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.