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
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
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
"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
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 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
"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
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
"We must be close to it," murmured
"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.