The First Sir Percy
by Baroness Orczy
NIGHT ON THE
CHAPTER V—A RACE
MOLEN ON THE
from the 1921 edition in the collection of the Library of Congress
CHAPTER I—A NIGHT ON THE VELUWE
A moonless night upon the sandy waste — the sky a canopy of stars,
twinkling with super-radiance through the frosty atmosphere; the gently
undulating ground like a billowy sea of silence and desolation, with
scarce a stain upon the smooth surface of the snow; the mantle of night
enveloping every landmark upon the horizon beyond the hills in folds of
deep, dark indigo, levelling every chance hillock and clump of rough
shrub or grass, obliterating road and wayside ditch, which in the broad
light of day would have marred the perfect evenness of the wintry pall.
It was a bitterly cold night of mid-March in that cruel winter of
1624, which lent so efficient a hand to the ghouls of war and of
disease in taking toll of human lives.
Not a sound broke the hushed majesty of this forgotten corner of
God's earth, save perhaps at intervals the distant, melancholy call of
the curlew, or from time to time the sigh of a straying breeze, which
came lingering and plaintive from across the Zuyder Zee. Then for
awhile countless particles of snow, fanned by unseen breaths, would
arise from their rest, whirl and dance a mad fandango in the air,
gyrate and skip in a glistening whirlpool lit by mysterious rays of
steel-blue light, and then sink back again, like tired butterflies, to
sleep once more upon the illimitable bosom of the wild. After which
Silence and Lifelessness would resume their ghostlike sway.
To right and left, and north and south, not half a dozen leagues
away, humanity teemed and fought, toiled and suffered, unfurled the
banner of Liberty, laid down life and wealth in the cause of Freedom,
conquered and was down-trodden and conquered again; men died that their
children might live, women wept and lovers sighed. But here, beneath
that canopy dotted with myriads of glittering worlds, intransmutable
and sempiternal, the cries of battle and quarrels of men, the wail of
widows and the laughter of children appeared futile and remote.
But to an eye trained to the dreary monotony of winter upon the
Veluwe, there were a few faint indications of the tracks, which here
and there intersect the arid waste and link up the hamlets and cities
which lie along its boundaries. There were lines — mere shadows upon
the even sheet of snow — and tiny white hillocks that suggested a
bordering of rough scrub along the edges of the roads.
That same trained eye could then proceed to trace those shadowy
lines along their erratic way 'twixt Amersfoort and the Neder Rhyn, or
else from Barneveld as far as Apeldoorn, or yet again 'twixt Utrecht
and Ede, and thence as far as the Ijssel, from the further shores of
which the armies of the Archduchess, under the command of Count Henri
de Berg, were even then threatening Gelderland.
It was upon this last, scarcely visible track that a horse and rider
came slowly ambling along in the small hours of the morning, on this
bitterly cold night in March. The rider had much ado to keep a tight
hold on the reins with one hand, whilst striving to keep his mantle
closely fastened round his shoulders with the other.
The horse, only half-trusting his master, suspicious and with nerves
a-quiver, ready to shy and swerve at every shadow that loomed out of
the darkness, or at every unexpected sound that disturbed the silence
of the night, would more than once have thrown his rider but for the
latter's firm hand upon the curb.
The rider's keen eyes were searching the gloom around him. From time
to time a forcible ejaculation, indicative of impatience or anxiety,
escaped his lips, numb with cold, and with unconsidered vehemence he
would dig his spurs into his horse's flanks, with the result that a
fierce and prolonged struggle 'twixt man and beast would ensue, and,
until the quivering animal was brought back to comparative quietude
again, much time was spent in curses and recriminations.
Anon the rider pulled up sharply at the top of the rising ground,
looked round and about him, muttered a few more emphatic 'Dondersteens'
Then he veered his mount right round and started to go back down
hill again — still at foot-pace — spied a side-track on his right,
turned to follow it for a while, came to a halt again, and flung his
head back in a futile endeavor to study the stars, about which he knew
Then he shook his head dolefully; the time had gone by for cursing
— praying would have been more useful, had he known how to set about
it — for in truth he had lost his way upon this arid waste, and the
only prospect before him was that of spending the night in the saddle,
vainly trying by persistent movement to keep the frost out of his limbs.
For the nonce, he had no idea in which direction lay Amersfoort,
which happened to be his objective. Apparently he had taken the wrong
road when first he came out of Ede, and might now be tending toward the
Rhyn, or have left both Barneveld and even Assel considerably behind.
The unfortunate wayfarer did not of a surety know which to rail most
bitterly against: his want of accurate knowledge as to the disposal of
the stars upon a moonless firmament, so that he could not have told
you, gaze on them how he might, which way lay the Zuyder Zee, the
Ijssel, or the Rhyn; or that last mug of steaming ale of which he had
partaken ere he finally turned his back on the hospitable doors of the
"Crow's Nest" at Ede.
It was that very mug of the delicious spiced liquor — and even in
this hour of acute misery, the poor man contrived to smack his
half-frozen lips in retrospective enjoyment — which had somehow
obscured his vision when first he found himself outside the city gates,
confronted by the verfloekte waste, through which even a cat could not
have picked its way on a night like this.
And now, here he was, hopelessly stranded, without drink or shelter,
upon the most desolate portion of the Veluwe. In no direction could the
lights of any habitation be seen.
"Dondersteen!" he muttered to himself finally, in despair. "But I
must get somewhere in time, if I keep following my nose long enough!"
In truth, no more lonely spot could be imagined in a civilized land
than that wherein the stranded traveler now found himself. Even by day
the horizon seems limitless, with neither tower nor city nor homestead
in sight. By night the silence is so absolute that imagination will
conjure up strange and impossible sounds, such as that of the earth
whistling through space, or of ceaseless rolls of drums and trampings
of myriads of feet thousands of leagues away.
Strangely enough, however, once upon a time, in the far long ago and
the early days of windmills, a hermit-miller — he must have been a
hermit in very truth — did build one here upon the highest point of
the Veluwe, close to the junction of the road which runs eastward from
Amersfoort and Barneveld, with the one which tends southward from
Assel, and distant from each a quarter of a league or so. Why that
windmill was erected just there, far from the home of any peasant or
farmer who might desire to have his corn ground, or who that
hermit-miller was who dwelt in it before flocks of wild geese alone
made it their trysting-place, it were impossible to say.
No trace of it remains these days, nor were there any traces of it
left a year after the events which this veracious chronicle will
presently unfold, for reasons which will soon appear obvious to anyone
who reads. But there it stood in this year of grace 1624, on that cold
night in March, when a solitary horseman lost his way upon the Veluwe,
with serious consequences, not only to himself, but to no less a person
than Maurice, Prince of Nassau, Stadtholder of the United Provinces of
the Netherlands, and mayhap to the entire future history of that sorely
On a winter's night such as this, the mill looked peculiarly weird
and ghost-like looming out of the darkness against the background of a
star-studded firmament, and rising, sombre and dense, from out the
carpet of glabrous snow, majestic in its isolation, towering above the
immensity of the waste, its domed roof decked in virgin white like the
mother-bosom of the wild. Built of weather-worn timber throughout, it
had a fenced-in platform supported by heavy rafters all around it, like
a girdle, at a height of twenty feet and more from the ground: and the
gaunt, skeleton wings were stretched out to the skies, scarred, broken,
and motionless, as if in piteous appeal for protection against the
disfiguring ravages of time.
There were two small windows close under the roof on the south side
of the building, and a large, narrow one midway up the same side. The
disposal of these windows, taken in conjunction with the door down
below, was so quaint that, viewed from a certain angle, they looked for
all the world like the eyes, nose, and pursed-up mouth of a gargantuan,
If a stranger travelling through Gelderland these days had thought
it fit to inquire from a native whether that particular molen upon the
Veluwe was doing work or was inhabited, he would of a certainty have
been told that the only possible inhabitants of the molen were gnomes
and sprites, and that if any corn was ground there it could only be in
order to bake bread for the devil's dinner.
The mill was disused and uninhabited, had been for many years — a
quarter of a century or more probably — so any and every native of
Gelderland and Utrecht would have emphatically averred. Nevertheless,
on this same memorable night in March, 1624, there were evident signs
of life — human life — about that solitary and archaic molen on the
Veluwe. Tiny slits of light showed clearly from certain angles through
the chinks of the wooden structure; there were vague sounds of life and
movement in and about the place; the weather-worn boards creaked and
the timber groaned under more tangible pressure than that of the winds.
Nay, what's more two horses were tethered down below, under the shelter
afforded by the overhanging platform. These horses were saddled; they
had nosebags attached to their bridles, and blankets thrown across
their withers; all of which signs denoted clearly, methinks, that for
once the mill was inhabited by something more material than ghosts.
More ponderous, too, than ghoulish footsteps were the sounds of slow
pacing up and down the floor of the millhouse, and of two voices, now
raised to loud argument, now sunk to a mere cautious whisper.
Two men were, in effect, inside the millhouse at this hour. One of
them — tall, lean, dark in well-worn, almost ragged, black doublet and
cloak, his feet and legs encased in huge boots of untanned leather
which reached midway up his long thighs, his black bonnet pushed back
from his tall, narrow forehead and grizzled hair — was sitting upon
the steps of the steep, ladder-like stairs which led to the floor
above; the other — shorter, substantially, even richly clad, and
wearing a plumed hat and fur-lined cloak, was the one who paced up and
down the dust-covered floor. He was younger than his friend, had fair,
curly hair, and a silken, fair moustache, which hid the somewhat weak
lines of his mouth.
An old, battered lanthorn, hanging to a nail in the wall, threw a
weird, flickering light upon the scene, vaguely illumined the gaunt
figure of the man upon the steps, his large hooked nose and ill-shaven
chin, and long thin hands that looked like the talons of some bird of
"You cannot stay on here forever, my good Stoutenburg, "the younger
of the two men said, with some impatience. "Sooner or later you will be
discovered, and —-"
He paused, and the other gave a grim laugh.
"And there is a price of two thousand guilders upon my head, you
mean, my dear Heemskerk?" he said dryly.
"Well, I did mean that," rejoined Heemskerk, with a shrug of the
shoulders. "The people round about here are very poor. They might hold
your father's memory in veneration, but there is not one who would not
sell you to the Stadtholder if he found you out."
Again Stoutenburg laughed. He seemed addicted to the habit of this
mirthless, almost impish laugh.
"I was not under the impression, believe me, my friend," he said,
"that Christian charity or loyalty to my father's memory would actuate
a worthy Dutch peasant into respecting my sanctuary. But I am not
satisfied with what I have learned. I must know more. I have promised
De Berg," he concluded firmly.
"And De Berg counts on you," Heemskerk rejoined. "But," he added,
with a shrug of the shoulders, "you know what he is. One of those men
who, so long as they gain their ambitious ends, count every life cheap
but their own."
"Well," answered Stoutenburg, " 'tis not I, in truth, who would
place a high price on mine."
"Easy, easy, my good man," quoth the other, with a smile. "Hath it,
perchance, not occurred to you that your obstinacy in leading this
owl-like life here is putting a severe strain on the devotion of your
I make no appeal to the devotion of my friends," answered
Stoutenburg curtly. "They had best leave me alone."
"We cannot leave you to suffer cold and hunger, mayhap to perish of
want in this God-forsaken eyrie."
"I'm not starving," was Stoutenburg's ungracious answer to the young
man's kindly solicitude; "and have plenty of inner fire to keep me
He paused, and a dark scowl contracted his gaunt features, gave him
an expression that in the dim and flickering light appeared almost
"I know," said Heemskerk, with a comprehending not. "Still those
thoughts of revenge?"
"Always!" replied the other, with sombre calm.
"Twice you have failed."
"The third time I shall succeed," Stoutenburg affirmed with fierce
emphasis. "Maurice of Nassau sent my father to the scaffold — my
father, to whom he owed everything: money, power, success. The day that
Olden Barneveldt died at the hands of that accursed ingrate I, his son,
swore that the Stadtholder should perish by mine. As you say, I have
twice failed in my attempt.
"My brother Groeneveld has gone the way of my father. I am an outlaw
with a price upon my head, and my poor mother has three of us to weep
for now, instead of one. But I have not forgotten mine oath, nor yet my
revenge. I'll be even with Maurice of Nassau yet. All this fighting is
but foolery. He is firmly established as Stadtholder of the United
Provinces — the sort of man who sees others die for him. He may lose a
town here, gain a city there, but he is the sovereign lord of an
independent State, and his sacred person is better guarded than was
that of his worthier father.
"But it is his life that I want," Stoutenburg went on fiercely, and
his thin, claw-like hand clutched in imaginary dagger and struck out
through the air as if against the breast of the hated foe. "For this
I'll scheme and strive. Nay, I'll never rest until I have him at my
mercy as Gerard in his day held William the Silent at his."
"Bah!" exclaimed Heemskerk hotly. "You would not emulate that
"Why not call me a justiciary?" Stoutenburg retorted dryly. "The
Archduchess would load me with gifts. Spain would proclaim me a hero.
Assassin or executioner — it only depends on the political point of
view. But doubt me not for a single instant, Heemskerk. Maurice of
Nassau will die by my hand."
"That is why you intend to remain here?"
"Yes. Until I have found out his every future plan."
"But how can you do it? You dare not show yourself abroad."
"That is my business," replied Stoutenburg quietly, "and my secret."
"I respect your secret," answered Heemskerk, with a shrug of the
shoulders. "It was only my anxiety for your personal safety and for
your comfort that brought me hither to-night."
"And De Berg's desire to learn what I have spied," Stoutenburg
retorted, with a sneer.
"De Berg is ready to cross the Ijssel, and Isembourg to start from
Kleve. De Berg proposes to attack Arnheim. He wishes to know what
forces are inside the city and how they are disposed, and if the
Stadtholder hath an army wherewith to come to their relief or to offer
us battle, with any chance of success."
"You can tell De Berg to send you or another back to me here when
the crescent moon is forty-eight hours older. I shall have all the
information then that he wants."
"That will be good news for him and for Isembourg. There has been
too much time wasted as it is."
"Time has not been wasted. The frosts have in the meanwhile made the
Veluwe a perfect track for men and cannon."
"For Nassau's men and Nassau's cannon, as well as for our own,"
Heemskerk rejoined dryly.
"A week hence, if all's well, Maurice of Nassau will be too sick to
lead his armies across the Veluwe or elsewhere," said Stoutenburg
quietly, and looked up with such a strange, fanatical glitter in his
deep-sunk eyes that the younger man gave an involuntary gasp of horror.
"You mean —-" he ejaculated under his breath; and instinctively
drawing back some paces away from his friend, stared at him with wide,
"I mean," Stoutenburg went on slowly and deliberately, "that De Berg
had best wait patiently a little while longer. Maurice of Nassau will
be a dying man ere long."
His harsh voice, sunk to a strange, impressive whisper, died away in
a long-drawn-out sigh, half of impatience, wholly of satisfaction.
Heemskerk remained for a moment or two absolutely motionless, still
staring at the man before him as if the latter were some kind of
malevolent and fiend-like wraith, conjured up by devilish magic to
scare the souls of men. Nor did Stoutenburg add anything to his last
cold-blooded pronouncement. He seemed to be deriving a grim
satisfaction in watching the play of horror and of fear upon
Heemskerk's usually placid features.
Thus for a space of a few moments the old molen appeared to sink
back to its habitual ghost-haunted silence, whilst the hovering spirits
of Revenge and Hate called up by the sorcery of a man's evil passions
held undisputed sway.
"You mean —-" reiterated Heemskerk after awhile, vaguely, stupidly,
babbling like a child.
"I mean," Stoutenburg gave impatient answer, "that you should know
me well enough by now, my good Heemskerk, to realize that I am no
swearer of futile oaths. Last year, when I was over in Madrid, I
cultivated the friendship of one Francis Borgia. You have heard of him,
no doubt; they call him the Prince of Poets over there. He is a direct
descendant of the illustrious Cesare, and I soon discovered that most
of the secrets possessed by his far-famed ancestor were known to my
friend the poet."
"Poisons!" Heemskerk murmured, under his breath.
"Poisons!" the other assented dryly. "And other things."
With finger and thumb of his right hand, he extracted a couple of
tiny packets from a secret pocket of his doublet, toyed with them for
awhile, undid the packets and gazed meditatively on their contents.
Then he called to his friend. "They'll not hurt you," he said
sardonically. "Look at this powder, now. Is it not innocent in
appearance? Yet it is of incalculable value to the man who doth not
happen to possess a straight eye or a steady hand with firearms. For
add but a pinch of it to the charge in your pistol, them aim at your
enemy's head, and if you miss killing him, or if he hold you at his
mercy, you very soon have him at yours. The fumes from the detonation
will cause instant and total blindness."
Despite his horror of the whole thing, Heemskerk had instinctively
drawn nearer to his friend. Now, at these words, he stepped back again
quickly, as if he had trodden upon an adder. Stoutenburg, with his
wonted cynicism, only shrugged his shoulders.
"Have I not said that it would not hurt you?" he said, with a sneer.
"In itself it is harmless enough, and only attains its useful
properties when fired in connection with gunpowder. But when used as I
have explained it to you, it is deadly and unerring. I saw it at work
once or twice in Spain. The Prince of Poets prides himself on its
invention. He gave me some of the precious powder, and I was glad of
it. It may prove useful one day."
He carefully closed the first packet and slipped it back into the
secret receptacle of his doublet; then he fell to contemplating the
contents of the second packet — half a dozen tiny pillules, which he
kept rolling about in the palm of his hand.
"These," he mused, "are of more proved value for my purpose. Have
not De Berg," he added, with a sardonic grin, as he looked once more on
his friend, "and the Archduchess, too, heard it noised abroad that
Maurice of Nassau hath of late suffered from a mysterious complaint
which already threatens to cut him off in his prime, and which up to
now hath baffled those learned leeches who were brought over specially
from England to look after the health of the exalted patient? Have not
you and your friends, my good Heemskerk, heard the rumour too?"
The young man nodded in reply. His parched tongue seemed to cleave
to the roof of his mouth; he could not utter a word. Stoutenburg
"Ah!" he said, with a nod of understanding. "I see that the tale did
reach your ears. You understand, therefore, that I must remain here for
And with absolute calm and a perfectly steady hand, he folded up the
pillules in the paper screw and put them back in his pocket.
"I could not leave my work unfinished," he said simply.
"But how —-" Heemskerk contrived to stammer at last; and his voice
to his own ears sounded hoarse and toneless, like a voice out of the
"How do I contrive to convey these pillules into the Stadtholder's
stomach?" retorted Stoutenburg, with a coarse chuckle. "Well, my
friend, that is still my secret. But De Berg and the others must trust
me a while longer — trust me and then thank me when the time comes.
The Stadtholder once out of the way, the resistance of the United
Provinces must of itself collapse like a house of cards. There need be
no more bloodshed after that — no more sanguinary conflicts. Indeed, I
shall be acclaimed as a public benefactor — when I succeed."
"Then — then you are determined to — to remain here?" Heemskerk
murmured, feeling all the while that anything he said was futile and
But how can a man speak when he is confronted with a hideous spectre
that mocks him, even whilst it terrifies?
"I shall remain here for the present," Stoutenburg replied, with
"I — I'd best go, then," the other suggested vaguely.
"You had best wait until the daylight. 'Tis easy to lose one's way
on the Veluwe."
The young man waited for a moment, irresolute. Clearly he was
longing to get away, to put behind him this ghoul-infested molen, with
its presiding genii of hatred and of crime. Nay, men like Heemskerk,
cultivated and gently nurtured, understood the former easily enough.
Men and women knew how to hate fiercely these days, and there were few
sensations more thoroughly satisfying than that of holding an enemy at
the sword's point.
But poison! The slow, insidious weapon that worked like a reptile,
stealthily and in the dark! Bah! Heemskerk felt a dizziness overcome
him; sheer physical nausea threatened to rob him of his faculties.
But there was undoubted danger in venturing out on the arid wild, in
the darkness and with nought but instinct and a few half-obliterated
footmarks to guide one along the track. The young man went to the door
and pulled it open. A gust of ice-laden air blew into the great, empty
place, and almost knocked the old lanthorn off its peg. Heemskerk
stepped out into the night. He felt literally frightened, and, like a
nervous child, had the sensation of someone or something standing close
behind him and on the point of putting a spectral hand upon his
But Stoutenburg had remained sitting on the steps, apparently quite
unmoved. No doubt he was accustomed to look his abominable project
straight in the face. He even shrugged his shoulders in derision when
he caught sight of Heemskerk's white face and horror-filled eyes.
"You cannot start while this blind man's holiday lasts," he said
lightly. "Can I induce you to partake of some of the refreshment you
were good enough to bring for me?"
But Heemskerk gave him no answer. He was trying to make up his mind
what to do; and Stoutenburg, with another careless laugh, rose from his
seat and strode across the great barn-like space. There, in a remote
corner, where sacks of uncrushed grain were wont to be stacked, stood a
basket containing a few simple provisions; a hunk of stale bread, a
piece of cheese and two or three bottles of wine. Stoutenburg stooped
and picked one of these up. He was whistling a careless tune. Then
suddenly he paused, his long back still bent, his arm with the hand
that held the bottle resting across his knee, his face, alert and
hawk-like, turned in an instant toward the door.
"What was that?" he queried hurriedly.
Heemskerk, just as swiftly, had already stepped back into the barn
and closed the door again noiselessly.
"Useless!" commented Stoutenburg curtly. "The horses are outside."
"Where is Jan?" he added after an imperceptible pause, during which
Heemskerk felt as if his very heart-beats had become audible.
"On the watch, outside," replied the young man.
Even whilst he spoke the door was cautiously opened from the
outside, and a grizzled head wrapped in a fur bonnet was thrust in
through the orifice.
"What is it, Jan?" the two men queried simultaneously.
"A man and horse," Jan replied in a rapid whisper.
"Coming from over Amersfoort way. He must have caught sight of the
molen, for he has left the track and is heading straight for us."
"Some wretched traveler lost on this God-forsaken waste,"
Stoutenburg said, with a careless shrug of the shoulders. "I have seen
them come this way before."
"But not at this hour of the night?" murmured Heemskerk.
"Mostly at night. It is easier to follow the track by day."
"What shall we do?"
"Nothing. Let the man come. We'll soon see if he is dangerous. Are
we not three to one?"
The taunt struck home. Heemskerk looked abashed. Jan remained
standing in the doorway, waiting for further orders. Stoutenburg went
on quietly collecting the scanty provisions. He found a couple of mugs,
and with a perfectly steady hand filled the first one and then the
other with the wine.
"Drink this Heemskerk," he said lightly; and held out the two mugs
at arm's length. "It will calm your nerves. You too, Jan."
Jan took the mug and drank with avidity, but Heemskerk appeared to
"Afraid of the poison?" Stoutenburg queried with a sneer. Then, as
the other, half-ashamed, took the mug and drank at a draught, he added
coolly: "You need not be afraid. I could not afford to waste such
precious stuff on you."
Then he turned to Jan.
"Remain outside," he commanded; "well wrapped in your blanket, and
when the traveler hails you pretend to be wakened from pleasant dreams.
Then leave the rest to chance."
Jan at once obeyed. He went out of the molen, closing the door
carefully behind him.
Five minutes later, the hapless traveler had put his horse to a
trot. He had perceived the molen looming at the top of the rising
ground, dense and dark against the sky, and looking upon it as a
veritable God-sent haven of refuge for wearied tramps, was making good
haste to reach it, fearing lest he himself dropped from sheer
exhaustion out of his saddle ere he came to his happy goal.
That terrible contingency, however, did not occur, and presently he
was able to draw rein and to drop gently if somewhat painfully to the
ground without further mishap. Then he looked about him. The mill in
truth appeared to be uninhabited, which was a vast pity, seeing that a
glass of spiced ale would — but no matter, 'twas best not to dwell on
such blissful thoughts! A roof over one's head for the night was the
most urgent need.
He led his horse by the bridle, and tethered him to a heavy,
supporting rafter under the overhanging platform; was on the point of
ministering to the poor, half-frozen beast, when his ear caught a sound
which caused him instantly to pause first and then start on a tour
around the molen. He had not far to go. The very next moment he came
upon a couple of horses tethered like his own, and upon Jan, who was
snoring lustily, curled up in a horse-blanket in the angle of the porch.
To hail the sleeper with lusty shouts at first, and then with a
vigorous kick, was but the work of a few seconds; after which Jan's
snores were merged in a series of comprehensive curses against the
disturber of his happy dreams.
"Dondersteen!" he murmured, still apparently half asleep. "And who
is this verfloekte plepshurk who ventures a weary traveler from his
"Another weary traveler, verfloekte plepshurk yourself," the other
cried aloud. Nor were it possible to render with any degree of accuracy
the language which he subsequently used when Jan persistently refused
"Then, dondersteen," retorted Jan thickly, "do as I do — wrap
yourself up in a blanket and go to sleep."
"Not until I have discovered how it comes that one wearied traveler
happens to be abroad with two equally wearied and saddled horses. And I
am not mistaken, plepshurk, thou are but a varlet left on guard
outside, whilst thy master feasts and sleeps within."
Whereupon, without further parley, he strode across Jan's
outstretched body and, with a vigorous kick of his heavy boot, thrust
open the door which gave on the interior of the mill.
Here he paused, just beneath the lintel, took off his hat, and stood
at respectful attention; for he had realized at once that he was in the
presence of his betters — of two gentlemen, in fact, one of whom had a
mug of wine in his hand and the other a bottle. These were the two
points which, as it were, jumped most directly to the eye of the weary,
frozen, and thirsty traveler: two gentlemen who haply were now
satiated, and would spare a drop even to a humble varlet if he stood
before them in his full, pitiable plight.
"Who are you man? And what do you want?" one of these gentlemen
queried peremptorily. It was the one who had a bottle of wine — a
whole bottle — in his hand; but he looked peculiarly stern and
forbidding, with his close-cropped, grizzled head and hard, bird-like
"Only a poor tramp, my lord," replied the unfortunate wayfarer, in
high-pitched, flute-like tones, "who hath lost his way, and has been
wandering on this verdommte plain since midnight."
"What do you want?" reiterated Stoutenburg sternly.
"Only shelter for the rest of the night, my lord, and — and — a
little drink — a very little drink — for I am mightily weary, and my
throat is dry as tinder."
"What is your name?"
At this very simple question the man's round, florid face with the
tiny, upturned nose, slightly tinged with pink, and the small, round
eyes, bright and shiny like new crowns, took on an expression of
comical puzzlement. He scratched his head, pursed up his lips, emitted
a prolonged and dubious whistle.
"I haven't a name, so please your lordship," he said, after a while.
"That is, not a name such as other people have. I have a name, in
truth, a name by which I am known to my friends; a name —-"
"Thy name, plepshurk," command Stoutenburg roughly, "ere I throw
thee out again into the night."
" 'So please your lordship." replied the man, "I am called
Pythagoras — a name which I believe belongs by right to a philosopher
of ancient times, but to which I will always answer, so please your
High and Mightiness."
But this time his High and Mightiness did not break in upon the
worthy philosopher's volubility. Indeed, at the sound of that highly
ludicrous name — ludicrous, that is, when applied to its present
bearer — he had deliberately put mug and bottle down, and then become
strangely self-absorbed, even whilst his friend had given an
"H'm! Pythagoras!" his lordship resumed, after a while. "Have I ever
seen thine ugly face before?"
"Not to my knowledge, my lord," replied the other, marvelling when
it would please these noble gentlemen to give him something wherewith
to moisten his gullet.
"Ah! Methought I had once met another who bore an equally strange
name. Was it Demosthenes, or Euripides, or —-"
"Diogenes, no doubt, my lord," replied the thirsty philosopher
glibly. "The most gallant gentleman in the whole wide world, one who
honours me with his friendship, was pleased at one time to answer to
Now, when Pythagoras made his announcement he felt quite sure that
lavish hospitality would promptly follow. These gentlemen had no doubt
heard of Diogenes, his comrade in arms, the faithful and gallant friend
for whom he — Pythagoras — would go through fire and water and the
driest of deserts. They would immediately accord a welcome to one who
had declared himself honoured by the friendship of so noble a cavalier.
Great was the unfortunate man's disappointment, therefore, when his
glib speech was received in absolute silence; and he himself was still
left standing upon the lintel of the door, with an icy cold draught
playing upon him from behind.
It was only after a considerable time that my lord deigned to resume
his questionings again.
"Where dost come from, fellow?" he asked.
"From Ede, so please your lordship," Pythagoras replied dolefully,
"where I partook —-"
"And whither art going?" Stoutenburg broke in curtly.
"I was going to Amersfoort, my lord, when I lost my way."
" 'Yes, my lord."
"Mynheer Beresteyn hath a house at Amersfoort," Stoutenburg said, as
if to himself.
"It was to Mynheer Beresteyn's house that I was bound, my lord, when
I unfortunately lost my way."
"Ah!" commented my lord dryly. "Thou was on thy way to the house of
Mynheer Beresteyn in Amersfoort?"
"Yes, my lord."
"With a message?"
"No, my lord. Not with a message; I was just going there for the
"The wedding?" ejaculated Stoutenburg, and it seemed to Pythagoras
as if my lord's haggard face took on suddenly an almost cadaverous hue.
"Whose wedding fellow?" he added more calmly.
"That of my friend Diogenes, so please your lordship, with the
Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn, he —-"
"Take care, man, take care!" came with an involuntary call of alarm
from Heemskerk; for Stoutenburg, uttering a hoarse cry like that of a
wounded beast, had raised his arm and now strode on the unfortunate
philosopher with clenched fist and a look in his hollow eyes which
boded no good to the harbinger of those simple tidings.
At sound of his friend's voice, Stoutenburg dropped his arm. He
turned on his heel, ashamed no doubt that this stranger-varlet should
see his face distorted as it was with passion.
This paroxysm of uncontrolled fury did not, however, last longer
than a moment or two; the next instant the lord of Stoutenburg,
outwardly calm and cynical as before had resumed his haughty
questionings, looked the awe-struck philosopher up and down; and he,
somewhat scared by the danger which he only appeared to have escaped
through the timely intervention of the other gentleman, was marvelling
indeed if he had better not take to his heels at once and run, and
trust his safety and his life to the inhospitable wild, rather than in
the company of this irascible noble lord.
I think, if fact, that he would have fled the very next moment, but
that my lord with one word kept him rooted to the spot.
"So," resumed Stoutenburg coolly after awhile, "thou, fellow, art a
bidden guest at the marriage feast, which it seems is to be solemnized
'twixt the Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn and another plepshurk as low as
thyself. Truly doth democracy tread hard on the heels of such tyranny
as the United Provinces have witnessed of late. Dost owe allegiance,
sirrah, to the Stadtholder?"
"Where Diogenes leads, my lord," replied Pythagoras, with a degree
of earnestness which sat whimsically upon his rotund person, "there do
Socrates and I follow unquestioningly."
"Which means that ye are three rascals, ready to sell your skins to
the highest bidder. Were ye not in the pay of the lord of Stoutenburg
during the last conspiracy against the Stadtholder's life?"
"We may have been, your honour," the man replied naively; "although,
to my knowledge, I have never set eyes on the lord of Stoutenburg."
" 'Twere lucky for thee knave, if thou didst," rejoined Stoutenburg
with a harsh laugh, "for there's a price of two thousand guilders upon
his head, and I doubt not but thy scurrilous friend Diogenes would add
another two thousand to that guerdon."
Then, as Pythagoras, almost dropping with fatigue, was swaying upon
his short, fat legs, he jerked his thumb in the direction where the
tantalizing bottles and mugs were faintly discernible in the gloom. My
lord continued curtly:
"There! Drink thy fill! Amersfoort is not far. My man will put thee
on thy way when thou hast quenched thy thirst!"
Quench his thirst! Where was that cellar which could have worked
this magic trick? In the corner to which my lord was pointing so
casually there was but one bottle, which my lord had put down a while
ago, and that, after all, was only half full.
Still, half a bottle of wine was better than no wine at all, and my
lord, having granted his gracious leave, took no more notice of the
philosopher and his unquenchable thirst, turned to his friend, and
together the two gentlemen retired to a distant corner of the place and
there whispered eagerly with one another.
Pythagoras tiptoed up to the spot where unexpected bliss awaited
him. There was another bottle of wine there beside the half-empty one
— a bottle that was full up to the neck, and the shape of which
proclaimed that it came from Spain. Good, strong, heady Spanish wine!
And my lord had said "Drink thy fill!" Pythagoras did not hesitate,
save for one brief second, while he marvelled whether he had
accidentally wandered into Elysian fields, or whether he was only
dreaming. Then he poured out for himself a mugful of wine.
Twenty minutes later, the last drop of the second bottle of strong,
heady Spanish wine had trickled down the worthy Pythagoras' throat. He
was in a state of perfect bliss, babbling words of supreme contentment,
and seeing pleasing visions of gorgeous feasts in the murky angles of
the old millhouse.
" 'Tis time the plepshurk got to horse," Stoutenburg said at last.
He strode across to where Pythagoras, leaning against the raftered
wall, his round head on one side, his sugar-loaf hat set at the back of
his head, was gazing dreamily into his empty mug.
"To horse, fellow!" he commanded curtly. " 'Tis but a league to
Amersfoort, and thy friend will be waiting thee."
The old instinct of deference and good behaviour before a noble lord
lent some semblance of steadiness to Pythagoras' legs. He struggled to
his feet, vainly endeavored to keep an upright and dignified position
— an attempt which, however, proved utterly futile.
Whereupon my lord called peremptorily to Jan, who appeared so
suddenly in the doorway that, to Pythagoras' blurred vision, it seemed
as if he had been put there by some kind of witchery. He approached his
master, and there ensued a brief, whispered colloquy between those two
— a colloquy in which Heemskerk took no part. After which, the lord of
Stoutenburg said aloud:
"Set this worthy fellow on his horse, my good Jan, and put him on
the track which leads to Amersfoort. He has had a rest and a good warm
drink. He is not like to lose his way again."
Vaguely Pythagoras felt that he wished to protest. He did not want
to be set on his horse, nor yet to go to Amersfoort just yet. The
wedding was not until the morrow— no, the day after the morrow — and
for the nonce he wanted to sleep. Yes, sleep! Curled up in a blanket in
any corner big enough and warm enough to shelter a dog.
Sleep! That was what he wanted; for he was so confoundedly sleepy,
and this verfloekte darkness interfered with his eyes so that he could
not see very clearly in front of him. All this he explained with grave
deliberation to Jan, who had him tightly by the elbow and was leading
him with absolutely irresistible firmness out through the door into the
white, inhospitable open.
"I don't want to get to horse," the philosopher babbled thickly. "I
want to curl up in a blanket and I want to go to sleep."
But, despite his protestations, he found himself presently in the
saddle. How he got up there, he certainly could not have told you.
Instinct, however, kept him there. Never could it be said that
Pythagoras had tumbled off a horse. Anon he felt that the horse was
moving, and that the air around him was bitterly cold.
The dull, even carpet of snow dazzled him, though it was pitch dark
now both overhead and down below; of darkness that enveloped one like a
mantle, and which felt as if it could have been cut through with a
The horse went on at a steady trot, and another was trotting by its
side, bearing a cavalier who wore a fur bonnet. Pythagoras vaguely
imagined that this must be Jan. He owed Jan a grudge for taking him
away from that hospitable molen, where half-bottles of wine were
magically transformed into large ones, filled to overflowing with
Presently Pythagoras began to feel cold again after the blissful
warmth produced by that super-excellent Spanish wine.
"Is it far to Amersfoort?" he queried drowsily from time to time.
But he never seemed to get a reply. It appeared to him as if he had
been hours in the saddle since last he felt comfortable and warm over
in that hospitable molen. And he was very sleepy. His head felt heavy
and his eyes would not keep open as hours and hours went by and the
cold grew more and more intense.
"Is it far to Amersfoort?" he questioned whenever his head rolled
forward with a jerk that roused him to momentary consciousness.
"Less than half a league now," Jan replied presently, and brought
his own horse to a halt. "Follow the track before you and it will lead
you straight to the city gates."
Pythagoras opened his eyes very wide. Straightway in front of him he
perceived one or two tiny lights, which were too low down on the
horizon for stars. The road, too, on which he found himself appeared
straighter and more defined than those upon that verfloekte waste.
"Are those the lights of Amersfoort?" he murmured vaguely, and
pointed in as straight a direction as his numbed arm would allow.
He expected an answer from Jan but there came none. The darkness
appeared to have swallowed up horse and rider. Anyway, they had
disappeared. Good old Jan! Pythagoras would have liked to thank him for
his company, even though he did owe him a grudge for taking him away
from the molen where there had been such wonderful —-
The horse followed the track for a minute or two longer Pythagoras,
left to his own devices, tried to keep awake. Suddenly the sharp report
of a pistol rent the silence of the night. It was immediately followed
Pythagoras felt a strange, sinking sensation in his stomach, a dizzy
feeling in his head, a feeling which was no longer blissful like the
one he had experienced after the third mugful of Spanish wine. A moment
later, he fell forward on his horse's neck, then rolled out of the
saddle down upon the bed of snow.
And at this spot, where the poor philosopher lay, the white pall
which covered the Veluwe was dyed with a dark crimson stain.
A grey, dull light suffused the sky in the East when Jan once more
knocked at the door of the old molen.
Stoutenburg's voice bade him enter.
"All well?" my lord queried, at sight of his faithful servant.
"All quiet, my lord," replied Jan. "That windbag, I'll warrant, will
tell no tales."
"How far did you take him?"
"Nearly as far as Lang Soeren. I had to keep a track for fear of
losing my way. But he lies eight leagues from Amersfoort now and six
from Ede. His friends, I imagine, won't look for him thus far."
"And his horse?"
"It did not follow me. No doubt it will get picked up by some one in
Heemskerk shivered. It was certainly very cold inside this great,
barn-like place at this hour just before sunrise; and the passing
wayfarer had consumed the last measure of wine. The young man looked
grimy, too, and untidy, covered with dust from the floor, where he had
lain stretched out for the past three hours, trying to get a wink of
sleep; whilst Stoutenburg, restless and alert, had kept his ears open
and his nerves on the stretch for the first sound of Jan's return.
"You have been a long time getting to Lang Soeren and back," the
latter remarked further to Jan.
I was guiding a drunken man on a wearied horse," the man replied
curtly. "And I myself had been in the saddle all day."
"Then get another hour's rest now," Stoutenburg rejoined. "You will
accompany my lord of Heemskerk back to Doesburg as soon as the sun is
Jan made no reply. He was accustomed to curt commands and to
unquestioning obedience. Tired, saddle-sore and wearied, he would be
ready to ride again, go anywhere until he dropped. So he turned on his
heel and went out into the cold once more, in order to snatch that
brief hour's rest which had been graciously accorded him.
Heemskerk gave an impatient sigh.
"I would the dawn were quicker in coming!" he murmured under his
"The atmosphere of the Veluwe is getting oppressive for your
fastidious taste," Stoutenburg retorted with a sneer. Then, as his
friend made no other comment, he continued lightly: "Dead men tell no
tales. I could not risk that blabbering fool going back to Amersfoort
and speaking of what he saw. Even your unwonted squeamishness, my good
Heemskerk, would grant me that."
"Or, rather," rejoined the other, almost involuntarily, "did not the
unfortunate man suffer for being the messenger of evil tidings?"
Stoutenburg shrugged his shoulders with an assumption of
indifference. "Perhaps," he said. "Though I doubt if the news was
wholly unexpected. Yet I would have deemed Gilda Beresteyn too proud to
wed that plepshurk."
"A man with a future," Heemskerk rejoined. "He is credited with
having saved the Stadtholder's life, when the lord of Stoutenburg
planned to blow up the bridge under his passage."
"And Beresteyn is grateful to him too," added Stoutenburg with a
sarcastic curl of his thin lips, "for having rescued the fair Gilda
from the lord of Stoutenburg's fierce clutches. But Nicolaes might have
told me that his sister was getting married."
"Nicolaes?" ejaculated Heemskerk, with obvious surprise. "You have
seen Nicolaes Beresteyn, then of late?"
For the space of a few seconds — less perhaps — Stoutenburg
appeared confused, and the look which he cast on his friend was both
furtive and searching. The next moment, however, he had recovered his
usual cool placidity.
"You mistook, me, my friend," he said blandly. "I did not say that I
had seen Nicolaes Beresteyn of late. I have not seen him, in fact,
since the day of our unfortunate aborted conspiracy. Rumor reached me
that he himself was about to wed the worthy daughter of some prosperous
burgher. I merely wondered how the same rumor made no mention of the
other prospective bride."
Once again the conversation flagged. Heemskerk regarded his friend
with an anxious expression in his pale wearied face. He knew how
passionately, if somewhat intermittently, Stoutenburg had loved Gilda
Beresteyn. He knew of the original girl and boy affection between them,
and of the man's base betrayal of the girl's trust. Stoutenburg had
thrown over the humbler burgher's daughter in order to wed Walburg de
Marnix, whom he promptly neglected, and who had since set him legally
free. Heemskerk knew, too, how Stoutenburg's passion for the beautiful
Gilda Beresteyn had since then burst into a consuming flame, and how
the obscure soldier of fortune who went by the nick-name of Diogenes
had indeed snatched the fair prize from his grasp.
Nigh on three months had gone by since then. Stoutenburg was still
nurturing thoughts of vengeance and of crime, not only against the
Stadtholder, but also against the girl who had scorned him. Well, this
in truth was none of his friend's business. Hideous as was the
premeditated coup against Maurice of Nassau, it would undoubtedly, if
successful, help the cause of Spain in the Netherlands, and Heemskerk
himself was that unnatural monster — a man who would rather see his
country ruled by a stranger than by those of her sons whose political
or religious views differed from his own.
Thus, when an hour later he took leave of Stoutenburg, he did so
almost with cordiality, did not hesitate to grasp the had of a man whom
he knew to be a scheming and relentless murderer.
"One of us will come out to wait on you in two days' time," he said
at the last. "I go back to camp satisfied that you are not so lonely as
you seem, and that there is some one who sees to it that you do not
fare so ill even in this desolation. May I say this to De Berg?"
"If you like," Stoutenburg replied. "Anyway, you may assure him, and
through him the Archduchess, that Maurice of Nassau will be in his
grave before I, his judge and executioner, perish of hunger or of cold."
He accompanied his friend to the door, and stood there while the
latter and Jan were getting to horse. Then, as they went out into the
open, he waved them a last adieu. On the far distant east, the pale,
wintry sun had tinged the mist with a delicate lemon gold. The vast
immensity of the waste lay stretched out as if limitless before him. As
far as the eye could see not a tower or column of smoke broke the even
monotony of the undulating ground. The shadow of the great molen with
its gaunt, mained wings lay, like patches of vivid blue upon the vast
and glistening pall of snow.
The two riders put their horses to a trot. Soon they appeared like
mere black specks upon a background of golden haze, whilst in their
wake, upon the scarce visible track, the traces of their horses' hoofs,
in stains of darker blue upon the virgin white, were infinitely
Stoutenburg watched them until the mist-laden distance had
completely hidden them from his view. Then, with a sigh of relief, he
CHAPTER II—THE DOUBLE WEDDING
It was one of those days when earth and heaven alike appear to
smile. A day almost warm, certainly genial; for the wind had dropped,
the sky was of a vivid blue, and the sun had a genuine feeling of
warmth in its kiss. From the overhanging eaves the snow dropped down in
soft, moist lumps, stained by the thaw, and the quay, where a goodly
crowd had collected, was quickly transformed under foot into a sea of
It almost seemed as if the little town was out on a holiday. People
came and went, dressed in gay attire, stood about all along the bank of
the river, staring up at the stately gabled house which looked so
wonderfully gay with its decorations of flags and valuable tapestries
and stuffs hanging from the numerous windows.
That house on the quay — and it was the finest house in the town —
was indeed the centre of attraction. It was from there that the air of
holiday-making emanated, and certainly from there that the gay sounds
of music and revelry came wafted on the crisp, wintry air.
Mynheer Beresteyn had come to his house in Amersfoort, of which city
he was chief civic magistrate, in order to celebrate the double
wedding. No wonder such an event was made an excuse for a holiday.
Burgomaster Beresteyn never did things by halves, and his hospitality
was certain to be lavish. Already doles and largesse had been poured
out at the porch of St. Maria Kerk; a crowd of beggars more or less
indigent, crippled, sick, or merely greedy, had assembled there very
early in the morning. Whoever was there was sure to get something. And
there was plenty to see besides: the brides and bridegrooms and the
wedding party; and of course His Highness the Stadtholder was a sight
in himself. He did not often go abroad these days, for his health was
no longer as good as it was. He had aged considerably, looked moody and
ailing for the most part. There had been sinister rumours, too. The
widowed Archduchess Isabella, Mistress of Flanders and Brabant, hated
him because he held the United Provinces of the Netherlands free from
the bondage of Spain. And in Spain the arts of poison and of secret
assassination were carried on with as much perfection as they had ever
been in Italy in the days of the Borgias.
However, all such dark thoughts must be put away for the day. This
is a festive occasion for Amersfoort, when every anxiety for the fate
of the poor fatherland — ever threatened and ever sore-pressed — must
be laid to rest. Let the brides and bridegrooms see naught but merry
faces — happy auguries of the auspicious days to come.
Here they come —the entire wedding party — walking down the narrow
streets from the quay to the St. Maria Kerk. Every one is walking, even
the Stadtholder. He is conspicuous by his great height, and the
richness of his attire: embroidered doublet, slashed sleeves, priceless
lace. His face looks thin and drawn, but he has lost nothing of his
martial bearing, nor have his eyes lost their eagle glance. He had come
over the previous afternoon from Utrecht, where he was in camp, and had
deigned to grace Mynheer Beresteyn's house by sleeping under its roof.
It was understood that he would return to Utrecht after the banquet
which was to follow the religious ceremony, and he, too, for this one
day was obviously making a valiant attempt to cast off the load of
anxiety attendant upon ceaseless campaigning. In truth, the Archduchess
Isabella, not content with the fairest provinces of Belgium, with
Flanders, Brabant, and the Hainault, which her father, King Philip of
Spain, had ceded to her absolutely, was even now striving to force some
of the United Provinces back under the domination of Spain.
Small wonder then that the Stadtholder, wearied and sick, the shadow
of his former self, was no longer sure of a whole-hearted welcome when
he showed himself abroad. Nor had the people forgiven him the judicial
murder of Olden Barneveldt — the trusted councillor in the past,
afterwards the bitter opponent of his master's ambitions — of his
severity towards Barneveldt's sons. His relentless severity toward
those who offended him, his reckless ambition and stern
disciplinarianism, had made him an object of terror rather than of
affection. Nevertheless, he still stood for the upholder of the
liberties of the United Provinces, the finest captain of his age, who
by his endurance, his military skill, and his unswerving patriotism,
kept his country's frontiers free from the incursions of the most
powerful armies of the time. He still stood as the man who had swept
the sacred soil of the Netherlands free from Spanish foes and Spanish
tyranny, who had amplified and consolidated the work of his father and
firmly established the independence of the Republic. Because of what he
had done in the past, men like Mynheer Beresteyn and those of his kind
still looked upon him with grave respect, as the chosen of God, the
prophet sent to them from Heaven to keep the horrors of a new Spanish
invasion away from their land.
And when Maurice of Nassau came to a small city like Amersfoort, as
he had done today, he was received with veneration, if not with the old
cheers and acclamations. His arbitrary temper was momentarily
forgotten, his restless ambition condoned, in the joy of beholding the
man who had fought for them, never spared himself until he had won for
them all those civil and religious liberties which they prized above
all the treasures of the earth.
All heads, then, were bowed in respectful silence as he walked by,
with the brides one on each side of him. But the loving glances of the
crowd, the jokes and whispered words of cheer and greeting, were
reserved for Mynheer Beresteyn and for his family.
Two brides, and both comely! Jongejuffrouw Katharina van den Poele,
the only child of the wealthy shipowner, member of the Dutch East India
Company, a solid burgher both physically and financially, and one of
the props of his country's overseas commerce. His daughter, in rich
brocade, with stiff stomacher that vainly strove to compress her ample
proportions, splashed through the mud on her high pattens beside the
Stadtholder, her heavily be-ringed hands clinging to the folds of her
gown, so as to save them from being soiled. Stolid and complacent, she
heard with a satisfied smile the many compliments that rose from out
the crowd on her dazzling complexion, her smoothly brushed hair and
magnificent jewelry. The fair Katharina beamed with good-nature and
looked the picture of happiness, despite the fact that her bridegroom,
who walked immediately behind her, appeared somewhat moody, considering
Nicolaes Beresteyn, the Burgomaster's only son, had in truth, no
reason for surliness. His bride excited universal admiration, his own
private fortune would be more than doubled by the dowry which the good
Kaatje brought him along with her plump person, and all the
disagreements between himself and his father, all the treachery and the
deceit of the past three months, had been amply forgiven. It was all
the more strange, therefore, that on this day his face alone should
appear as a reflection of the Stadtholder's silent mood, and more than
one comment was made thereon as he passed.
Of the other bride and bridegroom it is perhaps more difficult to
speak. We all know the beautiful picture of Gilda Beresteyn which Frans
Hals made of her some three months previously. That incomparable master
of portraiture has rendered that indescribable air of force, coupled
with extreme youthfulness, which was her greatest charm. Often she hath
been called etherial, yet I do not see how that description could apply
to one who was so essentially alive as Gilda Beresteyn. Her blue eyes
always sparkled with vitality, and whenever she was moved — which was
often enough — they became as dark as sloes. Probably the word came to
be applied to her because there was always a little something
mysterious about her — an enigmatic little smile, which suggested
merriment that came from within rather than in response to an outside
joke. Many have remarked that her smile was the gentle reflex of her
lover's sparkling gaiety.
Him — that ardent lover, sobered bridegroom now — you cannot
forget, not whilst Frans Hals' immortal work, whom he hath called "The
Laughing Cavalier," depicts him in all is irrepressible joyousness, and
gladdens the eye with its exhilaration and its magnificent gaite de
coeur — a veritable nepenthe for jaded seek-sorrows.
For once in his life, as he walks gravely behind his bride, there is
a look of seriousness not unmixed with impatience in his laughing eyes.
A frown, too, between his brows. The crowd have at once taken him to
its heart — especially the women. Those who have no sons wish for one
at once, who would grow up just like him: tall and stately as a young
sapling, with an air of breeding seldom seen in the sons of the Low
Countries, and wearing his magnificent bridal attire as if he had never
worn leather jerkin or worsted doublet in his life. The women admire
the richly wrought doublet, the priceless lace at neck and wrists, the
plumed hat that frames a face alike youthful and determined. But
everyone marvels why a bridegroom should go to church in high
riding-boots and spurred at this hour. Many whispered comments are
exchanged as he goes by.
"A stranger, so they say."
"Though he has fought in the Netherlands."
"Ah, but he really comes from England."
"A romantic story. Never knew his father until recently."
Some said the bridegroom's name was really Blakeney, and that his
father was a very rich and very great gentleman over in England. But
there were others who remembered him well when he was just a penniless
soldier of fortune who went by the name of Diogenes. No one knew him
then by any other, and no one but Frans Hals, the painter over in
Haarlem, knew whence he had come and what was his parentage. In those
days his merry laughter would rouse the echoes of the old city where he
and his two boon companions — such a quaint pair of loons! — were
wont to dwell in the intervals of selling their swords to the highest
Ay, Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn's stranger bridegroom had fought in
France and in Flanders, in Groningen and Brabant and 'twas said that
recently he had saved the life of the Stadtholder at great risk of his
own. Many more tales were whispered about him, which would take too
long to relate, while the crowd stood agape all down the quay and up
the Korte Gracht as far as the St. Maria Kerk.
Indeed, Mynheer Beresteyn had not done things by halves. He had
chosen that the happy double event should take place at the old house
at Amersfoort, where his children had been born, and where he had spent
the few happy years of his married life, rather than at Haarlem, which
was his business and official residence. He wished, for the occasion,
to be just a happy father rather than the distinguished functionary,
the head of the Guild of Armourers, one of the most important burghers
of the Province, and second only in the council chamber to the
The religious ceremony was over by noon. It was now mid-afternoon,
and the wedding guests had assembled in the stately home on the quay
for a gargantuan feast. The Stadtholder sat at a magnificently
decked-out table at the far end of the panelled room, on a raised dais
surmounted by a canopy of Flemish tapestry, all specially erected for
the occasion. Around this privileged board sat the wedding party;
Mynheer Beresteyn, grave and sedate, a man who had seen much of life,
had suffered a great deal, and even now scarcely dared to give his
sense of joy full play. He gazed from time to time on his daughter with
something of anxiety as well as of pride. Then the worthy shipowner,
member of the Dutch East India Company, and mejuroffluw, his wife —
the father and mother of Nicolaes Beresteyn's bride, pompous and
fleshy, and with an air of prosperous complacence about their persons
which contrasted strangely with Mynheer Beresteyn's anxious
earnestness. Finally, the two bridal couples, of whom more anon.
In the body of the nobly proportioned banqueting-hall, a vast
concourse of guests had assembled around two huge tables, which were
decked out with costly linen and plate, and literally groaned under the
succulent dishes which serving-men repeatedly placed there for the
delectation of the merry party. Roast capons and geese, fish from the
Rhyn and from the sea, pasties made up of oysters and quails, and,
above all, a constant supply of delicious Rhine or Spanish wines,
according as the guests desired light or heady liquor.
A perpetual buzz of talk, intermingled with many an outburst of
hilarity and an occasional song, filled the somewhat stuffy air of the
room to the exclusion of any individual sound.
The ladies plied their fans vigorously, and some of the men, warmed
by good cheer, had thrown their padded doublets open and loosened their
leather belts. The brides-elect sat one on each side of the
Stadtholder; a strange contrast, in truth. Kaatje van den Poele, just a
young edition of her mother, her well-rounded figure already showing
signs of the inevitable coming stoutness, comely to look at, with
succulent cheeks shining like rosy apples, her face with the wide-open,
prominent eyes, beaming with good-nature and the vigorous application
of cold water. Well-mannered, too, for she never spoke unless spoken
to, but sat munching her food with naive delight, and whenever her
somewhat moody bridegroom hazarded a laboured compliment or joke, she
broke into a pleasant giggle, jerked her elbow at him, and muttered a
"Fie, Klaas!" which put and end to further conversation.
Gilda Beresteyn, who sat at the Stadtholder's right hand, was
silent, too; demure, not a little prim, but with her, even the most
casual observer became conscious that beneath the formal demeanor there
ran an undercurrent of emotional and pulsating life. The terrible
experience which she had gone through a few brief months ago had given
to her deep blue eyes a glance that was vividly passionate, yet withal
resposeful, and with a curiously childlike expression of trust within
The stiff bridal robes which convention decreed that she should wear
gave her an air of dignity, even whilst it enhanced the youthfulness of
her personality. There was all the roundness in her figure which is the
attribute of her race; yet, despite her plump shoulders and full
throat, her little round face and firm bosom, there remained something
ethereal about her, a spirituality and a strength which inspired
reverence, even whilst her beauty provoked admiring glances.
"Your Highness is not eating," she remarked timidly.
"My head aches," Maurice of Nassau replied moodily. "I cannot eat. I
think I must be over-tired," he went on more pleasantly as he met the
girl's kind blue eyes fixed searchingly upon him. "A little fresh air
will do me good. Don't disturb any one," he continued hastily, as he
rose to his feet and turned to go to the nearest open window.
Beresteyn quickly followed him. The prince looked faint and ill,
and had to lean on his host's arm as he tottered towards the window.
The little incident was noticed by a few. It caused consternation and
the exchange of portentful glances.
A grave-looking man in sober black velvet doublet and sable hose
quickly rose from the table and joined the Stadtholder and Mynheer
Beresteyn at the window. He was the English physician especially
brought across to watch over the health of the illustrious sufferer.
Gilda turned to her neighbour. Her eyes had suddenly filled with
tears, but when she met his glance the ghost of a smile immediately
crept around her mouth.
"It seems almost wicked," she said simply "to be so happy now."
Unseen by the rest of the company, the man next to her took her tiny
hand and raised it to his lips.
"At times, even to-day," she went on softly, "it all seems like a
dream. Your wooing, my dear lord, hath been so tempestuous. Less than
three months ago I did not know of your existence —-"
"My wooing hath been over-slow for my taste!" he broke in with a
short, impatient sigh. "Three months, you say? And for me you are still
a shadow, an exquisite sprite that eludes me behind an impenetrable, a
damnable wall of conventions, even though my very sinews ache with
longing to hold you in mine arms for ever and for aye!"
He looked her straight between the eyes, so straight and with such a
tantalizing glance that a hot blush rose swiftly to her cheeks;
whereupon he laughed again — a merry, a careless, infectious laugh it
was — and squeezed her hand so tightly that he made her gasp.
"You are always ready to laugh, my lord," she murmured reproachfully.
"Always," he riposted. "And now, how can I help it? I must laugh, or
else curse with impatience. It is scarce three o'clock now, and not
before many hours can we be free of this chattering throng."
Then, as she remained silent, with eyes cast down now and the warm
flush still lingering in her cheeks, he went on, with brusque
impatience, his voice sunk to a quick, penetrating whisper:
"If anything should part me from you now, ma donna, I verily believe
that I should kill someone or myself!"
He paused, almost disconcerted. It had never been his wont to talk
of his feelings. The transient sentiments that in the past had grazed
his senses, without touching his heart, had only led him to careless
protestations, forgotten as soon as made. He himself marvelled at the
depth of his love for this exquisite creature who had so suddenly come
into his life, bringing with her a fragrance of youth and of purity,
and withal of fervid passion, such as he had never dreamed of through
the many vicissitudes of his adventurous life.
Still she did not speak, and he was content to look on her,
satisfied that she was in truth too completely happy at this hour to
give vent to her feelings in so many words. He loved to watch the play
of emotions in her tell-tale face, the pursed-up little mouth, so ready
to smile, and those violet-tinted eyes, now and then raised to him in
perfect trust and abandonment of self, then veiled once more demurely
under his provoking glance.
He loved to tease her, for then she blushed, and her long lashes
drew a delicately pencilled shadow upon her cheeks. He loved to say
things that frightened her, for then she would look up with a quick,
inquiring glance, search his own with a palpitating expression that
quickly melted again into one of bliss.
"You look so demure, ma donna," he exclaimed whimsically, "that I
vow I'll create a scandal — leap across the table and kiss Kaatje, for
instance — just to see if it would make you laugh!"
"Do not make fun of Kaatje, my lord," Gilda admonished. "She hath
more depth of feeling than you give her credit for."
"I do not doubt her depth of feeling, dear heart," he retorted with
mock earnestness. "But, oh, good St. Bavon help me! Have you ever seen
so solid a yokemate, or," he added, and pointed to Nicolaes Beresteyn,
who sat moody and sullen, toying with his food, beside his equally
silent bride, "so ardent a bridegroom? Verily, the dear lady reminds me
of those succulent fish pasties they make over in England, white and
stodgy, and rather heavy on the stomach, but, oh, so splendidly
"Fie! Now you are mocking again."
"How can I help it, dear heart, when you persist in looking so
solemn — so solemn, that, in the midst of all this hilarity, I am
forcibly reminded of all the rude things you said to me that night at
the inn in Leyden, and I am left to marvel how you ever came to change
your opinion of me?"
"I changed my opinion of you," she rejoined earnestly, "when I
learned how you were ready to give your life to save the Stadtholder
from those abominable murderers; and almost lost it," she added under
her breath, "to save my brother Nicolaes from the consequence of his
"Hush! That is all over and done with now, ma donna," he retorted
lightly. "Nicolaes has become a sober burgher, devoted to his solid
Kaatje and to the cause of the Netherlands; and I have sold my liberty
to the fairest tyrant that ever enslaved a man's soul."
"Do you regret it," she queried shyly, "already?"
"Already!" he assented gravely. "I am kicking against my bonds,
longing for that freedom which in the past kept my stomach empty and my
"Will you never be serious?" she retorted.
"Never, while I live. My journey to England killed my only attempt
at sobriety, for there I found that the stock to which I belonged was
both irreproachable and grave, had been so all the while that I, the
most recent scion of so noble a race, was roaming about the world, the
most shiftless and thriftless vagabond it had ever seen. But in
England" — he sighed and raised his eyes and hands in mock solemnity
— "in England the climate is so atrocious that the people become
grim-visaged and square-toed through constantly watching the rain
coming down. Or else," he added, with another suppressed ripple of that
infectious laugh of his, "the climate in England has become so
atrocious because there are so many square-toed folk about. I was such
a very little while in England," he concluded with utmost gravity, "I
had not time to make up my mind which way it went."
"Methinks you told me," she rejoined, "that your home in England is
beautiful and stately."
"It is both, dear heart," he replied more seriously; "and I shall
learn to love it when you have dwelt therein. I should love it even now
if it had ever been hallowed by the presence of my mother."
"She never went there?"
"No, never. My father came to Holland in Leicester's train. He
married my mother in Haarlem, then deserted her and left her there to
starve. My friend Frans Hals cared for me after she died. That is the
whole of her history. It does not make for deep, filial affection, does
"But you have seen your father now. Affection will come in time."
"Yes; I have seen him, thanks to your father, who brought us
together. I have seen my home in Sussex, where one day, please God,
you'll reign as its mistress."
"I, the wife of an English lord!" she sighed. "I can scarcely credit
"Nor can I, dear heart," he answered lightly; "for that you'll never
be. Let me try and explain to you just how it all is, for, in truth,
English honours are hard to understand. My father is an English
gentleman with no handle to his name. Blake of Blakeney they call him
over there; and I am his only son. It seems that he rendered signal
services to his king of late, who thereupon desired to confer upon him
one of those honours which we over here find it so difficult to
apprise. My father, however, either because he is advanced in years or
because he desired to show me some singular mark of favour, petitioned
King James to bestow the proposed honour upon his only son. Thus am I
Sir Percy Blakeney, it seems, without any merit on my part. Funny is it
not? And I who, for years, was known by no name save Diogenes, one of
three vagabonds, with perhaps more wits, but certainly no more worth,
than my two compeers!"
"Then I should call you Sir Percy?" she concluded. "Yet I cannot get
used to the name."
"You might even call me Percy," he suggested; "for thus was I
baptized at my dear mother's wish. Though, in truth, I had forgotten it
until my father insisted on it that I could not be called Diogenes by
mine own servants, and that he himself could not present me to his
Majesty the King of England under so fanciful a name."
"I like best to think of you as Diogenes," she murmured softly.
"Thus I knew you first, and your brother philosophers, Socrates and
Pythagoras — such a quaint trio, and all of you so unsuited to your
names! I wish," she added with a sigh, "that they were here now."
"And they should be here," he assented. "I am deeply anxious. But
He broke off abruptly. Mynheer Beresteyn's voice called to him from
the recess by the open window.
"A goblet of wine!" Mynheer commanded; "for his Highness."
Diogenes was about to comply with the order, but Nicolaes
forestalled him. Already he had poured out the wine.
"Let me take it," he said curtly, took up the goblet and went with
it to the window. He offered it to the Stadtholder, who drank greedily.
It was but a brief incident. Nicolaes had remained beside the prince
while the latter drank; then he returned, with the empty goblet in his
hand, to take his place once more beside his stolid and solid bride.
"You were speaking of Pythagoras, sir," Gilda rejoined, as soon as
Diogenes was once more seated beside her. "I never know which is which
of the two dear souls. Is Pythagoras the lean one with the deep, bass
"No. He is the fat one, with the round, red nose," Diogenes replied
gravely. "He was at Ede the night before last, and was seen there, at
the tavern of the Crow's Nest, somewhere after midnight, imbibing
copious draughts of hot, spiced ale. After that all traces of him have
vanished. But he must have started to join me here, as this had been
pre-arranged, and I fear me that he lost his way on that verfloekte
waste. I have sent Socrates, my lean comrade — to look for poor
Pythagoras upon the Veluwe. They should be here, in truth, and —-"
But the next word died in his throat. He jumped to his feet.
"The Stadtholder!" he exclaimed. "He hath fainted."
Indeed, there was quite a commotion now in the window recess, where
Prince Maurice had remained all this while by the open casement,
inhaling the fresh, keen air. The English physician stood beside him,
and Mynheer Beresteyn was gazing with anxious eyes on the master to
whom, in spite of all, he had remained so splendidly loyal. The
dizziness had apparently come on quite suddenly, while the Stadtholder
was acknowledging the acclamations of the crowd who had seen and
cheered him. He tottered and would have fallen but for the physician's
Not many of the guests had noticed the incident. They were for the
most part too much absorbed in their enjoyment of the feast to pay
attention to what went on in other parts of the room. But Diogenes had
seen it and was already over by the window; and Nicolaes Beresteyn,
too, had jumped to his feet. He looked wide-eyed and scared, even
whilst the stolid Kaatje, flushed with good cheer, remained perfectly
unconcerned, munching some sweetmeats which seemed to delight her
The Stadtholder, however, had quickly recovered. The faintness
passed off as suddenly as it came, but it left the illustrious guest
more silent and moody than before. His face had become of a yellowish
pallor, and his eyes looked sunken as if consumed with fever. But he
chose to return to his seat under the dais, and this time he called to
Diogenes to give him the support of his arm.
"'Twas scarce worth while, eh, my friend," he said bitterly, "to
risk your precious young life in order to save this precarious one. Had
Stoutenburg's bomb done the assassin's work, it would only have
anticipated events by less than three months."
"Your Highness is over-tired," Diogenes rejoined simply. "Complete
rest in the midst of your friends would fight this insidious sickness
far better than the wisest of physicians."
"What do you mean?" the Stadtholder immediately retorted, his keen,
hawk-like glance searching the soldier's smiling face. "Why should you
say 'in the midst of your friends?" he went on huskily. "You don't mean
"What, your Highness?"
"I mean — you said it so strangely — as if —-"
"I, your Highness?" Diogenes queried, not a little surprised at the
Stadtholder's febrile agitation.
"I myself have oft wondered —-"
Maurice of Nassau paused abruptly, rested his elbows on the table,
and for a moment or two remained quite still, his forehead buried in
his hands. Gilda gazed on him wide-eyed and tearful; even Kaatje ceased
to munch. It seemed terrible to be so great a man, wielding such power,
commanding such obedience, and to be reduced to a mere babbling
sufferer, fearing phantoms and eagerly gleaning any words of comfort
that might come from loyal lips.
Diogenes had remained silent, too; his eyes, usually so full of
light-heartedness and merriment, had a strange, searching glitter in
them now. A minute or two later the prince had pulled himself together,
tried to look unconcerned, and assumed a geniality which obviously he
was far from feeling. But it was to Diogenes that he spoke once more.
"Anyhow, I could not rest yet awhile, my friend," he said with a
sigh; "whilst the Archduchess threatens Gelderland, the De Berg is
making ready to cross the Ijssel."
"Your Highness's armies under your Highness's command," rejoined the
soldier firmly, "can drive the Archduchess's hosts out of Gelderland,
and send Henri de Berg back across the Ijssel. Maurice of Nassau is
still the finest commander in Europe, even —-"
He paused, and the Stadtholder broke in bitterly:
"Even though he is a dying man, you mean."
"No!" here broke in Gilda, with glowing fervour. "I swear that
nothing was further from my lord's thoughts. Sir," she added, and
turned boldly to her lover, "you spoke with such confidence just now. A
toast, I pray you, so that we may all join in expressions of loyalty to
our guest and sovereign lord, the Stadtholder!"
She poured a goblet full of wine. Diogenes gave her a quick glance
of approval. Then he picked up the goblet, stood upon his seat, and
placed one foot on the table.
"Long life to your Highness!" he cried aloud. "May it please God to
punish your enemies and to give victory unto your cause!"
Then, holding the goblet aloft, he called at the top of his voice:
"Maurice of Nassau and the cause of Liberty!"
Every one rose, and a rousing cheer went echoing round the room. It
was heard and taken up lustily by the crowd outside, until the very
walls of the ancient city echoed the loyal toast, from the grim towers
of Koppel Poort to the Vrouwetoren of St. Maria Kerk; from gateway to
gateway, and rampart to rampart. And the bells of St. Joris and St.
Maria took up the joyful call and sent peal after peal of bells
resounding gleefully through the keen, wintry air.
"Maurice of Nassau!" rang the chimes. "Nassau and liberty!"
But after this manifestation of joy and enthusiasm, comparative
silence fell upon the wedding assembly. None but those who had partaken
over freely of Mynheer Beresteyn's good cheer could fail to see that
the Stadtholder felt ill, and only kept up a semblance of gaiety by a
mighty effort of his iron will. Thereafter, conversation became
subdued. People talked in whispers, an atmosphere of constraint born of
anxiety reigned there where light-hearted gaiety had a while ago held
undisputed sway. The host himself did his best to revive the temper of
his guests. Serving-men and maids were ordered to go around more
briskly with the wine. One or two of the younger men hazarded the
traditional jokes which usually obtained at wedding feasts; but those
who laughed did so shamefacedly. It seemed as if a vague terror held
erstwhile chattering tongues in check.
The Stadtholder, leaning back against the cushions of his chair,
spoke very little. His long, nervy fingers played incessantly with
crumbs and pellets of bread. He looked impatient and ill at ease, like
a man who wants to get away yet fears to offend his host. He had kept
Diogenes by his side this time, and Beresteyn was able to snatch a few
last words with his daughter. Once she was married, her husband would
take her to his home in England one day, and the thought of parting
from the child he loved was weighing the father's spirit down.
" 'Tis the first time," he said sadly, "that you will pass out of my
keeping. You were the precious heritage bequeathed to me your dead
mother. Now 'tis to a stranger that I am entrusting my priceless
"A stranger, father," riposted Gilda quietly, "who hath proved
himself worthy of the truth. And when we do go to England," she went on
gaily, "there will only be a narrow strip of water between us, and that
is easily crossed."
Beresteyn gave a quickly smothered sigh. He looked across at the
stranger to whom, as he said, he was about to hand over the most
precious gift he possessed. Handsome he was, that erstwhile penniless
soldier of fortune; handsome and brave, frank and loyal, and with that
saving grace of light-hearted gaiety in him which had helped him
through the past terrible crisis in his life, and brought him to the
safe haven of a stately home in England and wealthy father, eager to
make amends for the wrongs committed long ago.
But still a stranger for all that, a man who had seen more of the
seamy side of the world, who had struggled more, suffered more — ay,
perhaps sinned more — than those of his rank in life usually did at
his age. Something of that rough-and-tumble life of the soldier of
fortune, without home or kindred, who sells his sword to the highest
bidder, and knows no master save his own will, must have left its mark
upon the temperament of the man. Despite the humorous twinkle in the
eyes, the bantering curl on the lip, the man's face bore the impress of
the devil-may-care existence that takes no heed of the morrow. And at
times, when it was in repose, there was a strangely grim look in it of
determination as well as of turbulent passions, not always held in
Beresteyn sighed with inward apprehension. His well-ordered mind,
the mind of a Dutch middle-class burgher, precise and unemotional,
could not quite fathom that of the Anglo-Saxon — the most romantic and
the most calculating, and the most impulsive and the most studied, the
most sensuous and most self-repressed temperament that ever set the
rest of the world wondering. He could see the reckless scapegrace, the
thoughtless adventurer, fuming and fretting under the restraint put
upon him by the cut-and-dried conventions attendant upon these wedding
ceremonies could watch him literally writhing under the knowing looks
and time-honoured innuendos which custom deemed allowable on these
occasions. His hands indeed must be itching to come in contact with the
checks of mocking friends and smug relatives, all eager to give advice
or to chaff the young bride, until the hot blood rushed to her cheeks
and tears of annoyance gather in her eyes.
The whole atmosphere of noise and drinking — ay, of good-humour and
complacency — did, in truth, grate upon Diogenes' nerves. He had not
lied to Gilda nor yet exaggerated his sentiments when he said that his
sinews ached with longing to seize her and carry her away into solitude
and quiet, where nought would come to disturb their love-dream; away
upon his horse, her soft arms encircling his neck her head resting on
his shoulder, her dear face turned up to his gaze, with those heavenly
eyes closed in rapture; the delicate mouth slightly parted, showing a
vision of tiny teeth, a tear mayhap trembling on her lashes, a soft
blush mantling on her cheek. Away! Across the ocean to that stately
home in England, where the spring air was soft with the scent of
violets and of fruit blossom, and where beside the river the reeds
murmured a soft accompaniment to songs of passion and hymns of love.
Away from all save the shrine which he had set up for her in his heart;
from all save the haven of his arms.
To feel that, and then be forced to sit and discuss plans for the
undoing of the Spanish commander or for the relief of Arnheim, was, in
fact, more than Diogenes' restive temperament could stand. His
attention began to wander, his answers became evasive; so much so that,
after a while, the Stadtholder, eyeing him closely, remarked with the
pale ghost of a smile:
" 'Tis no use fretting and fuming, my friend. Your English blood is
too mutinous for this sober country and its multitude of stodgy
conventions. One of these demands that your bride shall sit here till
the last of the guests has departed, and only a few fussy and
interfering old tantes are left to unrobe her and commiserate with her
over her future lot — a slave to a bullying husband, a handmaid to her
exacting lord. Every middle-aged frump in the Netherlands hath some
story to tell that will bring tears to a young bride's eyes or a blush
to her cheeks."
"Please God," Diogenes ejaculated fervently. "Gilda will be spared
"Impossible, you rogue!" the Stadtholder retorted, amused despite
his moodiness by the soldier's fretful temper. "The conventions—-"
"Verfloekt will be the conventions as far as we are concerned,"
Diogenes rejoined hotly. "And if your Highness would but help —-" he
"I? What can I do?"
"Give the signal for dispersal," Diogenes entreated; "and graciously
promise to forgive me if, for the first time in my life, I act with
disrespect toward your Highness."
"But, man, how will that help you?" the Stadtholder demurred.
"I must get away from all this wearying bombast, this jabbering and
scraping and all these puppy-tricks!" Diogenes exclaimed with comical
fierceness. "I must get away ere my wife becomes a doll and a puppet,
tossed into my arms by a lot of irresponsible monkeys! If I have to
stay here much longer, your Highness," he added earnestly "I vow that I
shall flee from it all, leave an angel to weep for my abominable
desertion of what I hold more priceless than all the world, and an
outraged father to curse the day when so reckless and adventurer
crossed his daughter's path. But stand this any longer I cannot!" he
concluded, and, with a quick sweep of the arm, he pointed to the
chattering, buzzing crowd below. "And if your Highness will not help me
"Who said I would not help you, you hotheaded rashling?" the
Stadtholder broke in composedly. "You know very well that I can refuse
you nothing, not even the furtherance of one of your madcap schemes.
And as for disrespect — why, as you say, in the midst of so much
bowing and scraping some of us are eager for disrespect as an aging
spinster for amorous overtures. By way of a change, you know."
He spoke quite simply and with an undercurrent of genuine sympathy
in his tone, as a man towards his friend. Something of the old Maurice
of Nassau seemed for the moment to have swept aside the arbitrary
tyrant whom men had learned to hate as well as to obey. Diogenes'
irascible mood melted suddenly in the sunshine of the Stadtholder's
indulgent smile, the mocking glance faded out of his eyes, and he said
with unwonted earnestness:
"No wonder that men have gone to death or to glory under your
"Would you follow me again if I called?" the prince retorted.
"Your Highness hath no need of me. The United Provinces are free,
her burghers are free men. 'Tis time to sheathe the sword, and a man
might be allowed, methinks, to dream of happiness."
"Is your happiness bound up with the mad scheme for which you want
"Ay, my dear lord!" Diogenes replied. "And, secure in your gracious
promise, I swear that naught can keep me from the scheme now save mine
"There are more arbitrary things than death, my friend," the
"Possibly, your Highness," the soldier answered lightly; "but not
for me to-night."
More than one chronicler of the time hath averred that Maurice of
Nassau had in truth a soft corner in his heart for the man who had
saved him from the bomb prepared by the Lord of Stoutenburg, and would
yield to the "Laughing Cavalier" when others, less privileged, were
made to feel the weight of his arbitrary temper. Be that as it may, he
certainly on this occasion was as good as his word. Wearied with all
these endless ceremonials, he was no doubt glad enough to take his
departure, and anon he gave the signal for a general breaking up of the
party by rising, and, in a loud voice, thanking Mynheer Beresteyn for
his lavish hospitality.
"An you will pardon this abrupt departure," he concluded with
unwonted graciousness, "I would fain get to horse. By starting within
the hour, I could reach Utrecht before dark."
All the guests had risen, too, and there was the usual hubbub and
noise attendant on the dispersal of so large a party. That Stadtholder
stepped down from the dais, Mynheer Beresteyn and the English physician
remaining by his side, while the bridal party brought up the rear. Room
was made for his Highness to walk down the room, the men standing
bareheaded and the women curtseying as he passed. But he did not speak
to any one, only nodded perfunctorily to those whom he knew personally.
Obviously he felt ill and tired, and his moodiness was, for the most
part, commented on with sympathy.
The brides and bridegrooms, on the other hand, had to withstand a
veritable fusillade of banter, which Nicolaes Beresteyn received
sulkily, and the solid Kaatje with much complacence. Indeed, this bride
was willing enough to be chaffed, had even a saucy reply handy when she
was teased, and ogled her friends slily as she went by. But Gilda
remained silent and demure. I don't think that she heard a word that
was said. She literally seemed to glide across the room like the
veritable sprite her ardent lover had called her. Her tiny hand, white
and slightly fluttering, rested on his arm, lost in the richly
embroidered folds of his magnificent doublet. She was not fully
conscious of her actions, moved along as in a dream, without the
exertion of her will. She was wont to speak afterwards of this brief
progress of hers through the crowded room with the chattering throng of
friends all around, as a walk through air. Nothing seemed to her to
exist. There was no room, , no crowd, no noise. She alone existed, and
ethereally. Her lover was there, however, and she was fully conscious
of his will. She knew that anon she would be a captive in his arms, to
be dealt with my him as he liked; and this caused her to feel that
fearful and yet wholly content.
He, Diogenes, on the other hand, was the picture of fretful
impatience, squeezing his soft felt hat in his hand as if it were the
throat of some deadly enemy. He never once looked at his bride;
probably if he had he would have lost the last shred of self-control,
would have seized her in his arms and carried her away then and there,
regardless of the respect due to the Stadtholder and to his host.
But the trial, though severe to any ebullient temper, was not of
long duration. Anon the Stadtholder was in the hall, booted once more
and spurred, and surrounded by his equerries and by the bridal party.
His bodyguard encumbered the hall, their steel bonnets and short
breastplates reflecting the wintry light which came, many-hued, through
the tall, stained glass windows. In the rear the wedding guests were
crowding forward to catch a last glimpse of the Stadtholder, and of the
pageant of his departure. The great hall door had been thrown open, and
through it, framed in the richness of the heavy oaken jambs, a picture
appeared, gay, animated, brilliant, such as the small city had never
There was the holiday throng, moving ceaselessly in an ever flowing
and glittering stream. The women in huge, winged hoods and short
kirtles, the men in fur bonnets and sleeved coats, were strolling up
and down the quay. There were the inevitable musicians with pipes,
viols, and sackbuts, pushing their way through the dense mass of
people, with a retinue behind them of young people and old, and of
children, all stepping it to the measure of the tune. There was the
swarthy foreigner with his monkey dressed out in gaily coloured rags,
and the hawker with his tray full of bright handkerchiefs, of glass
beads, chains, and amulets, crying out his wares. It was, in fact, a
holiday crowd, drawn thither by Mynheer Beresteyn's largesse; the
shopkeepers with their wives, who had been induced to shut down shop
for the afternoon, as if some official function had been in progress;
the apprentices getting in everybody's way, hilarious and full of
mischief, trying to steal the hawkers' wares, or to play impish pranks
on their employers; servant maids and sober apothecaries, out-at-elbow
scriveners and stolid rustics, to-gether with the rag and tag of
soldiery, the paid mercenaries of Maurice of Nassau's army, in their
showy doublets and plumed bonnets, elbowing their way through with the
air of masters.
And all this brilliant gathering was lit by a pale, wintry sun: and
with the sleepy waters of the Eem, and the frowning towers of the
Koppel-poort forming just the right natural-tinted background to the
"Make way there!" the prince's herald shouted, whilst another rang a
fanfare upon the trumpet. "Make way for his High and Mightiness,
Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange, Stadtholder of the United
Provinces of Holland, Friesland, Utrecht, Gelderland, Over Yssel, and
Groningen! Make way!"
The equerries were bringing the prince's charger, the pikemen
followed in gorgeous padded trunks and slashed hose. To the noise of
the moving throng, the chatter and the laughter, the scraping of viols
and piping of sackbuts, was now added the din of champing horses,
rattle of bits and chains, the shouts of the men who were bringing the
horses along. The crowd receded, leaving an open space in front of the
house, where mounted men assembled so quickly that they seemed as if
they had risen out of the ground.
The Stadtholder was taking final leave of his host listening with
what patience he could master to lengthy, loyal speeches from the more
important guests, and from the other bride and bridegroom. He had —
deliberately methinks — turned his back on Diogenes, who, strangely
enough, was booted and spurred too, had his sword buckled to his belt,
and carried a dark cloak on his arm, presenting not at all the picture
of a bridegroom in holiday attire.
And it all happened so quickly that neither the guests within, nor
the soldiers, nor the crowd outside, had time to realize it or to take
it in. No one understood, in fact, what was happening, save perhaps the
Stadtholder, who guessed; and he engaged the sober fathers near him in
A mounted equerry, dressed in rough leather jerkin and leading
another horse by the bridle, had taken up his stand in the forefront of
the crowd. Now at a signal unheard by all save him, he jumped out of
the saddle and stood beside the stirrup leathers of the second charger.
At that same instant Diogenes, with movements quick as lightning, had
thrown the cloak, which he was carrying round Gilda's shoulders, and
before she could utter a scream or even a gasp, he had stooped and
picked her up in his arms as if she were a weightless doll.
Another second and he was outside the door, at the top of the steps
which led down to the quay. For an instant he stood there, his keen
eyes sweeping over the picture before him. Like a young lion that hath
been caged and now scents liberty once more, he inhaled the biting air;
a superb figure, with head tossed back, eyes and lips laughing with the
joy of deliverance, the inert figure of the girl lying in his arms.
He felt her clinging more closely to him, and revelled in that
intoxicating sense of power when the one woman yields who holds a world
of happiness in her tiny hand. He felt the tightening of her hold,
watched the look of contentment stealing over her face, saw her eyes
close, her lips smile, and knew that they were ready for a kiss.
Then he caught sight of his horse, and of the man in the leather
jerkin. He signalled to him to bring the horses near. The crowd
understood his meaning and set up a ringing cheer. Many things had been
seen in Dutch cities before, but never so romantic an abduction as
this. The bridegroom carrying off his bride in the face of scandalized
and protesting wedding guests! The Stadtholder even was seen to laugh.
He could be seen in the background, reassuring the horrified guests,
and trying by kind words and pressure of hand to appease Mynheer
Beresteyn's agonized surprise.
"I knew of his mad project, and I must say I approved," the prince
whispered to the agitated father. "He is taking her to Rotterdam
to-night. Let the child be, Mynheer; she is safe enough in his arms."
Beresteyn was one of those men who throughout his life had always
known how to accept the inevitable. Perhaps in his heart he knew that
the Stadtholder was right.
"Give them your blessing, Mynheer," Maurice of Nassau urged.
"English gentleman or soldier of fortune, the man is a man and deserves
it. Your daughter loves him. Let them be."
Diogenes had encountered Beresteyn's reproachful glance. He did not
move from where he stood, only his arms closed tighter still around
Gilda's motionless form. It was an instinctive challenge to the father
— almost a defiance. What he had would hold, in spite of all.
Beresteyn hesitated for the mere fraction of a second longer; then
he, too, stepped out through the door and approached the man and his
burden. He said nothing, but, in the face of the crowd, he stooped and
pressed his lips against his daughter's forehead. Then Mynheer
Beresteyn murmured something which sounded like a blessing, and added
"May God's wrath descend upon you, my lord, if you ever cause her
"Amen to that!" responded Diogenes lightly. "She and I, Mynheer,
will dream together for awhile in England, but I'll bring her back to
you when our orchards are gay with apple-blossom and there is a taste
of summer in the air."
He bowed his head to receive the father's blessing. The crowd
cheered again; sackbuts and viols set up a lively tune. At every window
of the house, along the quay eager faces were peering out, gazing on
the moving spectacle. In the doorway of Mynheer Beresteyn's house the
Stadtholder remained to watch. For the moment he seemed better and
brighter, more like his former self. The rest of the bridal party was
still in the hall, but the wedding guests had gone back into the
banqueting-room, whence they could see through the open windows what
was going on.
Then it was that suddenly a curious spectacle presented itself to
view. It was, in truth, so curious an one that those of the crowd who
were in the rear withdrew their consideration from the romantic scene
before them in order to concentrate it on those two strange-looking
cavaliers who had just emerged from under the Koppel-port, and were
slowly forging their way through the throng.
It was the ringing shout, reiterated twice in succession by one of
these cavaliers, that had at first arrested the attention of the crowd,
and had even caused Diogenes to pause in the very act of starting for
his sentimental adventure. To him the voice that uttered such
peremptory clamour was familiar enough, but what in St. Bavon's name
did it all mean?
"Hola! you verdommte plepshurk!" came for the third time from the
strange cavalier. "Make way there! We are for the house of Mynheer
Beresteyn, where we are bidden as his guests."
A loud burst of hilarity greeted this announcement, and a mocking
voice retorted lustily:
"Hey! Make way there for the honoured guests of Mynheer Beresteyn!"
In truth, it was small wonder that the aspect of these two cavaliers
caused such wild jollity amongst the people, who at this precise moment
were overready for laughter. One of them, as lean as a gatepost, sat
high on his horse with long shanks covered in high leathern boots. A
tall sugar-loaf hat sat precariously upon his head, and his hatchet
face, with the hooked, prominent nose and sharp, unshaved chin, looked
blue with the cold.
Behind him on a pillion rode — or rather clung — his companion, a
short man as rotund as the other was lean, with round face which no
doubt had once been of a healthy ruddy tint, but was now streaked and
blotched with pallor. He, too, , wore a sugar-loaf hat, but it had slid
down to the back of his head, and was held in place by a piece of black
tape, which he had in his mouth like a horse has its bit. He was
holding on very tightly with his short, fat arms to his companion's
body, and his feet were tied together with thick cord beneath the
horse's belly. His doublet and hose were smeared with mud and stained
with blood, and altogether he presented a pitiable spectacle, more
especially when he rolled his small, beady eyes and looked with a
scared expression on the hilarious apprentices who were dancing and
screaming around him.
But the other appeared quite indifferent to the jeers and mockeries
of the crowd. He passed majestically through the gateway of the
Koppel-poort that spans the river, not unlike the figure of that
legendary knight of the rueful countenance of whom the SeÒor Cervantes
had been writing of late.
Diogenes had remained on the top of the steps, perfectly still. His
keen eyes, frowning now under the straight, square brow, watched the
slow progress of those two quaint figures. Who will ever attempt to
explain the subtle workings of that mysterious force which men term
Intuition? Whence does it come? Where does it dwell? How doth it come
knocking at a man's heart with cold, hard knuckles that bruise and
freeze? Diogenes felt that sudden call. Gilda was still lying snugly in
his arms; she had seen nothing. But he had become suspicious now,
mistrustful of that Fate which had but a moment ago smiled so
encourageingly upon him. All his exhilaration fell away from him like a
discarded mantle, leaving him chilled to the soul and inert, and with
the premonition of something evil looming from afar on the horizon of
The two quaint companions came nearer. Soon Diogenes could read
every line upon the familiar countenances. He and those men had fought
side by side, shoulder to shoulder, had bled together, suffered
together, starved and triumphed together. There was but little the one
thought that the others could not know. Even now, on Socrates; lean,
lantern-jawed face Diogenes read plainly the message of some tragedy as
yet uncomprehended by the other, but which Pythagoras' sorry plight had
more that suggested. It was a deeper thing than Intuition; it was
Knowledge. Knowledge that the hour of happiness had gone by, the hour
of security and of repose, and that the relentless finger of Fate
pointed once more to paths beset with sorrow and with thorns, to the
path of an adventurer and of a soldier of fortune, rather than to the
easy existence of a wealthy gentleman.
As Socrates swung himself wearily out of the saddle, Diogenes'
piercing glance darted a mute, quick query toward his friend. The other
replied by a mere nod of the head. They knew; they understood one
another. Put into plain language, question and answer might have been
"Are we to go on the warpath again, old compeer?"
"So it seems. There's fighting to be done. Will you be in it, too?"
And Diogenes gave that quick impatient sigh which was so
characteristic of him, and very slowly, very gently, as if she were a
sheaf of flowers, he allowed his beloved to glide out of his arms.
CHAPTER III—THE GREAT INTERRUPTION
The next moment Diogenes was down on the quay, in time to help
Socrates to lift his brother philosopher off the pillion.
Gilda, a little scared at first, not understanding, looked
wonderingly around her, blinking in the glare, until she encountered
her father's troubled glance.
"What is it?" she murmured, half-stupidly.
He tried to explain, pointed to the group down below, the funny, fat
man in obvious pain and distress, being lifted off the horse and
received in those same strong arms which had sheltered her — Gilda —
but a moment ago.
The Stadtholder, too, was curious, asked many questions, and had to
be waited on deferentially with replies and explanations, which were
still of necessity very vague.
"Attend to his Highness, father," Gilda said more firmly. "I can
look to myself now."
She felt a little strange, a little humiliated perhaps, standing
here alone, as if abandoned by the very man who but a moment ago had
seemed ready to defy every convention for her sake. Just now she had
been the centre of attraction, the pivot round which revolved
excitement, curiosity, interest. Even the Stadtholder had, for the
space of those few minutes, forgotten his cares and his
responsibilities in order to think of her and to plead with her father
for her freedom and her happiness. Now she was all alone, seemed so for
the moment, while her father and Mynheer van den Poele and the older
men crowded around his Highness, and every one had their eyes fixed on
the curious spectacle below.
But that sense of isolation and of disappointment was only
transient. Gilda Beresteyn had recently gone through experiences far
more bitter than this — experiences that had taught her to think and
to act quickly and on her own initiative. She saw her lover remounting
the steps now. He was carrying his friend in his arms as if the latter
had been a child, his other compeer following ruefully. The rowdy
'prentices had been silenced; two or three kindly pairs of hands had
proved ready to assist and to care for the horse, which looked spent.
The holiday crowd was silent and sympathetic. Every one felt that in
this sudden interruption of the gay and romantic adventure there lurked
a something mysterious which might very well prove to be a tragedy.
It was Gilda who led the way into the house, calling Maria to open a
guest-chamber forthwith, one where the bed was spread with
freshly-aired linen. The English physician, at a word from the
Stadtholder, was ready to minister to the sick man, and Mynheer
Beresteyn himself showed the young soldier and his burden up the
stairs, while the crowd of wedding guests and of the prince's bodyguard
made way for them to pass through the hall.
What had been such a merry and excited throng earlier in the day was
now more than ever subdued. The happenings in the house of Mynheer
Beresteyn, which should have been at this hour solely centred around
the Stadtholder and the wedding party, were strange enough indeed to
call forth whispered comments and subdued murmurings in secluded
corners. To begin with, the Stadtholder had put off his departure for
an hour and more, and this apparently at the instance of Diogenes, who
had begged for the assistance of the prince's English physician to
minister to his friend.
People marvelled why the town leech should not have been called in.
Why should a strange plepshurk's sickness interfere with his Highness's
movements? Also the Stadtholder appeared agitated and fretful since
Diogenes had had a word with him. Maurice of Nassau, acquiescing with
unwonted readiness both in his physician remaining to look after the
sick man and in the postponement of his own departure, had since then
retired to a small private room on a floor above, in the company of
Mynheer Beresteyn and several of the more important guests. The others
were left to conjecture and to gossip, which they did freely, whilst
Gilda was no longer to be seen, and the worthy Kaatje was left pouting
and desolate beside her morose bridegroom. Nicolaes Beresteyn, indeed,
appeared more moody than any one, although the interruption could not
in itself have interfered with his new domestic arrangements. At first
he had thought of following his father and Stadtholder into the private
chamber upstairs, but to this Mynheer Beresteyn had demurred.
"Your place, my son," he said, with a gently mocking smile, "is
beside your Kaatje. His Highness will understand."
And when Nicolaes, trying to insist, followed his father up the
stairs to the very threshold of the council room, Mynheer quite firmly
and unceremoniously closed the door in his face.
Up in the guest-chamber, Diogenes was watching over his sick friend.
The first moment that he was alone with his two old compeers, he had
turned to Socrates and queried anxiously:
"What is it? What hath happened?"
"He'll tell you when he can speak," the other replied. "We found him
lying in the snow outside Lang Soeren with two bullet-wounds in his
back, after we had searched the whole verfloekte Veluwe for him all
day. We took him into Lang Soeren, where there was a leech, who
extracted the one bullet that had lodged under his shoulder blade; the
other had only passed through the flesh along his ribs, where it made a
clean hole but could not otherwise be found."
"Well, yes — and —-" Diogenes went on impatiently, for the other
was somewhat slow of speech.
"The leech," Socrates rejoined unperturbed, "said that the patient
must lie still for a few days because of the fever; but what must this
fool do but shout and rave the moment he is conscious that he must to
Amersfoort to see you at once. And so loudly did he shout and so wildly
did he rave, that the leech himself got scared and ran away. Whereupon
I set the bladder-bellied loon upon the pillion behind me and brought
him hither, thinking the ride would do him less harm than all that wild
screeching and waving of arms. And here we are!" Socrates concluded
blandly, and threw himself into the nearest chair; for he, too,
apparently was exhausted with the fatigue of his perilous journey
across the waste.
Just then the leech returned, and nothing more could be said. The
sick man groaned a good deal under the physician's hands, and Socrates
presently dropped off to sleep.
The noise in the street below had somewhat abated, but there was
still the monotonous hubbub attendant on a huge crowd on the move.
Diogenes went to the window and gazed out upon the throng. Even now the
wintry sun was sinking slowly down in the west in a haze of purple and
rose, licking the towers of St. Maria and Joris with glistening tongues
of fire, and tinting the snow-covered roofs and gables with a rosy hue.
The sluggish waters of the Eem appeared like liquid flame.
For a few minutes the Koppel-poort, the bridges, the bastions, the
helmets and breastplates of the prince's guard threw back a thousand
rays of multi-coloured lights. For a brief instant the earth glowed and
blushed under this last kiss of her setting lord. Then all became
sombre and dreary, as if a veil had been drawn over the light that
illuminated the little city, leaving but the grey shadows visible, and
the sadness of evening and the expectance of a long winter's night.
Diogenes gave a moody sigh. His fiery temper chafed under this
delay. Not for a moment would he have thought of leaving his sick
comrade until he had been reassured as to his fate; but if everything
had happened as he had planned and wished, he would be half-way to
Utrecht by now, galloping adown the lonely roads with a delicious
burden upon his saddle-bow, and feeling the cold wintry wind whistling
past his ears as he put the leagues behind him.
He turned away from the window, and tiptoed out of the room. The
groans of the sick man, the measured movements of the leech, the
snoring of Socrates, were grating on his nerves. Closing the door
softly behind him, he strode down the gallery which ran in front of him
along the entire width of the house. Up and down once or twice. The
movement did him good, and he liked the solitude. The house was still
full of a chattering throng; he could hear the murmur of conversation
rising from below. Once he peeped over the carved balustrade of the
gallery and down into the hall. The prince's bodyguard was still there,
and two or three equerries. The clank of their spurs resounded up the
stairs as they moved about on the flag-covered floor.
When Diogenes resumed his pacing up and down, he suddenly became
aware of the soft and distant sound of a woman's voice, singing to the
accompaniment of a quaint-toned virginal. He paused and listened. The
voice was Gilda's, and the sentimental ditty which she sang had just
that melancholy strain in it which is to be found in the songs of all
nations that are foredoomed to suffer and to fight. Chiding himself for
a fool, Diogenes, nevertheless, felt for a moment or two quite unable
to move. It seemed as if Gilda's song — he could not catch the words
— was tearing at his heart even whilst it reduced him to a state of
silent ecstasy. Much against his will he felt the hot tears welling to
his eyes. With his wonted impatience he swept them away with the back
of his hand.
"Curse me for a snivelling blockhead!" he muttered; and strode
resolutely in the direction whence had come the sweet sad sound.
Then it was that he noticed that one of the doors which gave on the
gallery was ajar. It was through this that the intoxicating sound had
come to his ears. After an instant's hesitation he pushed the door
open. It gave on a small panelled room with deep-embrasured window,
through which the grey evening light came in, shyly peeping. On the
window-ledge a couple of pots of early tulips flaunted their crude
colours against the neutral-tinted background, whilst on the shelves in
a corner of the room gleamed the vivid blue of bright-patterned china
plates. But the flowers and the china and the grey evening light were
but momentary impressions, which did not fix themselves upon the man's
consciousness. All that he retained clearly was the vision of Gilda
sitting at the instrument, her delicate hands resting upon the keys.
She had ceased to play, and was looking straight out before her, and
Diogenes could see her piquant profile silhouetted against the pale,
slivery light. She had changed her stiff bridal robes for a plain gown
of dark-coloured worsted, relieved only by dainty cuffs and collar of
filmy Flemish lace.
At the sound of her husband's footsteps she turned to look on him,
and her whole face became wreathed in smiles. He was still booted and
spurred, ready for the journey, with his long, heavy sword buckled to
his belt; but he had put hat and mantle aside. The moment he came in
Gilda put a finger to her lips.
"Sh-sh-sh!" she whispered. "If you make no noise they'll not know
you are here."
She pointed across the room to where a heavy tapestry apparently
masked another door.
"The Stadtholder is in there," she added naively, "with father and
Mynheer van den Poele and a number of other grave seigneurs. Kaatje is
weeping and complaining somewhere down in mejuffrouw van den Poele's
arms. So I sat down to the virginal and left the door open, so that you
might hear me sing; for if you heard I thought you would surely come. I
was lonely," she added simply, "and waiting for you."
Quite enough in truth to make a man who is dizzy with love ten
thousand times more dizzy still. And Diogenes was desperately in love,
more so indeed than he had ever thought himself capable of being. He
quietly unbuckled his sword, which clanged against the floor when he
moved, and deposited in cautiously and noiselessly in an angle of the
room. Then he tiptoed across to the virginal and knelt beside his
For a moment or two he rested his head against her cool white hands.
"To think," he murmured, with a sigh of infinite longing, "that we
might be half-way to Rotterdam by now! But I could not leave my old
Pythagoras till I knew that he was in no danger."
"What saith the physician, my lord?" she asked.
"I am waiting now for his final verdict. But he gives me every hope.
In an hour I shall know."
He paused, trying to read the varying play of emotions upon her
face. From the other side of the tapestry came the low sound of subdued
"It would not be too late," he went on, slightly hesitating, taking
her hands in his and forcing her glance to meet his. "You knew I meant
to take you to England — to carry you away — to-night?"
"Yes, I knew," she replied. "And I was glad to go."
"Will you be afraid to come presently?" he urged, his voice
quivering with excitement. "In the dark — I know the road well. We
could make Rotterdam by midnight — and set sail for England To-morrow
as I had prearranged —-"
"Just as you wish, my dear lord," she assented simply.
"I could not wait, ma donna! I had planned it all — to ride with
you Rotterdam to-night — and then to-morrow on the seas — with you —
and England in sight, I could not wait!" he reiterated, almost
pathetically, so great was his impatience.
"I am ready to start when you will, my lord," she said again, with a
"And you'll not be afraid?" he insisted. "It will be dark — and
cold. We could not reach Rotterdam before midnight."
"How should I be afraid of the darkness or of anything," she
retorted, "when I am with you. And how should I be cold, when I am
nestling in your arms?"
He had his arms round her in an instant. He would have kissed her if
he dared. But with the kiss all restraint would of a surety have
vanished, as doth the snow in the warm embrace of the sun. He would
have seized her then and there once more and carried her away. And this
time no consideration on earth would have stayed him. With a muttered
exclamation, he jumped to his feet and passed his slender hand across
"Good St. Bavon!" he murmured whimsically. "Why are you so unkind to
And she, a little disappointed because, in truth, she had been ready
for the kiss, rejoined with a quaint little pout:
"You are always appealing to St. Bavon, my dear lord! Why is that?"
"Because," he replied very seriously, "St. Bavon is the patron saint
of all men that are weak."
She fixed great, wondering eyes on him. The reply was ambiguous; she
did not quite understand the drift of it.
"But you, my lord, are so strong," she objected.
It was perhaps too dark for her to see the expression in his face;
but even so she felt herself unaccountably blushing under that gaze
which she could not clearly see. Whereupon he uttered an ejaculation
which sounded almost as if he were angered, and abruptly, without any
warning, he turned on his heel and went out of the room, leaving Gilda
alone once more beside the virginal.
But she no longer felt the desire to sing. The happiness which
filled her entire soul was too complete even for song.
One of the equerries had awhile ago found his way to the
guest-chamber where the sick man was lying, and had informed Diogenes
that the Stadtholder was now ready to start on his way, but desired his
presence that he might take his leave. Then it was that Diogenes sent
an urgent message to his Highness, entreating him to remain but a
little while longer. The sick man was better, would soon wake out of a
refreshing sleep. Diogenes would then question him. Poor old Pythagoras
had something to say, something that the Stadtholder himself must hear.
Of this Diogenes was absolutely convinced.
"I know it," the young soldier asserted earnestly. "I seem to feel
it in my bones."
Whereupon the Stadtholder had decided to wait, and Diogenes, after
his brief glimpse of Gilda, felt easier in his mind, less impatient.
Already he chided himself for his gloomy forebodings. Since his beloved
was ready to entrust herself to him, the journey to England would only
be put off by a few hours. What need to repine? Joy would be none the
less sweet for this brief delay.
A quarter of an hour later Pythagoras was awake the physician out of
the room, and Diogenes was sitting on the edge of the bed holding his
faithful comrade's hand, and trying to disentangle some measure of
coherence out of the other's tangled narrative, whilst Socrates stood
by making an occasional comment or just giving an expressive grunt from
time to time. It took both time and patience, neither of which
commodities did Diogenes possess in super-abundance; but after the
first few moments of listening to the rambling of the sick man, he
became very still and attentive. The busy house, the noisy guests, the
waiting Stadtholder down below, all slipped out from his ken. Holding
his comrade's hand, he was with him on the snow-clad Veluwe, and had
found his way with him into the lonely mill.
"It was the Lord of Stoutenburg," Pythagoras averred, with as much
strength as he could command. "I'd stake my life on't! I knew him at
once. How could I ever forget his ugly countenance, after all he made
"Well — and?" queried Diogenes eagerly.
"I knew the other man too, but could not be sure of his name. He was
one of those who was with Stoutenburg that day at Ryswick, when you so
cleverly put a spoke in their abominable wheel. I knew them both, I
tell you!" the sick man insisted feverishly; "but I had the good sense
not to betray what I knew."
"But Stoutenburg did not know you?" Diogenes insisted.
"Yes, he did," the other replied, sagely nodding his head. "That is
why he ordered his menial to put a bullet into my back. The two noble
gentlemen questioned me first," he went on more coherently; "then they
plied me with wine. They wanted to make me drunk so as to murder me at
"They little know they, eh, thou bottomless barrel?" Diogenes broke
in with a laugh. "The cask hath not been fashioned yet that would
contain enough liquor even to quench thy thirst, what?"
"They plied me with wine," Pythagoras reiterated gravely; "and then
I pretended to get very drunk. For I soon remarked that the more drunk
they thought I was, the more freely they talked."
"Well, and what did they say?"
"They talked of De Berg crossing the Ijssel with ten thousand men
between Doesburg and Bronchorst; and of Isembourg coming up from Kleve
at the same time. I make no doubt that the design is to seize Arnheim
and Nijmegen. They talked a deal about Arnheim, which they thought was
scantily garrisoned and could easily be taken by surprise and made to
surrender. Having got these two cities, the plan is to march across the
Veluwe and offer battle to the Stadtholder with a force vastly superior
to his, if in the meanwhile —-"
He paused. It seemed as if his voice, hoarse with fatigue, was
refusing him service. Diogenes reached for the potion which stood on a
small table beside the bed. The sick man made a wry face.
"Physic?" he ejaculated reproachfully. "From you, old compeer? Times
"There will be a time now," retorted the other gruffly, "when you'll
sink back into a raging fever, and will be babbling bibulous nonsense
if you don't do as you are told."
"I'll sink into a raging fever now," the sick man retorted
fretfully, "if I have not something potable to drink ere long."
"You'll drink this physic now, old compeer," Diogenes insisted, and
held the mug to his friend's parched lips, forcing him to drink. "Then
I'll see what can be done for you later on."
He schooled himself to patience and gentleness. At all costs
Pythagoras must complete his narrative. There was just something more
that he wished to say, apparently — something fateful and of deadly
import, but which for some obscure reason he found difficult to put
"Now then, old friend, make an effort!" Diogenes urged insistently.
"There is still something on your mind. What is it?"
Pythagoras' round, beady eyes were rolling in their sockets. He
looked scared, like one who has gazed on what is preternatural and
"Stoutenburg has a project," he resumed after a while, and sank his
spent voice to the merest whisper. "Listen, my compeer; for the very
walls have ears. Bend yours to me. There! That's better," he added, as
Diogenes bent his long back until his ear was almost on a level with
the sick man's lips. "Stoutenburg hath a project, I tell you. A
damnable project, akin to the one which you caused to abort three
"Assassination?" Diogenes queried curtly.
The sick man nodded.
"Do you know the details?"
"Alas, no! But it is aimed at the Stadtholder. What form it is to
take I know not, and they had evidently talked it all over before. It
seemed almost as if the other man — Stoutenburg's friend — was
horrified at the project. He tried to argue once or twice, and once I
heard him say quite distinctly: 'Not that, Stoutenburg! Let us fight
him like men; even kill him, like men kill one another. But not like
that.' But my Lord Stoutenburg only laughed."
Diogenes was silent. He was deep in thought.
"You had no other indication?" he asked reflectively.
"No," Pythagoras replied. All I saw was that my lord kept the finger
and thumb of his right hand in a hidden pocket of his doublet, and once
he said: 'The Prince of Poets taught me to manufacture them; and I
supply them to him you know of, wherever he can find an opportunity to
come out here to me. He uses them at his discretion. But we can judge
by results! And then he laughed because his friend appeared to shudder.
I was puzzled," the sick man went on wearily, "because of it all; and I
marvelled who the Prince of Poets might be, for I am no scholar and I
thought that perhaps —-"
"You are quite sure Stoutenburg said 'Prince of Poets'?" Diogenes
insisted, frowning. "Your ears must have been buzzing by then."
"I am quite sure," Pythagoras asserted. "But I could not see what he
had in his hand."
Diogenes said nothing more, and silence fell upon the stately
chamber, the sombre panelling and heavy tapestries of which effectually
deadened every sound that came from the outside. Only the monumental
clock up against the wall ticked in a loud monotone. The sick man,
wearied with so much talking, fell back against the pillows. The shades
of evening were quickly gathering in now; the corners of the room were
indistinguishable in the gloom. Only the bed-clothes still gleamed
white in the uncertain light. From the distant tower of St. Maria Kerk
a bell chimed the hour of seven. A few minutes went by. Anon there came
a scratching at the door.
In response to Diogenes' loud "Enter!" the physician came in,
preceded by a serving-man carrying two lighted candles in massive
"His Highness cannot wait any longer," the physician said, as soon
as he had perceived Diogenes, still sitting pensive on the edge of the
bed. "And as I have no anxiety about the patient now, I will, by your
leave, place him in your hands."
Diogenes appeared to wake as if out of a dream. He rose and looked
about him somewhat vaguely. The physician thought he must have been
"Will you pay your respects to his Highness?" the latter said. "I
think he desires to see you."
Just for a moment Diogenes remained quite still. The physician had
approached the sick man, and was surveying him with critical but
obviously reassured attention. Socrates was again snoring somewhere in
a far corner of the room, and the serving-man, having placed the
candles on the table, stood waiting at the door.
"Yes. I'll to his Highness," Diogenes said abruptly; and , beckoning
to the serving-man to precede him, he strode out of the room.
Outside on the landing he paused. Then, with a characteristic,
impulsive gesture, he suddenly beat his forehead with the palm of his
"The Prince of Poets, of course!" he murmured under his breath.
"Francis Borgia, the true descendant of his infamous ancestors! Poison!
And a slow one at that! Oh, the miserable assassins! Please God, this
knowledge hath not come too late!" he added with earnest fervor.
A quarter of an hour later the Stadtholder was in possession of all
the facts as they had been revealed to Diogenes by his comrade in arms.
"I seem fated," he said to Diogenes kindly, yet not without a
measure of bitterness, "to owe my safety to you and your brother
He was discussing De Berg's surprise plans on Arnheim and Nijmegen.
Of that abominable crime, hatched with the chance aid of a
poison-mongering Borgia, Diogenes had not as yet spoken one word.
Accustomed to swift decisions and prompt action, he had already made up
his mind that he would speak of it first to the English physician,
whose business it would be to see to it that the insidious poison no
longer reached the prince's lips, at the same time enjoining the
strictest secrecy in the matter; for it would only be by rigid
circumspection and ceaseless watching that the assisin's accomplice
could be brought to justice.
Mynheer Beresteyn and some of his older friends were in the room
with his Highness. They all put their grave heads together, for there
was no doubt that the Archduchess's advisers had planned an invasion of
the United Provinces on a grand scale.
"Arnheim is insufficiently defended, of that there's no doubt," the
Stadtholder said. "It was my intention to reinforce all the frontier
cities, and to keep their garrisons up to the requisite numbers. If I
only had the strength—"
He paused. The feeling of physical weakness consequent on disease
caused him endless and acute bitterness.
"It is not too late to send troops to Arnheim and to Nijmegen,"
Diogenes broke in, in his usual abrupt manner. "Three thousand in one
city, four thousand in the other would be sufficient, if your Highness
can act quickly."
"I cannot detach seven or eight thousand troops from my forces at
the present moment," the prince rejoined. "If Spinola were to attack
from the south I am only just strong enough to defend myself as it is."
"Marquet is in Overijssel, I believe," urged the soldier. "He hath
three or four thousand troops. Let him push on to Arnheim to reinforce
"And De Keysere is at Wageningen," the prince broke in, fired,
despite himself, by the other's enthusiasm. "He hath three thousand
mercenaries from Switzerland and Germany."
"Excellent fighters and well-seasoned," Diogenes asserted. "And
trained under Maurice of Nassau, the first captain of this or any
"Ay!" sighed Maurice wearily. "But time is against us. Marquet is at
"But Arnheim and Nijmegen can hold out for awhile," Diogenes argued
"And would hold out to the last man," Mynheer Beresteyn added, "if
they knew that succor would come in due course."
" 'Tis only uncertainty that paralyses the endurance of a garrison,"
Diogenes went on with firm emphasis. "Send to Arnheim and to Nijmegen,
your Highness! Bid them hold out against any attack until you come with
ten thousand troops to their aid. In the meanwhile, send orders to
Marquet and to De Keysere to advance forthwith with reinforcements for
these two garrisons. Then raise your standard once more in Friesland,
Drenthe, and Groningen. I'll warrant you will have twenty thousand men
there ready to fight once more for liberty and for you!"
His sonorous voice rang clear and metallic in the small, panelled
room. His enthusiasm appeared almost like a living thing, a tangible
force that touched the hearts and minds of all the solemn burghers
here, causing their eyes to glow and their fists, not yet wholly
unskilled in the use of the sword, to clench with inward excitement.
The Stadtholder looked up at him with undisguised admiration.
"Is it the English blood in you, man," he said with a smile, "that
makes you valorous in war and wise in counsel?"
Diogenes shrugged his broad shoulders.
"I fought for your Highness before now," he rejoined, with a quaint,
self-deprecating laugh, "when I had nothing to lose save my skin, and
still less to gain. The English blood in me dearly loves a fight, and
all doth hate the Spaniard and all his tyrannies."
"Then I can reckon on you?" the prince riposted quickly.
"On me, your Highness?" the other exclaimed.
"On you, of course. With your mother's blood in your veins, the
United Provinces have a double claim on you. You have fought for us
before, as you say, unknown to us then, an obscure soldier of fortune
with nothing to lose and but little to gain. Join us now, man, in the
field and under the council tent. Get to horse to-night. You will find
Marquet at Vorden, on his way south from Overijssel. Tell him to push
on at once to Arnheim with all the troops he hath at his command. From
thence I would bid you go straightway to De Keysere, who is at
Wageningen, and order him to reinforce Nijmegen forthwith with three
thousand men, if we have them. Tell both Marquet and De Keysere to
fight and hold the towns. I'll to their aid as soon as may be. Then,
man, join my brother Frederick, and help him to raise my standard in
Gelderland and in Overijssel, and rally ten thousand men to our cause.
I feel that success will attend our arms if we keep you by our side."
Maurice of Nassau had spoken with more vigor and verve than he had
shown for the past three months. Indeed, his deeply anxious friends
could not help but feel that the old fighting spirit of this peerless
commander had not wholly been undermined by disease. Five pairs of
eager eyes had scanned his features while he spoke; five hearts beat in
response to his enthusiasm. Now, when he had finished speaking, Mynheer
Beresteyn and the others turned their expectant gaze upon the stranger
who had been so signally honoured; but he looked uncertain, gravely
perturbed. In the flickering light of the wax candles his face appeared
haggard and drawn, and a set line had crept around his ever-laughing
"You seem to hesitate, my friend," the Stadtholder remarked, with
that tone of bitterness which had become habitual to him. "Methought
you said that the English blood in you dearly loved a fight. But in
truth, I had forgotten! You have other claims upon you now — one, at
least, which is paramount. An easy, untroubled life awaits you. No
wonder you hesitate to embark on so perilous an adventure!" Then, as if
loth to give up the thought that was foremost in his mind, he added,
with persuasive insistence; "If you followed me, you'd have everything
to gain — nothing to lose save a sentimental pastime."
Just then Diogenes caught Mynheer Beresteyn's eyes fixed steadily
upon him. The old man who knew well enough what was going on in that
wayward, turbulent mind — the doubts, the fears, the hideous, horrible
Nothing to lose! Ye gods, at the hour when a whole life's happiness
not only beckoned insistently, but was actually there to hand, like a
bunch of ripe and luscious fruit, ready to drop into a yearning hand!
Here was the end of a vagabond life, here was love and home and peace,
and all to be given up as soon as found to the equally insistent call
of honour and of duty!
The others did not speak; perhaps they, too, understood. Men in
those days were used to stern sacrifices. They and there forebears had
given up their all so that their children's children might live in
freedom and security. They only marvelled if this stranger, with the
combative English blood in him, would give up what was so infinitely
dear to him — the exquisite wife to whom he had plighted his troth but
a few hours ago — and if he would fight for them again as he had done
in the past.
The Stadtholder remained moody and silent, and the close atmosphere
of the heavily curtained room seemed to become suddenly still, hushed,
as if expectant of the grave decision to come. The wax candles burned
quite steadily, with just a tiny fillet of smoke rising up towards the
low-raftered ceiling, almost like the incense of silent prayer rising
unwaveringly to God.
To many the silence appeared absolute, but not to the man who stood
in the midst of them all beside a table littered with papers and
documents, his slender hand — the hand of an idealist, rendered firm
and hard by action — resting lightly upon the board. A tense look in
his eyes. Through the silence he could hear his beloved in the little
room behind the heavy tapestry. He could hear the soft, insidious sound
of the quaint-toned virginal, and her voice, tender and melancholy as
the call of the bird to its mate, humming the sweet refrain gently
under her breath. with every note she seemed to tear at his heart with
an unendurable regret for what might have been.
Oh, it had been such a perfect dream! Gilda and that stately home
over in England, and the ride through the night in pursuit of happiness
which had proved as elusive as Fata Morgana, as unreal as the phantoms
born in the mind of a rhapsodist.
Then the silence did, indeed, become absolute, even to him. Gilda
had ceased her song. Only his straining ears caught the sound of her
footsteps as she rose from the virginal, then moved swiftly about the
"Well," the Stadtholder reiterated, after awhile, "which is it to
me, my friend? I start for Utrecht within the hour and if we are to
save Arnheim and Nijmegen, you should be on your way to Vorden with the
necessary moneys and my written orders to-night. Of course, I cannot
compel you," he added simply "The decision rests with you, and if you
The words died on his lips, and in an instant all eyes were turned
to that end of the room where a heavy portiere divided it from the room
beyond. A faint rustling sound had come from there, then the grating of
metal rings upon the cornice-pole that held the tapestry. The next
moment Gilda appeared in the doorway, shadowy, wraith-like in her
sombre gown that melted into the gloom. Just her small, white face and
delicate hands stood out against the murky background, and the gossamer
lace at her throat and wrists.
For a moment she stood there, one hand still holding back the heavy
portiere, quite still, taking in the company at a glance. A sigh of
longing and of renunciation came from an overburdened heart, and was
wafted up to the foot of Him who knows all and understands all. Then
Gilda allowed the tapestry to fall together behind her, and she came
quickly forward. In the other hand she was holding, firmly clasped, her
husband's heavy sword.
She came close to him, and then said simply, with an ingenuous
smile: "I thought you might wonder where you had left it. It was in the
other room. You will be wanting it, my dear lord, if you start for
Vorden within the hour."
With deft fingers she buckled the sword to his belt. This, in truth,
was her decision, and she had acted with scarce a moment's hesitation,
even whilst he marvelled how he could set to work to break her heart by
leaving her this night.
Now, when their glances met, they understood one another. The power
that lay within both their souls had met and, as it were, clasped
hands. They accepted one another's sacrifice. Hers, mayhap, was the
more complete of the two, because for her his absence would mean weary
waiting, the dull heartache so terrible to bear.
For the man, the wrench would be eased by action, danger and hard
fighting; for her there would be nothing to do but wait. But she
acquiesced. No one had seen the struggle which it had cost her, over
there in the little room, all alone with only the dumb virginal and the
dying light to see the tears of rebellion and of agony which for one
brief moment — for her an eternity — had seared her eyes. By the time
the full meaning of what she had overheard from the other side of the
portiere had entered into her brain, she had recovered full outward
calm, and had brought him his sword in token of her resolve.
Gilda Beresteyn came of a race that had learned to fight even from
its infancy. She had handled her father's sword at an age when little
maids are content with playthings. Now, when she made the buckles of
her husband's sword secure, she met his glance with perfect serenity,
and said simply and calmly:
"You will find me, as before, in the other room. I will be waiting
there to bid you farewell."
Then she glided out of the room, wraith-like, ethereal, as she had
come. And Diogenes woke as if out of a trance.
The Stadtholder jumped to his feet. "Then you're with us?" he
"If your Highness hath need of me," the soldier replied.
"Have I not said so?" the prince retorted. "Henceforth, Sir Percy
Blakeney — for that is your name, is it not? — accompanies us as our
Master of the Camp wherever we go!"
"Nay, " the other replied quite firmly and without even a sigh of
regret this time, "my name is Diogenes, as it hath always been. It is
the nameless and homeless adventurer, the son of the poor Dutch tramp,
who once again places his sword at your Highness's disposal. Sir Percy
Blakeney was only a myth, a shade that hath already been exorcized by
the magic of your Highness's call, in the name of our faith and of
"Frankly, man," the Stadtholder retorted with a smile, "I could not
picture you in the character of a placid and uxorious country
gentleman, watching with unruffled complacence the life and death
struggles of your friends."
"I should have waxed obese, your Highness," Diogenes assented
whimsically; "and the horror of it would have sent me to my grave."
"Then, you inveterate mocker, are you ready to start?"
"Booted and spurred, your Highness, and a sword on my hip," replied
the other lightly. "And my horse hath been waiting for me these two
Already Maurice of Nassau was on his feet. He took the sacrifice,
the self-denial, as a matter of course; was unaware of it, probably.
Every other thought was completely merged in that of the coming
struggle — De Berg crossing the Ijssel, Spinola threatening from the
south, and victory beckoning once more.
The burghers crowded round him, speaking words of loyalty and of
encouragement. He responded with somewhat curt farewells. His thoughts
were no longer here; they were across the Veluwe with Marquet and De
Keysere; inside Arnheim and Nijmegen.
He kept Diogenes by his side, wrote out his orders in sign-manual,
discussed plans, possibilities with the man in whose luck and resource
he had unbounded belief.
It took time to get everything ready. There was the financial
question, too, for some of the troops were mercenaries, who would be
demanding their pay ere they engaged to start on a fresh expedition.
For this the aid of the loyal burghers had again to be requisitioned.
Arrangements had to be made for credits at Zutphen and Arnheim.
This part of the great adventure the Stadtholder was willing to
leave in the hands of Mynheer Beresteyn and his friends. Money to him
was dross, save as a means of gaining his great ends. For the nonce he
was in a hurry to get away, to get back to his camp at Utrecht, and to
make ready for the coming fight.
Then at last there came a moment when everything appeared settled.
The messenger had his sealed orders, and the credit notes and the read
money upon his person. The Stadtholder was back in the hall with his
equerries around him, ready for departure, giving brief, decisive
orders such as soldiers love to hear.
But Diogenes did not follow him immediately, and Mynheer Beresteyn
remained behind with him. He was the only one who really understood
what the once careless and thoughtless adventurer felt at this moment,
in face of the inevitable farewell. It was an understanding born in a
staunch heart that had known both love and sorrow.
Beresteyn had idolized his young wife, who had died leaving her
baby-girl in his arms. That deep affection the lonely widower had
thereupon transferred to his motherless daughter, had cherished and
guarded her as his most precious treasure, and had only consented to
relinquish her into the guardianship of another because he knew that
the other was worthy of the trust.
He knew also what hungering passion means; he knew the bitterness of
parting and of a burning disappointment with the prospect of loneliness
through the vista of years. But, with that infinite tact which is the
attribute of a self-less heart, he offered no words of consolation or
even of comment.
"I will leave you to bid farewell to Gilda alone," was all that he
Diogenes nodded in assent. The most terrible moment of this terrible
hour was yet to come, for Gilda, having precipitated his decision, was
now waiting for the last kiss.
She was, in truth, waiting for him, submissive and composed. What
she had done, when she with her own act had mutely bidden him to go,
that she did not regret. She had done it not so much perhaps from a
sense of duty or of patriotism, but rather because she knew that this
course was the only one that he would never rue.
Hers was that perfect love that dwells on the other's happiness, and
not on its own. She knew that, though for the time being he would find
bliss and oblivion in her arms, he would soon repine in inactivity
whilst others fought for that which he held sublime.
So now, when he pushed aside the tapestry and once more stood before
her, with the lovelight in his eyes obscured by the shadow of this
coming parting, she met him without a tear. The next moment he had her
in his arms, and his hand rested lightly across her eyes, lest they
should perceived that his were full of tears.
For a long while he could not speak; then he drew her closer to him
and pressed his lips against hers, drinking in all the joy and rapture
which he might never taste again.
"What is it that hath happened, my lord?" she murmured. " I could
not hear everything, and did not wish to be caught prying. All that I
heard was that the Stadtholder needed you, and that in your heart you
knew that your place, whilst there was danger to our land, was by his
side, and not by mine."
"Your father will explain more fully, my beloved," he replied. You
are right. The Stadtholder hath need of every willing sword. This
unfortunate land is gravely threatened. The Archduchess is throwing the
full force of her armies against the Netherlands. His Highness thinks
that I might help to save the United Provinces from becoming once more
the vassals of Spain. As you say, my place is on this soil where I and
my mother were born. I should be a coward indeed were I to turn my back
now on this land when danger is so grave. So I am going, my beloved,"
he continued simply.
"To-night I go to Vorden on his Highness's business, thence on to
Wageningen. I shall go, taking your dear image in my heart, and with
your exquisite face before me always. For I love you with every fibre
of my being, every bone in my body and with every beat of my heart. Try
not to weep, my dear. I shall return one day soon to take you in my
arms, as I shall clasp your spirit only until then. I shall return,
doubt it not. Such love as ours was not created to remain unfulfilled.
Whatever may happen, believe and trust in me, as I shall believe in
you, and keep the remembrance of me in your heart without sadness and
He spoke chiefly because he dared not trust to the insidiousness of
silence. He knew that she wept for the first time because of him. Yet
how could it be otherwise? And sorrow made her sacred. When, overcome
with grief, she lay half-swooning in his arms, he picked her up quite
tenderly and laid her back against the cushions of the chair. Then, as
she sat there, pale and wan-looking in the uncertain light of the wax
candles, with those exquisite hands of hers lying motionless in her
lap, he knelt down before her.
For a second or two he rested his head against those soft white
palms, fragrant as the petals of a lily. Then he rose, and, without
looking at her again, he walked firmly out of the room.
CHAPTER IV—ADDER'S FORK
Nicolaes Beresteyn accompanied his brother-in-law during the first
part of the journey. He had insisted on this, despite Diogenes'
preference for solitude. There was not much comradeship lost between
the two men. Though the events of that memorable New Years Day, distant
less than three months, were ostensibly consigned to oblivion,
nevertheless, the bitter humiliation which Nicolaes had suffered at the
hands of the then nameless soldier of fortune still rankled in his
heart. Since then so many things had come to light which, to an
impartial observer, more than explained Gilda Beresteyn's love for the
stranger, and Mynheer her father's acquiescence in an union based on
respect for so brave a man.
But Nicolaes had held aloof from the intimacy, and soon his own
courtship of the wealthy Kaatje gave him every reason for withdrawing
more and more from his own family circle. But to-night, after the
tempestuous close of what should have been a merely conventional day,
he sought Diogenes' company in a way he had never done before.
"Like you," he said, "I am wearied and sick with all this mummery. A
couple of hours on the Veluwe will set me more in tune with life."
Diogenes chaffed him not a little.
"The lovely Kaatje will pout," he suggested, "and rightly, too. You
have no excuse for absenting yourself from her side at this hour."
"I'll come with you as far as Barneveld," Nicolaes insisted. "A
matter of less than a couple of hours' ride. It will do me good. And
Kaatje is still closeted with her garrulous mother."
"You think it will do her good to be kept waiting," Diogenes
retorted with good-natured sarcasm. "well, come, if you have a mind.
But I'll not have your company further than Barneveld. I am used to the
Veluwe, and intend taking a short cut over the upland, through which I
would not care to take a companion less well acquainted with the waste
Thus it was decided. Already the Stadtholder had gone with his
numerous retinue, with his bodyguard and his pike-men and with his
equerries, and those of the wedding-party who had come in his train
from Utrecht, friends of Mynheer Beresteyn, who had ridden over for the
most part with wife or daughter pillioned behind them, and all glad to
avail themselves of the protection of his Highness's escort against
highway marauders, none too scarce in these parts. Torch-bearers and
linkmen completed the imposing cavalcade, for the night would be
moonless, and the tracks across the moorland none too clearly defined.
Diogenes had waited with what patience he could muster until the
last of the numerous train had defiled under the Koppel-poort. Then he,
too, got to horse. Despite Socrates' many protestations, he was not
allowed to accompany him.
"You must look after Pythagoras," was Diogenes' final word on the
" 'Tis the first time," the other answered moodily, "that you go on
such an adventure without us. Take care, comrade! The Veluwe is wide
and lonely. That swag-bellied oaf up there hath cause to rue his
solitary wanderings on that verfloekte waste."
"I'll be careful, old compeer," Diogenes retorted with a smile. "But
mine errand is not one on which I desire to draw unnecessary attention,
and I can remain best unperceived if I am alone. 'Tis no adventure I am
embarking on this night. Only a simple errand as far as Vorden, a
matter of ten leagues at most.
"And the whole of the verdommte Veluwe to traverse at dead of
night!" the other muttered sullenly.
"I know every corner of it," Diogenes rejoined impatiently. "And it
will not be the first time that I travel on it alone."
Thus Socrates was left grumbling, and anon Diogenes, accompanied by
Nicolaes Beresteyn, started on his way.
At first the two men spoke little. The air was still cold and very
humid, and the thaw was persisting. The horses stepped out briskly on
the soft, sandy earth.
The distance between Amersfoort and Barneveld is but a couple of
leagues. Within the hour the lights of the little city could be seen
gleaming ahead. After a while Nicolaes Beresteyn became more
loquacious, talked quite freely of the past.
"My father no longer trusts me," he said, with ill-concealed
bitterness. "Did you see how he shut me out of the council-chamber?"
"Yet the Stadtholder himself told you everything that occurred
subsequently," Diogenes retorted kindly, "including his own plans and
mine errand at this hour. I think that your conscience troubles you
unnecessarily, and you see a deliberate intention in every simple act."
"And if he did, you could scarce blame him. 'Tis only in the future
you can prove your true worth. And methinks," he added, more seriously
than he was usually wont to speak, "that you will have occasion to do
this very soon."
"In the meanwhile, here's Barneveld ahead of us," Nicolaes rejoined,
with a quick, indefinable sigh, and giving a sudden turn to the
conversation. "I'll see you across the city, then return to the bosom
of my family, there to live in uxorious idleness, whilst you, a
stranger, are entrusted with the destinies of our land. A poor outlook
for a man who is young and a patriot, you'll own."
To this Diogenes thought it best to make no reply. He knew well
enough that the mistrust of which Nicolaes accused his father was a
very real thing, and that it was indeed only time that would soften the
proud burgher's heart toward his only son. It was not likely that one
who but a brief while ago had conspired against the Stadtholder's life
with that abominable Stoutenburg could be admitted readily into the
councils of the very man whom he had plotted to assassinate. With every
desire to forgive, it was but natural that Mynheer Beresteyn should
fail entirely to forget.
No more, however, was said upon the subject now, and Nicolaes soon
relapsed into that sullen mood which had of late become habitual to
him. Thus Diogenes was glad enough to be rid of his company. At
Barneveld he obtained a fresh horse, left his own in charge of a man
known to him, with orders to ride it quietly on the morrow as far as
Wageningen, where he himself would pick it up a couple of days later.
His journey would now lie due east to Zutphen. There he meant to make a
halt of a few hours, and thence proceed to Vorden, where Marquet was in
camp, with four thousand seasoned troops, trained under Mansfeld, and
rested now since the campaign in Groningen.
The Stadtholder's orders were that the general proceed, at once to
Arnheim, ere the forces of the Archduchess had time to cross the
Ijssel, and to cut off all access to so important a city.
From Vorden to Wageningen, which lies due south form Barneveld, the
journey would be a long one, and, with De Berg's army so near, might
even prove perilous. But De Keysere was at Wageningen, with three
thousand troops and some artillery. His help would be of immense
service to Nijmegen if the latter city, too, were to be attacked.
"How will you journey from Vorden to Wageningen?" Nicolaes asked
Diogenes in the end. "You will have to avoid the Ijssel."
"I'll cut across to Lang Soeren," the other replied; "and thence go
"There's scarce a track on the Veluwe just there," the other urged.
"Such as there is, I know," Diogenes retorted curtly. "And I must
trust to luck."
They had brought their horses to a halt about a quarter of a league
outside Barneveld, where the two men decided to part. The stretch of
the great waste, with its undulating, barren hills, and narrow, scarce
visible tracks, lay straight out before them. Diogenes was sniffing the
frosty air out toward the east, where lay Vorden, and whence there came
to his nostrils the sharp tang of the breeze, that cut like a knife.
The thaw which had held sway in the cities and on the low-lying lands
had been vanquished ere it reached the arid upland. The snow upon the
Veluwe lay as even and as pure as before. Above, a canopy of stars
seemed but a diamond-studded veil of mysterious indigo, stretched over
a world of light, which it failed altogether to dim. The silence and
desolation were absolute; but not so the darkness. To the keen eye of
the adventurer, accustomed to loneliness, the vast stretches of open
country and limitless horizons, there was no such thing as absolute
darkness. He could perceive the slightest accidental upon the smooth
carpet of snow, noted every tiny mound that marked a clump of rough
shrub or grass, and every footmark of beast or bird, mere flecks of
blue upon the virgin pall.
"Such track as there is, I know," he had carelessly asserted awhile
ago, in response to a warning from Nicolaes. And now, without an
instant's hesitation, and tossing to the other a last curt word of
farewell, he gave his horse a slight taste of the spur, and soon became
a mere speck upon the illimitable waste.
It was close on midnight when, weary, saddle-sore, his boots covered
in half-melted snow, Mynheer Nicolaes Beresteyn demanded admittance
into his native city.
At first the guard at the Koppel-poort, roused from his slumbers,
refused to recognize in the belated traveler the bridegroom of a few
hours ago. Had anyone ever heard, I ask you, of a bridegroom absenting
himself on the very night of his nuptial until so late an hour? And
then returning in a mood that was so irascible and inconsequent that
the sergeant in command of the gate was on the point of ordering his
detention in the guard-room, pending investigation and the orders of
the burgomaster, whose decision on such points was final? But since the
burgomaster, whose decision on such points was final? But since the
burgomaster happened to be Mynheer Beresteyn, and as the weary and
pugnacious traveler did, in truth, appear to be his only son — why, it
was perhaps best on the whole to take the matter as a joke, and not to
say too much about it. The sergeant did, indeed, as Nicolaes was
finally allowed to ride over the bridge, essay one or two of the most
time-honoured witticisms at the expense of the belated bridegroom; but
Mynheer Nicolaes was clearly in no mood for chaff, and when he had
passed by, the sergeant and one or two of the men, who had witnessed
his strangely sullen mood, shook their heads in ominous prognostication
of sundry matrimonial difficulties to come.
The house on the quay, plainly visible from the Koppel-poort, was
dark enough to suggest that every one of its inmates was already abed.
Nicolaes, however, did not ride up to the front door; but, after he had
crossed the bridge, he went straight on through one or two narrow
streets which lay at the back of his home until he reached the corner
of the Korte Gracht, which, again, abuts on the quay. Thus he had gone
round in a semicircle, in obvious avoidance of the paternal house, and
now he brought his horse to a halt outside a tall and narrow door which
was surmounted by a lanthorn let into the wall. A painted sign which
hung from an iron bracket above the door indicated to the passing
wayfarer that the place was one where rider and horse could find food
Nicolaes dismounted, and going up to the door, he knocked against it
with the point of his foot. This he had to do several times before the
welcome sound of someone moving inside the house came to his ear. A
moment or two later the door was opened cautiously. A man appeared on
the threshold, wrapped in a night-robe and still wearing a night-bonnet
on his head.
"Is that you, mynheer?" he queried drowsily.
"Who else should it be, you loon?" Nicolaes replied irritably.
"here's your horse," he added, and without waiting for further commend
or protest from the unfortunate landlord thus roused from his slumbers,
he proceeded to tether the animal by the reins to one of the iron rings
in the wall.
"It is so late, mynheer," the man protested dolefully; and so cold.
Will you not take the horse round to the stable yourself? It is but a
step to the right, and there's the gate —-"
"It is late, as you say, and cold," Nicolaes retorted curtly. "And
when I paid you so liberally for the horse, I did not bargain to take
service with you as ostler in the middle of the night."
"But, mynheer —-" urged the landlord, still protesting.
But Nicolaes did not listen. In faith, he had ceased to hear, for
already he was striding rapidly down the Korte Gracht, and the next
moment was back on the quay. A few steps brought him to the door of his
father's house. Here he paused for a moment ere he mounted the stone
steps that led up to the massive front door, stamped his feet so as to
shake the melted snow from his boots, and with a few quick touches
tried to re-establish some semblance of order in his clothes. Indeed,
when presently he rapped vigorously with the iron knocker against the
door, he looked no longer like a wearied and querulous traveler, but
rather like a man just returned from a short and pleasant ride.
To his astonishment it was Maria, his sister Gilda's faithful
tire-woman, who opened the door for him. She anticipated his very first
query by a curt:
"Everyone is abed. The jongejuffrouw alone chose to wait for you,
and I could not let her wait alone."
Nicolaes uttered an angry exclamation.
"Tell my sister to go to bed, too," he commanded briefly. "I'll go
to my rooms at once, as it is so late."
Maria made no audible reply. She mumbled something about "Shameful
conduct!" and "Wedding-night!" But Nicolaes paid no heed, strode
quickly across the hall, and ran swiftly up the stairs.
But on the landing he came abruptly to a halt. He had almost fallen
against his sister Gilda, who stood there waiting for him.
Behind her, a little way down the passage, a door stood ajar, and
through it there came a narrow fillet of light. At sight of him, and
before he could utter a sound, she put a finger to her lip, then let
the way along the passage. The door which stood ajar was the one which
gave on her own room. She went in, and he followed her, his heart
beating with something like shame or fear.
"Hush!" she whispered, and gently closed the door behind him. "Make
no noise!" Kaatje has at last sobbed herself to sleep. She hath been
put to bed in her mother's room. 'Twere a shame to disturb her." Then,
as Nicolaes muttered something that sounded very like a curse, the girl
added reproachfully: "Poor Kaatje! You have shown very little ardour
toward her, Klaas."
"I lost my way in the dark," he answered. "I had no thought it could
be so late."
Just then the tower clock of St. Maria Kerk chimed the midnight hour.
Gilda hazarded timidly: "You should not have thought of accompanying
my lord. He was ready to start out alone; and your place, Klaas, was
beside your wife!"
"Are you going to lecture me about my duty, Gilda?" he said
irritably. "You must not think that because —-"
"I think nothing," she broke in simply, "save that Kaatje wept when
the evening wore on and you did not return; and that the more she wept
the greater was our father's anger against you."
"He knew that I meant to accompany your husband a part of the way,"
Nicolaes retorted. "In truth, had he done me the justice to read my
thoughts, he himself would have bade me go."
"It was kind of you," she rejoined somewhat coolly, to be concerned
as to my lord's safety. But I can assure you —-"
" 'Twas not concern for his safety," he broke in gruffly, "that
caused me to accompany him to-night."
But he gave no reply, but his lip and turned away from her, with the
air of one who fears that he hath said too much and cares not to be
"I'd best go now," he said abruptly.
He looked around for his gloves, which he had thrown down upon the
table. His manner seemed so strange that Gilda was suddenly conscious
of a nameless kind of fear; the sort of premonition that comes to
highly sensitive natures, at times when hitherto unsuspected danger
suddenly looms upon the cloudless sky of life. She forced him to return
her searching glance.
"You are hiding something from me, Klaas," she said determinedly.
"What is it?"
"I?" he riposted, feigning surprise. "Hiding something? Why should I
have something to hide?"
"That I know not," she replied. "But there was some hidden meaning
in your words just now when you said that 'twas not concern for my
lord's safety that caused you to accompany him this night. What, then,
was it?" she insisted, seeing that he remained silent, even though he
met her gaze with a look that appeared both fearful and pitying.
She had her back to the door now, looked like some timid creature
brought to bay by a cruel and hitherto unsuspected enemy.
"You must not ask me for my meaning, Gilda," Nicolaes said at last.
"There are things which concern men only, and with which women should
have no part."
His tone of ill-concealed compassion stung her like a cut from a
whip across the face.
"There is nothing that concerns my lord," she retorted proudly, "in
which he would not desire me to bear my part."
"Then let him tell you himself."
She threw the question at him like a challenge, stepped up to him
and seized him by the wrist — no longer a timid creature at bay. But a
strong, determined woman, who feels in some mysterious way that the man
whom she loves is being attacked, and who is prepared, with every known
and unknown weapon almighty love can suggest, to defend him, his life
or his honour, or both.
"You are not going out of this room, Klaas, until you have
explained!" she said with unquestionable determination. "What is it
that my lord should tell me himself?"
"Why he, newly wed and a stranger, was so determined on this, his
wedding night, to carry the Stadtholder's message across the Veluwe."
Nicolaes spoke abruptly, almost fiercely now, as if wearied of this
wrangling, and burdened with a secret he could no longer hold. But she
did not at first understand his meaning.
"I do not understand what you mean," she murmured vaguely, a
perplexed frown between her eyes.
"There were plenty there eager and willing to go," Nicolaes went on
roughly. "Nay, the errand was not in itself perilous. Speed was
required, yes; and a sound knowledge of the country. But a dozen men at
least who were in this house to-day know the Veluwe as well as this
stranger, and any good horse would cover the ground fast enough. But he
wanted to go — he, this man whom none of us know, who was married this
day, and whose bride had the first call on his attention. He insisted
with the Stadtholder, and he went —- And I went with him; would have
gone all the way if he had not forced me to go back. Why did he wish to
go, Gilda? Why did he leave you deliberately this night? Think! Think!
And why did he insist on going alone, with not even one of those
besotted boon companions of his to share in his adventure? A message to
Marquet — my God!" he added with a sneer. "A message to the
Archduchess, more like, to cross the Ijssel ere it be too late!"
She hissed out the words through set lips and teeth clenched in an
access of fierce and overwhelming passion. And before he could recover
himself, before he could guess her purpose, she had seized his heavy,
leathern gloves, which were lying on the table, and struck him with
them full in the face. He staggered, and put his hand up to his eyes.
"Go!" she commanded briefly.
He tried to laugh the situation off, said almost flippantly:
"I'll punish you for this, you young vixen!"
But she did not move, and her glance seemed to freeze the words upon
"Go!" she commanded once more.
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I understand your indignation, Gilda. Nay, I honour it. But
remember my warning! Your stranger lord," he went on with slow and
deliberate emphasis, "will be returning anon to the Stadtholder's camp,
a courted and honoured man; but 'tis the armies of the Archduchess who
will have crossed the Ijssel by then, whilst the orders to Marquet will
have reached that commander too late."
Then he turned on his heel and went out of the room, and anon Gilda
heard his footstep resounding along the passage. She listened until she
heard the opening and closing of a distant door, after which she sighed
and murmured, "Poor Kaatje!" That was all; but there was a world of
meaning in the sorrowful compassion wherewith she said those words.
Then she raised her left hand, round the third finger of which
glittered a plain gold ring. The ring she pressed long and lingeringly
against her lips, and in her heart she prayed, "God guard you, my dear
CHAPTER V—A RACE FOR LIFE
As for Diogenes, he reached Zutphen in the small hours of the
morning, and after a few hours' rest pushed on to Vorden at dawn. He
himself would have deprecated any suggestion of making of this journey
across the Veluwe a romantic adventure. The upland, under its covering
of snow, held neither terrors nor secrets for him. The wind, the stars,
an unerring instinct and sound knowledge of the scarce visible tracks,
guided him across the arid waste. A real child of the open, he had less
difficulty in finding his way across such a God-forsaken wild than he
would through the intricate streets of a city.
Messire Marquet, encamped outside Vorden, welcomed the Stadtholder's
messenger effusively. His troops, for the most part composed of
mercenaries from Germany, were getting restive in idleness; once or
twice they had used threats when demanding their pay. Diogenes,
bringing both money and the prospect of a fight, was doubly welcome.
His stay at the camp was brief. By late morning he was once more on his
way, with the intention of re-crossing the Ijssel at Dieren and of
reaching Wageningen before dark. He had but half a dozen leagues to
cover, and eight hours of daylight wherein to do it. Weather, too, and
circumstances favored him. The thaw, which had been so completely
vanquished upon the upland, had remained sole monarch in the plain. The
air was mild and intensely humid. A dense sea-fog lay over the river
and the surrounding marshes. The numerous little tributaries of the
Ijssel and the intervening canals and ditches were already free from
ice, and as Diogenes put his horse to an easy gallop in the direction
of the river, the animal sank fetlock deep in mud.
The road was solitary, and, as far as the eye could reach through
the mist, seemed entirely deserted. The countryside here had the
desolate appearance peculiar to districts that have been fought over.
The few thatched cottages, which from time to time loomed out of the
mist, still bore the marks of passing fire and sword; the trees were
truncated and sparse, the marshland was riddled with the scars of
ceaseless tramping of men, of wagons, and of beasts. The inevitable
windmills, gaunt-looking and ghost-like through the humid atmosphere,
appeared neglected and forlorn.
But the solitary rider had no eyes for landscape just now. He could
have wished for a clearer day, for it was impossible even for his keen
eyes to see what was going on behind that impenetrable wall of fog. If
Pythagoras' ears had not played him false, De Berg was there, not very
far away, waiting to cross the Ijssel when opportunity arose.
Thanks to that faithful hypertrophied loon, the ambitious designs of
the Archduchess could still be frustrated. De Berg's armies were still
on the right bank of the Ijssel, and if Marquet got his men on the move
by midday, as he had promised he would do, the crossing of the enemy
troops would become difficult, mayhap impossible.
These were pleasing thoughts for the man on whose speed and resource
these important plans depended. All that he chafed against was the
imperative slowness of his progress, as the mist enveloped him more
closely the nearer he got to the river. But withal it protected him,
too, hid him mayhap from the prying eyes of vedettes on the watch.
Already, judging by certain landmarks that met him on the way, Brummen
was half a league behind him on his right, Hengles far away on the
left, and Dieren not more than another league on ahead. For the last
quarter of an hour he had heard from time to time the heavy booming
sound, akin to the reverberation of distant cannonade, which came from
the breaking and cracking of the ice as it drifted downstream. He put
his horse to slow trot, as he pried through the mist for the first
indication of a short cut he knew of, which would take him to the river
bank in less than half an hour.
The next moment he had spied the narrow track and set his horse to
follow it; when suddenly, out of the mist, there came a loud report,
and Diogenes heard the whistle of a bullet close to his ear. It almost
grazed his shoulder. Without an instant's pause, without turning to
look whence had come this unexpected greeting, he set spurs to his
horse and galloped at breakneck speed toward the river. Over fields and
ditches; no thought of prudence now, only of speed! Mud and water flew
out in all directions under the horse's frantic gallopade, the plucky
beast sinking at times almost to his knees in the marshy ground. A few
minutes later — five, perhaps — Diogenes heard the sound of many
hoofs behind him, obviously in pursuit. He turned to look this time,
and through the mist vaguely discerned some three or four cavaliers,
who were distant from him then less than two hundred yards. So far, so
good! The Ijssel was close by now, and if, when he reached the banks,
he turned off in the direction of the stream, he could easily reach the
ford on this side of Brummen and get across — on foot, if need be, if
his horse proved an obstacle to rapid progress.
A few more minutes now and the river was in sight, with, far away on
the opposite bank, Brummen, nestling at the foot of the rising ground,
the gate of the Veluwe. With renewed vigor the rider sped along, his
blood whipped up by the chase, his whole body exhilarated by this
sensation of danger and of one of those sportive races for life for
which three months of idleness and luxury had given him a hitherto
Ah, there was the shore at last, the group of three windmills close
to the bank, an unmistakable landmark. Here, too, within two hundred
paces on ahead, was the ford, which no amount of drifting ice would
cause the daring adventurer to miss. Already he was within a few yards
of the low-lying bank, searching the approach to the ford with eyes now
doubly keen, when, with staggering suddenness, another cavalier
appeared, straight in front of him this time, and barring the way to
No time to note his face; just a second wherein to decide what had
best be done, not only to save his own life, but also the message which
he must carry to Wageningen, at whatever cost. Then the cavalier turned
for one brief second in his saddle, to call to some companions as yet
unseen. A brief second, did I say? 'Twas but a fraction. The next
moment Diogenes had whipped out a pistol from his saddlebow, and with a
steady hand fired at his foe. The cavalier reeled in his saddle and
fell, just as half a dozen others issued with a shout from out the
mist, and those in pursuit put fresh spurs to their mounts.
It had been madness to attempt the ford now. The young soldier,
sore-pressed, might in truth have sold his life dearly, but with it,
too, he would have sold Nijmegen and the possible success of the
Stadtholder's plans. Ofttimes before, in the course of his adventurous
life, he had been in as tight a place, where life and death hung quite
evenly in the scales of Fate; but never before had he been quite so
anxious to flee. He could not trust the valor of his sword, his own
well-nigh unexampled skill in a fight against odds that would have made
the bravest pause. No! It meant running away, away as fast as his horse
would take him, and faster if the poor brute gave out. A short gallop
along the bank, the cavalier behind him warming to the pursuit; keeping
closer and closer to the low-lying bank, till the horse began to
flounder in what was sheer morass.
The ford now lay well behind him. The waters of the Ijssel, tossed
for awhile upon the shallows, flowed with increased swiftness here.
Huge ice-blocks floated seaward upon the heaving bosom of the stream.
The foremost of the pursuing cavaliers was then less than fifty yards
behind, and more than one bullet had whizzed past the fleeing rider,
one of them piercing his hat, the other grazing his thigh, but none
doing him serious injury. Already the rallying cry of the pursuers had
turned to one of triumph as the distance lessened between them and
their quarry, when, with a sudden jerk of the reins, Diogenes plunged
headlong into the river.
The Ijssel at this point is close on a quarter of a mile wide, her
current is no longer sluggish, whilst the drifting ice-blocks
constitute a peril which had to be boldly faced. But the mist, which
hung thickly over the river, was the daring adventurer's most faithful
Strangely enough, Diogenes' first thought, when his horse, finally
losing its foothold upon the rapidly shelving bank, started to swim,
was of Gilda, and of that ride which he had promised himself, with her
dear arms clinging around him, her fair hair, tossed by the wind,
brushing against his face. It was one of those sweet, sad visions which
some mocking sprite seems to conjure up at moments such as this when
life — ay, and honour too! — are trembling in the balance. Sad and
swift! It vanished almost as quickly as it came, giving place to
thoughts of De Keysere, still unsuspecting at Wageningen, and of
Marquet, who haply had already started. Was there a trap waiting for
him, too? Was this just an outpost of De Berg's armies; and had they
indeed been mysteriously warned by traitor or spy, as Diogenes more
than half suspected?
But what was the use of speculating? Indeed, every conjecture was
futile, for this now was a supreme struggle — a tussle with Death, who
was watching, uncertain whence and how he would strike. For the moment
the adventurer was at grips with the flood and with the ice, guiding
his horse as best he could toward mid-stream, where the current kept
the threatening floes at bay. His pursuers had come to a halt upon the
bank. Indeed, not one of them had the mind to follow his quarry on this
perilous adventure. They stood there, some half-dozen of them, holding
council, their eyes peering through the mist in search of the one black
speck — horse and rider — now appearing clearly silhouetted against
the silvery water, now vanishing again under cover of the floes. Then
one of them raised his musket and took steady aim at the valiant
swimmer, who had succeeded at last in reaching mid-stream.
The bullet whizzed through the mist. Diogenes' horse, hit through
the neck, plunged and reared, pawed the waters wildly for a moment,
then gave that heart-rending scream which is so harrowing to the ears
of all animal-lovers. But already the rider had his feet clear of the
stirrups, and as the waters finally swept over the head of the stricken
beast, he slid out of the saddle and struck out for the opposite shore.
CHAPTER VI—A NEST OF SCORPIONS
Of the extraordinary events which threatened to make March 21, 1624,
one of the most momentous dates in the history of the Netherlands we
have not much in the way of detail. The broad facts we know chiefly
through Van Aitzema's ponderous and minute "Saken v. Staet," whilst De
Voocht was, of course, a friend of the Beresteyn family, and, as I
understand it, was present in the house at Amersfoort when the terrible
catastrophe was so auspiciously and mysteriously averted.
The one thing, however, which neither he nor Van Aitzema have made
quite clear is the motive which prompted the Stadtholder to go to
Amersfoort in person. He had quite a number of knights and gentlemen
around him whom he could have fully trusted to take even so portentous
a message and such explicit orders as he desired to send. De Voocht,
indeed, suggests that it was Nicolaes Beresteyn who persuaded him,
urging the obstinacy of his father, the burgomaster, and of the
burghers of the city, who had steadily opposed the Stadtholder's wishes
when he — Nicolaes — had been sent to convey them.
Nicolaes Beresteyn had joined his sovereign lord at the camp at
Utrecht a couple of days after his wedding. Wearied of sentimental
dalliance with the stolid Kaatje, he was glad enough that his duty
demanded his presence in camp rather than in the vicinity of his young
It was but natural that, when the Stadtholder desired to send orders
to Amersfoort, he should do so through the intermediary of Nicolaes.
But on that day, which was March 20, the young man returned, vowing
that these were not being obeyed; not a matter of disloyalty, of
course, just of tenacity. Civic dignitaries, conscious of their worth
and of the sacrifices they had made in the common cause, were wont to
wax obstinate where the affairs of their own cities were concerned.
But, on the other hand, resistance to his will had invariably the
effect of rousing the Stadtholder's arbitrary temper to a point of
unreasoning anger. Olden Barneveldt had expiated his contumacy on the
scaffold, and I doubt not that, when Nicolaes returned from Amersfoort
that evening and delivered his report, the fate of even so trusted a
councillor as Mynheer Beresteyn hung for awhile in the balance.
That the matter was one of supreme importance it were impossible to
doubt. Maurice of Nassau would not lightly have left his camp at
Utrecht that day. The forces of the Archduchess Isabella, who, under
the leadership of De Berg and of Isembourg, were threatening Gelderland
from two sides, had succeeded on the one part in crossing the Ijssel.
His own army was threatened by that of Spinola from the south. On the
other hand, the messenger whom he had sent across the Veluwe to urge
Marquet and De Keysere to concentrate inside Arnheim and Nijmegen had
not yet returned. Nevertheless, he chose, by this suddenly planned
excursion to Amersfoort, to expose his valuable person to serious
danger; a fact which subsequent events proved only too conclusively.
Nicolaes Beresteyn was sent back at dawn the following morning to
warn the burgomaster of the Stadtholder's coming, and enjoining the
strictest secrecy. The young man was under orders to say nothing beyond
that fact. When closely questioned, however, by his father and also by
others, he did admit that fugitives from Ede had succeeded in reaching
Fugitives from Ede? What did that mean? Why should there be
fugitives from Ede, when the armies of the Archduchess were so many
Nicolaes Beresteyn shrugged his shoulders. "The Stadtholder will
explain," was all that he said.
He appeared impatient and consequential, made them all feel that he
could say more if he cared. He had been kept out of the prince's
councils while he was under the paternal room, but now he had gained a
place in the camp which had always been his by right. These solemn
burghers — important enough within the purlieus of their own city —
had become insignificant, mere civilians, now that the fate of the
country rested upon those who were young enough to bear arms.
Nicolaes tried to meet his sister's glance.
Her indifference toward him galled his sense of importance, and he
wished her to know that he neither repented nor was ashamed of what he
had said the other night. Anon, when he had succeeded in forcing her
eyes to meet his, he gave her a look charged with a mocking challenge.
Up to this hour, she had said nothing to her father; now Nicolaes
appeared to dare her to speak. But his sneers had not the power to
disturb her sublime trust in the man she loved. That some mystery did
cling to his journey across the Veluwe she could no longer doubt; but
her fears upon the subject dwelt solely on any personal danger that
might have overtaken him.
As for her father and his friends, they had apparently decided to
possess their souls in patience. There was, indeed, nothing to do but
to wait the Stadtholder's arrival, and in the meanwhile to try and hold
those fears in check which had been aroused by the ominous words,
"Fugitives from Ede."
The Stadtholder arrived in the course of the morning. Mynheer
Beresteyn did not receive him on the doorstep, as he would have done
had the visit been an open one. As it was, the passers-by on the busy
quay did not bestow more than a passing glance on the plainly clad
cavalier who swung himself out of the saddle outside the burgomaster's
house. A message from the camp, probably, they thought. Mynheer
Nicolaes had been backward and forward from Utrecht several times these
past two or three days. The burgomaster awaited his exalted guest in
the hall. His attitude and the expression of his face were alike
pregnant with eager questionings. The Stadtholder gave curt
acknowledgement to the greetings of Mynheer Beresteyn, of his family,
and of his friends, and then strode deliberately into the
It looked vast and deserted at this early hour of a winter's
morning. Nothing of the animation, the riotous gaiety of that day, less
that a week ago, seemed to linger in its sombre, panelled walls. The
dais upon which the brides and bridegrooms and the wedding party had
sat, and which had crowned so brilliant a spectacle, had been removed,
and the magnificent gold and silver plate, the fine linens and
priceless crystals been carefully stowed away. Serving-men and sweepers
were busy airing and dusting the room when the door was thrown open,
and His Highness came in, ushered in by his host. They fled at sight of
these great gentlemen, like so many rabbits into carefully hidden
The Stadtholder went up to the long centre table and faced Mynheer
Beresteyn and those who had come in with him — the members of his
family and half a dozen burghers, men of importance in the little city.
Every one could see that His Highness's anger was bitter against them
all. "And so, mynheer," he began curtly, and in tones of marked
irritation, and addressing himself more particularly to the
burgomaster, "you have thought fit to defy my orders."
"Your Highness!" protested Mynheer Beresteyn.
"Yet they were clear enough," the Stadtholder went on, not heeding
the interruption. "Or did your son Nicolaes fail to explain?"
"He told us, your Highness, that it was feared the armies of the
Archduchess had crossed the Ijssel —-"
"The armies of the Archduchess crossed the Ijssel three days ago,"
Maurice of Nassau broke in impatiently. "Since then they have overrun
Gelderland and occupied Ede, putting that city to fire and sword."
There came a sound like the catching of breath, the rise of a gasp
of horror and anguish in every one's throat. But it was quickly
suppressed, and His Highness was listened to in silence until the end.
Even now, when he paused, no one spoke. All eyes were cast to the
ground in self-centered meditation. The whole thing had come as a
thunderbolt out of a cloudless sky. Ede had always seemed so safe, so
remote. A little city which led nowhere save to the Zuyder Zee, and in
the very heart of the United Provinces. What could be the motive of the
Archduchess's commanders to adventure thus far into a country which was
so universally hostile to them, even to the most miserable peasant, who
would pollute every well and stream rather than see the enemy overrun
But all these men — ay, and the women, too — had seen so much,
suffered so much; fire and sword were such familiar dangers before
their eyes, that for them the time had gone when sighs and lamentations
would ease their overburdened hearts. They had learned to receive every
fresh blow from God's hands in silence, but with determination to fight
on, to fight again and to the death once more, if need be, for their
liberties, their rights, and the welfare of their children. It was
indeed Mynheer Beresteyn who took the next words out of the
"Then Amersfoort, too, is threatened?" he said simply.
The prince nodded.
"Think you," he retorted, "that I would have ordered the evacuation
of the town had there not been imperative necessity for such a course?
Now, you may pray God that your wilful disobedience hath not placed
your city in jeopardy."
" 'Twas but yesterday we had the order," one of the burghers urged.
" 'Twas yesterday it should have been obeyed," the Stadtholder broke
in roughly. "You would then have saved me a perilous journey, for the
country already is infested with spies and vedettes, outposts of the
"We are all ready to guard your Highness with our lives," the
burgomaster said quietly.
" 'Tis your wits I want, mynheer," the prince riposted dryly, "not
your blood. Indeed, I do fear that Amersfoort is threatened, though I
know not if De Berg will spend his forces on you, or, rather,
concentrate them on Arnheim. But you must be prepared," he added with
"You are not in a position to defend yourselves, and I cannot detach
any of my troops to come to your assistance if you are attacked.
Therefore, my orders were: 'Evacuate the town.' You, mynheer
burgomaster, must issue your proclamation at once. Let every one go who
can, taking women and children with them. Those who remain do so at
their risk. Some of you can go north to Amsterdam, others west to
Utrecht. Let De Berg find an empty shell when he comes."
Only those who had ever had the sorry task of abandoning a home in
the face of an advancing enemy can have any conception of what this
peremptory order meant to these burghers — fathers of families for the
most part, who after the terrible privations which they had suffered
for over half a century, had begun but a few years ago to reconstitute
their country and their homes, to resume their interrupted industries,
their commerce, their splendid art, to re-establish the wealth and
power which had been their birthright, and which the tyranny of a
bigoted and jealous overlord had wilfully wrested from them.
Now it meant laying aside spindles and looms once again, lathes,
chisels, or books, in order to buckle on swords which threatened to
rust in their scabbards, and to don steel helmets. It meant leaving the
women to weep, the children fatherless.
Anxious eyes searched the Stadtholder's drawn, moody face; more than
one mind reverted to memories of this peerless and fearless commander,
the hero of Turnhout and Ostend. Would he have spoken in those days of
"evacuation" and of "helplessness"? Would he have dreaded Spinola or
the hosts of the Archduchess?
Ah, that subtle, insidious disease had indeed done its work! What
mysterious poison was it that had shaken this great man's nerve, made
him gloomy and fretful, weakened that indomitable will which had once
made the tyrant of Madrid quake for the future of his kingdom?
"De Berg would not dare —-" one of the burghers hazarded timidly.
"He may not," His Highness answered. "In which case it might be safe
for you all to return to your homes a few days hence. But some of those
who fled from Ede believe that De Berg intends to detach some of his
troops and with them push on as far as the Zuyder Zee, leaving it to
others to join Isembourg, who is coming up from Kleve, and with his
help capture Nijmegen first and then Arnheim."
"Marquet by now," observed Beresteyn, "must be well on the way to
Arnheim, and De Keysere close to Nijmegen. They can intercept Isembourg
and cut him off from Ede and De Berg. Your Highness's messenger —-"
"Our messenger," the prince broke in curtly, "failed to deliver our
messages. Marquet is not on his way to Arnheim, and De Keysere was
still at Wageningen when the first fugitives from Ede ran
terror-stricken into our camp."
The words were scarce out of his mouth when the sound of a low,
quickly suppressed cry came from the rear of the little group that had
gathered around His Highness. Few heard it, or guessed whence it had
come. Only Mynheer Beresteyn, turning swiftly, caught his daughter's
eyes fixed with a set expression upon him. With an almost imperceptible
glance he beckoned to her, and she pushed her way through to his side,
and slid her cold little hand into his firm grasp. Encouraged by her
father's nearness, it was Gilda who uttered the word of protest which
had risen to more than one pair of lips.
"Impossible, your Highness!" she said resolutely.
"Impossible!" Maurice of Nassau retorted curtly. "Why impossible,
"Because my lord is a brave man, as full of resource as he is of
courage. He undertook to deliver your Highness's commands to Messire
Marquet and Mynheer de Keysere. He is not a man to fail."
She looked brave and determined, without a trace of
self-consciousness, even though the rigid education meted out to girls
in these times forbade their raising a voice in the councils of their
lords. But in this case she had been voicing what was in more than one
mind, and when she looked around her with a kind of timid defiance, she
only encountered kindly glances.
Her father pressed her hand in tender encouragement. The Stadtholder
himself appeared gracious and indulgent. It was only her brother's gaze
that was unendurable, for it was charged with sarcasm, not unmixed with
malevolence. Did Nicolaes hate her, then? A sickening sense of horror
filled the poor girl's soul at the thought. Klaas, her little brother,
whom she had loved and mothered, though he was her elder.
Ofttimes had she stood between his childish peccadillos and his
father's wrath. And now — she could not even bear to meet his glance.
She knew that he triumphed, and that he rejoiced in his triumph, even
though he must know that she was wounded to the quick. His warning was
ringing in her ear, his warning which had, in truth, proved prophetic:
"The orders to Marquet will reach that commander too late!"
As in a dream, she listened to the Stadtholder's words. The whole
situation appeared unreal — impossible.
"Your defense of your husband," the prince was saying, "does you
honour, mejuffrouw. But this is not a time for sentiment, but for
facts. And these it is our duty to face. We placed our every hope on
Marquet's co-operation, but Arnheim and Nijmegen are in peril at this
hour because certain messages which I sent failed to reach their
destination. We have not the leisure to discuss the causes of this
failure; rather must we take immediate measures for the safety of our
Gilda perforce had to remain silent. To the others, in fact, the
matter was only important, in so far that the messenger's failure to
arrive had placed Arnheim and Nijmegen in jeopardy. What cared they for
her heart-breaking anxiety on account of her beloved?
She looked up at her father, because from him she could always
expect sympathy. But he, too, was over-preoccupied just now; patted her
hand gently, then let it go, absorbed as he was in listening to the
Stadtholder's orders for the speedy evacuation of Amersfoort.
She turned away with a bitter sigh, all the more resolutely
suppressed as her brother's mocking glance followed her every movement.
The men now were in close conference, the Stadtholder sitting at the
table, the burgomaster beside him, with pen and ink, drafting the
necessary proclamation, the others grouped around, discussing and
tendering advice. Every one was busy, every one had something to think
Gilda, heavy-hearted, took the opportunity of slipping unseen out of
What prompted her to run up to the very top of the house, like some
stricken bird seeking an eyrie, she could not herself have told you.
There is such a thing as instinct, and instinct takes innumerable forms
according to the most pressing needs of the heart. For the moment,
Gilda's most pressing need was a sight of her beloved. Quite apart from
the importance of his presence now with news from the threatened
cities, she longed to see him, to feel his arms round her, to warm her
starved soul in the sunshine of his love and his never absent smile.
This longing it was that drove her up to the attic chambers, under the
apex of the roof; for these chambers had tiny dormer windows which
commanded extensive views of the countryside far beyond the ramparts
and beyond the Eem.
Gilda wandered into one of the attic chambers and threw open the
narrow casements that gave on the back of the house. Leaning against
the window frame, she looked out over the river and beyond it into the
mist-laden distance. The sharp, humid air did her good, with its savour
of the sea and the tang of spring already lurking in the atmosphere.
The sea-fog which had hung over the country for some days still made a
dense white veil that enveloped all the life that lay beyond the
ramparts, and gave to the little city a strange air of isolation, as if
the very world ended on the other side of its walls. From where Gilda
stood, high above a forest of roofs and gables, she could see the
picturesque fortifications, the monumental gates and turrets, and the
Joris Poort and Nieuwpoort, which spanned the Eem on this side. Far
away on her right was Utrecht; on her left Barneveld, beyond which
stretched the arid upland which held in its cruel breast the secret of
her husband's fate.
The girl felt inexpressibly alone, weighted with that sense of
forlornness from which only the young are wont to suffer. With the
years there comes a more complete self-sufficiency, a greater desire
for solitude. Gregariousness is essentially the attribute of youth. And
Gilda had no one in whom she could confide. Her father, in truth, had
been all to her that a mother might have been; but just now the girl
was pining for one of her own sex, for some one who would not be busy
with many things, with politics and wars and dissensions, but whose
breast would be warm and soft to pillow a head that was weary.
The tears gathered in Gilda's eyes and fell unheeded down her
cheeks. It seemed to her as if every moment now she must see a rider
galloping swiftly toward her as if she must hear that merry laugh
ringing right across the marshland. But all that she saw was the sleepy
little city, stretching out before her until it seemed to melt and
merge in the arms of the mist; the network of narrow streets, the
crow's foot gables, the dormer windows and ornamental corbellings; and,
above everything, the tower of St. Maria and St. Joris, with quaint
market-place alive with people that looked like ants, fussy and minute.
Even as she gazed, wide-eyed and tearful, the bell of St. Maria
began to toll. The slow monotonous reverberation seemed in itself a
presage of evil. From the height, Gilda could see the human ants pause
awhile in their activities. Their very attitude, the grouping of
individual figures, a kind of arrested action in the entire life of the
town, proclaiming brooding terror. A moment or two later the sharp
clang of the town-crier's bell mingled with the majestic booming, and
people started to run toward the market-place from every direction.
Gilda watched this gathering, could see the narrow streets waxing
dark with moving forms. She saw the casements thrown open one by one,
heads and shoulders filling the dark squares of the window frames. And
down below, the arrival of the town-crier, with his halberd and his
bell, a crowd of diminutive ant-like forms pressed round his heels. A
grey picture, yet all alive with movement, like unto one over which an
impatient artist has hastily passed an obliterating brush; the outlines
blurred, the colours dull and hazy in the humid atmosphere. It all
seemed so dreamlike, so remote. Only a week ago life had appeared so
exquisitely gay and so easy! An ardent lover, a happy future, home,
adventure! Everything was tumbling out fulsomely from the Cornucopia of
Fate. And now all the tragedy represented by those running people
below; the enemy at the gates; the abandoned homes; the devastated
city; crying children and starving women — a whole herd of fugitives
wandering over the desolate marshland, seeking shelters in cities
already over-filled, asking for food where so little was to be had.
It was cruel! Oh, horribly cruel! And aweful to see the children
dancing around the town-crier, teasing by pulling at his doublet or
trying to steal his bell. The crowd in the market-place had become very
dense, and still people came running out of the side streets. The steps
of St. Maria Kerk were black with the moving throng, and Gilda thought
with added heartache of that same crowd, five short days ago, rallying
for a holiday, cheering her and her handsome lover, wishing her joy and
prosperity in the endless days to come.
Soon the city appeared weltering in confusion. The town-crier
continued to ply his bell, and to call the proclamation ordered by the
burgomaster. He went on so that every citizen in turn might hear, and
now the crowd no longer tended all one way. Some had heard and were
hurrying home to consult with their families, to make arrangements
either for speedy departure or for weathering the terrible alternative
of an invading army. Others lingered in groups on the market-place or
at street corners, discussing or lamenting, according to their
temperament, pausing to ask friends what they would do or what they
thought of the terrible situation.
Gilda, up at the attic casement, could almost guess by the attitude,
the gestures of the scared human ants, just how unsteady had become
their mental balance. It was all so unexpected, and there was nothing
that anyone could do to help in this terrible emergency. The
Stadtholder was going back to camp. He had declared that he could not
help. Threatened from every side, he could not spare his forces to come
to the aid of so small a place as Amersfoort. And he — the stranger
with the happy smile and the gay, inconsequent temper — who had been
sent across the Veluwe to obtain succour — had failed to return. There
was no garrison at Amersfoort, so there was nothing for it but to flee.
At what precise moment Gilda became aware of the solitary rider
galloping tete baissee toward the city, it were impossible to say. He
came out of the mist from the direction of Utrecht, and Gilda saw him
long before the sentry at the Joris Poort challenged him. Apparently he
had papers and all necessaries in order, for he was admitted without
demur; and at the sight Gilda turned away from her point of vantage,
ran across the attic chamber and down the stairs. It was such a very
short distance between the Joris Poort and the front door of the
burgomaster's house, and she wanted so much to be the first to welcome
It was then half an hour before noon. The city by this time was in
the throes of a complete upheaval. The noise in the streets had become
incessant and deafening. Church bells tolling, town-criers bawling, the
clang of the halberds of the city guards mingling with the rattle of
cart-wheels upon the cobble-stones, with the tramping of hundreds of
feet and stamping of innumerable horses' hoofs. The air was resonant
with shrieks and cries, with the grating and jarring of metal, with
peal of bells and the hubbub of a throng on the move. Gilda, when she
reached the foot of the stairs, found herself facing the wide-open
doorway, and through it saw the quay alive with people running, with
horses and driven cattle, with crowds scrambling into the boats down
below, with carts and dogs and children and barrows piled up with
furniture and luggage hastily tied together.
The confusion bewildered her. Determined not to allow futile terror
to overmaster her, she, nevertheless, felt within her whole being the
sense of an impending catastrophe. She could not approach the door,
because the crowd was swarming up the stone steps, and her father's
serving-men, armed with stout sticks and cudgels, had much ado to keep
some of the more venturesome or more terrified among that throng from
invading the house.
How that solitary rider whom she had spied in the distance would
succeed in forging his way through the dense mass of surging humanity,
she could not imagine; and yet through all the turmoil, the din, the
terror she was more conscious of his nearness than of any other
sensation. The longing to see him was, in a certain sort of way,
appeased. She knew that he lived and that time alone stood between her
present and past longing and the bliss of nestling once more in his
Oh, the crowd! It was rapidly becoming unmanageable. The serving-men
plied their cudgels in vain. There were men and women there stronger
and bolder than others who were determined to have a word with the
"I am Mynheer Beresteyn's friend!" was shouted authoritatively to
the helpless guardians of their master's privacy. Or, "You know me,
Anton? Make way for me there. I must speak with the burgomaster!"
"The burgomaster is busy!" the serving-men bawled out until they
were hoarse. "No one can be admitted!"
But it was difficult for any man to raise a stick against well-known
burghers of the city, friends and acquaintances who had supped here in
the house at Mynheer's own table; and the pressure became more and more
difficult to withstand every moment. Some of the people had actually
pushed their way into the hall, making it impossible for Gilda to get
near the door; and the longing was irresistible to be close at hand
when he dismounted, so that her smile might be the first to greet him
as he ran up the steps. She pictured it all — his coming, his
appearance, the way he would look about him, knowing that she must be
Then all at once something awful happened. Gilda, from where she
stood, could neither see nor hear what it was; and yet she knew, just
from looking at the crowd, that something more immediately terrifying
had turned this seething mass of humanity into a horde of scared
beasts. Their movements suddenly became more swift; it seemed as if
some fearsome goad had been applied to the entire population of the
city, and the desire, to get away, to run, to flee had become more
Those who had swarmed up the steps of the burgomaster's house ran
down again. They had no longer the desire to speak with anyone, or to
appeal to the servants to let them pass. They only wanted to run like
the others, the few more grave ones gathering their scattered families
around them like a mother hen does her chicks.
And, oh, the awful din! It had intensified a thousand-fold, and
seemed all of a sudden like hell let loose. So many people shrieked,
the women and the children for the most part. And the boatmen down on
the water, plying for hire their small craft, already dangerously
overloaded with fugitives and their goods. But now everyone on the quay
appeared obsessed with the desire to get into the boats. There was
scrambling and fighting upon the quay, shrieks of terror followed by
ominous splashes in the murky waters. Gilda closed her eyes, not daring
And still the clang of the church bells tolling and the hideous
cacophony of a whole population stampeding in a mad panic.
The hall, the doorway, the outside steps were now deserted. Life and
movement and din were all out on the quay and in the streets around.
The serving-men even had thrown down their sticks and cudgels. Some of
them had disappeared altogether, others stood in groups, skulking and
wide-eyed. Gilda tried to frame a query. Her pale, anxious face no
doubt expressed the words which her lips could not utter, for one of
the men in the hall replied in a husky whisper:
"The Spaniards! They are on us!"
She wanted to ask more, for at first it did not seem as if this were
fresh news. The Spaniards were at Ede, the town was being evacuated
because of them. What had occurred to turn an ordered evacuation into
so redoubtable a stampede?
And still no sign of my lord.
Then suddenly the doors of the banqueting-hall were thrown open, and
the burgomaster appeared. Had Gilda doubted for a moment that something
catastrophic had actually happened, she would have felt her doubts
swept aside by the mere aspect of her father. He, usually so grave, so
dignified, was trembling like a reed, his hair was dishevelled, his
cheeks of a grey, ashen colour. The word "Gilda" was actually on his
lips when he stepped across the threshold, and quite a change came over
him the moment he caught sight of his daughter. Before he could call to
her she was already by his side, and in an instant he had her by the
hand and dragged her with him back into the banqueting-hall.
"What has happened?" she asked, in truth more bewildered than
"The Spaniards!" her father replied briefly. "They are on us."
"Yes," she ventured, frowning; "but —-"
"Not three leagues away," he broke in curtly. "Their vanguard will
be here by nightfall."
She looked round her, puzzled to see them all so calm in contrast to
the uproar and the confusion without. The Stadtholder was sitting
beside the table, his head resting on his hand. He looked woefully ill.
Nicolaes Beresteyn was beside him, whispering earnestly.
"What are you going to do, father dear?" Gilda asked in a hurried
"My fellow-burghers and I are remaining at our posts," Beresteyn
replied quietly. "We must do what we can to save our city, and our
presence may do some good."
"And Nicolaes?" she asked again.
"Nicolaes has his horse ready. He will take you to Utrecht in His
Highness's train." Then, as Gilda made no comment on this, only gave
his hand a closer pressure, he added tentatively: "Unless you would
prefer to go with Mynheer van den Poele and his family. He is taking
Kaatje and her mother to Amsterdam."
"I would prefer to remain with you," she said simply.
"Impossible, my dear child!" he retorted.
"My place is here," she continued firmly, "and I'll not go. Oh,
can't you understand?" she pleaded, with a break in her voice. "If you
sent me away, I should go mad or die!"
"But, Gilda —-" the poor man protested.
"My lord is here," Gilda suddenly broke in more calmly.
"My lord? What do you mean?"
"I saw him awhile ago. I was up in the attic-chamber, he came
through the Joris Poort."
"Your eyes deceived you. He would be here by now."
"He should be here," she asserted. "I cannot understand what has
happened. Perhaps the crowd —-"
"Your eyes deceived you," he reiterated, but more doubtfully this
time. Then, as just at that moment the Stadtholder and caught his eye,
Beresteyn called to him, "My daughter says that my lord has returned."
"Impossible!" burst forth impulsively from Nicolaes.
"Why should it be impossible?" Gilda retorted quickly, and fixed
coldly challenging eyes upon her brother. "Why should you say that it
is impossible?" she insisted, seeing that Nicolaes now looked
shamefaced and confused. "What do you know about my lord?"
"Nothing, nothing!" Nicolaes stammered. "I did not mean that, of
course; it only seems so strange —-" And he added roughly, "Then why
is he not here?"
"The crowd is very dense about the streets," one of the burghers
suggested. "My lord, mayhap hath found it difficult to push his way
"Why should he be coming to Amersfoort?" mused Mynheer Beresteyn.
"He came from the direction of Utrecht," Gilda replied. "Some one at
the camp must have told him that His Highness was here."
"No one knew I was coming hither," the Stadtholder broke in
"My sister more like hath been troubled with visions," Nicolaes
rejoined with a sneer. "Nor have we the time," he added, "to wait on my
lord's pleasure. If your Highness is ready, we should be getting to
"But surely," Gilda protested with pitiful earnestness, "your
Highness will wait to see your messenger. He must be bringing news from
Messire Marquet. He —-"
"Yes," the Stadtholder broke in decisively, "I'll see him. Let some
one go out into the streets at once and find the man. Tell him that we
are waiting —-"
"He knows his way about the town," Nicolaes interposed, with an
ill-concealed note of spite in his voice. "Why should he need a pilot.?"
There was a moment's silence. Every one looked nervy and worried.
Then the Stadtholder turned once more to the burgomaster, and queried
"Are those two companions of my lord's still in your house, mynheer?
Can you not send one of them?"
The suggestion met with universal approval. And Mynheer Beresteyn
himself urged the advisability of finding my lord's friends
immediately. He took his daughter's hand. It was cold as ice, and
quivered like a wounded bird in his warm grasp. He patted it gently,
reassuringly. Her wild eyes frightened him. He knew what she suffered,
and in his heart condemned his son for those insinuations against the
absent. But this was not a moment for delicacy or for scruples. The
hour was a portentous one, and fraught with peril for a nation and its
chief. The individual matters so little at such times. The feelings,
the sufferings, the broken heart of one women or one man — how futile
do they seem when a whole country is writhing in the throes of her
"Go, my dear child," Beresteyn admonished firmly. "Obey His
Highness's commands. Find my lord's friends and tell them to go at
once, and return hither with my lord. Go," he added; and whispered
gently in Gilda's ear, as he led her, reluctant yet obedient, to the
door, "Leave your husband's honour in my hands."
She gave him a grateful look, and he gave her hand a last reassuring
pressure. Then he let her go from him, only urging her to hurry back.
It must not be supposed for a moment that he did not feel for her in
her anxiety and her misery. But the man in question was a stranger —
an Englishman, what? — and Mynheer Beresteyn was above all a patriot,
a man who had suffered acutely for his country, had sacrificed his all
for her, and was ready to do it again whenever she called to him. The
Stadtholder stood for the safety and the integrity of the United
Provinces; he was the champion and upholder of her civil and religious
liberties. His personal safety stood, in the minds of Beresteyn and his
fellow burghers, above every consideration on earth.
Gilda knew this, and though she trusted her father implicitly, she
knew that her beloved would be ruthlessly sacrificed, even by him, if,
through misadventure or any other simple circumstance entirely beyond
his control, he happened to have failed in the enterprise which had
been entrusted to him. Nicolaes, of course, was an avowed enemy. Why?
Gilda could not conjecture. Was it jealousy, or petty spite only? If
so, what advantage could he reap from the humiliation of one who
already was a member of his own family? But she felt herself
encompassed with enemies. No one had attempted to defend my lord's
honour when it was so ruthlessly impugned save her father, and he was
too absorbed, too much centered in thoughts of his country's peril, to
do real battle for the absent.
It was with a heavy heart that she turned to go up the stairs in
search of the two men who alone were ready to go through fire in the
defense of their friend. A melancholy smile hovered round Gilda's lips.
She felt that with those two quaint creatures she had more in common at
this hour than with her father, whom she idolized. In those too poor
caitiffs she had all that her heart had been hungering for: simple
hearts that understood her sorrow, loyal souls that never wavered. For
evil or for good, through death-peril or through seeming dishonour,
their friend whom they reverenced could count upon their devotion. And
as Gilda went wearily up the stairs, her mind conjured up the picture
of those two ludicrous vagabonds, with their whimsical saws and rough
codes of honour, and she suddenly felt less lonely and less sad.
Great was her disappointment, therefore, when she reached the
guest-chamber, which they still occupied, to find that it was empty.
The whole house was by this time in a hopeless state of turmoil and
confusion. Serving-men and maids rushed aimlessly hither and thither,
up and down the stairs, along the passages, in and out of the rooms; or
stood about in groups, whispering or cowering in corners. Some of them
had already fled; the few who remained looked like so many scared
chickens, fussy and inconsequent, — the maids, with kirtles awry and
hair unkempt, the men striving to look brave and determined, putting on
the air of masters, and adding to the maids' distress by their aimless,
There was nothing in the house now left of that orderly management
which is the pride of every self-respecting housewife. Doors stood
open, displaying the untidiness of the rooms; there was noise and
bustle everywhere, calls of distress and loud admonitions. From no one
could Gilda learn what she desired to know. She was forced to seek out
Maria, her special tiring-woman, who, it was to be hoped, had some
semblance of reason left in her. Maria, however, had no love for the
two rapscallions, who were treated in the house as if they were
princes, and knew nothing of the respect due to their betters. She
replied to her young mistress's inquiries by shrugging her shoulders
and calling heaven to witness her ignorance of the whereabouts of those
"Spoilt, they have been," the old woman asserted sententiously.
"Shamefully spoilt. They have neither order nor decency, nor the
slightest regard for the wishes of their betters —-"
"But, Maria, whither have the two good fellows gone?" Gilda broke in
"Gone? Whither have they gone? Maria ejaculated, in pious ignorance
of such probable wickedness. "Nay, that ye cannot expect any
self-respecting woman to know. They have gone, the miserable
roysterers! Went but an hour ago, without saying by your leave. This
much I do know. And my firm belief is that they were naught but a pair
of Spanish spies, come to hand us all, body and soul, to —-"
"Maria, I forbid thee to talk such rubbish!" Gilda exclaimed
And, indeed, her anger and her white and worried look did
effectually silence the garrulous woman's tongue.
Even the waiting-maids! Even these ignorant fools! Gilda could have
screamed with the horror of it all, as if she had suddenly landed in a
nest of scorpions and their poison encompassed her everywhere. This
story of spies! God in Heaven, how had it come about? Whose was the
insidious tongue that had perverted her brother Nicolaes first, and
then every trimmer and rogue in the house? Gilda felt as if it might
ease her heart to run around with a whip, and lash all these base
detractors into acknowledgment of their infamy. But she forced herself
A vague instinct had already whispered to her that she must not go
back to the banqueting-hall with the news that my lord's friends had
gone, and that no one had any knowledge of their whereabouts. She felt
that if she did that, her brother's sneers would become unendurable,
and that she might then be led to retort with accusations against her
only brother which she would afterwards forever regret.
So she waited for awhile, curtly bade Maria to be gone, and to leave
her in peace. She wanted to think, to put a curb on her fears and her
just wrath against this unseen army of calumniators; for wrath and fear
are both evil counsellors. And above all, she wanted to see her beloved.
He was in the town. She knew it as absolutely as that she was alive.
Were her eyes likely to be deceived? Even now, when she closed her
eyes, she could see him, as she had done but a few minutes ago, walking
his horse through the Joris Poort, his plumed hat shading the upper
part of his face. She could see him, with just that slight stoop of his
broad shoulders which denoted almost unendurable fatigue. She had noted
this at the moment, with a pang of anxiety, and then forgotten it all
in the joy of seeing him again. She remembered it all now. Oh, how
could they think that she could be deceived?
Just for a second or two she had the mind to run back to the
casement in the attic-chamber and see if she could not from thence spy
him again. But surely this would be futile. He must have reached the
quay by now, would be at the front door, with no one to welcome him. In
truth, the longing to see him had become sheer physical pain.
So Gilda once more made her way down into the hall.
CHAPTER VII—A SUBTLE TRAITOR
Down below, in the banqueting-hall, Gilda's departure had at first
been followed by a general feeling of obsession, which caused the grave
men here assembled to remain silent for awhile and pondering. There was
no lack of sympathy, I repeat; not even on the part of the Stadtholder,
whose heart and feelings were never wholly atrophied. But there had
sprung up in the minds of these grave burghers an unreasoning feeling
of suspicion toward the man whom they had trusted implicitly such a
brief while ago.
Terror at the imminence of their danger, the appearance of the
dreaded foe almost at their very gates, had in a measure — as terror
always will — blurred the clearness of their vision, and to a certain
extent warped their judgements. The man now appeared before them as a
stranger, therefore a person to be feared, even despised to the extent
of attributing the blackest possible treachery to him. They forgot that
the closest possible ties of blood and of tradition bound the English
gentleman to the service of the Prince of Orange. Sir Percy Blakeney
now, and Diogenes the soldier of fortune of awhile ago, were one and
the same. But no longer so to them. The adder's fork had bitten into
their soul and left its insidious poison of suspicion and of misbelief.
So none of them spoke, hardly dared to look on Mynheer Beresteyn,
who, they felt, was not altogether with them in their distrust. The
Stadtholder had lapsed into one of his surly moods. His lean, brown
hands were drumming a devil's tattoo upon the table.
Then suddenly Nicolaes broke into a harsh and mirthless laugh.
"It would all be a farce," he exclaimed with bitter malice, "if it
did not threaten to become so tragic." Then he turned to the
Stadtholder, and his manner became once more grave and earnest. "Your
Highness, I entreat," he said soberly, "deign to come away with me at
once, ere you fall into some trap set by those abominable spies —-"
"Nicolaes," his father broke in sternly, "I forbid you to make these
base insinuations against your sister's husband."
"I'll be silent if you command me," Nicolaes rejoined quietly. "But
methinks that his Highness's life is too precious for sentimental
quibbles. Nay," he went on vehemently, and like one who is forced into
speech against his will, "I have warned Gilda of this before. While
were all waiting here calmly, trusting to that stranger who came, God
knows whence, he was warning De Berg to effect a quick crossing"
"It is false!" protested the burgomaster hotly.
"Then, I pray you," Nicolaes insisted hotly, "tell me how it is that
De Berg did forestall his Highness's plans? Who was in the
council-chamber when the plans were formulated save yourselves? Who
knew of the orders to Marquet? Marquet hath not gone to relieve
Arnheim, and the armies of the Archduchess are at our gates!"
He paused, and a murmur of assent went round the room, and when
Mynheer Beresteyn once more raised his voice in protest, saying firmly:
"I'll not believe it! Let us wait at least until we've heard what news
my lord hath brought!" No one spoke in response, and even the
Stadtholder shrugged his shoulders, as if the matter of a man's honour
or dishonour had no interest for him.
"Your Highness," Nicolaes went on with passionate earnestness, "let
me beg of you on my knees to think of your noble father, of the trap
into which he fell, and of his assassin, Gerard — a stranger, too —-"
"But this man saved my life once!" the Stadtholder said, with an
outburst of generous feeling in favour of the man to whom, in truth, he
owed so much.
"He hated Stoutenburg then, your Highness," Nicolaes retorted, and
boldly looked his father in the face — his father who knew his own
share in that hideous conspiracy three months ago. "He loved my sister
Gilda. It suited his purpose then to use his sword in your Highness's
service. But remember, he is only a soldier of fortune after all. Have
we not all of us heard him say a hundred times that he had lived
hitherto by selling his sword to the highest bidder?"
This time his tirade was greeted by a distinct murmur of approval.
Only the burgomaster raised his voice admonishingly once more.
"Take care, Nicolaes!" he exclaimed. "Take care!"
"Take care of what?" the young man retorted with all his wonted
arrogance, and challenged his father with a look.
"Would you give your only son away," that look appeared to say, "in
order to justify a stranger?"
Then, as indeed Mynheer Beresteyn remained silent, not exactly
giving up the contention, but forced into passive acquiescence by the
weight of public opinion and that inalienable feeling of family and
kindred which makes most men or women defend their own against any
stranger, Nicolaes continued, with magnificent assumption of patriotic
"Have we the right hazard so precious a thing as his Highness's life
for the sake of sparing my sister's feelings?"
In this sentiment every one was ready to concur. They did not
actually condemn the stranger; they were not prepared to call him a
traitor and a potential assassin, or to believe one half of Nicolaes
Beresteyn's insinuations. They merely put him aside, out of their
minds, as not entering into their present schemes. And even the
burgomaster could not gainsay the fact that his son was right.
The most urgent thing at the present juncture was to get the
Stadtholder safely back to his camp at Utrecht. Every minute spent in
this garrisonless city was fraught with danger for the most precious
life in the United Provinces.
"Where is his Highness's horse?" he asked.
"Just outside," Nicolaes replied glibly; "in charge of a man I know.
Mine is ready too. Indeed, we should get to horse at once."
The Stadtholder did not demur.
"Have the horses brought to," he said quickly. "I'll be with you in
Nicolaes hurried out of the room, his Highness remaining behind for
a moment or two, in order to give his final instructions, a last
admonition or two to the burghers.
"Do not resist," he said earnestly. "You have not the means to do
aught but to resign yourselves to the inevitable. As soon as I can, I
will come to your relief. In the meanwhile, conciliate De Berg by every
means in your power. He is not a harsh man, and the Archduchess has
learnt a salutary lesson from the discomfiture of Alva. She knows by
now that we are a stiff-necked race, whom it is easier to cajole than
to coerce. If only you will be patient! Can you reckon on your citizens
not to do anything rash or foolish that might bring reprisals upon your
"Yes," the burgomaster replied. "I think we can rely on them for
that. When your Highness has gone we'll assemble on the market place,
and I will speak to them. We'll do our best to stay the present panic
and bring some semblance of order into the town."
Their hearts were heavy. 'Twas no use trying to minimize the deadly
peril which confronted them. There was a century of oppression, of
ravage, and pillage, and bloodshed to the credit of the Spanish armies.
It was difficult to imagine that the spirit of an entire nation should
have changed suddenly into something more tolerant and less cruel.
However, for the moment, there was nothing more to be said, and
alas! it was not as if the whole terrible situation was a novel one.
They had all been through it before, at Leyden and Bergen-op-Zoom, at
Haarlem and Delft, when they were weeping their land free from the
foreign tyrant; and it was useless at this hour to add to the
Stadtholder's difficulties by futile lamentations. All the more as
Nicolaes had now returned with the welcome news that the horses were
there, and everything ready for his Highness's departure. He appeared
more excited than before, anxious to get away as quickly as may be.
"There is a rumour in the town," he said, "that Spanish vedettes
have been spied less than a league away."
"And have you heard any rumour as to the arrival of our Diogenes?"
the Stadtholder asked casually.
Nicolaes hesitated a moment ere he replied: "I have heard nothing
A minute later the Stadtholder was in the hall. The doors were open
and the horses down below in the charge of an equerry.
Nicolaes, half way down the outside stone steps, looked the picture
of fretful impatience. With a dark frown upon his brow, he was scanning
the crowd, and now and again a curse broke through his set lips when he
saw the Stadtholder still delayed by futile leave-takings.
"In the name of heaven, let us to horse!" he exclaimed almost
Just at that moment his Highness was taking a kindly farewell of
"I wish, mejuffrouw," he was saying, "that you had thought of taking
shelter in our camp."
Gilda forced herself to listen to him, her lips tried to frame the
respectful words which convention demanded. But her eyes she could not
control, nor yet her thoughts, and they were fixed upon the crowd down
below, just as were those of her brother Nicolaes. She thought that
every moment she must catch sight of that plumed hat, towering above
the throng, of those sturdy shoulders, forging their way to her. But
all that she saw was the surging mass of people. A medley of colour.
Horses, carts, the masts of ships. People running. And children.
Numberless children, in arms or on their tiny feet; the sweet, heavy
burdens that made the present disaster more utterly catastrophic.
Then suddenly she gave a loud cry.
"My lord!" she called, at the top of her voice. Then something
appeared to break in her throat, and it was with a heart-rending sob
that she murmured almost inaudibly: "Thank God! It is my lord!"
The Stadtholder turned, was across the hall and out in the open in a
"Where?" he demanded.
She ran after him, seized his surcoat with a trembling hand, and
with the other pointed in the direction of the Koppel-poort.
"A plumed hat!" she murmured vaguely, for her teeth were chattering
so that she could scarcely speak. "All broken and battered with wind
and weather — a torn jerkin — a mud-stained cloak. He is leading his
horse. He has a three days' growth of beard on his chin, and looks
spent with fatigue. There! Do you not see him?"
But Nicolaes already had interposed.
"To horse, your Highness!" he cried.
He would have given worlds for the privilege to seize the
Stadtholder then and there by the arm, and to drag him down the steps
and set him on his horse before the meeting which he dreaded could take
place. But Maurice of Nassau, torn between his desire to get out of the
threatened city as quickly as possible and his wish to speak with the
messenger whom an inalienable instinct assured him that he could trust,
was lingering on the steps trying in his turn to catch sight of
"Beware of the assassin's dagger, your Highness!" Nicolaes whispered
hoarsely in his ear. "In this crowd who can tell? Who knows what
deathly trap is being laid for you?"
"Not by that man, I'll swear!" the Stadtholder affirmed.
"Nay, if he is loyal he can follow you to the camp and report to you
there. But for God's sake remember your father and the miscreant
Gerard. There too, a crowd; the hustling, the hurry! In the name of
your country, come away!"
There was no denying the prudence of this advice. Another instant's
hesitation, the obstinacy of an arbitrary temperament that abhors being
dictated to, the Stadtholder was ready to go. Gilda, on the top of the
steps, was more like a stone statue of expectancy than like a living
woman. Nay, all that she had alive in her were just her eyes, and they
had spied her beloved. He was then by the Koppel-poort, some hundred
yards or more on the other side of the quay, with a seething mass of
panic-stricken humanity between him and the steps of Mynheer
He had dismounted and was leading his horse. The poor beast, spent
with fatigue, looked ready to drop, and, indeed, appeared too dazed to
pick his own way through the crowd. As it was, he was more than a
handful for his equally wearied master, whose difficulties were
increased a hundredfold by the number of small children who were for
ever getting in the way of the horse's legs, and were in constant
danger of being kicked or trampled on.
But Gilda never lost sight of him now that she had seen him. With
every beat of her heart she was measuring the footsteps that separated
him from the Stadtholder. And the more Nicolaes fretted to hurry his
Highness away, the more she longed and yearned for the quick approach
of her beloved.
Amongst all those here present, Gilda was the only one who scented
some unseen danger for them all in Nicolaes' strangely feverish haste.
What the others took for zeal, she knew by instinct was naught but
treachery. What form this would take she could not guess; but this she
knew, that for some motive as sinister as it was unexplainable,
Nicolaes did not wish the Stadtholder and his messenger to meet. That
same motive had caused him to utter all those venomous accusations
against her husband, and was even now wearing him into a state of
fretfulness which bordered on dementia.
"My lord!" she cried out to her beloved at one time; and felt that
even through all the din and clatter her voice had reached his ear, for
he raised his head, and it even seemed to her as if his eyes met hers
above the intervening crowd and as if the supernal longing for him
which was in her heart had drawn him with its mystic power over every
For, indeed, the next moment he was right at the foot of the steps,
not five paces from the Stadtholder.
Nicolaes spied him in a moment, and a loud curse broke from his lips.
"That skulking assassin!" he cried; and with a magnificent gesture
covered the Stadtholder with his body. "To horse, your Highness, and
leave me to deal with him!"
Maurice of Nassau, indeed was one of the bravest men of his time,
but the word "assassin" was bound to ring unpleasantly in the ears of a
man whose father had met his death at a murderer's hand. Half-ashamed
of his fears, he nevertheless did take advantage of Nicolaes'
theatrical attitude to slip behind him and mount his horse as quickly
as he could. But with his foot already in the stirrup compunction
appeared to seize him. Wishing to palliate the gross insult which was
being hurled at the man who had once saved his life at imminent peril
of his own, he now turned and called to him in gracious, matter-of-fact
"Why, man, what made you tarry so long? Come with us to Utrecht now.
We can no longer wait."
With this he swung himself in the saddle.
"Not another step man, at your peril!"
This came from Nicolaes Beresteyn, who was still standing in a
dramatic pose between Diogenes and the Stadtholder, with his cloak
wrapped around his arm.
"Stand back, you fool!!" retorted the other loudly, and would have
pushed past him, when suddenly Nicolaes disengaged his arm from his
cloak wrapped around his arm.
For one fraction of a second the gleam of steel flashed in the humid
air; then, without a word of warning, swift as a hawk descending on his
prey, he struck at Diogenes with all his might.
It had all happened in a very few brief seconds. Diogenes, spent
with fatigue, or actually struck, staggered and half fell against the
bottom step. But Gilda, with a loud cry, was already by his side, and
as Nicolaes raised his arm to strike once again, she was on him like
some lithe pantheress.
She seized his wrist, and gave it such a violent twist that he
uttered a cry of pain, and the dagger fell with a clatter to the
ground. After which everything became a blur. She heard her brother's
loudly triumphant shout:
"His Highness's life was threatened. Mine was but an act of
justice!" even as he in his turn swung himself into the saddle.
The Stadtholder looked dazed. It had all happened so quickly that he
had not the time to visualize it all. De Voocht, who was in the hall of
the burgomaster's house from the moment when the Stadtholder bade
farewell to Gilda until that when he dug his spurs into his horse and
scattered the crowd in every direction, tells us in his "Brieven" —
the one which is dated March 21, 1626 — that the incidents followed on
one another with such astounding rapidity that it was impossible for
any one to interfere.
All that he remembers very clearly is seeing his Highness getting to
horse, then the flash of steel in the air and Nicolaes Beresteyn's arm
upraised ready to strike. He could not see if any one had fallen. The
next moment he heard Gilda's heart-piercing shriek, and saw her running
down the stone steps — almost flying, like a bird.
Mynheer Beresteyn followed his daughter as rapidly as he could. He
reached the foot of the steps just as his son put his horse to a walk
in the wake of his Highness. He was wont to say afterwards that at the
moment his mind was an absolute blank. He had heard his daughter's cry
and seen Nicolaes strike; but he had not actually seen Diogenes. Now he
was just in time to see his son's final dramatic gesture and to hear
his parting words:
"There, father," Nicolaes shouted to him, and pointed to the ground,
"is the pistol which the miscreant pointed at the Stadtholder when I
struck him down like a dog!"
The people down on the quay had hardly perceived anything. They were
too deeply engrossed in their own troubles and deadly peril.
When the horses reared under the spur they scattered like so many
hens out of the way of immediate danger; but a second or two later they
were once more surging everywhere, intent only on the business of
Gilda, at the foot of the steps, saw and heard nothing more. The
sudden access of almost manlike strength wherewith she had fallen on
her brother and wrenched the murderous dagger from his grasp had as
suddenly fallen from her again. Her knees were shaking; she was almost
ready to swoon.
She put out her arms and encountered those of her father, which gave
her support. Her brother's voice, exultant and cruel, reached her ears
as through a veil.
"My lord!" she murmured, in a pitiful appeal.
She did not know how severely he had been struck; indeed, she had
not seen him fall. Her instinct had been to rush on Nicolaes first and
to disarm him. In this she succeeded. Then only did she turn to her
But the crowd, cruelly indifferent, was all around like a surging
sea. They pushed and they jostled; they shouted and filled the air with
a medley of sounds. Some actually laughed. She saw some comely faces
and ugly ones; some that wept and others that grinned. It seemed to her
even for a moment that she caught sight of a round red face and of lean
and lanky Socrates. She tried to call to him, to beg him to explain.
She turned to her father, asking him if in truth she was going mad.
For she called in vain to her beloved. He was no longer here.
When Diogenes, taken wholly unawares by Nicolaes' treacherous blow,
had momentarily lost his balance, he would have been in a precarious
position indeed had not his faithful friends been close at hand at the
It is difficult to surmise how terribly anxious the two philosophers
had been these past few days. Indeed, their anxiety had proved more
than a counterpart to that felt by Gilda, and had, with its
simple-hearted sympathy, expressed in language more whimsical than
choice, been intensely comforting to her.
Both these worthies had been inured to blows and hurts from the time
when as mere lads, they first learned to handle a sword, and
Pythagoras' wound, which would have laid an ordinary man low for a
fortnight, was, after four days, already on the mend. To keep a man of
that type in bed, or even within four walls, when he began to feel
better was more than any one could do. And when he understood that
Diogenes had been absent four days on an errand for the Stadtholder,
that the jongejuffrouw was devoured with anxiety on his behalf, and
that that spindle-legged gossoon Socrates was spending most of the day
and one half of the night on horseback, patrolling the ramparts
watching for the comrade's return; when he understood all that, I say,
it was not likely that he — Pythagoras — an able-bodied man and a
doughty horseman at that, would be content to lie abed and be physicked
by any grovelling leech.
Thus the pair of them were providentially on the watch on that
memorable March 21, and they both saw their comrade-in-arms enter the
city by the Joris Poort. They followed him as best they could through
the crowd, cursing and pushing their way, knowing well that Diogenes'
objective could be none other than a certain house they wot of on the
quay, where a lovely jongejuffrouw was waiting in tears for her beloved.
Remember that to these two caitiffs the fact that the Spaniards were
said to be at the very gates of Amersfoort was but a mere incident.
With their comrade within the city, they feared nothing, were prepared
for anything. They had been in far worse plights than this many a time
in their career, the three of them, and had been none the worse for it
in the end.
Of course, now matters had become more complicated through the
jongejuffrouw. She had become the first consideration, and though it
was impossible not to swear at Diogenes for thus having laid this
burden on them all, it was equally impossible to shirk its
The jongejuffrouw above all. That had become the moral code of these
two philosophers, and with those confounded Spaniards likely to descend
on this town — why, the jongejuffrouw must be got out of it as soon as
may be! No wonder that Diogenes had turned up just in the nick of time!
Something evidently was in the wind, and it behooved for
comrades-in-arms to be there, ready to help as occasion arose.
A simple code enough, you'll admit; worthy of simple,
unsophisticated hearts. Socrates, being the more able-bodied of the
two, then took command, dismounted, and left his lubberly compeer in
charge of the horses at a comparatively secluded corner of the
"If you can get hold of one more horse," he said airily, "one that
is well-saddled and looks sprightly and fresh, do not let your
super-sensitive honesty stand in your way. Diogenes' mount looked
absolutely spent, and I'm sure he'll need another.
With which parting admonition he turned on his heel and made his way
toward the quay.
Thus it was that Socrates happened to be on the spot, or very near
it, when Diogenes was struck by the hand of a traitor, and, wearied,
sick, and faint, lost his footing and fell for a moment helpless
against the steps, whilst Nicolaes Beresteyn dug his spurs into his
horse's sides and urged the Stadtholder to immediate haste.
A second or two later these two were lost to sight in the crowd. It
was Socrates who received his half-swooning friend in his arms, and who
dragged him incontinently into the recess formed by the side of the
stone steps and the wall of the burgomaster's house.
By great good fortune, the dagger-thrust aimed by the abominable
miscreant had lost most of its virulence in the thick folds of
Diogenes' cloak. The result was just a flesh wound in the neck, nothing
that would cause so hardened a soldier more than slight discomfort. His
scarf, tied tightly around his shoulders by Socrates' rough, but
experienced hands, was all that was needed for the moment. It had only
been fatigue, and perhaps the unexpectedness of the onslaught, that had
brought him to his knees for that brief second, and rendered him
momentarily helpless. Time enough, by mischance for Nicolaes to drag
the Stadtholder finally out of sight.
But by the time Diogenes' faithful comrade had found shelter for him
in the angle of the wall the feeling of sickness had passed away.
"The Stadtholder," he queried abruptly, "where is he?"
"Gone!" Socrates grunted through clenched teeth. "Gone, together
with that spawn of the devil who —-"
"After him!" Diogenes commanded, speaking once more with that
perfect quietude which is the attribute of men of action at moments of
acute peril. "Get me a horse, man! Mine is spent."
"In the market-place," Socrates responded laconically. "Pythagoras
is in charge. You can have the beast, and we'll follow." Then he added,
under his breath: "And the jongejuffrouw? She was so anxious—-"
Diogenes made no reply, gave one look up at the house which
contained all that for him was dearest on God's earth. But he did not
sigh. I think the longing and the disappointment were too keen even for
that. The next moment he had already started to push his way through
the throng along the quay, and thence into Vriese Straat in the
direction of the market-place, closely followed by his long-legged
As soon as the Groote Market lay open before him, his sharp eyes
searched the crowd for a sight of the Stadtholder's plumed bonnet. Soon
he spied his Highness right across the place, with Nicolaes riding
close to his stirrup.
The two horsemen were then tending toward Joris Laan, which leads
straight to the poort.
At that end of the markt the crowd was much less dense, and Joris
Laan beyond appeared practically deserted. It was, you must remember,
from that side that the enemy would descend upon the city when he came,
and the moving throng, if viewed from a height, would now have looked
like a column of smoke when it is all blown one way by the wind.
Already the Stadtholder and Nicolaes had been free to put their horses
to a trot. Another moment and they would be galloping down Joris Laan,
which is but three hundred yards from the poort.
"Oh, God, grant me wings!" Diogenes muttered, between his teeth.
"What are you going to do?" Socrates asked.
"Prevent the Stadtholder from falling into an abominable trap, if I
can," the other replied briefly.
Socrates pointed to the distant corner of the markt, where
Pythagoras could be dimly perceived waiting patiently beside three
"I see the ruffian has stolen a horse," he said. "So long as it is a
fresh one —-"
"I shall need it." Diogenes remarked simply.
"I told him only to get the best, but you can't trust that loon
since good fortune hath made him honest."
The next few seconds brought them to the spot. Pythagoras hailed
them with delight. He was getting tired of waiting. Three horses,
obviously fresh and furnished with excellent saddlery, were here ready.
Even Socrates had a word of praise for his fat compeer's choice.
"Where did you get him from?" he queried, indicating the mount which
Diogenes had without demur selected for himself.
Pythagoras shrugged his shoulder. What did it matter who had been
made the poorer by a good horse? Enough that it was here now, ready to
do service to the finest horseman in the Netherlands. Already Diogenes
had swung himself into the saddle, and now he turned his horse toward
"Where do we go?" the others cried.
"After me!" he shouted in reply.
Nose to heels, the three riders thundered through the city. It was
deserted at this end of it, remember. Thank God for that! And now for a
host of guardian angels to the rescue! Down the Oude Straat they
galloped, their horses' hoofs raising myriads of sparks from the uneven
cobblestones. "God grant me wings!" the leader had cried ere he set
spurs to his horse, and the others followed without an instant's
thought as to the whither or the wherefore. "After me!" he had called;
and they who had fought beside him so often, who had bled with him,
suffered with him, triumphed at times, been merry always, were well
content to follow him now and forget everything in the exhilaration of
A chase it was! They could not doubt it, even though they seemed at
this moment to be speeding in the opposite direction to that pursued by
the Stadtholder and Nicolaes Beresteyn. But they well knew their
friend's way, when he let his mount have free rein and threw up his
head with that air of intense vitality which in him was at its height
when life and death were having a tussle somewhere at the end of a ride.
Down the Oude Straat, which presently abuts on the ramparts. Then
another two hundred yards to Nieuwpoort. No one in sight now. This part
of the city looks like one of the dead. Doors open wide, litter of
every sort encumbering the road. The din from afar, even the ceaseless
tolling of St. Maria bell, seem like dream-sounds, ghost-like and
unreal. Now the poort. Still no one insight. No guard. No sentry. The
gate left open. Here two or three halberds hastily thrown down in some
hurried flight. There a culverin, forlorn looking, gaping wide-mouthed,
like some huge toad yawning, as if astonished or wearied to find itself
deserted. Then again, a pile of muskets. It must have been a sudden
panic that drove the guard from their post. But, thank God, the gate!
Diogenes is already through; after him his two compeers. A quarter
of a league further on they suddenly draw rein. The horses rear,
snorting and tossing, panting with the excitement and fretted with the
curb. The riders blink for a second or two in the glare. The white mist
is positively blinding here, where its sovereignty is unfettered. Just
a clump of trees, way out on the right, here and there a hut with
thatched roof and a piece of low fencing, or the gaunt arms of a
windmill stretched with eerie stillness to the silvery sky. And above
it all the mist — a pale shroud that envelopes everything.
To the east and the south the arid upland plunges head-long through
it into infinity, cloaks within its stern bosom the secrets of the
lurking enemy — the armies of De Berg, the Spanish outposts, the
ambuscades. To the west Utrecht, unseen — and just now two tiny specks
speeding along its road — the Stadtholder and Nicolaes Beresteyn. They
came out into the open through Joris Poort, and are now some four
hundred yards or less from the spot where three panting but exhilarated
philosophers were now filling their lungs with the crisp, humid air.
They looked neither to right nor left. The Stadtholder, easily
recognizable by his plumed bonnet, rides a length or less in advance of
his companion. The fog has not yet swallowed them up. Diogenes takes
all this in. A simple enough picture — the sea-fog and two riders
speeding towards Utrecht. But a swift intaking of his breath, a tight
closing of his firm lips, indicate to the others that all is not as
simple as it seems.
Then a very curious thing happened. At first it seemed nothing. But
to the watchers outside Nieuwpoort it had the same effect as a flash of
lightning would have in an apparently cloudless sky. It began with
Nicolaes Beresteyn drawing his horse close up to the Stadtholder, on
his Highness's right. Then for another few seconds the two riders went
along side by side, like one black speck now, still quite
distinguishable through the fog. Socrates and Pythagoras had their eyes
on Diogenes. But Diogenes did not move. He was frowning, and his face
had a set and tense expression. He had his horse tightly on the curb,
and appeared almost wilfully to fret the animal, who was pawing the
wet, sandy ground and covering itself with lather — a picture of
"What do we do now?" Pythagoras exclaimed at last, unable, just like
the horse, to contain his excitement.
"Wait," Diogenes replied curtly. "All may be well after all."
"In which case?" queried Socrates.
A groan of disappointment rose to a couple of parched throats; but
it was never uttered. What went on in the mist on the road to Utrecht,
four hundred yards away, had stifled it at birth.
The Stadtholder's horse had become restive. A simple matter enough;
but in this case unexplainable, because Maurice of Nassau was a
splendid horseman. He could easily have quietened the animal if there
had not been something abnormal in its sudden antics. It reared and
tossed for no apparent reason, would have thrown a less experienced
"The brute is being teased with a goad," Pythagoras remarked
That was clear enough. Even in the distance, and experienced eye
could have perceived that the horse became more and more unmanageable
every moment, and the Stadtholder's seat more and more precarious. Then
suddenly there came the sharp report of a pistol. The horse, goaded to
madness, took the bit between its teeth, and with a final plunge bolted
across country, away from that strident noise, which, twice repeated at
intervals, had turned its fretfulness into blind panic.
It was at the first report that Socrates and Pythagoras again
glanced at their leader. A gurgle of delight escaped them when they
caught his eye. They had received their orders. The next moment all
three had dug their spurs in their horses' flanks and were galloping
over sand and ditch.
Diogenes' horse, given free rein at last, after the maddening curb
of awhile ago, was soon half a dozen lengths ahead of the others,
tearing along with all its might at right angles to the direction in
which the Stadtholder's panic-stricken animal was rushing like one
possessed. That direction was Ede.
In truth, the low-lying land veiled in sea-fog must at that moment
have presented a very curious spectacle. Maurice of Nassau, Prince of
Orange, the hope and pride of the Netherlands, helpless upon a horse
that was running away with him straight in the direction of the nearest
Three soldiers of fortune, strangers, in the land hastening to
intercept him, and a couple of hundred yards or so behind the
Stadtholder, Nicolaes Beresteyn, puzzled and terror-filled at this
unexpected check to his manoeuvre, pushing along for dear life.
It had been such a splendid scheme, evolved over there in the lonely
mill on the Veluwe, between a reprobate and a traitor. The Spaniards on
the watch. The Stadtholder helpless, whilst his mount carried him
headlong into their hands. What a triumph for Stoutenburg, who had
planned it all, and for Nicolaes Beresteyn, the worker of the infamous
plot! The Stadtholder prisoner in the hands of the Archduchess! His
life the price of the subjection of the Netherlands!
And all to be frustrated by a foolish mischance! Three riders intent
upon intercepting that runaway horse! Who in thunder were they? The
mist, remember, would have blurred Nicolaes' vision. His thoughts were
not just then on the man whom he hated. They were fixed upon the
possibility — remote, alas! — of convincing the Stadtholder after
this that the goaded horse had been the victim of a series of accidents.
Even at this moment the foremost of the three riders had overtaken
the runaway. He galloped for a length or two beside it, then, with a
dexterous and unerring grip, he seized the panic-stricken animal by the
bridle. A few seconds of desperate struggle 'twixt man and beast. Then
man remained the conqueror. The horse, panting, quivering in every
limb, covered in sweat and foam, was finally brought to a standstill,
and the Stadtholder in an instant had his feet clear of the stirrups
and swung himself out of the saddle.
Then, and then only, did Nicolaes Beresteyn recognize the man who
for the second time had frustrated his nefarious plans — the man whom,
because of his easy triumphs, the humiliation which he had inflicted
upon him, because of his careless gaiety and his very joy of life, he
hated with a curious, sinister intensity.
A ferocious imprecation rose to his lips. For awhile everything
became a blank. The present, the future, even the past. Everything
became chaos in his mind, he could no longer think. All that he had
planned became a blur, as if the sea-fog had enveloped his senses as
well as the entire landscape.
But this confused mental state only lasted a very little while — a
few seconds perhaps. Slowly, while he gazed on that distant group of
men and horses, his perceptions became clearer once more. And even
before the imprecation had died on his lips it gave place to a smile of
triumph. Nicolaes Beresteyn had remembered that his Majesty the devil
might well be trusted to care for his own. Had he not served the
hell-born liege lord well?
For the nonce he brought his horse to a halt. It would be worse than
folly to go on. With recognition of those three horsemen over there had
also come the certainty that he was now irretrievably unmasked. The
Stadtholder, his father, his sister, even his young wife, would turn
from him in horror, as from a traitor and an outcast — a pariah,
marked with the brand of Cain.
No! Henceforth, for good or for evil, his fortunes must be linked
openly with Stoutenburg — with the man who wielded such a strange
cabalistic power over him that he (Nicolaes) — rich, newly wed, in a
highly enviable worldly position — had been ready to sacrifice his all
in his cause, and to throw in the last shred of his honour into the
bargain. In Stoutenburg's cause — ay, and in order to be revenged on
the man who had never wronged him save in his conceit — that most
vulnerable spot in the moral armour of such contemptible rogues as was
The spot where he had brought his horse to a halt was immediately
behind a low, deserted hut, which concealed him from view. Here he
dismounted and, throwing the reins over his arm, advanced cautiously to
a point of vantage at the angle of the little building, whence he could
see what those four men were doing over there but himself remain unseen.
They, too, had dismounted, and were obviously intent on examining
the Stadtholder's horse. A sinister scowl spread over Nicolaes
Beresteyn's face. There was still a chance, then, of putting a bullet
in one or other of those two men — the hated enemy or the Stadtholder.
Nicolaes pondered; the scowl on his face became almost satanic in its
expression of cruelty. Awhile ago, he had replaced his pistol in the
holster, after it had served its nefarious purpose. Now he took it out
again and examined it thoroughly.
It had one more charge in it, the devilish charge invented by the
Borgias, the secret of which one of that infamous race had confided to
Stoutenburg. The fumes from the powder when it struck the eyes must
cause irretrievable blindness. Indeed, it had proved its worth already.
Nicolaes, from his hiding-place, could see those four men quite
clearly. The Stadtholder, Diogenes, the two caitiffs, all standing
round the one horse. Then Diogenes took something out of his belt. He
raised his arm, and the next moment a sharp report rang through the
mistladen air. The poor animal rolled over instantly into the mud.
The scowl on Nicolaes' face now gave place once more to a smile of
triumph — more sinister than the frown. With the gesture of a
conqueror, he clutched the pistol more firmly. The potent fumes had, in
truth, wrought their fiendish work on the innocent beast. Diogenes had
just put it out of its misery, and his two familiars were preparing to
mount one of the horses, whilst he and the Stadtholder had the other
two by the reins.
The miscreant was sure enough of his aim, and the others would be
unprepared. He was sure, too, of the swiftness of his horse, and the
Spanish outposts were less than a quarter of a league away, whilst
within half that distance Stoutenburg was on the watch with a vedette,
waiting to capture the Stadtholder on his runaway horse as it had been
Once there he — Nicolaes — would be amongst friends.
Then, why not?
Already the riders had put their horses to a trot. Diogenes and the
Stadtholder on ahead, the two loons some few lengths in their rear. In
less than three minutes they would be within range of Nicolaes' pistol
and its blinding fumes. And Diogenes was riding on the side nearest to
Nicolaes Beresteyn grasped his weapon more firmly. He realized with
infinite satisfaction that his arm was perfectly steady. Indeed, he had
never felt so absolutely calm. The measured tramp of the horses keyed
him up to a point of unswerving determination. He raised his arm. The
horses were galloping now. They would pass like a flash within twenty
paces of him.
The next moment the sharp report of the pistol rang stridently
through the mist. There was a burst, a flash, a column of smoke.
Nicolaes jumped into the saddle and set spurs to his horse. The other
riders went galloping on for a few seconds — not more. Then one of
them swayed in his saddle. Nicolaes then was a couple of hundred yards
"You are hit, man!" the Stadtholder exclaimed. "That abominable
But the words died in his throat. The reins had slipped out of
Diogenes' grasp, and he rolled down into the mud.
A sudden jerk brought the Stadtholder's horse to a halt. He swung
himself out of the saddle, ran quickly to his companion.
"You are hit, man!" he reiterated; this time with an unexplainable
feeling of dread.
The other seemed so still, and yet his clothes and the soft earth
around him showed no stains of blood.
Pythagoras now was also on the spot. He had slid off the horse as
soon as the infamous assassin had started to ride away. Socrates was
trying to give chase. Even now two pistol-shots rang out in quick
succession right across the moorland. But the hell-hound was well
mounted, and the avenging bullets failed to reach their mark. All this
the Stadtholder took in with a rapid glance, even whilst Pythagoras,
round-eyed and scared, was striving with gentle means to raise the
strangely inert figure.
"He hath swooned," the Stadtholder suggested.
The stricken man had one arm across his face. His had had fallen
from his head, leaving the fine, square brow free and the crisp hair
weighted by the sweat of some secret agony. The mouth, too, was
visible, and the chin, with its four days' growth of beard, the mouth
that was always ready with a smile. It was set now in an awesome
contraction of pain, and, withal, that terrible immobility.
Now Socrates was arriving. A moment or two later he, too, had
dismounted, cursing lustily that he had failed to hit the hell-hound. A
mute query, an equally mute reply, was all that passed between him and
Then the stricken man stirred as if suddenly roused to consciousness.
"Are you hit, man?" the Stadtholder queried again.
"No — no!" he replied quickly. "Only a little dazed. That is all."
He raised himself to a sitting posture, helping himself up with his
hands, which sank squelching into the mud; whereat he gave a short
laugh, which somehow went a cold shiver down the listener's spines.
"Where is my hat?" he asked. "Pythagoras, you lazy loon, get me my
He must indeed have been still dazed, for when his friend picked up
the hat and gave it to him, his hand shot out for it quite wide of the
mark. He gave another laugh, short and toneless as before, and set the
hat on his head, pulling down well over his eyes.
"I had a mugful of hot ale at Amersfoort before starting," he said.
"It must have got into my head."
He made no attempt to get to his feet, but just sat there, with his
two slender hands all covered with mud, tightly clasped between his
"Can you get to horse?" his Highness queried at last.
"No," Diogenes replied, "not just yet, an' it please you, I verily
think that I would roll out of my saddle again, which would, in truth,
be a disgusting spectacle."
"But we cannot leave you here, man," the Stadtholder rejoined, with
a slight tone of impatience.
"And why not, I pray you?" he retorted. "Your Highness must get to
Utrecht as quickly as may be. A half-drunken lout like me would only be
His voice was thick now and halting, in very truth like that of a
man who had been drinking heavily. He rested his elbows on his knees
and held his chin between his mud-stained hands.
"Socrates, you lumpish vagabond," he exclaimed all of a sudden,
"don't stand gaping at me like that! Bring forth his Highness's horse
at once, and see that you accompany him to Utrecht without further
mishap, or 'tis with us you'll have to deal on your return!"
"But you, man!" the Stadtholder exclaimed once more.
He felt helpless and strangely disturbed in his mind, not
understanding what all this meant; why this man, usually so alert, so
keen, so full of vigour, appeared for the moment akin to a babbling
"I'll have a good sleep inside that hut, so please you," the other
replied more glibly. "These two ruffians will find me here after they
have seen your gracious Highness safely inside your camp."
Then, as the Stadtholder still appeared to hesitate, and neither of
the others seemed to move, Diogenes added, with an almost desperate
note of entreaty:
"To horse, your Highness, I beg! Every second is precious. Heaven
knows what further devilry lies in wait for you, if you linger here."
"Or for you, man," the Stadtholder murmured involuntarily.
"Nay, not for me!" the other retorted quickly. "The Archduchess and
her gang of vultures fly after higher game than a drunken wayfarer lost
on the flats. To horse, I entreat!"
And once more he pressed his hands together, and so tightly that the
knuckles shone like polished ivory, even through their covering of mud.
The Stadtholder then gave a sign to the two men. It was obviously
futile to continue arguing here with a man who refused to move. He
himself had very rightly said that every second was precious. And every
second, too, was fraught with danger. Already his Highness had
well-nigh been the victim of a diabolical ambuscade, might even at this
hour have been a prisoner in the hands of the enemy, a hostage of
incalculable value, even if his life had been spared, but for the
audacious and timely interference of this man, who now appeared almost
like one partially bereft of reason.
"We'll see you safely inside the hut, at any rate," was his
Highness's last word.
"And I'll not move," Diogenes retorted with a kind of savage
obstinacy, "until the mist has swallowed up your gracious Highness on
the road to Utrecht."
After that there was nothing more to be said. And we may take it
that the Stadtholder got to horse with unaccountable reluctance.
Something in that solitary figure sitting there, with the plumed hat
tilted over his eyes and the slender, mud-stained hands tightly locked
together, gave him a strange feeling of nameless dismay, like a
premonition of some obscure catastrophic tragedy.
But his time and his safety did not belong to himself alone. They
were the inalienable property of a threatened country, that would be
grasping in her death-throes if she were deprived of him at this hour
of renewed and deadly danger. So he gathered the reins in his hands and
set spurs to his horse, and once he had started he did not look behind
him, lest his emotion got the better of his judgement.
The two gossoons immediately followed in his wake. This they did
because the friend they had always been wont to obey had thus
commanded, and his seeming helplessness rendered his orders doubly
imperative at this hour. They rode a length or two behind the
Stadtholder, who presently put his horse to a gallop. Utrecht now was
only a couple of leagues away.
The three horsemen galloped on for a quarter of a league or less at
the same even, rapid pace. Then Pythagoras slackened speed. The others
did not even turn to look at him, he seemed to have done it by tacit
unspoken consent. The Stadtholder and Socrates sped on in the direction
of Utrecht and Pythagoras turned his horse's head round toward the
direction whence he had come.
The afternoon lay heavy and silent upon the plain. There was as yet
no sign of the approach of the enemy from the south, and the low-lying
land appeared momentarily hushed under its veil of mist, as if
conscious of the guilty secret enshrined within its bosom. The fog,
indeed, had thickened perceptibly. It lay like a wall around that
lonely figure, still sitting there on the soft earth, with its head
buried in its hands.
Far away, the gaunt-looking carcase of the dead horse appeared as
the only witness of a hideous deed as yet un-recorded. Each a blurred
and uncertain mass — the dead horse and the lonely figure, equally
motionless, equally pathetic — were now the sole occupants of the vast
and silent immensity.
Not far away, in the little town of Amersfoort, humanity,
panic-stricken and terrorized, filled the air with clamour and with
wails. Here, beneath the ghostly shroud of humid atmosphere, everything
was stilled as if in ghoulish expectancy of something mysterious,
indiscernible which was still to come. It was like the arrested breath
before the tearing cry, the hush which precedes a storm.
Overhead, a flight of rooks sent their melancholy cawing through the
When Pythagoras was within fifty yards of his friend he dismounted,
and, leading his horse by the bridle, he walked toward him. When he was
quite near Diogenes put out a hand to him.
"I knew you would come back, you fat-witted nonny," he said simply.
"Socrates had to go on with the Stadtholder," the other remarked,
"or he'd be here, too." Then he added tentatively: "Will you lean on my
"Yes, I'll have to do that now, old crony, shall I not?" Diogenes
replied. "That devil," he murmured under his breath, "has blinded me!"
CHAPTER IX—MALA FIDES
Nicolaes Beresteyn, riding like one possessed had reached
Stoutenburg's encampment one hour before nightfall. He brought the news
of the failure of his plan for the capture of the Stadtholder, spoke
with many a muttered oath of the Englishman and his two familiars, and
of how they had interposed just in the nick of time to stop the runaway
"But for that cursed rogue!" he exclaimed savagely, "Maurice of
Nassau would now be a prisoner in our hands. We would be holding him to
ransom, earning gratitude, honours, wealth at the hands of the
Archduchess. Whereas — now —-"
But there was solace to the bitterness of this disappointment. The
blinding powder, invented by the infamous Borgia, had done its work.
The abominable rogue, the nameless adventurer, who had twice succeeded
in thwarting the best-laid schemes of his lordship of Stoutenburg, had
paid the full penalty for his audacity and his arrogant interference.
Blind, helpless, broken, an object now of contemptuous pity rather
than of hate, he was henceforth powerless to wreak further mischief.
"Just before I put my horse to a swift gallop," Nicolaes Beresteyn
had concluded, "I saw him sway in the saddle and roll down into the
mud. One of the vagabonds tried to chase me; but my horse bore me well
and I was soon out of his reach."
That news did, indeed compensate Stoutenburg for all the humiliation
which he had endured at the hands of his successful rival in the past.
A rival no longer; for the Laughing Cavalier, blind and helpless, was
not like ever to return to claim his young wealthy wife and to burden
her with his misery. This last tribute to the man's pluck and virility
Stoutenburg paid him unconsciously. He could not visualize that
splendid creature, so full of life and gaiety, and conscious of might
strength, groping his way back to the side of the woman whom he had
dazzled by his power.
"He would sooner die in a ditch," he muttered to himself, under his
breath, "than excite her pity!"
"Then the field is clear for me!" he added exultantly; and fell to
discussing with Nicolaes his chances of regaining Gilda's affections.
"Do you think she ever cared for the rogue?" he queried, with a strange
quiver of emotion in his harsh voice.
Nicolaes was doubtful. He himself had never been in love. He liked
his young wife well enough; she was comely and rich. But love? No, he
could not say.
"She'll not know what has become of him," Stoutenburg said, striving
to allay his own doubts. "And women very quickly forget."
He sighed, proud of his own manly passion that had survived so many
vicissitudes, and was linked to such a tenacious memory.
"We must not let her know," Nicolaes insisted.
Stoutenburg gave a short, sardonic laugh. "Are you afraid she might
kill you if she did?" he queried.
Then, as the other made no reply, but stood there brooding, his soul
a prey to a sudden horror, which was not unlike a vague pang of
remorse, Stoutenburg concluded cynically:
"I'll give the order that every blind beggar found wandering around
the city be forthwith hanged on the nearest tree. Will that allay your
Thereafter he paid no further heed to Nicolaes, whom, in his heart,
he despised for a waverer and a weakling; but he gave orders to his
master of the camp to make an immediate start for Amersfoort.
Amersfoort had, in the meanwhile, so De Voocht avers, become
wonderfully calm. Those whose nerves would not stand the strain of
seeing the hated tyrants once more within the gates of their
peace-loving little city, those who had no responsibilities, and those
who had families, fled at the first rumour of the enemy's approach.
Indeed, for many hours the streets and open places, the quays and the
sleepy, sluggish river, had on the first day been nothing short of a
pandemonium. Then everything gradually became hushed and tranquil.
Those who were panic-stricken had all gone by nightfall; those who
remained knew the risk they were taking, and sat in their homes,
waiting and pondering. Amersfoort that evening might have been a city
of the dead.
Darkness set in early, and the sea-fog thickened at sundown. Some
wiseacres said that the Spaniards would not come until the next day.
They proved to be right. The dawn had hardly spread o'er the whole of
the eastern sky on the morning of the twenty-second, when the master of
the enemy's camp was heard outside the ramparts, demanding the
surrender of the city.
The summons was received in absolute silence. The gates were open,
and the mercenaries marched in. In battle array, with banners flying,
with pikemen, halberdiers and arquebusiers; with fifes and drums and a
trainload of wagons and horses, and the usual rabble of beggarly camp
followers, they descended on the city like locusts; and soon every
tavern was filled to overflowing with loud-voiced, swarthy,
ill-mannered soldiery, and all the streets and places encumbered with
their carts and their horses and their trappings.
They built a bonfire in the middle of the market-place, and all
around it a crowd of out-at-elbows ruffians, men, women, and children,
filled the air with their shrieks and their bibulous songs. Some four
thousand troops altogether, so De Voocht states, spread themselves out
over the orderly, prosperous town, invaded the houses, broke open the
cellars and storehouses, made the day hideous with their noise and
As many as could found shelter in the deserted homes of the
burghers; others used the stately kerks as stabling for their horses
and camping ground for themselves. The inhabitants offered no
resistance. A century of unspeakable tyranny ere they had gained their
freedom had taught them the stern lesson of submitting to the
inevitable. The Stadtholder had ordered them to submit. Until he could
come to their rescue they must swallow the bitter cup of resignation to
the dregs. It could not be for long. He who before now had swept the
Spanish hordes off the sacred soil of the United Provinces could do so
again. It was only a case for a little patience. And patience was a
virtue which these grave sons of a fighting race knew how to practise
to its utmost limit.
And so the burghers of Amersfoort who had remained in the city in
order to watch over its fate and over their property submitted without
murmur to the arrogant demands of the invaders. Their wives ministered
in proud silence to the wants of the insolent rabble. The saw their
dower-chests ransacked, their effects destroyed or stolen, their
provisions wasted and consumed. They waited hand and foot, like serving
wenches, upon their tyrants; for, indeed, it had been the proletariat
who had been the first to flee.
They even succeeded in keeping back their tears when they saw their
husbands — the more noted burghers of the town — dragged as hostages
before the commander of the invading troops, who had taken up his
quarters in the burgomaster's house.
That commander was the Lord of Stoutenburg. In high favour with the
Archduchess now, he had desired leave to carry through this expedition
to Amersfoort. Private grudge against the man who had robbed him of
Gilda, or lust for revenge against the Stadtholder for the execution of
Olden Barneveldt, who can tell? Who can read the inner workings of a
tortuous brain, or appraise the passions of an embittered heart?
Attended by all the sinister paraphernalia which he now affected,
the Lord of Stoutenburg entered Amersfoort in the late afternoon as a
conqueror, his eyes glowing with the sense of triumph over a successful
rival and of power over a disdainful woman. The worthy citizens of the
little town gazed with astonishment and dread upon his sable banner,
broidered in silver with a skull and crossbones — the emblem of his
relentlessness, now that the day of reckoning had come.
He rode through the city, hardly noticing its silent death-like
appearance. Not one glance did he bestow on the closed shutters to the
right or left of him. His eyes were fixed upon the tall pinnacled roof
of the burgomaster's house, silhouetted against the western sky, the
stately abode on the quay where, in the days long since gone by, he had
been received as an honoured guest. Since then what a world of sorrow,
of passion, of endless misery had been his lot! It seemed as if, on the
day when he became false to Gilda Beresteyn in order to wed the rich
and influential daughter of Marnix de St. Aldegonde, fickle fortune had
finally turned her back on him. His father and brother ended their days
of the scaffold; his wife, abandoned by him and broken-hearted; he
himself a fugitive with a price upon his head, a potential assassin,
and that vilest thing on earth, a man who sells his country to her
No wonder that, at a comparatively early age, the Lord of
Stoutenburg looked a careworn and wearied man. The lines on his face
were deep and harsh, his hair was turning grey at the temples. Only the
fire in his deepset eyes was fierce and strong, for it was fed with the
fire of an ever-enduring passion — hatred. Hatred of the Stadtholder;
hatred of the nameless adventurer who had thwarted him at every turn;
hatred of the woman who had shut him out wholly from her heart.
But now the hour of triumph had come. For it had schemed and lied
and striven and never once given way to despair. It had come, crowned
with immeasurable success. The Stadtholder — thanks to the subtle
poison of an infamous Borgia, administered by a black-hearted assassin
— was nothing but a physical wreck; whilst those who had brought him
— Stoutenburg — to his knees three short months ago were at his mercy
at last. A longing as cruel as it was vengeful had possession of his
soul whenever he thought of these two facts.
His schemes were not yet mature, and he had not yet arrived at any
definite conclusion as to how he would reach the ultimate goal of his
desires; but this he did know — that the Stadtholder was too sick to
put up a fight for Amersfoort, and that Gilda and her stranger lover
were definitely parted, and both of them entirely in his power. Their
fate was as absolutely in his hands as his had once been in theirs. And
the Lord of Stoutenburg, with his eyes raised to the pinnacled roof of
the house that sheltered the woman whom he still loved with such
passionate ardour, felt that for the first time for this man a year he
might count himself as almost happy.
Nicolaes Beresteyn was among the last to enter his native city. He
did so as a shameless traitor, a dishonoured gambler who had staked his
all upon a hellish die. Indeed now he seemed like a man possessed,
careless of his crime, exulting in it even. The vague fear of meeting
his father and Gilda eye to eye seemed somehow to add zest to his
adventure. He did not know how much they knew, or what they guessed,
but felt a strange thrill within his tortuous soul at the thought of
standing up before them as their master, of defying them and deriding
His young wife he knew to be away. Her father had started off for
Amsterdam with his family and his servants at the first rumour of the
enemy's approach. In any case she was his. She and her wealth and
Mynheer van den Poele's influence and business connexions. He —
Nicolaes — who had always been second in his father's affections
always subservient to Gilda and to Gilda's interests, and who since
that affair in January had been treated like a skulking schoolboy in
the paternal home, would now rule there as a conqueror, a protector on
whose magnanimity the comfort of the entire household would depend.
These and other thoughts — memories, self-pity, rage, too, and
hatred, and imputations against fate — coursed through his mind as he
rode into his native city at the head of the rearguard of Stoutenburg's
troops. He drew rein outside his father's house. Not the slightest
stirring of his dormant conscience troubled him as he ran swiftly up
the familiar stone steps.
With the heavy basket-hilt of his rapier he rapped vigorously
against the stout oak panels of the door, demanding admittance in the
name of the Archduchess Isabella, Sovereign Liege Lady of the
Netherlands. At once the doors flew open, as if moved by a spring. Two
elderly serving-men stood alone in the hall, silent and respectful.
At the sight of their young master they both made a movement as if
to run to him, deluded for the moment into hopes of salvation, relief
from this awful horror of imminent invasion. But he paid no heed to
them. His very look chilled them and froze the words of welcome upon
their lips, as he strode quickly past them into the hall.
The shades of evening were now rapidly drawing in. Except for the
two serving-men, the house appeared deserted. In perfect order, but
strangely still and absolutely dark. As he looked about him, Nicolaes
felt as if he were in a vault. A cold shiver ran down his spine. Curtly
he bade the men bring lighted candles into the banqueting-hall.
Here, too, silence and darkness reigned. In the huge monumental
hearth a few dying embers were still smouldering, casting a warm glow
upon the red tiles, and flicking the knobs and excrescences of the
brass tools with minute crimson sparks.
Nicolaes felt his nerves tingling. He groped his way to one of the
windows, and with an impatient hand tore at the casement. Stoutenburg's
troops were now swarming everywhere. The quay was alive with movement.
Some of the soldiers were bivouacking against the house, had build up a
fire, the ruddy glow of which, together with the flicker of resin
torches, thew a weird and uncertain light into the room. Nicolaes felt
his teeth chattering with cold. His hands were like fire. Could it be
that he was afraid — afraid that in a moment or two he would hear
familiar footsteps coming down the stairs, that in a moment or two he
would have to face the outraged father, come to curse his traitor son?
Bah! This was sheer cowardice! But a brief while ago he had exulted
in his treachery, gloried in his callous disregard of his monstrous
crime. How it seemed to him that a pair of sightless yet still mocking
eyes glared at him from out the gloom. With a shudder and a quickly
smothered cry of horror, Nicolaes buried his face in his hands.
The next moment the two serving-men came in, carrying lighted
candles in heavy silver candelabra. These they set upon the table; and
one of them, kneeling beside the hearth, plied the huge bellows,
coaxing the dying embers into flame. After which they stood
respectfully by, awaiting further commands. Obviously they had had
their orders — absolute obedience and all those outward forms of
respect which they were able to accord. Nicolaes looked at them with a
fierce, defying glance. He knew them both well. Greybeards in the
service of his father, they had seen the young master grow up from
cradle to this hour when he stood, a rebel and a skunk, on the paternal
But they did not flinch under his glance. They knew that they had
been specially chosen for the unpleasant task of waiting upon the enemy
commanders because their tempers had no longer the ebullience of youth,
and they might be trusted to remain calm in the face of arrogance or
even of savagery — even in the face of Mynheer Nicolaes, the child
they had loved, the youth they had admired, now a branded traitor, who
had come like a thief in the night to barter his honour for a crown of
A certain commotion outside on the quay proclaimed the fact that the
commander of the troops, the Lord of Stoutenburg, had entered the town
at the head of his bodyguard, and followed by his master of the camp
and his equerries.
He, too, made straight for the burgomaster's house, brought his
horse to a halt at the foot of the stone steps. With a curt nod,
Nicolaes bade the old crones to run to the front door and receive his
Magnificence. In this, as in everything else, the men obeyed at once
and in silence.
But already Stoutenburg, preceded by his equerries and his
torchbearers, had stepped across the threshold. He knew his way well
about the house. As boys, he and his brother Groeneveld had played
their games in and around the intricate passages and stairs. As a young
man he had sat in the deep window embrasures, holding Gilda's hand,
taking delight in terrifying her with his impetuous love, and forcing
her consent to his suit by his masterful wooing. A world of memories,
grave and gay, swept over him as he entered the banqueting-hall, where,
but for his many misfortunes — as he callously called h is crimes —
he would one day have sat at the bridegroom's table beside Gilda, his
Both he and Nicolaes felt unaccountably relieved at meeting one
another here. For both of them, no doubt, the silence and gloom of this
memory-haunted house would in the long run have proved unendurable.
"I did not know that I should meet you here," Stoutenburg exclaimed,
as he grasped his friend by the hand.
"I thought it would be best," Nicolaes replied curtly.
But this warm greeting from the infamous arch-traitor, in the
presence of the two loyal old servants, brought a hot flush to the
young man's brow. The last faint warning from his drugged conscience,
mayhap. But the feeling of shame faded away as swiftly as it had come,
and the next moment he was standing by, impassive and seemingly
unconcerned, while the Lord of Stoutenburg gave his orders to the men.
These orders were to prepare the necessary beds for my lord and
for Mynheer Nicolaes Beresteyn, also for the equerries, and proper
accommodation for my lord's bodyguard, which consisted of twenty
musketeers with their captain. Moreover, to provide supper for his
Magnificence and mynheer in the banqueting-hall, and for the rest of
the company in some other suitable room, without delay.
The two old crones took the orders in silence, bowed, and prepared
to leave the room.
"Stay," my lord commanded. "Where is the burgomaster?"
"In his private apartments, so please you," one of the men replied.
"And his daughter?"
"The jongejuffrouw is with Mynheer the Burgomaster."
"Tell them both I want them to sup here with me and Mynheer
Again the men bowed with the same silent dignity. It was impossible
to gather from their stolid, mask-like faces what their thoughts might
be at this hour. When they had gone, Stoutenburg peremptorily dismissed
"If you have anything to complain of in this house," he said curtly,
"come and report to me at once. To-morrow we leave at dawn."
Both the equerries gave a gasp of astonishment.
"To-morrow?" one of them murmured, apparently quite taken aback by
"At dawn," Stoutenburg reiterated briefly.
This was enough. Neither did the equerries venture on further
remarks. They had served for some time now under his Magnificence, knew
his obstinacy and the irrevocableness of his decisions when once he had
"No further commands until then, my lord?" was all that the
"None for you," Stoutenburg replied curtly. "But tell Jan that the
moment — the moment, you understand — that the burgomaster enters
this room, he is to be prevented from doing any mischief. If he carries
a weapon, he must at once be disarmed; if he resists, there should be a
length of rope handy wherewith to tie his hands behind his back. But
otherwise I'll not have him hurt. Understand?"
"Perfectly, my lord," the equerry gave answer. " 'Tis simple enough."
Now the two friends — brothers in crime — were alone in the vast,
Nicolaes had said nothing, made no movement of indignation or
protest, when the other delivered his monstrous and treacherous
commands against the personal liberty of the burgomaster. He had sat
sullen and glowering, his head resting against his hand.
Stoutenburg looked down on him for a moment or two, his deep-set
eyes full of that contempt which he felt for this weak-kneed and
conscience-plagued waverer. Then he curtly advised him to leave the
"You might not think it seemly," he remarked with a sneer, "to be
present when I take certain preventive measures against your father.
These measures are necessary, else I would not take them. You would not
have him spitting some of our men, or mayhap do himself or Gilda some
injury, would you?"
"I was not complaining," Nicolaes retorted dryly.
Indeed, he obeyed readily enough. Now that the time had come to meet
his father, he shrank from the ordeal with horror. It would have come,
of course; but, like all weak natures, Nicolaes was always on the side
of procrastination. He rose without another word, and, avoiding the
main door of the banqueting-hall, he went out by the back one, which
gave on a narrow antechamber and thence on the service staircase.
"I'll remain in the ante-chamber," he said. "Call me when you wish."
Stoutenburg shrugged his shoulders. He was glad to remain alone for
awhile — alone with that wealth of memories which would not be chased
away. Memories of childhood, of adolescence, of youth untainted with
crime; of love, before greed and ambition had caused him to betray so
basely the girl who had believed in him.
"If Gilda had remained true to me," he sighed, with almost cynical
inconsequence, exacting fidelity where he had given none. "If she had
stuck to me that night in Haarlem everything would have been different."
He went up to the open window, and, leaning his arm against the
mullion, he gazed upon the busy scene below. The current of cold, humid
air appeared to do him good. His arquebusiers and pikemen, bivouacking
round the spluttering fires, striving to keep the damp air out of their
stiffening limbs; the shouts, the songs, the peremptory calls; the
shrieks of frightened women and children; the loud Spanish oaths; the
medley of curses in every tongue — all this confused din pertaining to
strife seemed to work like a tonic upon his brooding spirit. A blind
beggar soliciting alms among the soldiery chased all softer thoughts
"Hey, there!" he shouted fiercely, to one of the soldiers who
happened just then to have caught his eye, "Have I not given orders
that every blind beggar lurking around the city be hung to the nearest
The men laughed. A monstrously tyrannical order such as that suited
their present mood.
"But this one was inside the city, so please your Magnificence," one
of them protested with a cynical laugh, "when we arrived."
"All the more reason why he should be hung forthwith!" Stoutenburg
riposted savagely in reply.
A loud guffaw greeted this inhuman order. His Magnificence was
loudly cheered, his health drunk in deep goblets of stolen wine. Then a
search was made for the blind beggar. But he, luckily for himself, had
in the meanwhile taken to his heels.
The next moment a slight noise behind him caused the Lord of
Stoutenburg to turn on his heel. The door had been thrown open, and the
burgomaster, having his daughter on his arm, stood upon the threshold.
He was dressed in his robes of office, with black cloak and velvet
bonnet; but he wore a steel gorget round his neck and rapier by his
At the sight of his arch enemy, he had paused under the lintel, and
the ashen pallor of his cheeks became more marked. But he had no time
to move, for in an instant Jan and three or four men were all around
At this treacherous onslaught a fierce oath escaped Beresteyn's
lips. In an instant his sword was out of its scabbard, he himself at
bay, covering Gilda with his body, and facing the men who had thus
scurrilously rushed on him out of the gloom.
But obviously resistance was futile. Already he was surrounded and
disarmed, Gilda torn forcibly away from him, thrust into a corner,
whilst he himself was rendered helpless, even though he fought and
struggled magnificently. The whole unequal combat had only lasted a few
seconds; and now the grand old man stood like a fettered lion,
glowering and defiant, his hands tied behind his back with a length of
rope, against which he was straining with all his might.
One of the most disloyal pitfalls ever devised against an
unsuspecting civilian — and he the chief dignitary of a peace-loving
city. Stoutenburg watched the scene with an evil glitter in his
restless eyes. Shame and compunction did, in truth, bear no part in his
emotions at this moment. He was exulting in the thought of his vile
stratagem, pleased that he had thought of enticing Gilda hither by
summoning her father at the same time. It was amusing to watch them
both — the burgomaster still dignified, despite his helplessness, and
Gilda beautiful in her indignation. By St. Bavon, the girl was lovely,
and still desirable. And thank Beelzebub and all the powers of darkness
who lent their aid in placing so exquisite a prize in the hands of the
Stoutenburg could have laughed aloud with glee. As it was, he made
an effort to appear both masterful and indifferent. He knew that he
could take his time, that any scheme which he might formulate for his
own advancement and the satisfaction of his every ambition was now
certain of success. The future was entirely his, to plan and mould at
So now he deliberately turned back to the window, closed it with a
hand that had not the slightest tremor in it. Then he returned to the
centre of the room, sat down beside the table, and took on a cool and
judicial air. All his movements were consciously slow. He looked at the
burgomaster and at Gilda with ostentatious irony, remained silent for
awhile as if in pleasant contemplation of their helplessness. "You are
in suspense," his silence seemed to express. "You know that your fate
is in my hands. But I can afford to wait, to take mine ease. I am lord
of the future, and you are little better than my slaves."
"Was it not foolishness to resist, mynheer?" he said at last, in a
tone of gentle mockery. "Bloodshed, eh? In truth, the role of
fire-eater ill becomes your dignity and your years."
"Spare me your insults, my lord," Beresteyn retorted, with calm
dignity. "What is your pleasure with my daughter and with me?"
"I will tell you anon," Stoutenburg replied coolly, "when you are
"I am ready now to hear your commands."
"Quite submissive, eh?" the other retorted with a sneer.
"No; only helpless, and justly indignant at this abominable outrage."
"Also surprised — what? — at seeing me here to-night?"
"In truth, my lord, I had not expected to see the son of Olden
Barneveldt at the head of enemy troops."
"Or your son in his train, eh?"
The burgomaster winced at the taunt. But he rejoined quite simply:
"If what rumour says is true, my lord, then I have no son."
"If," Stoutenburg retorted dryly, "rumour told you that Nicolaes
Beresteyn hath returned to his allegiance, then the jade did not lie.
Your son, mynheer, hath shown you which way loyalty lies. Not in the
service of a rebel prince, but in that of Archduchess Isabella, our
He paused, as if expecting some word of reply from the burgomaster;
but as the latter remained silent, he went on more lightly:
"But enough of this. Whether you, Mynheer Beresteyn, and your son do
make up your differences presently is no concern of mine. You will see
him anon, no doubt, and can then discuss your family affairs at your
leisure. For the nonce, I do desire to know whether your city intends
to be submissive. I have exercised great leniency up to this hour; but
you must remember that I am equally ready to punish at the slightest
sign of contumely or of resistance to my commands."
"For the leniency to which the Lord of Stoutenburg lays claim,"
Beresteyn rejoined with perfect dignity, "in that, up to this hour he
has not murdered our peaceful citizens, burned down our houses, or
violated our homes, we tender him our thanks. As for the future, the
treacherous pitfall into which I have fallen, and the unwarrantable
treatment that is meted out to me, will mayhap prove to my unfortunate
fellow-citizens that resistance to overwhelming force is worse than
"Excellent sentiments, mynheer!" Stoutenburg retorted. "Dictated, I
make no doubt, by one who knows the usages of war."
"We do all of us," the burgomaster gave quiet answer, "obey the
behests of our Stadtholder, our Sovereign Liege."
"The rebel prince, mynheer, who, by commanding you to submit, hath
for once gauged rightly the temper of the Sovereign whom he hath
outraged. Will you tell me, I pray you," Stoutenburg added, with a
sardonic grin, "whether the jongejuffrouw your daughter is equally
prepared to obey Maurice of Nassau's behests and submit to my commands?"
At this cruel thrust an almost imperceptible change came over the
burgomaster's calm, dignified countenance; and even this change was
scarce noticeable in the uncertain, flickering light of the wax
candles. Perhaps he had realized, for the first time, the full horror
of his position, the full treachery of the snare which had been laid
for him, and which left him, pinioned and helpless, at the mercy of an
unscrupulous and cowardly enemy. Not only him, but also his daughter.
A groan like that of a wounded beast escaped his lips, and his
powerful arms and shoulders strained at the cords that fettered him.
Nevertheless, after a very brief moment of silence he rejoined with
perfect outward calm:
"My daughter, my lord, was under my protection until vile treachery
rendered me helpless. Now that her father can no longer watch over her,
she is under the protection of every man of honour."
"That is excellently said, mynheer," Stoutenburg replied. "And in a
few words you have put the whole situation tersely and clearly. You
have orders from the Stadtholder to obey my commands; therefore I do
but make matters easier for you by having you removed to your
apartments, instead of merely commanding you to return thither — an
order which, if you were free, you might have been inclined to disobey."
"A truce on your taunts, my lord!" broke in the burgomaster firmly.
"What is your pleasure with us?"
"Just what I have had the honour to tell you," Stoutenburg replied
coolly. "That you return forthwith to your apartments."
"But my daughter, my lord?"
"She sups here, with her brother Nicolaes and with me."
" 'Tis only my dead body you'll drag away from here," the
burgomaster rejoined quietly.
Once more Stoutenburg broke into that harsh, mirthless laugh which
had become habitual to him and which seemed to find its well-spring in
the bitterness of his soul.
"Fine heroics, mynheer!" he said derisively. "But useless, I fear
me, and quite unnecessary. Were I to assure you that your daughter hath
ceased to rouse the slightest passion in my heart or to stir my senses
in any way, you would mayhap not credit me. Yet such is the case. The
jongejuffrouw, I'll have you believe, will be as safe with me as would
the ugliest old hag out of the street."
"Nevertheless, my lord," Beresteyn rejoined with calm dignity,
"whilst I live I remain by my daughter's side."
Stoutenburg shrugged his shoulders.
"Jan," he called, "take mynheer the burgomaster back to his
apartments. I have no further use for him."
Mynheer Beresteyn was still a comparatively young and vigorous man.
In his day, he had been counted one of the finest soldiers in the
armies of the Prince of Orange, and had accomplished prodigies of skill
and valour at Turnhout and Ostend. The feeling that at this moment,
when he would have given his life to protect his daughter, he was
absolutely helpless, was undoubtedly the most cruel blow he had ever
had to endure at the hands of Fate. His eyes, pathetic in their mute
appeal for forgiveness, sought those of Gilda. She had remained
perfectly still all this while, silent in the dark corner whither Jan
and the soldiers had thrust her at their first onslaught on the
burgomaster. But she had watched the whole scene with ever-increasing
horror, not at thought of herself, of her own danger, only of her
father and all that he must be suffering. Now her one idea was to
reassure him, to ease the burden of sorrow and of wrath which his own
impotence must have laid upon his brave soul.
Before any of the men could stop her, she had evaded them. Swift and
furtive as a tiny lizard, she had wormed her way between them to her
father's side. Now she had her arms round his neck, her head against
"Do not be anxious because of me, father dear," she whispered under
her breath. "God hath us all in His keeping. Have no fear for me."
A deep groan escaped the old man's breast. His eyes, fierce and
indignant, rested with an expression of withering contempt upon his
"Jan," Stoutenburg broke in harshly, "didst not hear my commands?"
Four pairs of hands immediately closed upon the burgomaster. He,
like a creature at bay, started to struggle.
"Some one knock that old fool on the head!" his lordship shouted
with a fierce oath.
And Jan raised his fist, overwilling to obey. But, with a loud cry
of indignation, Gilda had already interposed. She seized the man's
wrist with her own small hands and turned flaming eyes upon Stoutenburg.
"Violence is unnecessary, my lord," she said, vainly striving to
speak coolly and firmly. "My father will go quietly, and I will remain
here to listen to what you have to say."
"Bravely spoken!" Stoutenburg rejoined with a sneer. "And you,
Mynheer Beresteyn, would do well to learn wisdom at so fair a source.
You and your precious daughter will come to no harm if you behave like
reasonable beings. There is such a thing," he added cynically, "as
submitting to the inevitable."
"Do not trust him, Gilda," the old man cried. "False to his country,
false to his wife and kindred, every word which he utters is a lie or a
"Enough of this wrangle," Stoutenburg exclaimed, wrathful and
hoarse. "Jan, take that ranting dotard away!"
Then it was that, just before the men had time to close in all round
the burgomaster, Gilda, placing one small, white hand upon her father's
arm, pointed with the other to the door at the far end of the room.
Instinctively the old man's glance turned in that direction. The door
was open, and Nicolaes stood upon the threshold. He had heard his
father's voice, Stoutenburg's brutal commands, his sister's cry of
"Nicolaes is here, father dear," Gilda said simply. "God knows that
he is naught but an abominable traitor, yet methinks that even he hath
not fallen so low as to see his own sister harmed before his eyes."
At sight of his son an indefinable look had spread over the
burgomaster's face. It seemed as if an invisible and ghostly hand had
drawn a filmy grey veil all over it. And a strange hissing sound — the
intaking of a laboured sigh — burst through his tightly set lips.
"Go!" he cried to his son, in a dull, toneless voice, which
nevertheless could be heard, clear and distinct as a bell, from end to
end of the vast hall. "A father's curse is potent yet, remember!"
Nicolaes broke into a forced and defiant laugh, tried to assume a
jaunty, careless air, which ill agreed with his pallid face and wild,
scared eyes. But, before he could speak, Jan and the soldiers had
finally seized the burgomaster and forcefully dragged him out of the
CHAPTER X—A PRINCE OF DARKNESS
Gilda had seen her father dragged away from her side without a tear.
Whatever tremor of apprehension made her heart quiver after she had
seen the last of him, she would not allow these two men to see.
She was not afraid. When a woman has suffered as Gilda had suffered
during these past two days, there is no longer in her any room for
fear. Not for physical fear, at any rate. All her thoughts, her hopes,
her anxieties were concentrated on the probable fate of her beloved.
That unerring instinct which comes to human beings when they are within
measurable distance of some acute, unknown danger amounts at times to
second sight. This was the case with Gilda. With the eyes of her soul
she could see and read something of what went on in her enemy's
tortuous brain. She could see that he knew something about her beloved,
and that he meant to use that knowledge for his own abominable ends.
What these were she could not divine. Prescience did not go quite so
far. But it had served her in this, that when her father was taken away
she had just sufficient time and strength of will to brace herself up
for the ordeal which was to come.
It is always remarkable when a woman, young and brought up in
comparative seclusion and ignorance, is able to face moral danger with
perfect calm and cool understanding. It was doubly remarkable in the
case of a young girl like Gilda. She was only just twenty, had been the
idol of her father; motherless, she had no counsels from those of her
own sex, and there are always certain receptacles in a woman's soul
which she will never reveal to the most loving, most indulgent father.
Three months ago, this same absolutely innocent, unsophisticated
girl had suddenly been confronted with the vehement, turbulent passions
of men. She had seen them in turmoil all round her — love, hatred,
vengeance, treachery — she herself practically the pivot around which
they raged. Out of the deadly strife she had emerged pure, happy in the
arms of the man whom her wondrous adventures as much as his brilliant
personality had taught her to love.
Since then her life had been peaceful and happy. She had allowed
herself to be worshipped by that strangely captivating lover of hers,
whose passionately wilful temperament, tempered by that persistent,
sunny gaiety she had up to now only half understood. He made her laugh
always made her taste a strange and exquisite bliss when he held her in
his arms. But withal she had up till now kept an indulgent smile in
reserve for his outbursts of vehemence, for his wayward, ofttimes
irascible moods, his tearing impatience when she was away from him. Her
love for him in the past had been almost motherly in its tenderness.
Somehow, with his absence, with the danger which threatened him, all
that had become changed, intensified. The tenderness was still in her
heart for him, an exquisite tenderness which caused her sheer physical
ache now, when her mind conjured up that brief vision which she had had
of him yesterday morning, wearied, with shoulders bent, his face
haggard above a three-day's growth of beard, his eyes red-rimmed and
sunken. But with that tenderness there was mingled at this hour a
feeling which was akin to fierceness — the primeval desire of the
woman to defend and protect her beloved — that same tearing impatience
with Fate, of which he had been wont to suffer, for keeping him away
from her sheltering arms.
Oh, she understood his vehemence now! No longer could she smile at
his fretfulness. She, too, was a prey at this hour to a wildly
emotional mood, tempest-tossed and spirit-stirring; her very soul
crying out for him. And she hated — ay, hated with an intensity which
she herself scarcely could apprise — this man whom she knew to be his
"Sit down, sister; you are overwrought."
Nicolaes' cool, casual words brought her straightway back to
reality. Quietly, mechanically she took the seat which he was offering
— a high-backed, velvet-covered chair — the one in which the
Stadtholder had sat at her wedding feast. She closed her eyes, and sat
for a moment or two quite still. Visions of joy and of happiness must
not obtrude their softly insidious presence beside the stern demands of
the moment. Stoutenburg brought a footstool, and placed it to her feet.
She felt him near her, but would not look on him, and he remained for
awhile on his knees close beside her, she unable to move away from him.
"How beautiful you are!" he murmured, under his breath.
Her hand was resting on the arm of her chair. She felt his lips upon
it, and quickly drew it back, wiping it against her gown as if a slimy
worm had left its trail upon her fingers Seeing which, he broke into a
savage curse and jumped to his feet.
"I thank you for the reminder, mejuffrouw," he said coldly.
After which he sat down once more beside the long centre table, at
some little distance from her, but so that the light from the candles
fell upon her dainty figure, graceful and dignified against the
background of the velvet-covered chair, the while his own face remained
in shadow. Nicolaes, nervous and restless, was pacing up and down the
"Allow me, mejuffrouw," Stoutenburg began coolly after awhile, "to
tender you my sincere regrets for the violence to which necessity alone
compelled me to subject the burgomaster; a worthy man, for whom,
believe me, I entertain naught but sincere regard."
"I pray you, my lord," she retorted with complete self-possession,
"to spare me this mockery. Had you not determined to put an insult on
me, an insult which, apparently, you dared not formulate in the
presence of my father. You had not, of a certainty subjected him to
such an outrage."
"You misunderstand my motives, mejuffrouw. There was, and is, no
intention on my part to insult you. Surely, as you yourself very
rightly said just now, your brother's presence is sufficient guarantee
"I said that, in order to quieten my father's fears. The treacherous
snare which you laid for him, my lord, is proof enough of your cowardly
"You do yourself no good, mejuffrouw," rejoined the lord of
Stoutenburg harshly, "by acrimony or defiance. I had to lure your
father hither, else he would not have allowed you to come. Violence to
you — though you may not believe it — would be repellent to me. But,
having got you both here, I had to rid myself of him, using what
violence was necessary."
"And why, I pray you, had you, as you say, to rid yourself of my
father? Were you afraid of him?"
"No," he replied; "but I am compelled to put certain matters before
you for your consideration, and did not desire that you should be
influenced by him."
A quick sigh of satisfaction — or was it excitement? — escaped her
breast. Fretful of all these preliminaries, which she felt were but the
opening gambits of his dangerous game, she was thankful that, at last,
he was coming to the point.
"Let us begin, mejuffrouw," Stoutenburg resumed, after a moment's
deliberation, "by assuring you that the whereabouts of that gallant
stranger who goes by the name of Diogenes are known to me and to your
brother Nicolaes. To no one else."
He watched her keenly while he spoke. Shading his eyes with his
hand, he took in every transient line of her face, noted the pallor of
her cheeks, the pathetic droop of the mouth. But he was forced to own
that at that curt announcement, wherewith he had intended to startle
and to hurt, not the slightest change came over her. She still sat
there, cool and impassive, her head resting against the velvet cushion
of the chair, the flickering light of the candle playing with the loose
tendrils of her golden hair. Her eyes he could not see, for they were
downcast, veiled by the delicate, blue-veined lids; but of a surety,
not the slightest quiver marred the perfect stillness of her lips.
In truth, she had expected some such statement from that execrable
traitor. Her intuition had not erred when it told her that, in some
subtle, devilish way, he would use the absence of her beloved as a tool
wherewith to gain what he had in view. Now what she realized most
vividly was that she must not let him see that she was afraid. Not even
let him guess if she were hurt. She must keep up a semblance of
callousness before her enemy for as long as she could. With her
self-control, she would lose her most efficacious weapon. Therefore,
for the next minute or two, she dared not trust herself to speak, lest
her voice, that one uncontrollable thing, betrayed her.
"I await your answer, mejuffrouw," Stoutenburg resumed impatiently,
"You have asked me no question, my lord," she rejoined simply. "Only
stated a fact. I but wait to hear your further pleasure."
"My pleasure, fair one," he went on lightly, "is only to prove to
you that I, as ever before, am not only your humble slave but also your
"A difficult task, my lord. But let me see, without further
preamble, I pray you, how you intend to set about it."
"By trying to temper your sorrow with my heartfelt sympathy," he
"I am forced to impart sad news to you, alas!"
"My husband is dead?" The cry broke from her heart, and this time
she was unable to check it. Will and pride had been easy enough at
first. Oh, how easy! But not now. Not in the face of this! She would
have given worlds to appear calm, incredulous. But how could she? How
could she, when such a torturing vision had been conjured up before her
For a moment it seemed as if reason itself began to totter. She
looked on the man before her, and he appeared like a ghoulish fiend,
with grinning jaws and sinister eyes, the play of light behind him
making his face appear black and hideous. She put her hands up to her
face, closed her eyes, and, oh, Heaven, how she prayed for strength!
None indeed but an implacable enemy, a jealous suitor, could have
seen such soul-agony without relenting. But Stoutenburg was one of
those hard natures which found grim pleasure in wounding and torturing.
His love for Gilda, intensely passionate but never tender, was nothing
now but fierce desire for mastership of her and vengeance upon his
successful rival. The girl's involuntary cry of misery had been as balm
to his evil soul. Now her hands dropped once more on her lap. She
looked at him straight between the eyes, her own still a little wild,
lit by a feverish brightness.
"You have killed him," she said huskily. "Is that it? Answer me! You
have killed him?"
He put up his hand, smiling, as if to soothe a crying child.
"Nay! On my honour!" he replied quietly. "I have not seen that
gallant adventurer these three months past."
"Ask your brother Nicolaes, fair one. He saw him but a few hours
"Ay, yesterday," she retorted. "When he tried to assassinate him. I
saw the murderous hand uplifted; I saw it all I tell you! And in my
heart I cursed my only brother for the vile traitor that he is. But,
thank Heaven, my lord was only hurt. I believe —-"
She paused, put her hand up to her throat. The glance in
Stoutenburg's eyes gave her a feeling as if she were about to choke.
"You are quite right, mejuffrouw," he broke in drily, "in believing
that the intrepid Englishman who, for reasons best known to himself,
hath chosen to meddle in the affairs of this country — that he, I say,
was only hurt when your brother interposed yesterday betwixt him and
the Stadtholder. The two ragamuffins who usually hang around him did
probably save him from further punishment at the moment. But not
altogether. Nicolaes will tell you that, half an hour later, that same
intrepid and meddlesome English gentleman did once more try to
interfere in the affairs of our Sovereign Liege the Archduchess
Isabella. This time with serious consequences to himself."
"My brother Nicolaes," she murmured, more quietly this time, "hath
killed my husband?"
"No, no!" here broke in Nicolaes at last. "The whole thing, I vow,
was the result of an accident."
"What whole thing?" she reiterated slowly. "I pray you to be more
explicit. What hath happened to my husband?"
"The explosion of a pistol," Nicolaes stammered, shamed out of his
defiance at seeing his sister's misery, yet angered with himself for
this weakness. "He is not dead, I swear!"
"Maimed?" she asked.
"Blind," Nicolaes replied, "but otherwise well. I swear it!" he
protested, shutting his ears to Stoutenburg's scornful laugh, his eyes
to the other's sardonic grin, his miserably weak nature swaying like a
pendulum 'twixt his ambition, his hatred of the once brilliant soldier
of fortune, and his dormant tenderness for the sweet and innocent
sister to whom his treacherous hand had dealt such a devilish blow.
There was silence in the room now. Gilda had uttered no cry when
that same blow fell on her like a crash. It had seemed to snap the very
threads that held her to life. One sigh, and one only, came through her
lips, like the dying call of a wounded bird. All feeling, all emotion,
seemed suddenly to have died out of her, leaving her absolutely numb,
scarcely conscious, with wide, unseeing eyes staring straight out
before her, striving to visualize that splendid creature, that
embodiment of gaiety, of laughter, of careless insouciance, stricken
with impotence; those merry, twinkling eyes sightless. The horror of it
was so appalling that it placed her for the moment beyond the power of
suffering. She was not a human being now at all; she had no soul, no
body, no life. Her senses had ceased to be. She neither saw nor heard
nor felt. She was just a thing, a block of insentient stone into which
life would presently begin to trickle slowly, bringing with it a misery
such as could not be endured even by lost souls in hell.
How the time went by she did not know.
Just before this awful thing had happened she had chanced to look at
the clock. It was then five minutes to eight. But all this was in the
past. She no longer heard the ticking of the clock, nor her enemy's
laboured breathing, nor Nicolaes' shuffling footsteps at the far end of
the room. Fortunately, she could not see the triumph, the ominous
sparkle, which glittered in Stoutenburg's eyes. He knew well enough
what she suffered, or would be suffering anon when consciousness would
return. Knew and revelled in it. He was like those inquisitors, the
unclean spirits that waited on Spanish tyranny, who found their delight
in watching the agony of their victims on the rack; who treasured every
groan, exulted over every cry, wrung by unendurable bodily pain. Only
with him it was the moral agony of those whom he desired to master that
caused him infinite bliss. His stygian nature attained a demoniacal
satisfaction out of the mental torture which he was able to inflict.
It is an undoubted fact that even the closest scrutiny of
contemporary chronicles has failed to bring to light a single redeeming
feature in this man's character, and all that the most staunch
supporters of the Barneveldt family can bring forward in mitigation of
Stoutenburg's crimes is the fact that his whole soul had been warped by
the judicial murder of his father and of his elder brother, by his own
consequent sufferings and those of his unfortunate mother.
"You will, I hope, mejuffrouw, give me the credit of having tried to
break this sad news to you as gently as I could."
The words, spoken in smooth, silky tones were the first sounds that
reached Gilda's returning perceptions. What had occurred in between she
had not the vaguest idea. She certainly was still sitting in the same
chair, with that sinister creature facing her, and her brother Nicolaes
skulking somewhere in the gloom. The fire was still cracking in the
hearth, the clock still ticking with insentient monotony. A tiny fillet
of air caused the candle-light to flicker, and sent a thin streak of
smoke upwards in an ever-widening spiral.
That streak of smoke was the first thing that Gilda saw. It arrested
her eyes, brought her back slowly to consciousness. Then came
Stoutenburg's hypocritical tirade. Her senses were returning one by
one. She even glanced up at the clock. It marked three minutes before
eight. Only two minutes had gone by. One hundred and twenty seconds.
And they appeared longer than the most phantasmagoric conception of
eternity. Two minutes! And she realized that she was alive, that she
could feel, and that her beloved was sightless. Was it at all strange
that, with return to pulsating life, there should arise within her that
indestructible attribute of every human heart — a faint germ of hope?
When first the awful truth was put before her by her bitterest foe,
she had not been conscious of the slightest feeling of doubt. Nicolaes'
stammering protests, his obvious desire to minimise his own share of
responsibility, had all helped to confirm the revelation of a hideous
"He is not dead, I swear!" and "He is not otherwise hurt!" which
broke from the dastard's quaking lips at the moment, had left no room
for doubt or hope. At least, so she thought. And even now that faint
ray of light in the utter blackness of her misery was too elusive to be
of any comfort. But it helped her to collect herself, to look those two
craven miscreants in the face. Nicolaes obviously dared not meet her
glance, but Stoutenburg kept his eyes fixed upon her, and the look of
triumph in them whipped up her dormant pride.
And now, when his double-tongued Pharisaism reached her ear, she
swallowed her dread, bade horror be stilled. She knew that he was about
to place an "either—or" before her which would demand her full
understanding, and all the strength of mind and body that she could
command. The fate of her beloved was about to be dangled before her,
and she would be made to choose — what?
"You began, my lord," she said, with something of her former
assurance — and God alone knew what it cost her to speak — "by saying
that you desired to place certain matters before me for my
consideration. I have not yet heard, remember, what those matters are."
"True — true!" he rejoined, with hypocritical unction. "But I felt
it my duty — my sad duty, I may say —-"
"A truce on this hollow mockery!" she riposted. "I pray you, come to
"The point is, fair one, that both Nicolaes and I desire to compass
your welfare," he retorted blandly.
"This you can do best at this hour, my lord, by allowing me to
return to the privacy of mine apartments."
"So you shall, myn engel — so you shall," he rejoined suavely. "You
will need time to prepare for departure."
She frowned, puzzled this time.
"For departure?" she asked, a little bewildered.
"I leave this town to-morrow at the head of my troops."
"Thank God for that!" she rejoined earnestly.
"And you, mejuffrouw," he added curtly, "will accompany us."
"I?" she asked, not altogether understanding, the frown more deeply
marked between her brows.
"Methought I spoke clearly," he went on, in his habitual harsh,
peremptory tone. "I only came to this town in order to fetch you, myn
engel. To-morrow we go away together."
"The folly of human grandeur hath clouded your brain, my lord!" she
"In what way?" he queried, still perfectly bland and mild.
"You know well that I would sooner die than follow you."
"I know well that most women are over-ready with heroics. But," he
added, with a shrug of the shoulders, "these tantrums usually leave me
cold. You are an intelligent woman, mejuffrouw, and you have seen your
valiant father resign himself to the inevitable."
"I pray you waste no words, my lord," she rejoined coolly. "Three
months ago, when at Ryswick, your crimes found you out, and you strove
to involve me in your own disgrace and ruin, I gave you mine answer —
the same that I do now. My dead body you can take with you, but I,
alive, will never follow you!"
" 'Twas different then," he retorted, with a cynical smile. "You had
a fortune-hunting adventurer to hand who was determined to see that
your father's shekels did not lightly escape his grasp. To-day—-"
"To-day," she retorted, and rose to her feet, fronted him now,
superb with indignation, "he is sightless, absent, impotent, you would
say, to protect me against your villainy! You miserable, slinking cur!"
Stoutenburg's harsh, forced laugh broke in upon her wrath.
"Ah!" he exclaimed lightly. "You little spit-fire! In very truth, I
like you better in that mood. Heroics do not become you, myn schat, and
they are so unnecessary. Did you perchance imagine that it was love for
you that hath influenced my decision to take you away from here?"
"I pray God, my lord, that I be not polluted by as much as a thought
"Your prayers have been granted, fair one," he retorted with a
sneer. " 'Tis but seldom I think of you now, save as an exquisite
little termagant whom it will amuse me to tame. But this is by the way.
That pleasure will lose nothing by procrastination. You know me well
enough by now to realise that I am not likely to be lenient with you
after your vixenish treatment of me. For the nonce, I pray you to keep
a civil tongue in your head," he added roughly. "On your conduct at
this hour will depend your future comfort. Nicolaes will not always be
skulking in dark corners, ready to interfere if my manner become too
"He is here now," she said boldly, "and if there is a spark of
honour left in him he will conduct me to my rooms!"
With this she turned and walked steadily across the room. Even so
his harsh laugh accompanied her as far as the door. When her hand was
upon the knob, he called lightly after her:
"The moment you step cross the threshold, myn schat, Jan will bring
you back here — in his arms!"
Instinctively she paused, realizing that the warning had come just
in time — that the next moment, in very truth, she would be in the
hands of those vile traitors who were there ready to obey their
master's every command. She paused, too, in order to murmur a quick
prayer for Divine guidance, seeing that human protection was denied her
at this hour. What could she do? She was like a bird caught in a snare
from which there seemed to be no issue. Stoutenburg's sneering laugh
rang in her ear. He was beside her now, took her hand from the knob and
held it for a moment forcibly in his. His glance, charged with cruel
mockery, took in every line of her pallid face.
"Heroics again, fair one!" he said, with an impish grin. "Must I
assure you once more that you are perfectly safe with me? See, if you
were in danger from me, would not your brother interfere? Bah! Nicolaes
knows well enough that passion doth not enter into my schemes at this
hour. My plans are too vast to be swayed by your frowns or your smiles.
I have entered this city as a conqueror. As a conqueror I shall go out
of it to-morrow, and you will come with me. I shall go hence because I
choose, and for reasons which I will presently make clear to you.
"But you shall come with me. When you are with me in my camp, I may
honour you as my future wife, or cast you from me as I would a beggar.
That will depend on my mood, and upon your temper. Nicolaes will not be
there to run counter to my will. Therefore, understand me, my pretty
fire-eater, that from this hour forth you are as absolutely my property
as my dogs are, my horse, or the boots which I wear. I am the master
here," he concluded with strangely sinister calm, "And my will alone is
"A law unto yourself," she retorted, faced him with absolute
composure, neither defiant nor afraid, her nerves quiescent, her voice
perfectly steady, "and mayhap unto your cringing sycophants. But above
your will, my lord, is that of God; and neither death nor life are your
"Ay! But methinks they are, myn engel," he answered drily. "Yours in
"No human being, my lord, can lose the freedom to die."
"You think not?" he sneered. "Well, we shall see."
He let go her hand, then quietly turned and walked to the window,
threw open the casement once more, then beckoned to her. Strangely
stirred, she followed, moved almost mechanically by something she could
At a sign from him she looked out upon the busy scene on the quay
below — the enemy soldiers in possession, their bivouac fires, their
comings and goings, the unfortunate citizens running hither and thither
at their bidding, fetching and carrying, hustled, pushed, beaten,
ordered about with rough words or the persuasive prod of pike or
musket. A scene, alas, which already as a child had been familiar to
her. A peaceable town in the hands of ruthless soldiery; the women
fleeing from threatened insults, children clinging to their mother's
skirts, men standing by, grim and silent, not daring to protest lest
mere resentment brought horrible reprisals upon the city.
Gilda looked out for awhile in silence, her heart aching with the
misery which she beheld, yet could not palliate. Then she turned coldly
inquiring eyes on the prime mover of it all.
"I have seen a reign of terror such as this before, my lord," she
said. "I was at Leyden, as you well know, and I have not forgotten."
"A reign of terror, you call it, mejuffrouw?" he retorted coolly.
"Nay, you exaggerate. What is this brief occupation? To-morrow we go,
remember. Is there a single house demolished at this hour, a single
citizen murdered? You are too young to recollect Malines of Ghent, the
reign of Alva over these recalcitrant countries. I have been lenient so
far. I have spared fire and sword. Amersfoort still stands. It will
stand to-morrow, even after my soldiers have gone," he went on speaking
very slowly, "if —-"
"If what, my Lord?" she asked, for he had paused.
The moment had come, then, the supreme hour when that dreaded
"either—or" would be put before her. Even now he went on with that
same sinister quietude which seemed like the voice of some relentless
judge, sent by the King of Darkness to sway her destiny.
"If," Stoutenburg concluded drily, "you mejuffrouw, will accompany
me. Oh," he added quickly, seeing that at once she had resumed that air
of defiance which irritated even whilst it amused him. "I do not mean
as an unwilling slave, pinioned to my chariot-wheel or strapped into a
saddle, nor yet as a picturesque corpse, with flowing hair and lilies
'twixt your lifeless hands. No, no, fair one! I offer you the safety of
your native city, the immunity of your fellow-citizens, in exchange for
a perfectly willing surrender of your live person into my charge."
She looked on him for awhile, mute with horror, then murmured slowly:
"Are you a devil, that you should propose such an execrable bargain?"
He laughed and shrugged his shoulders.
"I am what you and my native land have made me," he replied. "As to
that, the Stadtholder never offered to bargain with me for my father's
"Who but a prince of darkness would dream of doing so?" she retorted.
"Call me that, an you wish, fair one," he put in lightly; "and come
back to the point."
"And the point is, my Lord?"
"That I will respect this city if you come to-morrow, willing and
submissive, with me,"
"That, never!" she affirmed hotly.
"In that case," he riposted coldly, "my soldiers will have a free
hand ere they quit the town, to sack it at their pleasure. Pillage,
arson, will be rewarded; looting will be deemed a virtue, as will
murder and outrage. Even your father —-"
"Enough, my lord!" she exclaimed, with passionate indignation. "Tell
me, I pray, which of the unclean spirits of Avernus did suggest this
infamy to you?" Then, as he met her burning glance with another
careless shrug and a mocking laugh, she turned to Nicolaes, and cried
out to him, almost with entreaty: "Klaas! You at least are not a party
to such hideous villainy!"
But he, sullen and shamefaced, only threw her an angry look.
"You make it very difficult for us, Gilda," he said moodily, "by
your stupid obstinacy."
"Obstinacy?" she retorted, puzzled at the word. Then reiterated it
once or twice. "Obstinacy — obstinacy? My God, hath the boy gone mad?"
"What else is it but obstinacy?" he rejoined vehemently. "You know
that, despite all he says, Stoutenburg hath never ceased to love you.
And now that he is master here you are lucky indeed to have him as a
suitor. He means well by you, by us all, else I were not here. Think
what it would mean to me, to father, to everyone of us, if you were
Stoutenburg's wife. But you jeopardize my future and the welfare of us
all by those foolish tantrums."
She gazed on him in utter horror — on this brother whom she loved;
could scarcely believe her ears that it was he — really he — who was
uttering such odious words. She felt her gorge rising at this callous
avowal of a wanton and insulting treachery. And he, feeling the
contempt which flashed on him from her glowing eyes, avoided her
glance, tried to shift his ground, to argue his point with the
sophistry peculiar to a traitor, and sank more deeply every moment into
the mire of dishonour.
"It is time you realized, Gilda," he said, "that our unfortunate
country must sooner or later return to her true allegiance. The
Stadtholder is sick. His arbitrary temper hath alienated some of his
staunchest friends. The Netherlands are the unalienable property of
Spain; though two rebel princes have striven to wrest them from their
rightful master, the might of Spain was sure to be felt in the end.
'Twas folly ever to imagine that this so-called Dutch Republic would
ever abide; and the hour, though tardy, has struck at last when such
senseless dreams must come to an end."
"Well spoken, friend Nicolaes!" Stoutenburg put in lustily. "In
verity, our Liege Lady the Archduchess Isabella, whom may God protect,
could with difficulty find a more eloquent champion."
"Or our noble land so vile a traitor!" Gilda murmured, burning now
with shame. "Thank Heaven, Nicolaes, that our poor father is not here,
for the disgrace of it all would have struck him dead at your feet.
Would to God," she murmured under her breath, "that it killed me now!"
"An undutiful prayer, myn engel," Stoutenburg rejoined, "seeing that
its fulfilment would mean that Amersfoort and her citizens would be
wiped off the face of the earth."
This time he spoke quite quietly, without any apparent threat, only
with determination, like one who knows that he is master and hath full
powers to see his will obeyed. She looked at him keenly for a moment or
two, wondering if she could make him flinch, if she could by word or
prayer shake him in that devilish purpose which in truth must have
found birth through the whisperings of uncanny fiends.
Gilda gazed critically at his lean, hard face with the sunken,
restless eyes that spoke so eloquently of disappointed hopes and
frustrated ambitions; the mouth, thin-lipped and set; the unshaven
chin; the hollow temples and grizzled hair. She took in every line of
his tall, gaunt figure; the shoulders already bent, the hands fidgety
and claw-like; the torn doublet and shabby boots, all proclaiming the
down-at-heel adventurer who has staked his all — honour, happiness,
eternity — for ambition; has staked all he possessed and played a
But for pity or compunction Gilda sought in vain. The glance which
after awhile was raised to hers revealed nothing but unholy triumph and
a cruel, callous mockery. In truth, that glance had told her that she
could expect neither justice nor mercy from him, and had spared her the
humiliation of a desperate and futile appeal.
A low moan escaped her lips. She tottered slightly, and felt her
knees giving way under her.
Vaguely she put out her hand, fearing that she might fall. Even so,
she swayed backwards, feeling giddy and sick. But the dread of losing
consciousness before this man whom she loathed and despised kept up
both her courage and her endurance. She felt the panelling of the
window-embrasure behind her, and leaned against it for support.
Stoutenburg had made no effort to come to her assistance, neither
had Nicolaes. Probably both of them knew that she would never allow
either of them to touch her. But Stoutenburg's mocking glance had
pursued her all through her valiant fight against threatening
unconsciousness. Now that she leaned against the framework of the
window, pale and wraith-like, only her delicate profile vaguely
distinguishable in the semi-gloom, her lips parted as if to drink in
the cold evening air, she looked so exquisite, so desirable, that he
allowed his admiration of her to override every other thought.
"You are lovely, myn schat," he said quietly. "Exquisite and worthy
to be a queen. And, by Heaven," he exclaimed with sudden passion,
"you'll yet live to bless this hour when I broke your obstinacy. Hand
in hand, myn engel, you and I, we'll be masters of this beautiful land.
I feel that I could do great things if I had you by my side. Listen,
Gilda," he went on eagerly, thinking that because she remained silent
and motionless she had given up the fight, and was at last resigned to
the inevitable — "listen, my beautiful little vixen! The Archduchess
will wish to reward me for this; the capture of Amersfoort is no small
matter, and I have further projects in mind. In the meanwhile, De Berg
hath already hinted that she might re-establish the republic under the
suzerainty of Spain, and appoint me as her Stadtholder. Think, myn
Geliefde: think what a vista of glorious, satisfied ambition lies
before us both! Nay, before us all. Your father, chief pensionary;
Nicolaes, general of our armies; your family raised above every one in
the land. You'll thank me, I say; thank me on your knees for my
constancy and for my unwavering loyalty to you. And even to-night,
presently, when you are quite calm and at rest, you'll pray to your
God, I vow, for His blessing upon your humble and devoted slave."
He bent the knee when he said this, still scornful even in this
affectation of humility, and raised the hem of her gown to his lips.
She did not look down on him, nor did she snatch her skirts out of his
hand. She just stared straight out before her, and said slowly, with
"To-night — presently — when I am at rest — I will pray God to
kill you ere you put your monstrous threat into execution."
With a light laugh he jumped to his feet.
"Still the shrewish little vixen, what?" he said carelessly. "Yet,
see what a good dog I am. I'll not bear resentment, and you shall have
the comfort of your father's company at the little supper party which I
have prepared. Only the four of us, you and the burgomaster, and
Nicolaes and I; and we can discuss the arrangements for our forthcoming
wedding, which shall be magnificent, I promise you. But be sure of
this, fair one," he went on harshly, drew up his gaunt figure to its
full height, "that what I've said I've said. To-morrow at sunrise I go
hence, and you come with me, able-bodied and willing, to a place which
I have in mind. But this city will be the hostage for your good
behaviour. My soldiers remain here under the command of one Jan, who
obeys all my behests implicitly and without question, because he hates
the Stadtholder as much as I do, and hath a father's murder to avenge
against that tyrant, just as I have. Jan will stay in Amersfoort until
I bid him go. But at one word from me, this city will be reduced to
ashes, and not one man, woman or child shall live to tell the tale of
how the jongejuffrouw Gilda Beresteyn set her senseless obstinacy above
the lives of thousands.
"Think not that I'll relent," he concluded, and once more turned to
the open window, gazed down upon the unfortunate city which he had
marked as the means to his fiendish ends. His restless eyes roamed over
the busy scene; his soldiers, his — the executioners who would carry
out his will! Never had he been so powerful; never had his ambition
been so near its goal! It had all come together — the humiliation of
the Stadtholder, his own success in this daring enterprise, Gilda
entirely at his mercy! Success had crowned all his nefarious schemes at
last. "Nothing will change me from my purpose," he said, with all the
harsh determination which characterized his every action — "nothing!
Neither your tears nor your frowns nor your prayers. There is no one,
understand me, no one who can stand between me and my resolve."
"No one but God," she murmured under her breath. "Oh, God, protect
me now! My God, save me from this!"
Dizzy, moving like a sleep-walker, she tried to hold herself erect,
tried to move from the window, and from the propinquity of that
"Have I your permission to go now?" she murmured faintly.
"Yes," he replied; "to your father. I'll order Jan to release our
worthy burgomaster, and you and he can pray for my demise at your
leisure. Whether you confide in him or not is no concern of mine. I
would have you remember that my promise to respect this city and her
inhabitants only holds good if you, of your own free will, come with me
to-morrow. Amersfoort shall live if you come willingly. You are the
best judge whether your father would be the happier for this knowledge.
Methinks it would be kinder to let him think that you come to-morrow as
my willing bride. But that is for you to decide. I want him here anon
to give his blessing upon our future union in the presence of your
brother Nicolaes. I wish the bond to be made irrevocable as soon as may
be. If you or your father break it afterwards, it will be the worse for
Amersfoort. Try and believe that the alternative is one of complete
indifference to me. I have everything in the world now that I could
possibly wish for. My ambition is completely satisfied. To have you as
my wife would only be the pandering to a caprice. And now you may go,
myn schat," he concluded. "The destinies of your native city are in
your dainty hands."
He watched her progress across the room with a sarcastic grin. But
in his heart he was conscious of a bitter disappointment. Unheard by
her, he muttered under his breath:
"If only she would care, how different everything might be!"
Aloud he called to Nicolaes: "Escort your sister, man, into the
presence of the burgomaster! And see that Jan and a chosen few form a
guard of honour on the passage of the future Lady of Stoutenburg."
Nicolaes hastened to obey. Gilda tried to check him with a brief. "I
thank you; I would prefer to go alone!"
But already he had thrown open the door, and anon his husky voice
could be heard giving orders to Jan.
Gilda, at the last, turned once more to look on her enemy. He caught
her eye, bowed very low, his hand almost touching the ground ere he
brought it with a sweeping flourish back to his breast, in the most
approved fashion lately brought in from France.
"In half an hour supper will be served," he said. "I await the
honour of the burgomaster's company and of your own!"
And he remained in an attitude of perfect deference whilst she
passed silently out of the room.
CHAPTER XI—THE DANGER-SPOKE
Gilda had refused her brother's escort, preferring to follow Jan;
and Nicolaes, half indifferent, half ashamed, watched her progress up
the stairs, and when she had disappeared in the gloom of the corridor
above, he went back to his friend.
The two old serving-men were now busy in the banqueting-hall,
bringing in the supper. They set the table with silver and crystal
goblets, with jugs of Spanish and Rhenish wines, and dishes of cooked
meats. They came and went about their business expeditiously and
silently, brought in two more heavy candelabra with a dozen or more
lighted candles in their sconces, so that the vast room was brilliantly
lit. They threw fresh logs upon the fire, so that the whole place
looked cosy and inviting.
Stoutenburg had once more taken up his stand beside the open window.
Leaning his arm against the mullion, he rested his head upon it.
Bitterness and rage had brought hot tears to his eyes. Somehow it
seemed to him as if in the overflowing cup of his triumph something had
turned to gall. Gilda eluded him. He could not understand her. The
experience which he had of women had taught him that these beautiful
and shallow creatures, soulless for the most part and heartless, were
easily to be cajoled with soft words and bribed with wealth and
promises. Yet he had dangled before Gilda's eyes such a vision of glory
and exalted position as should have captured, quite unconditionally,
the citadel of her affections, and she had remained indifferent to it
He had owned himself still in love with her, and she had remained
quite callous to his ardour. He had tried indifference, and had only
been paid back in his own coin. To a man of Stoutenburg's intensely
egotistical temperament, there could only be one explanation to this
seeming coldness. The wench's senses — it could be nothing more —
were still under the thrall of that miserable adventurer who, thank
Beelzebub and his horde, had at last been rendered powerless to wreak
further mischief. There could be, he argued to himself, no aversion in
her heart for one who was so ready to share prosperity, power, and
honour with her, to forgive and forget all that was past, to raise her
from comparative obscurity to the most exalted state that had ever
dazzled a woman's fancy and stormed the inmost recesses of her soul.
She was still infatuated with the varlet, and that was all. A wholly
ununderstandable fact. Stoutenburg never could imagine how she had ever
looked with favour on such an adventurer, whose English parentage and
reputed wealth were, to say the least, problematical. Beresteyn had
been a fool to allow his only daughter to bestow her beauty and her
riches on a stranger, about whom in truth he knew less than nothing.
The girl, bewitched by the rascallion, had cajoled her father and
obtained his consent. Now she was still under the spell of a handsome
presence, a resonant voice, a provoking eye. It was, it could be,
nothing more than that. When once she understood what she had gained,
how utterly inglorious that once brilliant soldier of fortune had
become, she would descend from her high attitude of disdain and kiss
the hand which she now spurned.
But, in anticipation of that happy hour, the Lord of Stoutenburg
felt moody and discontented.
Nicolaes' voice, close to his elbow, roused him from his gloomy
"You must be indulgent, my friend," he was saying in a smooth
conciliatory voice. "Gilda had always a wilful temper."
"And a tenacious one," Stoutenburg retorted. "She is still in love
with that rogue."
"Bah!" the other rejoined, with a note of spite in his tone. "It is
mere infatuation! A woman's whimsey for a good-looking face and a pair
of broad shoulders! She should have seen the scrubby rascal as I last
caught sight of him — grimy, unshaven, broken. No woman's fancy would
survive such a spectacle!"
Then, as Stoutenburg, still unconsoled, continued to stare through
the open window, muttering disjointed phrases through obstinately set
lips, he went on quite gaily:
"You are not the first by any means, my friend, whose tempestuous
wooing hath brought a woman, loving and repentant, to heel. When I was
over in England with my father, half a dozen years ago, we saw there a
play upon the stage. It had been writ by some low-born mountebank, one
William Shakespeare. The name of the play was 'The Taming of the
Shrew.' Therein, too, a woman of choleric temper did during several
scenes defy the man who wooed her. In the end he conquered; she became
his wife, and as tender and submissive an one as e'er you'd wish to
see. But, by St. Bavon, how she stormed at first! How she professed to
hate him! I was forcibly reminded of that play when I saw Gilda defying
you awhile ago; and I could have wished that you had displayed the same
good-humour over the wrangle as did the gallant Petruchio — the hero
of the piece."
Stoutenburg was interested.
"How did he succeed in the end?" he queried. "Your Petruchio, I
"He starved the ranting virago into submission," Nicolaes replied,
with an easy laugh. "Gave her nothing to eat for a day and a night;
swore at her lackeys; beat her waiting-maids. She was disdainful at
first, then terrified. Finally, she admired him, because he had
"A good moral, friend Nicolaes!"
"Ay! One you would do well to follow. Women reserve their disdain
for weaklings, and their love for their masters."
"And think you that Gilda —-"
"Gilda, my friend, is but a woman after all. Have no fear, she'll be
your willing slave in a week."
Stoutenburg's eyes glittered at the thought.
"A week is a long time to wait," he murmured. "I wish that now—-"
He paused. Something that was happening down below on the quay had
attracted his attention — unusual merriment, loud laughter, the
strains of a bibulous song. For a minute or two his keen eyes searched
the gloom for the cause of all this hilarity. He leaned far out the
window, called peremptorily to a group of soldiers who were squatting
around their bivouac fire.
"Hey!" he shouted. "Peter! Willem! — whatever your confounded names
may be! What is that rascallion doing over there?"
"Making us all laugh, so please your lordship," one of the soldiers
gave reply; "by the drollest stories and quips any of us have ever
"Where does he come from?"
"From nowhere, apparently," the man averred. "He just fell among us.
The man is blind, so please you," he added after a moment's hesitation.
"How many times must I give orders," he demanded roughly, "that
every blind beggar who comes prowling round the camps be hanged to the
"We did intend to hang him," the soldier replied coolly; "but when
first he came along he was so nimble that, ere we could capture him, he
gave us the slip."
"Well," Stoutenburg rejoined harshly, "it is not too late. You have
"So we have, Magnificence," the man replied, hesitated for a second
or two, then added: "But he is so amusing, and he seems a gentleman of
quality, too proud for the hangman's rope."
"Too proud is he?" his lordship retorted with a sneer. "A gentleman
of quality, and amusing to boot? Well, let us see how his humour will
accommodate itself to the gallows. Here, let me have a look at the loon.
There was much hustling down below after this; shouting and
prolonged laughter; a confused din, through which it was impossible to
distinguish individual sounds. Stoutenburg's nerves were tingling. He
was quite sure by now that he had recognised that irrepressible merry
voice. A gentleman of quality! Blind! Amusing! But, if Nicolaes' report
of yesterday's events were true, the man was hopelessly stricken. And
what could induce him to put his head in the jackal's mouth, to affront
his triumphing enemy, when he himself was so utterly helpless and
Not long was the Lord of Stoutenburg left in suspense. Even whilst
he gazed down upon the merry, excited throng, he was able to
distinguish in the midst of them all a pair of broad shoulders that
could only belong to one man. The soldiers, laughing, thoroughly
enjoying the frolic, were jostling him not a little for the sheer
pleasure of measuring their valour against so hefty a fellow. And he,
despite his blindness, gave as good as he got; fought valiantly with
fist and boot and gave his tormentors many a hard knock, until, with a
loud shout of glee, some of the men succeeded in seizing hold of him,
and hoisted him up on their shoulders and brought him into the circle
of light formed by the resin torches.
A double cry came in response — one of amazement from Stoutenburg
and one of horror from Nicolaes. But neither of them spoke.
Stoutenburg's lips were tightly set; a puzzled frown appeared between
his brows. In truth, for once in the course of his devilish career, he
was completely taken aback and uncertain what to do. The man whom he
saw there before him, in ragged clothes, unshaved and grimy, blinking
with sightless eyes, was the man whom he detested above every other
thing or creature on earth — the reckless soldier of fortune of the
past, for awhile the proud and successful rival; now just a wreck of
humanity, broken, ay, and degraded, and henceforth an object of pity
rather than a menace to his rival's plans. His doublet was in rags, his
plumed hat battered, his toes shone through the holes in his boots. The
upper part of his face was swathed in a soiled linen bandage. This had,
no doubt, been originally intended to shield the stricken eyes; but it
had slipped, and those same eyes, with their horrible fixed look,
glittered with unearthly weirdness in the flickering light.
"Salute his Magnificence, the lord and master of Amersfoort and of
all that in it lies!" one of the soldiers shouted gaily.
And the blind man forthwith made a gesture of obeisance swept with a
wide flourish his battered plumed hat from off his head.
"To his Magnificence!" he called out in response. "Though mine eyes
cannot see him, my voice is raised in praise of his nobility and his
valour. May the recording angels give him his full deserts."
The feeling of sheer horror which had caused Nicolaes to utter a
sudden cry was, in truth, fully justified.
"It can't be!" he murmured, appalled at what he saw.
Stoutenburg answered with a hoarse laugh. "Nay, by Satan and all his
myrmidons it is!"
Already he was leaning out of the window, giving quick orders to the
men down below to bring that drunken vagabond forthwith into his
presence. After which he turned once more to his friend.
"We'll soon see," he said, "if it is true, or if our eyes have
played us both an elusive trick. Yet, methinks," he added thoughtfully,
"that the pigwidgeon who of late hath taken my destiny in hand is
apparently intent on doing me a good turn."
"In what way?" the other asked.
"By throwing my enemy across my path," Stoutenburg replied drily.
"You'll hang him of course?" Nicolaes rejoined.
"Yes; I'll hang him!" Stoutenburg retorted, with a snarl. "But I
must make use of him first."
"Make use of him? How?"
"That I do not know as yet. But inspiration will come, never you
fear, my friend. All that I want is a leverage for bringing the
Stadtholder to his knees and for winning Gilda's love."
"Then, in Heaven's name, man," Nicolaes rejoined earnestly, "begin
by ridding yourself of the only danger-spoke in your wheel!"
"Danger-spoke?" Stoutenburg exclaimed, threw back his head and
laughed. "Would you really call that miserable oaf a serious bar to
mine ambition or a possible rival in your sister's regard?"
And, with outstretched hand he pointed to the door.
There, under the lintel — pushed on by Jan and two or three men
who, powerfully built though they were, looked like pigmies beside the
stricken giant, drunk as an owl, his hat awry above that hideous
bandage, dirty, unkempt, and ragged — appeared the man who had once
been the brilliant inspiration of Franz Hals' immortal "Laughing
At sight of him Nicolaes Beresteyn gave a loud groan and collapsed
into a chair; burying his face in his hand. He was ever a coward, even
in villainy; and when the man whom he had once hated so bitterly, and
whom his craven hand had struck in such a dastardly manner, lurched
into the room, and as he fell against the table uttered an inane and
bibulous laugh, his nerve completely forsook him.
At a peremptory sign from Stoutenburg, Jan closed the doors which
gave on the hall; but he and two of the men remained at attention
inside the room.
The blind man groped with his hands till they found a chair, into
which he sank, with powerful limbs outstretched, snorting like a dog
just come out of the water. With an awkward gesture he pushed his hat
from off his head, and in so doing he dislodged the grimy bandage so
that it sat like a scullion's cap across his white forehead.
Stoutenburg watched him with an expression of cruel satisfaction. It
is not often given to a man to have an enemy and a rival so completely
in his power, and the exultation in Stoutenburg's heart was so great
that he was content to savour it in silence for awhile. Nicolaes was
beyond the power of speech, and so the silence for a moment or two
Then the blind man suddenly sat up, craning his neck and rolling his
"I wonder where the devil I am!" he murmured through set lips. He
appeared to listen intently; no doubt caught the sound of life around
him, for he added quickly: "Is anybody here?"
"I am here," Stoutenburg replied curtly. "Do you know whom I am,
"In truth, I do not," Diogenes replied. "But by your accent I would
judge you to be a man who at this moment is mightily afraid."
"Afraid?" Stoutenburg retorted, with a loud laugh. I, afraid of a
helpless vagabond who has been fool enough to run his head into a noose
which I had not even thought of preparing for him?"
"Yet you are afraid my lord," the other rejoined quietly, "else you
would not have ordered your bodyguard to watch over your precious
person whilst you parleyed with a blind man."
"My bodyguard is only waiting for final orders to take you to the
gallows," Stoutenburg rejoined roughly. "You may as well know now as
later that it is my intention to hang you."
"As well now as later," the blind man assented, with easy
philosophy. "I understand that for the nonce, whoever you Magnificence
may be, you are master in Amersfoort. As such, you have a right to hang
anyone you choose. Me or another. What matters? I was very nearly hung
once, you must know, by the Lord of Stoutenburg. I did not mind much
then; I'd mind it still less now. People talk of a hereafter. Well,
whatever it is, it must be a better world that this, so I would just as
soon as not, go and find out for myself."
He struggled to his feet, still groping with his hands for support,
found the edge of the table and leaned up against it.
"Let's to the hangman, my lord," he said thickly. "If I'm to hang, I
prefer it to be done at once. And if we tarry too long I might get
sober ere I embark on the last adventure. But," he added, and once more
appeared to search the room with eyes that could not see, "there's
someone else here besides your lordship. Who is it?"
"My friend and yours," Stoutenburg replied. "Mynheer Nicolaes
There was a second or two of silence. Nicolaes made as if he would
speak, but Stoutenburg quickly put a finger up to his lips, enjoining
him to remain still. The blind man passed his trembling hand once or
twice in front of his eyes as if to draw aside an unseen veil that hid
the outer world from his gaze.
"Ah!" he murmured contentedly. "My friend Klaas! He is here too, is
he? That is indeed good news. For Nicolaes was ever my friend. That
time three months ago — or was it three years, or three centuries? I
really have lost count — that time that the Lord of Stoutenburg was on
the point of hanging me, Klaas would have interposed on my behalf, only
something went wrong with his heart at the moment, or his nerves, I
" 'Twere no use to rely on mynheer's interference this time,"
Stoutenburg put in drily. "There is but one person in the world now who
can save you from the gallows."
"You mean the Lord of Stoutenburg himself?" the blind man queried
"Nay! He is determined to hang you. But there is another."
"Then I pray your lordship to tell me who that other is," Diogenes
"You might find one, sirrah, in the jongejuffrouw Gilda Beresteyn,
the Lord of Stoutenburg's promised wife."
Diogenes made no reply to this. He was facing the table now, still
clinging to it with one hand, whilst the other wandered over the
objects on the table. Suddenly they encountered a crystal jug which was
full of wine. An expression of serene beatitude overspread his face. He
raised the goblet to his lips, but ere he drank he said carelessly:
"Ah, the jongejuffrouw Beresteyn is the promised wife of the Lord of
"My promised wife!" Stoutenburg put in roughly. "Methought you would
ere this have recognized the man whom you tried to rob of all that he
held most precious."
"Your lordship must forgive me," the blind man rejoined drily. "But
some unknown miscreant — whom may the gods punish — interfered with
me yesterday forenoon, when I was trying to render assistance to my
friend Klaas. In the scuffle that ensued, I received a cloud of
stinking fumes in the face, which has totally robbed me of sight."
As he spoke he raised his eyes, blinking in that pathetic and
inconsequent manner peculiar to the blind. Nicolaes gave an audible
groan. He could not bear to look on those sightless orbs, which in the
flickering light of the wax candles appeared weird and unearthly.
"Oh," Stoutenburg put in carelessly, "is that how the — er —
"So, please your lordship, yes," Diogenes replied. "And I was left
stranded on the moor, since those two unreclaimed varlets, Pythagoras
and Socrates by name, did effectually ride off in the wake of the
Stadtholder, leaving me in the lurch. A pitiable plight, your lordship
"So pitiable," the other retorted with a sneer, "that you thought to
improve your condition by bearding the Lord of Stoutenburg in his lair."
"I did not know your lordship was in Amersfoort," Diogenes replied
imperturbably. "I thought — I hoped —-"
He paused, and Stoutenburg tried in vain to read what went on behind
that seemingly unclouded brow. The blind man appeared serene, detached,
perfectly good-humoured. His slender hand, which looked hard beneath
its coating of grime, was closed lovingly around the crystal jug.
Stoutenburg vaguely wondered how far the man was really drunk, or
whether his misfortune had slightly addled his brain. So much unconcern
in the face of an imminent and shameful death gave an uncanny air to
the whole appearance of the man. Even now, with a gently apologetic
smile, he raised the jug once more to his lips. Stoutenburg placed a
peremptory hand upon his arm.
"Put that down, man," he said harshly. "You are drunk enough as it
is, and you'll have need of all your wits to-night."
"There you are wrong my lord," Diogenes retorted, and quietly
transferred the jug to his other hand. "A man, meseems, needs no wits
to hang gracefully. And I feel that I could do that best if I might
quench my thirst ere I met my friend the hangman."
"You may not meet him at all."
"But just now you said —-"
"That it was my intention to hang you," Stoutenburg assented. "So it
is. But I am in rare good humour to-night, and —-"
"So it seems, my lord," the blind man put in carelessly. "So it
He appeared to be swaying on his feet, and to have some difficulty
in retaining his balance. He still clung to the edge of the table with
one hand. In the other he had the jug fill of wine.
"The jongejuffrouw Gilda Beresteyn," Stoutenburg went on, "will sup
with me this night to celebrate our betrothal. The fulfillment of this,
my great desire, hath caused me to feel lenient toward mine enemies."
"Have I not always asserted," Diogenes broke in with comical
solemnity — "always ass-asserted that your lordship was a noble and
"Women, we know," his lordship continued, ignoring the interruption,
"are wont to be tenderhearted where their — their former swains are
concerned. And I feel that if the jongejuffrouw herself did make appeal
to me on your behalf, I would relent towards you."
"B-b-but would that not be an awkward — a very awkward decision for
your lordship?" Diogenes riposted, turning round vacant eyes on
"Awkward? How so?
"If I do not hang, the jongejuffrouw, 'stead of being my widow,
would still be my wife. And the laws of this country —-"
"I have no concern with the laws of this country" Stoutenburg
rejoined drily, "in which, anyhow, you are an alien. As soon as the
Archduchess our Liege Lady is once more mistress here, we shall again
be at war with England."
Diogenes sighed, and solemnly wiped a tear from his blinking eyes.
"And every English plepshurk will be kicked out of the country. But
that is neither here nor there."
"Neither here nor there," the other assented, with owlish gravity.
"But before England is s-sh-s-swept off the map, my lordship, what will
"My marriage to the jongejuffrouw," Stoutenburg replied curtly. "She
hath consented to be my wife, and my wife she will be as soon as I have
mind to take her. So you may drink to our union, sirrah. I'll e'en
pledge you in a cup."
He poured himself out a goblet of wine, laughing to himself at his
own ingenuity. That was the way to treat the smeerlap. Make him feel
what a pitiable, abject knave he was! Then show him up before Gilda,
just as he was — drunk, ragged, unkempt, an object of derision in his
misfortune rather than of pity.
"Nay," the rascal objected, his speech waxing thicker and his hand
more unsteady, "I cannot pledge you, my lord, in drinking to your union
with my own wife, unless — unless my friend Klaas will drink to that
union, too. Mine own brother by the law, you see, my lord, and —-"
"Mynheer Nicolaes will indeed drink to his sister's happy union with
me," Stoutenburg retorted, with a sneer. "His presence here is a
witness to my good intentions toward the wench. So you may drink,
sirrah. The jongejuffrouw herself is overwilling to submit to my
But the imperious words were smothered in his throat, giving place
to a fierce exclamation of choler. The blind man had at his invitation
raised the jug of wine to his lips, but in the act his feet apparently
slipped away from under him. The jug flew out of his hand, would have
caught the Lord of Stoutenburg on the head had he not ducked just in
time. But even so his Magnificence was hit on the shoulder by the heavy
crystal vessel, and splashed from head to foot with the wine, whilst
Diogenes collapsed on the floor with a shamed and bibulous laugh.
A string of savage oaths and tempestuous abuse poured from
Stoutenburg's lips, which were in truth livid with rage. Already Jan
had rushed to his assistance, snatched up a serviette from the table,
and soon contrived to wipe his lordship's doublet clean.
The blind man in the meanwhile did his best to hoist himself up on
his feet once more, clung to the edge of the table; but the sight of
him released the last floodgate of Stoutenburg's tempestuous wrath. He
turned with a vicious snarl upon the unfortunate man, and it would
indeed have fared ill with the defenceless creature, for the Lord of
Stoutenburg was not wont to measure his blows by the helplessness of
his victims, had not a sudden exclamation from Nicolaes stayed the hand
that was raised to strike.
"Gilda!" the young man cried impulsively.
Stoutenburg's arm dropped to his side. He turned toward the door.
Gilda had just entered with her father, and was coming slowly down the
CHAPTER XII—TEARS, SIGHS, HEARTS
Gilda caught sight of her beloved the moment she entered. To say
that their eyes met would indeed be folly. Certain it is, however, that
the blind man turned his sightless gaze in her direction. She only gave
a gasp, pressed her hands to her heart as if the pain there was
unendurable, and at the moment even the beauty of her face was marred
by the look of soul-racking misery in her eyes and the quivering lines
around her mouth.
The next moment, even while Jan and the soldiers retired, closing
the doors behind them, she was in her husband's arms. Ay, even though
Stoutenburg tried to intercept her. She did not hear his mocking laugh,
or her brother's vigorous protest, nor yet her father's cry of horror.
She just clung to him who, blind, fallen, degraded an you will, was
still the beloved of her heart, the man to whom she had dedicated her
She swallowed her tears, too proud to allow those who had wrought
his ruin to see how mortally she was hurt.
She passed her delicate hands, fragrant as the petals of flowers,
over his grimy face, those poor, stricken eyes, the noble brow so
deeply furrowed with pain. She murmured words of endearment and of
tenderness such as a mother might find to soothe the trouble of a
suffering child. All in a moment. Stoutenburg had not even the time to
interfere, to utter the savage oaths which rose from his vengeful heart
at sight of the loving pity which this beautiful woman lavished on so
contemptible an object.
Nor had the blind man time to encircle that exquisite form in his
trembling arms. He had put them out at first, with a pathetic gesture
of infinite longing. It was just a flash, a vision of his past self, an
oblivion of the hideous, appalling present. Her arms at that moment
were round his neck, her head against his breast, her soft, fair hair
against his lips.
Then something happened. A magnetic current seemed to pass through
the air. Diogenes freed himself with a sudden jerk from Gilda's
clinging arms, staggered back against the table, swaying on his feet
and uttering an inane laugh; whilst she, left standing alone, turned
wide, bewildered eyes on her brother Nicolaes, who happened to be close
to her at the moment. I think that she was near to unconsciousness
then, and that she would have fallen, but that the burgomaster stepped
quickly to her side and put his arms round her.
"May God punish you," he muttered between his teeth, and turned to
Stoutenburg, who had watched the whole scene with a sinister scowl,
"for this wanton and unnecessary cruelty!"
"You wrong me, mynheer," Stoutenburg retorted, with a shrug "I but
tried to make your daughter's decision easier for her."
Then, as the burgomaster made no reply, but, with grim, set look on
his face, drew his daughter gently down to the nearest chair,
Stoutenburg went on lightly, speaking directly to Gilda:
"In the course of my travels, mejuffrouw, I came across a wise
philosopher in Italy. He was a man whom an adverse fate had robbed of
most things that he held precious; but he told me that he had quite
succeeded in conquering adversity by the following means. He would gaze
dispassionately on the objects of his past desires, see their defects,
appraise them at their just value, and in every case he found that
their loss was not so irreparable as he had originally believed."
"A fine moral lesson, my lord," the burgomaster interposed, seeing
that Gilda either would not or could not speak as yet. "But I do not
see its point."
" 'Tis a simple one, mynheer," Stoutenburg retorted coldly. "I pray
you, look on the man to whom, an you had your way, you would even now
link your daughter."
Instinctively Beresteyn turned his lowering gaze in the direction to
which his lordship now pointed with a persuasive gesture. Diogenes was
standing beside the table, his powerful frame drawn up to its full
height, his sightless eyes blinking and gleaming with weird
inconsequence in the flickering light of the candles. His hands were
clasped behind his back, and on his face there was a curious expression
which the burgomaster was not shrewd enough to define — one of
self-deprecation, yet withal of introspection and of detachment, as if
the helpless body alone were present and the mind had gone a-roaming in
the land of dreams. The burgomaster tried manfully to conceal the look
of half-contemptuous pity which, much against his will, had crept into
"The man," he rejoined calmly, "is what Fate and a dastard's hand
have made him, my lord. Many a fine work of God hath been marred by an
"That is as may be mynheer," Stoutenburg riposted coolly. "But 'tis
of the present and of the future you have to think now — not of the
"Even so, my lord, I would sooner see my daughter in the arms of the
stricken lion than in those of a wily jackal."
"Am I the wily jackal?" Stoutenburg put in, with a sneer. Then, as
the burgomaster made no reply, he added tersely: "I see that the
jongejuffrouw hath told you —-"
"Everything," Beresteyn assented calmly.
"And that I await your blessing on our union?"
"My blessing you cannot have, my lord, as you well know," the
burgomaster retorted firmly. " 'Twas blasphemy to invoke the name of
God on such an unholy alliance. My daughter is the lawfully wedded wife
of an English gentleman, Sir Percy Blakeney by name, and until the law
of this country doth sever those bonds she cannot wed another."
Stoutenburg gave a strident laugh.
"That is, indeed, unfortunate for the English gentleman with the
high-sounding name," he said, with a sneer, "whom I gravely suspect of
being naught but the common varlet whom we all know so well in Haarlem.
But, gentleman or churl," he added, with a cynical shrug, " ' tis all
one to me. He hangs to-morrow, unless —-"
A loud cry of burning indignation escaped the burgomaster's lips.
"You would not further provoke the wrath of God," he exclaimed, "by
this foul and cowardly crime!"
"And why not, I pray you?" the other coolly retorted. "Nor do I
think that the Almighty would greatly care what happened to this
drunken knave. The refuse of human kind, the halt, the lame, and the
blind, are best out of the way."
"A man, my lord," the burgomaster protested, "Who when he had you in
his power, generously spared your life!"
"The more fool he!" Stoutenburg riposted drily. " 'Tis my turn now.
He hangs to-morrow, unless, indeed —-"
"Unless, what, my lord?"
"Unless," Stoutenburg went on, with an evil leer, "my future wife
will deign to plead with me for him — with a kiss."
A groan like that of a wounded beast broke from the burgomaster's
heavy heart. For a moment a light that was almost murderous gleamed in
his eyes. His fists were clenched; he murmured a dark threat against
the man who goaded him wellnigh to madness. Then, suddenly, he met
Stoutenburg's mocking glance fixed upon him, and a huge sob rose in his
throat, almost choking him. Gilda, with a pitiful moan, had hidden her
face against her father's sleeve.
" 'Tis but anticipating the happy time by a few hours," Stoutenburg
went on, with calm cynicism. "But I have a fancy to hold my future wife
in my arms now — at this moment — and to grant her in exchange for
her first willing kiss the life of a miserable wretch whose life or
death are, in truth, of no account to me."
He took a step or two forward in the direction where Gilda sat,
clinging with desperate misery to her father. Then, as the burgomaster,
superb with indignation, grand in his dignity, Instinctively interposed
his burly figure between his daughter and the man whom she loathed,
Stoutenburg added, with well-assumed carelessness:
"If the jongejuffrouw prefers to put off the happy moment until we
are alone in my camp to-morrow, we'll say no more about it. Let the
rogue hang; I care not!"
"My lord," — the burgomaster spoke once more in a vigorous protest,
which, alas, he knew to be futile — "what you suggest is monstrous,
inhuman! God will never permit —-"
"I pray you, mynheer," Stoutenburg broke in fiercely, "let us leave
the Almighty out of our affairs. I have read my Bible as assiduously as
you when I was younger, and in it I learned that God hath enjoined all
wives to submit themselves to their husbands. A kiss from my betrothed,
a word or gentle pleading, are little enough to ask in exchange for an
act of clemency. And you, Heer Burgomaster, do but stiffen my will by
your interference. Will you, at least, let the jongejuffrouw decide on
the matter for herself, and, in her interests and your own, give to all
that she does your unqualified consent!"
"My consent you'll never wring from me, as you well know, my lord. I
and my daughter are powerless to withstand your might, but if we bend
to the yoke it is because it hath pleased God that we should wear it,
not because we submit with a free will. By exulting in such a monstrous
crime you do but add to the loathing which we both feel for you —-"
"Silence!" Stoutenburg broke in fiercely. "Silence, you dolt! What
good, think you, you do yourself or your daughter by provoking me
beyond endurance? She knows my decision, and so, methinks, do you. If
the jongejuffrouw feels such unqualified hatred for me, let her return
to your protecting arms and leave Amersfoort to its fate. As for that
sightless varlet, let him hang, I say! I am a fool, indeed to listen to
your gibberish! Jan!" he called, and strode to the door with a great
show of determination, staking his all now on this card which he had
decided to play.
But the card was a winning one, as well he knew. Already Gilda, as
if moved by an unseen voice, had jumped to her feet and intercepted him
ere he reached the door. Her whole appearance had changed — the
expression of her eyes, her tone, her gestures.
"My father is overwrought, my lord," she said firmly. "He hath
already promised me that he would offer no opposition to my wishes."
She looked him straight in the eyes, and he returned her gaze, his
restless eyes seeming to search her very soul. she had, in truth,
changed most markedly. She was, of course, afraid — afraid for that
miserable plepshurk's life. But the change was something more than that
— at least, Stoutenburg chose to think so. There was something in her
glance at this moment that he did not quite understand, that he did not
dare understand. A wavering — almost he would have called it a
softness, had he dared. He came nearer to her, and, though at first she
drew back from him, she presently held her ground, still gazing on him
like a bird when it is fascinated and cannot move.
Now he was quite sure that her blue eyes looked less hard, and
certainly her mouth was less tightly set. Her lips were slightly
parted, and her breath came quick and panting. Ah, women were queer
creatures! Had Nicolaes been right when he quoted the English play?
Gilda had certainly begun by falling against that contemptible rascal's
breast, but since then? Had her wayward fancy been repelled by that
whole air of physical degradation which emanated from the once
brilliant cavalier, or had it been merely dazzled by visions of power
and of wealth, which had their embodiment in him who was her future
He himself could not say. All that he knew, all that he felt of a
certainty now, was that he held more than one winning card in this
gamble for possession of an exquisite and desirable woman. Still
holding her gaze, he took her hands. She did not resist, did not
attempt to draw away from him, and he murmured softly:
"What are your wishes, myn engel?"
"To submit to your will, my lord," she replied firmly.
"At last!" he exclaimed, on a note of triumph, drew her still closer
to him. "A kiss, fair one, to clinch this bargain, which hath made me
the happiest of men!"
He had lost his head for the moment. Satisfaction, and an almost
feverish sense of exultation, had turned his blood to liquid fire. All
that he saw was this lovely woman, whom he had nearly conquered.
Nearly, but not quite. At his desire for a kiss he felt that she
stiffened. She closed her eyes, and even her lips became bloodless. She
appeared on the verge of a swoon. Bah! Even this phase would pass away.
Nicolaes was right. Women reserved their contempt for weaklings. In the
end 'twas the master whom they adored.
"A kiss, fair one!" he called again. "And the rogue shall live or
hang according as your lips are sweet or bitter!"
He was on the point of snatching that kiss at last, when suddenly
there came so violent a crash that the whole room shook with the
concussion, and even the windows rattled in their frames. The blind
man, more unsteady than ever on his feet, had tried to get hold of a
chair, lost his balance in the act, and, in the endeavour to save
himself from falling, had lurched so clumsily against the table that it
overturned, and all the objects upon it — silver, crystal, china
dishes, and candelabra — fell with a deafening clatter on the floor.
Stoutenburg, uttering one of his favourite oaths, had instinctively
turned to see whence had come this terrific noise. In turning, his hold
on Gilda's wrists had slightly relaxed; sufficiently, at any rate, to
enable her to free herself from his grasp and to seek shelter once more
beside her father. Diogenes alone had remained unruffled through the
commotion. Indeed, he appeared wholly unconscious that he had brought
it about. He had collapsed amidst the litter, and now sprawled on the
floor, surrounded by a medley of broken glass, guttering candles, hot
food and liquor, convulsed with laughter, whist his huge, dark eyes,
with the dilated pupils and pale, narrow circles of blue light, looked
strangely ghostlike in the gloom.
"Who in thunder," he muttered inarticulately, "is making this
At the noise, too, the men had come running in from the hall. The
sound had been akin to the detonation of a dozen pistols, and they had
rushed along, prepared for a fight. With the fall of the candelabra,
the vast banqueting hall had suddenly been plunged into semi-darkness.
Only a couple of wax candles in tall sconces, which had originally set
on the sideboard, vaguely illumined the disorderly scene.
Diogenes, with his infectious laugh, did in truth succeed in warding
off the punishment which his Magnificence already held in preparation
for him. As it was, Stoutenburg caught sight of Gilda's look of
anxiety, and this at once put him into a rare good humour. He had had
his wish. Gilda had been almost kind, had practically yielded to him in
the presence of the man whom he desired to humiliate and to wound, as
he himself had been humiliated and wounded in the past.
Whether the blind man's keen sense of hearing had taken in every
detail of the scene, it was of course impossible to say. But one thing
he must have heard — the brief soliloquy at the door, when Gilda, in
response to his ardent query. "What are your wishes, myn engel?" had
replied quite firmly: "To submit to your will, my lord!" That moment
must, in truth, have been more galling and more bitter to the once
gallant Laughing Cavalier than the rattle of the rope upon the gallows,
or the first consciousness that he was irremediably blind.
Indeed, Stoutenburg had had something more than his wish. To make a
martyr of the rogue, he would have told you, was not part of his
desire. All that he wanted was to obliterated the man's former
brilliant personality from Gilda's mind; that he should henceforth
dwell in her memory as she last saw him, abject in his obvious
impotence, owing his life to the woman whom he had wooed and conquered
in the past with the high hand of a reckless adventurer. After that,
the rogue might hang or perish in a ditch: his lordship did not care.
What happened to blind men in these days of fighting when none but the
best men had a chance to live at all, he had never troubled his head to
inquire. At any rate, he knew that a sightless lion was less harmful
than a keen-eyed mouse. Ah, in truth he had had more than his wish and
satisfied now as to the present and the future, the thought that the
moment had come to let well alone, and to remove from Gilda's sight the
spectacle which, by some subtle reaction, might turn her heart back to
pity for the knave. He gave Jan a significant nod.
But Gilda, whose glowing eyes had watched his every movement, was
quick to interpose.
"My lord," she cried in protest, "I hold you to your bargain!"
"Have no fear, myn chat," he answered suavely. I will not repudiate
it. The fellow's life is safe enough whilst you and the Heer
Burgomaster honour me by supping with me. After that, the decision
rests with you. As I said just now, he shall live or hang according as
your lips are sweet or bitter. For the nonce, I am wearied and hungry.
We'll sup first, so please you."
And Gilda had to stand by whilst she saw her husband dragged away
from her presence. He offered no resistance; indeed, accepted the
situation with that good-humoured philosophy which was so
characteristic of him. But, oh, if she could have conveyed to him by a
look all the tenderness, the sorrow, the despair, that was torturing
her heart! If she could have run to him just once more, to whisper into
his ear those burning words of love which would have eased his pain and
If she could have defied that abominable tyrant who gloated over her
misery, and, hand in hand with her beloved, have met death by his side,
with his arms around her, her spirit wedded to his, ere they appeared
together before the judgement seat of God!
But, as that arrogant despot had reminded her, she had even lost the
freedom to die. The destinies of her native city were in her hands.
Unless she bowed her willing neck to his will, Amersfoort and all its
citizens would be wiped off the face of the earth. And as she watched
the chosen of her heart led like a captive lion to humiliation if not
to death those monstrous words rang in her ears, that surely must
provoke the wrath of God.
Therefore, she watched his departure dry-eyed and motionless. Ay!
envying him in her heart, that he, at least, was not called upon to
make such an appalling sacrifice as lay now before her. She had indeed
come to that sublimity of human suffering that she almost wished to see
those dear, sightless eyes closed in their last long sleep, rather than
that he should be forced to endure what to him would be ten thousand
times worse than death — her submission to that miscreant — her
willing union; and he, ignorant of how the tyrant had wrung this
submission from her.
CHAPTER XIII—THE STYGIAN CREEK
The Lord or Stoutenburg was conscious of a great feeling of relief
when the blind man was finally removed from his presence. While the
latter stood there, even in the abjectness of his plight, Stoutenburg
felt that he was a living menace to the success of all his
well-thought-out schemes. He kept his eyes fixed on Gilda with a
warning look, that should be a reminder to her of the immutability of
his resolve. He tried, in a manner, to surround her with a compelling
fluid that would engulf her resistance and leave her weak and passive
to his will.
There was of necessity a vast amount of confusion and din ere order
was restored among the debris; and conversation was impossible in the
midst of the clatter that was going on — men coming and going, the
rattle of silver and glass. Gilda, the while, sat quite still, her blue
eyes fixed with strange intensity on the door through which her beloved
had disappeared. Her father stood beside her, holding her hand, and she
rested her cheek against his.
The burgomaster, throughout the last scene, had not once looked at
Diogenes. A dark, puzzled frown lingered between his brows whilst he
stared moodily into the fire. He absolutely ignored the presence of his
son, putting into practice his stern dictum that henceforth he had no
son, whilst Nicolaes, who was becoming inured to his shameful position,
put on a careless and jaunty air, spoke with easy familiarity to
Stoutenburg, and peremptorily to the men.
Then at last the table was once more set, the candles relit, and the
board again spread for supper. Stoutenburg, with an elegant flourish,
invited his guests to sit, offered his arm to Gilda to lead her to the
table. She, moved by a pathetic desire to conciliate him, a forlorn
hope that a great show of submission on her part would soften his cruel
heart and lighten the fate of her beloved, placed her hand upon his
sleeve, and when she met his admiring glance a slight flush drove the
pallor from her cheeks.
"You are adorable, myn geloof!" he murmured.
He appeared highly elated, sat at the head of the table, with Gilda
on his right and the burgomaster on his left, whilst Nicolaes sat
beside his sister.
The two old crones served the supper, coming and going with a
noiselessness and precision acquired in long service in the
well-conducted house of the burgomaster. They knew the use of the two
pronged silver utensils which Mynheer Beresteyn had acquired of late
direct from France, where they were used at the table of gentlemen of
quality for conveying food to the mouth. They knew how to remove each
service from the centre of the table without unduly disturbing the
guests, and how to replace one cloth with another the moment it became
soiled with sauce or wine.
Jan stood at the Lord of Stoutenburg's elbow and served him
personally and with his own hands. Every dish, before it was handed to
his lordship, was placed in front of the burgomaster, who was curtly
bidden to taste of it. His Magnificence, adept in the poisoner's art,
was taking no risks himself.
The cook had done his best, and the supper was, I believe,
excellent. The Oille, the most succulent of dishes, made up of quails,
capons, and ducks and other tasty meats, was a marvel of gastronomic
art, and so were the tureens of beef with cucumber and the breast of
veal larded and garnished with hard-boiled eggs. In truth it was all a
terrible waste, and sad to see such excellent fare laid before guests
who hardly would touch a morsel. Gilda could not eat, her throat seemed
to close up every time she tried to swallow. Indeed, she had to appeal
to the very last shred of her pride to keep up a semblance of dignity
before her enemy. The burgomaster, too, flushed with shame at the
indignity put upon him, did no more than taste of the dishes as they
were put before him by the surly Jan.
The Lord of Stoutenburg, on the other hand, put up a great show of
hilarity, talked much and drank deeply, discussed in a loud, arrogant
voice with Nicolaes the Archduchess's plans for the subduing of the
Netherlands. And Nicolaes, after he had imbibed two or three bumpers of
heady Spanish wine, felt more assured, returned Gilda's reproachful
glances with indifference, and his father's contempt with defiance.
What Gilda suffered it were a vain attempt to describe. How she
contrived to remain at the table; to appear indifferent almost gay; to
glance up now and again at a persuasive challenge from Stoutenburg,
will for ever remain her secret. She never spoke of that hour, of that
hateful, harrowing supper, like an odious nightmare, which was wont in
after years to sent a shudder of horror right through her whenever she
The burgomaster remained at first obstinately silent, whilst the
Lord of Stoutenburg talked with studied insolence of the future of the
Netherlands. The happy times would now come back, the traitor vowed,
when the United Provinces, dissolved into feeble and separate entities,
without form or governance, would once more return to their allegiance
and bow the knee before the might of Spain; when the wholesome rule of
another Alva would teach these stiffnecked and presumptuous burghers
that comfort and a measure of welfare could only be obtained by
unconditional surrender and submission to a high, unconquerable Power.
"Freedom!" Liberty!" he sneered. "Ancient Charters! Bah! Empty,
swaggering words, I say, which their masters will soon force them to
swallow. Then will follow an era more suited to all this beggarly Dutch
rabble, one that will teach them a lesson which will at last stick in
their memories. The hangman, that's what they want! The stake! The
rack! Our glorious Inquisition, and the relentlessness which, alas, for
the nonce hath lain buried with our immortal Alva!"
He drank a loyal toast to the coming new era, to the Archduchess, to
King Philip IV, who in his glorious reign would see Spain once more
unconquered, the Netherlands subdued, England punished at last.
Nicolaes joined him with many a lustful shout, whilst the burgomaster
sat with set lips, his eyes glowing with suppressed indignation. Once
or twice it seemed as if his stern self-control would give way, as if
his burning wrath would betray him into words and deeds that might
cause abysmal misery to hundreds of innocent people whilst not serving
in any way the cause which he would have given his life to uphold.
Indeed, in the book of heroic deeds of which God's angel hath a
record, none stand out more brilliantly than the endurance of the
Burgomaster of Amersfoort and of his daughter on this memorable
occasion. Nor is there in the whole valorous history of the Netherlands
a more glorious page than that which tells of the sacrifice made by
father and daughter in order to save the city which they loved from
But like all things, good and evil, the trial came to an end at
last. The Lord of Stoutenburg gave the signal, and the burgomaster and
Gilda rose from the table both, in truth, with a deep sigh of
Stoutenburg remained deferential until the end — deferential, that
is, with an undercurrent of mockery, which he took no pains to conceal,
His bow, as he finally took leave of his guests, bidding the
burgomaster a simple farewell and Gilda au revoir until the dawn on the
morrow, was so obviously ironical that Beresteyn was goaded into an
indignant tirade, which he regretted almost as soon as he had uttered
"Let him who stands," he said firmly, and with all of his wonted
dignity, "take heed lest he fall. The Netherlands are not conquered
yet, my lord, because your mercenary troops have succeeded, for the
time being, in overrunning one of her provinces. Ede may have fallen.
Amersfoort may for the moment, be under your heel —"
"Arnheim and Nijmegen may have capitulated by now," Stoutenburg
broke in derisively. "Sold to De Berg, like Amersfoort and Ede, by the
craven smeerlap to whom you have given your daughter."
"Even that may have happened," the burgomaster riposted hotly, "if
so be the will of God. But we are a race of fighters. We have beaten
and humiliated the Spaniard and driven him from off our land before
now. And Maurice of Nassau, the finest captain of the age, is
"Mightily sick, so I'm told," the other put in carelessly. "He was
over-ready, methinks, to abandon Amersfoort to its fate."
"Only to punish you more effectually in the end. Take heed, my lord,
take heed! The multiplicity of your crimes will find you out soon
" 'Sblood!" retorted Stoutenburg, unperturbed; "but you forget,
mynheer burgomaster, that, whate'er betide me, your daughter's fate is
henceforth linked to mine own."
Then it was that Beresteyn repented of his outburst, for indeed he
had gained nothing by it, and Stoutenburg had used the one argument
which was bound to silence him. What, in truth, was the use of
wrangling? Dignity was sure to suffer, and that mocking recreant would
only feel that his triumph was more complete.
Even now he only laughed, pointed with an ironical flourish of his
arm to the widely open doors, through which in the dimly lighted hall,
a group of men could be perceived, sitting or standing around the
centre table, with Diogenes standing in their midst, his fair head
crowned by the hideous bandage, and his broad shoulders towering above
the puny, swarthy Spanish soldiery. He had a mug of ale in his hand,
and holding it aloft he was singing a ribald song, the refrain of which
was taken up by the men. In the vague and flickering light of resin
torches, his sightless orbs looked spectral, like those of a wraith.
"You should be grateful to me, mynheer," Stoutenburg added with a
sneer, "for freeing your daughter from such a yoke."
He returned to Gilda, took her unresisting hand and raised it to his
lips. Above it, he was watching her face. She was looking beyond him,
straight at the blind man; and though Stoutenburg at that moment would
have bartered much for the knowledge of what was in her thoughts, he
could not define the expression of her eyes. At one time he thought
that they had softened, that the fulfilment of all his hopes was
hanging once more in the balance. It seemed for the moment as if she
would snatch away her hand and seek shelter, as she had done before,
against the heart of her beloved; that right through that outer husk of
misery and degradation she saw something that puzzled her rather than
repelled. A question seemed to be hovering on her lips. A question of a
protest. Or was it a mute appeal for forgiveness?
Stoutenburg could not tell. But he felt that for a space of a few
seconds the whole edifice of his desires was tottering, that Fate
might, after all, still be holding a thunderbolt in store for him,
which would hurl him down from the pinnacle of this momentary triumph.
Gilda — as a woman — was still unconquered. Neither her heart nor her
soul would ever be his. Somehow it was the glance wherewith she
regarded the blind man that told the Lord of Stoutenburg this one
The sortilege which he had tried to evoke, by letting her look on
the pitiful wreck who had once been her lover, had fallen short in its
potent charm. His own brilliant prospects, his masterful personality,
ay, his well-assumed indifference, had all failed to cast their spells
over her. Unlike the valiant Petruchio of the English play, he had not
yet succeeded in taming this beautiful shrew. In the past she had
resisted his blandishments; if she succumbed at all, it would be
beneath the weight of his tyranny.
Well, so be it! Nicolaes, no doubt, had been right when he said that
women reserved their disdain for weaklings. It was the man of iron who
won a woman's love. The thought sent a fierce glow of hatred coursing
through his blood. Mythical and fatalistic as he was, he believed that
his lucky star would only begin to rise when he had succeeded in
winning Gilda for his own. He had deemed women an easy conquest in the
past. This one could not resist him for long. Even men were wont to
come readily under his way — witness Nicolaes Beresteyn, who was as
wax in his hands. In the past, he had delighted in wielding a kind of
cabalistic power, which he undoubtedly possessed, over many a weak or
shifty character. His mother even was wont to call him a magician, and
stood not a little in awe of the dark-visaged, headstrong child, and
later on of the despotic, lawless youth, who had set the crown on her
manifold sorrows by his callousness and his crimes.
That power had been on the wane of late. But it was not — could not
— be gone from him forever. Nicolaes was still his sycophant. Jan and
his kind were willing to go to death for him. His own brain had devised
a means for bringing that obstinate burgomaster and the beautiful Gilda
to their knees. Then, of a surety, in the Cornucopia of Fate there was
something more comforting, more desirable, than a thunderbolt!
Was he not a man the master of his destiny?
Bah! What was a woman's love, after all? Why not let her go — be
content with worldly triumphs? The sacking of Amersfoort, which would
yield him wealth and treasure; the gratitude of the Archduchess: a high
— if not the highest — position in the reconquered provinces! Why not
be content with those? And Stoutenburg groaned like a baffled tiger,
because in his heart of hearts he knew these things would not content
him in the end. He wanted Gilda! Gilda, of the blue eyes and the golden
hair, the demure glance and fragrant hands. His desire for her was in
his bones, and he felt that he would indeed go raving mad if he lost
her after this — if that beggarly drunkard, unwashed, dishonoured, and
stricken with blindness, triumphed through his very abasement and the
magnitude of his misfortune.
"This, at any rate, I can avert!" he murmured under his breath. And
somehow the thought eased the racking jealousy that was torturing him
— jealousy of such an abject thing. He waited until Gilda had passed
out of the room, and when she was standing in the hall, so obviously
bidding a last farewell in her heart to the man she loved so well, he
called peremptorily to Jan:
"Take the varlet," he commanded roughly, "and hang him on the
At the word Gilda turned on him like an infuriated tigress. Pushing
past her father, past the men, who recoiled from her as if from a
madwoman, she was back beside the execrable despot who thus put the
crown on his hideous cruelties.
"Your bargain, my lord!" she cried hoarsely. "You dare not — you
dare not —-"
"My bargain, fair one?" Stoutenburg retorted coolly. "Nay, you were
so averse to fulfilling your share of it, that I have repented me of
proposing it. The varlet hangs. That is my last word."
His last word! And Jan so ready to obey! The men were already
closing in around her beloved; less than a minute later they had his
hands securely pinioned behind his back. Can you wonder that she lost
her head, that she fought to free herself from her father's arms, and,
throwing reserve, dignity to the winds, threw herself at the feet of
that inhuman monster and pleaded with him as no woman on earth had,
mayhap, ever pleaded before?
We do not like to think of that exquisite, refined woman kneeling
before such an abominable dastard. Yet she did it! Words of appeal, of
entreaty, poured from her quivering lips. She raised her tear-stained
face to his, embraced his knees with her arms. She forgot the men that
stood by, puzzled and vaguely awed — Jan resolute, her father torn to
the heart. She forgot everything save that there was a chance — a
remote chance — of softening a cruel heart, and she could not — no,
could not! — see the man she loved dragged to shameful death before
She promised — oh, she promised all that she had to give!
"I'll be your willing slave, my lord, in all things," she pleaded,
her voice broken and hoarse. "Your loving wife, as you desire. A kiss
from me? Take it, an you will. I'll not resist! Nay, I'll return it
from my heart, in exchange for your clemency."
Then it was that the burgomaster succeeded at last in tearing her
away from her humiliating position. He dragged her to her feet, drew
her to his breast, tried by words and admonition to revive in her her
sense of dignity and her self-control. Only with one word did he, in
his turn, condescend to plead.
"An you have a spark of humanity left in you, my lord," he said
loudly, "order your executioners to be quick about their business."
For the Lord of Stoutenburg had, with a refinement of cruelty almost
unbelievable, were it not a matter of history, stayed Jan from
executing his inhuman order.
"Wait!" his glittering eyes appeared to say to the sycophant
henchman who hung upon his looks. "Let me enjoy this feast until I am
Then, when Gilda lay at last, half-swooning in the shelter of her
father's arms, he said coolly:
"Have I not said, fair one, that if you deigned to plead the rascal
should not hang? See! The potency of your charm upon my sensitive
heart! The man who hath always been my most bitter enemy, and whom at
last I have within my power, shall live because your fair arms did
encircle my knees, and because of your free will you offered me a kiss.
Mynheer Burgomaster," he added, with easy condescension, "I pray you
lead your daughter to her room. She is over-wrought and hath need of
rest. Go in peace, I pray you. That drunken varlet is safe now in my
The burgomaster could not trust himself to reply. Only his loving
hands wandered with a gentle, soothing gesture over his beloved
daughter's hair, whilst he murmured soft, endearing words in her ear.
Gradually she became more calm, was able to gather her wits together,
to realize what she had done and all that she had sacrificed, probably
in vain. Stoutenburg had spoken soft words, but how could she trust
him, who had ever proved himself a liar and a cheat? She was indeed
like a miserable, captive bird, held, maimed and bruised, in a cruel
trap set by vengeful and cunning hands. It seemed almost incredible why
she should be made to suffer so.
What had she done? In what horrible way had she sinned before God,
that His hand should lie so heavily upon her? Even her sacrifice —
sublime and selfless — failed to give her the consolation of duty
nobly accomplished. Everything before her was dreary and dark. Life
itself was nought but torture. The few days — hours — that must
intervene until she knew that Amersfoort was safe confronted her like
the dark passage into Gehenna. Beyond them lay death at last, and she,
a young girl scarce out of adolescence, hitherto rich, beautiful,
adulated, was left to long for that happy release from misery with an
intensity of longing akin to the sighing of souls in torment.
Throughout this harrowing scene the blind man had stood by,
pinioned, helpless, almost lifeless in his immobility. The only sign of
life in him seemed to be in those weird, sightless orbs, in which the
flickering light of the resin torches appeared to draw shafts of an
unearthly glow. He was pinioned and could not move. Half a dozen
soldiers had closed in around him. Whether he heard all that went on,
many who were there at the time declared it to be doubtful. But, even
if he heard, what could he have done? He could not even put his hands
up to his ears to shut out that awful sound of his beloved wife's
hoarse, spent voice pleading desperately for him.
One of the men who was on guard over him told De Voocht afterwards
that he could hear the tough sinews cracking against the bonds that
held the giant captive, and that great drops of sweat appeared upon the
fine, wide brow. When Gilda, leaning heavily upon her father's arm,
finally mounted the stairs which led up to her room, the blind man
turned his head in that direction. But the jongejuffrouw went on with
head bent and did not glance down in response.
All this we know from De Voocht, who speaks of it in his "Brieven."
But he was not himself present on the scene and hath it only from
hearsay. He questioned several of the men subsequently as he came in
contact with them, and, of course, the burgomaster's testimony was the
most clear and the most detailed. Mynheer Beresteyn admitted that,
throughout that awful, ne'er-to-be-forgotten evening, he could not
understand the blind man's attitude, was literally tortured with doubts
of him. Was he, in truth, the craven wretch which he appeared to be —
the miserable traitor who had sold the Stadtholder's original plans to
De Berg, betrayed Marquet and De Keysere, and hopelessly jeopardized
the whole of Gelderland, if not the entire future of the Netherlands?
If so, he was well-deserving of the gallows, which would not fail to be
But was he? Was he?
The face, of course, out of which the light of the eyes had
vanished, was inscrutable. The mouth, remember, was partially hidden by
the three days' growth of beard, and grime and fatigue had further
obliterated all other marks of expression. Of course, the man must have
suffered tortures of humiliation and rage, which would effectually
deaden all physical pain. But at the time he seemed not to suffer.
Indeed, at one moment it almost seemed if he were asleep, with
sightless eyes wide open, and standing on his feet.
After Gilda and her father had disappeared on the floor above, the
Lord of Stoutenburg, like a wild and caged beast awaiting satisfaction,
began pacing up and down the long banqueting-hall. The doors leading
into it from the hall had been left wide open, and the men could see
his lordship in his restless wanderings, his heavy boots ringing
against the reed-covered floor. He held his arms folded across his
chest, and was gnawing — yes, gnawing — his knuckles in the excess of
his excitement and his choler.
Then he called Jan, and parleyed with him for awhile, consulted
Mynheer Nicolaes, who was more taciturn and gloomy than ever before.
The soldiers knew what was coming. They had witnessed the scene
between the jongejuffrouw and his Magnificence and some of them who had
wives and sweethearts of their own, had felt uncomfortable lumps, at
the time, in their throats. Others, who had sons, fell to wishing that
their offsprings might be as finely built, as powerful as that poor,
blind, intoxicated wretch who, in truth, now had no use for his
But what would you? These were troublous times. Life was cheap —
counted for nothing in sight of such great gentlemen as was the Lord of
Stoutenburg. The varlet, it seems, had offended his lordship awhile
ago. Jan knew the story, and was very bitter about it, too. Well, no
man could expected to be treated with gentleness by a great lord whom
he had been fool enough to offend. The blind rascallion would hang, of
that there could be no doubt. The jongejuffrouw had been pacified with
soft words and vague promises, but the rascal would hang. Any man there
would have bet his shirt on the issue. You had only to look at his
lordship. A more determined, more terrifying look it were impossible to
meet. Even Jan looked a little scared. When his Magnificence looked
like that it boded no good to any one. All the rancour, the gall, that
had accumulated in his heart against everything that pertained to the
United Provinces and to their Stadtholder would effectively smother the
slightest stirring of conscience or pity. Perhaps, when the
jongejuffrouw knelt at his feet, he had thought of his mother, who,
equally distraught and equally humiliated, had knelt in vain at the
Stadtholder's feet, pleading for the life of her sons. Oh, yes, all
that had made the Lord of Stoutenburg terribly hard and callous.
But the men were sorry for the blind vagabond, for all that. He had
had nothing to do with the feuds between the Stadtholder and the sons
of Olden Barneveldt. He had done nothing, seemingly, save to win the
love of the beautiful lady whom his Magnificence had marked for his
own. He was brave, too. You could not help admiring him as he stood
between you and your comrades, his head thrown back, a splendid type of
virility and manhood. Half-seas over he may have been. His misfortunes
were, in truth, enough to make any man take a drink; but you could not
help but see that there was an air of spirituality about the forehead
and the sensitive nostrils which redeemed the face from any suggestion
of sensuality. And now and again a quaint smile would play round the
corners of his mouth, and the whole wan face would light up as if with
a sudden whimsical thought.
Then all at once he threw back his head and yawned.
Such a droll fellow! Yawning on the brink of eternity! It was, in
truth, a pity he should hang!
Yes, the blind man yawned, loudly and long, like one who is ready
for bed. And the harmless sound completed Stoutenburg's exasperation.
He once more gave the harsh word of command:
"Take the varlet out and hang him!"
Obviously this time it would be irrevocable. There was no one here
to plead, and there was Jan, stolid and grim as was his wont, already
at attention under the lintel — a veritable tower of strength in
support of his chief's decisions.
Jan was not in the habit of arguing with his lordship. This, or any
other order, was as one to him. As for the blind vagabond — well, Jan
was as eager as his Magnificence to get the noose around the rascal's
throat. There were plenty of old scores to settle between them — the
humiliation of three months ago, which had sent Stoutenburg, disgraced
and a fugitive, out of the land, had hit Jan severely, too.
And that never-to-be-forgotten discomfiture was entirely due to this
miserable caitiff, who, indeed would get naught but his deserts.
The task, in truth, was a congenial one to Jan. A blind man was easy
enough to deal with, and this one offered but little resistance. He had
been half-asleep, it seems, and only woke to find himself on the brink
of eternity. Even so, his good-humour did not forsake him.
"Odd's fish!" he exclaimed when, roughly shaken from his somnolence,
he found himself in the hands of the soldiery. "I had forgotten this
hanging business. You might have left a man to finish his dreams in
He appeared dazed, and his speech was thick. He had been drinking
heavily all the evening, and, save for an odd moment or so of lucid
interval, he had been hopelessly fuddled all along. And he was merry in
his cups; laughter came readily to his lips; he was full of quips and
sallies, too, which kept the men in rare good-humour. In truth, the
fellow would joke and sing apparently until the hangman's rope
smothered all laughter in his throat.
But he had an unquenchable thirst; entreated the men to bring him a
jug of wine.
"Spanish wine," he pleaded. "I dote on Spanish wine, but had so
little of it to drink in my day. That villainous rascal Pythagoras —
some of you must have known the pot-bellied loon — would always seize
all there was to get. He and Socrates. Two scurvy runagates who should
hang 'stead o' me. Give me a mug of wine, for mercy's sake!"
The men had none to give, and the matter was referred to Jan.
"Not another drop!" Jan declared with unanswerable finality. "The
knave is quite drunk enough as it is."
"Ah!" the blind man protested with ludicrous vehemence. "But there
thou'rt wrong, worthy Jan. No man is ever — is ever drunk enough. He
may be top-heavy, he may be as drunk as a lord, or as fuddled as
David's sow. He may be fuzzy, fou, or merely sottish; but sufficiently
A shout of laughter from the men greeted this solemn pronouncement.
Jan shrugged his shoulders impatiently.
"Well, that is as may be!" he rejoined gruffly. "But not another
drop to drink wilt thou get from me."
"Oh, Jan," the poor man protested, with a pitiable note of appeal,
"my good Jan, think on it! I am about to hang! Wouldst refuse the last
request of a dying man?"
"Thou'rt about to hang," Jan assented, unmoved. "Therefore, 'twere a
pity to waste good liquor on thee."
"I'll pay the well, my good Jan," Diogenes put in, with a knowing
wink of his sightless eyes.
"Pay me?" Jan retorted, with a grim laugh. " 'Tis not much there's
left in thy pockets, I'm thinking."
"No," the blind man agreed, nodding gravely. "These good men here
did, in truth — empty my pockets effectually awhile ago. 'Twas not
with coin I meant to repay thee, good Jan —-"
"With what, then?"
"Information, Jan!" the blind man replied, sinking his voice to a
hoarse whisper. "Information for the like of which his Lordship of
Stoutenburg would give his ears."
Jan laughed derisively. The men laughed openly. They thought this
but another excellent joke on the part of the droll fellow.
"Bah! Jan said, with a shrug of the shoulder. "How should a varlet
like thee know aught of which his lordship hath not full cognisance
"His lordship," the other riposted quickly, even whilst a look of
impish cunning overspread his face — "his lordship never was in the
confidence of the Stadtholder. I was!"
"What hath the Stadtholder to do with the matter?"
"Oh, nothing, nothing!" the blind man replied airily. "Thou art
obstinate, my good Jan, and 'tis not I who would force thee to share a
secret for the possession of which, let me assure thee, his lordship
would repay me not only with a tankard of his best wine, but with my
life! Ay, and with a yearly pension of one thousand guilders to boot."
These last few words he had spoken quite slowly and with grave
deliberation, his head nodding sagely while he spoke. The look of
cunning in those spectral orbs had lent to his pale, wan face an air of
elfin ghoulishness. He was swaying on his feet, and now and again the
men had to hold him up, for he was on the very point of measuring his
length on the hall floor.
Jan did not know what to make of it all. Obviously the man was
drunk. But not so drunk that he did not know what he was talking about.
And the air of cunning suggested that there was something alive in the
fuddled brain. Jan looked across the hall in the direction of the
The doors were wide open, and he could see that his lordship, who at
first had paced up and down the long room like a caged beast, had
paused quite close to the door, then advanced on tip-toe out into the
hall, where he had remained for the last minute or two, intent and
still, with eager, probing glance fixed upon the blind man. Now, when
Jan questioned him with a look, he gave his faithful henchman a scarce
perceptible sign, which the latter was quick enough to interpret
"Thou dost set my mouth to water," he said to the blind man, with
well-assumed carelessness, "By all this talk of yearly pensions and of
guilders. I am a poor man, and not so young as I was. A thousand
guilders a year would keep me in comfort for the rest of my life."
"Yet art so obstinate," Diogenes riposted with a quaint, inane
laugh, "as to deny me a tankard of Spanish wine, which might put thee
in possession of my secret — a secret, good Jan, worth yearly pensions
and more to his lordship."
"How do I know thou'rt not a consummate liar?" Jan protested gruffly.
"I am!" the other riposted, wholly unruffled. "I am! Lying hath been
my chief trade ever since I was breeched. Had I not lied to the
Stadtholder he would not have entrusted his secrets to me, and I could
not have bartered those secrets for a tankard of good Spanish wine."
"Thy vaunted secrets may not be worth a tankard of wine."
"They are, friend Jan, they are! Try them and see."
"Well, let's hear them and, if they are worth it, I'll pay thee with
a tankard of his lordship's best Oporto."
But the blind man shook his head with owlish solemnity.
"And then sell them to his lordship," he retorted, "for pensions and
what not, whilst thine own hand, mayhap, puts the rope around my neck.
No, no, my good Jan, say no more about it. I'd as lief see his lordship
and thee falling into the Stadtholder's carefully laid trap, and
getting murdered in your beds, even while I am on my journey to kingdom
"Who is going to murder us?" Jan queried, frowning and puzzled,
trying to get his cue once more from his master. "And how?"
"I'll not tell thee," the blind man replied, with a quick turn to
that obstinacy which so oft pertains to the drunkard, "not if thou wert
to plunge me in a bath of best Oporto."
Some of the men began to murmur.
"We might all share?" one or two of them suggested.
"Let's hear what it is," others declared.
"I'll tell thee, knave, what I'll do," Jan rejoined decisively.
"I'll bring thee a tankard of Oporto to loosen thy tongue. Then, if thy
secret is indeed as important as thou dost pretend, I'll see that the
hangman is cheated of thy carcass."
For awhile the blind man pondered.
"Loosen my hands then, friend Jan," he said, "for, in truth, I am
trussed like a fowl; then let's feel the handle of that tankard. After
that we'll talk."
The soldiers sat around the table, watching the blind man with grave
attention. At a sign from Jan they soon loosened his bonds. There was
something magnetic in the air just then, something that sent sensitive
nerves aquiver, and of which these rough fellow were only vaguely
conscious. They could not look on that drunken loon without laughing.
He was more comical than ever now, with that air of bland beatitude
upon his face as his slender fingers closed around the handle of the
tankard which Jan had just placed in his hand.
"I would sell my soul for a butt of this nectar," he said; and drank
in the odour of the wine with every sign of delight, even before he
raised the tankard to his lips.
The Lord of Stoutenburg watched the blind man, too. A deep furrow
between his brows testified to the earnest concentration of his
thoughts. The man knew something, or thought he knew, of that his
lordship could not be in doubt. The question was, was that knowledge of
such importance as the miserable wretch averred, or was he merely, like
any rogue who sees the rope dangling before his eyes, trying to gain a
respite, by proposing vain bargains or selling secrets that had only
found birth in his own fuddled brain. Stoutenburg, remember, was no
psychologist. Indeed, psychology did not exist as a science in these
days when men were over-busy with fighting, and had no time or desire
to probe into the inner workings of one another's soul.
On the other hand, here was a man, thus his lordship argued to
himself, who might know something of the Stadtholder's plans. He was
wont, before he rolled so rapidly down the hill of manhood and repute,
to be an inimate of Maurice of Nassau. He might, as lately as
yesterday, have been initiated into the great soldier's plans for
repelling this sudden invasion of the land which he had thought secure.
The Stadtholder, in truth, was not the man to abandon all efforts at
resistance just because his original plans had failed.
True, the attempt to rescue Arnheim and Nijmegen had ended in smoke.
Marquet and De Keysere were, thanks to timely warning, being held up
somewhere by the armies of Isembourg and De Berg. But Maurice of Nassau
would not of a certainty, thus lightly abandon all hopes of saving
Gelderland. He must have formulated a project, and Stoutenburg, who was
no fool, was far from underestimating the infinite brain power and
resourcefulness of that peerless commander. Whether he had communicated
that project to this besotted oaf was another matter.
Stoutenburg searched the blind man's face with an intent glance that
seemed to probe the innermost thoughts behind that fine, wide brow. For
the moment, the face told him nothing. It was just vacant, the
sightless eyes shone with delight, and the tankard raised to the lips
effectually hid all expression around the mouth.
Well, there was not much harm done, the waste of a few moments, if
the information proved futile. Jan was ready with the rope, if the
whole thing proved to be a mere trick for putting off the fateful hour.
As the Lord of Stoutenburg gazed on the blind man, trying vainly to
curb his burning impatience, he instinctively thought of Gilda. Gilda,
and his hopeless wooing of her, her coldness toward him and her
passionate adherence to this miserable caitiff, who, in truth, had
thrown dust in her eyes by an outward show of physical courage and a
mock display of spurious chivalry.
What if the varlet had been initiated in the Stadtholder's projects?
What if he betrayed them now — sold them in exchange for his own
worthless life, and stood revealed, before all the world, as an abject
coward, as base as any Judas who would sell his master for thirty
pieces of silver? The thought turned the miscreant giddy, so dazzling
did this issue appear before his mental vision. What a revelation for a
fond and loyal woman, who had placed so worthless an object on a
pinnacle of valour! What a disillusionment! She had staunchly believed
in his integrity up to now. But after this?
In truth, what more can a man desire than to see the honour of a
rival smirched in the eyes of a woman who spurns him? That was the main
thought that coursed through Stoutenburg's brain, driving before it all
obstinacy and choler, ay, even soothing his exacerbated nerves.
He gave a sign to Jan.
"Bring that varlet here to me," he commanded. "I'll speak to him
The sound of his voice chased the look of beatitude from the blind
man's face, which took on an expression of bewildered surprise.
"I had no thought his lordship was here," he said, with a
self-conscious, inane laugh.
The men were murmuring audibly. Some of them had seen visions of
good reward, shared amongst them all, after the blind man had been made
to speak. But Jan paid no heed to their discontent. In a trice he had
seen the blind man secure once more, with arms tied as before behind
his back. Diogenes had uttered a loud cry of protest when the empty
tankard was torn out of his hand.
"Jan," he shouted, in a thick, hoarse voice, "if thou'rt a knave and
dost not keep faith with me, the devil himself will run away with thee."
"His Magnificence will hear what thou hast to say," Jan retorted
gruffly. "After that, we'll see."
He led the prisoner through into the banqueting-hall, and despite
the men's murmurings, he closed the door upon them. He sat the blind
man down in a chair, opposite his lordship. The poor loon had begun to
whimper softly, just like a child, and continued to appeal pitiably to
"If his lordship is satisfied," he murmured confidingly, "you'll see
to it, Jan, that I do not hang."
"Jan has his orders!" his lordship put in roughly. "But take heed,
sirrah! If your information is worth having, you may go to hell your
own way; I care nought! But remember," he added, with slow and stern
emphasis, "if you trick me in this, 'twil not be the rope for you at
dawn — but the stake!
Diogenes gave a quick shudder.
"By the lord," he said blandly, "how very unpleasant! But I am a man
of my word. Jan put good wine into me. He shall be paid for it. And
I'll tell you what the Stadtholder hath planned for the defeat of the
Lord of Stoutenburg."
"Well," his lordship retorted curtly. "I wait!"
There was silence for a moment whilst the blind man apparently
collected his thoughts. He sat, trussed and helpless in the chair, with
his head thrown back, and the full light of the candles playing upon
his pale face — the latter still vacant and with a childish expression
of excitement about those weird, dark orbs. The Lord of Stoutenburg,
master of the situation, sat in a high-backed chair opposite him, his
chin resting in his hand, his eyes, glowering and fierce, searching
that strange, mysterious face before him. Strange and mysterious, in
truth, with those sightless eyes, that glittered uncannily whenever the
flickering candle-light caught the abnormally dilated pupils, and those
quavering lips which every moment broke into a whimsical and inane
"Jan, my friend," the blind man asked after a while, "art here?"
"Ay!" Jan replied gruffly. "I'm here right enough to see that
thou'rt up to no mischief."
"How can I be that, worthy Jan?" the other retorted blandly, "since
thou hast again trussed me like a capon?"
"Well, the sooner thou hast satisfied his lordship," Jan rejoined
with stolid indifference, "the sooner thou wilt be free —-"
"To go to hell mine own way!" Diogenes put in with a hiccough. "So
his lordship hath pledged his word. Let all those who are my friends
bear witness that his lordship did pledge his word."
He paused, and once again a look of impish cunning over-spread his
face. He seemed to be preparing for a fateful moment which literally
would mean life or death for him. An exclamation of angry impatience
from Stoutenburg recalled him to himself.
"I am ready," he protested with eager servility, "to do his
"Then speak, man!" Stoutenburg retorted savagely, "ere I wring the
words from thee with torture!"
"I was only thinking how to put the matter clearly," Diogenes
protested blandly. "The Stadtholder only outlined his plan to me. There
was so little time. My friend Klaas will remember that after his
Highness's horse bolted across the moor I was able to stop it —-"
"Yes — curse your interference!" Stoutenburg muttered between his
"Amen to that!" the blind man assented. "But for it, I should still
have the privilege of beholding your lordship's pleasing countenance.
But at the moment I had no thought save to stop a runaway horse. The
Stadtholder was mightily excited, scented that a trap had been laid for
him. My friend Klaas again will remember that, after his Highness
dismounted he stopped to parley with me upon the moor."
"Then it was," Diogenes went on, "that he told what he meant to do.
I was, of course, to bear my part in the new project, which was to make
a feint upon Ede —-"
"A feint upon Ede?"
"Ay! A surprise attack, which would keep De Berg, who is in Ede,
busy whilst the Stadtholder —-"
"Bah!" Stoutenburg broke in contemptuously, "De Berg is too wary to
be caught by a feint."
"So he is, my lord, so he is!" Diogenes rejoined with solemn
gravity. "But if I were to tell you that the surprise attack is to be
made in full force, and that the weight will fall on the south side of
the town, what then?"
"I do not see with what object."
"Yet you, my lord, would know the Stadtholder's tactics of old. You
fought under his banner — once."
"Before he murdered my father, yes!" Stoutenburg broke in
impatiently. He did not relish this allusion to his former fighting
days, before black treachery had made him betray the ruler he once
served. "But what of that?"
"For then your lordship would remember," the blind man went on
placidly, "that the Stadtholder's favorite plan was always to draw the
enemy away by a ruse from his own chief point of attack."
"But where would the chief point of attack be in this case?"
Stoutenburg queried with a frown.
"At a certain molen your lordship wot of on the Veluwe."
"Oh, impossible? Your lordship is pleased to jest. Some days ago,
spies came into Utrecht with the information that the Lord of
Stoutenburg had his camp at an old molen, which stands disused and
isolated on the highest point of the Veluwe, somewhere between
Apeldoorn and Barneveld."
"My camp? Bah! The mill was only a halting place —-"
"The spies averred, my lord," the blind man broke in blandly, "that
vast stores of arms and ammunition are accumulated in that
halting-place. And that the attack on Amersfoort was planned within its
Then, as the Lord of Stoutenburg made no comment on this — indeed,
he had cast a rapid, significant glance on Nicolaes, who throughout
this colloquy had appeared as keen, as interested, as his friend — the
blind man went on slowly:
"The Stadtholder's objective is the molen on the Veluwe."
"What? From Ede!" Nicolaes exclaimed.
"No, no! Have I not said that the attack on Ede would be a feint? It
will be the Stadtholder himself who, with a comparatively small force,
will push on toward Barneveld and the molen, and at once cut off all
communication between Ede and Amersfoort."
"I understand," Stoutenburg rejoined, with a grave nod. "But if it
is a small force we can easily —-"
"You can now," Diogenes assented coolly, "since you are warned."
"Quite right! Eh, friend Nicolaes?" his lordship retorted, and
strove to let his harsh voice express a world of withering contempt.
"If all this is not a trick you varlet hath served us well. What say
you? Shall we let him go to hell his own way, and save the hangman a
deal of pother?"
"If it all prove true," Nicolaes put in cautiously. "But what proof
"None, in truth. Nor would I let this craven vagabond out of Jan's
sight until we do make sure that he hath not lied. But there'll be no
harm in being prepared. Here, sirrah!" his lordship continued, once
more addressing the blind man. "With how strong a force doth the
Stadtholder propose to cut us off from Ede?"
But, during this brief colloquy between the two friends, the blind
man had begun to nod. His head fell forward on his chest, the heavy
lids veiled the stricken eyes, and anon a peaceable snore came through
the partially open mouth. Stoutenburg swore, as was his wont, the
moment his choler was roused, and Jan shook the prisoner roughly by the
"Eh? Eh? What?" the latter queried, blinked his sightless eyes, and
turned a pale and startled face vaguely from side to side. "What is it?
Where's that confounded —-?
"Answer his lordship's question!" Jan commanded briefly.
"Question? What question? Your lordship must forgive me. I am so
fatigued, and that tankard of —-"
"I asked thee, knave," Stoutenburg broke in impatiently, "with how
strong a force the Stadtholder proposed to cut us off from Ede?"
"Call it four thousand, my lord," the blind man babbled, "and let me
go to sleep"
"You shall sleep till Judgement Day when I've done with you, sirrah!
Will the Stadtholder lead that force in person?"
The blind man winked and blinked, tried to collect his thoughts,
which apparently had all wandered off toward the Land of Nod. Then he
"The plan was to leave the bulk of that force to menace Amersfoort.
But the Stadtholder himself meant to push on as far as the molen, with
but a few hundred of his picked men. He thought to seize the stores of
arms and ammunition there and then to await the coming of the Lord of
Stoutenburg, who, driven out of Amersfoort and cut off from Ede, would
make of necessity for his headquarters."
The exclamation, deep and prolonged, came from three pairs of lips.
Stoutenburg, Nicolaes and Jan looked at one another, and there was
triumph and satisfaction depicted in their glance. The same thought had
occurred simultaneously to these three traitors; the Stadtholder, with
a comparatively small force, pushing on to the lonely molen on the
Veluwe, not knowing that some of De Berg's troops were holding the
He would be caught like a rat in a trap; and the question was
whether it would not be better to allow him to carry out his plan, not
to oppose him on his way, to let him reach the molen and then close in
behind him, so that he would have but two alternatives before him — to
surrender in the molen or to turn his small force in the direction of
the Zuider Zee, and therein seek a watery grave.
"I must have a little time to think," Stoutenburg muttered to
himself, after a while.
The blind man had apparently dropped off to sleep again. His head
had once more fallen forward on his chest. Jan was prepared to give him
another rude awakening, but his lordship stopped him with a sign.
"Let the muckworm sleep," he said. "I must think out the whole
position. If what the knave says is true-
"I am inclined to believe it true," Nicolaes interposed. "The man is
too fuddled to have invented so circumstantial a story. And I have it
in my mind," he added reflectively, "that when the Stadtholder visited
Amersfoort yesterday he said something to my father about devising a
plan later on if the city were seriously threatened."
"Then, by Satan! all would be well indeed!" And Stoutenburg drew up
his gaunt figure to its full height, looked every inch a conqueror,
with heel set upon the neck of his foes. Jan alone looked dubious.
"I wouldn't trust the rogue," he said grimly.
"Would you hang him now?" Stoutenburg retorted.
"No; I would wait to make sure. Let him sleep awhile now. When he
wakes out of his booze, he might be able to give us further details."
"In the meanwhile," his lordship rejoined, "keep the men under arms,
Jan. I have not yet thought the matter over; but this I know — that
I'll start for the molen with a few hundred musketeers and pikemen as
soon as I am sure that this rascallion hath not spun a tissue of lies.
Do you send out spies at once in every direction, with orders to bring
back information immediately. We must hear if an attack hath indeed
been made on Ede, and if the Stadtholder is moving out of Utrecht. Have
you some men you can trust?"
"Oh, yes, so please your lordship," Jan replied. "I can send Piet
Walleren in the direction of Ede, and I myself will push on toward
Utrecht. We'd both be back long before dawn."
"And 'tis not you who could be nousled, eh, good Jan?" his lordship
was pleased to say.
"If we have been tricked by this tosspot," Jan riposted gruffly,
"I'll see him burnt alive, and 'tis mine own hand will set the brand to
He paused, and drew in his breath with a shudder; for he had turned
to look on the blind man whom he was threatening with so dire a fate
and whom he had thought asleep, and encountered those sightless orbs
fixed upon him as if they could see something through and beyond him,
some ghoul or spectre lurking in a distant corner of the room. So
uncanny and terrifying did the rascal look, indeed, that instinctively
Jan, who believed neither in God nor the devil, remembered his mother's
early teachings, and made sundry and vague signs of the Cross upon his
breast, with a view to exorcising those evil spirits which must be
somewhere lurking about, unseen by all save by the man who had lost his
"What is it now?" Stoutenburg queried with a scowl.
The blind man indeed appeared to be listening — listening so
intently, with head now craned forward and eyes fixed into vacancy —
that instinctively the three recreants listened too. To what, they
could not have told. Through the open casement the sound of life —
camp life, of sentries' challenging call, of bivouac fires, and rowdy
soldiery — came in as before. A little less roisterous, perhaps,
seeing that most of the men, tired after long days of marching and
hours of carousing, had settled themselves down to sleep.
Inside the room, the monumental clock up against the wall ticked off
each succeeding second with tranquil monotony. It was now close upon
midnight. Nothing had happened. Nothing could have happened, to disturb
the wonted tenor of the life of an army in temporary occupation of an
unresisting city. Nothing, in fact, unless that blind tatter-demalion
over there had indeed spoken the truth.
And still he listened. A vague anxiety seemed to have completely
banished sleep, even momentarily to have dissipated the potent effect
of that excellent Oporto; and on his face there was that strained look
peculiar to those who have been robbed of one sense and are at pains to
exert the others to their utmost power. It seemed as if his sightless
orbs must pierce some hidden veil which kept vital secrets hidden from
ordinary human gaze. And these three men — traitors all — whose
craven hearts, weighted with crime, were sensitive to every uncanny
spell, felt their own senses unaccountably thrilled by that motionless,
stony image of a man whose very soul appeared on the alert, and in whom
life itself, was as it were, momentarily arrested.
The spell continued for a moment or two. A minute, perhaps, went by;
then, with an impatient curse, Stoutenburg jumped to his feet, strode
rapidly to the window, and, leaning out far over the sill, he listened.
Indeed, at first it was naught but the habitual confused sounds that
reach his ear. But as he, in his turn, strained every sense to hear,
something unusual seemed to mingle with the other sounds. A murmuring.
Strange voices. A few isolated words that rose above the others, louder
than the sentries' call; also a patter of feet, like men running and a
clang of arms that at this hour should have been stilled.
The Lord of Stoutenburg could not have told you then why those
sounds should have suddenly filled his mind with foreboding — why,
indeed, he heard them at all. Beneath the window, ranged against the
wall, the men of his picked company were sleeping peacefully. Their
bivouac fire fed by those on guard, shed a pleasant glow over the
familiar scene. Beyond its ruddy gleam everything looked by contrast
impenetrably dark. The river beyond it, nothing; only blackness — a
blackness that could be felt. The lights of the city had long since
been extinguished, only one tiny glimmer, which came from a small
oil-lamp, showed above the Koppel-poort.
But that confused sound, that murmuring, came from the rear of the
burgomaster's house, from the direction of the Market Place, where the
bulk of his lordship's army was encamped.
"What in thunder does it mean?" Stoutenburg muttered.
Nicolaes came and joined him by the window. He, too, strained his
ears to hear, feeling his nerves vaguely stirred by a kind of
superstitious dread. But Stoutenburg turned to the blind man, and tried
to read an answer in the latter's white, set face.
Jan shook Diogenes fiercely by the shoulder.
"Dost hear, knave?" he said harshly. "What does it all mean?"
"What does what mean, worthy Jan?" the blind man queried blandly.
"Thou are listening for something. What is it? His lordship desires
"Canst thou hear anything, friend Jan?" the other riposted serenely.
"Only the usual sounds. What should I hear?"
"The armies of the Stadtholder on the move."
An exclamation of incredulity broke from Stoutenburg's lips.
Nevertheless, he turned imperatively to Jan.
"Go or send at once into the town," he commanded. "Let us hear if
anything has happened."
In a moment Jan was out of the room; and soon his gruff voice could
be heard from outside, questioning and giving orders. He had gone
himself to see what was amiss.
And Stoutenburg, half incredulous, yet labouring under strong
excitement, once more approached the window and, leaning far out into
the night, set his ears to listen.
His senses, too, were keyed up now, detached as they were from
everything else except just what went on outside. The subdued
murmurings reached his perceptions independently of every other sound.
A hum of voices, and through it that of Jan, questioning and
commanding; and others that talked agitatedly, with many interruptions.
After awhile he felt that he could stand the strain no longer. Very
obviously something had happened, something was being discussed out on
the Market Place, and there was a kind of buzzing in the air, as if
around the hive of bees that have been disturbed by a company of
robber-wasps. And to him — Stoutenburg — for whom that buzzing might
mean the first step toward the pinnacle of his desires, the turning
point of his destiny, beyond which lay power, dominion, ambition
satisfied, and passion satiated, every moment of suspense and silence
became positive torture. A primeval, savage instinct would, but for the
presence of Nicolaes, have driven him to seizing the helpless prisoner
by the throat, and thus to ease the tension on his nerves and still the
wild hammering of blood on his temples.
But Nicolaes did, as it happened, exercise in this instance a
restraining influence on his friend; quite unknowingly, of course, as
his was the weaker nature. But the last half hour had wrought a marked
change in Stoutenburg — a subtle one, which he himself could not have
defined. Before then, he had been striving for great things — for
revenge, for power, for the satisfaction of his passions. But now he
felt that he had attained all that, and more. Obviously his stricken
enemy had not lied. The Stadtholder was about to fall into a trap which
was easy enough to set. The once brilliant Laughing Cavalier had sunk
to a state of moral and physical degradation from which he could never
now recover. And Gilda! Gilda had but to realize the slough of
turpitude into which her former lover had sunk to turn gratefully and
with a sigh of infinite relief to the man who had freed her from such a
In truth, Stoutenburg felt that he no longer needed to climb. He had
reached the summit. The summit of ambition, of power, of sentimental
satisfaction. He was a conqueror now; master in the land of his birth;
the future Stadtholder of the United Province, wedded to the richest
heiress in the Netherlands; happy, feared, and obeyed.
That was his position now, and that was the cause of the subtle
change in him — a change which forced him to keep his savage instincts
in check before his servile friend; forced to try and appear before
others as above petty passions; a justiciary and not a terrorist.
The minutes sped by, leaden-footed for the impatience of these two
men. Nicolaes and Stoutenburg, each trying to appear calm, hardly dared
to speak with one another lest their speech betrayed the exacerbation
of their nerves.
It was Nicolaes' turn now to pace up and down the room, to halt
beside the window and peer out into the darkness in search of Jan's
familiar figure. Stoutenburg had once more taken a seat on the
highbacked chair, striving to look dignified and detached. His arm was
thrown over the table, and with his sharply pointed nails he was
drumming a devil's tatoo on the board.
Alone, the blind man appeared perfectly serene. After that brief
moment of comparative lucidity, he had relapsed into somnolence.
Occasional loud snores testified that he was once more wandering in the
Elysian fields of unconsciousness.
Half an hour after midnight Jan returned.
"There is no doubt about it," were the first words he spoke. "An
attack on Ede appears to be in progress, and the Stadtholder left his
camp at Utrecht a couple of hours ago with a force of four thousand
He was out of breath, having run, he said, all the way from the
Joris Poort, where he had gleaned the latest information.
"Who brought the news?" his lordship asked.
"No one seems to know, my lord," Jan replied. "But every one in the
town has it. The rumour hath spread like wildfire. It started at
opposite quarters of the city. The Nieuw Poort had it that a surprise
attack had been delivered on Ede earlier in the evening, and the Joris
Poort that the Stadtholder and his force are on the move. The captains
at the gates had heard the news from runners who had come direct from
Utrecht and from Ede."
"Where are those runners now?"
"In both cases the captains sent them back for further information.
The fellows were willing enough to go, for a consideration; but the
business has become a dangerous one, for the roads to Utrecht and Ede,
they averred are already full of the Stadtholder's vedettes."
"Bah!" Stoutenburg ejaculated contemptuously. "A device for
"Probably," Jan riposted dryly. "But the money will be well spent if
we get the information. The men are not to be paid until they return.
And if they do not return —-" Jan shrugged his shoulders. If the spies
did not return, it would go to prove that the Stadtholder's vedettes
were not asleep.
"I sent Piet Wallerin and one or two others out, too," he added,
"with orders to push on both roads as far as possible, and bring back
any information they can obtain — the sooner the better.
"They have not yet returned?" Stoutenburg asked.
"Oh, no! They have only been gone half an hour."
"Is the night very dark?"
"Very dark, my lord."
"Piet may never get back."
"In that case we shall know that the Stadtholder's vanguard has
sighted him," Jan rejoined coolly. "Nothing else would keep Piet from
Stoutenburg nodded approval.
"You think, then, that this varlet here spoke the truth?"
"I have no longer any doubt of it, my lord," Jan gave reply. "Though
I did not actually speak with the men who seem originally to have
brought the news, the captains at the Poorts had no doubt whatever as
to its authenticity. But we shall know for certain before dawn. Piet
and the others will have returned by then — or not, as the case may
be. But we shall know."
"And, of course, we are prepared?"
"To do just what your lordship commands. The men will be under arms
within the next two hours, and I can seek the Master of the Camp, and
send him at once to your lordship for instructions."
"Mine instructions are simple enough, good Jan; and thou canst
convey them to the Master of the Camp thyself. They are, to remain
quiescent, under arms but asleep. To surrender the town if it be
"To surrender?" Jan protested with a frown.
"We must throw dust in the Stadtholder's eyes," Stoutenburg
riposted. "Give the idea that we are feeble and unprepared, and that I
have fled out of Amersfoort. The surrender of the city and its
occupation will keep the main force busy, whilst Maurice of Nassau,
anxious to possess himself of our person, will push on as far as the
molen, where I, in the meanwhile, will be waiting for him."
His voice rang with a note of excitement and of triumph.
"With the Stadtholder a prisoner in my hands," he exclaimed, "I can
command the surrender of all his forces. And then the whole of the
Netherlands will be at my feet!"
Never, in his wildest dreams had he hoped for this. Fate, in very
truth, had tired of smiting him, had an overfull cornucopia for him now
and was showering down treasures upon him, one by one.
It was Nicolaes who first remembered the blind man.
During the last momentous half-hour he had been totally forgotten.
Stoutenburg during that time had been in close confabulation with Jan,
discussing plans, making arrangements for the morrow's momentous
expedition. Neither of them seemed to feel the slightest fatigue. They
were men of iron, whom their passions kept alive. But Nicolaes was a
man of straw. He had been racked by one emotion after the other all
day, and now he was so tired that he could hardly stand. He envied the
blind man every time that a lusty snore escaped the latter's lips, and
tried to keep himself awake by going to the fire from time to time and
throwing a log or two upon it. But he stood in too great an awe of his
friend to dare own to fatigue when the future of his native land was
It was really in order to divert Stoutenburg's attention from these
interminable discussions on what to do and what not to do on the
morrow, that presently, during a pause, he pointed to Diogenes.
"What is to happen to this drunken loon?" he asked abruptly.
Stoutenburg grinned maliciously.
"Have no fear, friend Nicolaes," he said. "The fate of our valued
informer will be my special care. I have not forgotten him. Jan knows.
While you were nodding, he and I arranged it all. You did not hear?"
Nicolaes shook his head.
"No," he said. "What did you decide?"
"You shall see, my good Klaas," Stoutenburg replied with grim
satisfaction. "I doubt not but what you'll be pleased. And since we
have now finished the discussion of our plans, Jan will at once go and
bid the Heer Burgomaster rise from his bed and attend upon our
"My father?" Nicolaes exclaimed in surprise. "Why? What hath he —-"
"You will see, my good Klaas," the other broke in quietly. "You will
see. I think that you will be satisfied."
Jan, at his word, had already gone. Nicolaes, really puzzled, tried
to ask questions, but Stoutenburg was obviously determined to keep the
secret of his intentions awhile longer to himself.
It was long past one o'clock now, and bitterly cold. Even the huge
blazing logs in the monumental hearth failed to keep the large room at
a pleasing temperature. Nicolaes, shivering and yawning, crouched
beside the blaze, knocked his half-frozen hands one against the other.
He would at this moment have bartered most of his ambitions for the
immediate prospect of a good bed. But Stoutenburg was as wide awake as
ever, and evidently some kind of inward fever kept the cold out of his
After Jan's departure he resumed that restless pacing of his up and
down the long room. Up and down, until Nicolaes, exasperated beyond
endurance, could have screamed with choler.
Less than a quarter of an hour later, the burgomaster arrived,
ushered in by Jan. He had apparently not taken off his clothes since he
had been upstairs. It was indeed more that likely that he had spent the
time in prayer, for Mynheer Beresteyn was a pious man, and the will of
God in fortune or adversity was a very real thing to him. With the same
dignified submission which he had displayed throughout, he had
immediately followed Jan when curtly ordered to do so. But he came down
to face the arrogant tyrant for the third time to-night with as heavy a
heart as before, not knowing what fresh indignity, what new cruel
measure, would be put upon him. Grace or clemency he knew that he could
The look of malignant triumph wherewith Stoutenburg greeted him
appeared to justify his worst forebodings. The presence, too, of
Diogenes, fettered and asleep, filled his anxious heart with additional
dread. As he stepped out into the room he took no notice of his son,
but only strove to face his arch-enemy with as serene a countenance as
he could command.
"Your lordship desired that I should come," he said quietly. "What
is your lordship's pleasure?"
But Stoutenburg was all suavity. A kind of feline gentleness was in
his tone as he replied:
"Firstly, to beg your forgiveness, mynheer, for having disturbed you
again — and at this hour. But will you not sit? Jan," he commanded,
"draw a chair nearer to the hearth for the Heer Burgomaster."
"I was not asleep, my lord," Beresteyn rejoined coldly. "And by your
leave, will take your commands standing."
"Oh, commands, mynheer!" Stoutenburg rejoined blandly. " 'Tis no
commands I would venture to give you. It was my duty — my painful duty
— not to keep you in ignorance of certain matters which have just come
to my knowledge, and which will have a momentous bearing upon all my
future plans. Will you not sit?" he added, with insidious urbanity.
"No? Ah, well, just as you wish. But you will forgive me if I —-"
He sat down in his favourite chair, with his back to the table and
the candle-light and facing the fire, which threw ruddy gleams on his
gaunt face and grizzled hair. His deepset eyes were inscrutable in the
shadow, but they were fixed upon the burgomaster who stood before him
dignified and calm, half-turned away from the pitiful spectacle which
the blind man presented in somnolent helplessness.
"Since last I had the pleasure of addressing you, mynheer,"
Stoutenburg began slowly, after awhile, "it hath come to my knowledge
that the Stadtholder, far from abandoning all hope of reconquering
Gelderland from our advancing forces, did in truth not only devise a
plan whereby he intended to deliver Ede and Amersfoort from our hands,
but his far-reaching project also embraced the possibility of seizing
my person, and once for all ridding himself of an enemy — a
justiciary, shall we say? — who is becoming might inconvenient."
"A project, my lord," the burgomaster riposted earnestly, "which I
pray God may fully succeed."
Stoutenburg gave a derisive laugh.
"So it would have done, mynheer," he said with a sardonic grin. "It
would have succeeded admirably, and by this hour to-morrow I should no
doubt be dangling on a gibbet, for Maurice of Nassau hath sworn that he
would treat me as a knave and as a traitor unworthy of the scaffold."
"And the world would have been rid of a murderous miscreant," the
burgomaster put in coldly, "had God so willed it."
"Ah, but God — your God, mynheer," Stoutenburg retorted with a
sneer, "did not will it, it seems. And forewarned is forearmed, you
Instinctively, as the full meaning of Stoutenburg's words reached
his perceptions the Burgomaster's eyes had sought those of his son,
whilst a ghastly pallor overspread his face even to his lips.
"The Stadtholder's schemes have been revealed to you," he murmured
slowly. "By whom?"
Then, as Stoutenburg made no reply, only regarded him with a mocking
and quizzical gaze, he added more vehemently:
"Who is the craven informer who hath sold his master to you?"
"What would you do to him if you knew?" Stoutenburg retorted coolly.
"Slay him with mine own hand," the burgomaster replied calmly, "were
he my only son!"
" 'Twas not I!" Nicolaes cried involuntarily.
Stoutenburg appeared vastly amused.
"No," he said. "It was not your son Klaas, whose merits, by the way,
you have not yet learned to appreciate. Nicolaes hath rendered me and
the Archduchess immense services, which I hope soon to repay
adequately. But," he added with mocking emphasis, "the most signal
service of all, which will deliver the Stadtholder into my hands and
re-establish thereby the dominion of Spain over the Netherlands, was
rendered to me by the varlet whom, but for me, you would have acclaimed
as your son."
And with a wide flourish of the arm, Stoutenburg turned in his chair
and pointed to Diogenes, who, sublimely unconscious of what went on
around him, was even in the act of emitting a loud and prolonged snore.
Instinctively the burgomaster looked at him. his glance, vague and
puzzled, wandered over the powerful figure of the blind man, the
nodding head, the pinioned shoulders, and from him back to Stoutenburg,
who continued to regard him — Beresteyn — with a malicious leer.
"I fear me," the latter murmured after awhile, "That your lordship
will think me over-dull; but — I don't quite understand —-"
"Yet, 'tis simple enough," Stoutenburg rejoined; rose from his
chair, and approached the burgomaster, as he spoke with a sudden fierce
tone of triumph. "This miserable cur on whom Gilda once bestowed her
love, seeing the gallows dangling before his bleary eyes, hath sold me
the secrets which the Stadtholder did entrust him — sold the to me in
exchange for his worthless life! I entered into a bargain with him, and
I will keep my pledge. In very truth, he hath saved my life by his
revelations, and jeopardized that of the Stadtholder — my most bitter
enemy. Maurice of Nassau had thought to trap me in the lonely molen on
the Veluwe which is my secret camp. Now 'tis I who will close the trap
on him there, and hold his life, his honour, these provinces, at my
mercy. And all," he concluded with a ringing shout, "thanks to the
brilliant adventurer, the chosen of Gilda's heart, her English milor,
mynheer! — the gay and dashing Laughing Cavalier!"
He had the satisfaction of seeing that the blow had gone home. The
burgomaster literally staggered under it, as if he had actually been
struck in the face with a whip. Certain it is that he stepped back and
clutched the table for support with one hand, whilst he passed the
other once or twice across his brow.
"My God!" he murmured under his breath.
Stoutenburg laughed as a demon might, when gazing on a tortured
soul. Then he shrugged his shoulders and went on airily:
"You are surprised, mynheer Burgomaster?" Frankly, I was not. You
believed this fortune-hunter's tales of noble parentage and English
ancestry. I did not. You doubted his treachery when he went on a
message to Marquet, and sold that message to de Berg. I knew it to be a
fact. My love for Gilda made me clear-sighted, whilst yours left you
blind. Now you see him at last in his true colours — base, servile,
without honour and without faith. You are bewildered, incredulous,
mayhap? Ask Jan. He was here and heard him. Ask my captains at the
gate, my master of the camp. The Stadtholder is heading straight for
the trap which he had set up for me, because the cullion who sits there
did sell his one-time master to me."
The burgomaster, overcome with horror and with shame, had sunk into
a chair and buried his face in his hands. The echo of Stoutenburg's
rasping voice seemed to linger in the noble panelled hall, its mocking
accents to be still tearing at the stricken father's aching heart,
still deriding his overwhelming sorrow. Gilda! His proud, loving, loyal
Gilda! If she were to know! A great sob, manfully repressed, broke from
his throat and threatened to choke him.
And for the first time in this day of crime and of treachery,
Nicolaes felt a twinge of remorse knocking at the gates of his heart.
He could not bear to look on his father's grief, and not feel the vague
stirrings of an affection which had once been genuine, even though it
was dormant now. His father had been perhaps more just toward him than
indulgent. Gilda had been the apple of his eyes, and he — Nicolaes —
had been brought up in that stern school of self-sacrifice and
self-repression which had made heroes of those of his race in their
stubborn and glorious fight for liberty.
No doubt it was that rigid bringing-up which had primarily driven an
ambitious and discontented youth like Nicolaes into the insidious net
spread out for him by the wily Stoutenburg. Smarting under the
discipline imposed upon his self-indulgence by the burgomaster, he had
lent a willing ear to the treacherous promises of his masterful friend,
who held out dazzling visions before him of independence and of
aggrandisement. Even at this moment Nicolaes felt no remorse for his
treachery to his country and kindred. He was only sentimentally sorry
to see his father so utterly broken down by sorrow.
And then there was Gilda. Already, when Stoutenburg had placed that
cruel "either — or" before her, Nicolaes had felt an uncomfortable
pain in his heart at the sight of her misery. Stoutenburg would have
called it weakness, and despised him for it. But Stoutenburg's was an
entirely warped and evil nature, which revelled in crime and cruelty as
a solace to past humiliation and disappointment, whereas Nicolaes was
just a craven time-server, who had not altogether succeeded in freeing
himself from past teachings and past sentiments.
And Gilda's pale, tear-stained face seemed to stare at him through
the gloom, reproachful and threatening, whilst his father's
heartrending sob tore at his vitals and shook him to the soul with a
kind of superstitious awe. The commandment of Heaven, not wholly
forgotten, not absolutely ignored, seemed to ring the death-knell of
all that he had striven for, as if the Great Judge of All had already
weighed his deeds in the balance, and decreed that his punishment be
swift and sure.
But Stoutenburg, in this the hour of his greatest triumph, had none
of these weaknesses. Nor indeed did he care whether the burgomaster was
stricken with sorrow or no. What he did do now was to go up to Jan, and
from the latter's belt take out a pistol. This he examined carefully,
then he put it down upon the table close to where the burgomaster was
A quarter of an hour later the stately house on the quay appeared
wrapped in the mantle of sleep. The soldiers, wearied and discontented,
had after a good deal of murmuring, finally settled down to rest. They
had collected what clothes, blankets, curtains even that they could lay
their hands on, and wrapped up in these, they had curled themselves up
upon the floor.
We may take it, however, as a certainty that Jan remained wide
awake, with one ear on that door which gave on the banqueting hall, and
which he, at the command of his master, had carefully closed behind him.
Upstairs, Nicolaes had thrown himself like an insentient and wearied
mass upon his own bed in the room wherein he had slept as a child, as
an adolescent, as a youth, now as a black-hearted traitor, haunted by
memories and the ghoulish shadows, of his crime. He could not endure
the darkness, so left a couple of wax candles burning in their sconces.
Whether he actually fell asleep or no, he could not afterward have told
you. Certain it is that he was not fully awake, but rather on that
threshold of dreams which for those that are happy is akin to the very
gate of paradise, but unto souls that are laden with crime is like the
antechamber of hell. Half consciously Nicolaes could hear Stoutenburg
pacing up and down an adjoining room, restless and fretful, like some
untamed beast on the prowl.
Then suddenly the sharp report of a pistol rang through the silence
of the night. Nicolaes jumped from his bed, with a feeling of sheer
physical nausea, which turned him dizzy and faint. Stoutenburg had
paused abruptly in his febrile wanderings. To the listener it almost
seemed as if he could hear his friend's laboured breathing, the
indrawing of a sigh that spoke of torturing suspense.
A few minutes went by, and then a heavy step was heard ascending the
stairs, after that, the closing and shutting of a door. Then nothing
In that heavy step, Nicolaes had recognized his father's. Even now
he could hear the burgomaster moving about in his room close by, which
had always been his. Gilda's was further along, down the passage.
Everything now seemed so still. Just for awhile, after the burgomaster
had gone upstairs, Nicolaes had heard the soldiers moving down below.
Rudely awakened from their sleep, they had done a good deal of
muttering. Voices could be heard, and then a rattle, like the shaking
of a door. But apparently the men had been quickly reassured by Jan.
The silence acted as a further irritant on Nicolaes' nerves. Taking
up a candle, he went out of the room in search of Stoutenburg. Outside
on the landing he came upon Jan, who was on the same errand bent.
"What has happened?" the young man queried hoarsely.
Jan shook his head. "Which is His Lordship's room?" was all that he
Nicolaes led the way, and Jan followed. They found Stoutenburg
standing in the middle of the room which he had selected for his own
use. He was still fully dressed, had not even taken off his boots.
Apparently he was waiting for news, but otherwise he seemed quite calm.
"Well?" he queried curtly, as soon as he caught sight of Jan.
"We cannot get into the room," Jan replied. "After we heard the shot
fired, we saw the burgomaster come out of it; but he locked the door
and, with the key in his hand he walked steadily up the stairs."
"How did he look?"
"Like a man who had seen a ghost."
"Well?" Stoutenburg queried again, impatiently. "What did you do
"I tried the door, of course. It is a stout piece of oak, and I had
no orders to break it down. It would take a heavy joist, and the men
are already grumbling —-"
"Yes!" Stoutenburg put in curtly. "But the windows?"
"I thought of them, and myself went round to look. Of course we
could climb up to them, but they appeared to be barred and shuttered."
"So much the better!" his lordship retorted with a note of grim
spite in his rasping voice. "Let the varlet's carcase rot where it is.
Why should we trouble? Go back to bed, Nicolaes," he added after a
slight pause. "And you too, Jan. As for me, I feel that I could sleep
peacefully at last!"
He threw himself on the bed with a long sigh of satisfaction, and
when spoken to again by one of the others, he curtly ordered them to
leave him in peace. So Jan did leave him, and went back to his men. But
Nicolaes, terrified of solitude, which he felt would for him be peopled
with ghouls, elected to find what rest he could in an armchair beside
his friend. And a few minutes later the house was once more wrapped in
the mantle of sleep.
CHAPTER XV—THE MOLEN ON THE VELUWE
Again it is to de Voocht's highly interesting and reliable "Brieven"
that we like to turn for an account of the Lord of Stoutenburg's
departure out of Amersfoort. It occurred at dawn of a raw, dull March
morning, and was effected with all the furtiveness, the silence,
usually pertaining to a surprise attack.
The soldiers bivouacking inside that part of the city knew nothing
of the whole affair. But few of them did as much as turn in their sleep
when his lordship rode through the Koppel-poort, together with four
companies of cavaliers. Jan was an adept at arranging these
expeditions, and the Lord of Stoutenburg had made a specialty of
marauding excursions ever since he had started on his career of
treachery against his own country.
His standard-bearer preceded the companies, carrying the sable
standard embroidered in silver, with the skull and cross-bones, which
his lordship had permanently adopted as his device. But they went
without drums or pipes, and with as little clatter as may be, choosing
the unpaved streets whereon the mud lay thick and effectually deadened
the sound of horses' hoofs.
A litter taken from the burgomaster's coach-house and borne by two
strong Flemish horses, bore the jongejuffrouw Gilda Beresteyn in the
train of her future lord. She had offered no resistance, no protest of
any kind, when finally ordered by her brother to make herself ready.
She had spent the greater part of the night in meditation and in
prayer. Her father, hearing her move about in her room, had come to her
in the small hours of the morning and had sat with her for some time.
Nicolaes, wakeful and restless, had wandered out into the corridor on
which gave most of the sleeping rooms, and had heard the subdued
murmurings of the burgomaster's voice, and occasionally that of his
sister. What they said he could not hear, but he was able subsequently
to assure Stoutenburg that the burgomaster's tone was distinctly one of
admonition, and Gilda's one of patience and resignation.
Just before dawn, one of the old serving men, who had remained on
watch in the house all through the night, brought her some warm milk
and bread, which she swallowed eagerly. The burgomaster was with her
then. But later on, when the Lord of Stoutenburg desired her presence
in the living room, she went to him alone.
That room was the one where, a little more than a week ago, the
Stadtholder had held council with the burgomaster and his friends, on
the day of her wedding, Her wedding! And she had sat in the little room
next to it and played on the virginal so as to attract her beloved to
her side. Then had come the hour of parting, and she had with her own
hands taken his sword to him and buckled it to his side, and bade him
go wither honour and duty beckoned.
My God, what memories!
But she met Stoutenburg's mocking glance with truly remarkable
serenity. She felt neither faint nor weak. He communion with God, her
interview with her father had given her all the strength she needed,
not to let her enemies see what she suffered or if she were afraid. And
when Stoutenburg with callous irony reminded her of his decision, she
answered quite calmly:
"I am ready to do your wish, my lord."
"And you'll not regret it, Gilda," he vowed with sudden earnestness;
and his sunken eyes lighted up with a kind of fierce ardour which sent
a cold shudder coursing down her spine. "By Heaven! you'll not regret
it! You shall be the greatest lady in Europe, the most admired, the
most beloved. Aye! With you beside me, I feel that I shall have the
power to create a throne, a kingdom, for us both. Queen of the
Netherlands, myn engel! What say you to this goal? And I your king —-"
He paused and closely scrutinized her face, marvelled what she knew
of that drunken oaf, once her lover, who now lay dead in the room
below, slain by the avenging hand of an outraged father and an
indignant patriot. But she looked so serene that he came to the
conclusion that she knew nothing. The burgomaster had apparently
desired to spare her for the moment this additional horror and shame.
Well no doubt it was all for the best. She was ready to come with
him, and that, after all, was the principal thing. In any event she
knew the alternative.
"Jan remains here," he said, "in command of the troops. He will not
leave until I send him word."
Until then, Amersfoort and the lives of all its citizens were in
jeopardy. The quick, scared look in her eyes, when he reminded her of
this, was sufficient to assure him that she fully grasped the position.
Of the Stadtholder's plans, as betrayed by the informer, she knew, of
course, nothing. Better so, he thought. The whole thing, when
accomplished, when he — Stoutenburg — was made master of Gelderland,
the Stadtholder a prisoner in his hands, the United Provinces ready to
submit to him, would be a revelation to her — a revelation which would
make her, he doubted not, a proud and happy woman, rather than a mere
In the meanwhile, he had strictly enjoined Jan to leave the
banqueting hall undisturbed.
"Let the locked door and close shutters guard the grim secret
within," he said decisively. "Apparently the Heer Burgomaster intends
for the nonce to hold his tongue."
In the hurry and excitement of the departure, the soldiers, who in
the night had been roused by the pistol shot, forgot that unimportant
event. Certain it is that not one of them did more than cursorily
wonder what it had been about. Then, as no one gave reply, the matter
was soon allowed to fall into oblivion. At one moment, Stoutenburg who
was standing in the hall waiting for Gilda, felt tempted to go and have
a last look on his dead enemy; but the key was not in the lock and he
would not send to the burgomaster for it.
It was better so.
Just then Gilda came down the stairs. She was accompanied by her old
waiting woman, Maria, and was wrapped in fur cloak and hood ready for
the journey. Apparently she had taken final leave of her father, and
had quite resigned herself to parting from him.
"The burgomaster is well, I trust, this morning?" Stoutenburg asked
with great urbanity, as soon as he had formally greeted her.
"I thank you, my lord," she replied coolly. "My father is as well as
I can desire."
The litter was her own. Oft had she travelled in it between Haarlem
and Amersfoort, when the weather was too rough for riding. Those had
been happy journeys to and fro, for both homes were dear to her. Both
now had become hallowed through the presence in them of her beloved. To
Stoutenburg, who watched her keenly while she crossed the hall, it
seemed as if once she glanced round in the direction of the banqueting
room, and craned her neck as if trying to catch whatever faint sound
might be coming from there. She appeared to shiver, and drew her fur
cloak closer round her shoulders, her lips moved slightly as if
murmuring. Stoutenburg thought that she was bidding a last farewell to
the man who she could not bring herself to forget or to despise and an
acute feeling of unbridled jealousy shot through him like a poisoned
dart — jealousy even of the dead.
A mounted scout led the way, to clear the road of encumbrance that
might retard progress. After him came the standard-bearer. Twelve
Spanish halberdiers followed, the shafts of their halberts swathed in
black velvet, behind them one hundred cavaliers, who were armed with
muskets, and a hundred more carrying lances. Then came the litter,
which was covered in leather with richly stamped leather curtains, at
the sides, the shafts, front and back, supported by heavy Flemish
horses, which were sumptuously caparisoned and plumed. The Lord of
Stoutenburg rode on one side of the litter and Nicolaes on the other,
and behind it came two more companies of musketeers and lancers.
The way lay through the Koppel-poort and then straight across the
Veluwe, on the road which runs to the north of Amersfoort, thus
avoiding any possible encounter with the Stadtholder's vedettes.
Stoutenburg's intention was to await Maurice of Nassau's coming at the
molen, not to offer him battle in the open.
The road was lonely at this early hour, and a cutting wind blew
across from the Zuider Zee, chasing the morning mist before it. Already
on the horizon above the undulating tableland, the pale wintry sun
tinged that mist with gold. Stoutenburg's keen hawklike eyes searched
the distance before him as he rode.
A little after seven o'clock, Barneveld was reached, and a brief
halt called outside the city whilst the scouts went in, in search of
provisions. The inhabitants, scared by the advent of these strangers,
submitted to being fleeced of their goods, not daring to resist. Though
closely questioned, they had but little information to impart. They
had, in truth, heard that Ede was in the hands of the Spaniards and
that Amersfoort had shared the like fate. Runners had brought the news,
which was authentic, together with many wild rumours that had
terrorized the credulous and paved the way for Stoutenburg's arrival.
His sable standard, with its grim device, completed the subjugation of
the worthy burghers of Barneveld, who, with no garrison to protect
them, thought it wisest to obey the behests of His Magnificence with a
show of goodwill, rather than see their little city pillaged or their
citizens dragged as captives in the train of the conqueror.
Gilda did not leave her litter during the halt. Maria, who had been
riding on a pillion behind one of the equerries, who she roundly
trounced and anathematized all the way, came and waited on her
mistress. But Stoutenburg and Nicolaes kept with unwonted discretion,
or mayhap indifference, out of her way.
The halt, in truth, lasted less than a couple of hours. By nine
o'clock the troop was once more on the way, and an hour later on the
high upland, out toward the east, the lonely molen loomed, portentous
and weird, out of the mist.
The spies of the Stadtholder, who had, according to Diogenes'
statement, spoken of the molen as Stoutenburg's camp, where he had
secreted great stores of arms and ammunition, had in truth been either
deceived or deceivers.
The molen was lonely and uninhabited, as it had always been. No sign
of life appeared around it, or sign of the recent breaking of a camp.
True, here and there upon the scrub in the open, the scorched rough
grass or a heap of ashes, indicated that a fire had been lit there at
one time; whilst under the overhanging platform, the trampled earth
converted into mud, and certain debris of straw and fodder, accused the
recent presence of horses and of men.
But only a few. As to whether the stores of arms and ammunition were
indeed concealed inside the mill-house itself, it was impossible to say
from the mere aspect of the tumble-down building. Whatever secret the
molen contained, it had succeeded in guarding inviolate up to this hour.
Standing as it did upon a high point of the arid upland, the molen
dominated the Veluwe. Toward the west, whence the Stadtholder would
come, a gentle, undulating slope led down to Barneveld and Ede,
Amersfoort and Utrecht; but in the rear of the building toward the
east, the ground fell away more abruptly, down to a narrow gorge below.
It was in this gorge, secluded from the prying eyes of possible
vedettes, that Stoutenburg had put up his camp ere he embarked upon his
fateful expedition to Amersfoort, and it was here that he disposed the
bulk of his troop: horses, men and baggage, under the command of
Nicolaes Beresteyn; whilst he himself, with a bodyguard of fifty picked
men, took up his quarters in the molen.
The plan of action was simple enough. The fifty men would remain
concealed in and about the building, until the Stadtholder thinking the
place deserted, walked straight into the trap that had been laid for
him. Then, at the first musket shot, the men from the camp below were
to rush up the sloping ground with a great clatter and much shouting
and battle cry.
The Stadtholder's troops wholly unprepared for the attack would be
thrown into dire confusion, and in the panic that would inevitably
ensue, the rout would be complete. Stoutenburg himself would see to it
that the Stadtholder did not escape.
"Welcome home, myn engel!" had been his semi-ironical, wholly
triumphant greeting to Gilda when her litter came to a halt and he
dismounted in order to conduct her into the molen.
She gave him no answer, but allowed her hand to rest in his and
walked beside him with a firm step through the narrow door which gave
on the interior of the mill-house. She looked about her with inquiring
eyes that had not a vestige of terror in them. Almost, it seemed, at
one moment as if she smiled.
Did her memory conjure back just then the vision of that other
molen, the one at Ryswick, where so much had happened three short
months ago, and where this arrogant tyrant had played such a sorry
role? Perhaps. Certain it is that she turned to him without any
defiance, almost with a gentle air of appeal.
"I am very tired," she said, with a weary little sigh, "and would be
grateful for a little privacy, if your lordship would allow my
tire-woman to attend on me."
"Your wishes are my laws, myn schat," he replied airily. "I entreat
you to look on this somewhat dilapidated building only as a temporary
halt, where nothing, alas! can be done for your comfort. I trust you
will not suffer from the cold, but absolute privacy you shall have. The
loft up those narrow steps is entirely at your disposal, and your woman
shall come to you immediately."
Indeed, he called at once through the door, and a moment or two
later Maria appeared, reduced to silence for the nonce by a wholesome
fear. Stoutenburg, in the meanwhile, still with that same ironical
gallantry, had conducted Gilda to the narrow, ladder-like steps which
led up to the loft. He stood at the foot, watching her serene and
"How wise you are, mejuffrouw," he said, with a sigh of
satisfaction. "And withal how desirable!"
She turned for a second, then, and looked down on him. But her eyes
were quite inscrutable. Never had he desired her so much as now. With
the gloomy background of those rickety walls behind her, she looked
like an exquisite fairy; her dainty head wrapped in a hood, through
which her small, oval face appeared, slightly rose-tinted, like a piece
of delicate china.
The huge fur coat concealed the lines of her graceful figure, but
one perfect hand rested upon the rail, and the other peeped out like a
flower between the folds of her cloak. He all but lost his head when he
gazed on her, and met those blue eyes that still held a mystery for
him. But, with Stoutenburg, ambition and selfishness always waged
successful warfare even against passion, and at this hour his entire
destiny was hanging in the balance.
The look wherewith he regarded her was that of a conqueror rather
than a lover. The title of the English play had come swiftly through
his mind: "The Taming of the Shrew." In truth, Nicolaes had been right.
Women have no use for weaklings. It is their master whom they worship.
Just one word of warning did he give her ere she finally passed out
of his sight.
"There will be noise of fighting anon, myn engel," he said
carelessly. "Nothing that need alarm you. An encounter with vedettes
probably. A few musket shots. You will not be afraid?"
"No," she replied simply. "I will not be afraid."
"You will be safe here with me until we can continue our journey
east or south. It will depend on what progress de Berg has been able to
She gave a slight nod of understanding.
"I shall be ready," she said.
Encouraged by her gentleness, he went on more warmly:
"And at the hour when we leave here together, myn schat, a runner
will speed to Amersfoort with order to Jan to evacuate the city. The
burgomaster will be in a position to announce to his fellow-citizens
that they have nothing to fear from a chivalrous enemy, who will
respect person and property, and who will go out of the gates of
Amersfoort as empty-handed as he came.
Whereupon he made her a low and respectful bow, stood aside to allow
the serving woman to follow her mistress. Gilda had acknowledge his
last pompous tirade with a faintly murmured, "I thank you, my lord."
Then she went quickly up the steps and finally passed out of his sight
on the floor above.
Just for a little while he remained quite still, listening to her
footsteps overhead. His lean, sharp-featured face expressed nothing but
contentment now. Success — complete, absolute — was his at last! Less
than a fortnight ago, he was nothing but a disappointed vagrant,
without home, kindred, or prospects; scorned by the woman he loved;
despised by a successful rival; an outcast from the land of his birth.
To-day, his rival was dead — an object of contempt, not even of
pity, for every honest man; while Gilda, like a ripe and luscious
fruit, was ready to fall into his arms. And he had his foot firmly
planted on the steps of a throne.
And now the midday hour had gone by, and silence, absolute, reigned
in and around the molen. Stoutenburg had spend some time talking to the
captain in command of his guard, had himself seen to it that the men
were well concealed in the rear of the molen. The horses had been sent
down to the camp so as to preclude any possibility of an alarm being
given before the apportioned time. Two men were stationed on the
platform to keep a look-out upon the distance, where anon the
Stadtholder and his troop would appear.
Indeed, everything was ordained and arranged with perfect precision
in anticipation of the great coup which was destined to deliver Maurice
of Nassau into the hands of his enemy. Everything! — provided that
blind informer who lay dead in the banqueting hall of the stately house
at Amersfoort had not lied from first to last.
But even if he had lied, even if the Stadtholder had not planned
this expedition, or, having planned it, had abandoned it or given up
the thought of leading it in person — even so, Stoutenburg was
prepared to be satisfied. Already his busy brain was full of plans,
which he would put into execution if the present one did not yield him
the supreme prize. Gilda was his now, whatever happened. Gilda, and her
wealth, and the influence of the Burgomaster Beresteyn, henceforth
irrevocably tied to the chariot wheel of his son-in-law. A vista of
riches, of honours, of power, was stretched out before the longing gaze
of this restless and ambitious self-seeker.
For the nonce, he could afford to wait, even though the hours crept
by leaden-footed, and the look-out men up on the platform had nothing
as yet to report. The soldiers outside, wrapped up in horse-blankets,
squatted against the walls of the dilapidated building, trying to get
shelter from the cutting north wind. They had their provisions for the
day requisitioned at Barneveld; but these they soon consumed for want
of something better to do. The cold was bitter, and anon an icy drizzle
began to fall.
Stoutenburg, inside the mill-house, had started on that restless
pacing up and down which was so characteristic of him. He had ordered
the best of the provisions to be taken up to the jongejuffrouw and her
maid. He himself had eaten and had drunk, and now he had nothing to do
but wait. And think. Anon he got tired of both, and when he heard the
women moving about overhead, he suddenly paused in his fretful
wanderings, pondered for a moment or two, and then went resolutely up
Gilda was sitting on a pile of sacking; her hands lay idly in her
lap. With a curt word of command, Stoutenburg ordered the waiting woman
to go below.
Then he approached Gilda, and half-kneeling, half-reclining by her
side, he tried to take her hand. But she evaded him, hid her hands
underneath her cloak. This apparently vastly amused his lordship, for
he laughed good-humouredly, and said, with an ardent look of passionate
"That is where you are so desirable, myn engel. Never twice the
same. Awhile ago you seemed as yielding as a dove; now once more I see
the young vixen peeping at me through those wonderful blue eyes. Well!"
he added with a sigh of contentment, "I will not complain. Life by your
side, myn geliefde, will never be dull. The zest of taming a beautiful
shrew must ever be a manly sport."
Then, as she made no sign either of defiance or comprehension, but
sat with eyes strained and neck craned forward, almost as if she were
listening, he raised himself and sat down upon the sacking close beside
her. She puzzled him now, as she always did; and that puzzlement added
zest to his wooing.
"I was waxing so dejected down below," he said, and leaned forward,
his lips almost touching the hood that kept her ears concealed. "Little
did I guess that so much delight lay ready to my hand. Time is a hard
task-master to me just now, and I have not the leisure to make as
ardent love to you as I would wish. But I have the time to gratify a
fancy, and this I will do. My fancy is to have three kisses from your
sweet lips on mine. Three, and no more, and on the lips, myn schat."
In an instant his arms were round her. But equally suddenly she had
evaded him. She jumped up and ran, as swift as a hare, to the farther
end of the loft, where she remained ensconced behind a transverse beam,
her arms round it for support, her face, white and set, only vaguely
discernible in the gloom.
The dim afternoon light which came but shyly peeping in through two
small windows high up in the walls, failed to reach this angle of the
loft where Gilda had found shelter. With this dim background behind
her, she appeared like some elusive spectre, an apparition, without
form or substance, her face and hands alone visible.
When she escaped him, Stoutenburg had cursed, as was his wont, then
struggled to his feet and tried to carry off the situation with an
affected laugh. But somehow the girls' face, there in the
semi-darkness, gave him an unpleasant, eerie sensation. He did not
follow her, but paused in the centre of the loft, laughter dying upon
"Am I to remind you again, you little termagant," he said, with a
great show of bluster, "that Jan is still at Amersfoort, and that I may
yet send a runner to him if I have a mind, ordering that by nightfall
that accursed city be ablaze?"
He was looking straight at her while he spoke. And she returned his
glance, but gave him no reply. Just for the space of a few seconds an
extraordinary stillness appeared to have descended upon the molen. Up
here, in the loft, nothing stirred, nothing was heard above that
silence save the patter of the rain upon the roof overhead against the
tiny window panes. For a few seconds, whilst Stoutenburg stood like a
beast of prey about to spring, and Gilda, still and silent, like a bird
on the alert.
And suddenly, even as he gazed, the man's expression slowly
underwent a change. First the arrogance died out of it, the forced
irony. Every line became set, then rigid, and more and more ashen in
hue, until the whole face appeared like a death-mask, colourless and
transparent as wax, the jaw dropping, the lips parted as for a cry that
would not come. And the sunken eyes opened wider and wider, and wider
still as they gazed, not on Gilda any longer, but into the darkness
behind her, whilst the whole aspect of the man was like a living
statute of horror and of a nameless fear.
Then suddenly, right through the silence and above the weird patter
of the rain, there rang a sound which roused the very echoes that lay
dormant among the ancient rafters. So strange a sound was it that when
it reached his ear, Stoutenburg lost his balance and swayed on his feet
like a drunken man; so strange that Gilda, her nerves giving way for
the first time under the terrible strain which she had undergone,
buried her face against her arms, whilst a loud sob broke from her
throat. Yet the sound in itself was neither a terrifying nor a tragic
one. It was just the sound of a prolonged and loud peal of laughter.
"By my halidame!" a merry voice swore lustily. "But meseems that
your lordship had no thought of seeing me here!"
Just for a few seconds, superstitious fear held the miscreant
gripped by the throat. A few seconds? To him to Gilda, they seemed an
eternity. Then a hoarse whisper escaped him.
"Spectre or demon, which are you?"
"Both, you devil!" the mocking voice gave reply. "And I would send
you down to hell and shoot you like a dog where you stand, but for the
noise which would bring your men about mine ears."
"To hell yourself, you infamous plepshurk!" Stoutenburg cried,
strove to shake off with a mighty effort the superstitious dread that
made a weakling of him. He fumbled for his sword, succeeded in drawing
it from its scabbard, and cursed himself for being without a pistol in
"Where you came from, I know not," he went on in a husky whisper.
"But be you wraith or demon, you ——"
He seemed to speak involuntarily, as if sheer terror was forcing the
words through his bloodless lips. Suddenly he uttered a hoarse cry:
"A moi! Somebody there! A moi!"
But the walls of the old molen were thick, and his voice, spent and
still half-choked with the horror of that spectral apparition, refused
him effective service. It failed to carry far enough. The tiny windows
were impracticable; the soldiers were outside at the rear of the
building, out of earshot; and down below there was only the old waiting
"That smeerlap!" he cried, half to himself. "Either a wraith or
blind. In either case —-"
And, sword in hand, he rushed upon his mocking enemy. A blind man!
Bah! What had he to fear? The rogue had in truth thrust Guild behind
him. He stood there, with one of those short English daggers in his
hand, which had of late put the fine Toledo blades to shame. But a
blind man, for all that! How he had escaped out of Amersfoort, and by
whose connivance Stoutenburg had not time to think. But the man was
blind. Every phase of last evening's interview with him — the vacant
eyes, the awkward movements — stood out clearly before his lordship's
mental vision, and testified to that one fact; the man was blind and
Crouching like a feline creature upon his haunches, Stoutenburg was
ready for a spring. His every movement became lithe and silent as that
of a snake. He had marked out to himself just how and where he would
strike. He only waited until those eyes — those awful eyes — ceased
to look on him. But their glance never wavered. They followed his ever
step. They mocked and derided and threatened withal! By Satan and all
his hordes! those stricken orbs could see!
At what precise moment that conviction entered Stoutenburg's
tortured brain, he could not himself have told you. But suddenly it was
there. And in an instant his nerve completely forsook him. An icy sweat
broke all over his body. His head swam, his knees gave way under him,
the sword dropped out of his nerveless hand. Then, with a quick hoarse
cry, he turned to flee. His foot was on the top step of the ladder
which led to the room below. A prolonged, mocking laugh behind him
seemed to lend him wings. But freedom — aye, and more! — beckoned
from below. There was only an old woman there, and his soldiers were
outside. Ye gods! He was a fool to fear!
He flew down the few steps, nearly fell headlong in the act, for his
nerves were playing him an unpleasant trick, and the afternoon light
was growing dim. At first, when he reached the place below, he saw
nothing. Nothing save the welcome door, straight before him which led
straight to freedom from this paralysing obsession. With one bound he
had covered half the intervening space, when suddenly he paused, and an
awful curse rose to his lips. There, in the recess of the doorway, two
men were squatting on their heels, intent upon a game of hazard. One of
these men was long and lean, the other round as a curled-up hedge-hog.
They did no more than glance over their shoulder when His Magnificence
the Lord of Stoutenburg came staggering down the steps.
"Five and four," the lean vagabond was saying. "How many does that
"Eight, you loon!" the other replied. "My turn now."
They continued their game, regardless of his lordship who stood
there rooted to the spot, trembling in every limb, his body covered
with sweat, feeling like an animal that sees a trap slowly closing in
The situation was indeed one to send a man out of his senses.
Stoutenburg, for one brief instant, felt that he was going mad. He
looked from the door to the steps, and back again to the door,
marvelling which way lay his one chance of escape. If he shouted, would
he be heard? Could his men get to him before those two ruffians fell to
and murdered him? Dared he make a dash for the door? Or —- It was
unthinkable that he — Stoutenburg — should be standing here, at the
mercy of three villains, utterly powerless, when outside, not fifty
paces away, the other side of those walls, fifty men at arms were
there, set to guard his person.
And suddenly fear fell away from him. The trembling of his limbs
ceased, his vision became clear, his mind alert. Even around his
quaking lips there came the ghost of a smile.
His senses, keyed up by the imminence of his danger, had seized upon
a sound which came from outside, faint as yet, but very obviously
drawing nearer. In the semi-darkness and with his head buzzing and his
nerves tingling, he could not distinguish either the quality of the
sound nor yet the exact direction whence it came. But whatever it was
— even if it was not all that he hoped — the sound was bound to set
his soldiers on the alert; and if he could only temporize with those
ruffians for a minute or two, the very next would see the captain of
his guard rushing in to report what was happening: That Stadtholder
sighted, the signal given, Nicolaes Beresteyn coming swiftly to the
Therefore, in the face of his own imminent peril, the Lord of
Stoutenburg no longer felt afraid, only tensely vitally expectant. The
two caitiffs, on the other hand appeared to have heard nothing. At any
rate, they went on with their game, and the flute-like, high-pitched
tones of the fat loon alternated with the deep base of his companion:
"Three and two make five!"
"No, four, you varlet!"
"Blank, by Beelzebub! My luck is dead out to-day."
And the sound drew nearer. There was no mistaking it. Men running.
The clatter of arms. Horses, too. A pawing, and a champing, and a
general hubbub, which those two ruffians could not fail to hear. Nor
did any sound come down from the loft. Yet Gilda was there with the
miserable plepshurk who, whatever else happened, would inevitably stand
before her now as an informer and a cheat. This, at any rate, was a
fact. The man had betrayed his master in order to save his miserable
life, and the burgomaster had connived at his escape through an access
of doltish weakness. But the fact remained. The Stadtholder was
approaching. The next few minutes — seconds, perhaps — would see the
final triumphant issue of this terrible adventure.
Stoutenburg, like a feline at bay, waited.
Then, all at once, a musket shot rang through the air, then another,
and yet another; and all at once the whole air around was alive with
sounds. The clang of arms; the lusty battle cries. Men out there had
come to grips. In the drenching rain they were at one another's throats.
The two caitiffs quietly put aside their dice and rose to their
feet. They stood with their backs to the door, their eyes fixed upon
"Stand aside, you dolts!" Stoutenburg cried aloud; for he thought
that he read murder in those two pairs of eyes, and he had need of all
his nerves to assure himself that all was well, that, though his
captain had not come to him for a reason which no doubt was sound, his
soldiers were at grips with the Stadtholder's vanguard, and Nicolaes
was already half-way up the slope.
But he, Stoutenburg, was unarmed, and could not push past those two
assassins who were guarding the door. He bethought himself of his
sword, which lay on the floor of the loft. He turned with a sudden
impulse to get hold of it at all costs, and was met at the very foot of
the steps by the man who had baffled him at every turn.
Diogenes, sword in hand, did not even pause to look on his impotent
enemy. With one spring, he was across the floor and out by the door,
which one of the ruffians immediately closed behind him.
It had all happened swifter even than thought. Stoutenburg, trapped,
helpless, more bewildered in truth than terrified, still believed in a
happy issue to his present desperate position. The thought came to him
that he might purchase his safety from those potential murderers.
"Ten thousand guilders," he called out wildly, "if you will let me
But the fat runnion merely turned to the lean one, and the look of
understanding which passed between them sent an icy shudder down his
lordship's spine. He knew that from these two he could expect no mercy.
A hoarse cry of horror escaped his lips as he saw that each held a
dagger in one hand.
Then began that awful chase when man becomes a hunted beast — that
grim game of hide-and-seek, with the last issue never once in doubt.
The Lord of Stoutenburg trapped between these narrow walls, ran round
and round like a mouse in a cage; now seeking refuge behind a girder,
now leaping over an intervening obstacle, now crouching, panting and
bathed in sweat, under cover of the gloom. And no one spoke; no one
called. Neither the hunted nor the hunters. It seemed as if a
conspiracy of silence existed between them; or else that the nearness
of death had put a seal on all their lips.
Out there the clang of battle appeared more remote. Nothing seemed
to occur in the immediate approach of the molen. It all came from afar,
resounding across the Veluwe, above the patter of the rain and the
soughing of the wind, through the rafters of the old mill. Drumming and
thumping, the angle of armour, the clang of pike and lance, of metal;
the loud report of musket shot, the strident grating of chains and
wheels. But all far away, not here. Not outside the molen, but down
there in the gorge, where Nicolaes had been encamped. My heavens, what
did it mean?
Already the trapped creature was getting exhausted. Once or twice he
had come down on his knees. His eyes were growing dim. His breath came
and went with a wheezing sound from his breast. It was not just two
murderous brigands who were pursuing him, but Nemesis herself, with
sword of retribution drawn, in her hand an hour-glass, the sands of
which were running low.
All at once the miscreant found himself at the foot of the steps,
and, blindly stumbling, he ran up to the loft — instinctively, without
set purpose save that of warding off, if only for a minute, the
Gilda was standing at the top of the steps with neck craned forward,
her hands held tightly to her breast, her whole attitude one of
nameless horror. She had been listening to the multifarious sounds
which came from outside, and the natural, womanly fear for the safety
of her beloved had been her one dominant emotion.
She had heard nothing else for a time, until suddenly she caught one
or two stray sounds of that grim and furtive fight for life which was
going on down below. She had reached the top of the steps, and tried to
peer through the gloom to ascertain whose were those stealthy, swift
footfalls so like those of a hunted beast, and whose the heavy,
lumbering tread that spoke of stern and unwavering pursuit. At first
she could see nothing, and the very silence which lay like a pall upon
the grim scene below struck her with a sense of paralysing dread.
Then she caught sight first of one figure, then of another, as they
crossed her line of vision. She could distinguish nothing very clearly
— just those slowly moving figures — and for a moment or two felt
herself unable to move. Then she heard the laboured breathing of a man,
a groan as of a soul tortured with fear, and the next instant the Lord
of Stoutenburg appeared, stumbling up the narrow steps.
At sight of her he fell like an inert thing with a husky cry at her
feet. His arms encircled her knees; his head fell against her gown.
"Gilda, save me!" he whispered hoarsely. "For the love of Heaven!
They'll murder me! Save me, for pity's sake! Gilda!"
He sobbed and cried like a child, abject in his terror, loathsome in
his craven cowardice. Gilda could not stir. He held her with his arms
as in a vise. She would have given worlds for the physical strength to
wrench her gown out of his clutch, to flee from the hated sight of him
who had planned to do her beloved such an irreparable injury. Oh, she
hated him! She hated him worse, perhaps, than she had ever done before,
now that he clung like a miserable dastard to her for mercy.
"Leave the poltroon to us, mejuffrouw," a gentle, flute-like tone
broke in on the miscreant's ravings.
"Now then, take your punishment like a man!" a gruff voice added
And two familiar faces emerged out of the gloom, immediately below
where Gilda was standing, imprisoned by those cringing arms. The man,
in truth, had not even the primeval pluck of a savage. He was beaten,
and he knew it. What had happened out there on the Veluwe, how
completely he had been tricked by the Englishman he did not know as
yet. But he was afraid to die, and shrank neither from humiliation nor
contempt in order to save his own worthless life from the wreck of all
At the sound of those two voices, which in truth were like a
death-knell in his ears, he jumped to his feet; but he did not loosen
his hold on Gilda. Swift as thought he had found refuge behind her, and
held her by the arms in front of him like a shield.
Historians have always spoken of the Lord of Stoutenburg as
extraordinarily nimble in mind and body. That nimbleness in truth,
stood him in good stead now; or whilst Socrates and Pythagoras, clumsy
in their movements, lumbering and hampered by their respect for the
person of the jongejuffrouw, reached the loft, and then for one instant
hesitated how best to proceed in their grim task without offending the
ears and eyes of the great lady, Stoutenburg had with one bound slipped
from behind her down the steps and was across the floor of the molen
and out the door before the two worthies had had time to utter the
comprehensive curse which, at this unexpected manoeuvre on the part of
their quarry, had risen to their lips.
"We had promised Diogenes not to allow the blackguard to escape!"
Pythagoras exclaimed ruefully.
And both started in hot pursuit, whilst Gilda, seeking shelter in a
dark angle of the loft, fell, sobbing with excitement and only
half-conscious, upon a pile of sacking.
CHAPTER XVI—THE FINAL ISSUE
Pythagoras and Socrates failed to find the trail of the miscreant,
who had vanished under cover of the night. We know that Stoutenburg did
succeed, in fact, in reaching de Berg's encampment, half-starved and
wearied, but safe. How he did it, no one will ever know. His career of
crime had received a mighty check and the marauding expeditions which
he undertook subsequently against his own country were of a futile and
desultory nature. History ceases to trouble herself about him after
that abortive incursion into Gelderland.
How that incursion was frustrated by the gallant Englishman, known
to fame as the first Sir Percy Blakeney, but to his intimates as
Diogenes, the erstwhile penniless soldier of fortune, we know chiefly
through van Aitzema's Saken von Staet. The worthy chronicler enlarges
upon the Englishman's adventure—he always calls him "the Englishman"
— from the time when a week and more ago, he took leave of Nicolaes
Beresteyn outside Barneveld to that when he reached Amersfoort, just in
time to avert a terrible catastrophe.
The author of Saken v. Staet tells of the ambuscade on the shores of
the Ijssel, "the Englishman's swim for life through the drifting
floes." On reaching the opposite bank, it seems that he was so spent
and more than half frozen, that he lay half unconscious on the bank for
awhile. Presently, however, alive to the danger of possible further
ambuscades, he re-started on his way, found a deserted hut close by,
and crawled in there for shelter. As soon as darkness had set in he
started back for Zutphen, there to warn Marquet not to proceed. The
whole of the Stadtholder's plans had obviously been revealed to de Berg
by some traitor — whose identity Diogenes then could not fail but
guess — and it would have been sheer madness to attempt to cross the
Ijssel now at any of the points originally intended.
To reach Zutphen at this juncture meant for the undaunted adventurer
two leagues and more to traverse, and with clothes frozen hard to the
skin. But he did reach Zutphen in time, and with the assistance of
Marquet, then evolved the plan of an advance into Gelderland by
effecting the crossing of the Ijssel as far north as Apeldoorn, and
then striking across the Veluwe either to Amersfoort or to Ede,
threatening de Berg's advance, and possibly effecting a junction with
the Stadtholder's main army.
After this understanding with Marquet, Diogenes then proceeded to
Arnheim, where the garrison could now only be warned to hold the city
at all costs until assistance could be sent.
In the meantime, de Berg's troops were swarming everywhere. The
Englishman could only proceed by night, had to hide by day on the
Veluwe as best he could. Hence much delay. More than once he was on the
point of capture, but succeeded eventually in reaching Arnheim.
Here he saw Coorne, who was in command of the small garrison,
assured him of coming relief, and made him swear not to surrender the
city, since the Stadtholder would soon be on his way with strong
reinforcements. Thence to Nijmegen on the same errand. A more easy
journey this, seeing that Isembourg ad not begun his advance from
Kleve. After that, De Keysere and Wageningen.
Van Aitzema says that it was between Nijmegen and Wageningen that
"the Englishman," lurking in a thicket of scrub, overheard some talk of
how the Stadtholder was to be waylaid and captured on his return to
camp from Amersfoort. This fact the chronicler must have learned at
first hand. By this time the forces of de Berg were spreading over
Gelderland. "The Englishman" gathered that the Archduchess's plans were
to leave Isembourg's army to deal with Arnheim and Nijmegen for the
present, whilst de Berg was to march on Ede, and, if possible, push on
as far as Amersfoort. But as to how the coup against the Stadtholder
was to be effected, he could not ascertain. At the time he did not know
that his Highness intended to visit Amersfoort again. But for him, that
little city where Gilda dwelt was just now the hub of the universe, and
thank Heaven his errand was now accomplished, all his Highness's orders
executed, and he was free to go to his young wife as fast as his own
endurance and Spanish vedettes would allow.
This meant another tramp across open country, which by this time was
overrun with enemy troops. Fugitives from Ede were everywhere to be
seen. "The Spaniards. They are on us!" rang from end to end of the
invaded province, and the echo of that dismal cry must by now have been
rolling even as far as Utrecht.
It meant also seeking cover against enemy surprise parties, who
threw the daring adventurer more than once out of his course, so that
we hear of him once as far south as Rhenen, and then as far east as
Doorn. It meant hiding amongst the reeds in the half-frozen marshes,
swimming the Rhyn at one point, the Eem at another; it meant days
without food and nights without rest. It meant all that, and more in
pluck and endurance and determination, to which three qualities in "the
Englishman" the worthy chronicler, though ever chary of words, pays
He reached Amersfoort, as we know, just in time to see the
Stadtholder leave the city in the company of the traitor, Nicolaes
Beresteyn, and, struck by that same treacherous hand, fell, helpless
for a moment, at the very threshold of the burgomaster's house.
After which began the martyrdom which had ended in such perfect
triumph and happiness.
The daring adventurer, left lonely and stricken upon the moorland,
did in truth go through an agony of misery and humiliation such as
seldom falls to the lot of any man. Indeed, what he did suffer
throughout that terrible day, whilst he believed himself to
irretrievable blinded, was never known to any one save to the two
faithful friends who watched lovingly over him. Socrates, after he had
accompanied the Stadtholder, returned to sit and watch with Pythagoras
beside the man to whom they both clung with such whole-hearted devotion.
It was not until late in the night that a faint glimmer of light,
coming from the fire which the two caitiffs had managed to kindle as
the night was bitterly cold, reached the young soldier's aching limbs,
and seemed to him like a tiny beacon of hope in the blackness of his
misery. By the time that the grey dawn broke over the moorland, he had
realized that the injury which he had thought irremediable, had only
been transient, and that every hour now brought an improvement in his
power of vision.
Whereupon, three heads were put together to devise a means for using
the Englishman's supposed blindness to the best advantage. One wise
head and two loyal ones, not one of them even remotely acquainted with
fear, what finer combination could be found for the eventful undoing of
a pack of traitors?
Ede was in the hands of the Spaniards, Amersfoort on the point of
sharing the like fate. These facts were sufficiently confirmed by the
stray fugitives who wandered homeless and distracted across the
moorland, and were in turn interrogated by the three conspirators.
With the woman he loved inside the invaded city, and with that
recreant Stoutenburg in command of the enemy troops there, Diogenes'
first thought was to get into Amersfoort himself at all risks and
costs. As for the plan for freeing the town and punishing the
miscreants, it was simple enough. To collect a small troop of ruffians
from amongst the fugitives on the moorlands and place these under the
command of Socrates, was the first move. The second was to send
Pythagoras with an urgent message to Marquet to hurry eastward with his
army from Apeldoorn, to the relief of Amersfoort, taking on his way the
lonely molen on the Veluwe, where an important detachment of enemy
troops might be expected to encamp.
The one thing with which Diogenes was, most fortunately amply
provided, was money; money which he had by him when first he started
out of Amersfoort on the Stadtholder's errand; money which was needful
now to enable Socrates to recruit his small army of ne'er-do-wells and
to assist Pythagoras on his embassy to Marquet.
Thereafter Diogenes, feigning blindness and worse, made his way into
the presence of the Lord of Stoutenburg, who held Gilda at his mercy
and the whole city to ransom for her obedience.
To dangle before the miscreant's eyes the prospect of capturing the
Stadtholder's person, and thus make himself master of the Netherlands,
was the pivot around which the whole plan revolved. The bait could not
fail to attract the ambitious cupidity of the traitor, and
verisimilitude was given to the story by Socrates' band of ruffians,
whose orders were to spread the news of the Stadtholder's advance both
on Ede and Amersfoort, and to silence effectually any emissaries of
Stoutenburg's who might be sent out to ascertain the truth of these
We may take it that Socrates and his little troop saw to it that
none of these emissaries did return to Amersfoort for the Lord of
Stoutenburg marched out of the city at dawn, with his sinister banner
flying, with his musketeers, pikemen and lancers, and with Gilda
Beresteyn a virtual prisoner in his train.
That the daring adventurer risked an ignominious death by this
carefully laid plan cannot be denied; but he was one of those men who
had gambled with life and death since he was a child, who was
accustomed to stake his all upon the spin of a coin; and, anyhow, if he
failed, death would have been thrice welcome, as the only escape out of
untold misery and sorrow.
Chance favoured him in this, that at the last he was left face to
face with the burgomaster, to whom he immediately confided everything,
and who enabled him to escape out of the house by the service
staircase, and thence into the streets, where no one knew him and where
he remained all night, effectually concealed as a unit in the midst of
the crowd. He actually went out of Amersfoort in the train of
Stoutenburg; and whilst his lordship's troops made a long halt at
Barneveld, "the Englishman" continued his way unmolested across the
Veluwe to the lonely molen, which was to witness his success and
happiness, or the final annihilation of all that made life possible.
All this and more, in the matter of detail, hath the meticulous
chronicler of the time put conscientiously on record. We must assume
that he was able to verify all his facts at source, chiefly through the
garrulous offices of "the Englishman's" two well-known familiars.
What, however, will for ever remain unrecorded, save in the book of
heroic deeds, is a woman's perfect loyalty. During those hours and
days, full of horror and of dread, Gilda never once wavered in her
belief in the man she loved. From the moment when Nicolaes tried to
poison her mind against him, and through all the vicissitudes which
placed her face to face with what was a mere semblance of her beloved,
she had never doubted him, when even the Stadtholder seemed to doubt.
She knew him to be playing a dangerous game — but a game for all
that — when first she beheld him, sightless and abject, in the
presence of their mutual enemy, and had rested for one brief second
against his breast. That his eyes, still dazed by the poisonous fumes,
could vaguely discern her face, even though they could not read the
expression thereon, she did not know. The fear that he was irremediably
blind was the most cruel of all the tortures which she had undergone
When her father came to her in the small hours of the morning to
tell her that all was well with the beloved of her heart, but that he
would have all the need of all her courage and of all her determination
to help him to complete his self-imposed task, she realized for the
first time how near to actual death the torturing fear had brought her.
But from that time forth, she never lost her presence of mind. With
marvellous courage she gripped the whole situation and played her role
unswervingly until the end.
Everything depended on whether Marquet reached the molen before the
Lord of Stoutenburg, or his captains suspected that anything was wrong.
True, Pythagoras had brought back the news that he had met the loyal
commander at Apeldoorn, and that the latter, despite the fact that he
and his troops intend to take there a well-earned rest, had immediately
given the order to march. But, even so, the future of the Netherlands
and of her Stadtholder, as well as the fate of the gallant Englishman
and his beloved wife, lay in the hands of God.
One hour before dusk Marquet's vedettes first came in contact with
the outposts of Beresteyn's encampment in the gorge below the molen.
There was a brief struggle, fierce on both sides, until the main body
of Marquet's army, four thousand strong, appeared on the eastern
heights above the gorge.
Whilst the Lord of Stoutenburg ran round and round the narrow space
wherein he was a hunted prisoner, trying to escape that shameful death
which threatened him at the hand of two humble justiciaries, his few
hundred men were falling like butchered beasts beneath the pike-thrusts
and musket shots of Marquet's trained troops.
Nicolaes Beresteyn was the first to fall.
It was better so. Dishonour so complete could be only wiped out by
When, a day or two later, after Marquet had driven the Spaniards out
of Amersfoort, the burgomaster heard the news of the death of his only
son. He murmured an humble and broken-hearted: "Thank God!"
CHAPTER XVII—THE ONLY WORLD
Out there, in the lonely molen on the Veluwe, Gilda had remained for
a while, half numb with nerve strain, suffering from the reaction after
the terrible excitement of the past few hours. Presently her old
serving-woman came to her, still raging with choler at the outrage
committed against her person by those two abominable rascallions.
With great volubility, she explained to her mistress that they had
fallen on her unawares when first she had been sent down-stairs by his
lordship — whom may God punish! — The had bound and gagged her, and
then told her quite cheerfully that this was an act of friendship on
their part, to save her from a worse fate and from the temptation of
talking when she should remain silent.
She had been thrust into a dark angle of the mill-house, from whence
she could see absolutely nothing, and where she had lain all this
while, entirely helpless, hearing that awful din which had been going
on outside, expecting to be murdered in cold blood at any moment, and
tortured with fear as to what was happening to her mistress. Only a few
moments ago, the two ruffians had reappeared, running helter-skelter
down the steps and thence out through the door into the open.
Fortunately, one of them, conscience-stricken no doubt, had thought,
before fleeing, to release her from her bonds.
Maria was stupid, uncomprehending and garrulous; but she was loyal,
and had a warm and ample bosom, whereon a tired and aching head could
find a little rest.
Gilda, her body still shaken by hysterical sobs, her teeth
chattering, her senses reeling with the horror of all that she had gone
through, found some measure of comfort in the old woman's
ministrations. A mugful of wine, left over from the midday meal, helped
her to regain command over her nerves. Holding her young mistress in
her arms, Maria, crooning like a mother over her baby, rocked the
half-inert young form into some semblance of sleep.
And here Diogenes found her a couple of hours later, curled up like
a tired child in the arms of the old woman.
He came up on tiptoe, carrying a lanthorn, for now it was quite
dark. This he placed on the floor, and then, with infinite caution, he
slid into Maria's place and took the beloved form into his own strong
She scarcely moved, just opened her eyes for a second or two, and
then nestled closer against his shoulder, with a little sigh, half of
weariness, but wholly of content.
She was just dead-tired after all she had gone through, and now she
slept just like a baby in his arms; whilst he was as happy as it is
possible for any human being to be, for she was safe and well, and
nothing could part her from him now. He was satisfied to watch her as
she slept, her dear face against his breast, her soft breath coming and
going with perfect evenness through her parted lips.
Once he stooped and kissed her, and then she woke, put her arms
around his neck, and both forgot for the time being that there was
another world save that of Love.