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
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
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 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
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."
"Yes. A bargain," she reiterated.
"One I hope and think that you will find it worth while to
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"Were it ten hundred thousand, mejuffrouw,
I would not do it unless I knew what you wished to say to the
"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?"
"Call it that, an you will."
"A secret that concerns his life?"
"That I did not say."
"No. It was a guess. A right
"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
"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."
"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
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
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! She 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
Be that as it may, she spoke to him again:
"Have you nothing then to say?" she
"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.
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
"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.