"See," said Foy, "they are throwing out anchors fore and aft. Is there room to go past them?"
"No," answered Hans, "the water is too shallow under the bank, and they know it. Bring me a burning brand."
Foy crept forward, and returned with the fire.
"Now light the slow-match, master."
Foy opened his blue eyes and a cold shiver went down his back. Then he set his teeth and obeyed. Martin looked at Hans, muttering,
"Good for a young one!"
Hans nodded and said, "Have no fear. Till that match burns to the level of the deck we are safe. Now, mates, hold fast. I can't go past that boat, so I am going through her. We may sink on the other side, though I am sure that the fire will reach the powder first. In that case you can swim for it if you like, but I shall go with the Swallow."
"I will think about it when the time comes. Oh! that cursed astrologer," growled Martin, looking back at the pursuing ship, which was not more than seven or eight hundred yards away.
Meanwhile the officer in command of the boat, who was armed with a musket, was shouting to them to pull down their sail and surrender; indeed, not until they were within fifty yards of him did he seem to understand their desperate purpose. Then some one in the boat called out: "The devils are going to sink us," and there was a rush to bow and stern to get up the anchors. Only the officer stood firm, screaming at them like a madman. It was too late; a strong gust of wind caught the Swallow, causing her to heel over and sweep down on the boat like a swooping falcon.
Hans stood and shifted the tiller ever so little, calculating all things with his eye. Foy watched the boat towards which they sprang like a thing alive, and Martin, lying at his side, watched the burning match.
Suddenly the Spanish officer, when their prow was not more than twenty paces from him, ceased to shout, and lifting his piece fired. Martin, looking upwards with his left eye, thought that he saw Hans flinch, but the pilot made no sound. Only he did something to the tiller, putting all his strength on to it, and it seemed to the pair of them as though the Swallow was for an instant checked in her flight—certainly her prow appeared to lift itself from the water. Suddenly there was a sound of something snapping—a sound that could be heard even through the yell of terror from the soldiers in the boat. It was the bowsprit which had gone, leaving the jib flying loose like a great pennon.
Then came the crash. Foy shut his eyes for a moment, hanging on with both hands till the scraping and the trembling were done with. Now he opened again, and the first thing he saw was the body of the Spanish officer hanging from the jagged stump of the bowsprit. He looked behind. The boat had vanished, but in the water were to be seen the heads of three or four men swimming. As for themselves they seemed to be clear and unhurt, except for the loss of their bowsprit; indeed, the little vessel was riding over the seas on the bar like any swan. Hans glanced at the slow-match which was smouldering away perilously near to the deck, whereon Martin stamped upon it, saying:
"If we sink now it will be in deep water, so there is no need to fly up before we go down."
"Go and see if she leaks," said Hans.
They went and searched the forehold but could not find that the Swallow had taken any harm worth noting. Indeed, her massive oaken prow, with the weight of the gale-driven ship behind it, had crashed through the frail sides of the open Spanish boat like a knife through an egg.
"That was good steering," said Foy to Hans, when they returned, "and nothing seems to be amiss."
Hans nodded. "I hit him neatly," he muttered. "Look. He's gone." As he spoke the Swallow gave a sharp pitch, and the corpse of the Spaniard fell with a heavy splash into the sea.
"I am glad it has sunk," said Foy; "and now let's have some breakfast, for I am starving. Shall I bring you some, friend Hans?"
"No, master, I want to sleep."
Something in the tone of the man's voice caused Foy to scrutinise his face. His lips were turning blue. He glanced at his hands. Although they still grasped the tiller tightly, these also were turning blue, as though with cold; moreover, blood was dropping on the deck.
"You are hit," he said. "Martin, Martin, Hans is hit!"
"Yes," replied the man, "he hit me and I hit him, and perhaps presently we shall be talking it over together. No, don't trouble, it is through the body and mortal. Well, I expected nothing less, so I can't complain. Now, listen, while my strength holds. Can you lay a course for Harwich in England?"
Martin and Foy shook their heads. Like most Hollanders they were good sailormen, but they only knew their own coasts.
"Then you had best not try it," said Hans, "for there is a gale brewing, and you will be driven on the Goodwin Sands, or somewhere down that shore, and drowned and the treasure lost. Run up to the Haarlem Mere, comrades. You can hug the land with this small boat, while that big devil after you," and he nodded towards the pursuing vessel, which by now was crossing the bar, "must stand further out beyond the shoals. Then slip up through the small gut—the ruined farmstead marks it—and so into the mere. You know Mother Martha, the mad woman who is nicknamed the Mare? She will be watching at the mouth of it; she always is. Moreover, I caused her to be warned that we might pass her way, and if you hoist the white flag with a red cross—it lies in the locker—or, after nightfall, hang out four lamps upon your starboard side, she will come aboard to pilot you, for she knows this boat well. To her also you can tell your business without fear, for she will help you, and be as secret as the dead. Then bury the treasure, or sink it, or blow it up, or do what you can, but, in the name of God, to whom I go, I charge you do not let it fall into the hands of Ramiro and his Spanish rats who are at your heels."
As Hans spoke he sank down upon the deck. Foy ran to support him, but he pushed him aside with a feeble hand. "Let me be," he whispered. "I wish to pray. I have set you a course. Follow it to the end."
Then Martin took the tiller while Foy watched Hans. In ten minutes he was dead.
Now they were running northwards with a fierce wind abeam of them, and the larger Spanish ship behind, but standing further out to sea to avoid the banks. Half an hour later the wind, which was gathering to a gale, shifted several points to the north, so that they must beat up against it under reefed canvas. Still they held on without accident, Foy attending to the sail and Martin steering. The Swallow was a good sea boat, and if their progress was slow so was that of their pursuer, which dogged them continually, sometimes a mile away and sometimes less. At length, towards evening, they caught sight of a ruined house that marked the channel of the little gut, one of the outlets of the Haarlem Mere.
"The sea runs high upon the bar and it is ebb tide," said Foy.
"Even so we must try it, master," answered Martin. "Perhaps she will scrape through," and he put the Swallow about and ran for the mouth of the gut.
Here the waves were mountainous and much water came aboard. Moreover, three times they bumped upon the bar, till at length, to their joy, they found themselves in the calm stream of the gut, and, by shifting the sail, were able to draw it up, though very slowly.
"At least we have got a start of them," said Foy, "for they can never get across until the tide rises."
"We shall need it all," answered Martin; "so now hoist the white flag and let us eat while we may."
While they ate the sun sank, and the wind blew so that scarcely could they make a knot an hour, shift the sail as they might. Then, as there was no sign of Mother Martha, or any other pilot, they hung out the four lamps upon the starboard side, and, with a flapping sail, drifted on gradually, till at length they reached the mouth of the great mere, an infinite waste of waters—deep in some places, shallow in others, and spotted everywhere with islets. Now the wind turned against them altogether, and, the darkness closing in, they were forced to drop anchor, fearing lest otherwise they should go ashore. One comfort they had, however: as yet nothing could be seen of their pursuers.
Then, for the first time, their spirits failed them a little, and they stood together near the stern wondering what they should do. It was while they rested thus that suddenly a figure appeared before them as though it had risen from the deck of the ship. No sound of oars or footsteps had reached their ears, yet there, outlined against the dim sky, was the figure.
"I think that friend Hans has come to life again," said Martin with a slight quaver in his voice, for Martin was terribly afraid of ghosts.
"And I think that a Spaniard has found us," said Foy, drawing his knife.
Then a hoarse voice spoke, saying, "Who are you that signal for a pilot on my waters?"
"The question is—who are you?" answered Foy, "and be so good as to tell us quickly."
"I am the pilot," said the voice, "and this boat by the rig of her and her signals should be the Swallow of The Hague, but why must I crawl aboard of her across the corpse of a dead man?"
"Come into the cabin, pilot, and we will tell you," said Foy.
"Very well, Mynheer." So Foy led the way to the cabin, but Martin stopped behind a while.
"We have found our guide, so what is the use of the lamps?" he said to himself as he extinguished them all, except one which he brought with him into the cabin. Foy was waiting for him by the door and they entered the place together. At the end of it the light of the lamp showed them a strange figure clad in skins so shapeless and sack-like that it was impossible to say whether the form beneath were male or female. The figure was bareheaded, and about the brow locks of grizzled hair hung in tufts. The face, in which were set a pair of wandering grey eyes, was deep cut, tanned brown by exposure, scarred, and very ugly, with withered lips and projecting teeth.
"Good even to you, Dirk van Goorl's son, and to you, Red Martin. I am Mother Martha, she whom the Spaniards call the Mare and the Lake-witch."
"Little need to tell us that, mother," said Foy, "although it is true that many years have gone by since I set eyes on you."
Martha smiled grimly as she answered, "Yes, many years. Well, what have you fat Leyden burghers to do with a poor old night-hag, except of course in times of trouble? Not that I blame you, for it is not well that you, or your parents either, should be known to traffic with such as I. Now, what is your business with me, for the signals show that you have business, and why does the corpse of Hendrik Brant's foster-brother lie there in the stern?"
"Because, to be plain, we have Hendrik Brant's treasure on board, mother, and for the rest look yonder—" and he pointed to what his eye had just caught sight of two or three miles away, a faint light, too low and too red for a star, that could only come from a lantern hung at the masthead of a ship.
Martha nodded. "Spaniards after you, poling through the gut against the wind. Come on, there is no time to lose. Bring your boat round, and we will tow the Swallow to where she will lie safe to-night."
Five minutes later they were all three of them rowing the oar boat in which they had escaped from The Hague towards some unknown point in the darkness, slowly dragging after them the little ship Swallow. As they went, Foy told Martha all the story of their mission and escape.
"I have heard of this treasure before," she said, "all the Netherlands has heard of Brant's hoard. Also dead Hans there let me know that perhaps it might come this way, for in such matters he thought that I could be trusted," and she smiled grimly. "And now what would you do?"
"Fulfil our orders," said Foy. "Hide it if we can; if not, destroy it."
"Better the first than the last," interrupted Martin. "Hide the treasure, say I, and destroy the Spaniards, if Mother Martha here can think of a plan."
"We might sink the ship," suggested Foy.
"And leave her mast for a beacon," added Martin sarcastically.
"Or put the stuff into the boat and sink that."
"And never find it again in this great sea," objected Martin.
All this while Martha steered the boat as calmly as though it were daylight. They had left the open water, and were passing slowly in and out among islets, yet she never seemed to be doubtful or to hesitate. At length they felt the Swallow behind them take the mud gently, whereon Martha led the way aboard of her and threw out the anchor, saying that here was her berth for the night.
"Now," she said, "bring up this gold and lay it in the boat, for if you would save it there is much to do before dawn."
So Foy and Martin went down while Martha, hanging over the hatchway, held the lighted lamp above them, since they dared not take it near the powder. Moving the bags of salt, soon they came to the five barrels of treasure marked B, and, strong though they were, it was no easy task for the pair of them by the help of a pulley to sling them over the ship's side into the boat. At last it was done, and the place of the barrels having been filled with salt bags, they took two iron spades which were provided for such a task as this, and started, Martha steering as before. For an hour or more they rowed in and out among endless islands, at the dim shores of which Martha stared as they passed, till at length she motioned to them to ship their oars, and they touched ground.
Leaping from the boat she made it fast and vanished among the reeds to reconnoitre. Presently she returned again, saying that this was the place. Then began the heavy labour of rolling the casks of treasure for thirty yards or more along otter paths that pierced the dense growth of reeds.
Now, having first carefully cut out reed sods in a place chosen by Martha, Foy and Martin set to their task of digging a great hole by the light of the stars. Hard indeed they toiled at it, yet had it not been for the softness of the marshy soil, they could not have got done while the night lasted, for the grave that would contain those barrels must be both wide and deep. After three feet of earth had been removed, they came to the level of the lake, and for the rest of the time worked in water, throwing up shovelfuls of mud. Still at last it was done, and the five barrels standing side by side in the water were covered up with soil and roughly planted over with the reed turf.
"Let us be going," said Martha. "There is no time to lose." So they straightened their backs and wiped the sweat from their brows.
"There is earth lying about, which may tell its story," said Martin.
"Yes," she replied, "if any see it within the next ten days, after which in this damp place the mosses will have hidden it."
"Well, we have done our best," said Foy, as he washed his mud-stained boots in the water, "and now the stuff must take its chance."
Then once more they entered the boat and rowed away somewhat wearily, Martha steering them.
On they went and on, till Foy, tired out, nearly fell asleep at his oar. Suddenly Martha tapped him on the shoulder. He looked up and there, not two hundred yards away, its tapering mast showing dimly against the sky, was the vessel that had pursued them from The Hague, a single lantern burning on its stern. Martha looked and grunted; then she leant forward and whispered to them imperiously.
"It is madness," gasped Martin.
"Do as I bid you," she hissed, and they let the boat drift with the wind till it came to a little island within thirty yards of the anchored vessel, an island with a willow tree growing upon its shore. "Hold to the twigs of the tree," she muttered, "and wait till I come again." Not knowing what else to do, they obeyed.
Then Martha rose and they saw that she had slipped off her garment of skins, and stood before them, a gaunt white figure armed with a gleaming knife. Next she put the knife to her mouth, and, nipping it between her teeth, slid into the water silently as a diving bird. A minute passed, not more, and they saw that something was climbing up the cable of the ship.
"What is she going to do?" whispered Foy.
"God in Heaven knows," answered Martin, "but if she does not come back good-bye to Heer Brant's treasure, for she alone can find it again."
They waited, holding their breaths, till presently a curious choking sound floated to them, and the lantern on the ship vanished. Two minutes later a hand with a knife in it appeared over the gunwale of the boat, followed by a grey head. Martin put out his great arm and lifted, and, lo! the white form slid down between them like a big salmon turned out of a net.
"Put about and row," it gasped, and they obeyed while the Mare clothed herself again in her skin garment.
"What have you done?" asked Foy.
"Something," she replied with a fierce chuckle. "I have stabbed the watchman—he thought I was a ghost, and was too frightened to call out. I have cut the cable, and I think that I have fired the ship. Ah! look! but row—row round the corner of the island."
They gave way, and as they turned the bank of reeds glanced behind them, to see a tall tongue of fire shooting up the cordage of the ship, and to hear a babel of frightened and angry voices.
Ten minutes later they were on board the Swallow, and from her deck watching the fierce flare of the burning Spanish vessel nearly a mile away. Here they ate and drank, for they needed food badly.
"What shall we do now?" asked Foy when they had finished.
"Nothing at present," answered Martha, "but give me pen and paper."
They found them, and having shrouded the little window of the cabin, she sat at the table and very slowly but with much skill drew a plan, or rather a picture, of this portion of the Haarlem Mere. In that plan were marked many islands according to their natural shapes, twenty of them perhaps, and upon one of these she set a cross.
"Take it and hide it," said Martha, when it was finished, "so that if I die you may know where to dig for Brant's gold. With this in your hand you cannot fail to find it, for I draw well. Remember that it lies thirty paces due south of the only spot where it is easy to land upon that island."
"What shall I do with this picture which is worth so much?" said Foy helplessly, "for in truth I fear to keep the thing."
"Give it to me, master," said Martin; "the secret of the treasure may as well lie with the legacy that is charged on it." Then once more he unscrewed the handle of the sword Silence, and having folded up the paper and wrapped it round with a piece of linen, he thrust it away into the hollow hilt.
"Now that sword is worth more than some people might think," Martin said as he restored it to the scabbard, "but I hope that those who come to seek its secret may have to travel up its blade. Well, when shall we be moving?"
"Listen," said Martha. "Would you two men dare a great deed upon those Spaniards? Their ship is burnt, but there are a score or over of them, and they have two large boats. Now at the dawn they will see the mast of this vessel and attack it in the boats thinking to find the treasure. Well, if as they win aboard we can manage to fire the matches——"
"There may be fewer Spaniards left to plague us," suggested Foy.
"And believing it to be blown up no one will trouble about that money further," added Martin. "Oh! the plan is good, but dangerous. Come, let us talk it over."
The dawn broke in a flood of yellow light on the surface of the Haarlem Mere. Presently from the direction of the Spanish vessel, which was still burning sullenly, came a sound of beating oars. Now the three watchers in the Swallow saw two boatloads of armed men, one of them with a small sail set, swooping down towards them. When they were within a hundred yards Martha muttered, "It is time," and Foy ran hither and thither with a candle firing the slow-matches; also to make sure he cast the candle among a few handfuls of oil-soaked shreds of canvas that lay ready at the bottom of the hatchway. Then with the others, without the Spaniards being able to see them, he slipped over the side of the little vessel into the shallow water that was clothed with tall reeds, and waded through it to the island.
Once on firm land, they ran a hundred yards or so till they reached a clump of swamp willows, and took shelter behind them. Indeed, Foy did more, for he climbed the trunk of one of the willows high enough to see over the reeds to the ship Swallow and the lake beyond. By this time the Spaniards were alongside the Swallow, for he could hear their captain hailing him who leant over the taffrail, and commanding all on board to surrender under pain of being put to death. But from the man in the stern came no answer, which was scarcely strange, seeing that it was the dead pilot, Hans, to whom they talked in the misty dawn, whose body Martin had lashed thus to deceive them. So they fired at the pilot, who took no notice, and then began to clamber on board the ship. Presently all the men were out of the first boat—that with the sail set on it—except two, the steersman and the captain, whom, from his dress and demeanour, Foy took to be the one-eyed Spaniard, Ramiro, although of this he was too far off to make sure. It was certain, however, that this man did not mean to board the Swallow, for of a sudden he put his boat about, and the wind catching the sail soon drew him clear of her.
"That fellow is cunning," said Foy to Martin and Martha below, "and I was a fool to light the tarred canvas, for he has seen the smoke drawing up the hatchway."
"And having had enough fire for one night, thinks that he will leave his mates to quench it," added Martin.
"The second boat is coming alongside," went on Foy, "and surely the mine should spring."
"Scarcely time yet," answered Martin, "the matches were set for six minutes."
Then followed a silence in which the three of them watched and listened with beating hearts. In it they heard a voice call out that the steersman was dead, and the answering voice of the officer in the boat, whom Foy had been right in supposing to be Ramiro, warning them to beware of treachery. Now suddenly arose a shout of "A mine! a mine!" for they had found one of the lighted fuses.
"They are running for their boat," said Foy, "and the captain is sailing farther off. Heavens! how they scream."
As the words passed his lips a tongue of flame shot to the very skies. The island seemed to rock, a fierce rush of air struck Foy and shook him from the tree. Then came a dreadful, thunderous sound, and lo! the sky was darkened with fragments of wreck, limbs of men, a grey cloud of salt and torn shreds of sail and cargo, which fell here, there, and everywhere about and beyond them.
In five seconds it was over, and the three of them, shaken but unhurt, were clinging to each other on the ground. Then as the dark pall of smoke drifted southward Foy scrambled up his tree again. But now there was little to be seen, for the Swallow had vanished utterly, and for many yards round where she lay the wreckage-strewn water was black as ink with the stirred mud. The Spaniards had gone also, nothing of them was left, save the two men and the boat which rode unhurt at a distance. Foy stared at them. The steersman was seated and wringing his hands, while the captain, on whose armour the rays of the rising sun now shone brightly, held to the mast like one stunned, and gazed at the place where, a minute before, had been a ship and a troop of living men. Presently he seemed to recover himself, for he issued an order, whereon the boat's head went about, and she began to glide away.
"Now we had best try to catch him," said Martha, who, by standing up, could see this also.
"Nay, let him be," answered Foy, "we have sent enough men to their account," and he shuddered.
"As you will, master," grumbled Martin, "but I tell you it is not wise. That man is too clever to be allowed to live, else he would have accompanied the others on board and perished with them."
"Oh! I am sick," replied Foy. "The wind from that powder has shaken me. Settle it as you will with Mother Martha and leave me in peace."
So Martin turned to speak with Martha, but she was not there. Chuckling to herself in the madness of her hate and the glory of this great revenge, she had slipped away, knife in hand, to discover whether perchance any of the powder-blasted Spaniards still lived. Fortunately for them they did not, the shock had killed them all, even those who at the first alarm had thrown themselves into the water. At length Martin found her clapping her hands and crooning above a dead body, so shattered that no one could tell to what manner of man it had belonged, and led her away.
But although she was keen enough for the chase, by now it was too late, for, travelling before the strong wind, Ramiro and his boat had vanished.
If Foy van Goorl, by some magic, could have seen what was passing in the mind of that fugitive in the boat as he sailed swiftly away from the scene of death and ruin, bitterly indeed would he have cursed his folly and inexperience which led him to disregard the advice of Red Martin.
Let us look at this man as he goes gnawing his hand in rage and disappointment. There is something familiar about his face and bearing, still gallant enough in a fashion, yet the most observant would find it difficult to recognise in the Senor Ramiro the handsome and courtly Count Juan de Montalvo of over twenty years before. A long spell of the galleys changes the hardiest man, and by ill luck Montalvo, or Ramiro, to call him by his new name, had been forced to serve nearly his full time. He would have escaped earlier indeed, had he not been foolish enough to join in a mutiny, which was discovered and suppressed. It was in the course of this savage struggle for freedom that he lost his eye, knocked out with a belaying pin by an officer whom he had just stabbed. The innocent officer died and the rascal Ramiro died, but without his good looks.
To a person of gentle birth, however great a scoundrel he might be, the galleys, which represented penal servitude in the sixteenth century, were a very rough school. Indeed for the most part the man who went into them blameless became bad, and the man who went into them bad became worse, for, as the proverb says, those who have dwelt in hell always smell of brimstone. Who can imagine the awfulness of it—the chains, the arduous and continual labour, the whip of the quarter-masters, the company of thieves and outcast ruffians, all dreadful in its squalid sameness?
Well, his strength and constitution, coupled with a sort of grim philosophy, brought him through, and at length Ramiro found himself a free man, middle-aged indeed, but intelligent and still strong, the world once more before him. Yet what a world! His wife, believing him dead, or perhaps wishing to believe it, had remarried and gone with her husband to New Spain, taking his children with her, and his friends, such of them as lived, turned their backs upon him. But although he had been an unlucky man, for with him wickedness had not prospered, he still had resource and courage.
The Count Montalvo was a penniless outlaw, a byword and a scorn, and so the Count Montalvo—died, and was buried publicly in the church of his native village. Strangely enough, however, about the same time the Senor Ramiro appeared in another part of Spain, where with success he practised as a notary and man of affairs. Some years went by thus, till at length, having realised a considerable sum of money by the help of an ingenious fraud, of which the details are superfluous, an inspiration took him and he sailed for the Netherlands.
In those dreadful days, in order to further the ends of religious persecution and of legalised theft, informers were rewarded with a portion of the goods of heretics. Ramiro's idea—a great one in its way—was to organise this informing business, and, by interesting a number of confederates who practically were shareholders in the venture, to sweep into his net more fortunes, or shares of fortunes, than a single individual, however industrious, could hope to secure. As he had expected, soon he found plenty of worthy companions, and the company was floated. For a while, with the help of local agencies and spies, such as Black Meg and the Butcher, with whom, forgetting past injuries, he had secretly renewed his acquaintance, it did very well, the dividends being large and regular. In such times handsome sums were realised, without risk, out of the properties of unfortunates who were brought to the stake, and still more was secured by a splendid system of blackmail extracted from those who wished to avoid execution, and who, when they had been sucked dry, could either be burnt or let go, as might prove most convenient.
Also there were other methods of making money—by an intelligent method of robbery, by contracts to collect fines and taxes and so forth. Thus things went well, and, at length, after many years of suffering and poverty, the Senor Ramiro, that experienced man of affairs, began to grow rich, until, indeed, driven forward by a natural but unwise ambition, a fault inherent to daring minds, he entered upon a dangerous path.
The wealth of Hendrik Brant, the goldsmith, was a matter of common report, and glorious would be the fortune of him who could secure its reversion. This Ramiro wished to win; indeed, there was no ostensible reason why he should not do so, since Brant was undoubtedly a heretic, and, therefore, legitimate game for any honourable servant of the Church and King. Yet there were lions in the path, two large and formidable lions, or rather a lion and the ghost of a lion, for one was material and the other spiritual. The material lion was that the Government, or in other words, his august kingship Philip, desired the goldsmith's thousands for himself, and was therefore likely to be irritated by an interloper. The spiritual lion was that Brant was connected with Lysbeth van Goorl, once known as Lysbeth de Montalvo, a lady who had brought her reputed husband no luck. Often and often during dreary hours of reflection beneath tropic suns, for which the profession of galley-slave gave great leisure, the Senor Ramiro remembered that very energetic curse which his new affianced wife had bestowed upon him, a curse in which she prayed that through her he might live in heavy labour, that through her and hers he might be haunted by fears and misfortunes, and at the last die in misery. Looking back upon the past it would certainly seem that there had been virtue in this curse, for already through Lysbeth and his dealings with her, he had suffered the last degradation and the toil, which could not be called light, of nearly fourteen years of daily occupation in the galleys.
Well, he was clear of them, and thenceforward, the curse having exhausted itself for the time being, he had prospered—at any rate to a moderate extent. But if once more he began to interfere with Lysbeth van Goorl and her relatives, might it not re-assert its power? That was one question. Was it worth while to take his risk on the chance of securing Brant's fortune? That was another. Brant, it was true, was only a cousin of Lysbeth's husband, but when once you meddled with a member of the family, it was impossible to know how soon other members would become mixed up in the affair.
The end may be guessed. The treasure was at hand and enormous, whereas the wrath of a Heavenly or an earthly king was problematical and far away. So greed, outstripping caution and superstitious fear, won the race, and Ramiro threw himself into the adventure with a resource and energy which in their way were splendid.
Now, as always, he was a man who hated violence for its own sake. It was no wish of his that the worthy Heer Brant should be unnecessarily burnt or tortured. Therefore through his intermediaries, as Brant had narrated in his letter, he approached him with a proposal which, under the circumstances, was liberal enough—that Brant should hand over two-thirds of his fortune to him and his confederates, on condition that he was assisted to escape with the remaining third. To his disgust, however, this obstinate Dutchman refused to buy his safety at the price of a single stiver. Indeed, he answered with rude energy that now as always he was in the hands of God, and if it pleased God that his life should be sacrificed and his great wealth divided amongst thieves, well, it must be so, but he, at least, would be no party to the arrangement.
The details of the plots and counter-plots, the attack of the Ramiro company, the defences of Brant, the internecine struggles between the members of the company and the agents of the Government, if set out at length, would fill a considerable book. Of these we already know something, and the rest may be divined.
In the course of the affair Ramiro had made but one mistake, and that sprang from what he was wont to consider the weakness of his nature. Needless to say, it was that he had winked at the escape of Brant's daughter, Elsa. It may have been superstition that prompted him, or it may have been pity, or perhaps it was a certain oath of mercy which he had taken in an hour of need; at any rate, he was content that the girl should not share the doom which overshadowed her father. He did not think it at all likely that she would take with her any documents of importance, and the treasure, of course, she could not take; still, to provide against accidents he arranged for her to be searched upon the road.
As we know this search was a failure, and when on the morrow Black Meg arrived to make report and to warn him that Dirk van Goorl's son and his great serving-man, whose strength was known throughout the Netherlands, were on their road to The Hague, he was sure that after all the girl had carried with her some paper or message.
By this time the whereabouts of Brant's treasure had been practically solved. It was believed to lie in the string of vessels, although it was not known that one of these was laden with powder as well as gold. The plan of the Government agents was to search the vessels as they passed out to sea and seize the treasure as contraband, which would save much legal trouble, since under the law or the edicts wealth might not be shipped abroad by heretics. The plan of Ramiro and his friends was to facilitate the escape of the treasure to the open sea, where they proposed to swoop down upon it and convey it to more peaceful shores.
When Foy and his party started down the canal in the boat Ramiro knew that his opportunity had come, and at once unmoored the big ship and followed. The attempted stabbing of Foy was not done by his orders, as he wished the party to go unmolested and to be kept in sight. That was a piece of private malice on the part of Black Meg, for it was she who was dressed as a man. On various occasions in Leyden Foy had made remarks upon Meg's character which she resented, and about her personal appearance, which she resented much more, and this was an attempt to pay off old scores that in the issue cost her a finger, a good knife, and a gold ring which had associations connected with her youth.
At first everything had gone well. By one of the most daring and masterly manoeuvres that Ramiro had ever seen in his long and varied experience upon the seas, the little Swallow, with her crew of three men, had run the gauntlet of the fort which was warned and waiting for her; had sunk and sailed through the big Government boat and her crew of lubberly soldiers, many of whom, he was glad to reflect, were drowned; had crushed the officer, against whom he had a personal grudge, like an egg-shell, and won through to the open sea. There he thought he was sure of her, for he took it for granted that she would run for the Norfolk coast, and knew that in the gale of wind which was blowing his larger and well-manned vessel could pull her down. But then the ill-luck—that ancient ill-luck which always dogged him when he began to interfere with the affairs of Lysbeth and her relatives—declared itself.
Instead of attempting to cross the North Sea the little Swallow hugged the coast, where, for various nautical reasons connected with the wind, the water, and the build of their respective ships, she had the legs of him. Next he lost her in the gut, and after that we know what happened. There was no disguising it; it was a most dreadful fiasco. To have one's vessel boarded, the expensive vessel in which so large a proportion of the gains of his honourable company had been invested, not only boarded, but fired, and the watchman stabbed by a single naked devil of unknown sex or character was bad enough. And then the end of it!
To have found the gold-laden ship, to have been gulled into attacking her, and—and—oh! he could scarcely bear to think of it! There was but one consolation. Although too late to save the others, even through the mist he had seen that wisp of smoke rising from the hold; yes, he, the experienced, had smelt a rat, and, warned by some half-divine intuition, had kept his distance with the result that he was still alive.
But the others! Those gallant comrades in adventure, where were they? Well, to be frank, he did not greatly care. There was another question of more moment. Where was the treasure? Now that his brain had cleared after the shock and turmoil it was evident to him that Foy van Goorl, Red Martin, and the white devil who had boarded his ship, would not have destroyed so much wealth if they could help it, and still less would they have destroyed themselves. Therefore, to pursue the matter to a logical conclusion, it seemed probable that they had spent the night in sinking or burying the money, and preparing the pretty trap into which he had walked. So the secret was in their hands, and as they were still alive very possibly means could be found to induce them to reveal its hiding-place. There was still hope; indeed, now that he came to weigh things, they were not so bad.
To begin with, almost all the shareholders in the affair had perished by the stern decree of Providence, and he was the natural heir of their interests. In other words, the treasure, if it was recovered, was henceforth his property. Further, when they came to hear the story, the Government would set down Brant's fortune as hopelessly lost, so that the galling competition from which he had suffered so much was at an end.
Under these circumstances what was to be done? Very soon, as he sailed away over the lake in the sweet air of the morning, the Senor Ramiro found an answer to the question.
The treasure had left The Hague, he must leave The Hague. The secret of its disposal was at Leyden, henceforth he must live at Leyden. Why not? He knew Leyden well. It was a pleasant place, but, of course, he might be recognised there; though, after so long, this was scarcely probable, for was not the Count de Montalvo notoriously dead and buried? Time and accident had changed him; moreover, he could bring art to the assistance of nature. In Leyden, too, he had confederates—Black Meg to wit, for one; also he had funds, for was he not the treasurer of the company that this very morning had achieved so remarkable and unsought-for an ascension?
There was only one thing against the scheme. In Leyden lived Lysbeth van Goorl and her husband, and with them a certain young man whose parentage he could guess. More, her son Foy knew the hiding-place of Brant's hoard, and from him or his servant Martin that secret must be won. So once again he was destined to match himself against Lysbeth—the wronged, the dreaded, the victorious Lysbeth, whose voice of denunciation still rang in his ear, whose eyes of fire still scorched his soul, the woman whom he feared above everything on earth. He fought her once for money, and, although he won the money, it had done him little good, for in the end she worsted him. Now, if he went to Leyden, he must fight her again for money, and what would be the issue of that war? Was it worth while to take the risk? Would not history repeat itself? If he hurt her, would she not crush him? But the treasure, that mighty treasure, which could give him so much, and, above all, could restore to him the rank and station he had forfeited, and which he coveted more than anything in life. For, low as he had fallen, Montalvo could not forget that he had been born a gentleman.
He would take his chance; he would go to Leyden. Had he weighed the matter in the gloom of night, or even in a dull and stormy hour, perhaps—nay probably—he would have decided otherwise. But this morning the sun shone brightly, the wind made a merry music in the reeds; on the rippling surface of the lake the marsh-birds sang, and from the shore came a cheerful lowing of kine. In such surroundings his fears and superstitions vanished. He was master of himself, and he knew that all depended upon himself, the rest was dream and nonsense. Behind him lay the buried gold; before him rose the towers of Leyden, where he could find its key. A God! that haunting legend of a God of vengeance, in which priests and others affected to believe? Now that he came to think of it, what rubbish was here, for as any agent of the Inquisition knew well, the vengeance always fell upon those who trusted in this same God; a hundred torture dens, a thousand smoking fires bore witness to the fact. And if there was a God, why, recognising his personal merits, only this morning He had selected him out of many to live on and be the inheritor of the wealth of Hendrik Brant. Yes, he would go to Leyden and fight the battle out.
At the entry of the gut the Senor Ramiro landed from his boat. At first he had thought of killing his companion, so that he might remain the sole survivor of the catastrophe, but on reflection he abandoned this idea, as the man was a faithful creature of his own who might be useful. So he bade him return to The Hague to tell the story of the destruction of the ship Swallow with the treasure, her attackers and her crew, whoever they might have been. He was to add, moreover, that so far as he knew the Captain Ramiro had perished also, as he, the steersman, was left alone in charge of the boat when the vessel blew up. Then he was to come to Leyden, bringing with him certain goods and papers belonging to him, Ramiro.
This plan seemed to have advantages. No one would continue to hunt for the treasure. No one except himself and perhaps Black Meg would know that Foy van Goorl and Martin had been on board the Swallow and escaped; indeed as yet he was not quite sure of it himself. For the rest he could either lie hidden, or if it proved desirable, announce that he still lived. Even if his messenger should prove faithless and tell the truth, it would not greatly matter, seeing that he knew nothing which could be of service to anybody.
And so the steersman sailed away, while Ramiro, filled with memories, reflections, and hopes, walked quietly through the Morsch Poort into the good city of Leyden.
That evening, but not until dark had fallen, two other travellers entered Leyden, namely, Foy and Martin. Passing unobserved through the quiet streets, they reached the side door of the house in the Bree Straat. It was opened by a serving-woman, who told Foy that his mother was in Adrian's room, also that Adrian was very much better. So thither, followed more slowly by Martin, went Foy, running upstairs three steps at a time, for had he not a great story to tell!
The interior of the room as he entered it made an attractive picture which even in his hurry caught Foy's eye and fixed itself so firmly in his mind that he never forgot its details. To begin with, the place was beautifully furnished, for his brother had a really good taste in tapestry, pictures, and other such adornments. Adrian himself lay upon a richly carved oak bed, pale from loss of blood, but otherwise little the worse. Seated by the side of the bed, looking wonderfully sweet in the lamplight, which cast shadows from the curling hair about her brows on to the delicate face beneath, was Elsa Brant. She had been reading to Adrian from a book of Spanish chivalry such as his romantic soul loved, and he, resting on his elbow in the snowy bed, was contemplating her beauty with his languishing black eyes. Yet, although he only saw her for a moment before she heard his entry and looked up, it was obvious to Foy that Elsa remained quite unconscious of the handsome Adrian's admiration, indeed, that her mind wandered far away from the magnificent adventures and highly coloured love scenes of which she was reading in her sweet, low voice. Nor was he mistaken, for, in fact, the poor child was thinking of her father.
At the further end of the room, talking together earnestly in the deep and curtained window-place, stood his mother and his father. Clearly they were as much preoccupied as the younger couple, and it was not difficult for Foy to guess that fears for his own safety upon his perilous errand were what concerned them most, and behind them other unnumbered fears. For the dwellers in the Netherlands in those days must walk from year to year through a valley of shadows so grim that our imagination can scarcely picture them.
"Sixty hours and he is not back," Lysbeth was saying.
"Martin said we were not to trouble ourselves before they had been gone for a hundred," answered Dirk consolingly.
Just then Foy, surveying them from the shadowed doorway, stepped forward, saying in his jovial voice:
"Sixty hours to the very minute."
Lysbeth uttered a little scream of joy and ran forward. Elsa let the book fall on to the floor and rose to do the same, then remembered and stood still, while Dirk remained where he was till the women had done their greetings, betraying his delight only by a quick rubbing of his hands. Adrian alone did not look particularly pleased, not, however, because he retained any special grudge against his brother for his share in the fracas of a few nights before, since, when once his furious gusts of temper had passed, he was no malevolently minded man. Indeed he was glad that Foy had come back safe from his dangerous adventure, only he wished that he would not blunder into the bedroom and interrupt his delightful occupation of listening, while the beautiful Elsa read him romance and poetry.
Since Foy was gone upon his mission, Adrian had been treated with the consideration which he felt to be his due. Even his stepfather had taken the opportunity to mumble some words of regret for what had happened, and to express a hope that nothing more would be said about the matter, while his mother was sympathetic and Elsa most charming and attentive. Now, as he knew well, all this would be changed. Foy, the exuberant, unrefined, plain-spoken, nerve-shaking Foy, would become the centre of attention, and overwhelm them with long stories of very dull exploits, while Martin, that brutal bull of a man who was only fit to draw a cart, would stand behind and play the part of chorus, saying "Ja" and "Neen" at proper intervals. Well, he supposed that he must put up with it, but oh! what a weariness it was.
Another minute, and Foy was wringing him by the hand, saying in his loud voice, "How are you, old fellow? You look as well as possible, what are you lying in this bed for and being fed with pap by the women?"
"For the love of Heaven, Foy," interrupted Adrian, "stop crushing my fingers and shaking me as though I were a rat. You mean it kindly, I know, but—" and Adrian dropped back upon the pillow, coughed and looked hectic and interesting.
Then both the women fell upon Foy, upbraiding him for his roughness, begging him to remember that if he were not careful he might kill his brother, whose arteries were understood to be in a most precarious condition, till the poor man covered his ears with his hands and waited till he saw their lips stop moving.
"I apologise," he said. "I won't touch him, I won't speak loud near him. Adrian, do you hear?"
"Who could help it?" moaned the prostrate Adrian.
"Cousin Foy," interrupted Elsa, clasping her hands and looking up into his face with her big brown eyes, "forgive me, but I can wait no longer. Tell me, did you see or hear anything of my father yonder at The Hague?"
"Yes, cousin, I saw him," answered Foy presently.
"And how was he—oh! and all the rest of them?"
"He was well."
"And free and in no danger?"
"And free, but I cannot say in no danger. We are all of us in danger nowadays, cousin," replied Foy in the same quiet voice.
"Oh! thank God for that," said Elsa.
"Little enough to thank God for," muttered Martin, who had entered the room and was standing behind Foy looking like a giant at a show. Elsa had turned her face away, so Foy struck backwards with all his force, hitting Martin in the pit of the stomach with the point of his elbow. Martin doubled himself up, recoiled a step and took the hint.
"Well, son, what news?" said Dirk, speaking for the first time.
"News!" answered Foy, escaping joyfully from this treacherous ground. "Oh! lots of it. Look here," and plunging his hands into his pockets he produced first the half of the broken dagger and secondly a long skinny finger of unwholesome hue with a gold ring on it.
"Bah!" said Adrian. "Take that horrid thing away."
"Oh! I beg your pardon," answered Foy, shuffling the finger back into his pocket, "you don't mind the dagger, do you? No? Well, then, mother, that mail shirt of yours is the best that was ever made; this knife broke on it like a carrot, though, by the way, it's uncommonly sticky wear when you haven't changed it for three days, and I shall be glad enough to get it off."
"Evidently Foy has a story to tell," said Adrian wearily, "and the sooner he rids his mind of it the sooner he will be able to wash. I suggest, Foy, that you should begin at the beginning."
So Foy began at the beginning, and his tale proved sufficiently moving to interest even the soul-worn Adrian. Some portions of it he softened down, and some of it he suppressed for the sake of Elsa—not very successfully, indeed, for Foy was no diplomatist, and her quick imagination filled the gaps. Another part—that which concerned her future and his own—of necessity he omitted altogether. He told them very briefly, however, of the flight from The Hague, of the sinking of the Government boat, of the run through the gale to the Haarlem Mere with the dead pilot on board and the Spanish ship behind, and of the secret midnight burying of the treasure.
"Where did you bury it?" asked Adrian.
"I have not the slightest idea," said Foy. "I believe there are about three hundred islets in that part of the Mere, and all I know is that we dug a hole in one of them and stuck it in. However," he went on in a burst of confidence, "we made a map of the place, that is—" Here he broke off with a howl of pain, for an accident had happened.
While this narrative was proceeding, Martin, who was standing by him saying "Ja" and "Neen" at intervals, as Adrian foresaw he would, had unbuckled the great sword Silence, and in an abstracted manner was amusing himself by throwing it towards the ceiling hilt downwards, and as it fell catching it in his hand. Now, most unaccountably, he looked the other way and missed his catch, with the result that the handle of the heavy weapon fell exactly upon Foy's left foot and then clattered to the ground.
"You awkward beast!" roared Foy, "you have crushed my toes," and he hopped towards a chair upon one leg.
"Your pardon, master," said Martin. "I know it was careless; my mother always told me that I was careless, but so was my father before me."
Adrian, overcome by the fearful crash, closed his eyes and sighed.
"Look," said Lysbeth in a fury, "he is fainting; I knew that would be the end of all your noise. If you are not careful we shall have him breaking another vessel. Go out of the room, all of you. You can finish telling the story downstairs," and she drove them before her as a farmer's wife drives fowls.
"Martin," said Foy on the stairs, where they found themselves together for a minute, for at the first signs of the storm Dirk had preceded them, "why did you drop that accursed great sword of yours upon my foot?"
"Master," counted Martin imperturbably, "why did you hit me in the pit of the stomach with your elbow?"
"To keep your tongue quiet."
"And what is the name of my sword?"
"Well, then, I dropped the sword 'Silence' for the same reason. I hope it hasn't hurt you much, but if it did I can't help it."
Foy wheeled round. "What do you mean, Martin?"
"I mean," answered the great man with energy, "that you have no right to tell what became of that paper which Mother Martha gave us."
"Why not? I have faith in my brother."
"Very likely, master, but that isn't the point. We carry a great secret, and this secret is a trust, a dangerous trust; it would be wrong to lay its burden upon the shoulders of other folk. What people don't know they can't tell, master."
Foy still stared at him, half in question, half in anger, but Martin made no further reply in words. Only he went through certain curious motions, motions as of a man winding slowly and laboriously at something like a pump wheel. Foy's lips turned pale.
"The rack?" he whispered. Martin nodded, and answered beneath his breath,
"They may all of them be on it yet. You let the man in the boat escape, and that man was the Spanish spy, Ramiro; I am sure of it. If they don't know they can't tell, and though we know we shan't tell; we shall die first, master."
Now Foy trembled and leaned against the wall. "What would betray us?" he asked.
"Who knows, master? A woman's torment, a man's—" and he put a strange meaning into his voice, "a man's—jealousy, or pride, or vengeance. Oh! bridle your tongue and trust no one, no, not your father or mother, or sweetheart, or—" and again that strange meaning came into Martin's voice, "or brother."
"Or you?" queried Foy, looking up.
"I am not sure. Yes, I think you may trust me, though there is no knowing how the rack might change a man's mind."
"If all this be so," said Foy, with a flush of sudden passion, "I have said too much already."
"A great deal too much, master. If I could have managed it I should have dropped the sword Silence on your toe long before. But I couldn't, for the Heer Adrian was watching me, and I had to wait till he closed his eyes, which he did to hear the better without seeming to listen."
"You are unjust to Adrian, Martin, as you always have been, and I am angry with you. Say, what is to be done now?"
"Now, master," replied Martin cheerfully, "you must forget the teaching of the Pastor Arentz, and tell a lie. You must take up your tale where you left it off, and say that we made a map of the hiding-place, but that—I—being a fool—managed to drop it while we were lighting the fuses, so that it was blown away with the ship. I will tell the same story."
"Am I to say this to my father and mother?"
"Certainly, and they will quite understand why you say it. My mistress was getting uneasy already, and that was why she drove us from the room. You will tell them that the treasure is buried but that the secret of its hiding-place was lost."
"Even so, Martin, it is not lost; Mother Martha knows it, and they all will guess that she does know it."
"Why, master, as it happened you were in such a hurry to get on with your story that I think you forgot to mention that she was present at the burying of the barrels. Her name was coming when I dropped the sword upon your foot."
"But she boarded and fired the Spanish ship—so the man Ramiro and his companion would probably have seen her."
"I doubt, master, that the only person who saw her was he whose gizzard she split, and he will tell no tales. Probably they think it was you or I who did that deed. But if she was seen, or if they know that she has the secret, then let them get it from Mother Martha. Oh! mares can gallop and ducks can dive and snakes can hide in the grass. When they can catch the wind and make it give up its secrets, when they can charm from sword Silence the tale of the blood which it has drunk throughout the generations, when they can call back the dead saints from heaven and stretch them anew within the torture-pit, then and not before, they will win knowledge of the hoard's hiding-place from the lips of the witch of Haarlem Meer. Oh! master, fear not for her, the grave is not so safe."
"Why did you not caution me before, Martin?"
"Because, master," answered Martin stolidly, "I did not think that you would be such a fool. But I forgot that you are young—yes, I forget that you are young and good, too good for the days we live in. It is my fault. On my head be it."
In the sitting-room, speaking more slowly and with greater caution, Foy continued the story of their adventures. When he came to the tale of how the ship Swallow was blown up with all the Spanish boarders, Elsa clasped her hands, saying, "Horrible! Horrible! Think of the poor creatures hurled thus into eternity."
"And think of the business they were on," broke in Dirk grimly, adding, "May God forgive me who cannot feel grieved to hear of the death of Spanish cut-throats. It was well managed, Foy, excellently well managed. But go on."
"I think that is about all," said Foy shortly, "except that two of the Spaniards got away in a boat, one of whom is believed to be the head spy and captain, Ramiro."
"But, son, up in Adrian's chamber just now you said something about having made a map of the hiding-place of the gold. Where is it, for it should be put in safety?"
"Yes, I know I did," answered Foy, "but didn't I tell you?" he went on awkwardly. "Martin managed to drop the thing in the cabin of the Swallow while we were lighting the fuses, so it was blown up with the ship, and there is now no record of where the stuff was buried."
"Come, come, son," said Dirk. "Martha, who knows every island on the great lake, must remember the spot."
"Oh! no, she doesn't," answered Foy. "The truth is that she didn't come with us when we buried the barrels. She stopped to watch the Spanish ship, and just told us to land on the first island we came to and dig a hole, which we did, making a map of the place before we left, the same that Martin dropped."
All this clumsy falsehood Foy uttered with a wooden face and in a voice which would not have convinced a three-year-old infant, priding himself the while upon his extraordinary cleverness.
"Martin," asked Dirk, suspiciously, "is this true?"
"Absolutely true, master," replied Martin; "it is wonderful how well he remembers."
"Son," said Dirk, turning white with suppressed anger, "you have always been a good lad, and now you have shown yourself a brave one, but I pray God that I may not be forced to add that you are false-tongued. Do you not see that this looks black? The treasure which you have hidden is the greatest in all the Netherlands. Will not folk say, it is not wonderful that you should have forgotten its secret until—it suits you to remember?"
Foy took a step forward, his face crimson with indignation, but the heavy hand of Martin fell upon his shoulder and dragged him back as though he were but a little child.
"I think, Master Foy," he said, fixing his eyes upon Lysbeth, "that your lady mother wishes to say something."
"You are right, Martin; I do. Do you not think, husband, that in these days of ours a man might have other reasons for hiding the truth than a desire to enrich himself by theft?"
"What do you mean, wife?" asked Dirk. "Foy here says that he has buried this great hoard with Martin, but that he and Martin do not know where they buried it, and have lost the map they made. Whatever may be the exact wording of the will, that hoard belongs to my cousin here, subject to certain trusts which have not yet arisen, and may never arise, and I am her guardian while Hendrik Brant lives and his executor when he dies. Therefore, legally, it belongs to me also. By what right, then, do my son and my servant hide the truth from me, if, indeed, they are hiding the truth? Say what you have to say straight out, for I am a plain man and cannot read riddles."
"Then I will say it, husband, though it is but my guess, for I have had no words with Foy or Martin, and if I am wrong they can correct me. I know their faces, and I think with you that they are not speaking the truth. I think that they do not wish us to know it—not that they may keep the secret of this treasure for themselves, but because such a secret might well bring those who know of it to the torment and the stake. Is it not so, my son?"
"Mother," answered Foy, almost in a whisper, "it is so. The paper is not lost, but do not seek to learn its hiding-place, for there are wolves who would tear your bodies limb from limb to get the knowledge out of you; yes, even Elsa's, even Elsa's. If the trial must come let it fall on me and Martin, who are fitter to bear it. Oh! father, surely you know that, whatever we may be, neither of us is a thief."
Dirk advanced to his son, and kissed him on the forehead.
"My son," he said, "pardon me, and you, Red Martin, pardon me also. I spoke in my haste. I spoke as a fool, who, at my age, should have known better. But, oh! I tell you that I wish that this cursed treasure, these cases of precious gems and these kegs of hoarded gold, had been shivered to the winds of heaven with the timbers of the ship Swallow. For, mark you, Ramiro has escaped, and with him another man, and they will know well that having the night to hide it, you did not destroy those jewels with the ship. They will track you down, these Spanish sleuthhounds, filled with the lust of blood and gold, and it will be well if the lives of every one of us do not pay the price of the secret of the burying-place of the wealth of Hendrik Brant."
He ceased, pale and trembling, and a silence fell upon the room and all in it, a sad and heavy silence, for in his voice they caught the note of prophecy. Martin broke it.
"It may be so, master," he said; "but, your pardon, you should have thought of that before you undertook this duty. There was no call upon you to send the Heer Foy and myself to The Hague to bring away this trash, but you did it as would any other honest man. Well, now it is done, and we must take our chance, but I say this—if you are wise, my masters, yes, and you ladies also, before you leave this room you will swear upon the Bible, every one of you, never to whisper the word treasure, never to think of it except to believe that it is gone—lost beneath the waters of the Haarlemer Meer. Never to whisper it, no, mistress, not even to the Heer Adrian, your son who lies sick abed upstairs."
"You have learnt wisdom somewhere of late years, Martin, since you stopped drinking and fighting," said Dirk drily, "and for my part before God I swear it."
"And so do I." "And I." "And I." "And I," echoed the others, Martin, who spoke last, adding, "Yes, I swear that I will never speak of it; no, not even to my young master, Adrian, who lies sick abed upstairs."
Adrian made a good, though not a very quick recovery. He had lost a great deal of blood, but the vessel closed without further complications, so that it remained only to renew his strength by rest and ample food. For ten days or so after the return of Foy and Martin, he was kept in bed and nursed by the women of the house. Elsa's share in this treatment was to read to him from the Spanish romances which he admired. Very soon, however, he found that he admired Elsa herself even more than the romances, and would ask her to shut the book that he might talk to her. So long as his conversation was about himself, his dreams, plans and ambitions, she fell into it readily enough; but when he began to turn it upon herself, and to lard it with compliment and amorous innuendo, then she demurred, and fled to the romances for refuge.
Handsome as he might be, Adrian had no attractions for Elsa. About him there was something too exaggerated for her taste; moreover he was Spanish, Spanish in his beauty, Spanish in the cast of his mind, and all Spaniards were hateful to her. Deep down in her heart also lay a second reason for this repugnance; the man reminded her of another man who for months had been a nightmare to her soul, the Hague spy, Ramiro. This Ramiro she had observed closely. Though she had not seen him very often his terrible reputation was familiar to her. She knew also, for her father had told her as much, that it was he who was drawing the nets about him at The Hague, and who plotted day and night to rob him of his wealth.
At first sight there was no great resemblance between the pair. How could there be indeed between a man on the wrong side of middle age, one-eyed, grizzled, battered, and bearing about with him an atmosphere of iniquity, and a young gentleman, handsome, distinguished, and wayward, but assuredly no criminal? Yet the likeness existed. She had seen it first when Adrian was pointing out to her how, were he a general, he would dispose his forces for the capture of Leyden, and from that moment her nature rose in arms against him. Also it came out in other ways, in little tricks of voice and pomposities of manner which Elsa caught at unexpected moments, perhaps, as she told herself, because she had trained her mind to seek these similarities. Yet all the while she knew that the fancy was ridiculous, for what could these two men have in common with each other?
In those days, however, Elsa did not think much of Adrian, or of anybody except her beloved father, whose only child she was, and whom she adored with all the passion of her heart. She knew the terrible danger in which he stood, and guessed that she had been sent away that she should not share his perils. Now she had but one desire and one prayer—that he might escape in safety, and that she might return to him again. Once only a message came from him, sent through a woman she had never seen, the wife of a fisherman, who delivered it by word of mouth. This was the message:
"Give my love and blessing to my daughter Elsa, and tell her that so far I am unharmed. To Foy van Goorl say, I have heard the news. Well done, thou good and faithful servant! Let him remember what I told him, and be sure that he will not strive in vain, and that he shall not lack for his reward here or hereafter."
That was all. Tidings reached them that the destruction of so many men by the blowing up of the Swallow, and by her sinking of the Government boat as she escaped, had caused much excitement and fury among the Spaniards. But, as those who had been blown up were free-lances, and as the boat was sunk while the Swallow was flying from them, nothing had been done in the matter. Indeed, nothing could be done, for it was not known who manned the Swallow, and, as Ramiro had foreseen, her crew were supposed to have been destroyed with her in the Haarlemer Meer.
Then, after a while, came other news that filled Elsa's heart with a wild hope, for it was reported that Hendrik Brant had disappeared, and was believed to have escaped from The Hague. Nothing more was heard of him, however, which is scarcely strange, for the doomed man had gone down the path of rich heretics into the silent vaults of the Inquisition. The net had closed at last, and through the net fell the sword.
But if Elsa thought seldom of Adrian, except in gusts of spasmodic dislike, Adrian thought of Elsa, and little besides. So earnestly did he lash his romantic temperament, and so deeply did her beauty and charm appeal to him, that very soon he was truly in love with her. Nor did the fact that, as he believed, she was, potentially, the greatest heiress in the Netherlands, cool Adrian's amorous devotion. What could suit him better in his condition, than to marry this rich and lovely lady?
So Adrian made up his mind that he would marry her, for, in his vanity, it never occurred to him that she might object. Indeed, the only thought that gave him trouble was the difficulty of reducing her wealth into possession. Foy and Martin had buried it somewhere in the Haarlemer Meer. But they said, for this he had ascertained by repeated inquiries, although the information was given grudgingly enough, that the map of the hiding-place had been destroyed in the explosion on the Swallow. Adrian did not believe this story for a moment. He was convinced that they were keeping the truth from him, and as the prospective master of that treasure he resented this reticence bitterly. Still, it had to be overcome, and so soon as he was engaged to Elsa he intended to speak very clearly upon this point. Meanwhile, the first thing was to find a suitable opportunity to make his declaration in due form, which done he would be prepared to deal with Foy and Martin.
Towards evening it was Elsa's custom to walk abroad. As at that hour Foy left the foundry, naturally he accompanied her in these walks, Martin following at a little distance in case he should be wanted. Soon those excursions became delightful to both of them. To Elsa, especially, it was pleasant to escape from the hot house into the cool evening air, and still more pleasant to exchange the laboured tendernesses and highly coloured compliments of Adrian for the cheerful honesty of Foy's conversation.
Foy admired his cousin as much as did his half-brother, but his attitude towards her was very different. He never said sweet things; he never gazed up into her eyes and sighed, although once or twice, perhaps by accident, he did squeeze her hand. His demeanour towards her was that of a friend and relative, and the subject of their talk for the most part was the possibility of her father's deliverance from the dangers which surrounded him, and other matters of the sort.
The time came at last when Adrian was allowed to leave his room, and as it chanced it fell to Elsa's lot to attend him on this first journey downstairs. In a Dutch home of the period and of the class of the Van Goorl's, all the women-folk of whatever degree were expected to take a share in the household work. At present Elsa's share was to nurse to Adrian, who showed so much temper at every attempt which was made to replace her by any other woman, that, in face of the doctor's instructions, Lysbeth did not dare to cross his whim.
It was with no small delight, therefore, that Elsa hailed the prospect of release, for the young man with his grandiose bearing and amorous sighs wearied her almost beyond endurance. Adrian was not equally pleased; indeed he had feigned symptoms which caused him to remain in bed an extra week, merely in order that he might keep her near him. But now the inevitable hour had come, and Adrian felt that it was incumbent upon him to lift the veil and let Elsa see some of the secret of his soul. He had prepared for the event; indeed the tedium of his confinement had been much relieved by the composition of lofty and heart-stirring addresses, in which he, the noble cavalier, laid his precious self and fortune at the feet of this undistinguished, but rich and attractive maid.
Yet now when the moment was with him, and when Elsa gave him her hand to lead him from the room, behold! all these beautiful imaginings had vanished, and his knees shook with no fancied weakness. Somehow Elsa did not look as a girl ought to look who was about to be proposed to; she was too cold and dignified, too utterly unconscious of anything unusual. It was disconcerting—but—it must be done.
By a superb effort Adrian recovered himself and opened with one of the fine speeches, not the best by any means, but the only specimen which he could remember.
"Without," he began, "the free air waits to be pressed by my cramped wings, but although my heart bounds wild as that of any haggard hawk, I tell you, fairest Elsa, that in yonder gilded cage," and he pointed to the bed, "I——"
"Heaven above us! Heer Adrian," broke in Elsa in alarm, "are you—are you—getting giddy?"
"She does not understand. Poor child, how should she?" he murmured in a stage aside. Then he started again. "Yes, most adorable, best beloved, I am giddy, giddy with gratitude to those fair hands, giddy with worship of those lovely eyes——"
Now Elsa, unable to contain her merriment any longer, burst out laughing, but seeing that her adorer's face was beginning to look as it did in the dining-room before he broke the blood vessel, she checked herself, and said:
"Oh! Heer Adrian, don't waste all this fine poetry upon me. I am too stupid to understand it."
"Poetry!" he exclaimed, becoming suddenly natural, "it isn't poetry."
"Then what is it?" she asked, and next moment could have bitten her tongue out.
"It is—it is—love!" and he sank upon his knees before her, where, she could not but notice, he looked very handsome in the subdued light of the room, with his upturned face blanched by sickness, and his southern glowing eyes. "Elsa, I love you and no other, and unless you return that love my heart will break and I shall die."
Now, under ordinary circumstances, Elsa would have been quite competent to deal with the situation, but the fear of over-agitating Adrian complicated it greatly. About the reality of his feelings at the moment, at any rate, it seemed impossible to be mistaken, for the man was shaking like a leaf. Still, she must make an end of these advances.
"Rise, Heer Adrian," she said gently, holding out her hand to help him to his feet.
He obeyed, and glancing at her face, saw that it was very calm and cold as winter ice.
"Listen, Heer Adrian," she said. "You mean this kindly, and doubtless many a maid would be flattered by your words, but I must tell you that I am in no mood for love-making."
"Because of another man?" he queried, and suddenly becoming theatrical again, added, "Speak on, let me hear the worst; I will not quail."
"There is no need to," replied Elsa in the same quiet voice, "because there is no other man. I have never yet thought of marriage, I have no wish that way, and if I had, I should forget it now when from hour to hour I do not know where my dear father may be, or what fate awaits him. He is my only lover, Heer Adrian," and as Elsa spoke her soft brown eyes filled with tears.
"Ah!" said Adrian, "would that I might fly to save him from all dangers, as I rescued you, lady, from the bandits of the wood."
"I would you might," she replied, smiling sadly at the double meaning of the words, "but, hark, your mother is calling us. I know, Heer Adrian," she added gently, "that you will understand and respect my dreadful anxiety, and will not trouble me again with poetry and love-talk, for if you do I shall be—angry."
"Lady," he answered, "your wishes are my law, and until these clouds have rolled from the blue heaven of your life I will be as silent as the watching moon. And, by the way," he added rather nervously, "perhaps you will be silent also—about our talk, I mean, as we do not want that buffoon, Foy, thrusting his street-boy fun at us."
Elsa bowed her head. She was inclined to resent the "we" and other things in this speech, but, above all, she did not wish to prolong this foolish and tiresome interview, so, without more words, she took her admirer by the hand and guided him down the stairs.
It was but three days after this ridiculous scene, on a certain afternoon, when Adrian had been out for the second time, that the evil tidings came. Dirk had heard them in the town, and returned home well-nigh weeping. Elsa saw his face and knew at once.
"Oh! is he dead?" she gasped.
He nodded, for he dared not trust himself to speak.
"In the Poort prison at The Hague."
"How do you know?"
"I have seen a man who helped to bury him."
She looked up as though to ask for further details, but Dirk turned away muttering, "He is dead, he is dead, let be."
Then she understood, nor did she ever seek to know any more. Whatever he had suffered, at least now he was with the God he worshipped, and with the wife he lost. Only the poor orphan, comforted by Lysbeth, crept from the chamber, and for a week was seen no more. When she appeared again she seemed to be herself in all things, only she never smiled and was very indifferent to what took place about her. Thus she remained for many days.
Although this demeanour on Elsa's part was understood and received with sympathy and more by the rest of the household, Adrian soon began to find it irksome and even ridiculous. So colossal was this young man's vanity that he was unable quite to understand how a girl could be so wrapped up in the memories of a murdered father, that no place was left in her mind for the tendernesses of a present adorer. After all, this father, what was he? A middle-aged and, doubtless, quite uninteresting burgher, who could lay claim to but one distinction, that of great wealth, most of which had been amassed by his ancestors.
Now a rich man alive has points of interest, but a rich man dead is only interesting to his heirs. Also, this Brant was one of these narrow-minded, fanatical, New Religion fellows who were so wearisome to men of intellect and refinement. True, he, Adrian, was himself of that community, for circumstances had driven him into the herd, but oh! he found them a dreary set. Their bald doctrines of individual effort, of personal striving to win a personal redemption, did not appeal to him; moreover, they generally ended at the stake. Now about the pomp and circumstance of the Mother Church there was something attractive. Of course, as a matter of prejudice he attended its ceremonials from time to time and found them comfortable and satisfying. Comfortable also were the dogmas of forgiveness to be obtained by an act of penitential confession, and the sense of a great supporting force whose whole weight was at the disposal of the humblest believer.
In short, there was nothing picturesque about the excellent departed Hendrik, nothing that could justify the young woman in wrapping herself up in grief for him to the entire exclusion of a person who was picturesque and ready, at the first opportunity, to wrap himself up in her.
After long brooding, assisted by a close study of the romances of the period, Adrian convinced himself that in all this there was something unnatural, that the girl must be under a species of spell which in her own interest ought to be broken through. But how? That was the question. Try as he would he could do nothing. Therefore, like others in a difficulty, he determined to seek the assistance of an expert, namely, Black Meg, who, among her other occupations, for a certain fee payable in advance, was ready to give advice as a specialist in affairs of the heart.
To Black Meg accordingly he went, disguised, secretly and by night, for he loved mystery, and in truth it was hardly safe that he should visit her by the light of day. Seated in a shadowed chamber he poured out his artless tale to the pythoness, of course concealing all names. He might have spared himself this trouble, as he was an old client of Meg's, a fact that no disguise could keep from her. Before he opened his lips she knew perfectly what was the name of his inamorata and indeed all the circumstances connected with the pair of them.
The wise woman listened in patience, and when he had done, shook her head, saying that the case was too hard for her. She proposed, however, to consult a Master more learned than herself, who, by great good fortune, was at that moment in Leyden, frequenting her house in fact, and begged that Adrian would return at the same hour on the morrow.
Now, as it chanced, oddly enough Black Meg had been commissioned by the said Master to bring about a meeting between himself and this very young man.
Adrian returned accordingly, and was informed that the Master, after consulting the stars and other sources of divination, had become so deeply interested in the affair that, for pure love of the thing and not for any temporal purpose of gain, he was in attendance to advise in person. Adrian was overjoyed, and prayed that he might be introduced. Presently a noble-looking form entered the room, wrapped in a long cloak. Adrian bowed, and the form, after contemplating him earnestly—very earnestly, if he had known the truth—acknowledged the salute with dignity. Adrian cleared his throat and began to speak, whereon the sage stopped him.
"Explanations are needless, young man," he said, in a measured and melodious voice, "for my studies of the matter have already informed me of more than you can tell. Let me see; your name is Adrian van Goorl—no, called Van Goorl; the lady you desire to win is Elsa Brant, the daughter of Hendrik Brant, a heretic and well-known goldsmith, who was recently executed at The Hague. She is a girl of much beauty, but one unnaturally insensible to the influence of love, and who does not at present recognise your worth. There are, also, unless I am mistaken, other important circumstances connected with the case.
"This lady is a great heiress, but her fortune is at present missing; it is, I have reason to believe, hidden in the Haarlemer Meer. She is surrounded with influences that are inimical to you, all of which, however, can be overcome if you will place yourself unreservedly in my hands, for, young man, I accept no half-confidences, nor do I ask for any fee. When the fortune is recovered and the maiden is your happy wife, then we will talk of payment for services rendered, and not before."
"Wonderful, wonderful!" gasped Adrian; "most learned senor, every word you say is true."
"Yes, friend Adrian, and I have not told you all the truth. For instance—but, no, this is not the time to speak. The question is, do you accept my terms?"
"What terms, senor?"
"The old terms, without which no wonder can be worked—faith, absolute faith."
Adrian hesitated a little. Absolute faith seemed a large present to give a complete stranger at a first interview.
"I read your thought and I respect it," went on the sage, who, to tell truth, was afraid he had ventured a little too far. "There is no hurry; these affairs cannot be concluded in a day."
Adrian admitted that they could not, but intimated that he would be glad of a little practical and immediate assistance. The sage buried his face in his hands and thought.
"The first thing to do," he said presently, "is to induce a favourable disposition of the maiden's mind towards yourself, and this, I think, can best be brought about—though the method is one which I do not often use—by means of a love philtre carefully compounded to suit the circumstances of the case. If you will come here to-morrow at dusk, the lady of this house—a worthy woman, though rough of speech and no true adept—will hand it to you."
"It isn't poisonous?" suggested Adrian doubtfully.
"Fool, do I deal in poisons? It will poison the girl's heart in your favour, that is all."
"And how is it to be administered?" asked Adrian.
"In the water or the wine she drinks, and afterwards you must speak to her again as soon as possible. Now that is settled," he went on airily, "so, young friend, good-bye."
"Are you sure that there is no fee?" hesitated Adrian.
"No, indeed," answered the sage, "at any rate until all is accomplished. Ah!" and he sighed, "did you but know what a delight it is to a weary and world-worn traveller to help forward the bright ambitions of youth, to assist the pure and soaring soul to find the mate destined to it by heaven—ehem!—you wouldn't talk of fees. Besides, I will be frank; from the moment that I entered this room and saw you, I recognised in you a kindred nature, one which under my guidance is capable of great things, of things greater than I care to tell. Ah! what a vision do I see. You, the husband of the beautiful Elsa and master of her great wealth, and I at your side guiding you with my wisdom and experience—then what might not be achieved? Dreams, doubtless dreams, though how often have my dreams been prophetic! Still, forget them, and at least, young man, we will be friends," and he stretched out his hand.
"With all my heart," answered Adrian, taking those cool, agile-looking fingers. "For years I have sought someone on whom I could rely, someone who would understand me as I feel you do."
"Yes, yes," sighed the sage, "I do indeed understand you."
"To think," he said to himself after the door had closed behind the delighted and flattered Adrian, "to think that I can be the father of such a fool as that. Well, it bears out my theories about cross-breeding, and, after all, in this case a good-looking, gullible fool will be much more useful to me than a young man of sense. Let me see; the price of the office is paid and I shall have my appointment duly sealed as the new Governor of the Gevangenhuis by next week at furthest, so I may as well begin to collect evidence against my worthy successor, Dirk van Goorl, his adventurous son Foy, and that red-headed ruffian, Martin. Once I have them in the Gevangenhuis it will go hard if I can't squeeze the secret of old Brant's money out of one of the three of them. The women wouldn't know, they wouldn't have told the women, besides I don't want to meddle with them, indeed nothing would persuade me to that"—and he shivered as though at some wretched recollection. "But there must be evidence; there is such noise about these executions and questionings that they won't allow any more of them in Leyden without decent evidence; even Alva and the Blood Council are getting a bit frightened. Well, who can furnish better testimony than that jackass, my worthy son, Adrian? Probably, however, he has a conscience somewhere, so it may be as well not to let him know that when he thinks himself engaged in conversation he is really in the witness box. Let me see, we must take the old fellow, Dirk, on the ground of heresy, and the youngster and the serving man on a charge of murdering the king's soldiers and assisting the escape of heretics with their goods. Murder sounds bad, and, especially in the case of a young man, excites less sympathy than common heresy."
Then he went to the door, calling, "Meg, hostess mine, Meg."
He might have saved himself the trouble, however, since, on opening it suddenly, that lady fell almost into his arms.
"What!" he said, "listening, oh, fie! and all for nothing. But there, ladies will be curious and"—this to himself—"I must be more careful. Lucky I didn't talk aloud."
Then he called her in, and having inspected the chamber narrowly, proceeded to make certain arrangements.
At nightfall on the morrow Adrian returned as appointed, and was admitted into the same room, where he found Black Meg, who greeted him openly by name and handed to him a tiny phial containing a fluid clear as water. This, however, was scarcely to be wondered at, seeing that it was water and nothing else.
"Will it really work upon her heart?" asked Adrian, eyeing the stuff.
"Ay," answered the hag, "that's a wondrous medicine, and those who drink it go crazed with love for the giver. It is compounded according to the Master's own receipt, from very costly tasteless herbs that grow only in the deserts of Arabia."
Adrian understood, and fumbled in his pocket. Meg stretched out her hand to receive the honorarium. It was a long, skinny hand, with long, skinny fingers, but there was this peculiarity about it, that one of these fingers chanced to be missing. She saw his eyes fixed upon the gap, and rushed into an explanation.
"I have met with an accident," Meg explained. "In cutting up a pig the chopper caught this finger and severed it."
"Did you wear a ring on it?" asked Adrian.
"Yes," she replied, with sombre fury.
"How very strange!" ejaculated Adrian.
"Because I have seen a finger, a woman's long finger with a gold ring on it, that might have come off your hand. I suppose the pork-butcher picked it up for a keepsake."
"May be, Heer Adrian, but where is it now?"
"Oh! it is, or was, in a bottle of spirits tied by a thread to the cork."
Meg's evil face contorted itself. "Get me that bottle," she said hoarsely. "Look you, Heer Adrian, I am doing much for you, do this for me."
"What do you want it for?"
"To give it Christian burial," she replied sourly. "It is not fitting or lucky that a person's finger should stand about in a bottle like a caul or a lizard. Get it, I say get it—I ask no question where—or, young man, you will have little help in your love affairs from me."
"Do you wish the dagger hilt also?" he asked mischievously.
She looked at him out of the corners of her black eyes. This Adrian knew too much.
"I want the finger and the ring on it which I lost in chopping up the pig."
"Perhaps, mother, you would like the pig, too. Are you not making a mistake? Weren't you trying to cut his throat, and didn't he bite off the finger?"
"If I want the pig, I'll search his stye. You bring that bottle, or——"
She did not finish her sentence, for the door opened, and through it came the sage.
"Quarrelling," he said in a tone of reproof. "What about? Let me guess," and he passed his hand over his shadowed brow. "Ah! I see, there is a finger in it, a finger of fate? No, not that," and, moved by a fresh inspiration, he grasped Meg's hand, and added, "Now I have it. Bring it back, friend Adrian, bring it back; a dead finger is most unlucky to all save its owner. As a favour to me."
"Very well," said Adrian.
"My gifts grow," mused the master. "I have a vision of this honest hand and of a great sword—but, there, it is not worth while, too small a matter. Leave us, mother. It shall be returned, my word on it. Yes, gold ring and all. And now, young friend, let us talk. You have the philtre? Well, I can promise you that it is a good one, it would almost bring Galatea from her marble. Pygmalion must have known that secret. But tell me something of your life, your daily thoughts and daily deeds, for when I give my friendship I love to live in the life of my friends."
Thus encouraged, Adrian told him a great deal, so much, indeed, that the Senor Ramiro, nodding in the shadow of his hood, began to wonder whether the spy behind the cupboard door, expert as he was, could possibly make his pen keep pace with these outpourings. Oh! it was a dreary task, but he kept to it, and by putting in a sentence here and there artfully turned the conversation to matters of faith.
"No need to fence with me," he said presently. "I know how you have been brought up, how through no fault of your own you have wandered out of the warm bosom of the true Church to sit at the clay feet of the conventicle. You doubt it? Well, let me look again, let me look. Yes, only last week you were seated in a whitewashed room overhanging the market-place. I see it all—an ugly little man with a harsh voice is preaching, preaching what I think blasphemy. Baskets—baskets? What have baskets to do with him?"
"I believe he used to make them," interrupted Adrian, taking the bait.
"That may be it, or perhaps he will be buried in one; at any rate he is strangely mixed up with baskets. Well, there are others with you, a middle-aged, heavy-faced man, is he not Dirk van Goorl, your stepfather? And—wait—a young fellow with rather a pleasant face, also a relation. I see his name, but I can't spell it. F—F—o—i, faith in the French tongue, odd name for a heretic."
"F-o-y—Foy," interrupted Adrian again.
"Indeed! Strange that I should have mistaken the last letter, but in the spirit sight and hearing these things chance: then there is a great man with a red beard."
"No, Master, you're wrong," said Adrian with emphasis; "Martin was not there; he stopped behind to watch the house."
"Are you sure?" asked the seer doubtfully. "I look and I seem to see him," and he stared blankly at the wall.
"So you might see him often enough, but not at last week's meeting."
It is needless to follow the conversation further. The seer, by aid of a ball of crystal that he produced from the folds of his cloak, described his spirit visions, and the pupil corrected them from his intimate knowledge of the facts, until the Senor Ramiro and his confederates in the cupboard had enough evidence, as evidence was understood in those days, to burn Dirk, Foy, and Martin three times over, and, if it should suit him, Adrian also. Then for that night they parted.
Next evening Adrian was back again with the finger in the bottle, which Meg grabbed as a pike snatches at a frog, and further fascinating conversation ensued. Indeed, Adrian found this well of mystic lore tempered with shrewd advice upon love affairs and other worldly matters, and with flattery of his own person and gifts, singularly attractive.
Several times did he return thus, for as it chanced Elsa had been unwell and kept her room, so that he discovered no opportunity of administering the magic philtre that was to cause her heart to burn with love for him.
At length, when even the patient Ramiro was almost worn out by the young gentleman's lengthy visits, the luck changed. Elsa appeared one day at dinner, and with great adroitness Adrian, quite unseen of anyone, contrived to empty the phial into her goblet of water, which, as he rejoiced to see, she drank to the last drop.
But no opportunity such as he sought ensued, for Elsa, overcome, doubtless, by an unwonted rush of emotion, retired to battle it in her own chamber. Since it was impossible to follow and propose to her there, Adrian, possessing his soul in such patience as he could command, sat in the sitting-room to await her return, for he knew that it was not her habit to go out until five o'clock. As it happened, however, Elsa had other arrangements for the afternoon, since she had promised to accompany Lysbeth upon several visits to the wives of neighbours, and then to meet her cousin Foy at the factory and walk with him in the meadows beyond the town.
So while Adrian, lost in dreams, waited in the sitting-room Elsa and Lysbeth left the house by the side door.
They had paid three of their visits when their path chanced to lead them past the old town prison which was called the Gevangenhuis. This place formed one of the gateways of the city, for it was built in the walls and opened on to the moat, water surrounding it on all sides. In front of its massive door, that was guarded by two soldiers, a small crowd had gathered on the drawbridge and in the street beyond, apparently in expectation of somebody or something. Lysbeth looked at the three-storied frowning building and shuddered, for it was here that heretics were put upon their trial, and here, too, many of them were done to death after the dreadful fashion of the day.