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.