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.