how could I forget it?"

"Easily now, Gilda," he replied with solemn earnestness. "The plans
which my friends and I formed on that night have been abandoned."

"Abandoned?"

"Yes! Your brother was greatly impressed by all that you said to him. He
persuaded us all to think more lengthily over the matter. Then came the
news of the outrage upon your person, and all thoughts of my ambition
and of my revenge faded before this calamity, and I have devoted every
hour of mine existence since then to find you and to restore you to your
home."

Bewildered, wide-eyed, Gilda listened to him. In all her life hitherto,
she had never come into contact with lying and with deceit: she had
never seen a man lying unblushingly, calmly, not showing signs of
confusion or of fear. Therefore, the thought that this man could be
talking so calmly, so simply, so logically, and yet be trying to deceive
her, never for one moment entered her head. The events of the past few
days crowded in upon her brain in such a maddening array, that, as she
sat here now, face to face with the man whom she had been so ready to
suspect, she could not disentangle from those events one single fact
that could justify her suspicions.

Even looking back upon the conversation which she had had with that
impudent rogue in Leyden and again last night, she distinctly remembered
now that he had never really said a single thing that implicated the
Lord of Stoutenburg or any one else in this villainy.

She certainly was bewildered and very puzzled now: joy at the thought
that after all the Stadtholder was safe, joy that her brother's hand
would not be stained with murder, or his honour with treachery, mingled
with a vague sense of mistrust which she was powerless to combat, yet
felt ashamed to admit.

"Then, my lord," she murmured at last, "do you really tell me that the
outrage of which I have been the victim was merely planned by villains,
for mercenary motives?"

"What else could have prompted it?" he asked blandly.

"Neither you...nor...nor any of your friends had a hand in it?" she
insisted.

"I?" he exclaimed with a look of profound horror. "I?...to do you such a
wrong! For what purpose, ye gods?"

"To...to keep me out of the way..."

"I understand," he said simply. "And you, Gilda, believed this of me?"

"I believed it," she replied calmly.

"You did not realize then that I would give every drop of my blood to
save you one instant's pain?"

"I did not realize," she said more coldly, "that you would give up your
ambition for any woman or for anything."

"You do not believe then, that I love you?"

"Speak not of love my lord," she retorted, "it is a sacred thing. And
you methinks do not know what love is."

"Indeed you are right, Gilda," he said, "I do not know what is the love
of ordinary men. But if to love you, Gilda, means that every thought,
every hope, every prayer is centred upon you, if it means that neither
sleep nor work, nor danger can for one single instant chase your image
from my soul, if to love you means that my very sinews ache with the
longing to hold you in my arms, and that every moment which keeps me
from your side is torture worse than hell; if love means all that,
Gilda, then do I know to mine own hurt what love is."

"And in your ambition, my lord, you allowed that love to be smothered,"
she retorted calmly. "It is too late now to speak of it again, to any
woman save to Walburg de Marnix."

"I'll speak of it to you, Gilda, while the breath in my body lasts.
Walburg de Marnix is no longer my wife. The law of our country has
already set me free."

"The law of God binds you to her. I pray you speak no more of such
things to me."

"You are hard and cruel, Gilda."

"I no longer love you."

"You will love again," he retorted confidently, "in the meanwhile have I
regained your trust?"

"Not even that, wholly," she replied.

"Let me at least do one thing in my own justification," he pleaded.
"Allow me to prove to you now and at once that--great though my love is
for you, and maddening my desire to have you near me--I could not be
guilty of such an outrage, as I know that in your heart you do accuse me
of."

"I did accuse you of it, my lord, I own. But how can you prove me wrong
now and at once?"

"By bringing before you the only guilty person in this network of
infamy," he replied hotly.

"You know him then?"

"For these three days now I and my faithful servants have tracked him. I
have him here now a prisoner at last. His presence before you will prove
to you that I at least bore no share in the hideous transaction."

"Of whom do you speak, my lord?" she asked.

"Of the man who dared to lay hands upon you in Haarlem..."

"He is here--now?" she exclaimed.

"A helpless prisoner in my hands," he replied, "to-morrow summary
justice shall be meted out to him, and he will receive the punishment
which his infamy deserves."

"But he did not act on his own initiative," she said eagerly, "another
man more powerful, richer than he prompted him--paid him--tempted
him..."

Stoutenburg made a gesture of infinite contempt.

"So, no doubt, he has told you, Gilda. Men of his stamp are always
cowards at heart, even though they have a certain brutish instinct for
fighting--mostly in self-defence. He tried to palliate his guilt before
you by involving me in its responsibility."

"You," she whispered under her breath, "or one of your friends."

"You mean your brother Nicolaes," he rejoined quietly. "Ah! the man is
even a more arrant knave than I thought. So! he has tried to fasten the
responsibility for this outrage against your person, firstly on me who
worship the very ground you walk on, secondly on the brother whom you
love?"

"No, no," she protested eagerly, "I did not say that. It was I who..."

"Who thought so ill of me," broke in Stoutenburg with gentle reproach,
"of me and of Nicolaes. You questioned the rogue, and he did not deny
it, nay more he enlarged upon the idea, which would place all the
profits of this abominable transaction in his hands and yet exonerate
him from guilt. But you shall question him yourself, Gilda. By his
looks, by his answers, by his attitude you will be able to judge if I or
Nicolaes--or any of our friends, have paid him to lay hands upon you.
Remember however," he added significantly, "that such a low-born knave
will always lie to save his skin, so this do I entreat of you on my
knees: judge by his looks more than by his words, and demand a proof of
what he asserts."

"I will judge, my lord, as I think best," she retorted coldly. "And now,
I pray you, send for the man. I would like to hear what he has to say."

Stoutenburg immediately turned to obey: there was a guard outside the
door, and it was easy to send one of the men with orders to Jan to bring
the prisoner hither.

Within himself he was frankly taken aback at Gilda's ready
acquiescence--nay obvious desire to parley with the foreigner. A sharp
pang of jealousy had shot through his heart when he saw her glowing
eyes, her eagerness to defend the knave. The instinct that guided his
fierce love for Gilda, had quickly warned him that here was a danger of
which he had never even dreamed.

Women were easily swayed, he thought, by a smooth tongue and a grand
manner, both of which--Stoutenburg was bound to admit--the rogue
possessed in no scanty measure. Fortunately the mischief--if indeed
mischief there was--had only just begun: and of a truth reason itself
argued that Gilda must loathe and despise the villain who had wronged
her so deeply: moreover Stoutenburg had every hope that the coming
interview if carefully conducted would open Gilda's eyes more fully
still to the true character of the foreign mercenary with the unctuous
tongue and the chivalrous ways.

In any case the Lord of Stoutenburg himself had nothing to fear from
that interview, and he felt that his own clever words had already shaken
the foundations of Gilda's mistrust of him. Mayhap in desiring to parley
with the knave, she only wished to set her mind at rest finally on these
matters, and also with regard to her own brother's guilt. Stoutenburg
with an inward grim smile of coming triumph passed his hand over his
doublet where--in an inner pocket--reposed the parchment roll which was
the last proof of Beresteyn's connivance.

Gilda did not know the cypher-signature, and the knave would have some
difficulty in proving his assertion, if indeed, he dared to name
Nicolaes at all: whilst if he chose to play the chivalrous part before
Gilda, then the anonymous document would indeed prove of incalculable
value. In any case the complete humiliation of the knave who had
succeeded in gaining Gilda's interest, if nothing more, was
Stoutenburg's chief aim when he suggested the interview, and the
document with the enigmatical signature could easily become a powerful
weapon wherewith to make that humiliation more complete.

And thus musing, speculating, scheming, the Lord of Stoutenburg sent Jan
over to the molens with orders to bring the prisoner under a strong
guard to the jongejuffrouw's presence, whilst Gilda, silent and
absorbed, sat in the tiny room of the miller's hut.

In spite of her loyalty, her love for her brother, in spite of
Stoutenburg's smooth assertions, a burning anxiety gnawed at her
heart--she felt wretchedly, miserably lonely, with a sense of treachery
encompassing her all round.

But there was a strange glow upon her face, which of a truth anxiety
could not have brought about; rather must it have been inward anger,
which assailed her whenever thoughts of the rogue whom she so hated
intruded themselves upon her brain.

No doubt too, the heat of the fire helped to enhance that delicate glow
which lent so much additional beauty to her face and such additional
brilliance to her eyes.




Chapter XXXV--THE WITNESS FOR THE DEFENCE

The Lord of Stoutenburg was the first to enter: behind him came Jan, and
finally a group of soldiers above whose heads towered another broad
white brow, surmounted by a wealth of unruly brown hair which now clung
matted against the moist forehead.

At a word of command from Stoutenburg, Jan and the other soldiers
departed, leaving him and the prisoner only before Gilda Beresteyn.

The man had told her on that first night at Leyden that his name was
Diogenes--a name highly honoured in the history of philosophy.
Well!--philosophy apparently was standing him in good stead, for truly
it must be responsible for the happy way in which he seemed to be
bearing his present unhappy condition.

They had tied his arms behind his back and put a pinion through them,
his clothes were torn, his massive chest was bare, his shirt bore ugly,
dark stains upon it, but his face was just the same that merry laughing
face with the twinkling eyes, and the gentle irony that lurked round the
lines of the sensitive mouth: at any rate when Gilda--overcome with
pity--looked up with sweet compassion on him, she saw that same curious,
immutable smile that seemed even now to mock and to challenge.

"This is the man, mejuffrouw," began Stoutenburg after awhile, "who on
New Year's day at Haarlem dared to lay hands upon your person. Do you
recognize him?"

"I do recognize him," replied Gilda coldly.

"I imagine," continued Stoutenburg, "that he hath tried to palliate his
own villainies by telling you that he was merely a paid agent in that
abominable outrage."

"I do not think," she retorted still quite coldly, "that this...
this...person told me that he was being paid for that ugly deed: though
when I did accuse him of it he did not deny it."

"Do you hear, fellow?" asked Stoutenburg, turning sharply to Diogenes,
"it is time that all this lying should cease. By your calumnies and evil
insinuations you have added to the load of crimes which already have
earned for you exemplary punishment; by those same lies you have caused
the jongejuffrouw an infinity of pain, over and above the horror which
she has endured through your cowardly attack upon her. Therefore I have
thought it best to send for you now so that in her exalted presence at
least you may desist from further lying and that you may be shamed into
acknowledging the truth. Do you hear, fellow?" he reiterated more
harshly as Diogenes stood there, seemingly not even hearing what the
Lord of Stoutenburg said, for his eyes in which a quaint light of humour
danced were fixed upon Gilda's hands that lay clasped upon her lap.

The look in the man's face, the soft pallor on the girl's cheek,
exasperated Stoutenburg's jealous temper beyond his power of control.

"Do you hear?" he shouted once more, and with a sudden grip of the hand
he pulled the prisoner roughly round by the shoulder. That shoulder had
been torn open with a blow dealt by a massive steel blade which had
lacerated it to the bone; even a philosopher's endurance was not proof
against this sudden rending of an already painful wound. Diogenes' pale
face became the colour of lead: the tiny room began dancing an
irresponsive saraband before his eyes, he felt himself swaying, for the
ground was giving way under him, when a cry, gentle and compassionate,
reached his fading senses, and a perfume of exquisite sweetness came to
his nostrils, even as his pinioned arms felt just enough support to
enable him to steady himself.

"Gilda," broke in Stoutenburg's harsh voice upon this intangible dream,
"I entreat you not to demean yourself by ministering to that rogue."

"My poor ministry was for a wounded man, my lord," she retorted curtly.

Then she turned once more to the prisoner.

"You are hurt, sir," she asked as she let her tender blue eyes rest with
kind pity upon him.

"Hurt, mejuffrouw?" he replied with a laugh, which despite himself had
but little merriment in it. "Ask his Magnificence there, he will tell
you that such knaves as I have bones and sinews as tough as their skins.
Of a truth I am not hurt, mejuffrouw...only overcome with the humour of
this situation. The Lord of Stoutenburg indignant and reproachful at
thought that another man is proficient in the art of lying."

"By heaven," cried Stoutenburg who was white with fury. "Insolent
varlet, take..."

He had seized the first object that lay close to his hand, the heavy
iron tool used for raking the fire out of the huge earthenware stove;
this he raised above his head; the lust to kill glowed out of his eyes,
which had become bloodshot whilst a thin red foam gathered at the
corners of his mouth. The next moment the life of a philosopher and
weaver of dreams would have been very abruptly ended, had not a woman's
feeble hand held up the crashing blow.

"Hatred, my lord, an you will," said Gilda with perfect sangfroid as she
stood between the man who had so deeply wronged her and the upraised arm
of his deadly enemy, "hatred and fair fight, but not outrage, I pray
you."

Stoutenburg, smothering a curse, threw the weapon away from him: it fell
with a terrific crash upon the wooden floor. Gilda, white and trembling
now after the agonizing excitement of the past awful moment, had sunk
half-swooning back against a chair. Stoutenburg fell on one knee and
humbly raised her gown to his lips.

"Your pardon, Madonna," he whispered, "the sight of your exquisite hands
in contact with that infamous blackguard made me mad. I was almost ready
to cheat the gallows of their prey. I gratefully thank you in that you
saved me from the indignity of staining my hand with a vile creature's
blood."

Quietly and dispassionately Gilda drew her skirts away from him.

"An you have recovered your temper, my lord," she said coldly, "I pray
you ask the prisoner those questions which you desired to put to him. I
am satisfied that he is your enemy, and if he were not bound, pinioned
and wounded he would probably not have need of a woman's hand to protect
him."

Stoutenburg rose to his feet. He was angered with himself for allowing
his hatred and his rage to get the better of his prudence, and tried to
atone for his exhibition of incontinent rage by a great show of dignity
and of reserve.

"I must ask you again, fellow--and for the last time," he said slowly
turning once more to Diogenes, "if you have realized how infamous have
been your insinuations against mine honour, and that of others whom the
jongejuffrouw holds in high regard? Your calumnies have caused her
infinite sorrow more bitter for her to bear than the dastardly crime
which you did commit against her person. Have you realized this, and are
you prepared to make amends for your crime and to mitigate somewhat the
grave punishment which you have deserved by speaking the plain truth
before the jongejuffrouw now?"

"And what plain truth doth the jongejuffrouw desire to hear?" asked
Diogenes with equal calm.

Stoutenburg would have replied, but Gilda broke in quietly:

"Your crime against me, sir, I would readily forgive, had I but the
assurance that no one in whom I trusted, no one whom I loved had a hand
in instigating it."

The ghost of his merry smile--never very distant--spread over the
philosopher's pale face.

"Will you deign to allow me, mejuffrouw," he said, "at any rate to tell
you one certain, unvarnished truth, which mayhap you will not even care
to believe, and that is that I would give my life--the few chances, that
is, that I still have of it--to obliterate from your mind the memory of
the past few days."

"That you cannot do, sir," she rejoined, "but you would greatly ease the
load of sorrow which you have helped to lay upon me, if you gave me the
assurance which I ask."

The prisoner did not reply immediately, and for one brief moment there
was absolute silence in this tiny room, a silence so tense and so vivid
that an eternity of joy and sorrow, of hope and of fear seemed to pass
over the life of these three human creatures here. All three had eyes
and ears only for one another: the world with its grave events, its
intrigues and its wars fell quite away from them: they were the only
people existing--each for the other--for this one brief instant that
passed by.

The fire crackled in the huge hearth, and slowly the burning wood ashes
fell with a soft swishing sound one by one. But outside all was still:
not a sound of the busy life around the molens, of conspiracies and call
to arms, penetrated the dense veil of fog which lay upon the low-lying
land.

At last the prisoner spoke.

"'Tis easily done, mejuffrouw," he said, and all at once his whole face
lit up with that light-hearted gaiety, that keen sense of humour which
would no doubt follow him to the grave, "that assurance I can easily
give you. I was the sole criminal in the hideous outrage which brought
so much sorrow upon you. Had I the least hope that God would hear the
prayer of so despicable a villain as I am I would beg of Him to grant
you oblivion of my deed. As for me," he added and now real laughter was
dancing in his eyes: they mocked and challenged and called back the joy
of life, "as for me, I am impenitent. I would not forget one minute of
the last four days."

"To-morrow then you can take the remembrance with you to the gallows,"
said Stoutenburg sullenly.

Though a sense of intense relief pervaded him now, since by his
assertions Diogenes had completely vindicated him as well as Nicolaes in
Gilda's sight, his dark face showed no signs of brightening. That fierce
jealousy of this nameless adventurer which had assailed him awhile ago
was gnawing at his heart more insistently than before; he could not
combat it, even though reason itself argued that jealousy of so mean a
knave was unworthy, and that Gilda's compassion was only the same that
she would have extended to any dog that had been hurt.

Even now--reason still argued--was it not natural that she should plead
even for a thief. Women hate the thought of violent death, only an
amazon would desire to mete out death to any enemy: Gilda was
warm-hearted, impulsive, the ugly word "gallows" grated no doubt
unpleasantly on her ear. But even so, and despite the dictates of
reason, Stoutenburg's jealousy and hatred were up in arms the moment she
turned pleading eyes upon him.

"My lord," she said gently, "I pray you to remember that by this open
confession this...this gentleman has caused be infinite happiness. I
cannot tell you what misery my own suspicions have caused me these past
two days. They were harder to bear than any humiliation or sorrow which
I had to endure."

"This varlet's lies confirmed you in your suspicions, Gilda," retorted
Stoutenburg roughly, "and his confession--practically at the foot of the
gallows--is but a tardy one."

"Do not speak so cruelly, my lord," she pleaded, "you say that... that
you have some regard for me...let not therefore my prayer fall unheeded
on your ear..."

"Your prayer, Gilda?"

"My prayer that you deal nobly with an enemy, whose wrongs to me I am
ready to forgive..."

"By St. Bavon, mejuffrouw," here interposed the prisoner firmly, "an
mine ears do not deceive me you are even now pleading for my life with
the Lord of Stoutenburg."

"Indeed, sir, I do plead for it with my whole heart," she said
earnestly.

"Ye gods!" he exclaimed, "and ye do not interfere!"

"My lord!" urged Gilda gently, "for my sake..."

Her words, her look, the tears that despite her will had struggled to
her eyes, scattered to the winds Stoutenburg's reasoning powers. He felt
now that nothing while this man lived would ever still that newly-risen
passion of jealousy. He longed for and desired this man's death more
even than that of the Prince of Orange. His honour had been luckily
white-washed before Gilda by this very man whom he hated. He had a
feeling that within the last half-hour he had made enormous strides in
her regard. Already he persuaded himself that she was looking on him
more kindly, as if remorse at her unjust suspicions of him had touched
her soul on his behalf.

Everything now would depend on how best he could seem noble and generous
in her sight; but he was more determined than ever that his enemy should
stand disgraced before her first and die on the gallows on the morrow.

Then it was that putting up his hand to the region of his heart, which
indeed was beating furiously, it encountered the roll of parchment which
lay in the inner pocket of his doublet. Fate, chance, his own foresight,
were indeed making the way easy for him, and quicker than lightning his
tortuous brain had already formed a plan upon which he promptly acted
now.

"Gilda," he said quietly, "though God knows how ready I am to do you
service in all things, this is a case where weakness on my part would be
almost criminal, for indeed it would be to a hardened and abandoned
criminal that I should be extending that mercy for which you plead."

"Indeed, my lord," she retorted coldly, "though only a woman, I too can
judge if a man is an abandoned criminal or merely a misguided human
creature who doth deserve mercy since his confession was quite open and
frank."

"Commonsense did prompt him no doubt to this half-confession," said
Stoutenburg dryly, "or a wise instinct to win leniency by his conduct,
seeing that he had no proofs wherewith to substantiate his former lies.
Am I not right, fellow?" he added once more turning to the prisoner,
"though you were forced to own that you alone are responsible for the
outrage against the jongejuffrouw, you have not told her yet that you
are also a forger and a thief."

Diogenes looked on him for a moment or two in silence, just long enough
to force Stoutenburg's shifty eyes to drop with a sudden and involuntary
sense of shame, then he rejoined with his usual good-humoured flippancy:

"It was a detail which had quite escaped my memory. No doubt your
Magnificence is fully prepared to rectify the omission."

"Indeed I wish that I could have spared you this additional disgrace,"
retorted Stoutenburg, whose sense of shame had indeed been only
momentary, "seeing that anyhow you must hang to-morrow. But," he added
once more to the jongejuffrouw, "I could not bear you to think, Gilda,
that I could refuse you anything which it is in my power to grant you.
Before you plead for this scoundrel again, you ought to know that he has
tried by every means in his power--by lying and by forgery--to fasten
the origin of all this infamy upon your brother."

"Upon Nicolaes," she cried, "I'll not believe it. A moment ago he did
vindicate him freely."

"Only because I had at last taken away from him the proofs which he had
forged."

"The proofs? what do you mean, my lord?"

"When my men captured this fellow last night, they found upon him a
paper--a bond which is an impudent forgery--purported to have been
written by Nicolaes and which promised payment to this knave for laying
hands upon you in Haarlem."

"A bond?" she murmured, "signed by Nicolaes?"

"I say it again, 'tis an impudent forgery," declared Stoutenburg hotly,
"we--all of us who have seen it and who know Nicolaes' signature could
see at a glance that this one was counterfeit. Yet the fellow used it,
he obtained money on the strength of it, for beside the jewelry which he
had filched from you, we found several hundred guilders upon his person.
Liar, forger, thief!" he cried, "in Holland such men are broken on the
wheel. Hanging is thought merciful for such damnable scum as they!"

And from out the pocket of his doublet he drew the paper which had been
writ by the public scrivener and was signed with Nicolaes' cypher
signature: he handed it to Gilda, even whilst the prisoner, throwing
back his head, sent one of his heartiest laughs echoing through the
raftered room.

"Well played, my lord!" he said gaily, "nay! but by the devils whom you
serve so well, you do indeed deserve to win."

In the meanwhile Gilda, wide-eyed and horrified, not knowing what to
think, nor yet what to believe, scarcely dared to touch the infamous
document whose very presence in her lap seemed a pollution. She noticed
that some portion of the paper had been torn off, but the wording of the
main portion of the writing was quite clear as was the signature
"Schwarzer Kato" with the triangle above it. On this she looked now with
a curious mixture of loathing and of fear. Schwarzer Kato was the name
of the tulip which her father had raised and named: the triangle was a
mark which the house of Beresteyn oft used in business.

"O God, have mercy upon me!" she murmured inwardly, "what does all this
treachery mean?"

She looked up from one man to the other. The Lord of Stoutenburg, dark
and sullen, was watching her with restless eyes; the prisoner was
smiling, gently, almost self-deprecatingly she thought, and as he met
her frightened glance it seemed as if in his merry eyes there crept a
look of sadness--even of pity.

"What does all this treachery mean?" she murmured again with pathetic
helplessness, and this time just above her breath.

"It means," said Stoutenburg roughly, "that at last you must be
convinced that this man on whom you have wasted your kindly pity is
utterly unworthy of it. That bond was never written by your brother, it
was never signed by him. But we found it on this villain's person; he
has been trading on it, obtaining money on the strength of his forgery.
He has confessed to you that he had no accomplice, no paymaster in his
infamies, then ask him whence came this bond in his possession, whence
the money which we found upon him. Ask him to deny the fact that less
than twenty-four hours after he had laid hands on you, he was back again
in Haarlem, bargaining with your poor, stricken father to bring you back
to him."

He ceased speaking, almost choked now by his own eloquence, and the
rapidity with which the lying words escaped his lips. And Gilda slowly
turned her head toward the prisoner, and met that subtly-ironical,
good-humoured glance again.

"Is this all true, sir?" she asked.

"What, mejuffrouw?" he retorted.

"That this bond promising you payment for the cruel outrage upon me is a
forgery?"

"His Magnificence says so, mejuffrouw," he replied quietly, "surely you
know best if you can believe him."

"But this is not my brother's signature?" she asked: and she herself was
not aware what an infinity of pleading there was in her voice.

"No!" he replied emphatically, "it is not your brother's signature."

"Then it's a forgery?"

"We will leave it at that mejuffrouw," he said, "that it is a forgery."

A sigh, hoarse and passionate in its expression of infinite relief,
escaped the Lord of Stoutenburg's lips. Though he knew that the man in
any case could have no proof if he accused Nicolaes, yet there was great
satisfaction in this unqualified confession. Slowly the prisoner turned
his head and looked upon his triumphant enemy, and it was the man with
the pinioned arms, with the tattered clothes and the stained shirt who
seemed to tower in pride, in swagger and in defiance while the other
looked just what he was--a craven and miserable cur.

Once more there was silence in the low-raftered room. From Gilda's eyes
the tears fell slowly one by one. She could not have told you herself
why she was crying at this moment. Her brother's image stood out clearly
before her wholly vindicated of treachery, and a scoundrel had been
brought to his knees, self-confessed as a liar, a forger and a thief;
the Lord of Stoutenburg was proved to have been faithful and true, and
yet Gilda felt such a pain in her heart that she thought it must break.

The Lord of Stoutenburg at last broke the silence which had become
oppressive.

"Are you satisfied, Gilda?" he asked tenderly.

"I feel happier," she replied softly, "than I have felt these four days
past, at thought that my own brother at least--nor you, my lord--had a
hand in all this treachery."

She would not look again on the prisoner, even though she felt more than
she saw, that a distinctly humorous twinkle had once more crept into his
eyes. It seemed however, as if she wished to say something else,
something kind and compassionate, but Stoutenburg broke in impatiently:

"May I dismiss the fellow now?" he asked. "Jan is waiting for orders
outside."

"Then I pray you call to Jan," she rejoined stiffly.

"The rogue is securely pinioned," he added even as he turned toward the
door. "I pray you have no fear of him."

"I have no fear," she said simply.

Stoutenburg strode out of the room and anon his harsh voice was heard
calling to Jan.

For a moment then Gilda was alone--for the third time now--with the man
whom she had hated more than she had ever hated a human creature before.
She remembered how last night and again at Leyden she had been conscious
of an overpowering desire to wound him with hard and bitter words. But
now she no longer felt that desire, since Fate had hurt him more cruelly
than she had wished to do. He was standing there now before her, in all
the glory of his magnificent physique, yet infinitely shamed and
disgraced, self-confessed of every mean and horrible crime that has ever
degraded manhood.

Yet in spite of this shame he still looked splendid and untamed: though
his arms were bound to a pinion behind his back, his broad chest was not
sunken, and he held himself very erect with that leonine head of his
thrown well back and a smile of defiance, almost of triumph, sat upon
every line of his face.

Anon she met his eyes; their glance compelled and held her own; there
was nothing but kindly humour within their depths. Humour, ye gods!
whence came the humour of the situation! Here was a man condemned to
death by an implacable enemy who was not like to show any mercy, and
Gilda herself--remembering all his crimes--could no longer bring herself
to ask for mercy for him, and yet the man seemed only to mock, to smile
at fate, to take his present desperate position as lightly and as airily
as another would take a pleasing turn of fortune's wheel.

Conscious at last that his look of unconquerable good-humour was working
upon her nerves, Gilda forced herself to break the spell of numbness
which had so unaccountably fallen upon her.

"I should like to say to you, sir," she murmured, "how deeply I regret
the many harsh words I spoke to you at Leyden and...and also last
night...believe me there was no feeling in me of cruelty toward you when
I spoke them."

"Indeed, mejuffrouw," he rejoined placidly, whilst the gentle mockery in
his glance became more accentuated, "indeed I am sure that your
harshness towards me was only dictated by your kindliness. Believe me,"
he added lightly, "your words that evening at Leyden, and again last
night were most excellent discipline for my temper: for this do I thank
you! they have helped me to bear subsequent events with greater
equanimity."

She bit her lip, feeling vexed at his flippancy. A man on the point of
death should take the last hours of his life more seriously.

"It grieved me to see," she resumed somewhat more stiffly, "that one who
could on occasions be so brave, should on others stoop to such infamous
tricks."

"Man is ever a creature of opportunity, mejuffrouw," he said
imperturbably.

"But I remembered you--you see--on New Year's Eve in the Dam Straat when
you held up a mob to protect an unfortunate girl; oh! it was bravely
done!"

"Yet believe me, mejuffrouw," he said with a whimsical smile, "that
though I own appearances somewhat belie me, I have done better since."

"I wish I could believe you, sir. But since then...oh! think of my
horror when I recognized you the next day--at Leyden--after your
cowardly attack upon me."

"Indeed I have thought of it already, mejuffrouw. Dondersteen! I must
have appeared a coward before you then!"

He gave a careless shrug of the shoulders, and very quaintly did that
carelessness sit on him now that he was pinioned, wounded and in a
relentless enemy's hands.

"Perhaps I am a coward," he added with a strange little sigh, "you think
so; the Loud of Stoutenburg declares that I am a miserable cur. Does man
ever know himself? I for one have never been worth the study."

"Nay, sir, there you do wrong yourself," she said gently, "I cannot
rightly gauge what temptations did beset you when you lay hands upon a
defenceless woman, or when you forged my brother's name...for this you
did do, did you not?" she asked insistently.

"Have I not confessed to it?" he retorted quietly.

"Alas! And for these crimes must I despise you," she added quaintly.
"But since then my mind hath been greatly troubled. Something tells
me--and would to God I saw it all more clearly--that much that you so
bravely endure just now, is somehow because of me. Am I wrong?"

He laughed, a dry, gentle, self-mocking laugh.

"That I have endured much because of you, mejuffrouw," he said gaily,
"I'll not deny; my worthy patron St. Bavon being singularly slack in his
protection of me on two or three memorable occasions; but this does not
refer to my present state, which has come about because half a dozen men
fell upon me when I was unarmed and pounded at me with heavy steel
skates, which they swung by their straps. The skates were good weapons,
I must own, and have caused one or two light wounds which are but scraps
of evil fortune that a nameless adventurer like myself must take along
with kindlier favours. So I pray you, mejuffrouw, have no further
thought of my unpleasant bodily condition. I have been through worse
plights than this before, and if to-morrow I must hang..."

"No, no!" she interrupted with a cry of horror, "that cannot and must
not be."

"Indeed it can and must, mejuffrouw. Ask the Lord of Stoutenburg what
his intentions are."

"Oh! but I can plead with him," she declared. "He hath told me things
to-day which have made me very happy. My heart is full of forgiveness
for you, who have wronged me so, and I would feel happy in pleading for
you."

Something that she said appeared to tickle his fancy, for at her words
he threw his head right back and laughed immoderately, loudly and long.

"Ye gods!" he cried, while she--a little frightened and puzzled--looked
wide-eyed upon him--"let me hear those words ringing in mine ears when
the rope is round my neck. The Lord of Stoutenburg hath the power to
make a woman happy! the words he speaks are joy unto her heart! Oh! ye
gods, let me remember this and laugh at it until I die!"

His somewhat wild laugh had not ceased to echo in the low-raftered room,
nor had Gilda time to recover her composure, before the door was thrown
violently open and the Lord of Stoutenburg re-entered, followed by Jan
and a group of men.

He threw a quick, suspicious glance on Gilda and on Diogenes, the latter
answered him with one of good-humoured irony, but Gilda--pale and
silent--turned her head away.

Stoutenburg then pointed to Diogenes.

"Here is your prisoner," he said to Jan, "take him back to the place
from whence you brought him. Guard him well, Jan, for to-morrow he must
hang and remember that your life shall pay for his if he escapes."

Jan thereupon gave a brief word of command, the men ranged themselves
around the prisoner, whose massive figure was thus completely hidden
from Gilda's view; only--towering above the heads of the soldiers--the
wide sweep of the brow caught a glimmer of light from the flickering
lamp overhead.

Soon the order was given. The small knot of men turned and slowly filed
out. The Lord of Stoutenburg was the last to leave. He bowed nearly to
the ground when he finally left Gilda's presence.

And she remained alone, sitting by the fire, and staring into the
smouldering ashes. She had heard news to-night that flooded her soul
with happiness. Her brother whom she loved was innocent of crime, and
God Himself had interferred. He had touched the heart of the Lord of
Stoutenburg and stopped the infamous plot against the Stadtholder's
life. Yet Gilda's heart was unaccountably heavy, and as she sat on,
staring into the fire, heavy tears fell unheeded from her eyes.




Chapter XXXVI--BROTHER PHILOSOPHERS

And now for the clang of arms, the movement, the bustle, the excitement
of combat! There are swords to polish, pistols to clean, cullivers to
see to! Something is in the air! We have not been brought hither all the
way to this God-forsaken and fog-ridden spot in order to stare on a
tumbledown molens, or watch a solitary prisoner ere he hang.

Jan knows of course, and Jan is eager and alert, febrile in his
movements, there is a glow in his hollow eyes. And Jan always looks like
that when fighting is in the air, when he sniffs the scent of blood and
hears the resonance of metal against metal. Jan knows of course. He has
no thought of sleep, all night he wanders up and down the improvised
camp. No fires allowed and it is pitch dark, but an occasional glimmer
from a lanthorn lights up compact groups of men lying prone upon the
frozen ground, wrapped in thick coats, or huddled up with knees to chin
trying to keep warm.

A few lanthorns are allowed, far into the interior of that weird forest
of beams under the molens where slender protection against a bitter
north-westerly wind can alone be found.

Shoulder to shoulder, getting warmth one from the other, we are all too
excited to sleep. Something is in the air, some fighting to be done, and
yet there are only thirty or forty of us at most: but swords and
cullivers have been given out, and half the night through my lord and
his friends, served only by Jan, have been carrying heavy loads from the
molens out toward the Schie and the wooden bridge that spans it.

Silently, always coming away with those heavy loads from the molens, and
walking with them away into the gloom, always returning empty-handed,
and served only by Jan. Bah, we are no cullions! 'tis not mighty
difficult to guess. And by the saints! why all this mystery? Some of us
are paid to fight, what care we how we do it? in the open with muskets
or crossbows, or in the dark, with a sudden blow which no man knows from
whence it comes.

All night we sit and wait, and all night we are under the eye of Jan. He
serves his lord and helps him to carry those heavy boxes from the molens
to some unknown place by the Schie, but he is always there when you
least expect him, watching to see that all is well, that there is not
too much noise, that no one has been tempted to light a fire, that we do
not quarrel too hotly among ourselves.

He keeps a watchful eye, too, upon the prisoner: poor beggar! with a
broken shoulder and a torn hip, and some other wounds too, about his
body. A good fighter no doubt! but there were seven against him, and
that was a good idea to swing heavy skates by their straps and to bring
him down with them. His head was too high, else a blow from those sharp
blades might have ended his life more kindly than the Lord of
Stoutenburg hath planned to do.

A merry devil too! full of quaint jokes and tales of gay adventure! By
Gad! a real soldier of fortune! devil-may-care! eat and drink and make
merry for to-morrow we may die. Jan has ordered him to be kept tied to a
beam! God-verdomme! but 'tis hard on a wounded man, but he seems tougher
than the beams, and laughter in his throat quickly smothers groans.

Tied to a beam, he is excellent company! Ye gods, how his hands itch to
grip his sword. Piet the Red over there! Let him feel the metal against
his palms, 'twill ease his temper for sure! Jan is too severe: but 'tis
my lord's rage that was unbridled. Ugh! to strike a prisoner in the
face. 'Twas a dirty trick and many saw it.

Heigh-ho, but what matter! To-morrow we fight, to-morrow he hangs! What
of that? To-morrow most of us mayhap will be lying stark and stiff upon
the frozen ground, staring up at next night's moon, with eyes that no
longer see! A rope round the neck, a hole in the side, a cracked skull!
what matters which mode Dame Death will choose for our ultimate end. But
'tis a pity about the prisoner! A true fighter if there was one, a stoic
and a philosopher. "The Cavalier" we pretty soon call him.

"What ho!" he shouts, "call me the Laughing Cavalier!"

Poor devil! he tries not to show his hurts. He suffers much what with
that damnable wind and those ropes that cut into his tough sinews, but
he smiles at every twinge of pain; smiles and laughs and cracks the
broadest jokes that have e'er made these worm-eaten beams ring with
their echo.

The Laughing Cavalier in sooth!

There! now we can ease him somewhat. Jan's back is turned: we dare not
touch the ropes, but a cloak put between his back and the beam, and
another just against his head.

Is that not better, old compeer?

Aye! but is it not good to be a villain and a rogue and herd with other
villains and other rogues who are so infinitely more kind and gentle
than all those noble lords?

Diogenes--his head propped against the rude cushion placed there by the
hand of some rough Samaritan--has fallen into a fitful doze.

Whispers around him wake him with a start. Ye gods! was there even so
black a night? The whispers become more eager, more insistent.

"Let us but speak with him. We'll do no harm!"

St. Bavon tell us how those two scare-crows have got here! For they are
here in the flesh, both of them, Diogenes would have spotted his brother
philosophers through darkness darker than the blackest hell. Pythagoras
rolling in fat and Socrates lean and hungry-looking, peering like a huge
gaunt bird through the gloom. Someone is holding up a lanthorn and
Pythagoras' tip-tilted nose shines with a ruddy glow.

"But how did you get here, you old mushroom-face?" asks one of the men.

"We had business with him at Rotterdam," quoth Socrates with one of his
choicest oaths and nodding in the direction of the prisoner. "All day we
have wondered what has become of him."

"Then in the afternoon," breaks in Pythagoras, to the accompaniment of a
rival set of expletives, "we saw him trussed like a fowl and tied into a
sledge drawn by a single horse, which started in the wake of a larger
one wherein sat a lovely jongejuffrouw."

"Then what did you do?" queries some one.

"Do?" exclaimed the philosophers simultaneously and in a tone of deep
disgust.

"Followed on his trail as best we could," rejoins Socrates simply,
"borrowed some skates, ran down the Schie in the wake of the two sledges
and their escort."

"And after that?"

"After that we traced him to this solitary God-forsaken hole, but
presently we saw that this molens was not so deserted as it seemed, so
we hung about until now...then we ventured nearer...and here we are."

Here they were of course, but how was it possible to contravene the
orders of Jan? What could these scarecrows have to say to the Laughing
Cavalier?

"Just to ask him if there's anything we can do," murmurs Socrates
persuasively. "He's like to hang to-morrow, you said, well! grant
something then to a dying man."

Grave heads shake in the gloom.

"Our orders are strict..."

"'Tis a matter of life and death it seems..."

"Bah! quoth Pythagoras more insinuatingly still, we are two to your
thirty! What have ye all to fear?"

"Here! tie my hands behind my back," suggests Socrates. "I only want to
speak with him. How could we help him to escape?"

"We would not think of such a thing," murmurs Pythagoras piously.

Anxious glances meet one another in consultation. More than one kindly
heart beats beneath these ragged doublets. Bah! the man is to hang
to-morrow, why not give pleasure to a dying man?

If indeed it be a pleasure to look on such hideous scarecrows a few
hours before death.

Jan is not here. He is with my lord, helping with those heavy boxes.

"Five minutes, you old mushroom-face," suggests he who has been left in
charge.

And all the others nod approval.

But they will take no risks about the prisoner. Pleasure and five
minutes' conversation with his friends, yes! but no attempt at escape.
So the men make a wide circle sitting out of ear-shot, but shoulder to
shoulder the thirty of them who happen to be awake. In the centre of the
circle is the Laughing Cavalier tied to a beam, trussed like a fowl
since he is to hang on the morrow.

Close beside his feet is the lanthorn so that he may have a last look at
his friends, and some few paces away his naked sword which Jan took from
him when the men brought him down.

He has listened to the whispered conversation--he knows that his brother
philosophers are here. May the God of rogues and villains bless them for
their loyalty.

"And now St. Bavon show me the best way to make use of them!"

There is still something to be done, which hath been left undone, a word
hath been given and that pledge must be fulfilled, and the promised
fortune still awaits him who will bring the jongejuffrouw safely to her
father!

"My God, if it were not for that broken shoulder and that torn
hip!...there are many hours yet before the morrow."

"Old compeer!" came in a hoarse whisper close to his ear, "how did you
come to such a pass?"

"They came and took the jongejuffrouw away from Rotterdam," he replied
also speaking in a whisper. "I had just returned from Delft, where I had
business to transact and I recognized Jan beside the sledge into which
the jongejuffrouw was stepping even then. He had ten or a dozen men with
him. I felt that they meant mischief--but I had to follow...I had to
find out whither they were taking her..."

"Verdommt!" growled Socrates under his breath. "Why did you not take us
along?"

"I meant to come back for you, as soon as I knew...but in the dark
...and from behind, seven of these fellows fell upon me...they used
their skates like javelins...mine were still on my feet... I had only
Bucephalus...A blow from one of the heaviest blades cracked my shoulder,
another caught me on the hip. There were seven of them," he reiterated
with a careless laugh, "it was only a question of time, they were bound
to bring me down in the end."

"But who has done this? queried Pythagoras with an oath.

"A lucky rogue on whom God hath chosen to smile. But," he added more
seriously and sinking his voice to the lowest possible whisper, "never
mind about the past. Let us think of the future, old compeers."

"We are ready," they replied simultaneously.

"A knife?" he murmured, "can you cut these confounded ropes?"

"They took everything from us," growled Socrates, "ere they let us
approach you."

"Try with your hands to loosen the knots."

"What ho! you brigands, what are you doing there?"

In a moment the circle around broke up. A crowd of angry faces were
gathered closely round the philosophers, and more than one pair of rough
hands were laid upon their shoulders.

"Play fair, you two!" cried Piet the Red, who was in command, "or we'll
tie you both to the nearest beams and await my lord's commands."

"Easy, easy, friend," quoth Diogenes with a pleasant laugh, "my nose was
itching and my compeer held on to my arm while he tried to reach my nose
in order to scratch it."

"Then if it itch again," retorted the man with an equally jovial laugh,
"call for my services, friend. And now, you two scarecrows! the five
minutes are over. Jan will be here in a moment."

But they formed up the circle once more, kind and compassionate. Jan was
not yet here, and the rogues had had a warning: they were not like to be
at their tricks again.

"Never mind about me," whispered Diogenes hurriedly as Pythagoras and
Socrates, baffled and furious, were giving forth samples of their
choicest vocabularies. "You see that Chance alone can favour me an she
choose, if not...'tis no matter. What you can do for me is far more
important than cheating the gallows of my carcase."

"What is it?" they asked simply.

"The jongejuffrouw," he said, "you know where she is?"

"In the hut--close by," replied Socrates, "we saw the sledge draw up
there..."

"But the house is well guarded," murmured Pythagoras.

"Nor would I ask you to run your heads in the same noose wherein mine
will swing to-morrow. But keep the hut well in sight. At any hour--any
moment now there may be a call of sauve qui peut. Every man for himself
and the greatest luck to the swiftest runner."

"But why?"

"Never mind why. It is sure to happen. Any minute you may hear the cry
...confusion, terror...a scramble and rush for the open."

"And our opportunity," came in a hoarse whisper from Socrates. "I think
that I begin to understand."

"We lie low for the present and when sauve qui peut is called we come
straight back here and free you...in the confusion they will have
forgotten you."

"If the confusion occurs in time," quoth Diogenes with his habitual
carelessness, "you may still find me here trussed like a fowl to this
verdommte beam. But I have an idea that the Lord of Stoutenburg will
presently be consumed with impatience to see me hang...he has just
finished some important work by the bridge on the Schie...he won't be
able to sleep and the devil will be suggesting some mischief for his
idle hands to do. There will be many hours to kill before daylight, one
of them might be well employed in hanging me."

"Then we'll not leave you an instant," asserted Pythagoras firmly.

"What can you do, you two old scarecrows, against the Lord of
Stoutenburg who has thirty men here paid to do his bidding?"

"We are not going to lie low and play the part of cowards while you are
being slaughtered."

"You will do just what I ask, faithful old compeers," rejoined Diogenes
more earnestly than was his wont. "You will lie very low and take the
greatest possible care not to run your heads into the same rope wherein
mayhap mine will dangle presently. Nor will you be playing the part of
cowards, for you have not yet learned the A B C of that part, and you
will remember that on your safety and freedom of action lies my one
chance, not so much of life as of saving my last shred of honour."

"What do you mean?"

"The jongejuffrouw--" he whispered, "I swore to bring her back to her
father and I must cheat a rascal of his victory. In the confusion--at
dawn to-morrow--think above all of the jongejuffrouw...In the confusion
you can overpower the guard--rush the miller's hut where she is...carry
her off...the horses are in the shed behind the hut ...you may not have
time to think of me."

"But..."

"Silence--they listen..."

"One of us with the jongejuffrouw--the other to help you--"

"Silence...I may be a dead man by then--the jongejuffrouw remember--make
for Ryswyk with her first of all--thence straight to Haarlem--to her
father--you can do it easily. A fortune awaits you if you bring her
safely to him. Fulfil my pledge, old compeers, if I am not alive to do
it myself. I don't ask you to swear--I know you'll do it--and if I must
to the gallows first I'll do so with a cry of triumph."

"But you..."

"Silence!" he murmured again peremptorily, but more hoarsely this time
for fatigue and loss of blood and tense excitement are telling upon his
iron physique at last--he is well-nigh spent and scarce able to speak.
"Silence--I can hear Jan's footsteps. Here! quick! inside my boot...a
wallet? Have you got it?" he added with a brief return to his habitual
gaiety as he felt Socrates' long fingers groping against his shins, and
presently beheld his wallet in his compeer's hand. "You will find money
in there--enough for the journey. Now quick into the night, you
two--disappear for the nonce, and anon when sauve qui peut rings in the
air--to-night or at dawn or whenever this may be, remember the
jongejuffrouw first of all and when you are ready give the cry we all
know so well--the cry of the fox when it lures its prey. If I am not
dangling on a gibbet by then, I shall understand. But quick now!--Jan
comes!--Disappear I say!..."

Quietly and swiftly Socrates slipped the wallet with some of the money
back into his friend's boot, the rest he hid inside his own doublet.

Strange that between these men there was no need of oaths. Pythagoras
and Socrates had said nothing: silent and furtive they disappeared into
the darkness. Diogenes' head sank down upon his breast with a last sigh
of satisfaction. He knew that his compeers would do what he had asked.
Jan's footsteps rang on the hard-frozen ground--silently the living
circle had parted and the philosophers were swallowed up by the gloom.

Jan looks suspiciously at the groups of men who now stand desultorily
around.

"Who was standing beside the prisoner just now?" he asks curtly.

"When, captain?" queries one of the men blandly.

"A moment ago. I was descending the steps. The lanthorn was close to the
prisoner; I saw two forms--that looked unfamiliar to me--close to him."

"Oh!" rejoined Piet the Red unblushingly, "it must have been my back
that you saw, captain. Willem and I were looking to see that the ropes
had not given way. The prisoner is so restless..."

Jan--not altogether re-assured--goes up to the prisoner. He raises the
lanthorn and has a good and comprehensive look at all the ropes. Then he
examines the man's face.

"What ho!" he cries, "a bottle of spiced wine from my wallet. The
prisoner has fainted."




Chapter XXXVII--DAWN

What a commotion when dawn breaks at last; it comes grey, dull, leaden,
scarce lighter than the night, the haze more dense, the frost more
biting. But it does break at last after that interminable night of
excitement and sleeplessness and preparations for the morrow.

Jan has never closed an eye, he has scarcely rested even, pacing up and
down, in and out of those gargantuan beams, with the molens and its
secrets towering above his head. Nor I imagine did those noble lords and
mynheers up there sleep much during this night; but they were tired and
lay like logs upon straw paillasses, living over again the past few
hours, the carrying of heavy iron boxes one by one from the molens to
the wooden bridge, the unloading there, the unpacking in the darkness,
and the disposal of the death-dealing powder, black and evil smelling,
which will put an end with its one mighty crash--to tyranny and the
Stadtholder's life.

Tired they are but too excited to sleep: the last few hours are like a
vivid dream; the preparation of the tinder, the arrangements, the
position to be taken up by Beresteyn and Heemskerk, the two chosen
lieutenants who will send the wooden bridge over the Schie flying in
splinters into the air.

Van Does too has his work cut out. General in command of the
forces--foreign mercenaries and louts from the country--he has Jan for
able captain. The Mercenaries and the louts know nothing yet of what
will happen to-morrow--when once the dawn has broken--but they are well
prepared; like beasts of the desert they can scent blood in the air;
look at them polishing up their swords and cleaning their cullivers!
they know that to-morrow they will fight, even though to-night they have
had no orders save to see that one prisoner tied with ropes to a beam
and fainting with exposure and loss of blood does not contrive to
escape.

But the Lord of Stoutenburg is more wakeful than all. Like a caged beast
of prey he paces up and down the low, narrow weighing-room of the
molens, his hands tightly clenched behind his back, his head bare, his
cloak cast aside despite the bitter coldness of the night.

Restless and like a beast of prey; his nostrils quiver with the lust of
hate and revenge that seethes within his soul. Two men doth he hate with
a consuming passion of hatred, the Stadtholder Prince of Orange,
sovereign ruler of half the Netherlands, and a penniless adventurer
whose very name is unknown.

Both these men are now in the power of the Lord of Stoutenburg. The
bridge is prepared, the powder laid, to-morrow justice will be meted out
to the tyrant; God alone could save him now, and God, of a surety, must
be on the side of a just revenge. The other man is helpless and a
prisoner; despite his swagger and his insolence, justice shall be meted
out to him too; God alone could save him, and God, of a surety, could
not be on the side of an impudent rogue.

These thoughts, which were as satisfying to the Lord of Stoutenburg as
food placed at an unattainable distance is to a starving beast, kept him
awake and pacing up and down the room after he had finished his work
under the bridge.

He could not sleep for thinking of the prisoner, of the man's insolence,
of the humiliation and contempt wherewith every glance he had brought
shame to his cheeks. The Lord of Stoutenburg could not sleep also for
thinking of Gilda, and the tender, pitying eyes wherewith she regarded
the prisoner, the gentle tone of her voice when she spoke to him, even
after proof had been placed before her that the man was a forger and a
thief.

The Lord of Stoutenburg could not sleep and all the demons of jealousy,
of hatred and of revenge were chasing him up and down the room and
whispering suggestions of mischief to be wrought, of a crime to be
easily committed.

"While that man lives," whispered the demon of hate in his ear, "thou
wilt not know a moment's rest. Thou wilt think of him and of his death,
rather than of thy vengeance against the Stadtholder."

"While that man lives," whispered the demon of jealousy more insistently
than did the other evil spirits, "Gilda will not cease to think of him,
she will plead for him, she will try mayhap to save him and then--"

And the Lord of Stoutenburg groaned aloud in the silence of the night,
and paused in his restless walk. He drew a chair close to the table, and
sat down; then resting his elbows upon the table, he buried his head in
his hands, and remained thus motionless but breathing heavily like one
whose soul is fighting a losing battle.

The minutes sped on. He had no means of gauging the time. It was just
night, black impenetrable night. From down below came the murmur of all
the bustle that was going on, the clang of arms, the measured footsteps
which told of other alert human creatures who were waiting in excitement
and tense expectancy for that dawn which still was far distant.

The minutes sped on, on the leaden feet of time. How long the Lord of
Stoutenburg had sat thus, silent and absorbed, he could not afterwards
have said. Perhaps after all he had fallen asleep, overcome with fatigue
and with the constant sleeplessness of the past few days. But anon he
was wide awake, slightly shivering with the cold. The tallow candle was
spluttering, almost dying out. With a steady hand the Lord of
Stoutenburg snuffed the smouldering wick, the candle flickered up again.
Then he rose and quietly walked across the room. He pulled open the door
and loudly called for Jan.

A few minutes later Jan was at the door, silent, sullen, obedient as
usual.

"My lord called?" he asked.

"Yes," replied Stoutenburg, "what hour is it?"

"Somewhere near six I should say, my lord. I heard the tower-clock at
Ryswyk strike five some time ago."

"How long is it before the dawn?"

"Two hours, my lord."

"Time to put up a gibbet, Jan? And to hang a man?"

"Plenty of time for that, my lord," replied Jan quietly.

"Then see to it, Jan, as speedily as you can. I feel that that man down
below is our evil genius. While he lives Chance will be against us, of
that I am as convinced as I am of the justice of our cause. If that man
lives, Jan, the Stadtholder will escape us; I feel it in my bones:
something must have told me this in the night--it is a premonition that
comes from above."

"Then the man must not live, my lord," said Jan coldly.

"You recognize that too, Jan, do you not?" rejoined Stoutenburg eagerly.
"I am compelled in this--I won't say against my will, but compelled by a
higher, a supernatural power. You, too, believe in the supernatural, do
you not, my faithful Jan?"

"I believe, my lord, first and foremost in the justice of our cause. I
hate the Stadtholder and would see him dead. Nothing in the world must
place that great aim of ours in jeopardy."

Stoutenburg drew a deep breath of satisfaction.

"Then see to the gibbet, my good Jan," he said in a firm almost lusty
voice, "have it erected on the further side of the molens so that the
jongejuffrouw's eyes are not scandalized by the sight. When everything
is ready come and let me know, and guard him well until then, Jan, guard
him with your very life; I want to see him hang, remember that! Come and
tell me when the gallows are ready and I'll go to see him hang...I want
to see him hang..."

And Jan without another word salutes the Lord of Stoutenburg and then
goes out.

And thus it is that a quarter of an hour later the silence of the night
is broken by loud and vigorous hammering. Jan sees to it all and a
gibbet is not difficult to erect.

Then men grumble of course; they are soldiers and not executioners, and
their hearts for the most have gone out to that merry compeer--the
Laughing Cavalier--with his quaint jokes and his cheerful laugh. He has
been sleeping soundly too for several hours, but now he is awake. Jan
has told him that his last hour has come: time to put up a gibbet with a
few stiff planks taken from the store-room of the molens and a length of
rope.

He looks round him quite carelessly. Bah! death has no terrors for such
a splendid soldier as he is. How many times hath he faced death ere
this?--why he was at Prague and at Madgeburg where few escaped with
their lives. He bears many a fine scar on that broad chest of this and
none upon his back. A splendid fighter, if ever there was one!

But hanging? Bah!

The men murmur audibly as plank upon plank is nailed. Jan directs
operations whilst Piet the Red keeps guard over the prisoner. Two or
three of the country louts know something of carpentering. They do the
work under Jan's watchful eye. They grumble but they work, for no one
has been paid yet, and if you rebel you are like to be shot, and in any
case you lose your pay.

And Diogenes leaning up against the beam watches with lazy quaintly
smiling eyes the preparations that are going on not a hundred paces away
from him. After a while the darkness all around is beginning to yield to
the slow insistence of dawn. It rises slowly behind the veils of mist
which still envelop the distant East. Gradually an impalpable greyness
creeps around the molens, objects begin to detach themselves one by one
out of the gloom, the moving figures of the mercenaries, the piles of
arms heaped up here and there out of the damp, the massive beams slimy
and green which support the molens, and a little further on the tall
erection with a projecting arm round which great activity reigns.

Diogenes watches it all with those same lazy eyes, and that same
good-humoured smile lingering round his lips. That tall erection over
there which still looks ghostlike through the mist is for him. The game
of life is done and he has lost. Death is there at the end of the
projecting arm on which even now Jan is fixing a rope.

"Death in itself matters but little," mused the philosopher with his
gently ironical smile. "I would have chosen another mode than hanging
...but after all 'tis swift and sure; and of course now she will never
know."

Know what, O philosopher? What is it that she--Gilda--with the fair
curls and the blue eyes, the proud firm mouth and round chin--what is it
that she will never know?

She will never know that a nameless, penniless soldier of fortune has
loved her with every beat of his heart, every thought of his brain, with
every sinew and every aspiration. She will never know that just in order
to remain near her, when she was dragged away out of Rotterdam he
affronted deliberately the trap into which he fell. She will never know
that for her dear sake, he has borne humiliation against which every
nerve of his splendid nature did inwardly rebel, owning to guilt and
shame lest her blue eyes shed tears from a brother's sin. She will never
know that the warning to the Stadtholder came from him, and that he was
neither a forger nor a thief, only just a soldier of fortune with a
contempt for death, and an unspoken adoration for the one woman who
seemed to him as distant from him as the stars.

But there were no vain regrets in him now; no regret of life, for this
he always held in his own hand ready to toss it away for a fancy of an
ideal--no regret of the might-have-been because he was a philosopher,
and the very moment that love for the unattainable was born in his heart
he had already realized that love to him could only mean a memory.

Therefore when he watched the preparations out there in the mist, and
heard the heavy blows upon the wooden planks and the murmurs of his
sympathizers at their work, he only smiled gently, self-deprecatingly,
but always good-humouredly.

If the Lord of Stoutenburg only knew how little he really cared.




Chapter XXXVIII--THE HOUR

A curiously timid voice roused the philosopher from his dreams.

"Is there aught I can do for you, sir? Alas! my friend the Lord
Stoutenburg is deeply angered against you. I could do nothing with him
on your behalf."

Diogenes turned his head in the direction whence had come the voice. He
saw Nicolaes Beresteyn standing there in the cold grey mist, with this
fur cloak wrapped closely up to his chin, and his face showing above the
cloak, white and drawn.

The situation was not likely to escape Diogenes' irrepressible sense of
humour.

"Mynheer Beresteyn," he exclaimed; "Dondersteen! what brings your
Mightiness here at this hour? A man on the point of death sir, has no
call for so pitiable a sight as is your face just now."

"I heard from my Lord Stoutenburg what happened in the hut last night,"
said Beresteyn in a faltering voice, and determined not to heed the
other's bantering tone. "You exonerated me before my sister...sir, this
was a noble act...I would wish to thank you..."

"And do so with quaking voice and shaking knees," quoth Diogenes with
unalterable god-humour, through which there pierced however an obvious
undercurrent of contempt. "Ye gods!" he added with a quaint sigh, "these
men have not even the courage of their infamy!"

The words, the tone, the shrug of the shoulders which accompanied these,
stung Nicolaes Beresteyn's dormant dignity to the quick.

"I do not wonder," he said more firmly, "that you feel bitter contempt
for me now. Your generosity for which I did not crave hath placed me
momentarily at a disadvantage before you. Yet believe me I would not be
outdone my you in generosity; were it not for my allegiance to the Lord
Stoutenburg I would go straight to my sister now and confess my guilt to
her...You believe me I trust," he added, seeing that Diogenes' merry
eyes were fixed mockingly upon him, "did fate allow it I would gladly
change places with you even now."

"I am about to hang, sir," quoth Diogenes lightly.

"Alas!"

"And you are forced, you say, to play a craven's part; believe me, sir,
I would not change places with you for a kingdom."

"I do believe you, sir," rejoined Beresteyn earnestly, "yet I would have
you think of me as something less of a coward than I seem. Were I to
make full confession to my sister now, I should break her heart--but it
would not save your neck from the gallows."

"And a rogue's neck, sir, is of such infinitely less value than a good
woman's heart. So I pray you say no more about it. Death and I are old
acquaintances, oft hath he nodded to me en passant, we are about to
become closer friends, that is all."

"Some day my sister shall know, sir, all that you have done for her and
for me."

The ghost of a shadow passed over the Laughing Cavalier's face.

"That sir, I think had best remain 'twixt you and me for all times. But
this I would have you know, that when I accepted the ignoble bargain
which you proposed to me in my friend Hals' studio, I did so because I
thought that the jongejuffrouw would be safer in my charge then than in
yours!"

Beresteyn was about to retort more hotly when Jan, closely followed by
half a dozen men, came with swift, firm footsteps up to the prisoner. He
saluted Beresteyn deferentially as was his wont.

"Your pardon, mynheer," he said, "my lord hath ordered that the prisoner
be forthwith led to execution."

Nicolaes' pale face became the colour of lead.

"One moment, Jan," he said, "one moment. I must speak with my
lord...I..."

"My lord is with the jongejuffrouw," said Jan curtly, "shall I send to
tell him that you desire to speak with him?"

"No--no--that is I...I..." stammered Nicolaes who, indeed, was fighting
a cruel battle with his own weakness, his own cowardice now. It was that
weakness which had brought him to the abject pass in which he now stood,
face to face with the man he had affected to despise, and who was about
to die, laden with the crimes which he Nicolaes had been the first to
commit.

Stoutenburg's influence over him had been paramount, through it he had
lost all sense of justice, of honour and of loyalty; banded with
murderers he had ceased to recognize the very existence of honesty, and
now he was in such a plight morally, that though he knew himself to be
playing an ignoble rôle, he did not see the way to throw up the part and
to take up that of an honest man. One word from him to Gilda, his frank
confession of his own guilt, and she would so know how to plead for the
condemned man that Stoutenburg would not dare to proceed with this
monstrous act.

But that word he had not the courage to speak.

With dull eyes and in sullen silence he watched Piet the Red untying
under Jan's orders the ropes which held the prisoner to the beam, and
then securing others to keep his arms pinioned behind his back. The mist
now was of a faint silvery grey, and the objects around had that
mysterious hushed air which the dawn alone can lend. The men, attracted
by the sight of a fellow creature in his last living moments, had
gathered together in close knots of threes and fours. They stood by,
glowering and sombre, and had not Jan turned a wilfully deaf ear to
their murmurings he would have heard many an ugly word spoken under
their breath.

These were of course troublous and fighting times, when every man's hand
was against some other, when every able-bodied man was firstly a soldier
and then only a peaceable citizen. Nor was the present situation an
uncommon one: the men could not know what the prisoner had done to
deserve this summary punishment. He might have been a spy--an
informer--or merely a prisoner of war. It was no soldier's place to
interfere, only to obey orders and to ask no questions.

But they gave to the splendid personality of the condemned man the
tribute of respectful silence. Whilst Jan secured the slender white
hands of the prisoner, and generally made those awful preparations which
even so simple a death as hanging doth demand, jests and oaths were
stilled one by one among these rough fighting men, not one head but was
uncovered, not a back that was not straightened, not an attitude that
was not one of deference and attention. Instinct--that unerring instinct
of the soldier--had told them that here was no scamp getting his just
reward, but a brave man going with a careless smile to his death.

"Has mynheer finished with the prisoner?" asked Jan when he saw that
Piet had finished his task and that the prisoner was ready to be led
away. "Is there aught your greatness would still desire to say to him?"

"Only this," said Beresteyn firmly, "that were his hands free I would
ask leave to grasp them."

A look of kindly amusement fell from the prisoner's eyes upon the pale
face of the young man.

"I have never known you, sir, save by a quaint nickname," continued
Beresteyn earnestly, "but surely you have kith and kin somewhere. Have
you no father or mother living whom you will leave to mourn?"

The prisoner made no immediate reply, the smile of kindly amusement
still lingered round his lips, but presently with an instinctive gesture
of pride, he threw back his head and looked around him, as one who has
nothing to fear and but little to regret. He met the sympathetic glance
cast on him by the man who had done him--was still doing him--an
infinite wrong, and all round those of his mute and humble friends who
seemed to be listening eagerly now for the answer which he would give to
mynheer. Then with a quick sweep his eyes suddenly rested on the wooden
erection beyond the molens that loomed out so tragically through the
mist, pointing with its one weird arm to some infinite distance away.

Something in the gentle pathos of this humble deference that encompassed
him, something mayhap in the solemnity of that ghostly arm suddenly
seemed to melt the thin crust of his habitual flippancy. He looked back
on Beresteyn and said softly:

"I have a friend, Frans Hals--the painter of pictures--tell him when
next you see him that I am glad his portrait of me is finished, and that
I asked God to bless him for all his goodness has meant to me in the
past."

"But your father, sir," urged Beresteyn, "your kindred..."

"My father, sir," replied Diogenes curtly, "would not care to hear that
his son had died upon the gallows."

Beresteyn would have spoken again but Jan interposes once more, humbly
but firmly.

"My lord's orders," he now says briefly, "and time presses, mynheer."

Beresteyn stands back, smothering a sigh. Jan on ahead, then Piet the
Red and the six soldiers with the prisoner between them. A few steps
only divide them from the gruesome erection that looms more solidly now
out of the mist. Beresteyn, wrapping his head up in the cloak to shut
out sound and sight, walks rapidly away in the opposite direction.




Chapter XXXIX--"SAUVE QUI PEUT"

Then it is that, out of the thickness of the fog a figure suddenly
emerges running and panting: a man has fallen up against the group of
soldiers who have just halted beside the gibbet.

"It is Lucas of Sparendam come back from Delft," they cry as soon as
they recognize the stained face, wet with the frost and the mist.

Already Jan--who with Piet's help was busy with the rope--has heard the
name. His wan, thin face has become the colour of ashes.

"Lucas of Sparendam back from Delft," he murmurs, "the Lord save us
all!"

Lucas of Sparendam was sent yesterday to Delft by the Lord of
Stoutenburg to spy and to find out all that was going on inside the
Prinzenhof where slept the Stadtholder and his bodyguard of one hundred
men-at-arms: and now he has come back running and panting: his clothes
torn, his face haggard and spent. He has run all the way from Delft--a
matter of a league and a half! Why should a man half kill himself by
endeavouring to cover a league and a half in one hour?

"A drop of hot wine for Lucas," cries one of the soldiers. "He is
faint."

The other men--there are close on forty all told--crowd round the gibbet
now, those in charge of the prisoner have much ado to keep the space
clear. They don't say anything just yet, but there is a strange,
restless look in their eyes and their lips tremble with all the unspoken
questions.

Only two men remain calm and silent, Jan has never ceased in his task of
adjusting the ropes, and the prisoner stands quite still, bound with
cords, and neither looking on Lucas nor yet on the gibbet above him. His
eyes are half closed and there is a strained look on his merry face as
if he were trying to listen to something that was too far off to hear.

But one man in the meanwhile is ready with the bottle of spiced wine,
the best cordial there is for a fainting man. The others make way for
him so that he can minister to Lucas. And Lucas drinks the wine eagerly,
then he opens his eyes.

"We are betrayed," he murmurs.

"Great God!" exclaims Jan dully.

"Betrayed!"

"What does it mean?"

No one heeds the prisoner now. They all crowd around Lucas. Jan calls
out his orders in vain: Piet the Red alone listens to what he says, the
others all want to know what Lucas means. They had been in the thick of
a plot of course, they all knew that: a guet-apens had been prepared by
the Lord of Stoutenburg for the Stadtholder whom he hates. The heavy
boxes of course--gunpowder...to blow up the wooden bridge when the
Stadtholder and his escort are half way across!

Of course they had all guessed it, thought on it all through the night
while they polished the arms--the swords and the pistols and the
cullivers--which had been served out to them. They had guessed of
course--the foreign mercenaries who were always in the thick of every
conspiracy and well paid for being so--they had been the first to guess
and they had told the country louts who only grinned enjoying the
prospect of the fun.

But now they were betrayed. Lucas of Sparendam had come back with the
news, and even Jan stopped in his hideous task in order to listen to
what he had to say.

"It all happened yesterday," quoth Lucas as soon as he had recovered his
breath, "the rumour began in the lower quarters of the town. Nobody
knows who began it. Some say that a foreigner came into the city in the
early morning and sat down at one of the taverns to eat and drink with
one of the Prince's soldiers."

"A foreigner?"

Jan turns to look on the prisoner and encounters his mocking glance.
Smothering a curse he resumes his task of adjusting the rope upon the
gibbet, but his fingers are unsteady and his work doth not progress.

"Yes, a foreigner," continued Lucas volubly, "though it all has remained
very mysterious. The Prince's soldiers spoke of it amongst
themselves...the foreigner had said something about a guet-apens, a plot
against the Stadtholder's life on his way to the North... then one of
the officers heard the rumour and carried it to one of his
superiors...By the evening it had reached the Stadtholder's ears."

"Then what happened?" they all asked eagerly.

"Nothing for some hours," replied Lucas, "but I know that spies were
sent round in every direction, and that by midnight there was general
talk in the city that the Stadtholder would not continue his journey to
the North. When the captain of the guard came to him for orders the
Prince said curtly: 'We do not start to-morrow!' As soon as I heard of
this I made preparations. It was then an hour after midnight. I was
still alert and listening: all round me--as I made ready to leave the
city--I heard rumours among the soldiers and spies of the Stadtholder,
of their knowledge of a lonely spot--a deserted molens--near Ryswyk
where they declared many men did lately congregate. I heard too that
soon after dawn the Prince's guard would make straight for the molens,
so I put on my snow shoes and started to run, despite the darkness and
the fog, for we are all betrayed and the Stadtholder's soldiers will be
on us in a trice."

Hardly are the words out of Lucas Sparendam's mouth than the commotion
begins, the disbanding; there is a roar and a bustle and a buzz: metal
clashing, men rushing, cries of "we are betrayed! sauve qui peut!"

At first there is a general stampede for the places where the arms are
kept--the muskets, the swords and the cullivers--but these are thrown
down almost as soon as they are picked up. They are no use now and worse
than useless in a fight. But pistols are useful, in case of pursuit.
"Quick, turn, fire!...so where are the pistols? Jan, where are those
pistols?"

There are not enough to go round: about a dozen were served out last
night, and there are forty pairs of hands determined to possess one at
least. So they begin to fight for them, tearing one another to pieces,
shouting execrations, beating round with bare fists, since the other
arms have already been laid down.

Now the confusion becomes worse than any that might reign among a herd
of animals who are ready to rend one another: they tear the clothes off
one another's back, the skin off one another's face: fear--hideous,
overwhelming, abject fear, has made wild beasts of these men. The mist
envelops them, it is barely light in this basement beneath the molens:
lanthorns have long ago been kicked into extinction. The hot breath of
forty panting throats mingles with the mist, and the heat of human
bodies fever-heated with passion, fights against the strength of the
frost. The frozen ground yields under the feet, clots of mud are thrown
up by the stampede, from the beams up aloft the heavy icicles melt and
drip monotonously, incessantly down upon those faces, red and perspiring
in an agony of demented fear.

Jan and Piet the Red stand alone beside the prisoner: a sense of duty,
of decency hath kept their blood cool. Until they are relieved from
their post of guarding this man by orders from their lord, they will not
move. Let the others rage and scream and tumble over one another, there
must be at least a few soldiers among this rabble.

And the prisoner looks on all this confusion with eyes that dance and
sparkle with the excitement of what is yet to come. Torn rags and broken
accoutrements soon lie in a litter in the mud, trampled in by forty
pairs of feet. There is not one face now that is not streaked with
blood, not one throat that is not hoarse with terror--the terror of the
unknown.

In vain Jan from his post beside the prisoner shouts, harangues,
appeals, threatens! A fight? yes! defeat? why not? but betrayal!... no,
no, let's away. The Stadtholder is fiercer than any Inquisitor of
Spain...his cruelty last February almost turned the nation against him.
But now--this second conspiracy--

Stoutenburg again! What hope for his followers?

The horrors of last February perpetrated in the Gevangen Poort of 'S
Graven Hage still cause many a rough cheek to blanch at their
recollection. Men had gone mad who had heard the cries which pierced
those stone walls then. One executioner had thrown down his bloody tools
and fled from the place like one possessed! Van Dyk and Korenwinder,
Slatius and the rest had been in hell ere a merciful death at last
released them from the barbaric cruelty of the Prince of Orange.

"No, no! such a fate cannot be risked. We are betrayed! let us fly!"

Suddenly one man starts to run.

"I am for the coast!" he shouts, and incontinently takes to his heels.

"Sauve qui peut!"

Like irresponsible creatures they throw down the very weapons for which
they have been fighting. The one man has given the signal for the run.
Everything now is thrown aside, there is no thought save for flight.

A splashing of the mud, a general shout, a scramble, a clatter--they
run--they run--crying to those who are behind to follow and run too.

In five minutes the dark basement is clear of noise--a litter of broken
arms lies in one heap close by, others are scattered all over the ground
in the mud, together with torn clothing, rags of leather and of cloth
and great red pools that mingle with the melted ice.

The mist surrounds it all, this abandoned battle field wherein fear was
the victor over man. The swiftly flying figures are soon swallowed up by
the grey wall which lies dense and heavy over the lowland around; for
the time they appear like ghosts with blurred outlines of torn doublets
and scraps of felt hats placed awry; then the outline gets more dim as
they run, and the kindly mist hides them from view.

Under the molens all is silent now. Jan and Piet the Red guard the
prisoner alone. The gallows are ready or nearly so, but there is no one
to send to the Lord of Stoutenburg to tell him this--as he hath
commanded--so that he may see this man hang whom he hates. And it would
not be safe to leave the prisoner unguarded. Only from time to time Jan
looks to see that the ropes still hold fast, but for the most part his
eyes are fixed upon the mist on his left, and by the avenging hordes
sent by the Prince of Orange.

Now that all those panting, perspiring human creatures have gone, the
frost is more bitter, more biting than before; but neither Piet nor Jan
seem to heed it, though their flesh is blue with the cold. Overhead
there is a tramp of feet; the noble mynheers must have heard the
confusion, they must have seen the flight; they are even now preparing
to do in a slightly more dignified way what the foreign mercenaries and
the louts from the country have done so incontinently.

The prisoner, hearing this tramp of feet over his head, looks more
alertly around him. He sees that Jan and Piet have remained on guard
even whilst the others have fled. He also sees the pile of heaped-up
arms, the broken metal, the rags and the mud, and through the
interstices of the wooden steeps the booted feet of the mynheers running
helter-skelter down; and a mad, merry laugh--that holds a world of joy
in its rippling tones--breaks from his lips.

The next moment from far away comes a weird cry through the mist. A fox
on the alert tries to lure his prey with that quaint cry of his, which
appeals to the young birds and encourages them to come. What should a
fox be doing on these ice-covered tracks? he must have strayed from very
far, from over the moor mayhap beyond Gonda; hunger no doubt hath made a
wanderer of him, an exile from his home.

Jan listens--greatly astonished--what should a fox be doing here? Piet
is impassive, he knows nothing of the habits of foxes; sea-wolves are
more familiar to him. With his eyes Jan instinctively questions the
prisoner:

"What should a fox be doing here on these ice-bound flats?" he mutely
asks.

But the prisoner apparently cares nothing about the marvels of nature,
cares nothing about exiled foxes. His head is erect, his eyes dance with
glee, a happy smile lights up his entire face.

Jan remembered that the others last night had called the wounded man the
Laughing Cavalier. A Cavalier he looked, every inch of him; the ropes
mattered nothing, nor the torn clothing; proud, triumphant, happy, he
was laughing with all the light-hearted gaiety which pertains to youth.

The Laughing Cavalier forsooth. Lucky devil! if he can laugh! Jan sighed
and marvelled when the Lord of Stoutenburg would relieve him from his
post.




Chapter XL--THE LOSER PAYS

Nicolaes Beresteyn had not gone far when Lucas of Sparendam came running
with the news. He heard it all, he saw the confusion, the first sights
of sauve qui peut.

At first he was like one paralyzed with horror and with fear; he could
not move, his limbs refused him service. Then he thought of his
friends--some up in the molens, others at various posts on the road and
by the bridge--they might not hear the confusion and the tumult, they
might not see the coming sauve qui peut; they might not hear that the
Stadtholder's spies are on the alert, and that his bodyguard might be
here at any time.

Just then the disbanding began. Nicolaes Beresteyn pushed his way
through the fighting, quarrelling crowd to where Lucas of Sparendam,
still exhausted and weak, was leaning up against a beam.

"Their lordships up in the molens," he said in a voice still choked with
fear, "and the Lord of Stoutenburg in the hut with the jongejuffrouw...Come
and tell them at once all that you know."

And he dragged Lucas of Sparendam in his wake.

The Lord of Stoutenburg was at Gilda's feet when Beresteyn ran in with
Lucas to tell him the news.

After he had given Jan the orders to prepare the gallows for the summary
execution of the prisoner he had resumed his wild, restless pacing up
and down the room. There was no remorse in him for his inhuman and
cowardly act, but his nerves were all on the jar, and that perpetual
hammering which went on in the distance drove him to frantic
exasperation.

A picture of the happenings in the basement down below would obtrude
itself upon his mental vision; he saw the prisoner--careless,
contemptuous, ready for death; Jan sullen but obedient; the men
murmuring and disaffected. He felt as if the hammering was now directed
against his own head, he could have screamed aloud with the agony of
this weary, expectant hour.

Then he thought of Gilda. Slowly the dawn was breaking, the hammering
had ceased momentarily; silence reigned in the basement after the
turbulence of the past hour. The Lord of Stoutenburg did not dare
conjecture what this silence meant.

The thought of Gilda became more insistent. He snatched up a cloak and
wrapping it closely round him, he ran out into the mist. Quickly
descending the steps, he at once turned his back on the basement where
the last act of the supreme tragedy would be enacted presently. He felt
like a man pursued, with the angel of Nemesis close to his heels,
hour-glass in hand to mark the hour of retribution.

He hoped to find rest and peace beside Gilda; he would not tell her that
he had condemned the man to death. Let her forget him peaceably and
naturally; the events of to-day would surely obliterate other matters
from her mind. What was the life of a foreign vagabond beside the
destinies of Holland which an avenging God would help to settle today?

The Lord of Stoutenburg had walked rapidly to the hut where he hoped to
find Gilda ready to receive him. He knocked at the door and Maria opened
it to him. To his infinite relief she told him that the jongejuffrouw
had broken her fast and would gladly speak with him.

Gilda, he thought, looked very pale and fragile in the dim light of two
or three tallow candles placed in sconces about the room. There were
dark circles round here eyes and a pathetic trembling of her lips
proclaimed the near presence of tears.

But there was an atmosphere of peace in the tiny room, with its humble
little bits of furniture and the huge earthenware stove from which the
pleasing glow of a wood fire emanated and shed a cheerful radiance
around.

The Lord of Stoutenburg felt that here in Gilda's presence he could
forget his ambitions and his crimes, the man whom he was so foully
putting to death, his jealousies and even his revenge.

He drew a low chair close to her and half-sitting half-kneeling, began
speaking to her as gently, as simply as his harsh voice and impatient
temperament would allow. He spoke mostly about the future, only touching
very casually on the pain which she had caused him by her unjust
suspicions of him.

Gilda listened to him in silence for awhile. She was collecting all her
will-power, all her strength of purpose for the task which lay before
her--the task of softening a hardened and treacherous heart, of rousing
in it a spark of chivalry and of honour so that it showed mercy there
where it now threatened injustice, cruelty and almost inhuman cowardice.

A brave man's life was in the hands of this man, who professed love for
her; and though Gilda rejected that love with contempt, she meant,
womanlike, to use that love as a mainspring for the softened mood which
she wished to call forth.

The first thought that had broken in upon her after a brief and troubled
sleep was that a brave young life would be sacrificed to-day to gratify
the petty spite of a fiend. She had been persuaded yesterday that the
man who--though helpless and pinioned--stood before her in all the
splendour of manhood and of a magnificent personality was nothing but a
common criminal--a liar, a forger and a thief.

Though this thought should have made her contented, since by bringing
guilt home to a man who was nothing to her, it exonerated her brother
whom she loved, she had felt all night, right through the disturbing
dreams which had floated through her consciousness, a leaden weight
sitting upon her heart, like the sense of the committal of some great
and irreparable wrong. Indeed, she felt that if here in this very place
which he had filled last night with his exuberant vitality, she had to
think of him as silent and cold for all eternity, such a thought would
drive her mad.

The Lord of Stoutenburg's honeyed words fell unheeded on her ear; his
presence near her filled her with horror; she only kept up a semblance
of interest in him, because he held the fate of another man in the
hollow of his hand.

She was preparing in her mind what she was going to say to him, she
rehearsed the words which were most likely to appeal to his callous
nature. Already she was nerving herself for the supreme effort of
pleading for a brave man's life when suddenly the tramping of heavy feet
outside the hut, confused shouts and clang of arms, caused Stoutenburg
to jump to his feet.

The door was torn open, and Nicolaes Beresteyn stood for a moment on the
threshold, pale, speechless, with body trembling and moisture thick upon
his brow. Lucas of Sparendam was close behind him equally pale and
still.

At first sight of her brother Gilda had uttered a little cry of joy; but
that cry soon died upon her lips. Beresteyn had scarcely looked on her,
his glance at once had found that of Stoutenburg, and the two men seemed
to understand one another.

"We are betrayed?" cried Stoutenburg hoarsely.

Beresteyn nodded in reply.

"How?"

Lucas of Sparendam in short jerky sentences retold once more the tale of
all that had happened at Delft: the Prince of Orange warned, the spies
which he had sent broadcast, the bodyguard which even now was on its
way.

"They know of this place," murmured Beresteyn between quivering lips,
"they might be here at any moment."

Through the open door there came the noise of the men fighting, the
cries of rage and of fear, the clatter of metal and the tramping of many
feet.

"They are scared and half mad," said Lucas of Sparendam, "in five
minutes the sauve qui peut will commence."

"We are quite near the coast," said Stoutenburg with outward calm,
though his voice was choked and his tongue clove to the roof of his
mouth, "go you and tell the others, Beresteyn," he added, turning to his
friend, "then collect all our papers that are in the molens. Thank God
there are only a few that might compromise us at all. Heemskerk and van
Does will help you, they are not like to be seized with panic. We can
then make quietly for Scheveningen, where the boats are ready. There is
a sledge here and a pair of horses which I shall need; but it is less
than a league to Scheveningen, and you can all walk it easily. Tell the
others not to lose time and I will follow with the sledge as soon as may
be. There is no cause for a panic and we can all save ourselves."

Beresteyn made ready to go. He took less pains than Stoutenburg to
conceal his terror and his knees frankly shook under him. At the door he
paused. He had suddenly remembered Gilda.

She had risen from her chair and stood now like a statue carved in
stone, white to the lips, wide-eyed, her whole expression one of
infinite horror.

It had all been lies then, all that Stoutenburg had told her yesterday!
He had concealed the monstrous truth, lying to her with every word he
uttered. Now he stood there pale and trembling, the traitor who in his
turn has been betrayed. Fear and blind rage were fighting their last
deathly battle in his soul. The edifice of his treachery was crumbling
around him; God's hand--through an unknown channel--had set the limit to
his crimes. Twice a traitor, he had twice failed. Already he could see
the disbanding of his mercenary troops, the beginning of that mad, wild
flight to the coast, and down the steps of the molens his friends too
were running helter-skelter, without thought of anything save of their
own safety.

It would be so immeasurably horrible to fall into the Stadtholder's
hands.

And Gilda, pale and silent, stood between the two men who had lied to
her, outraged her to the end. Nicolaes was a traitor after all; he had
cast the eternal shroud of shame over the honour and peace of his house.
An God did not help him now, his death would complete that shame.

She tried to hold his glance, but he would not look at her; she felt
that his wrath of her almost bordered on hatred because he believed that
she had betrayed them all. His eyes were fixed upon his leader and
friend, and all the anxiety which he felt was for that one man.

"You must not delay, Nicolaes," said Stoutenburg curtly, "go, warn the
others and tell them to make for Scheveningen. But do you wait for
me--we'll follow anon in the sledge and, of course, Gilda comes with
us."

And Beresteyn said firmly:

"Of course, Gilda comes with us."

She was not afraid, even when he said this, even when his fierce glance
rested upon her, and she was too proud to make an appeal to him. It was
her turn now to avert her glance from him; to the bottom of her soul she
loathed his cowardice, and the contempt with which she regarded him now
was almost cruel in its intensity.

He went out of the room followed by Lucas of Sparendam, and now she was
once more alone with the Lord of Stoutenburg.

"Gilda," he cried with a fierce oath, "when did you do this?"

"It was not I, my lord," she replied calmly, "you and Nicolaes did all
that lay in your power to render me helpless in this. God knows I would
not have betrayed you...it is His hand that hath pointed the way to one
who was more brave than I."

"'Tis false," he exclaimed violently, "no one knew of our plans save
those who now must flee because like us they have been betrayed. No sane
man would wilfully put his head in the halter; and there are no
informers amongst us."

"You need not believe me, my lord," she rejoined coldly, "an you do not
wish. But remember that I have never learnt the art of lying, nor could
I be the Judas to betray my own brother. Therefore do I pledge you my
word that I had no share in this decree of God."

"If not yourself," he retorted, "you spoke of it to some one...who went
to the Stadtholder...and warned him! to some one...some one who...Ah!"
he cried suddenly with a loud and ghoulish scream wherein rage, horror
and fear and a kind of savage triumph too rang out, "I see that I have
guess aright. You did speak of what you knew...to the miserable knave
whom Nicolaes paid to outrage you...and you offered him money to betray
your own brother."

"It is false!"

"It is true--I can read it in your face. That man went to Delft
yesterday--he was captured by Jan on his back to Rotterdam. He had
fulfilled your errand and warned the Prince of Orange and delivered me
and all my friends into hands that never have known mercy."

He was blind with passion now and looked on her with bloodshot eyes that
threatened to kill. But Gilda was not cast in the same mould as was this
traitor.

Baffled in his crime, fear had completely unmanned him, but with every
cry of rage uttered by Stoutenburg she became more calm and less afraid.

"Once more, my lord," she said quietly in the brief interval of
Stoutenburg's ravings and while he was forced to draw breath, "do I
pledge my word to you that I had no hand in saving the Stadtholder's
life. That God chose for this another instrument than I, I do thank Him
on my knees."

While she spoke Stoutenburg had made a quick effort to regain some
semblance of composure, and now he contrived to say quite calmly and
with an evil sneer upon his face:

"That instrument of God is an I mistake not tied to a post with ropes
like an ox ready for the butcher's hand. Though I have but sorry chances
of escape myself and every minute hath become precious, I can at least
spend five in making sure that his fate at any rate be sorrier than
mine."

Her face became if possible even paler than before.

"What do you mean to do?" she murmured.

"The man who has betrayed me to the Price of Orange is the same man who
laid hands upon you in Haarlem--is that not so?"

"I cannot say," she said firmly.

"The same man who was here in this room yesterday, bound and pinioned
before you?" he insisted.

"I do not know."

"Will you swear then that you never spoke to him of the Prince of
Orange, and of our plans?"

"Not of your plans..." she protested calmly.

"You see that you cannot deny it, Gilda," he continued with that same
unnatural calm which seemed to her far more horrible than his rage had
been before. "Willingly or unwittingly you let that man know what you
overheard in the Groote Kerk on New Year's Eve. Then you bribed him into
warning the Prince of Orange, since you could not do it yourself."

"It is false," she reiterated wildly.

Once more that evil sneer distorted his pale face.

"Well!" he said, "whether you bribed him or not matters to me but
little. I do believe that willingly you would not have betrayed Nicolaes
or me or any of our friends to the Stadtholder, knowing what he is. But
you wanted to cross our plans, you wanted to warn the Stadtholder of his
danger, and you--not God--chose that man for your instrument."

"It is not true--I deny it," she repeated fearlessly.

"You may deny it with words, Gilda, but your whole attitude proclaims
the truth. Thank God!" he cried with a note of savage triumph in his
voice, "that man is still a helpless prisoner in my hands."

"What do you mean?" she murmured.

"I mean that it is good to hold the life of one's deadliest enemy in the
hollow of one's hand."

"But you would not slay a defenceless prisoner," she cried.

He laughed, a bitter, harsh, unnatural laugh.

"Slay him," he cried "aye that I will, if it is not already done. Did
you hear the hammering and the knocking awhile ago? It was Jan making
ready the gibbet. And now--though the men have run away like so many
verdommde cowards, I know that Jan at any rate has remained faithful to
his post. The gibbet is still there, and Jan and I and Nicolaes, we have
three pairs of hands between us, strong enough to make an enemy swing
twixt earth and heaven, and three pairs of eyes wherewith to see an
informer perish upon the gallows."

But already she had interrupted him with a loud cry of overwhelming
horror.

"Are you a fiend to think of such a thing?"

"No" he replied, "only a man who has a wrong to avenge."

"The wrong was in your treachery," she retorted, even while indignation
nearly choked the words in her throat, "no honest man could refuse to
warn another that a murderous trap had been laid for him."

"Possibly. But through that warning given by a man whom I hate, my life
is practically at an end."

"Life can only be ended by death," she pleaded, "and yours is in no
danger yet. In a couple of hours as you say you will have reached the
coast. No doubt you have taken full measures for your safety. The
Stadtholder is sick. He hath scarce a few months to live; when he dies
everything will be forgotten, you can return and begin your life anew.
Oh! you will thank God then on your knees, that this last hideous crime
doth not weigh upon your soul."

"A wrong unavenged would weigh my soul down with bitterness," he said
sombrely. "My life is done, Gilda. Ambition, hope, success, everything
that I care for has gone from me. Nicolaes may begin his life anew; he
is young and his soul is not like mine consumed with ambition and with
hatred. But for that one man, I were to-day Stadtholder of half our
provinces and sole ruler of our United Netherlands, instead of which
from this hour forth I shall be a fugitive, a pariah, an exile. All this
do I owe to one man," he added fiercely, "and I take my revenge, that is
all."

He made a feint as if ready to go. But Gilda with a moan of anguish had
already held him back. Despite the loathing which the slightest contact
with such a fiend caused her, she clung with both her hands to his arm.

"My lord!" she entreated, "in the name of your dear mother, in the name
of all that is yet good and pure and noble in you, do not allow this
monstrous crime to add to the heavy load of sin which rests upon your
soul. God is just," she added earnestly, "God will punish us all if such
an infamy is done now at this supreme hour when our destinies are being
weighed in the balance."

But he looked down on her suddenly, with an evil leer which sent a chill
right through her to her heart.

"Are you pleading for a man who mayhap hath sent your brother to the
scaffold?" he asked.

His glance now was so dark and so cruel, the suspicion which lurked in
it was so clear, that for the moment Gilda was overawed by this passion
of hate and jealousy which she was unable to fathom. The quick hot blood
of indignation rushed to her pale cheeks.

"It was of Nicolaes that I was thinking," she said proudly, "if that man
dies now, I feel that such a dastardly crime would remain a lasting
stain upon the honour of our house."

"The crime is on you, Gilda," he retorted, "in that you did betray us
all. Willingly or unwittingly, you did deliver me into the hands of my
most bitter enemy. But I pray you, plead no more for a knave whom you
surely must hate even more bitterly than I do hate him. The time goes
by, and every wasted minute becomes dangerous now. I pray you make
yourself ready to depart."

She had not given up all thoughts of pleading yet; though she knew that
for the moment she had failed, there floated vaguely at the back of her
mind a dim hope that God would not abandon her in this her bitterest
need. He had helped her in her direst trouble; He had averted the
hideous treachery which threatened to stain her father's honoured name
and her own with a hideous mark of shame; surely He would not allow this
last most terrible crime to be committed.

No doubt that vague frame of mind, born of intense bodily and mental
fatigue, betrayed itself in the absent expression in her eyes, for
Stoutenburg reiterated impatiently:

"I can give you a quarter of an hour wherein to make ready."

"A quarter of an hour," she murmured vaguely, "to make ready?... for
what?"

"For immediate departure with me and your brother for Belgium."

Still she did not understand. A deep frown of puzzlement appeared
between her brows.

"Departure?--with you?--what do you mean, my lord?" she asked.

"I mean," he replied roughly, "that out of the wreckage of all my
ambitions, my desires and my hopes I will at least save something that
will compensate me for all that I have lost. You said just now that life
could only end in death. Well! next to mine ambition and my desire for
vengeance, you, Gilda, as you know, do fill my entire soul. With you
beside me I may try to begin life anew. I leave for the coast in less
than half an hour; Nicolaes will be with us and he will care for you.
But I will not go without you, so you must come with us."

"Never!" she said firmly.

But Stoutenburg only laughed with careless mockery.

"Who will protect you?" he said, "when I take you in my arms and carry
you to the sledge, which in a quarter of an hour will be ready for you?
Who will protect you when I carry you in my arms from the sledge to the
boat which awaits us at Scheveningen?"

"Nicolaes," she rejoined calmly, "is my brother--he would not permit
such an outrage."

An ironical smile curled the corners of his cruel lips.

"Do you really think, Gilda," he said, "that Nicolaes will run counter
to my will? I have but to persuade him that your presence in Holland
will be a perpetual menace to our safety. Besides, you heard what he
said just now; that you, of course, would come with us."

"My dead body you can take with you," she retorted, "but I--alive--will
never follow you."

"Then 'tis your dead body I'll take, Gilda," he said with a sneer, "I
will be here to fetch you in a quarter of an hour, so I pray you make
ready while I go to deal with that meddlesome instrument of God."

She was spent now, and had no strength for more; a great numbness, an
overpowering fatigue seemed to creep into her limbs. She even allowed
him to take her hand and to raise it to his lips, for she was quite
powerless to resist him; only when she felt those burning lips against
her flesh a shudder of infinite loathing went right through her body.

Soon he turned on his heel and strode out of the room. She heard the
thin wooden door fall to with a bang behind him; but she could no longer
see, a kind of darkness had fallen over her eyes, a darkness, in which
only one figure appeared clearly--the figure of a man upon a gibbet. All
else was blackness around her, impenetrable blackness, almost tangible
in its intensity, and out of the blackness which seemed like that of a
dungeon there came cries as of human creatures in hell.

"Lord have mercy upon him!" her lips, cold and white, murmured vaguely
and insistently, "Lord have mercy upon him! Lord have mercy upon us
all!"




Chapter XLI--"VENGEANCE IS MINE"

It was like a man possessed of devils that the Lord of Stoutenburg ran
out through the mist toward the molens.

The grey light of this winter's morning had only vaguely pierced the
surrounding gloom, and the basement beneath the molens still looked
impenetrably dark. Dark and silent! the soldier--foreign mercenaries and
louts--had vanished in the fog, arms hastily thrown down littered the
mud-covered ground, swords, pistols, muskets, torn clothing, here and
there a neck-cloth, a steel bonnet, a bright coloured sash. Stoutenburg
saw it all, right through the gloom, and he ground his teeth together to
smother a cry of agonised impotence.

Only now and then a ghostly form flitted swift and silent among the
intricate maze of beams, a laggard left behind in the general scramble
for safety, or a human scavenger on the prowl for loot. Now and then a
groan or a curse came from out the darkness, and a weird, shapeless,
moving thing would crawl along in the mud like some creeping reptile
seeking its lair. But Stoutenburg looked neither to right nor left. He
paid no heed to these swiftly fleeting ghostlike forms. He knew well
enough that he would find silence here, that three dozen men--cowards
and mercenaries all--had been scattered like locusts before a gale.
Overhead he heard the tramping of feet, his friends--Beresteyn,
Heemskerk, van Does--were making ready for flight. His one scheme of
vengeance--that for which he had thirsted and plotted and sinned--had
come to nought, but he had yet another in his mind--one which, if
successful, would give him no small measure of satisfaction for the
failure of the other.

And ahead the outline of the hastily improvised gallows detached itself
out of the misty shroud, and from the Lord of Stoutenburg's throat there
came a fierce cry of joy which surely must have delighted all the demons
in hell.

He hurried on, covering with swift eager steps the short distance that
separated him from the gibbet.

He called loudly to Jan, for it seemed to him as if the place was
unaccountably deserted. He could not see Jan nor yet the prisoner, and
surely Piet the Red had not proved a coward.

The solid beams above and around him threw back his call in
reverberating echoes. He called again, and from far away a mocking laugh
seemed alone to answer him.

Like a frightened beast now he bounded forward. There were the gallows
not five paces away from him; the planks hastily hammered together
awhile ago were creaking weirdly, buffeted by the wind, and up aloft the
rope was swinging, beating itself with a dull, eerie sound against the
wood.

The Lord of Stoutenburg--dazed and stupefied--looked on this desolate
picture like a man in a dream.

"My lord!"

The voice came feebly from somewhere close by.

"My lord! for pity's sake!"

It was Jan's voice of course. The Lord of Stoutenburg turned
mechanically in the direction from whence it came. Not far from where he
was standing he saw Jan lying on the ground against a beam, with a scarf
wound loosely round his mouth and his arms held with a cord behind his
back. Stoutenburg unwound the scarf and untied the cord, then he
murmured dully:

"Jan? What does this mean?"

"The men all threw down their arms, my lord," said Jan as soon as he had
struggled to his feet, "they ran like cowards when Lucas of Sparendam
brought the news."

"I knew that," said Stoutenburg hoarsely, "curse them all for their
miserable cowardice. But the prisoner, man, the prisoner? What have you
done with him? Did I not order you to guard him with your life?"

"Then is mine own life forfeit, my lord," said Jan simply, "for I did
fail in guarding the prisoner."

A violent oath broke from Stoutenburg's trembling lips. He raised his
clenched fist, ready to strike in his blind, unreasoning fury the one
man who had remained faithful to him to the last.

Jan slowly bent the knee.

"Kill me, my lord," he said calmly, "I could not guard the prisoner."

Stoutenburg was silent for a moment, then his upraised arm fell
nervelessly by his side.

"How did it happen?" he asked.

"I scarce can tell you, my lord," replied Jan, "the attack on us was so
quick and sudden. Piet and I did remain at our post, but in the rush and
the panic we presently were left alone beside the prisoner. Two men--who
were his friends--must have been on the watch for this opportunity, they
fell on us from behind and caught us unawares. We called in vain for
assistance; it was a case of sauve qui peut and every one for himself,
in a trice the cords that bound the prisoner were cut, and three men had
very quickly the best of us. Piet, though wounded in the leg, contrived
to escape, but it almost seemed as if those three demons were determined
to spare me. Though by God," added Jan fervently, "I would gladly have
died rather than have seen all this shame! When they had brought me down
they wound a scarf round my mouth and left me here tied to a beam, while
they disappeared in the fog."

Stoutenburg made no comment on this brief narrative, even the power or
cursing seemed to have deserted him. He left Jan kneeling there on the
frozen ground, and without a word he turned on his heel and made his way
once more between the beams under the molens back toward the hut.

Vengeance indeed had eluded his grasp. The two men whom on earth he
hated most had remained triumphant while he himself had been brought
down to the lowest depths of loneliness and misery. Friendless, kinless
now, life indeed, as he had told Gilda, was at an end for him. Baffled
vengeance would henceforth make him a perpetual exile and a fugitive
with every man's hand raised against him, a price once more upon his
head.

The world doth at times allow a man to fail in the task of his life, it
will forgive that one failure and allow the man to try again. But a
second failure is unforgivable, men turn away from the blunderer in
contempt. Who would risk life, honour and liberty in a cause that has
twice failed?

Stoutenburg knew this. He knew that within the next hour his friends
would already have practically deserted him. Panic-stricken now they
would accompany him as far as the coast, they would avail themselves of
all the measures which he had devised for their mutual safety, but in
their innermost hearts they would already have detached themselves from
his further ill-fortunes; and anon, in a few months mayhap, when the
Stadtholder had succumbed to the disease which was threatening his life,
they would all return to their homes and to their kindred and forget
this brief episode wherein their leader's future had been so completely
and so irretrievably wrecked.

They would forget, only he--Stoutenburg--would remain the pariah, the
exile, that carries the brand of traitor for ever upon the pages of his
life.

And now the hut is once more in sight, and for one brief instant an
inward light flickers up in Stoutenburg's dulled eyes. Gilda is there,
Gilda whom he loves, and whose presence in the sorrow-laden years that
are to come would be a perpetual compensation for all the humiliation
and all the shame which he had endured.

To-day mayhap she would follow him unwillingly, but Stoutenburg's
passion was proof against her coldness. He felt that he could conquer
her, that he could win her love, when once he had her all to himself in
a distant land, when she--kinless too and forlorn--would naturally turn
to him for protection and for love. He had little doubt that he would
succeed, and vaguely in his mind there rose the pale ray of hope that
her love would then bring him luck, or at any rate put renewed energy in
him to begin his life anew.




Chapter XLII--THE FIGHT IN THE DOORWAY

It seemed to Stoutenburg that from the back of the hut there came the
sound of bustle and activity: he thought that mayhap Beresteyn had had
the good idea of making the sledge ready for departure, and he called
out loudly to his friend.

It was a mocking voice, however, that rose in response:

"Was your Magnificence perchance looking for me?"

Out of the mist which still hung round the small building Diogenes' tall
figure suddenly loomed before the Lord of Stoutenburg. He was standing
in the doorway of the hut, with his back to it; one hand--the right
one--was thrust inside his doublet, the left was on the hilt of his
sword; his battered hat was tilted rakishly above his brow and he was
regarding his approaching enemy with a look of keen amusement and of
scorn.

At first Stoutenburg thought that his fevered fancy was playing his eyes
a weird and elusive trick, then as the reality of what he saw fully
burst upon his senses he uttered a loud and hoarse cry like a savage
beast that has been wounded.

"Plepshurk! smeerlap!' he cried fiercely.

"Rogue! Villain! Menial! Varlet! and all that you care to name me, my
lord!" quoth the philosopher lightly, "and entirely at your service."

"Jan!" cried Stoutenburg, "Jan! In the name of hell where are you?"

"Not very far, my lord," rejoined the other. "Jan is a brave soldier but
he was no match for three philosophers, even though one of them at first
was trussed like a fowl. Jan stuck to his post, my lord, remember that,"
he added more seriously, "even when all your other followers and friends
were scattered to the winds like a crowd of mice at the approach of a
cat. We did not hurt Jan because he is a brave soldier, but we tied him
down lest he ran to get assistance whilst assistance was still
available."

"You insolent knave..."

"You speak rightly, my lord: I am an insolent knave, and do so rejoice
in mine insolence that I stayed behind here--while my brother
philosophers accomplish the task which I have put upon them--on purpose
to exercise some of that insolence upon you, and to see what power a man
that to curb his temper and to look pleasant, whilst an insolent knave
doth tell him to his face that he is an abject and degraded cur."

"Then by Heaven, you abominable plepshurk," cried Stoutenburg white with
passion, "since you stayed here to parley with me, I can still give you
so complete a retort that your final insolence will have to be spoken in
hell. But let me pass now. I have business inside the hut."

"I know you have, my lord," rejoined Diogenes coolly, "but I am afraid
that your business will have to wait until two philosophers named
respectively Pythagoras and Socrates have had time to finish theirs."

"What do you mean? Let me pass, I tell you, or..."

"Or the wrath of your Magnificence will once more be upon mine unworthy
head. Dondersteen! what have I not suffered already from that
all-powerful wrath!"

"You should have been hanged ere this..."

"It is an omission, my lord, which I fear me we must now leave to the
future to rectify."

"Stand aside, man," cried Stoutenburg, who was hoarse with passion.

"No! not just yet!" was the other's calm reply.

"Stand aside!" reiterated Stoutenburg wildly.

He drew his sword and made a quick thrust at his enemy; he remembered
the man's wounded shoulder and saw that his right hand was temporarily
disabled.

"Ah, my lord!" quoth Diogenes lightly, as with his left he drew
Bucephalus out of its scabbard, "You had forgotten or perhaps you never
knew that during your follower's scramble for safety my sword remained
unheeded in an easily accessible spot, and also that it is as much at
home in my left hand as in my right."

Like a bull goaded to fury Stoutenburg made a second and more vigorous
thrust at his opponent. But Diogenes was already on guard: calm, very
quiet in his movements in the manner of the perfect swordsman.
Stoutenburg, hot with rage, impetuous and clumsy, was at once at a
disadvantage whilst this foreign adventurer, entirely self-possessed and
good-humoured, had the art of the sword at his finger-tips--the art of
perfect self-control, the art of not rushing to the attack, the supreme
art of waiting for an opportunity.

No feint or thrust at first, only on guard, quietly on guard, and
Bucephalus seemed to be infinitely multiplied at times so quickly did
the bright steel flash out in the grey light and then subside again.

Stoutenburg was at once conscious of his own disadvantage. He was no
match for this brilliant sword play; his opponent did indeed appear to
be only playing with him, but Stoutenburg felt all the time that the
abominable knave might disarm him at any moment if he were so minded.

Nor could he see very clearly: the passionate blood in him had rushed to
his head and was beating furiously in his temples, whilst the other man
with the additional advantage of a good position against the wall, kept
up a perfect fusillade of good-humoured comments.

"Well attacked, my lord!" he cried gaily, "Dondersteen! were I as fat as
your Magnificence supposes, your sword would ere now have made a hole in
my side. Pity I am not broader, is it not? or more in the way of your
sword. There," he added as with a quick and sudden turn of the wrist he
knocked his opponent's weapon out of his hand, "allow me to return you
this most useful sword."

He had already stooped and picked up Stoutenburg's sword, and now was
holding it with slender finger tips by the point of its blade, and
smiling, urbane and mocking, he held it out at arm's length, bowing the
while with courtly, ironical grace.

"Shall we call Jan, my lord," he said airily, "or one of your friends to
aid you? Some of them I noticed just now seemed somewhat in a hurry to
quit this hospitable molens, but mayhap one or two are still lingering
behind."

Stoutenburg, blind with rage, had snatched his sword back out of the
scoffer's hand. He knew that the man was only playing with him, only
keeping him busy here to prevent his going to Gilda. This thought threw
him into a frenzy of excitement and not heeding the other's jeers he
cried out at the top of his voice:

"Jan! Jan! Nicolaes! What-ho!"

And the other man putting his hand up to his mouth also shouted lustily:

"Jan! Nicolaes! What ho!"

Had Stoutenburg been less blind and deaf to aught save to his own hatred
and his own fury, he would have heard not many paces away, the sound of
horses' hoofs upon the hard ground, the champing of bits, the jingle of
harness. But of this he did not think, not just yet. His thoughts were
only of Gilda, and that man was holding the door of the hut because he
meant to dispute with him the possession of Gilda. He cast aside all
sense of pride and shame. He was no match with a foreign mercenary,
whose profession was that of arms; there was no disgrace in his want of
skill. But he would not yield the ground to this adventurer who meant to
snatch Gilda away from him. After all the man had a wounded shoulder and
a lacerated hip; with the aid of Jan and Nicolaes he could soon be
rendered helpless.

New hope rose in the Lord of Stoutenburg's heart, giving vigour to his
arm. Now he heard the sound of running footsteps behind him; Jan was
coming to his aid and there were others; Nicolaes no doubt and
Heemskerk.

"My lord! my lord!" cried Jan, horrified at what he saw. He had heard
the clang of steel against steel and had caught up the first sword that
came to his hand. His calls and those of Stoutenburg as well as the more
lusty ones of Diogenes reached the ears of Beresteyn, who with his
friend Heemskerk was making a final survey of the molens, to search for
compromising papers that might have been left about. They too heard the
cries and the clash of steel; they ran down the steps of the molens,
only to meet Jan who was hurrying toward the hut with all his might.

"I think my lord is being attacked," shouted Jan as he flew past, "and
the jongejuffrouw is still in the hut."

These last words dissipated Nicolaes Beresteyn's sudden thoughts of
cowardice. He too snatched up a sword and followed by Heemskerk he ran
in Jan's wake.

The stranger, so lately a prisoner condemned to hang, was in the doorway
of the hut, with his back to it, his sword in his left hand keeping my
Lord of Stoutenburg at arm's length. Jan, Nicolaes and Heemskerk were on
him in a trice.

"Two, three, how many of you?" queried Diogenes with a laugh, as with
smart riposte he met the three blades which suddenly flashed out against
him. "Ah, Mynheer Beresteyn, my good Jan, I little thought that I would
see you again."

"Let me pass, man," cried Beresteyn, "I must to my sister."

"Not yet, friend," he replied, "till I know what your intentions are."

For one instant Beresteyn appeared to hesitate. The kindly sentiment
which had prompted him awhile ago to speak sympathetic words to a
condemned man who had taken so much guilt upon his shoulders, still
fought in his heart against his hatred for the man himself. Since that
tragic moment at the foot of the gallows which had softened his mood,
Beresteyn had learnt that it was this man who had betrayed him and his
friends to the Stadtholder, and guessed that it was Gilda who had
instigated or bribed him into that betrayal. And now the present
position seemed to ring vividly before his mind the picture of that
afternoon in the "Lame Cow" at Haarlem, when the knave whom he had paid
to keep Gilda safely out of the way was bargaining with his father to
bring her back to him.

All the hatred of the past few days--momentarily lulled in the face of a
tragedy--rose up once more with renewed intensity in his heart. Here was
the man who had betrayed him, and who, triumphant, was about to take
Gilda back to Haarlem and receive a fortune for his reward.

While Heemskerk, doubtful and hesitating, marvelled if 'twere wise to
take up Stoutenburg's private quarrels rather than follow his other
friends to Scheveningen where safety lay, Jan and Beresteyn vigorously
aided by Stoutenburg made a concerted attack upon the knave.

But it seemed as easy for Bucephalus to deal with three blades as with
one: now it appeared to have three tongues of pale grey flame that
flashed hither and thither;--backwards, forwards, left, right, above,
below, parry, riposte, an occasional thrust, and always quietly on
guard.

Diogenes was in his greatest humour laughing and shouting with glee. To
any one less blind with excitement than were these men it would soon
have been clear that he was shouting for the sole purpose of making a
noise, a noise louder than the hammerings, the jinglings, the knocking
that was going on at the back of the hut.

To right and left of the front of the small building a high wooden
paling ran for a distance of an hundred paces or so enclosing a rough
yard with a shed in the rear. It was impossible to see over the palings
what was going on behind them and so loudly did the philosopher shout
and laugh, and so vigorously did steel strike against steel that it was
equally impossible to perceive the sounds that came from there.

But suddenly Stoutenburg was on the alert: something had caught his ear,
a sound that rose above the din that was going on in the doorway ...a
woman's piercing shriek. Even the clang of steel could not drown it, nor
the lusty shouts of the fighting philosopher.

For a second he strained his ear to listen. It seemed as if invisible
hands were suddenly tearing down the wooden palisade that hid the rear
of the small building from his view; before his mental vision a whole
picture rose to sight. A window at the back of the hut broken in, Gilda
carried away by the friends of this accursed adventurer--Jan had said
that two came to his aid at the foot of the gallows--Maria screaming,
the sledge in wait, the horses ready to start.

"My God, I had not thought of that," he cried, "Jan! Nicolaes! in
Heaven's name! Gilda! After me! quick!"

And then he starts to run, skirting the palisade in the direction whence
come now quite distinctly that ceaseless rattle, that jingle and
stamping of the ground which proclaims the presence of horses on the
point of departure.

"Jan, in Heaven's name, follow me!" cries Stoutenburg, pausing one
instant ere he rounds the corner of the palisade.

"Nicolaes, leave that abominable knave! Gilda, I tell you! Gilda! They
are carrying her away!"

Jan already has obeyed, grasping his sword he does not pause to think.
My lord has called and 'tis my lord whom he follows. He runs after
Stoutenburg as fast as his tired limbs will allow. Heemskerk, forgetting
his own fears in the excitement of this hand-to-hand combat, follows in
their wake.

Nicolaes, too, at Stoutenburg's call, is ready to follow him.

He turns to run when a grasp of iron falls upon his arm, holding it like
a vice. He could have screamed with the pain, and the sword which he
held falls out of his nerveless fingers. The next moment he feels
himself dragged by that same iron grasp through the open door into the
hut, and hears the door slammed to and locked behind him.

"Your pardon if I have been rough, mynheer," said Diogenes' pleasant
voice, "but there was no time to argue outside that door and you seemed
in such a mighty hurry to run straight into that yawning abyss of
disgrace."

The grasp upon his arm had not relaxed, but it no longer hurt. Yet it
was so firm and so absolute that Nicolaes felt powerless to wrench
himself away.

"Let me go!" he cried hoarsely.

"Not just yet, mynheer," rejoined Diogenes coolly, "not while this hot
temper is upon you. Let the Lord of Stoutenburg and our friend Jan fight
to their heart's content with a fat philosopher who is well able to hold
his own against them, while the other who is lean and a moderately good
coachman sees that a pair of horses do not rear and bolt during the
fray."

"Let me go, man, I tell you," cried Beresteyn who was making frantic
efforts to free himself from that slender white grapnel which held his
arm as in a vice.

"One moment longer, mynheer, and you shall go. The horses of which I
speak are harnessed to a sledge wherein is the jongejuffrouw your
sister."

"Yes! verdommte Keerl! let me get to her or..."

"As soon as the fat philosopher has disposed of the Lord of Stoutenburg
and of Jan he too will jump into the sledge and a minute later will be
speeding on its way to Haarlem."

"And there will be three of us left here to hang you to that same
gallows on which you should have dangled an hour ago," exclaimed
Beresteyn savagely.

"Possibly," retorted Diogenes dryly, "but even so your sister will be on
the way to Haarlem rather than to exile whither the Lord of Stoutenburg
and you--her brother--would drag her."

"And what is it to you, you abominable plepshurk, whither I go with my
sister and my friend?"

"Only this, mynheer, that yesterday in this very room I proclaimed
myself a forger, a liar and a thief before the jongejuffrouw in order
that her love for her only brother should not receive a mortal wound. At
that moment I did not greatly care for that lie," he added with his
wonted flippancy, "but time hath lent it enchantment: It is on the whole
one of the finest lies I ever told in my life; moreover it carried
conviction; the jongejuffrouw was deceived. Now I will not see that pet
lie of mine made fruitless by the abominable action which you have in
contemplation."

Beresteyn made no immediate reply. Easily swayed as he always was by a
character stronger than his own, the words spoken by the man whom he had
always affected to despise, could not fail to move him. He knew that
that same abominable action of which he was being accused had indeed
been contemplated not only by Stoutenburg but also by himself. It had
only required one word from Stoutenburg--"Gilda of course comes with
us"--one hint that her presence in Holland would be a perpetual menace
to his personal safety, and he had been not only willing but fully
prepared to put this final outrage upon the woman whom he should have
protected with his life.

Therefore now he dared not meet the eager, questioning glance of this
adventurer, in whose merry eyes the look of irrepressible laughter was
momentarily veiled by one of anxiety. He looked around him restlessly,
shiftily; his wandering glance fell on the narrow inner door which stood
open, and he caught a glimpse of a smaller room beyond, with a window at
the further end of it. That window had been broken in from without, the
narrow frame torn out of its socket and the mullion wrenched out of its
groove.

Through the wide breach thus made in the lath and mud walls of the hut,
Beresteyn suddenly saw the horses and the sledge out there in the open.
The fight of awhile ago by the front door had now been transferred to
this spot. A short fat man with his back to the rear of the sledge was
holding the Lord Stoutenburg and Heemskerk at a couple of arm's lengths
with the point of his sword. Jan was apparently not yet on the scene.

Another man, lean and tall, was on the box of the sledge, trying with
all his might to hold a pair of horses in, who frightened by the clang
of steel against steel, by the movement and the shouting, were
threatening to plunge and rear at any moment.

Diogenes laughed aloud.

"My friend Pythagoras seems somewhat hard pressed," he said, "and those
horses might complicate the situation at any moment. I must to them now,
mynheer. Tell me then quickly which you mean to do; behave like an
honest man or like a cur?"

"What right have you to dictate to me?" said Beresteyn sullenly. "I have
no account to give you of mine own actions."

"None I admit," rejoined the philosopher placidly, "but let me put the
situation a little more clearly before you. On the one hand you must own
that I could at this moment with very little trouble and hardly any
scruples render you physically helpless first, then lock you up in this
room, and go and join my friends outside. On the other hand you could
leave this room sound in body and at heart an honest man, jump into the
sledge beside your sister and convey her yourself safely back to the
home from whence you--her own brother--should never have allowed her to
be taken."

"I cannot do it," retorted Beresteyn moodily, "I could not meet my
father face to face after what has happened."

"Think you Gilda would tell him that his only son has played the part of
traitor?"

"She loathes and despises me."

"She has a horror of that treacherous plot. But the plot has come to
naught; and she will consider that you are punished enough for it
already, and feel happy that you are free from Stoutenburg's clutches."

"I cannot leave Stoutenburg now, and she must go with him. She hates me
for the outrage which was committed against her."

"She does not know your share in it," said Diogenes quickly, "have I not
told you that I lied admirably? She believes me to be the only culprit
and to have forged your name to hide mine own infamy."

A hot flush rose to Beresteyn's pale cheeks.

"I cannot bear to profit by your generosity," he said dully.

"Pshaw man!" rejoined the other not without a tone of bitterness, "what
matters what my reputation is in her sight? She despises me so utterly
already that a few sins more or less cannot lower me further in her
sight."

"No! no! I cannot do it," persisted Beresteyn. "Go to your friends,
man," he added fiercely, "the fat one is getting sorely pressed, the
other cannot cope with the horses much longer! go to their aid! and kill
me if you are so minded. Indeed I no longer care, and in any case I
could not survive all this shame."

"Die by all means when and where you list," said Diogenes placidly, "but
'tis your place first of all to take your sister now under your own
protection, to keep her in the knowledge that whatever sins you may have
committed your were at least true and loyal to herself. By Heaven man,
hath she not suffered enough already in her person, in her pride, above
all in her affections? Your loyalty to her at this moment would be ample
compensation for all that she hath suffered. Be an honest man and take
her to her home."

"How can I? I have no home: and she is a menace to us all..."

"I am a menace to you, you weak-hearted craven," cried Diogenes whose
moustache bristled with fury now, "for by Heaven I swear that you shall
not leave this place with a whole skin save to do an honest man's act of
reparation."

And as if to give greater emphasis to his words Diogenes gave the other
man's arm a vigorous wrench which caused Beresteyn to groan and curse
with pain.

"I may have to hurt you worse than this presently," said the philosopher
imperturbably as he dragged Beresteyn--who by now felt dizzy and
helpless--to the nearest chair and deposited him there. "Were you not
her brother, I believe I should crack your obstinate skull; as it is...I
will leave you here to take counsel with reason and honesty until I have
finally disposed of my Lord of Stoutenburg."

He ran quickly to the outer door, pushed the bolts home, gave the key an
extra turn and then pulled it out of the lock and threw it out of the
window. Beresteyn--somewhat stunned with emotion, a little faint with
that vigorous wrench on his arm, and prostrate with the fatigue and
excitement of the past two days--made no attempt to stop him. No doubt
he realized that any such attempt would indeed be useless: there was so
much vitality, so much strength in the man that his tall stature
appeared to Nicolaes now of giant-like proportions, and his powers to
savour of the supernatural.

He watched him with dull, tired eyes, as he finally went out of the room
through the inner door; no doubt this too he locked behind him.
Beresteyn did not know; he half lay, half sat in the chair like a log,
the sound of the fight outside, of the shouts that greeted Diogenes'
arrival, of the latter's merry laughter that went echoing through the
mist, only reached his dull perceptions like a far-off dream.

But in his mind he saw it all: the walls of the hut were transparent
before his mental vision, he saw now the unequal fight; a perfect
swordsman against Stoutenburg's unreasoning attacks and Heemskerk's want
of skill. Jan too will have joined them by now, but he was loutish and
clumsy. The issue would have been a foregone conclusion even without the
aid of the fat knave who had held his own already for nearly ten
minutes. Yet, though his thoughts were not by any means all clear upon
the subject, Beresteyn made no attempt to go to his own friend's
assistance. Vaguely some pleasing visions began to float through space
around him. It seemed as if the magic personality of a nameless
adventurer still filled this narrow room with its vitality, with its joy
and with its laughter. The optimistic breeziness which emanated from the
man himself had lingered here after he was gone. His cheerful words
still hung and reverberated upon the cold, wintry air.

"After all, why not?" mused Beresteyn.

Gilda knew of his share in the conspiracy against the Stadtholder of
course. But that conspiracy had now aborted; Gilda would never betray
her brother's share in it either to the Stadtholder's vengeance or to
her father's wrath.

And she had been made to believe that he was not the mover in the
outrage against her person.

"Then--why not?"

She had been forcibly dragged out of this hut; she knew that Stoutenburg
meant to take her away with him into exile; even if she had been only
partially conscious since she was taken to the sledge, she would know
that a desperate fight had been going on around her. Then if he,
Nicolaes now appeared upon the scene--if he took charge of her and of
the sledge, and with the help of one or other of those knaves outside
sped away with her north to Haarlem, would she not be confirmed in her
belief in his loyalty, would he not play a heroic rôle, make her happy
and himself free?

"Then--why not?"

All the papers relating to the aborted conspiracy which might have
compromised him he had upon his person even now. He and Heemskerk had
themselves collected the in the weighing-room of the molens after Lucas
of Sparendam had brought his terrible news.

"Then--why not?"

He rose briskly from his chair. The outer door of the hut was locked--he
crossed to the inner door that was just on the latch and he threw it
open. Before him now was the broken window frame through which peeped
the dull grey light of this misty winter's morning. Out in the open
through the filmy veil of the fog he could see the final phases of an
unequal fight. Stoutenburg and Heemskerk were both disarmed and Jan had
just appeared upon the scene. More far-seeing than were the Lord of
Stoutenburg and Mynheer Heemskerk, he had very quickly realized that
sword in hand no one was a match for this foreigner and his invincible
blade. When the fighting was transferred from the doorway of the hut to
the open roadway in the rear, he had at first followed in the wake of
his chief, then he had doubled back, swiftly running to the molens, and
in the basement from out the scattered litter of arms hastily thrown
down, he had quickly picked up a couple of pistols, found some
ammunition, quietly loaded the weapons and with them in his hand started
to run back to the hut.

All this had taken some few minutes while Pythagoras had borne the brunt
of a vigorous attack from the Lord of Stoutenburg and Mynheer Heemskerk,
whilst Diogenes parleyed with Beresteyn inside the hut.

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, he too, realized 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 you 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 was 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 wealthy 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 that 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.

"Pythagoras, old compeer," he said with a shrug of his broad shoulders,
"what would you take to be walking at this moment in that man's shoes?"

"I wouldn't do it, friend," rejoined Pythagoras placidly, "for the
possession of a running river of home-brewed ale. And I am mightily dry
at the present moment."

"Jump up then on the box beside Socrates, you old wine-tub, and get to
Leyden as quickly as these horses will take you. A halt at Voorburg will
refresh you all."

"But you?" queried Socrates from his post of vantage.

"I shall make my way to Ryswyk first and get a horse there. I shall
follow you at a distance, and probably overtake you before you get to
Leyden. But you will not see me after this...unless there is trouble,
which is not likely."

"But the jongejuffrouw?" persisted Socrates.

"Hush! I shall never really lose sight of you and the sledge. But you
must serve her as best you can. Someone will be with her who will know
how to take care of her."

"Who?"

"Her own brother of course, Mynheer Beresteyn. Over the sill, mynheer!"
he now shouted, calling to Nicolaes who still stood undecided, shamed,
hesitating in the broken framework of the window, "over the sill, 'tis
only three feet from the ground, and horses and men are quite ready for
you."

He gave a lusty cheer of satisfaction as Beresteyn, throwing all final
cowardly hesitations to the wind, suddenly made up his mind to take the
one wise and prudent course. He swung himself through the window, and in
a few moments was standing by Diogenes' side.

"Let me at last tell you, sir..." he began earnestly.

"Hush!--tell me nothing now..." broke in the other man quickly, "the
jongejuffrouw might hear."

"But I must thank you--"

"If you say another word," said Diogenes, sinking his voice to a
whisper, "I'll order Socrates to drive on and leave you standing here."

"But..."

"Into the sledge, man, in Heaven's name. The jongejuffrouw is
unconscious, her woman daft with fear. When the lady regains
consciousness let her brother's face be the first sight to comfort her.
Into the sledge man," he added impatiently, "or by Heaven I'll give the
order to start."

And without more ado, he hustled Nicolaes into the sledge. The latter
bewildered, really not clear with himself as to what he ought to do,
peeped tentatively beneath the cover of the vehicle. He saw his sister
lying there prone upon the wooden floor of the sledge, her head rested
against a bundle of rugs hastily put together for her comfort. Maria was
squatting beside her, her head and ears muffled in a cloak, her hands up
to her eyes; she was moaning incoherently to herself.

Gilda's eyes were closed, and her face looked very pale: Beresteyn's
heart ached at the pitiful sight. She looked so wan and so forlorn that
a sharp pang of remorse for all his cruelty to her shot right through
his dormant sensibilities.

There was just room for him under the low cover of the sledge; he
hesitated no longer now, he felt indeed as if nothing would tear him
away from Gilda's side until she was safely home again in their father's
arms.

A peremptory order: "En avant," struck upon his ear, a shout from the
driver to his horses, the harness rattled, the sledge creaked upon its
framework and then slowly began to move: Beresteyn lifted the flap of
the hood at the rear of the vehicle and looked out for the last time
upon the molens and the hut, where such a tragic act in his life's drama
had just been enacted.

He saw Diogenes still standing there, waving his hat in farewell: for a
few moments longer his splendid figure stood out clearly against the
flat grey landscape beyond, then slowly the veil of mist began to
envelop him, at first only blurring the outline of his mantle or his
sash, then it grew more dense and the sledge moved away more rapidly.

The next moment the Laughing Cavalier had disappeared from view.




Chapter XLIII--LEYDEN ONCE MORE

After that Gilda had lived as in a dream: only vaguely conscious that
good horses and a smoothly gliding vehicle were conveying her back to
her home. Of this fact she was sure Nicolaes was sitting quite close
under the hood of the sledge and when first she became fully aware of
the reality of his presence, he had raised her hand to his lips and had
said in response to a mute appeal from her eyes:

"We are going home."

After that a quiet sense of utter weariness pervaded her being, and she
fell into a troubled sleep. She did not heed what went on around her,
she only knew that once or twice during the day there was a halt for
food and drink.

The nearness of her brother, his gentleness toward her, gave her a sense
of well-being, even though her heart felt heavy with a great sorrow
which made the whole future appear before her like an interminable vista
of blank and grey dullness.

It was at her suggestion that arrangements were made for an all night
halt at Leyden, which city they reached in the early part of the
afternoon. She begged Nicolaes that they might put up at the hostelry of
the "White Goat" on the further side of the town, and that from thence a
messenger might be sent to her father, asking him to come and meet her
there on the morrow.

Though Nicolaes was not a little astonished at this suggestion of
Gilda's--seeing that surely she must be longing to be home again and
that Haarlem could easily have been reached before night--he did not
wish to run counter to her will. True enough, he dreaded the meeting
with his father, but he knew that it had to come, and felt that whatever
might be the future consequences of it all--he could not possibly bear
alone the burden of remorse and of shame which assailed him every time
he encountered Gilda's tear-stained eyes, and saw how wearied and
listless she looked.

So he called a halt at the "White Goat" and as soon as he saw his sister
safely installed, with everything ordered for her comfort, and a
tasteful supper prepared, he sent a messenger on horseback at once to
Haarlem to his father.

Gilda had deliberately chosen to spend the night at the hostelry of the
"White Goat" because she felt that in that quaint old building with its
wide oak staircase--over which she had been carried five days ago, dizzy
and half fainting--the blackened rafters would mayhap still echo with
the sound of a merry laughter which she would never hear again.

But when the sledge finally turned in under the low gateway and drew up
in the small courtyard of the inn--when with wearied feet and shaking
knees she walked up those oaken stairs, it seemed to her that the vivid
memories which the whole place recalled were far harder to bear than
those more intangible ones which--waking and sleeping--had tortured her
up to now.

The bedroom too, with the smaller one leading out of it, was the same in
which she had slept. As the obsequious waiting-wench threw open the door
for the noble jongejuffrouw to pass through she saw before her the wide
open hearth with its crackling fire, the high-backed chair wherein she
had sat, the very footstool which he had put to her feet.

It seemed to her at first as if she could not enter, as if his splendid
figure would suddenly emerge out of the semi-darkness to confront her
with his mocking eyes and his smiling face. She seemed to see him
everywhere, and she had to close her eyes to chase away that all to
insistent vision.

The waiting-wench did not help matters either, for she asked
persistently and shyly about the handsome mynheer who had such an
irresistible fund of laughter in him. Maria too, in her mutterings and
grumblings, contrived--most unwittingly, since she adored Gilda--to
inflict a series of tiny pin-pricks on an already suffering heart.

Tired in body and in mind, Gilda could not sleep that night. She was
living over again every second of the past five days: the interview with
that strangely winning person--a stranger still to her then--here in
this room! how she had hated him at first! how she had tried to shame
and wound him with her words, trying all the while to steel her heart
against that irresistible gaiety and good humour which shone from him
like a radiance: then that second interview in Rotterdam! did she still
hate him them? and if not when was hatred first changed into the love
which now so completely filled her soul?

Looking back on those days, she could not tell. All that she knew was
that when he was brought before her helpless and pinioned she already
loved him, and that since that moment love had grown and strengthened
until her whole heart was given to that same nameless soldier of fortune
whom she had first despised.

To live over again those few brief days which seemed now like an
eternity was a sweet, sad pleasure which Gilda could endure, but what
became intolerable in the darkness and in the silence of the night was
the remembrance of the immediate past.

Clearly cut out before her mental vision were the pictures of her life
this morning in the hut beside the molens: and indeed, it was a lifetime
that had gone by in those few hours.

Firstly Stoutenburg's visit in the early morning, his smooth words and
careless chatter! she, poor fool! under the belief all the time that the
treacherous plot had been abandoned, and that she would forthwith be
conveyed back to her father. Her thoughts of pleading for the condemned
man's life: then the tramping of feet, the cries of terror, her
brother's appearance bringing the awful news of betrayal. She lived over
again those moments of supreme horror when she realized how Stoutenburg
had deceived her, and that Nicolaes himself was but a traitor and a
miserable liar.

She knew then that it was the adventurer, the penniless soldier of
fortune whom she had tried to hate and to despise, who had quietly gone
to warn the Stadtholder, and that his action had been the direct working
of God's will in a brave and loyal soul: she knew also by a mysterious
intuition which no good woman has ever been able to resist, that the man
who had stood before her--self-convicted and self-confessed--had
accepted that humiliation to save her the pain of fearing and despising
her own brother.

The visions now became more dim and blurred. She remembered
Stoutenburg's fury, his hideous threats of vengeance on the man who had
thrown himself across his treacherous path. She remembered pleading to
that monster, weeping, clinging to his arm in a passionate appeal. She
remembered the soul agony which she felt when she realized that that
appeal had been in vain.

Then she had stood for a moment silent and alone in the hut. Stoutenburg
had left her in order to accomplish that hideous act of revenge.

After that she remembered nothing clearly. She could only have been
half-conscious and all round her there was a confusion of sounds, of
shouts and clash of arms: she thought that she was being lifted out of
the chair into which she had fallen in a partial swoon, that she heard
Maria's cries of terror, and that she felt the cold damp morning air
striking upon her face.

Presently she knew that Nicolaes was beside her, and that she was being
taken home. All else was a blank or a dream.

Now she was tossing restlessly upon the lavender-scented bed in this
hostelry so full of memories. Her temples were throbbing, her eyes felt
like pieces of glowing charcoal in her head. The blackness around her
weighed upon her soul until she felt that she could not breathe.

Outside the silence of the night was being gravely disturbed: there was
the sound of horses' hoofs upon the cobblestones of the yard, the
creaking of a vehicle brought to a standstill, the usual shouts for
grooms and ostlers. A late arrival had filled the tranquil inn with its
bustle and its noise.

Then once again all was still, and Gilda turned her aching head upon the
pillow. Though the room was not hot, and the atmosphere outside heavy
with frost, she felt positively stifled.

After a while this feeling of oppression became intolerable, she rose,
and in the darkness she groped for her fur-lined cloak which she wrapped
closely around her. Then she found her way across to the window and drew
aside the curtain. No light penetrated through the latticed panes: the
waning moon which four nights ago had been at times so marvellously
brilliant, had not yet risen above the horizon line. As Gilda's fingers
fumbled for the window-latch she heard a distant church clock strike the
midnight hour.

She threw open the casement. The sill was low and she leaned out peering
up and down the narrow street. It was entirely deserted and pitch dark
save where on the wall opposite the light from a window immediately
below her threw its feeble reflection. Vaguely she wondered who was
astir in the small hostelry. No doubt it was the tap-room which was
there below her, still lighted up, and apparently with its small
casement also thrown open, like the one out of which she was leaning.

For now, when the reverberating echo of the chiming clock had entirely
died away, she was conscious of a vague murmur of voices coming up from
below, confused at first and undistinguishable, but presently she heard
a click as if the casement had been pushed further open or mayhap a
curtain pulled aside, for after that the sound of the voices became more
distinct and clear.

With beating heart and straining ears Gilda leaned as far out of the
window as she could, listening intently: she had recognized her father's
voice, and he was speaking so strangely that even as she listened she
felt all the blood tingling in her veins.

"My son, sir," he was saying, "had, I am glad to say, sufficient pride
and manhood in him not to bear the full weight of your generosity any
longer. He sent a special messenger on horseback out to me this
afternoon. As soon as I knew that my daughter was here I came as fast as
sleigh and the three best horses in my stables could bring me. I had no
thought, of course, of seeing you here."

"I had no thought that you should see me, sir," said a voice which by
its vibrating tones had the power of sending the hot blood rushing to
the listener's neck and cheeks. "Had I not entered the yard just as your
sledge turned in under the gateway, you had not been offended by mine
unworthy presence."

"I would in that case have searched the length and breadth of this land
to find you, sir," rejoined Cornelius Beresteyn earnestly, "for half an
hour later my son had told me the whole circumstances of his association
with you."

"An association of which Mynheer Nicolaes will never be over-proud, I'll
warrant," came in slightly less flippant accents than usual from the
foreigner. "Do I not stand self-confessed as a liar, a forger and
abductor of helpless women? A fine record forsooth: and ere he ordered
me to be hanged by Lord of Stoutenburg did loudly proclaim me as such
before his friends and before his followers."

"His friends, sir, are the sons of my friends. I will loudly proclaim
you what you truly are: a brave man, a loyal soldier, a noble gentleman!
Nicolaes has told me every phase of his association with you, from his
shameful proposal to you in regard to his own sister, down to this
moment when you still desired that Gilda and I should remain in
ignorance of his guilt."

"What is the good, mynheer, of raking up all this past?" said the
philosopher lightly, "I would that Mynheer Nicolaes had known how to
hold his tongue."

"Thank God that he did not," retorted Cornelius Beresteyn hotly, "had he
done so I stood in peril of failing--for the first time in my life--in
an important business obligation."

"Not towards me, mynheer, at any rate."

"Yes, sir, towards you," affirmed Beresteyn decisively. "I promised you
five hundred thousand guilders if you brought my daughter safely back to
me. I know from mine own son, sir, that I owe her safety to no one but
to you."

"Ours was an ignoble bargain, mynheer," said Diogenes with his wonted
gaiety, and though she could not see him, Gilda could picture his face
now alive with merriment and suppressed laughter. "The humour of the
situation appealed to me--it proved irresistible--but the bargain in no
way binds you seeing that it was I who had been impious enough to lay
hands upon your daughter."

"At my son's suggestion I know," rejoined Beresteyn quietly, "and from
your subsequent acts, sir, I must infer that you only did it because you
felt that she was safer under your charge than at the mercy of her own
brother and his friends...Nay! do not protest," he added earnestly,
"Nicolaes, as you see, is of the same opinion."

"May Heaven reward you, sir, for that kindly thought of me," said
Diogenes more seriously, "it will cheer me in the future, when I and all
my doings will have faded from your ken."

"You are not leaving Holland, sir?"

"Not just now, mynheer, while there is so much fighting to be done. The
Stadtholder hath need of soldiers..."

"And he will, sir, find none better than you throughout the world. And
with a goodly fortune to help you..."

"Speak not of that, mynheer," he said firmly, "I could not take your
money. If I did I should never know a happy hour again."

"Oh!"

"I am quite serious, sir, though indeed you might not think that I can
ever be serious. For six days now I have had a paymaster: Mynheer
Nicolaes' money has burned a hole in my good humour, it has scorched my
hands, wounded my shoulder and lacerated my hip, it has brought on me
all the unpleasant sensations which I have so carefully avoided
hitherto, remorse, humiliation, and one or two other sensations which
will never leave me until my death. It changed temporarily the
shiftless, penniless soldier of fortune into a responsible human being,
with obligations and duties. I had to order horses, bespeak lodgings,
keep accounts. Ye gods, it made a slave of me! Keep your money, sir, it
is more fit for you to handle than for me. Let me go back to my
shiftlessness, my penury, my freedom, eat my fill to-day, starve
to-morrow, and one day look up at the stars from the lowly earth, with a
kindly bullet in my chest that does not mean to blunder. And if in the
days to come your thoughts ever do revert to me, I pray you think of me
as happy or nearly so, owning no master save my whim, bending my back to
none, keeping my hat on my head when I choose, and ending my days in a
ditch or in a palace, the carver of mine own destiny, the sole arbiter
of my will. And now I pray you seek that rest of which you must be
sorely in need. I start at daybreak to-morrow: mayhap we shall never
meet again, save in Heaven, if indeed, there be room there for such a
thriftless adventurer as I."

"But whither do you mean to go, sir?"

"To the mountains of the moon, sir," rejoined the philosopher lightly,
"or along the milky way to the land of the Might-Have-Been."

"Before we part, sir, may I shake you by the hand?"

There was silence down below after that. Gilda listened in vain, no
further words reached her ears just then. She tiptoed as quietly as she
could across the room, finding her way with difficulty in the dark. At
last her fumbling fingers encountered the latch of the door of the inner
room where Maria lay snoring lustily.

It took Gilda some little time to wake the old woman, but at last she
succeeded, and then ordered her, very peremptorily, to strike a light.

"Are you ill, mejuffrouw?" queried Maria anxiously even though she was
but half awake.

"No," replied Gilda curtly, "but I want my dress--quick now," she added,
for Maria showed signs of desiring to protest.

The jongejuffrouw was in one of those former imperious moods of hers
when she exacted implicit obedience from her servants. Alas! the last
few days had seen that mood submerged into an ocean of sorrow and
humiliation, and Maria--though angered at having been wakened out of a
first sleep--was very glad to see her darling looking so alert and so
brisk.

Indeed--the light being very dim--Maria could not see the brilliant glow
that lit up the jongejuffrouw's cheeks as with somewhat febrile gestures
she put on her dress and smoothed her hair.

"Now put on your dress too, Maria," she said when she was ready, "and
tell my father, who is either in the tap-room down below or hath already
retired to his room, that I desire to speak with him."

And Maria, bewildered and flustered, had no option but to obey.




Chapter XLIV--BLAKE OF BLAKENEY

While Maria completed a hasty toilet, Gilda's instinct had drawn her
back once more to the open window. The light from the room below was
still reflected on the opposite wall, and from the tap-room the buzz of
voices had not altogether ceased.

Cornelius Beresteyn was speaking now:

"Indeed," he said, "It will be the one consolation left to me, since you
do reject my friendship, sir."

"Not your friendship, sir--only your money," interposed Diogenes.

"Well! you do speak of lifelong parting. But your two friends have
indeed deserved well of me. Without their help no doubt you, sir, first
and then my dearly loved daughter would have fallen victims to that
infamous Stoutenburg. Will a present of twenty thousand guilders each
gratify them, do you think?"

A ringing laugh roused the echoes of the sleeping hostelry.

"Twenty thousand guilders! ye gods!" exclaimed Diogenes merrily.
"Pythagoras, dost hear, old bladder-face? Socrates, my robin, dost
realize it? Twenty thousand guilders each in your pockets, old compeers.
Lord! how drunk you will both be to-morrow."

Out of the confused hubbub that ensued Gilda could disentangle nothing
definite; there was a good deal of shouting and clapping of pewter mugs
against a table, and through it all that irresponsible, infectious
laughter which--strangely enough--had to Gilda's ears at this moment a
curious tone, almost of bitterness, as if its merriment was only forced.

Then when the outburst of gaiety had somewhat subsided she once more
heard her father's voice. Maria was dressed by this time, and now at a
word from Gilda was ready to go downstairs and to deliver the
jongejuffrouw's message to her father.

"You spoke so lightly just now, sir, of dying in a ditch or palace,"
Cornelius Beresteyn was saying, "but you did tell me that day in Haarlem
that you had kith and kindred in England. Where is that father of whom
you spoke, and your mother who is a saint? Your irresponsible
vagabondage will leave her in perpetual loneliness."

"My mother is dead, sir," said Diogenes quietly, "my father broke her
heart."

"Even then he hath a right to know that his son is a brave and loyal
gentleman."

"He will only know that when his son is dead."

"That was a cruel dictum, sir."

"Not so cruel as that which left my mother to starve in the streets of
Haarlem."

"Aye! ten thousand times more cruel, since your dear mother, sir, had
not to bear the awful burden of lifelong remorse."

"Bah!" rejoined the philosopher with a careless shrug of the shoulders,
"a man seldom feels remorse for wrongs committed against a woman."

"But he doth for those committed against his flesh and blood--his son--"

"I have no means of finding out, sir, if my father hath or hath not
remorse for his wilful desertion of wife and child--England is a far-off
country--I would not care to undertake so unprofitable a pilgrimage."

"Then why not let me do so, sir?" queried Cornelius Beresteyn calmly.

"You?"

"Yes. Why not?"

"Why should you trouble, mynheer, to seek out the father of such a
vagabond as I?"

"Because I would like to give a man--an old man your father must be
now--the happiness of calling you his son. You say he lives in England.
I often go to England on business. Will you not at least tell me your
father's name?"

"I have no cause to conceal it, mynheer," rejoined Diogenes carelessly.
"In England they call him Blake of Blakeney; his home is in Sussex and I
believe that it is a stately home."

"But I know the Squire of Blakeney well," said Cornelius Beresteyn
eagerly, "my bankers at Amsterdam also do business for him. I know that
just now he is in Antwerp on a mission from King James of England to the
Archduchess. He hath oft told Mynheer Beuselaar, our mutual banker, that
he was moving heaven and earth to find the son whom he had lost."

"Heaven and earth take a good deal of moving," quoth Diogenes lightly,
"once a wife and son have been forsaken and left to starve in a foreign
land. Mine English father wedded my mother in the church of St. Pieter
at Haarlem. My friend Frans Hals--God bless him--knew my mother and
cared for me after she died. He has all the papers in his charge
relating to the marriage. It has long ago been arranged between us that
if I die with ordinary worthiness, he will seek out my father in England
and tell him that mayhap--after all--even though I have been a vagabond
all my life--I have never done anything that should cause him to blush
for his son."

Apparently at this juncture, Maria must have knocked at the door of the
tapperij, for Gilda, whose heart was beating more furiously than ever,
heard presently the well-known firm footsteps of her father as he
rapidly ascended the stairs.

Two minutes later Gilda lay against her father's heart, and her hand
resting in his she told him from beginning to end everything that she
had suffered from the moment when after watch-night service in the
Groote Kerk she first became aware of the murmur of voices, to that when
she first realized that the man whom she should have hated, the knave
whom she should have despised, filled her heart and soul to the
exclusion of all other happiness in the world, and that he was about to
pass out of her life for ever.

It took a long time to tell--for she had suffered more, felt more, lived
more in the past five days than would fill an ordinary life--nor did she
disguise anything from her father, not even the conversation which she
had had at Rotterdam in the dead of night with the man who had remained
nameless until now, and in consequence of which he had gone at once to
warn the Stadtholder and had thus averted the hideous conspiracy which
would have darkened for ever the destinies of many Dutch homes.

Of Nicolaes she did not speak; she knew that he had confessed his guilt
to his father, who would know how to forgive in the fullness of time.

When she had finished speaking her father said somewhat roughly:

"But for that vervloekte adventurer down there, you would never have
suffered, Gilda, as you did. Nicolaes..."

"Nicolaes, father dear," she broke in quietly, "is very dear to us both.
I think that his momentary weakness will endear him to us even more. But
he was a tool in the hands of that unscrupulous Stoutenburg--and but for
that nameless and penniless soldier whose hand you were proud to grasp
just now, I would not be here in your arms at this moment."

"Ah!" said Cornelius Beresteyn dryly, "is this the way that the wind
blows, my girl? Did you not know then that the rascal--the day after he
dared to lay hands upon you--was back again in Haarlem bargaining with
me to restore you to my arms in exchange for a fortune?"

"And two days later, father dear," she retorted, "he endured insults,
injuries, cruelties from Stoutenburg, rather than betray Nicolaes' guilt
before me."

"Hm!" murmured Cornelius, and there was a humorous twinkle in his eyes
as he looked down upon his daughter's bowed head.

"And but for that same rascal, father," she continued softly, "you would
at this moment be mourning a dead daughter and Holland a hideous act of
treachery."

"Hush, my dear!" cried the old man impulsively, as he put his kind
protecting arms round the child whom he loved so dearly.

"I would never have followed the Lord of Stoutenburg while I lived," she
said simply.

"Please God," he said earnestly, "I would sooner have seen you in the
crypt beside your mother."

"Then, father, hath not the rascal you speak of deserved well of us? Can
we not guess that even originally he took me away from Haarlem, only
because he knew that if he refused the bargain proposed to him by mine
own brother, Stoutenburg would have found some other means of ensuring
my silence."

"You are a good advocate, my girl," rejoined Cornelius with a sly wink
which brought the colour rushing up to Gilda's cheeks. "I think, by your
leave, I'll go and shake that vervloekte Keerl once more by the
hand...And...shall I tell him that you bear him no ill-will?" he added
roguishly.

"Yes, father dear, tell him that," she said gently.

"Then will you go to bed, dear?" he asked, "you are overwrought and
tired."

"I will sit by the window quietly for a quarter of an hour," she said,
"after that I promise you that I will go peaceably to bed."

He kissed her tenderly, for she was very dear to him, but being a man of
vast understanding and profound knowledge of men and things, the
humorous twinkle did not altogether fade from his eyes as he finally
bade his daughter "Good night," and then quietly went out of the room.




Chapter XLV--THE END

Diogenes sat beside the window in the tapperij listening with half an
ear to the sounds in and about the hostelry which were dying out one by
one. At first there had been a footfall in the room overhead which had
seemed to him the sweetest music that man could hear. It had paced
somewhat restlessly up and down and to the Laughing Cavalier, the gay
and irresponsible soldier of fortune, it had seemed as if every creaking
of a loose board beneath the featherweight of that footfall found its
echo in his heart.

But anon Mynheer Cornelius Beresteyn was called away and then all was
still in the room upstairs, and Diogenes burying his head in his hands
evoked the picture of that room as he had seen it five days ago. The
proud jongejuffrouw in her high-backed chair, looking on him with blue
eyes which she vainly tried to render hard through their exquisite
expression of appealing, childlike gentleness: and he groaned aloud with
the misery of the inevitable which with stern finger bade him go and
leave behind him all the illusions, all the dreams which he had dared to
weave.

Had she not told him that she despised him, that his existence was as
naught to her, that she looked on him as a menial and a knave, somewhat
below the faithful henchmen who were in her father's service? Ye gods!
he had endured much in his life of privations, of physical and mental
pain, but was there aught on earth or in the outermost pits of hell to
be compared with the agony of this ending to a dream.

The serving-wench came in just then. She scarcely dared approach the
mynheer with the merry voice and the laughter-filled eyes who now looked
so inexpressibly sad.

Yet she had a message for him. Mynheer Cornelius Beresteyn, she said,
desired to speak with him once more. The wench had murmured the words
shyly, for her heart was aching for the handsome soldier and the tears
were very near her eyes. But hearing the message he had jumped up with
alacrity and was immediately ready to follow her.

Mynheer Beresteyn had a room on the upper floor, she explained, as she
led the way upstairs. The old man was standing on the narrow landing and
as soon as Diogenes appeared upon the stairs, he said simply:

"There was something I did forget to say to you downstairs; may I
trouble you, sir, to come into my room for a moment."

He threw open one of the doors that gave on the landing and politely
stood aside that his visitor might pass through. Diogenes entered the
room: he heard the door being closed behind him, and thought that
Mynheer Beresteyn had followed him in.

The room was very dimly lighted by a couple of tallow candles that
flickered in their sconces, and at first he could not see into the dark
recesses of the room. But presently something moved, something ethereal
and intangible, white and exquisite. It stirred from out the depths of
the huge high-backed chair, and from out the gloom there came a little
cry of surprise and of joy which was as the call of bird or angel.

He did not dare to move, he scarcely dared to breathe. He looked round
for Mynheer Beresteyn who had disappeared.

Surely this could be only a dream. Nothing real on earth could be so
exquisite as that subtle vision which he had of her now, sitting in the
high-backed chair, leaning slightly forward toward him. Gradually his
eyes became accustomed to the gloom: he could see her quite distinctly
no, her fair curls round her perfect head, her red lips parted, her eyes
fixed upon him with a look which he dared not interpret.

All around him was the silence and the darkness of the night, and he was
alone with her just as he had been in this very room five days ago and
then again at Rotterdam.

"St. Bavon, you rogue!" he murmured, "where are you? How dare you leave
me in the lurch like this?"

Then--how it all happened he could not himself have told you--he
suddenly found himself at her feet, kneeling beside the high-backed
chair; his arms were round her shoulders and he could feel the exquisite
perfume of her breath upon his cheek.

"St. Bavon," he cried exultingly to himself, "go away, you rogue!
there's no need for your admonitions now."

Mynheer Beresteyn tiptoed quietly into the room. The roguish smile still
played around his lips. He came up close to the high-backed chair and
placed his hand upon his daughter's head.

Diogenes looked up, and met the kindly eyes of the old man fixed with
calm earnestness upon him.

"Mynheer," he said, and laughter which contained a world of happiness as
well as of joy danced and sparkled in every line of his face, "just now
I refused one half of your fortune! But 'tis your greatest treasure I
claim from you now."

"Nay! you rascal," rejoined Beresteyn, as he lifted his daughter's chin
gently with one finger and looked into her deep blue eyes which were
brimful of happiness, "methinks that that treasure is yours already!"

"Go back, good St. Bavon," cried the Laughing Cavalier in an ecstasy of
joy. "Your heaven--you rogue--is not more perfect than this."



THE END




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