When her eyes opened again, Montalvo, officer, notary, and soldiers, all had vanished.
THE MARE'S STABLE
When Lysbeth's reason returned to her in that empty room, her first sense was one of wild exultation. She was free, she was not Montalvo's wife, never again could she be obliged to see him, never again could she be forced to endure the contamination of his touch—that was her thought. She was sure that the story was true; were it not true who could have moved the authorities to take action against him? Moreover, now that she had the key, a thousand things were explained, trivial enough in themselves, each of them, but in their sum amounting to proof positive of his guilt. Had he not spoken of some entanglement in Spain and of children? Had he not in his sleep—but it was needless to remember all these things. She was free! She was free! and there on the table still lay the symbol of her bondage, the emerald ring that was to give him the means of flight, a flight from this charge which he knew was hanging over him. She took it up, dashed it to the ground and stamped upon it. Next she fell upon her knees, praising and blessing God, and then, worn out, crept away to rest.
The morning came, the still and beautiful autumn morning, but now all her exultation had left her, and Lysbeth was depressed and heavy hearted. She rose and assisted the one servant who remained in the house to prepare their breakfast, taking no heed of the sidelong glances that the woman cast at her. Afterwards she went to the market to spend some of her last florins in necessaries. Here and in the streets she became aware that she was the object of remark, for people nudged each other and stared at her. Moreover, as she hurried home appalled, her quick ear caught the conversation of two coarse women while they walked behind her.
"She's got it now," said one.
"Serve her right, too," answered the other, "for running after and marrying a Spanish don."
"Marrying?" broke in the first, "it was the best that she could do. She couldn't stop to ask questions. Some corpses must be buried quickly."
Glancing behind her, Lysbeth saw the creature nip her nostrils with her fingers, as though to shut out an evil smell.
Then she could bear it no longer, and turned upon them.
"You are evil slanderers," she said, and walked away swiftly, pursued by the sound of their loud, insulting laughter.
At the house she was told that two men were waiting to see her. They proved to be creditors clamouring for large sums of money, which she could not pay. Lysbeth told them that she knew nothing of the matter. Thereupon they showed her her own writing at the foot of deeds, and she remembered that she had signed more things than she chose to keep count of, everything indeed that the man who called himself her husband put before her, if only to win an hour of blessed freedom from his presence. At length the duns went away vowing that they would have their money if they dragged the bed from under her.
After that came loneliness and silence. No friend appeared to cheer her. Indeed, she had no friends left, for by her husband's command she had broken off her acquaintance with all who after the strange circumstances connected with her marriage were still inclined to know her. He said that he would have no chattering Dutch vrouws about the house, and they said and believed that the Countess de Montalvo had become too proud to associate with those of her own class and people.
Midday came and she could eat no food; indeed, she had touched none for twenty-four hours; her gorge rose against it, although in her state she needed food. Now the shame of her position began to come home to Lysbeth. She was a wife and no wife; soon she must bear the burden of motherhood, and oh! what would that child be? And what should she be, its mother? What, too, would Dirk think of her? Dirk, for whom she had done and suffered all these things. Through the long afternoon hours she lay upon her bed thinking such thoughts as these till at length her mind gave and Lysbeth grew light-headed. Her brain became a chaos, a perfect hell of distorted imaginations.
Then out of its turmoil and confusion rose a vision and a desire; a vision of peace and a desire for rest. But what rest was there for her except the rest of death? Well, why not die? God would forgive her, the Mother of God would plead for her who was shamed and broken-hearted and unfit to live. Even Dirk would think kindly of her when she was dead, though, doubtless, now if he met her he would cover his eyes with his hand. She was burning hot and she was thirsty. How cool the water would be on this fevered night. What could be better than to slip into it and slowly let it close above her poor aching head? She would go out and look at the water; in that, at any rate, there could be no harm.
She wrapped herself in a long cloak and drew its hood over her head. Then she slipped from the house and stole like a ghost through the darkling streets and out of the Maren or Sea Poort, where the guard let her pass thinking that she was a country woman returning to her village. Now the moon was rising, and by the light of it Lysbeth recognised the place. Here was the spot where she had stood on the day of the ice carnival, when that woman who was called Martha the Mare, and who said that she had known her father, had spoken to her. On that water she had galloped in Montalvo's sledge, and up yonder canal the race was run. She followed along its banks, remembering the reedy mere some miles away spotted with islets that were only visited from time to time by fishermen and wild-fowlers; the great Haarlemer Meer which covered many thousands of acres of ground. That mere she felt must look very cool and beautiful on such a night as this, and the wind would whisper sweetly among the tall bulrushes which fringed its banks.
On Lysbeth went and on; it was a long, long walk, but at last she came there, and, oh! the place was sweet and vast and lonely. For so far as her eye could reach in the light of the low moon there was nothing but glimmering water broken here and there by the reed-wreathed islands. Hark! how the frogs croaked and the bitterns boomed among the rushes. Look where the wild ducks swam leaving behind them broad trails of silver as their breasts broke the surface of the great mere into rippling lines.
There, on an island, not a bowshot from her, grew tufts of a daisy-like marsh bloom, white flowers such as she remembered gathering when she was a child. A desire came upon her to pluck some of these flowers, and the water was shallow; surely she could wade to the island, or if not what did it matter? Then she could turn to the bank again, or she might stay to sleep a while in the water; what did it matter? She stepped from the bank—how sweet and cool it felt to her feet! Now it was up to her knees, now it reached her middle, and now the little wavelets beat against her breast. But she would not go back, for there ahead of her was the island, and the white flowers were so close that she could count them, eight upon one bunch and twelve upon the next. Another step and the water struck her in the face, one more and it closed above her head. She rose, and a low cry broke from her lips.
Then, as in a dream, Lysbeth saw a skiff glide out from among the rushes before her. She saw also a strange mutilated face, which she remembered dimly, bending over the edge of the boat, and a long, brown hand stretched out to clasp her, while a hoarse voice bade her keep still and fear nothing.
After this came a sound of singing in her ears and—darkness.
When Lysbeth woke again she found herself lying upon the ground, or rather upon a soft mattress of dry reeds and aromatic grasses. Looking round her she saw that she was in a hut, reed-roofed and plastered with thick mud. In one corner of this hut stood a fireplace with a chimney artfully built of clay, and on the fire of turfs boiled an earthen pot. Hanging from the roof by a string of twisted grass was a fish, fresh caught, a splendid pike, and near to it a bunch of smoked eels. Over her also was thrown a magnificent rug of otter skins. Noting these things, she gathered that she must be in the hovel of some fisherman.
Now by degrees the past came back to Lysbeth, and she remembered her parting with the man who called himself her husband; remembered also her moonlight flight and how she had waded out into the waters of the great mere to pluck the white flowers, and how, as they closed above her head a hand had been stretched out to save her. Lysbeth remembered, and remembering, she sighed aloud. The sound of her sighing seemed to attract the attention of some one who was listening outside the hut; at any rate a rough door was opened or pushed aside and a figure entered.
"Are you awake, lady?" asked a hoarse voice.
"Yes," answered Lysbeth, "but tell me, how did I come here, and who are you?"
The figure stepped back so that the light from the open door fell full upon it. "Look, Carolus van Hout's daughter and Juan Montalvo's wife; those who have seen me once do not forget me."
Lysbeth sat up on the bed and stared at the gaunt, powerful form, the deep-set grey eyes, the wide-spread nostrils, the scarred, high cheek-bones, the teeth made prominent by some devil's work upon the lips, and the grizzled lock of hair that hung across the forehead. In an instant she knew her.
"You are Martha the Mare," she said.
"Yes, I am the Mare, none other, and you are in the Mare's stable. What has he been doing to you, that Spanish dog, that you came last night to ask the Great Water to hide you and your shame?"
Lysbeth made no answer; the story seemed hard to begin with this strange woman. Then Martha went on:
"What did I tell you, Lysbeth van Hout? Did I not say that your blood should warn you against the Spaniards? Well, well, you saved me from the ice and I have saved you from the water. Ah! who was it that led me to row round by that outer isle last night because I could not sleep? But what does it matter; God willed it so, and here you lie in the Mare's stable. Nay, do not answer me, first you must eat."
Then, going to the pot, she took it from the fire, pouring its contents into an earthen basin, and, at the smell of them, for the first time for days Lysbeth felt hungry. Of what that stew was compounded she never learned, but she ate it to the last spoonful and was thankful, while Martha, seated on the ground beside her, watched her with delight, from time to time stretching out a long, thin hand to touch the brown hair that hung about her shoulders.
"Come out and look," said Martha when her guest had done eating. And she led her through the doorway of the hut.
Lysbeth gazed round her, but in truth there was not much to see. The hut itself was hidden away in a little clump of swamp willows that grew upon a mound in the midst of a marshy plain, broken here and there by patches of reed and bulrushes. Walking across this plain for a hundred yards or so, they came to more reeds, and in them a boat hidden cunningly, for here was the water of the lake, and, not fifty paces away, what seemed to be the shore of an island. The Mare bade her get into the boat and rowed her across to this island, then round it to another, and thence to another and yet another.
"Now tell me," she said, "upon which of them is my stable built?"
Lysbeth shook her head helplessly.
"You cannot tell, no, nor any living man; I say that no man lives who could find it, save I myself, who know the path there by night or by day. Look," and she pointed to the vast surface of the mere, "on this great sea are thousands of such islets, and before they find me the Spaniards must search them all, for here upon the lonely waters no spies or hound will help them." Then she began to row again without even looking round, and presently they were in the clump of reeds from which they had started.
"I must be going home," faltered Lysbeth.
"No," answered Martha, "it is too late, you have slept long. Look, the sun is westering fast, this night you must stop with me. Oh! do not be afraid, my fare is rough, but it is sweet and fresh and plenty; fish from the mere as much as you will, for who can catch them better than I? And water-fowl that I snare, yes, and their eggs; moreover, dried flesh and bacon which I get from the mainland, for there I have friends whom sometimes I meet at night."
So Lysbeth yielded, for the great peace of this lake pleased her. Oh! after all that she had gone through it was like heaven to watch the sun sinking towards the quiet water, to hear the wild-fowl call, to see the fish leap and the halcyons flash by, and above all to be sure that by nothing short of a miracle could this divine silence, broken only by Nature's voices, be defiled with the sound of the hated accents of the man who had ruined and betrayed her. Yes, she was weary, and a strange unaccustomed langour crept over her; she would rest there this night also.
So they went back to the hut, and made ready their evening meal, and as she fried the fish over the fire of peats, verily Lysbeth found herself laughing like a girl again. Then they ate it with appetite, and after it was done, Mother Martha prayed aloud; yes, and without fear, although she knew Lysbeth to be a Catholic, read from her one treasure, a Testament, crouching there in the light of the fire and saying:
"See, lady, what a place this is for a heretic to hide in. Where else may a woman read from the Bible and fear no spy or priest?" Remembering a certain story, Lysbeth shivered at her words.
"Now," said the Mare, when she had finished reading, "tell me before you sleep, what it was that brought you into the waters of the Haarlemer Meer, and what that Spanish man has done to you. Do not be afraid, for though I am mad, or so they say, I can keep counsel, and between you and me are many bonds, Carolus van Hout's daughter, some of which you know and see, and some that you can neither know nor see, but which God will weave in His own season."
Lysbeth looked at the weird countenance, distorted and made unhuman by long torment of body and mind, and found in it something to trust; yes, even signs of that sympathy which she so sorely needed. So she told her all the tale from the first word of it to the last.
The Mare listened in silence, for no story of evil perpetrated by a Spaniard seemed to move or astonish her, only when Lysbeth had done, she said:
"Ah! child, had you but known of me, and where to find me, you should have asked my aid."
"Why, mother, what could you have done?" answered Lysbeth.
"Done? I would have followed him by night until I found my chance in some lonely place, and there I would have——" Then she stretched out her bony hand to the red light of the fire, and Lysbeth saw that in it was a knife.
She sank back aghast.
"Why are you frightened, my pretty lady?" asked the Mare. "I tell you that I live on for only one thing—to kill Spaniards, yes, priests first and then the others. Oh! I have a long count to pay; for every time that he was tortured a life, for every groan he uttered at the stake a life; yes, so many for the father and half as many for the son. Well, I shall live to be old, I know that I shall live to be old, and the count will be discharged, ay, to the last stiver."
As she spoke, the outlawed Water Wife had risen, and the flare of the fire struck full upon her. It was an awful face that Lysbeth beheld by the light of it, full of fierceness and energy, the face of an inspired avenger, dread and unnatural, yet not altogether repulsive. Indeed, that countenance was such as an imaginative artist might give to one of the beasts in the Book of Revelation. Amazed and terrified, Lysbeth said nothing.
"I frighten you, gentle one," went on the Mare, "you who, although you have suffered, are still full of the milk of human kindness. Wait, woman, wait till they have murdered the man you love, till your heart is like my heart, and you also live on, not for love's sake, not for life's sake, but to be a Sword, a Sword, a Sword in the hand of God!"
"Cease, I pray you," said Lysbeth in a low voice; "I am faint, I am ill."
Ill she was indeed, and before morning there, in that lonely hovel on the island of the mere, a son was born to her.
When she was strong enough her nurse spoke:
"Will you keep the brat, or shall I kill it?" she asked.
"How can I kill my child?" said Lysbeth.
"It is the Spaniard's child also, and remember the curse you told me of, your own curse uttered on this thing before ever you were married? If it lives that curse shall cling to it, and through it you, too, shall be accursed. Best let me kill it and have done."
"How can I kill my own child? Touch it not," answered Lysbeth sullenly.
So the black-eyed boy lived and throve.
Somewhat slowly, lying there in the island hut, Lysbeth won back her strength. The Mare, or Mother Martha, as Lysbeth had now learned to call her, tended her as few midwives would have done. Food, too, she had in plenty, for Martha snared the fowl and caught the fish, or she made visits to the mainland, and thence brought eggs and milk and flesh, which, so she said, the boors of that country gave her as much as she wanted of them. Also, to while away the hours, she would read to her out of the Testament, and from that reading Lysbeth learnt many things which until then she had not known. Indeed, before it was done with—Catholic though she was—she began to wonder in what lay the wickedness of these heretics, and how it came about that they were worthy of death and torment, since, sooth to say, in this Book she could find no law to which their lives and doctrine seemed to give offence.
Thus it happened that Martha, the fierce, half-crazy water-dweller, sowed the seed in Lysbeth's heart that was to bear fruit in due season.
When three weeks had gone by and Lysbeth was on her feet again, though as yet scarcely strong enough to travel, Martha told her that she had business which would keep her from home a night, but what the business was she refused to say. Accordingly on a certain afternoon, having left good store of all things to Lysbeth's hand, the Mare departed in her skiff, nor did she return till after midday on the morrow. Now Lysbeth talked of leaving the island, but Martha would not suffer it, saying that if she desired to go she must swim, and indeed when Lysbeth went to look she found that the boat had been hidden elsewhere. So, nothing loth, she stayed on, and in the crisp autumn air her health and beauty came back to her, till she was once more much as she had been before the day when she went sledging with Juan de Montalvo.
On a November morning, leaving her infant in the hut with Martha, who had sworn to her on the Bible that she would not harm it, Lysbeth walked to the extremity of the island. During the night the first sharp frost of late autumn had fallen, making a thin film of ice upon the surface of the lake, which melted rapidly as the sun grew high. The air too was very clear and calm, and among the reeds, now turning golden at their tips, the finches flew and chirped, forgetful that winter was at hand. So sweet and peaceful was the scene that Lysbeth, also forgetful of many things, surveyed it with a kind of rapture. She knew not why, but her heart was happy that morning; it was as though a dark cloud had passed from her life; as though the blue skies of peace and joy were spread about her. Doubtless other clouds might appear upon the horizon; doubtless in their season they would appear, but she felt that this horizon was as yet a long way off, and meanwhile above her bent the tender sky, serene and sweet and happy.
Upon the crisp grass behind her suddenly she heard a footfall, a new footfall, not that of the long, stealthy stride of Martha, who was called the Mare, and swung round upon her heel to meet it.
Oh, God! Who was this? Oh, God! there before her stood Dirk van Goorl. Dirk, and no other than Dirk, unless she dreamed, Dirk with his kind face wreathed in a happy smile, Dirk with his arms outstretched towards her. Lysbeth said nothing, she could not speak, only she stood still gazing, gazing, gazing, and always he came on, till now his arms were round her. Then she sprang back.
"Do not touch me," she cried, "remember what I am and why I stay here."
"I know well what you are, Lysbeth," he answered slowly; "you are the holiest and purest woman who ever walked this earth; you are an angel upon this earth; you are the woman who gave her honour to save the man she loved. Oh! be silent, be silent, I have heard the story; I know it every word, and here I kneel before you, and, next to my God, I worship you, Lysbeth, I worship you."
"But the child," she murmured, "it lives, and it is mine and the man's."
Dirk's face hardened a little, but he only answered:
"We must bear our burdens; you have borne yours, I must bear mine," and he seized her hands and kissed them, yes, and the hem of her garment and kissed it also.
So these two plighted their troth.
Afterwards Lysbeth heard all the story. Montalvo had been put upon his trial, and, as it chanced, things went hard with him. Among his judges one was a great Netherlander lord, who desired to uphold the rights of his countrymen; one was a high ecclesiastic, who was furious because of the fraud that had been played upon the Church, which had been trapped into celebrating a bigamous marriage; and a third was a Spanish grandee, who, as it happened, knew the family of the first wife who had been deserted.
Therefore, for the luckless Montalvo, when the case had been proved to the hilt against him by the evidence of the priest who brought the letter, of the wife's letters, and of the truculent Black Meg, who now found an opportunity of paying back "hot water for cold," there was little mercy. His character was bad, and it was said, moreover, that because of his cruelties and the shame she had suffered at his hands, Lysbeth van Hout had committed suicide. At least, this was certain, that she was seen running at night towards the Haarlemer Meer, and that after this, search as her friends would, nothing more could be heard of her.
So, that an example might be made, although he writhed and fenced his best, the noble captain, Count Juan de Montalvo, was sent to serve for fourteen years in the galleys as a common slave. And there, for the while, was an end of him.
There also was an end of the strange and tragic courtship of Dirk van Goorl and Lysbeth van Hout.
Six months afterwards they were married, and by Dirk's wish took the child, who was christened Adrian, to live with them. A few months later Lysbeth entered the community of the New Religion, and less than two years after her marriage a son was born to her, the hero of this story, who was named Foy.
As it happened, she bore no other children.
BOOK THE SECOND
ADRIAN, FOY, AND MARTIN THE RED
Many years had gone by since Lysbeth found her love again upon the island in the Haarlemer Meer. The son that she bore there was now a grown man, as was her second son, Foy, and her own hair showed grey beneath the lappets of her cap.
Fast, fast wove the loom of God during those fateful years, and the web thereof was the story of a people's agony and its woof was dyed red with their blood. Edict had followed edict, crime had been heaped upon crime. Alva, like some inhuman and incarnate vengeance, had marched his army, quiet and harmless as is the tiger when he stalks his prey, across the fields of France. Now he was at Brussels, and already the heads of the Counts Egmont and Hoorn had fallen; already the Blood Council was established and at its work. In the Low Countries law had ceased to exist, and there anything might happen however monstrous or inhuman. Indeed, with one decree of the Holy Office, confirmed by a proclamation of Philip of Spain, all the inhabitants of the Netherlands, three millions of them, had been condemned to death. Men's minds were full of terror, for on every side were burnings and hangings and torturings. Without were fightings, within were fears, and none knew whom they could trust, since the friend of to-day might be the informer or judge of to-morrow. All this because they chose to worship God in their own fashion unaided by images and priests.
Although so long a time had passed, as it chanced those personages with whom we have already made acquaintance in this history were still alive. Let us begin with two of them, one of whom we know and one of whom, although we have heard of him before, will require some introduction—Dirk van Goorl and his son Foy.
Scene—an upper room above a warehouse overlooking the market-place of Leyden, a room with small windows and approached by two staircases; time, a summer twilight. The faint light which penetrated into this chamber through the unshuttered windows, for to curtain them would have been to excite suspicion, showed that about twenty people were gathered there, among whom were one or two women. For the most part they were men of the better class, middle-aged burghers of sober mien, some of whom stood about in knots, while others were seated upon stools and benches. At the end of the room addressing them was a man well on in middle life, with grizzled hair and beard, small and somewhat mean of stature, yet one through whose poor exterior goodness seemed to flow like light through some rough casement of horn. This was Jan Arentz, the famous preacher, by trade a basket-maker, a man who showed himself steadfast to the New Religion through all afflictions, and who was gifted with a spirit which could remain unmoved amidst the horrors of perhaps the most terrible persecution that Christians have suffered since the days of the Roman Emperors. He was preaching now and these people were his congregation.
"I come not to bring peace but a sword," was his text, and certainly this night it was most appropriate and one easy of illustration. For there, on the very market-place beneath them, guarded by soldiers and surrounded with the rabble of the city, two members of his flock, men who a fortnight before had worshipped in that same room, at this moment were undergoing martyrdom by fire!
Arentz preached patience and fortitude. He went back into recent history and told his hearers how he himself had passed a hundred dangers; how he had been hunted like a wolf, how he had been tried, how he had escaped from prisons and from the swords of soldiers, even as St. Paul had done before him, and how yet he lived to minister to them this night. He told them that they must have no fear, that they must go on quite happy, quite confident, taking what it pleased God to send them, feeling that it would all be for the best; yes, that even the worst would be for the best. What was the worst? Some hours of torment and death. And what lay beyond the death? Ah! let them think of that. The whole world was but a brief and varying shadow, what did it matter how or when they walked out of that shadow into the perfect light? The sky was very black, but behind it the sun shone. They must look forward with the eye of faith; perhaps the sufferings of the present generation were part of the scheme of things; perhaps from the earth which they watered with their blood would spring the flower of freedom, that glorious freedom in whose day all men would be able to worship their Creator responsible only to the Bible law and their own conscience, not to the dogmas or doctrines of other men.
As Arentz spoke thus, eloquently, sweetly, spoke like one inspired, the twilight deepened and the flare of those sacrificial fires flickered on the window pane, and the mixed murmurs of the crowd of witnesses broke upon his listeners' ears. The preacher paused and looked down upon the dreadful scene below, for from where he stood he could behold it all.
"Mark is dead," he said, "and our dear brother, Andreas Jansen, is dying; the executioners heap the faggots round him. You think it cruel, you think it piteous, but I say to you, No. I say that it is a holy and a glorious sight, for we witness the passing of souls to bliss. Brethren, let us pray for him who leaves us, and for ourselves who stay behind. Yes, and let us pray for those who slay him that know not what they do. We watch his sufferings, but I tell you that Christ his Lord watches also; Christ who hung upon the Cross, the victim of such men as these. He stands with him in the fire, His hand compasses him, His voice supports him. Brethren, let us pray."
Then at his bidding every member of that little congregation knelt in prayer for the passing spirit of Andreas Jansen.
Again Arentz looked through the window.
"He dies!" he cried; "a soldier has thrust him through with a pike in mercy, his head falls forward. Oh! God, if it be Thy will, grant to us a sign."
Some strange breath passed through that upper chamber, a cold breath which blew upon the brows of the worshippers and stirred their hair, bringing with it a sense of the presence of Andreas Jansen, the martyr. Then, there upon the wall opposite to the window, at the very spot where their brother and companion, Andreas, saint and martyr, was wont to kneel, appeared the sign, or what they took to be a sign. Yes, there upon the whitewashed wall, reflected, mayhap, from the fires below, and showing clearly in the darkened room, shone the vision of a fiery cross. For a second it was seen. Then it was gone, but to every soul in this room the vision of that cross had brought its message; to each a separate message, an individual inspiration, for in the light of it they read strange lessons of life and death. The cross vanished and there was silence.
"Brethren," said the voice of Arentz, speaking in the darkness, "you have seen. Through the fire and through the shadow, follow the Cross and fear not."
The service was over, and below in the emptied market-place the executioners collected the poor calcined fragments of the martyrs to cast them with contumely and filthy jests into the darkling waters of the river. Now, one by one and two by two, the worshippers slipped away through some hidden door opening on an alley. Let us look at three of their number as they crept through bye streets back to a house on the Bree Straat with which we are acquainted, two of them walking in front and one behind.
The pair were Dirk van Goorl and his son Foy—there was no mistaking their relationship. Save that he had grown somewhat portly and thoughtful, Dirk was the Dirk of five and twenty years ago, thickset, grey-eyed, bearded, a handsome man according to the Dutch standard, whose massive, kindly countenance betrayed the massive, kindly mind within. Very like him was his son Foy, only his eyes were blue instead of grey, and his hair was yellow. Though they seemed sad enough just now, these were merry and pleasant eyes, and the round, the somewhat childlike face was merry also, the face of a person who looked upon the bright side of things.
There was nothing remarkable or distinguished about Foy's appearance, but from it the observer, who met him for the first time, received an impression of energy, honesty, and good-nature. In truth, such were apt to set him down as a sailor-man, who had just returned from a long journey, in the course of which he had come to the conclusion that this world was a pleasant place, and one well worth exploring. As Foy walked down the street with his quick and nautical gait, it was evident that even the solemn and dreadful scene which he had just experienced had not altogether quenched his cheery and hopeful spirit. Yet of all those who listened to the exhortation of the saint-like Arentz, none had laid its burden of faith and carelessness for the future to heart more entirely than Foy van Goorl.
But of this power of looking on the bright side of things the credit must be given to his nature and not to his piety, for Foy could not be sad for long. Dum spiro, spero would have been his motto had he known Latin, and he did not mean to grow sorrowful—over the prospect of being burnt, for instance—until he found himself fast to the stake. It was this quality of good spirits in a depressing and melancholy age that made of Foy so extraordinarily popular a character.
Behind these two followed a much more remarkable-looking personage, the Frisian, Martin Roos, or Red Martin, so named from his hair, which was red to the verge of flame colour, and his beard of a like hue that hung almost to his breast. There was no other such beard in Leyden; indeed the boys, taking advantage of his good nature, would call to him as he passed, asking him if it was true that the storks nested in it every spring. This strange-looking man, who was now perhaps a person of forty years of age, for ten years or more had been the faithful servant of Dirk van Goorl, whose house he had entered under circumstances which shall be told of in their place.
Any one glancing at Martin casually would not have said that he was a giant, and yet his height was considerable; to be accurate, when he stood upright, something over six feet three inches. The reason why he did not appear to be tall was that in truth his great bulk shortened him to the eye, and also because his carried himself ill, more from a desire to conceal his size than for any other reason. It was in girth of chest and limb that Martin was really remarkable, so much so that a short-armed man standing before him could not make his fingers touch behind his back. His face was fair as a girl's, and almost as flat as a full moon, for of nose he had little. Nature, indeed, had furnished him with one of ordinary, if not excessive size, but certain incidents in Martin's early career, which in our day would be designated as that of a prize-fighter, had caused it to spread about his countenance in an interesting and curious fashion. His eyebrows, however, remained prominent. Beneath them appeared a pair of very large, round, and rather mild blue eyes, covered with thick white lids absolutely devoid of lashes, which eyes had a most unholy trick of occasionally taking fire when their owner was irritated. Then they could burn and blaze like lamps tied to a barge on a dark night, with an effect that was all the more alarming because the rest of his countenance remained absolutely impassive.
Suddenly while this little company went homewards a sound arose in the quiet street as of people running. Instantly all three of them pressed themselves into the doorway of a house and crouched down. Martin lifted his ear and listened.
"Three people," he whispered; "a woman who flies and two men who follow."
At that moment a casement was thrown open forty paces or so away, and a hand, bearing a torch, thrust out of it. By its light they saw the pale face of a lady speeding towards them, and after her two Spanish soldiers.
"The Vrouw Andreas Jansen," whispered Martin again, "flying from two of the guard who burned her husband."
The torch was withdrawn and the casement shut with a snap. In those days quiet burghers could not afford to be mixed up in street troubles, especially if soldiers had to do with them. Once more the place was empty and quiet, except for the sound of running feet.
Opposite to the doorway the lady was overtaken. "Oh! let me go," she sobbed, "oh! let me go. Is it not enough that you have killed my husband? Why must I be hunted from my house thus?"
"Because you are so pretty, my dear," answered one of the brutes, "also you are rich. Catch hold of her, friend. Lord! how she kicks!"
Foy made a motion as though to start out of the doorway, but Martin pressed him back with the flat of his hand, without apparent effort, and yet so strongly that the young man could not move.
"My business, masters," he muttered; "you would make a noise," and they heard his breath come thick.
Now, moving with curious stealthiness for one of so great a bulk, Martin was out of the porch. By the summer starlight the watchers could see that, before they had caught sight of, or even heard, him, he gripped the two soldiers, small men, like most Spaniards, by the napes of their necks, one in either hand, and was grinding their faces together. This, indeed, was evident, for his great shoulders worked visibly and their breastplates clicked as they touched. But the men themselves made no sound at all. Then Martin seemed to catch them round the middle, and behold! in another second the pair of them had gone headlong into the canal, which ran down the centre of the street.
"My God! he has killed them," muttered Dirk.
"And a good job, too, father," said Foy, "only I wish that I had shared in it."
Martin's great form loomed in the doorway. "The Vrouw Jansen has fled away," he said, "and the street is quite quiet now, so I think that we had better be moving before any see us, my masters."
Some days later the bodies of these Spanish soldiers were found with their faces smashed flat. It was suggested in explanation of this plight, that they had got drunk and while fighting together had fallen from the bridge on to the stonework of a pier. This version of their end found a ready acceptance, as it consorted well with the reputations of the men. So there was no search or inquiry.
"I had to finish the dogs," Martin explained apologetically—"may the Lord Jesus forgive me—because I was afraid that they might know me again by my beard."
"Alas! alas!" groaned Dirk, "what times are these. Say nothing of this dreadful matter to your mother, son, or to Adrian either." But Foy nudged Martin in the ribs and muttered, "Well done, old fellow, well done!"
After this experience, which the reader must remember was nothing extraordinary in those dark and dreadful days when neither the lives of men nor the safety of women—especially Protestant men and women—were things of much account, the three of them reached home without further incident, and quite unobserved. Arriving at the house, they entered it near the Watergate by a back door that led into the stableyard. It was opened by a woman whom they followed into a little room where a light burned. Here she turned and kissed two of them, Dirk first and then Foy.
"Thank God that I see you safe," she said. "Whenever you go to the Meeting-place I tremble until I hear your footsteps at the door."
"What's the use of that, mother?" said Foy. "Your fretting yourself won't make things better or worse."
"Ah! dear, how can I help it?" she replied softly; "we cannot all be young and cheerful, you know."
"True, wife, true," broke in Dirk, "though I wish we could; we should be lighter-hearted so," and he looked at her and sighed.
Lysbeth van Goorl could no longer boast the beauty which was hers when first we met her, but she was still a sweet and graceful woman, her figure remaining almost as slim as it had been in girlhood. The grey eyes also retained their depth and fire, only the face was worn, though more by care and the burden of memories than with years. The lot of the loving wife and mother was hard indeed when Philip the King ruled in Spain and Alva was his prophet in the Netherlands.
"Is it done?" she asked.
"Yes, wife, our brethren are now saints in Paradise, therefore rejoice."
"It is very wrong," she answered with a sob, "but I cannot. Oh!" she added with a sudden blaze of indignation, "if He is just and good, why does God suffer His servants to be killed thus?"
"Perhaps our grandchildren will be able to answer that question," replied Dirk.
"That poor Vrouw Jansen," broke in Lysbeth, "just married, and so young and pretty. I wonder what will become of her."
Dirk and Foy looked at each other, and Martin, who was hovering about near the door, slunk back guiltily into the passage as though he had attempted to injure the Vrouw Jansen.
"To-morrow we will look to it, wife. And now let us eat, for we are faint with hunger."
Ten minutes later they were seated at their meal. The reader may remember the room; it was that wherein Montalvo, ex-count and captain, made the speech which charmed all hearers on the night when he had lost the race at the ice-carnival. The same chandelier hung above them, some portion of the same plate, even, repurchased by Dirk, was on the table, but how different were the company and the feast! Aunt Clara, the fatuous, was long dead, and with her many of the companions of that occasion, some naturally, some by the hand of the executioner, while others had fled the land. Pieter van de Werff still lived, however, and though regarded with suspicion by the authorities, was a man of weight and honour in the town, but to-night he was not present there. The food, too, if ample was plain, not on account of the poverty of the household, for Dirk had prospered in his worldly affairs, being hard-working and skilful, and the head of the brass foundry to which in those early days he was apprenticed, but because in such times people thought little of the refinements of eating. When life itself is so doubtful, its pleasures and amusements become of small importance. The ample waiting service of the maid Greta, who long ago had vanished none knew where, and her fellow domestics was now carried on by the man, Martin, and one old woman, since, as every menial might be a spy, even the richest employed few of them. In short all the lighter and more cheerful parts of life were in abeyance.
"Where is Adrian?" asked Dirk.
"I do not know," answered Lysbeth. "I thought that perhaps——"
"No," replied her husband hastily; "he did not accompany us; he rarely does."
"Brother Adrian likes to look underneath the spoon before he licks it," said Foy with his mouth full.
The remark was enigmatic, but his parents seemed to understand what Foy meant; at least it was followed by an uncomfortable and acquiescent silence. Just then Adrian came in, and as we have not seen him since, some four and twenty years ago, he made his entry into the world on the secret island in the Haarlemer Meer, here it may be as well to describe his appearance.
He was a handsome young man, but of quite a different stamp from his half-brother, Foy, being tall, slight, and very graceful in figure; advantages which he had inherited from his mother Lysbeth. In countenance, however, he differed from her so much that none would have guessed him to be her son. Indeed, Adrian's face was pure Spanish, there was nothing of a Netherlander about his dark beauty. Spanish were the eyes of velvet black, set rather close together, Spanish also the finely chiselled features and the thin, spreading nostrils, Spanish the cold, yet somewhat sensual mouth, more apt to sneer than smile; the straight, black hair, the clear, olive skin, and that indifferent, half-wearied mien which became its wearer well enough, but in a man of his years of Northern blood would have seemed unnatural or affected.
He took his seat without speaking, nor did the others speak to him till his stepfather Dirk said:
"You were not at the works to-day, Adrian, although we should have been glad of your help in founding the culverin."
"No, father"—he called him father—answered the young man in a measured and rather melodious voice. "You see we don't quite know who is going to pay for that piece. Or at any rate I don't quite know, as nobody seems to take me into confidence, and if it should chance to be the losing side, well, it might be enough to hang me."
Dirk flushed up, but made no answer, only Foy remarked:
"That's right, Adrian, look after your own skin."
"Just now I find it more interesting," went on Adrian loftily and disregardful of his brother, "to study those whom the cannon may shoot than to make the cannon which is to shoot them."
"Hope you won't be one of them," interrupted Foy again.
"Where have you been this evening, son?" asked Lysbeth hastily, fearing a quarrel.
"I have been mixing with the people, mother, at the scene on the market-place yonder."
"Not the martyrdom of our good friend, Jansen, surely?"
"Yes, mother, why not? It is terrible, it is a crime, no doubt, but the observer of life should study these things. There is nothing more fascinating to the philosopher than the play of human passions. The emotions of the brutal crowd, the stolid indifference of the guard, the grief of the sympathisers, the stoical endurance of the victims animated by religious exaltation——"
"And the beautiful logic of the philosopher, with his nose in the air, while he watches his friend and brother in the Faith being slowly burnt to death," broke out Foy with passion.
"Hush! hush!" said Dirk, striking his fist upon the table with a blow that caused the glasses to ring, "this is no subject for word-chopping. Adrian, you would have been better with us than down below at that butchery, even though you were less safe," he added, with meaning. "But I wish to run none into danger, and you are of an age to judge for yourself. I beg you, however, to spare us your light talk about scenes that we think dreadful, however interesting you may have found them."
Adrian shrugged his shoulders and called to Martin to bring him some more meat. As the great man approached him he spread out his fine-drawn nostrils and sniffed.
"You smell, Martin," he said, "and no wonder. Look, there is blood upon your jerkin. Have you been killing pigs and forgotten to change it?"
Martin's round blue eyes flashed, then went pale and dead again.
"Yes, master," he answered, in his thick voice, "I have been killing pigs. But your dress also smells of blood and fire; perhaps you went too near the stake." At that moment, to put an end to the conversation, Dirk rose and said grace. Then he went out of the room accompanied by his wife and Foy, leaving Adrian to finish his meal alone, which he did reflectively and at leisure.
When he left the eating chamber Foy followed Martin across the courtyard to the walled-in stables, and up a ladder to the room where the serving man slept. It was a queer place, and filled with an extraordinary collection of odds and ends; the skins of birds, otters, and wolves; weapons of different makes, notably a very large two-handed sword, plain and old-fashioned, but of excellent steel; bits of harness and other things.
There was no bed in this room for the reason that Martin disdained a bed, a few skins upon the floor being all that he needed to lie on. Nor did he ask for much covering, since so hardy was he by nature, that except in the very bitterest weather his woollen vest was enough for him. Indeed, he had been known to sleep out in it when the frost was so sharp that he rose with his hair and beard covered with icicles.
Martin shut the door and lit three lanterns, which he hung to hooks upon the wall.
"Are you ready for a turn, master?" he asked.
Foy nodded as he answered, "I want to get the taste of it all out of my mouth, so don't spare me. Lay on till I get angry, it will make me forget," and taking a leathern jerkin off a peg he pulled it over his head.
"Forget what, master?"
"Oh! the prayings and the burnings and Vrouw Jansen, and Adrian's sea-lawyer sort of talk."
"Ah, yes, that's the worst of them all for us," and the big man leapt forward and whispered. "Keep an eye on him, Master Foy."
"What do you mean?" asked Foy sharply and flushing.
"What I say."
"You forget; you are talking of my brother, my own mother's son. I will hear no harm of Adrian; his ways are different to ours, but he is good-hearted at bottom. Do you understand me, Martin?"
"But not your father's son, master. It's the sire sets the strain; I have bred horses, and I know."
Foy looked at him and hesitated.
"No," said Martin, answering the question in his eyes. "I have nothing against him, but he always sees the other side, and that's bad. Also he is Spanish——"
"And you don't like Spaniards," broke in Foy. "Martin, you are a pig-headed, prejudiced, unjust jackass."
Martin smiled. "No, master, I don't like Spaniards, nor will you before you have done with them. But then it is only fair as they don't like me."
"I say, Martin," said Foy, following a new line of thought, "how did you manage that business so quietly, and why didn't you let me do my share?"
"Because you'd have made a noise, master, and we didn't want the watch on us; also, being fulled armed, they might have bettered you."
"Good reasons, Martin. How did you do it? I couldn't see much."
"It is a trick I learned up there in Friesland. Some of the Northmen sailors taught it me. There is a place in a man's neck, here at the back, and if he is squeezed there he loses his senses in a second. Thus, master—" and putting out his great hand he gripped Foy's neck in a fashion that caused him the intensest agony.
"Drop it," said Foy, kicking at his shins.
"I didn't squeeze; I was only showing you," answered Martin, opening his eyes. "Well, when their wits were gone of course it was easy to knock their heads together, so that they mightn't find them again. You see," he added, "if I had left them alive—well, they are dead anyway, and getting a hot supper by now, I expect. Which shall it be, master? Dutch stick or Spanish point?"
"Stick first, then point," answered Foy.
"Good. We need 'em both nowadays," and Martin reached down a pair of ash plants fitted into old sword hilts to protect the hands of the players.
They stood up to each other on guard, and then against the light of the lanterns it could be seen how huge a man was Martin. Foy, although well-built and sturdy, and like all his race of a stout habit, looked but a child beside the bulk of this great fellow. As for their stick game, which was in fact sword exercise, it is unnecessary to follow its details, for the end of it was what might almost have been expected. Foy sprang to and fro slashing and cutting, while Martin the solid scarcely moved his weapon. Then suddenly there would be a parry and a reach, and the stick would fall with a thud all down the length of Foy's back, causing the dust to start from his leathern jerkin.
"It's no good," said Foy at last, rubbing himself ruefully. "What's the use of guarding against you, you great brute, when you simply crash through my guard and hit me all the same? That isn't science."
"No, master," answered Martin, "but it is business. If we had been using swords you would have been in pieces by now. No blame to you and no credit to me; my reach is longer and my arm heavier, that is all."
"At any rate I am beaten," said Foy; "now take the rapiers and give me a chance."
Then they went at it with the thrusting-swords, rendered harmless by a disc of lead upon their points, and at this game the luck turned. Foy was active as a cat in the eye of a hawk, and twice he managed to get in under Martin's guard.
"You're dead, old fellow," he said at the second thrust.
"Yes, young master," answered Martin, "but remember that I killed you long ago, so that you are only a ghost and of no account. Although I have tried to learn its use to please you, I don't mean to fight with a toasting fork. This is my weapon," and, seizing the great sword which stood in the corner, he made it hiss through the air.
Foy took it from his hand and looked at it. It was a long straight blade with a plain iron guard, or cage, for the hands, and on it, in old letters, was engraved one Latin word, Silentium, "Silence."
"Why is it called 'Silence,' Martin?"
"Because it makes people silent, I suppose, master."
"What is its history, and how did you come by it?" asked Foy in a malicious voice. He knew that the subject was a sore one with the huge Frisian.
Martin turned red as his own beard and looked uncomfortable. "I believe," he answered, staring upwards, "that it was the ancient Sword of Justice of a little place up in Friesland. As to how I came by it, well, I forget."
"And you call yourself a good Christian," said Foy reproachfully. "Now I have heard that your head was going to be chopped off with this sword, but that somehow you managed to steal it first and got away."
"There was something of the sort," mumbled Martin, "but it is so long ago that it slips my mind. I was so often in broils and drunk in those days—may the dear Lord forgive me—that I can't quite remember things. And now, by your leave, I want to go to sleep."
"You old liar," said Foy shaking his head at him, "you killed that poor executioner and made off with his sword. You know you did, and now you are ashamed to own the truth."
"May be, may be," answered Martin vacuously; "so many things happen in the world that a fool man cannot remember them all. I want to go to sleep."
"Martin," said Foy, sitting down upon a stool and dragging off his leather jerkin, "what used you to do before you turned holy? You have never told me all the story. Come now, speak up. I won't tell Adrian."
"Nothing worth mentioning, Master Foy."
"Out with it, Martin."
"Well, if you wish to know, I am the son of a Friesland boor."
"—And an Englishwoman from Yarmouth: I know all that."
"Yes," repeated Martin, "an Englishwoman from Yarmouth. She was very strong, my mother; she could hold up a cart on her shoulders while my father greased the wheels, that is for a bet; otherwise she used to make my father hold the cart up while she greased the wheels. Folk would come to see her do the trick. When I grew up I held the cart and they both greased the wheels. But at last they died of the plague, the pair of them, God rest their souls! So I inherited the farm——"
"And—" said Foy, fixing him with his eye.
"And," jerked out Martin in an unwilling fashion, "fell into bad habits."
"Drink?" suggested the merciless Foy.
Martin sighed and hung his great head. He had a tender conscience.
"Then you took to prize-fighting," went on his tormentor; "you can't deny it; look at your nose."
"I did, master, for the Lord hadn't touched my heart in those days, and," he added, brisking up, "it wasn't such a bad trade, for nobody ever beat me except a Brussels man once when I was drunk. He broke my nose, but afterwards, when I was sober—" and he stopped.
"You killed the Spanish boxer here in Leyden," said Foy sternly.
"Yes," echoed Martin, "I killed him sure enough, but—oh! it was a pretty fight, and he brought it on himself. He was a fine man, that Spaniard, but the devil wouldn't play fair, so I just had to kill him. I hope that they bear in mind up above that I had to kill him."
"Tell me about it, Martin, for I was at The Hague at the time, and can't remember. Of course I don't approve of such things"—and the young rascal clasped his hands and looked pious—"but as it is all done with, one may as well hear the story of the fight. To spin it won't make you more wicked than you are."
Then suddenly Martin the unreminiscent developed a marvellous memory, and with much wealth of detail set out the exact circumstances of that historic encounter.
"And after he had kicked me in the stomach," he ended, "which, master, you will know he had no right to do, I lost my temper and hit out with all my strength, having first feinted and knocked up his guard with my left arm——"
"And then," said Foy, growing excited, for Martin really told the story very well, "what happened?"
"Oh, his head went back between his shoulders, and when they picked him up, his neck was broken. I was sorry, but I couldn't help it, the Lord knows I couldn't help it; he shouldn't have called me 'a dirty Frisian ox' and kicked me in the stomach."
"No, that was very wrong of him. But they arrested you, didn't they, Martin?"
"Yes, for the second time they condemned me to death as a brawler and a manslayer. You see, the other Friesland business came up against me, and the magistrates here had money on the Spaniard. Then your dear father saved me. He was burgomaster of that year, and he paid the death fine for me—a large sum—afterwards, too, he taught me to be sober and think of my soul. So you know why Red Martin will serve him and his while there is a drop of blood left in his worthless carcase. And now, Master Foy, I'm going to sleep, and God grant that those dirty Spanish dogs mayn't haunt me."
"Don't you fear for that, Martin," said Foy as he took his departure, "absolvo te for those Spaniards. Through your strength God smote them who were not ashamed to rob and insult a poor new widowed woman after helping to murder her husband. Yes, Martin, you may enter that on the right side of the ledger—for a change—for they won't haunt you at night. I'm more afraid lest the business should be traced home to us, but I don't think it likely since the street was quite empty."
"Quite empty," echoed Martin nodding his head. "Nobody saw me except the two soldiers and Vrouw Jansen. They can't tell, and I'm sure that she won't. Good-night, my young master."
ADRIAN GOES OUT HAWKING
In a house down a back street not very far from the Leyden prison, a man and a woman sat at breakfast on the morning following the burning of the Heer Jansen and his fellow martyr. These also we have met before, for they were none other than the estimable Black Meg and her companion, named the Butcher. Time, which had left them both strong and active, had not, it must be admitted, improved their personal appearance. Black Meg, indeed, was much as she had always been, except that her hair was now grey and her features, which seemed to be covered with yellow parchment, had become sharp and haglike, though her dark eyes still burned with their ancient fire. The man, Hague Simon, or the Butcher, scoundrel by nature and spy and thief by trade, one of the evil spawn of an age of violence and cruelty, boasted a face and form that became his reputation well. His countenance was villainous, very fat and flabby, with small, pig-like eyes, and framed, as it were, in a fringe of sandy-coloured whiskers, running from the throat to the temple, where they faded away into a great expanse of utterly bald head. The figure beneath was heavy, pot-haunched, and supported upon a pair of bowed but sturdy legs.
But if they were no longer young, and such good looks as they ever possessed had vanished, the years had brought them certain compensations. Indeed, it was a period in which spies and all such wretches flourished, since, besides other pickings, by special enactment a good proportion of the realized estates of heretics was paid over to the informers as blood-money. Of course, however, humble tools like the Butcher and his wife did not get the largest joints of the heretic sheep, for whenever one was slaughtered, there were always many honest middlemen of various degree to be satisfied, from the judge down to the executioner, with others who never showed their faces.
Still, when the burnings and torturings were brisk, the amount totalled up very handsomely. Thus, as the pair sat at their meal this morning, they were engaged in figuring out what they might expect to receive from the estate of the late Heer Jansen, or at least Black Meg was so employed with the help of a deal board and a bit of chalk. At last she announced the result, which was satisfactory. Simon held up his fat hands in admiration.
"Clever little dove," he said, "you ought to have been a lawyer's wife with your head for figures. Ah! it grows near, it grows near."
"What grows near, you fool?" asked Meg in her deep mannish voice.
"That farm with an inn attached of which I dream, standing in rich pasture land with a little wood behind it, and in the wood a church. Not too large; no, I am not ambitious; let us say a hundred acres, enough to keep thirty or forty cows, which you would milk while I marketed the butter and the cheeses——"
"And slit the throats of the guests," interpolated Meg.
Simon looked shocked. "No, wife, you misjudge me. It is a rough world, and we must take queer cuts to fortune, but once I get there, respectability for me and a seat in the village church, provided, of course, that it is orthodox. I know that you come of the people, and your instincts are of the people, but I can never forget that my grandfather was a gentleman," and Simon puffed himself out and looked at the ceiling.
"Indeed," sneered Meg, "and what was your grandmother, or, for the matter of that, how do you know who was your grandfather? Country house! The old Red Mill, where you hide goods out there in the swamp, is likely to be your only country house. Village church? Village gallows more likely. No, don't you look nasty at me, for I won't stand it, you dirty little liar. I have done things, I know; but I wouldn't have got my own aunt burned for an Anabaptist, which she wasn't, in order to earn twenty florins, so there."
Simon turned purple with rage; that aunt story was one which touched him on the raw. "Ugly——" he began.
Instantly Meg's hand shot out and grasped the neck of a bottle, whereon he changed his tune.
"The sex, the sex!" he murmured, turning aside to mop his bald head with a napkin; "well, it's only their pretty way, they will have their little joke. Hullo, there is someone knocking at the door."
"And mind how you open it," said Meg, becoming alert. "Remember we have plenty of enemies, and a pike blade comes through a small crack."
"Can you live with the wise and remain a greenhorn? Trust me." And placing his arm about his spouse's waist, Simon stood on tiptoe and kissed her gently on the cheek in token of reconciliation, for Meg had a nasty memory in quarrels. Then he skipped away towards the door as fast as his bandy legs would carry him.
The colloquy there was long and for the most part carried on through the keyhole, but in the end their visitor was admitted, a beetle-browed brute of much the same stamp as his host.
"You are nice ones," he said sulkily, "to be so suspicious about an old friend, especially when he comes on a job."
"Don't be angry, dear Hans," interrupted Simon in a pleading voice. "You know how many bad characters are abroad in these rough times; why, for aught we could tell, you might have been one of these desperate Lutherans, who stick at nothing. But about the business?"
"Lutherans, indeed," snarled Hans; "well, if they are wise they'd stick at your fat stomach; but it is a Lutheran job that I have come from The Hague to talk about."
"Ah!" said Meg, "who sent you?"
"A Spaniard named Ramiro, who has recently turned up there, a humorous dog connected with the Inquisition, who seems to know everybody and whom nobody knows. However, his money is right enough, and no doubt he has authority behind him. He says that you are old friends of his."
"Ramiro? Ramiro?" repeated Meg reflectively, "that means Oarsman, doesn't it, and sounds like an alias? Well, I've lots of acquaintances in the galleys, and he may be one of them. What does he want, and what are the terms?"
Hans leant forward and whispered for a long while. The other two listened in silence, only nodding from time to time.
"It doesn't seem much for the job," said Simon when Hans had finished.
"Well, friend, it is easy and safe; a fat merchant and his wife and a young girl. Mind you, there is no killing to be done if we can help it, and if we can't help it the Holy Office will shield us. Also it is only the letter which he thinks that the young woman may carry that the noble Ramiro wants. Doubtless it has to do with the sacred affairs of the Church. Any valuables about them we may keep as a perquisite over and above the pay."
Simon hesitated, but Meg announced with decision,
"It is good enough; these merchant woman generally have jewels hidden in their stays."
"My dear," interrupted Simon.
"Don't 'my dear' me," said Meg fiercely. "I have made up my mind, so there's an end. We meet by the Boshhuysen at five o'clock at the big oak in the copse, where we will settle the details."
After this Simon said no more, for he had this virtue, so useful in domestic life—he knew when to yield.
On this same morning Adrian rose late. The talk at the supper table on the previous night, especially Foy's coarse, uneducated sarcasm, had ruffled his temper, and when Adrian's temper was ruffled he generally found it necessary to sleep himself into good humour. As the bookkeeper of the establishment, for his stepfather had never been able to induce him to take an active part in its work, which in his heart he considered beneath him, Adrian should have been in the office by nine o'clock. Not having risen before ten, however, nor eaten his breakfast until after eleven, this was clearly impossible. Then he remembered that here was a good chance of finishing a sonnet, of which the last lines were running in his head. It chanced that Adrian was a bit of a poet, and, like most poets, he found quiet essential to the art of composition. Somehow, when Foy was in the house, singing and talking, and that great Frisian brute, Martin, was tramping to and fro, there was never any quiet, for even when he could not hear them, the sense of their presence exasperated his nerves. So now was his opportunity, especially as his mother was out—marketing, she said—but in all probability engaged upon some wretched and risky business connected with the people whom she called martyrs. Adrian determined to avail himself of it and finish his sonnet.
This took some time. First, as all true artists know, the Muse must be summoned, and she will rarely arrive under an hour's appropriate and gloomy contemplation of things in general. Then, especially in the case of sonnets, rhymes, which are stubborn and remorseless things, must be found and arranged. The pivot and object of this particular poem was a certain notable Spanish beauty, Isabella d'Ovanda by name. She was the wife of a decrepit but exceedingly noble Spaniard, who might almost have been her grandfather, and who had been sent as one of a commission appointed by King Philip II. to inquire into certain financial matters connected with the Netherlands.
This grandee, who, as it happened, was a very industrious and conscientious person, among other cities, had visited Leyden in order to assess the value of the Imperial dues and taxes. The task did not take him long, because the burghers rudely and vehemently declared that under their ancient charter they were free from any Imperial dues or taxes whatsoever, nor could the noble marquis's arguments move them to a more rational view. Still, he argued for a week, and during that time his wife, the lovely Isabella, dazzled the women of the town with her costumes and the men with her exceedingly attractive person.
Especially did she dazzle the romantic Adrian; hence the poetry. On the whole the rhymes went pretty well, though there were difficulties, but with industry he got round them. Finally the sonnet, a high-flown and very absurd composition, was completed.
By now it was time to eat; indeed, there are few things that make a man hungrier than long-continued poetical exercise, so Adrian ate. In the midst of the meal his mother returned, pale and anxious-faced, for the poor woman had been engaged in making arrangements for the safety of the beggared widow of the martyred Jansen, a pathetic and even a dangerous task. In his own way Adrian was fond of his mother, but being a selfish puppy he took but little note of her cares or moods. Therefore, seizing the opportunity of an audience he insisted upon reading to her his sonnet, not once but several times.
"Very pretty, my son, very pretty," murmured Lysbeth, through whose bewildered brain the stilted and meaningless words buzzed like bees in an empty hive, "though I am sure I cannot guess how you find the heart in such times as these to write poetry to fine ladies whom you do not know."
"Poetry, mother," said Adrian sententiously, "is a great consoler; it lifts the mind from the contemplation of petty and sordid cares."
"Petty and sordid cares!" repeated Lysbeth wonderingly, then she added with a kind of cry: "Oh! Adrian, have you no heart that you can watch a saint burn and come home to philosophise about his agonies? Will you never understand? If you could have seen that poor woman this morning who only three months ago was a happy bride." Then bursting into tears Lysbeth turned and fled from the room, for she remembered that what was the fate of the Vrouw Jansen to-day to-morrow might be her own.
This show of emotion quite upset Adrian whose nerves were delicate, and who being honestly attached to his mother did not like to see her weeping.
"Pest on the whole thing," he thought to himself, "why can't we go away and live in some pleasant place where they haven't got any religion, unless it is the worship of Venus? Yes, a place of orange groves, and running streams, and pretty women with guitars, who like having sonnets read to them, and——"
At this moment the door opened and Martin's huge and flaming poll appeared.
"The master wants to know if you are coming to the works, Heer Adrian, and if not will you be so good as to give me the key of the strong-box as he needs the cash book."
With a groan Adrian rose to go, then changed his mind. No, after that perfumed vision of green groves and lovely ladies it was impossible for him to face the malodorous and prosaic foundry.
"Tell them I can't come," he said, drawing the key from his pocket.
"Very good, Heer Adrian, why not?"
"Because I am writing."
"Writing what?" queried Martin.
"What's a sonnet?" asked Martin blankly.
"Ill-educated clown," murmured Adrian, then—with a sudden inspiration, "I'll show you what a sonnet is; I will read it to you. Come in and shut the door." Martin obeyed, and was duly rewarded with the sonnet, of which he understood nothing at all except the name of the lady, Isabella d'Ovanda. But Martin was not without the guile of the serpent.
"Beautiful," he said, "beautiful! Read it again, master."
Adrian did so with much delight, remembering the tale of how the music of Orpheus had charmed the very beasts.
"Ah!" said Martin, "that's a love-letter, isn't it, to that splendid, black-eyed marchioness, whom I saw looking at you?"
"Well, not exactly," said Adrian, highly pleased, although to tell the truth he could not recollect upon what occasion the fair Isabella had favoured him with her kind glances. "Yet I suppose that you might call it so, an idealised love-letter, a letter in which ardent and distant yet tender admiration is wrapt with the veil of verse."
"Quite so. Well, Master Adrian, just you send it to her."
"You don't think that she might be offended?" queried Adrian doubtfully.
"Offended!" said Martin, "if she is I know nothing of women" (as a matter of fact he didn't.) "No, she will be very pleased; she'll take it away and read it by herself, and sleep with it under her pillow until she knows it by heart, and then I daresay she will ask you to come and see her. Well, I must be off, but thank you for reading me the beautiful poetry letter, Heer Adrian."
"Really," reflected Adrian, as the door closed behind him, "this is another instance of the deceitfulness of appearances. I always thought Martin a great, brutal fool, yet in his breast, uncultured as it is, the sacred spark still smoulders." And then and there he made up his mind that he would read Martin a further selection of poems upon the first opportunity.
If only Adrian could have been a witness to the scene which at that very moment was in progress at the works! Martin having delivered the key of the box, sought out Foy, and proceeded to tell him the story. More, perfidious one, he handed over a rough draft of the sonnet which he had surreptitiously garnered from the floor, to Foy, who, clad in a leather apron, and seated on the edge of a casting, read it eagerly.
"I told him to send it," went on Martin, "and, by St. Peter, I think he will, and then if he doesn't have old Don Diaz after him with a pistol in one hand and a stiletto in the other, my name isn't Martin Roos."
"Of course, of course," gasped Foy, kicking his legs into the air with delight, "why, they call the old fellow 'Singe jaloux.' Oh! it's capital, and I only hope that he opens the lady's letters."
Thus did Foy, the commonplace and practical, make a mock of the poetic efforts of the high-souled and sentimental Adrian.
Meanwhile Adrian, feeling that he required air after his literary labours, fetched his peregrine from its perch—for he was fond of hawking—and, setting it on his wrist, started out to find a quarry on the marshes near the town.
Before he was halfway down the street he had forgotten all about the sonnet and the lovely Isabella. His was a curious temperament, and this sentimentality, born of vainness and idle hours, by no means expressed it all. That he was what we should nowadays call a prig we know, and also that he possessed his father's, Montalvo's, readiness of speech without his father's sense of humour. In him, as Martin had hinted, the strain of the sire predominated, for in all essentials Adrian was as Spanish in mind as in appearance.
For instance, the sudden and violent passions into which he was apt to fall if thwarted or overlooked were purely Spanish; there seemed to be nothing of the patient, phlegmatic Netherlander about this side of him. Indeed it was this temper of his perhaps more than any other desire or tendency that made him so dangerous, for, whereas the impulses of his heart were often good enough, they were always liable to be perverted by some access of suddenly provoked rage.
From his birth up Adrian had mixed little with Spaniards, and every influence about him, especially that of his mother, the being whom he most loved on earth, had been anti-Spanish, yet were he an hidalgo fresh from the Court at the Escurial, he could scarcely have been more Castilian. Thus he had been brought up in what might be called a Republican atmosphere, yet he was without sympathy for the love of liberty which animated the people of Holland. The sturdy independence of the Netherlanders, their perpetual criticism of kings and established rules, their vulgar and unheard-of assumption that the good things of the world were free to all honest and hard-working citizens, and not merely the birthright of blue blood, did not appeal to Adrian. Also from childhood he had been a member of the dissenting Church, one of the New Religion. Yet, at heart, he rejected this faith with its humble professors and pastors, its simple, and sometimes squalid rites; its long and earnest prayers offered to the Almighty in the damp of a cellar or the reek of a cowhouse.
Like thousands of his Spanish fellow-countrymen, he was constitutionally unable to appreciate the fact that true religion and true faith are the natural fruits of penitence and effort, and that individual repentance and striving are the only sacrifices required of man.
For safety's sake, like most politic Netherlanders, Adrian was called upon from time to time to attend worship in the Catholic churches. He did not find the obligation irksome. In fact, the forms and rites of that stately ceremonial, the moving picture of the Mass in those dim aisles, the pealing of the music and the sweet voices of hidden choristers—all these things unsealed a fountain in his bosom and at whiles moved him well nigh to tears. The system appealed to him also, and he could understand that in it were joy and comfort. For here was to be found forgiveness of sins, not far off in the heavens, but at hand upon the earth; forgiveness to all who bent the head and paid the fee. Here, ready made by that prince of armourers, a Church that claimed to be directly inspired, was a harness of proof which, after the death he dreaded (for he was full of spiritual fears and superstitions), would suffice to turn the shafts of Satan from his poor shivering soul, however steeped in crime. Was not this a more serviceable and practical faith than that of these loud-voiced, rude-handed Lutherans among whom he lived; men who elected to cast aside this armour and trust instead to a buckler forged by their faith and prayers—yes, and to give up their evil ways and subdue their own desires that they might forge it better?
Such were the thoughts of Adrian's secret heart, but as yet he had never acted on them, since, however much he might wish to do so, he had not found the courage to break away from the influence of his surroundings. His surroundings—ah! how he hated them! How he hated them! For very shame's sake, indeed, he could not live in complete idleness among folk who were always busy, therefore he acted as accountant in his stepfather's business, keeping the books of the foundry in a scanty and inefficient fashion, or writing letters to distant customers, for he was a skilled clerk, to order the raw materials necessary to the craft. But of this occupation he was weary, for he had the true Spanish dislike and contempt of trade. In his heart he held that war was the only occupation worthy of a man, successful war, of course, against foes worth plundering, such as Cortes and Pizarro had waged upon the poor Indians of New Spain.
Adrian had read a chronicle of the adventures of these heroes, and bitterly regretted that he had come into the world too late to share them. The tale of heathen foemen slaughtered by thousands, and of the incalculable golden treasures divided among their conquerors, fired his imagination—especially the treasures. At times he would see them in his sleep, baskets full of gems, heaps of barbaric gold and guerdon of fair women slaves, all given by heaven to the true soldier whom it had charged with the sacred work of Christianising unbelievers by means of massacre and the rack.
Oh! how deeply did he desire such wealth and the power which it would bring with it; he who was dependent upon others that looked down upon him as a lazy dreamer, who had never a guilder to spare in his pouch, who had nothing indeed but more debts than he cared to remember. But it never occurred to him to set to work and grow rich like his neighbours by honest toil and commerce. No, that was the task of slaves, like these low Hollander fellows among whom his lot was cast.
Such were the main characteristics of Adrian, surnamed van Goorl; Adrian the superstitious but unspiritual dreamer, the vain Sybarite, the dull poet, the chopper of false logic, the weak and passionate self-seeker, whose best and deepest cravings, such as his love for his mother and another love that shall be told of, were really little more than a reflection of his own pride and lusts, or at least could be subordinated to their fulfilment. Not that he was altogether bad; somewhere in him there was a better part. Thus: he was capable of good purposes and of bitter remorse; under certain circumstances even he might become capable also of a certain spurious spiritual exaltation. But if this was to bloom in his heart, it must be in a prison strong enough to protect from the blows of temptation. Adrian tempted would always be Adrian overcome. He was fashioned by nature to be the tool of others or of his own desires.
It may be asked what part had his mother in him; where in his weak ignoble nature was the trace of her pure and noble character? It seems hard to find. Was this want to be accounted for by the circumstances connected with his birth, in which she had been so unwilling an agent? Had she given him something of her body but naught of that which was within her own control—her spirit? Who can say? This at least is true, that from his mother's stock he had derived nothing beyond a certain Dutch doggedness of purpose which, when added to his other qualities, might in some events make him formidable—a thing to fear and flee from.
Adrian reached the Witte Poort, and paused on this side of the moat to reflect about things in general. Like most young men of his time and blood, as has been said, he had military leanings, and was convinced that, given the opportunity, he might become one of the foremost generals of his age. Now he was engaged in imagining himself besieging Leyden at the head of a great army, and in fancy disposing his forces after such fashion as would bring about its fall in the shortest possible time. Little did he guess that within some few years this very question was to exercise the brain of Valdez and other great Spanish captains.
Whilst he was thus occupied suddenly a rude voice called,
"Wake up, Spaniard," and a hard object—it was a green apple—struck him on his flat cap nearly knocking out the feather. Adrian leaped round with an oath, to catch sight of two lads, louts of about fifteen, projecting their tongues and jeering at him from behind the angles of the gate-house. Now Adrian was not popular with the youth of Leyden, and he knew it well. So, thinking it wisest to take no notice of this affront, he was about to continue on his way when one of the youths, made bold by impunity, stepped from his corner and bowed before him till the ragged cap in his hand touched the dust, saying, in a mocking voice,
"Hans, why do you disturb the noble hidalgo? Cannot you see that the noble hidalgo is going for a walk in the country to look for his most high father, the honourable duke of the Golden Fleece, to whom he is taking a cockolly bird as a present?"
Adrian heard and winced at the sting of the insult, as a high-bred horse winces beneath the lash. Of a sudden rage boiled in his veins like a fountain of fire, and drawing the dagger from his girdle, he rushed at the boys, dragging the hooded hawk, which had become dislodged from his wrist, fluttering through the air after him. At that moment, indeed, he would have been capable of killing one or both of them if he could have caught them, but, fortunately for himself and them, being prepared for an onslaught, they vanished this way and that up the narrow lanes. Presently he stopped, and, still shaking with wrath, replaced the hawk on his wrist and walked across the bridge.
"They shall pay for it," he muttered. "Oh! I will not forget, I will not forget."
Here it may be explained that of the story of his birth Adrian had heard something, but not all. He knew, for instance, that his father's name was Montalvo, that the marriage with his mother for some reason was declared to be illegal, and that this Montalvo had left the Netherlands under a cloud to find his death, so he had been told, abroad. More than this Adrian did not know for certain, since everybody showed a singular reticence in speaking to him of the matter. Twice he had plucked up courage to question his mother on the subject, and on each occasion her face had turned cold and hard as stone, and she answered almost in the same words:
"Son, I beg you to be silent. When I am dead you will find all the story of your birth written down, but if you are wise you will not read."
Once he had asked the same question of his stepfather, Dirk van Goorl, whereupon Dirk looked ill at ease and answered:
"Take my advice, lad, and be content to know that you are here and alive with friends to take care of you. Remember that those who dig in churchyards find bones."
"Indeed," replied Adrian haughtily; "at least I trust that there is nothing against my mother's reputation."
At these words, to his surprise, Dirk suddenly turned pale as a sheet and stepped towards him as though he were about to fly at his throat.
"You dare to doubt your mother," he began, "that angel out of Heaven—" then ceased and added presently, "Go! I beg your pardon; I should have remembered that you at least are innocent, and it is but natural that the matter weighs upon your mind."
So Adrian went, also that proverb about churchyards and bones made such an impression on him that he did no more digging. In other words he ceased to ask questions, trying to console his mind with the knowledge that, however his father might have behaved to his mother, at least he was a man of ancient rank and ancient blood, which blood was his to-day. The rest would be forgotten, although enough of it was still remembered to permit of his being taunted by those street louts, and when it was forgotten the blood, that precious blue blood of an hidalgo of Spain, must still remain his heritage.
ADRIAN RESCUES BEAUTY IN DISTRESS
All that long evening Adrian wandered about the causeways which pierced the meadowlands and marshes, pondering these things and picturing himself as having attained to the dignity of a grandee of Spain, perhaps even—who could tell—to the proud rank of a Knight of the Golden Fleece entitled to stand covered in the presence of his Sovereign. More than one snipe and other bird such as he had come to hawk rose at his feet, but so preoccupied was he that they were out of flight before he could unhood his falcon. At length, after he had passed the church of Weddinvliet, and, following the left bank of the Old Vliet, was opposite to the wood named Boshhuyen after the half-ruined castle that stood in it, he caught sight of a heron winging its homeward way to the heronry, and cast off his peregrine out of the hood. She saw the quarry at once and dashed towards it, whereon the heron, becoming aware of the approach of its enemy, began to make play, rising high into the air in narrow circles. Swiftly the falcon climbed after it in wider rings till at length she hovered high above and stooped, but in vain. With a quick turn of the wings the heron avoided her, and before the falcon could find her pitch again, was far on its path towards the wood.
Once more the peregrine climbed and stooped with a like result. A third time she soared upwards in great circles, and a third time rushed downwards, now striking the quarry full and binding to it. Adrian, who was following their flight as fast as he could run, leaping some of the dykes in his path and splashing through others, saw and paused to watch the end. For a moment hawk and quarry hung in the air two hundred feet above the tallest tree beneath them, for at the instant of its taking the heron had begun to descend to the grove for refuge, a struggling black dot against the glow of sunset. Then, still bound together, they rushed downward headlong, for their spread and fluttering wings did not serve to stay their fall, and vanished among the tree-tops.
"Now my good hawk will be killed in the boughs—oh! what a fool was I to fly so near the wood," thought Adrian to himself as again he started forward.
Pushing on at his best pace, soon he was wandering about among the trees as near to that spot where he had seen the birds fall as he could guess it, calling to the falcon and searching for her with his eyes. But here, in the dense grove, the fading light grew faint, so that at length he was obliged to abandon the quest in despair, and turned to find his way to the Leyden road. When within twenty paces of it, suddenly he came upon hawk and heron. The heron was stone dead, and the brave falcon so injured that it seemed hopeless to try to save her, for as he feared, they had crashed through the boughs of a tree in their fall. Adrian looked at her in dismay, for he loved this bird, which was the best of its kind in the city, having trained her himself from a nestling. Indeed there had always been a curious sympathy between himself and this fierce creature of which he made a companion as another man might of a dog. Even now he noted with a sort of pride that broken-winged and shattered though she was, her talons remained fixed in the back of the quarry, and her beak through the neck.
He stroked the falcon's head, whereon the bird, recognising him, loosed her grip of the heron and tried to flutter to her accustomed perch upon his wrist, only to fall to the ground, where she lay watching him with her bright eyes. Then, because there was no help for it, although he choked with grief at the deed, Adrian struck her on the head with his staff until she died.
"Goodbye, friend," he muttered; "at least that is the best way to go hence, dying with a dead foe beneath," and, picking up the peregrine, he smoothed her ruffled feathers and placed her tenderly in his satchel.
Then it was, just as Adrian rose to his feet, standing beneath the shadow of the big oak upon which the birds had fallen, that coming from the road, which was separated from him by a little belt of undergrowth, he heard the sound of men's voices growling and threatening, and with them a woman's cry for help. At any other time he would have hesitated and reconnoitred, or, perhaps, have retreated at once, for he knew well the dangers of mixing himself up in the quarrels of wayfarers in those rough days. But the loss of the hawk had exasperated his nerves, making any excitement or adventure welcome to him. Therefore, without pausing to think, Adrian pushed forward through the brushwood to find himself in the midst of a curious scene.