While Maria completed a hasty toilet, Gilda's instinct had drawn her back once more to the open window. The light from the room below was still reflected on the opposite wall, and from the tap-room the buzz of voices had not altogether ceased.
Cornelius Beresteyn was speaking now:
"Indeed," he said, "It will
be the one consolation left to me, since you do reject my friendship,
"Not your friendship, sir -- only your
money," interposed Diogenes.
"Well! you do speak of lifelong parting.
But your two friends have indeed deserved well of me. Without
their help no doubt you, sir, first and then my dearly loved daughter
would have fallen victims to that infamous Stoutenburg.
Will a present of twenty thousand guilders each gratify them,
do you think?"
A ringing laugh roused the echoes of the sleeping
"Twenty thousand guilders! ye gods!"
exclaimed Diogenes merrily. "Pythagoras, dost hear,
old bladder-face? Socrates, my robin, dost realize it?
Twenty thousand guilders each in your pockets, old compeers.
Lord! how drunk you will both be to-morrow."
Out of the confused hubbub that ensued Gilda
could disentangle nothing definite; there was a good deal of shouting
and clapping of pewter mugs against a table, and through it all
that irresponsible, infectious laughter which -- strangely enough
-- had to Gilda's ears at this moment a curious tone, almost of
bitterness, as if its merriment was only forced.
Then when the outburst of gaiety had somewhat
subsided she once more heard her father's voice. Maria was
dressed by this time, and now at a word from Gilda was ready to
go downstairs and to deliver the jongejuffrouw's message to her
"You spoke so lightly just now, sir, of
dying in a ditch or palace," Cornelius Beresteyn was saying,
"but you did tell me that day in Haarlem that you had kith
and kindred in England. Where is that father of whom you
spoke, and your mother who is a saint? Your irresponsible
vagabondage will leave her in perpetual loneliness."
"My mother is dead, sir," said Diogenes
quietly, "my father broke her heart."
"Even then he hath a right to know that
his son is a brave and loyal gentleman."
"He will only know that when his son is
"That was a cruel dictum, sir."
"Not so cruel as that which left my mother
to starve in the streets of Haarlem."
"Aye! ten thousand times more cruel, since
your dear mother, sir, had not to bear the awful burden of lifelong
"Bah!" rejoined the philosopher with
a careless shrug of the shoulders, "a man seldom feels remorse
for wrongs committed against a woman."
"But he doth for those committed against
his flesh and blood -- his son --"
"I have no means of finding out, sir,
if my father hath or hath not remorse for his wilful desertion
of wife and child -- England is a far-off country -- I would not
care to undertake so unprofitable a pilgrimage."
"Then why not let me do so, sir?"
queried Cornelius Beresteyn calmly.
"Yes. Why not?"
"Why should you trouble, mynheer, to seek
out the father of such a vagabond as I?"
"Because I would like to give a man --
an old man your father must be now -- the happiness of calling
you his son. You say he lives in England. I often
go to England on business. Will you not at least tell me
your father's name?"
"I have no cause to conceal it, mynheer,"
rejoined Diogenes carelessly. "In England they call
him Blake of Blakeney; his home is in Sussex and I believe that
it is a stately home."
"But I know the Squire of Blakeney well,"
said Cornelius Beresteyn eagerly, "my bankers at Amsterdam
also do business for him. I know that just now he is in
Antwerp on a mission from King James of England to the Archduchess.
He hath oft told Mynheer Beuselaar, our mutual banker, that he
was moving heaven and earth to find the son whom he had lost."
"Heaven and earth take a good deal of
moving," quoth Diogenes lightly, "once a wife and son
have been forsaken and left to starve in a foreign land.
Mine English father wedded my mother in the church of St. Pieter
at Haarlem. My friend Frans Hals -- God bless him -- knew
my mother and cared for me after she died. He has all the
papers in his charge relating to the marriage. It has long
ago been arranged between us that if I die with ordinary worthiness,
he will seek out my father in England and tell him that mayhap
-- after all -- even though I have been a vagabond all my life
-- I have never done anything that should cause him to blush for
Apparently at this juncture, Maria must have
knocked at the door of the tapperij, for Gilda, whose heart was
beating more furiously than ever, heard presently the well-known
firm footsteps of her father as he rapidly ascended the stairs.
Two minutes later Gilda lay against her father's
heart, and her hand resting in his she told him from beginning
to end everything that she had suffered from the moment when after
watch-night service in the Groote Kerk she first became aware
of the murmur of voices, to that when she first realized that
the man whom she should have hated, the knave whom she should
have despised, filled her heart and soul to the exclusion of all
other happiness in the world, and that he was about to pass out
of her life for ever.
It took a long time to tell -- for she had
suffered more, felt more, lived more in the past five days than
would fill an ordinary life -- nor did she disguise anything from
her father, not even the conversation which she had had at Rotterdam
in the dead of night with the man who had remained nameless until
now, and in consequence of which he had gone at once to warn the
Stadtholder and had thus averted the hideous conspiracy which
would have darkened for ever the destinies of many Dutch homes.
Of Nicolaes she did not speak; she knew that
he had confessed his guilt to his father, who would know how to
forgive in the fullness of time.
When she had finished speaking her father said
"But for that vervloekte adventurer down
there, you would never have suffered, Gilda, as you did.
Nicolaes . . ."
"Nicolaes, father dear," she broke
in quietly, "is very dear to us both. I think that
his momentary weakness will endear him to us even more.
But he was a tool in the hands of that unscrupulous Stoutenburg
-- and but for that nameless and penniless soldier whose hand
you were proud to grasp just now, I would not be here in your
arms at this moment."
"Ah!" said Cornelius Beresteyn dryly,
"is this the way that the wind blows, my girl? Did
you not know then that the rascal -- the day after he dared to
lay hands upon you -- was back again in Haarlem bargaining with
me to restore you to my arms in exchange for a fortune?"
"And two days later, father dear,"
she retorted, "he endured insults, injuries, cruelties from
Stoutenburg, rather than betray Nicolaes' guilt before me."
"Hm!" murmured Cornelius, and there
was a humorous twinkle in his eyes as he looked down upon his
daughter's bowed head.
"And but for that same rascal, father,"
she continued softly, "you would at this moment be mourning
a dead daughter and Holland a hideous act of treachery."
"Hush, my dear!" cried the old man
impulsively, as he put his kind protecting arms round the child
whom he loved so dearly.
"I would never have followed the Lord
of Stoutenburg while I lived," she said simply.
"Please God," he said earnestly,
"I would sooner have seen you in the crypt beside your mother."
"Then, father, hath not the rascal you
speak of deserved well of us? Can we not guess that even
originally he took me away from Haarlem, only because he knew
that if he refused the bargain proposed to him by mine own brother,
Stoutenburg would have found some other means of ensuring my silence."
"You are a good advocate, my girl,"
rejoined Cornelius with a sly wink which brought the colour rushing
up to Gilda's cheeks. "I think, by your leave, I'll
go and shake that vervloekte Keerl once more by the hand . . .
And . . . shall I tell him that you bear him no ill-will?"
he added roguishly.
"Yes, father dear, tell him that,"
she said gently.
"Then will you go to bed, dear?"
he asked, "you are overwrought and tired."
"I will sit by the window quietly for
a quarter of an hour," she said, "after that I promise
you that I will go peaceably to bed."
He kissed her tenderly, for she was very dear to him, but being a man of vast understanding and profound knowledge of men and things, the humorous twinkle did not altogether fade from his eyes as he finally bade his daughter "Good night," and then quietly went out of the room.