Presently Ramiro, who had accompanied him to the gate, returned. Seating himself on the further side of the table, he drew his rapier and laid it before him. Then, having first commanded them to bring a chair in which Foy might sit, since he could not stand because of his wounded leg, he told the guard to fall back out of hearing, but to be ready should he need them.
"Not much dignity about that fellow," he said, addressing Martin and Foy in a cheerful voice; "quite different from the kind of thing you expected, I daresay. No hooded Dominican priests, no clerks taking notes, no solemnities, nothing but a little red-faced wretch, perspiring with terror lest the mob outside should catch him, as for my part I hope they may. Well, gentlemen, what can you expect, seeing that, to my knowledge, the man is a bankrupt tailor of Antwerp? However, it is the substance we have to deal with, not the shadow, and that's real enough, for his signature on a death warrant is as good as that of the Pope, or his gracious Majesty King Philip, or, for the matter of that, of Alva himself. Therefore, you are—dead men."
"As you would have been had I not been fool enough to neglect Martin's advice out in the Haarlemer Meer and let you escape," answered Foy.
"Precisely, my young friend, but you see my guardian angel was too many for you, and you did neglect that excellent counsel. But, as it happens, it is just about the Haarlemer Meer that I want to have a word with you."
Foy and Martin looked at each other, for now they understood exactly why they were there, and Ramiro, watching them out of the corners of his eyes, went on in a low voice:
"Let us drop this and come to business. You hid it, and you know where it is, and I am in need of a competence for my old age. Now, I am not a cruel man; I wish to put no one to pain or death; moreover, I tell you frankly, I admire both of you very much. The escape with the treasure on board of your boat Swallow, and the blowing up, were both exceedingly well managed, with but one mistake which you, young sir, have pointed out," and he bowed and smiled. "The fight that you made yesterday, too, was splendid, and I have entered the details of it in my own private diary, because they ought not to be forgotten."
Now it was Foy's turn to bow, while even on Martin's grim and impassive countenance flickered a faint smile.
"Naturally," went on Ramiro, "I wish to save such men, I wish you to go hence quite free and unharmed," and he paused.
"How can we after we have been condemned to death?" asked Foy.
"Well, it does not seem so difficult. My friend, the tailor—I mean the Inquisitor—who, for all his soft words, is a cruel man indeed, was in a hurry to be gone, and—he signed a blank warrant, always an incautious thing to do. Well, a judge can acquit as well as condemn, and this one—is no exception. What is there to prevent me filling this paper in with an order for your release?"
"And what is there to show us that you would release us after all?" asked Foy.
"Upon the honour of a gentleman," answered Ramiro laying his hand on his heart. "Tell me what I want to know, give me a week to make certain necessary arrangements, and so soon as I am back you shall both of you be freed."
"Doubtless," said Foy, angrily, "upon such honour as gentlemen learn in the galleys, Senor Ramiro—I beg your pardon, Count Juan de Montalvo."
Ramiro's face grew crimson to the hair.
"Sir," he said, "were I a different sort of man, for those words you should die in a fashion from which even the boldest might shrink. But you are young and inexperienced, so I will overlook them. Now this bargaining must come to a head. Which will you have, life and safety, or the chance—which under the circumstances is no chance at all—that one day, not you, of course, but somebody interested in it, may recover a hoard of money and jewels?"
Then Martin spoke for the first time, very slowly and respectfully.
"Worshipful sir," he said, "we cannot tell you where the money is because we do not know. To be frank with you, nobody ever knew except myself. I took the stuff and sank it in the water in a narrow channel between two islands, and I made a little drawing of them on a piece of paper."
"Exactly, my good friend, and where is that piece of paper?"
"Alas! sir, when I was lighting the fuses on board the Swallow, I let it fall in my haste, and it is—in exactly the same place as are all your worship's worthy comrades who were on board that ship. I believe, however, that if you will put yourself under my guidance I could show your Excellency the spot, and this, as I do not want to be killed, I should be most happy to do."
"Good, simple man," said Ramiro with a little laugh, "how charming is the prospect that you paint of a midnight row with you upon those lonely waters; the tarantula and the butterfly arm in arm! Mynheer van Goorl, what have you to say?"
"Only that the story told by Martin here is true. I do not know where the money is, as I was not present at its sinking, and the paper has been lost."
"Indeed? I am afraid, then, that it will be necessary for me to refresh your memory, but, first, I have one more argument, or rather two. Has it struck you that another life may hang upon your answer? As a rule men are loth to send their fathers to death."
Foy heard, and terrible as was the hint, yet it came to him as a relief, for he had feared lest he was about to say "your mother" or "Elsa Brant."
"That is my first argument, a good one, I think, but I have—another which may appeal even more forcibly to a young man and prospective heir. The day before yesterday you became engaged to Elsa Brant—don't look surprised; people in my position have long ears, and you needn't be frightened, the young lady will not be brought here; she is too valuable."
"Be so good as to speak plainly," said Foy.
"With pleasure. You see this girl is the heiress, is she not? and whether or no I find out the facts from you, sooner or later, in this way or that, she will doubtless discover where her heritage is hidden. Well, that fortune a husband would have the advantage of sharing. I myself labour at present under no matrimonial engagements, and am in a position to obtain an introduction—ah! my friend, are you beginning to see that there are more ways of killing a dog than by hanging him?"
Weak and wounded as he was, Foy's heart sank in him at the words of this man, this devil who had betrayed his mother with a mock marriage, and who was the father of Adrian. The idea of making the heiress his wife was one worthy of his evil ingenuity, and why should he not put it into practice? Elsa, of course, would rebel, but Alva's officials in such days had means of overcoming any maidenly reluctance, or at least of forcing women to choose between death and degradation. Was it not common for them even to dissolve marriages in order to give heretics to new husbands who desired their wealth? There was no justice left in the land; human beings were the chattels and slaves of their oppressors. Oh God! what was there to do, except to trust in God? Why should they be tortured, murdered, married against their wills, for the sake of a miserable pile of pelf? Why not tell the truth and let the fellow take the money? He had measured up his man, and believed that he could drive a bargain with him. Ramiro wanted money, not lives. He was no fanatic; horrors gave him no pleasure; he cared nothing about his victims' souls. As he had betrayed his mother, Lysbeth, for cash, so he would be willing to let them all go for cash. Why not make the exchange?
Then distinct, formidable, overwhelming, the answer rose up in Foy's mind. Because he had sworn to his father that nothing which could be imagined should induce him to reveal this secret and betray this trust. And not only to his father, to Hendrik Brant also, who already had given his own life to keep his treasure out of the hands of the Spaniards, believing that in some unforeseen way it would advantage his own land and countrymen. No, great as was the temptation, he must keep the letter of his bond and pay its dreadful price. So again Foy answered,
"It is useless to try to bribe me, for I do not know where the money is."
"Very well, Heer Foy van Goorl, now we have a plain issue before us, but I will still try to protect you against yourself—the warrant shall remain blank for a little while."
Then he called aloud, "Sergeant, ask the Professor Baptiste to be so good as to step this way."
HOW MARTIN TURNED COWARD
The sergeant left the room and presently returned, followed by the Professor, a tall hang-dog looking rogue, clad in rusty black, with broad, horny hands, and nails bitten down to the quick.
"Good morning to you, Professor," said Ramiro. "Here are two subjects for your gentle art. You will begin upon the big one, and from time to time report progress, and be sure, if he becomes willing to reveal what I want to know—never mind what it is, that is my affair—come to summon me at once."
"What methods does your Excellency wish employed?"
"Man, I leave that to you. Am I a master of your filthy trade? Any method, provided it is effective."
"I don't like the look of him," grumbled the Professor, gnawing at his short nails. "I have heard about this mad brute; he is capable of anything."
"Then take the whole guard with you; one naked wretch can't do much against eight armed men. And, listen; take the young gentleman also, and let him see what goes on; the experience may modify his views, but don't touch him without telling me. I have reports to write, and shall stop here."
"I don't like the look of him," repeated the Professor. "I say that he makes me feel cold down the back—he has the evil eye; I'd rather begin with the young one."
"Begone and do what I tell you," said Ramiro, glaring at him fiercely. "Guard, attend upon the executioner Baptiste."
"Bring them along," grumbled the Professor.
"No need for violence, worthy sir," muttered Martin; "show the way and we follow," and stooping down he lifted Foy from his chair.
Then the procession started. First went Baptiste and four soldiers, next came Martin bearing Foy, and after them four more soldiers. They passed out of the courtroom into the passage beneath the archway. Martin, shuffling along slowly, glanced down it and saw that on the wall, among some other weapons, hung his own sword, Silence. The big doors were locked and barred, but at the wicket by the side of them stood a sentry, whose office it was to let people in and out upon their lawful business. Making pretence to shift Foy in his arms, Martin scanned this wicket as narrowly as time would allow, and observed that it seemed to be secured by means of iron bolts at the top and the bottom, but that it was not locked, since the socket into which the tongue went was empty. Doubtless, while he was on guard there, the porter did not think it necessary to go to the pains of using the great key that hung at his girdle.
The sergeant in charge of the victims opened a low and massive door, which was almost exactly opposite to that of the court-room, by shooting back a bolt and pushing it ajar. Evidently the place beyond at some time or other had been used as a prison, which accounted for the bolt on the outside. A few seconds later and they were locked into the torture-chamber of the Gevangenhuis, which was nothing more than a good-sized vault like that of a cellar, lit with lamps, for no light of day was suffered to enter here, and by a horrid little fire that flickered on the floor. The furnitures of the place may be guessed at; those that are curious about such things can satisfy themselves by examining the mediaeval prisons at The Hague and elsewhere. Let us pass them over as unfit even for description, although these terrors, of which we scarcely like to speak to-day, were very familiar to the sight of our ancestors of but three centuries ago.
Martin sat Foy down upon some terrible engine that roughly resembled a chair, and once more let his blue eyes wander about him. Amongst the various implements was one leaning against the wall, not very far from the door, which excited his especial interest. It was made for a dreadful purpose, but Martin reflected only that it seemed to be a stout bar of iron exactly suited to the breaking of anybody's head.
"Come," sneered the Professor, "undress that big gentleman while I make ready his little bed."
So the soldiers stripped Martin, nor did they assault him with sneers and insults, for they remembered the man's deeds of yesterday, and admired his strength and endurance, and the huge, muscular frame beneath their hands.
"Now he is ready if you are," said the sergeant.
The Professor rubbed his hands.
"Come on, my little man," he said.
Then Martin's nerve gave way, and he began to shiver and to shake.
"Oho!" laughed the Professor, "even in this stuffy place he is cold without his clothes; well we must warm him—we must warm him."
"Who would have thought that a big fellow, who can fight well, too, was such a coward at heart," said the sergeant of the guard to his companions. "After all, he will give no more play than a Rhine salmon."
Martin heard the words, and was seized with such an intense access of fear that he burst into a sweat all over his body.
"I can't bear it," he said, covering his eyes—which, however, he did not shut—with his fingers. "The rack was always my nightmare, and now I see why. I'll tell all I know."
"Oh! Martin, Martin," broke out Foy in a kind of wail, "I was doing my best to keep my own courage; I never dreamt that you would turn coward."
"Every well has a bottom, master," whined Martin, "and mine is the rack. Forgive me, but I can't abide the sight of it."
Foy stared at him open-mouthed. Could he believe his ears? And if Martin was so horribly scared, why did his eye glint in that peculiar way between his fingers? He had seen this light in it before, no later indeed than the last afternoon just as the soldiers tried to rush the stair. He gave up the problem as insoluble, but from that moment he watched very narrowly.
"Do you hear what this young lady says, Professor Baptiste?" said the sergeant. "She says" (imitating Martin's whine) "that she'll tell all she knows."
"Then the great cur might have saved me this trouble. Stop here with him. I must go and inform the Governor; those are my orders. No, no, you needn't give him clothes yet—that cloth is enough—one can never be sure."
Then he walked to the door and began to unlock it, as he went striking Martin in the face with the back of his hand, and saying,
"Take that, cur." Whereat, as Foy observed, the cowed prisoner perspired more profusely than before, and shrank away towards the wall.
God in Heaven! What had happened? The door of the torture den was opened, and suddenly, uttering the words, "To me, Foy!" Martin made a movement more quick than he could follow. Something flew up and fell with a fearful thud upon the executioner in the doorway. The guard sprang forward, and a great bar of iron, hurled with awful force into their faces, swept two of them broken to the ground. Another instant, and one arm was about his middle, the next they were outside the door, Martin standing straddle-legged over the body of the dead Professor Baptiste.
They were outside the door, but it was not shut, for now, on the other side of it six men were pushing with all their might and main. Martin dropped Foy. "Take his dagger and look out for the porter," he gasped as he hurled himself against the door.
In a second Foy had drawn the weapon out of the belt of the dead man, and wheeled round. The porter from the wicket was running on them sword in hand. Foy forgot that he was wounded—for the moment his leg seemed sound again. He doubled himself up and sprang at the man like a wild-cat, as one springs who has the rack behind him. There was no fight, yet in that thrust the skill which Martin had taught him so patiently served him well, for the sword of the Spaniard passed over his head, whereas Foy's long dagger went through the porter's throat. A glance showed Foy that from him there was nothing more to fear, so he turned.
"Help if you can," groaned Martin, as well he might, for with his naked shoulder wedged against one of the cross pieces of the door he was striving to press it to so that the bolt could be shot into its socket.
Heavens! what a struggle was that. Martin's blue eyes seemed to be starting from his head, his tongue lolled out and the muscles of his body rose in great knots. Foy hopped to him and pushed as well as he was able. It was little that he could do standing upon one leg only, for now the sinews of the other had given way again; still that little made the difference, for let the soldiers on the further side strive as they might, slowly, very slowly, the thick door quivered to its frame. Martin glanced at the bolt, for he could not speak, and with his left hand Foy slowly worked it forward. It was stiff with disuse, it caught upon the edge of the socket.
"Closer," he gasped.
Martin made an effort so fierce that it was hideous to behold, for beneath the pressure the blood trickled from his nostrils, but the door went in the sixteenth of an inch and the rusty bolt creaked home into its stone notch.
Martin stepped back, and for a moment stood swaying like a man about to fall. Then, recovering himself, he leapt at the sword Silence which hung upon the wall and passed its thong over his right wrist. Next he turned towards the door of the court-room.
"Where are you going?" asked Foy.
"To bid him farewell," hissed Martin.
"You're mad," said Foy; "let's fly while we can. That door may give—they are shouting."
"Perhaps you are right," answered Martin doubtfully. "Come. On to my back with you."
A few seconds later the two soldiers on guard outside the Gevangenhuis were amazed to see a huge, red-bearded man, naked save for a loin-cloth, and waving a great bare sword, who carried upon his back another man, rush straight at them with a roar. They never waited his onset; they were terrified and thought that he was a devil. This way and that they sprang, and the man with his burden passed between them over the little drawbridge down the street of the city, heading for the Morsch poort.
Finding their wits again the guards started in pursuit, but a voice from among the passers-by cried out:
"It is Martin, Red Martin, and Foy van Goorl, who escape from the Gevangenhuis," and instantly a stone flew towards the soldiers.
Then, bearing in mind the fate of their comrades on the yesterday, those men scuttled back to the friendly shelter of the prison gate. When at length Ramiro, growing weary of waiting, came out from an inner chamber beyond the court-room, where he had been writing, to find the Professor and the porter dead in the passage, and the yelling guard locked in his own torture-chamber, why, then those sentries declared that they had seen nothing at all of prisoners clothed or naked.
For a while he believed them, and mighty was the hunt from the clock-tower of the Gevangenhuis down to the lowest stone of its cellars, yes, and even in the waters of the moat. But when the Governor found out the truth it went very ill with those soldiers, and still worse with the guard from whom Martin had escaped in the torture-room like an eel out of the hand of a fish-wife. For by this time Ramiro's temper was roused, and he began to think that he had done ill to return to Leyden.
But he had still a card to play. In a certain room in the Gevangenhuis sat another victim. Compared to the dreadful dens where Foy and Martin had been confined this was quite a pleasant chamber upon the first floor, being reserved, indeed, for political prisoners of rank, or officers captured upon the field who were held to ransom. Thus it had a real window, secured, however, by a double set of iron bars, which overlooked the little inner courtyard and the gaol kitchen. Also it was furnished after a fashion, and was more or less clean. This prisoner was none other than Dirk van Goorl, who had been neatly captured as he returned towards his house after making certain arrangements for the flight of his family, and hurried away to the gaol. On that morning Dirk also had been put upon his trial before the squeaky-voiced and agitated ex-tailor. He also had been condemned to death, the method of his end, as in the case of Foy and Martin, being left in the hands of the Governor. Then they led him back to his room, and shot the bolts upon him there.
Some hours later a man entered his cell, to the door of which he was escorted by soldiers, bringing him food and drink. He was one of the cooks and, as it chanced, a talkative fellow.
"What passes in this prison, friend?" asked Dirk looking up, "that I see people running to and fro across the courtyard, and hear trampling and shouts in the passages? Is the Prince of Orange coming, perchance, to set all of us poor prisoners free?" and he smiled sadly.
"Umph!" grunted the man, "we have prisoners here who set themselves free without waiting for any Prince of Orange. Magicians they must be—magicians and nothing less."
Dirk's interest was excited. Putting his hand into his pocket he drew out a gold piece, which he gave to the man.
"Friend," he said, "you cook my food, do you not, and look after me? Well, I have a few of these about me, and if you prove kind they may as well find their way into your pocket as into those of your betters. Do you understand?"
The man nodded, took the money, and thanked him.
"Now," went on Dirk, "while you clean the room, tell me about this escape, for small things amuse those who hear no tidings."
"Well, Mynheer," answered the man, "this is the tale of it so far as I can gather. Yesterday they captured two fellows, heretics I suppose, who made a good fight and did them much damage in a warehouse. I don't know their names, for I am a stranger to this town, but I saw them brought in; a young fellow, who seemed to be wounded in the leg and neck, and a great red-bearded giant of a man. They were put upon their trial this morning, and afterwards sent across, the two of them together, with eight men to guard them, to call upon the Professor—you understand?"
Dirk nodded, for this Professor was well known in Leyden. "And then?" he asked.
"And then? Why, Mother in Heaven! they came out, that's all—the big man stripped and carrying the other on his back. Yes, they killed the Professor with the branding iron, and out they came—like ripe peas from a pod."
"Impossible!" said Dirk.
"Very well, perhaps you know better than I do; perhaps it is impossible also that they should have pushed the door to, let all those Spanish cocks inside do what they might, and bolted them in; perhaps it is impossible that they should have spitted the porter and got clean away through the outside guards, the big one still carrying the other upon his back. Perhaps all these things are impossible, but they're true nevertheless, and if you don't believe me, after they get away from the whipping-post, just ask the bridge guard why they ran so fast when they saw that great, naked, blue-eyed fellow come at them roaring like a lion, with his big sword flashing above his head. Oh! there's a pretty to-do, I can tell you, a pretty to-do, and in meal or malt we shall all pay the price of it, from the Governor down. Indeed, some backs are paying it now."
"But, friend, were they not taken outside the gaol?"
"Taken? Who was to take them when the rascally mob made them an escort five hundred strong as they went down the street? No, they are far away from Leyden now, you may swear to that. I must be going, but if there is anything you'd like while you're here just tell me, and as you are so liberal I'll try and see that you get what you want."
As the bolts were shot home behind the man Dirk clasped his hands and almost laughed aloud with joy. So Martin was free and Foy was free, and until they could be taken again the secret of the treasure remained safe. Montalvo would never have it, of that he was sure. And as for his own fate? Well, he cared little about it, especially as the Inquisitor had decreed that, being a man of so much importance, he was not to be put to the "question." This order, however, was prompted, not by mercy, but by discretion, since the fellow knew that, like other of the Holland towns, Leyden was on the verge of open revolt, and feared lest, should it leak out that one of the wealthiest and most respected of its burghers was actually being tormented for his faith's sake, the populace might step over the boundary line.
When Adrian had seen the wounded Spanish soldiers and their bearers torn to pieces by the rabble, and had heard the great door of the Gevangenhuis close upon Foy and Martin, he turned to go home with his evil news. But for a long while the mob would not go home, and had it not been that the drawbridge over the moat in front of the prison was up, and that they had no means of crossing it, probably they would have attacked the building then and there. Presently, however, rain began to fall and they melted away, wondering, not too happily, whether, in that time of daily slaughter, the Duke of Alva would think a few common soldiers worth while making a stir about.
Adrian entered the upper room to tell his tidings, since they must be told, and found it occupied by his mother alone. She was sitting straight upright in her chair, her hands resting upon her knees, staring out of the window with a face like marble.
"I cannot find him," he began, "but Foy and Martin are taken after a great fight in which Foy was wounded. They are in the Gevangenhuis."
"I know all," interrupted Lysbeth in a cold, heavy voice. "My husband is taken also. Someone must have betrayed them. May God reward him! Leave me, Adrian."
Then Adrian turned and crept away to his own chamber, his heart so full of remorse and shame that at times he thought that it must burst. Weak as he was, wicked as he was, he had never intended this, but now, oh Heaven! his brother Foy and the man who had been his benefactor, whom his mother loved more than her life, were through him given over to a death worse than the mind could conceive. Somehow that night wore away, and of this we may be sure, that it did not go half as heavily with the victims in their dungeon as with the betrayer in his free comfort. Thrice during its dark hours, indeed, Adrian was on the point of destroying himself; once even he set the hilt of his sword upon the floor and its edge against his breast, and then at the prick of steel shrank back.
Better would it have been for him, perhaps, could he have kept his courage; at least he would have been spared much added shame and misery.
So soon as Adrian had left her Lysbeth rose, robed herself, and took her way to the house of her cousin, van de Werff, now a successful citizen of middle age and the burgomaster-elect of Leyden.
"You have heard the news?" she said.
"Alas! cousin, I have," he answered, "and it is very terrible. Is it true that this treasure of Hendrik Brant's is at the bottom of it all?"
She nodded, and answered, "I believe so."
"Then could they not bargain for their lives by surrendering its secret?"
"Perhaps. That is, Foy and Martin might—Dirk does not know its whereabouts—he refused to know, but they have sworn that they will die first."
"Because they promised as much to Hendrik Brant, who believed that if his gold could be kept from the Spaniards it would do some mighty service to his country in time to come, and who has persuaded them all that is so."
"Then God grant it may be true," said van de Werff with a sigh, "for otherwise it is sad to think that more lives should be sacrificed for the sake of a heap of pelf."
"I know it, cousin, but I come to you to save those lives."
"How?" she answered fiercely. "Why, by raising the town; by attacking the Gevangenhuis and rescuing them, by driving the Spaniards out of Leyden——"
"And thereby bringing upon ourselves the fate of Mons. Would you see this place also given over to sack by the soldiers of Noircarmes and Don Frederic?"
"I care not what I see so long as I save my son and my husband," she answered desperately.
"There speaks the woman, not the patriot. It is better that three men should die than a whole city full."
"That is a strange argument to find in your mouth, cousin, the argument of Caiaphas the Jew."
"Nay, Lysbeth, be not wroth with me, for what can I say? The Spanish troops in Leyden are not many, it is true, but more have been sent for from Haarlem and elsewhere after the troubles of yesterday arising out of the capture of Foy and Martin, and in forty-eight hours at the longest they will be here. This town is not provisioned for a siege, its citizens are not trained to arms, and we have little powder stored. Moreover, the city council is divided. For the killing of the Spanish soldiers we may compound, but if we attack the Gevangenhuis, that is open rebellion, and we shall bring the army of Don Frederic down upon us."
"What matter, cousin? It will come sooner or later."
"Then let it come later, when we are more prepared to beat it off. Oh! do not reproach me, for I can bear it ill, I who am working day and night to make ready for the hour of trial. I love your husband and your son, my heart bleeds for your sorrow and their doom, but at present I can do nothing, nothing. You must bear your burden, they must bear theirs, I must bear mine; we must all wander through the night not knowing where we wander till God causes the dawn to break, the dawn of freedom and retribution."
Lysbeth made no answer, only she rose and stumbled from the house, while van de Werff sat down groaning bitterly and praying for help and light.
A MEETING AND A PARTING
Lysbeth did not sleep that night, for even if her misery would have let her sleep, she could not because of the physical fire that burnt in her veins, and the strange pangs of agony which pierced her head. At first she thought little of them, but when at last the cold light of the autumn morning dawned she went to a mirror and examined herself, and there upon her neck she found a hard red swelling of the size of a nut. Then Lysbeth knew that she had caught the plague from the Vrouw Jansen, and laughed aloud, a dreary little laugh, since if all she loved were to die, it seemed to her good that she should die also. Elsa was abed prostrated with grief, and, shutting herself in her room, Lysbeth suffered none to come near her except one woman who she knew had recovered from the plague in past years, but even to her she said nothing of her sickness.
About eleven o'clock in the morning this woman rushed into her chamber crying, "They have escaped! They have escaped!"
"Who?" gasped Lysbeth, springing from her chair.
"Your son Foy and Red Martin," and she told the tale of how the naked man with the naked sword, carrying the wounded Foy upon his back, burst his way roaring from the Gevangenhuis, and, protected by the people, had run through the town and out of the Morsch poort, heading for the Haarlemer Meer.
As she listened Lysbeth's eyes flamed up with a fire of pride.
"Oh! good and faithful servant," she murmured, "you have saved my son, but alas! your master you could not save."
Another hour passed, and the woman appeared again bearing a letter.
"Who brought this?" she asked.
"A Spanish soldier, mistress."
Then she cut the silk and read it. It was unsigned, and ran:—
"One in authority sends greetings to the Vrouw van Goorl. If the Vrouw van Goorl would save the life of the man who is dearest to her, she is prayed to veil herself and follow the bearer of this letter. For her own safety she need have no fear; it is assured hereby."
Lysbeth thought awhile. This might be a trick; very probably it was a trick to take her. Well, if so, what did it matter since she would rather die with her husband than live on without him; moreover, why should she turn aside from death, she in whose veins the plague was burning? But there was another thing worse than that. She could guess who had penned this letter; it even seemed to her, after all these many years, that she recognised the writing, disguised though it was. Could she face him! Well, why not—for Dirk's sake?
And if she refused and Dirk was done to death, would she not reproach herself, if she lived to remember it, because she had left a stone unturned?
"Give me my cloak and veil," she said to the woman, "and now go tell the man that I am coming."
At the door she found the soldier, who saluted her, and said respectfully, "Follow me, lady, but at a little distance."
So they started, and through side streets Lysbeth was led to a back entrance of the Gevangenhuis, which opened and closed behind her mysteriously, leaving her wondering whether she would ever pass that gate again. Within a man was waiting—she did not even notice what kind of man—who also said, "Follow me, lady," and led her through gloomy passages and various doors into a little empty chamber furnished with a table and two chairs. Presently the door opened and shut; then her whole being shrank and sickened as though beneath the breath of poison, for there before her, still the same, still handsome, although so marred by time and scars and evil, stood the man who had been her husband, Juan de Montalvo. But whatever she felt Lysbeth showed nothing of it in her face, which remained white and stern; moreover, even before she looked at him she was aware that he feared her more than she feared him.
It was true, for from this woman's eyes went out a sword of terror that seemed to pierce Montalvo's heart. Back flew his mind to the scene of their betrothal, and the awful words that she had spoken then re-echoed in his ears. How strangely things had come round, for on that day, as on this, the stake at issue was the life of Dirk van Goorl. In the old times she had bought it, paying as its price herself, her fortune, and, worst of all, to a woman, her lover's scorn and wonder. What would she be prepared to pay now? Well, fortunately, he need ask but little of her. And yet his soul mistrusted him of these bargainings with Lysbeth van Hout for the life of Dirk van Goorl. The first had ended ill with a sentence of fourteen years in the galleys, most of which he had served. How would the second end?
By way of answer there seemed to rise before the eye of Montalvo's mind a measureless black gulf, and, falling, falling, falling through its infinite depths one miserable figure, a mere tiny point that served to show the vastness it explored. The point turned over, and he saw its face as in a crystal—it was his own.
This unpleasant nightmare of the imagination came in an instant, and in an instant passed. The next Montalvo, courteous and composed, was bowing before his visitor and praying her to be seated.
"It is most good of you, Vrouw van Goorl," he began, "to have responded so promptly to my invitation."
"Perhaps, Count de Montalvo," she replied, "you will do me the favour to set out your business in as few words as possible."
"Most certainly; that is my desire. Let me free your mind of apprehension. The past has mingled memories for both of us, some of them bitter, some, let me hope, sweet," and he laid his hand upon his heart and sighed. "But it is a dead past, so, dear lady, let us agree to bury it in a fitting silence."
Lysbeth made no answer, only her mouth grew a trifle more stern.
"Now, one word more, and I will come to the point. Let me congratulate you upon the gallant deeds of a gallant son. Of course his courage and dexterity, with that of the red giant, Martin, have told against myself, have, in short, lost me a trick in the game. But I am an old soldier, and I can assure you that the details of their fight yesterday at the factory, and of their marvellous escape from—from—well, painful surroundings this morning, have stirred my blood and made my heart beat fast."
"I have heard the tale; do not trouble to repeat it," said Lysbeth. "It is only what I expected of them, but I thank God that it has pleased Him to let them live on so that in due course they may fearfully avenge a beloved father and master."
Montalvo coughed and turned his head with the idea of avoiding that ghastly nightmare of a pitiful little man falling down a fathomless gulf which had sprung up suddenly in his mind again.
"Well," he went on, "a truce to compliments. They escaped, and I am glad of it, whatever murders they may contemplate in the future. Yes, notwithstanding their great crimes and manslayings in the past I am glad that they escaped, although it was my duty to keep them while I could—and if I should catch them it will be my duty—but I needn't talk of that to you. Of course, however, you know, there is one gentleman who was not quite so fortunate."
"Yes, your worthy husband, who, happily for my reputation as captain of one of His Majesty's prisons, occupies an upstairs room."
"What of him?" asked Lysbeth.
"Dear lady, don't be over anxious; there is nothing so wearing as anxiety. I was coming to the matter." Then, with a sudden change of manner, he added, "It is needful, Lysbeth, that I should set out the situation."
"What situation do you mean?"
"Well, principally that of the treasure."
"Oh! woman, do not waste time in trying to fool me. The treasure, the vast, the incalculable treasure of Hendrik Brant which Foy van Goorl and Martin, who have escaped"—and he ground his teeth together at the anguish of the thought—"disposed of somewhere in the Haarlemer Meer."
"Well, what about this treasure?"
"I want it, that is all."
"Then you had best go to seek it."
"That is my intention, and I shall begin the search—in the heart of Dirk van Goorl," he added, slowly crushing the handkerchief he held with his long fingers as though it were a living thing that could be choked to death.
Lysbeth never stirred, she had expected this.
"You will find it a poor mine to dig in," she said, "for he knows nothing of the whereabouts of this money. Nobody knows anything of it now. Martin hid it, as I understand, and lost the paper, so it will lie there till the Haarlemer Meer is drained."
"Dear me! Do you know I have heard that story before; yes, from the excellent Martin himself—and, do you know, I don't quite believe it."
"I cannot help what you believe or do not believe. You may remember that it was always my habit to speak the truth."
"Quite so, but others may be less conscientious. See here," and drawing a paper from his doublet, he held it before her. It was nothing less than the death-warrant of Dirk van Goorl, signed by the Inquisitor, duly authorised thereto.
Mechanically she read it and understood.
"You will observe," he went on, "that the method of the criminal's execution is left to the good wisdom of our well-beloved—etc., in plain language, to me. Now might I trouble you so far as to look out of this little window? What do you see in front of you? A kitchen? Quite so; always a homely and pleasant sight in the eyes of an excellent housewife like yourself. And—do you mind bending forward a little? What do you see up there? A small barred window? Well, let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that a hungry man, a man who grows hungrier and hungrier, sat behind that window watching the cooks at their work and seeing the meat carried into this kitchen, to come out an hour or two later as hot, steaming, savoury joints, while he wasted, wasted, wasted and starved, starved, starved. Don't you think, my dear lady, that this would be a very unpleasant experience for that man?"
"Are you a devil?" gasped Lysbeth, springing back.
"I have never regarded myself as such, but if you seek a definition, I should say that I am a hard-working, necessitous, and somewhat unfortunate gentleman who has been driven to rough methods in order to secure a comfortable old age. I can assure you that I do not wish to starve anybody; I wish only to find Hendrik Brant's treasure, and if your worthy husband won't tell me where it is, why I must make him, that is all. In six or eight days under my treatment I am convinced that he will become quite fluent on the subject, for there is nothing that should cause a fat burgher, accustomed to good living, to open his heart more than a total lack of the victuals which he can see and smell. Did you ever hear the story of an ancient gentleman called Tantalus? These old fables have a wonderful way of adapting themselves to the needs and circumstances of us moderns, haven't they?"
Then Lysbeth's pride broke down, and, in the abandonment of her despair, flinging herself upon her knees before this monster, she begged for her husband's life, begged, in the name of God, yes, and even in the name of Montalvo's son, Adrian. So low had her misery brought her that she pleaded with the man by the son of shame whom she had borne to him.
He prayed her to rise. "I want to save your husband's life," he said. "I give you my word that if only he will tell me what I desire to know, I will save it; yes, although the risk is great, I will even manage his escape, and I shall ask you to go upstairs presently and explain my amiable intentions to him." Then he thought a moment and added, "But you mentioned one Adrian. Pray do you mean the gentleman whose signature appears here?" and he handed her another document, saying, "Read it quietly, there is no hurry. The good Dirk is not starving yet; I am informed, indeed, that he has just made an excellent breakfast—not his last by many thousands, let us hope."
Lysbeth took the sheets and glanced at them. Then her intelligence awoke, and she read on fiercely until her eye came to the well-known signature at the foot of the last page. She cast the roll down with a cry as though a serpent had sprung from its pages and bitten her.
"I fear that you are pained," said Montalvo sympathetically, "and no wonder, for myself I have gone through such disillusionments, and know how they wound a generous nature. That's why I showed you this document, because I also am generous and wish to warn you against this young gentleman, who, I understand, you allege is my son. You see the person who would betray his brother might even go a step further and betray his mother, so, if you take my advice, you will keep an eye upon the young man. Also I am bound to remind you that it is more or less your own fault. It is a most unlucky thing to curse a child before it is born—you remember the incident? That curse has come home to roost with a vengeance. What a warning against giving way to the passion of the moment!"
Lysbeth heeded him no longer; she was thinking as she had never thought before. At that moment, as though by an inspiration, there floated into her mind the words of the dead Vrouw Jansen: "The plague, I wish that I had caught it before, for then I would have taken it to him in prison, and they couldn't have treated him as they did." Dirk was in prison, and Dirk was to be starved to death, for, whatever Montalvo might think, he did not know the secret, and, therefore, could not tell it. And she—she had the plague on her; she knew its symptoms well, and its poison was burning in her every vein, although she still could think and speak and walk.
Well, why not? It would be no crime. Indeed, if it was a crime, she cared little; it would be better that he should die of the plague in five days, or perhaps in two, if it worked quickly, as it often did with the full-blooded, than that he should linger on starving for twelve or more, and perhaps be tormented besides.
Swiftly, very swiftly, Lysbeth came to her dreadful decision. Then she spoke in a hoarse voice.
"What do you wish me to do?"
"I wish you to reason with your husband, and to persuade him to cease from his obstinacy, and to surrender to me the secret of the hiding-place of Brant's hoard. In that event, so soon as I have proved the truth of what he tells me, I undertake that he shall be set at liberty unharmed, and that, meanwhile, he shall be well treated."
"And if I will not, or he will not, or cannot?"
"Then I have told you the alternative, and to show you that I am not joking, I will now write and sign the order. Then, if you decline this mission, or if it is fruitless, I will hand it to the officer before your eyes—and within the next ten days or so let you know the results, or witness them if you wish."
"I will go," she said, "but I must see him alone."
"It is unusual," he answered, "but provided you satisfy me that you carry no weapon, I do not know that I need object."
So, when Montalvo had written his order and scattered dust on it from the pounce-box, for he was a man of neat and methodical habits, he himself with every possible courtesy conducted Lysbeth to her husband's prison. Having ushered her into it, with a cheerful "Friend van Goorl, I bring you a visitor," he locked the door upon them, and patiently waited outside.
It matters not what passed within. Whether Lysbeth told her husband of her dread yet sacred purpose, or did not tell him; whether he ever learned of the perfidy of Adrian, or did not learn it; what were their parting words—their parting prayers, all these things matter not; indeed, the last are too holy to be written. Let us bow our heads and pass them by in silence, and let the reader imagine them as he will.
Growing impatient at length, Montalvo unlocked the prison door and opened it, to discover Lysbeth and her husband kneeling side by side in the centre of the room like the figures on some ancient marble monument. They heard him and rose. Then Dirk folded his wife in his arms in a long, last embrace, and, loosing her, held one hand above her head in blessing, as with the other he pointed to the door.
So infinitely pathetic was this dumb show of farewell, for no word passed between them while he was present, that not only his barbed gibes, but the questions that he meant to ask, died upon the lips of Montalvo. Try as he might he could not speak them here.
"Come," he said, and Lysbeth passed out.
At the door she turned to look, and there, in the centre of the room, still stood her husband, tears streaming from his eyes, down a face radiant with an unearthly smile, and his right hand lifted towards the heavens. And so she left him.
Presently Montalvo and Lysbeth were together again in the little room.
"I fear," he said, "from what I saw just now, that your mission has failed."
"It has failed," she answered in such a voice as might be dragged by an evil magic from the lips of a corpse. "He does not know the secret you seek, and, therefore, he cannot tell it."
"I am sorry that I cannot believe you," said Montalvo, "so"—and he stretched out his hand towards a bell upon the table.
"Stop," she said; "for your own sake stop. Man, will you really commit this awful, this useless crime? Think of the reckoning that must be paid here and hereafter; think of me, the woman you dishonoured, standing before the Judgment Seat of God, and bearing witness against your naked, shivering soul. Think of him, the good and harmless man whom you are about cruelly to butcher, crying in the ear of Christ, 'Look upon Juan de Montalvo, my pitiless murderer——'"
"Silence," shouted Montalvo, yet shrinking back against the wall as though to avoid a sword-thrust. "Silence, you ill-omened witch, with your talk of God and judgment. It is too late, I tell you, it is too late; my hands are too red with blood, my heart is too black with sin, upon the tablets of my mind is written too long a record. What more can this one crime matter, and—do you understand?—I must have money, money to buy my pleasures, money to make my last years happy, and my deathbed soft. I have suffered enough, I have toiled enough, and I will win wealth and peace who am now once more a beggar. Yes, had you twenty husbands, I would crush the life out of all of them inch by inch to win the gold that I desire."
As he spoke and the passions in him broke through their crust of cunning and reserve, his face changed. Now Lysbeth, watching for some sign of pity, knew that hope was dead, for his countenance was as it had been on that day six-and-twenty years ago, when she sat at his side while the great race was run. There was the same starting eyeball, the same shining fangs appeared between the curled lips, and above them the moustachios, now grown grey, touched the high cheekbones. It was as in the fable of the weremen, who, at a magic sign or word, put off their human aspect and become beasts. So it had chanced to the spirit of Montalvo, shining through his flesh like some baleful marsh-light through the mist. It was a thing which God had forgotten, a thing that had burst the kindly mould of its humanity, and wrapt itself in the robe and mask of such a wolf as might raven about the cliffs of hell. Only there was fear on the face of the wolf, that inhuman face which, this side of the grave, she was yet destined to see once more.
The fit passed, and Montalvo sank down gasping, while even in her woe and agony Lysbeth shuddered at this naked vision of a Satan-haunted soul.
"I have one more thing to ask," she said. "Since my husband must die, suffer that I die with him. Will you refuse this also, and cause the cup of your crimes to flow over, and the last angel of God's mercy to flee away?"
"Yes," he answered. "You, woman with the evil eye, do you suppose that I wish you here to bring all the ills you prate of upon my head? I say that I am afraid of you. Why, for your sake, once, years ago, I made a vow to the Blessed Virgin that, whatever I worked on men, I would never again lift a hand against a woman. To that oath I look to help me at the last, for I have kept it sacredly, and am keeping it now, else by this time both you and the girl, Elsa, might have been stretched upon the rack. No, Lysbeth, get you gone, and take your curses with you," and he snatched and rang the bell.
A soldier entered the room, saluted, and asked his commands.
"Take this order," he said, "to the officer in charge of the heretic, Dirk van Goorl; it details the method of his execution. Let it be strictly adhered to, and report made to me each morning of the condition of the prisoner. Stay, show this lady from the prison."
The man saluted again and went out of the door. After him followed Lysbeth. She spoke no more, but as she passed she looked at Montalvo, and he knew well that though she might be gone, yet her curse remained behind.
The plague was on her, the plague was on her, her head and bones were racked with pain, and the swords of sorrow pierced her poor heart. But Lysbeth's mind was still clear, and her limbs still supported her. She reached her home and walked upstairs to the sitting room, commanding the servant to find the Heer Adrian and bid him join her there.
In the room was Elsa, who ran to her crying,
"Is it true? Is it true?"
"It is true, daughter, that Foy and Martin have escaped——"
"Oh! God is good!" wept the girl.
"And that my husband is a prisoner and condemned to death."
"Ah!" gasped Elsa, "I am selfish."
"It is natural that a woman should think first of the man she loves. No, do not come near me; I fear that I am stricken with the pest."
"I am not afraid of that," answered Elsa. "Did I never tell you? As a child I had it in The Hague."
"That, at least, is good news among much that is very ill; but be silent, here comes Adrian, to whom I wish to speak. Nay, you need not leave us; it is best that you should learn the truth."
Presently Adrian entered, and Elsa, watching everything, noticed that he looked sadly changed and ill.
"You sent for me, mother," he began, with some attempt at his old pompous air. Then he caught sight of her face and was silent.
"I have been to the Gevangenhuis, Adrian," she said, "and I have news to tell you. As you may have heard, your brother Foy and our servant Martin have escaped, I know not whither. They escaped out of the very jaws of worse than death, out of the torture-chamber, indeed, by killing that wretch who was known as the Professor, and the warden of the gate, Martin carrying Foy, who is wounded, upon his back."
"I am indeed rejoiced," cried Adrian excitedly.
"Hypocrite, be silent," hissed his mother, and he knew that the worst had overtaken him.
"My husband, your stepfather, has not escaped; he is in the prison still, for there I have just bidden him farewell, and the sentence upon him is that he shall be starved to death in a cell overlooking the kitchen."
"Oh! oh!" cried Elsa, and Adrian groaned.
"It was my good, or my evil, fortune," went on Lysbeth, in a voice of ice, "to see the written evidence upon which my husband, your brother Foy, and Martin were condemned to death, on the grounds of heresy, rebellion, and the killing of the king's servants. At the foot of it, duly witnessed, stands the signature of—Adrian van Goorl."
Elsa's jaw fell. She stared at the traitor like one paralysed, while Adrian, seizing the back of a chair, rested upon it, and rocked his body to and fro.
"Have you anything to say?" asked Lysbeth.
There was still one chance for the wretched man—had he been more dishonest than he was. He might have denied all knowledge of the signature. But to do this never occurred to him. Instead, he plunged into a wandering, scarcely intelligible, explanation, for even in his dreadful plight his vanity would not permit him to tell all the truth before Elsa. Moreover, in that fearful silence, soon he became utterly bewildered, till at length he hardly knew what he was saying, and in the end came to a full stop.
"I understand you to admit that you signed this paper in the house of Hague Simon, and in the presence of a man called Ramiro, who is Governor of the prison, and who showed it to me," said Lysbeth, lifting her head which had sunk upon her breast.
"Yes, mother, I signed something, but——"
"I wish to hear no more," interrupted Lysbeth. "Whether your motive was jealousy, or greed, or wickedness of heart, or fear, you signed that which, had you been a man, you would not have yourself to be torn to pieces with redhot pincers you put a pen to it. Moreover, you gave your evidence fully and freely, for I have read it, and supported it with the severed finger of the woman Meg which you stole from Foy's room. You are the murderer of your benefactor and of your mother's heart, and the would-be murderer of your brother and of Martin Roos. When you were born, the mad wife, Martha, who nursed me, counselled that you should be put to death, lest you should live to bring evil upon me and mine. I refused, and you have brought the evil upon us all, but most, I think, upon your own soul. I do not curse you, I call down no ill upon you; Adrian, I give you over into the hands of God to deal with as He sees fit. Here is money"—and, going to her desk, she took from it a heavy purse of gold which had been prepared for their flight, and thrust it into the pocket of his doublet, wiping her fingers upon her kerchief after she had touched him. "Go hence and never let me see your face again. You were born of my body, you are my flesh and blood, but for this world and the next I renounce you, Adrian. Bastard, I know you not. Murderer, get you gone."
Adrian fell upon the ground; he grovelled before his mother trying to kiss the hem of her dress, while Elsa sobbed aloud hysterically. But Lysbeth spurned him in the face with her foot, saying,
"Get you gone before I call up such servants as are left to me to thrust you to the street."
Then Adrian rose and with great gasps of agony, like some sore-wounded thing, crept from that awful and majestic presence of outraged motherhood, crept down the stairs and away into the city.
When he had gone Lysbeth took pen and paper and wrote in large letters these words:—
"Notice to all the good citizens of Leyden. Adrian, called van Goorl, upon whose written evidence his stepfather, Dirk van Goorl, his half-brother, Foy van Goorl, and the serving-man, Martin Roos, have been condemned to death in the Gevangenhuis by torment, starvation, water, fire, and sword, is known here no longer. Lysbeth van Goorl."
Then she called a servant and gave orders that this paper should be nailed upon the front door of the house where every passer-by might read it.
"It is done," she said. "Cease weeping, Elsa, and lead me to my bed, whence I pray God that I may never rise again."
Two days went by, and a fugitive rode into the city, a worn and wounded man of Leyden, with horror stamped upon his face.
"What news?" cried the people in the market-place, recognising him.
"Mechlin! Mechlin!" he gasped. "I come from Mechlin."
"What of Mechlin and its citizens?" asked Pieter van de Werff, stepping forward.
"Don Frederic has taken it; the Spaniards have butchered them; everyone, old and young, men, women, and children, they are all butchered. I escaped, but for two leagues and more I heard the sound of the death-wail of Mechlin. Give me wine."
They gave him wine, and by slow degrees, in broken sentences, he told the tale of one of the most awful crimes ever committed in the name of Christ by cruel man against God and his own fellows. It was written large in history: we need not repeat it here.
Then, when they knew the truth, up from that multitude of the men of Leyden went a roar of wrath, and a cry to vengeance for their slaughtered kin. They took arms, each what he had, the burgher his sword, the fisherman his fish-spear, the boor his ox-goad or his pick; leaders sprang up to command them, and there arose a shout of "To the gates! To the Gevangenhuis! Free the prisoners!"
They surged round the hateful place, thousands of them. The drawbridge was up, but they bridged the moat. Some shots were fired at them, then the defence ceased. They battered in the massive doors, and, when these fell, rushed to the dens and loosed those who remained alive within them.
But they found no Spaniards, for by now Ramiro and his garrison had vanished away, whither they knew not. A voice cried, "Dirk van Goorl, seek for Dirk van Goorl," and they came to the chamber overlooking the courtyard, shouting, "Van Goorl, we are here!"
They broke in the door, and there they found him, lying upon his pallet, his hands clasped, his face upturned, smitten suddenly dead, not by man, but by the poison of the plague.
Unfed and untended, the end had overtaken him very swiftly.
BOOK THE THIRD
FATHER AND SON
When Adrian left his mother's house in the Bree Straat he wandered away at hazard, for so utterly miserable was he that he could form no plans as to what he was to do or whither he should go. Presently he found himself at the foot of that great mound which in Leyden is still known as the Burg, a strange place with a circular wall upon the top of it, said to have been constructed by the Romans. Up this mound he climbed, and throwing himself upon the grass under an oak which grew in one of the little recesses of those ancient walls, he buried his face in his hands and tried to think.
Think! How could he think? Whenever he shut his eyes there arose before them a vision of his mother's face, a face so fearful in its awesome and unnatural calm that vaguely he wondered how he, the outcast son, upon whom it had been turned like the stare of the Medusa's head, withering his very soul, could have seen it and still live. Why did he live? Why was he not dead, he who had a sword at his side? Was it because of his innocence? He was not guilty of this dreadful crime. He had never intended to hand over Dirk van Goorl and Foy and Martin to the Inquisition. He had only talked about them to a man whom he believed to be a professor of judicial astrology, and who said that he could compound draughts which would bend the wills of women. Could he help it if this fellow was really an officer of the Blood Council? Of course not. But, oh! why had he talked so much? Oh! why had he signed that paper, why did he not let them kill him first? He had signed, and explain as he would, he could never look an honest man in the face again, and less still a woman, if she knew the truth. So he was not still alive because he was innocent, since for all the good that this very doubtful innocence of his was likely to be even to his own conscience, he might almost as well have been guilty. Nor was he alive because he feared to die. He did fear to die horribly, but to the young and impressionable, at any rate, there are situations in which death seems the lesser of two evils. That situation had been well-nigh reached by him last night when he set the hilt of his sword against the floor and shrank back at the prick of its point. To-day it was overpast.
No, he lived on because before he died he had a hate to satisfy, a revenge to work. He would kill this dog, Ramiro, who had tricked him with his crystal gazing and his talk of friendship, who had frightened him with the threat of death until he became like some poor girl and for fear signed away his honour—oh, Heaven! for very fear, he who prided himself upon his noble Spanish blood, the blood of warriors—this treacherous dog, who, having used him, had not hesitated to betray his shame to her from whom most of all it should have been hidden, and, for aught he knew, to the others also. Yes if ever he met him—his own brother—Foy would spit upon him in the street; Foy, who was so hatefully open and honest, who could not understand into what degradation a man's nerves may drag him. And Martin, who had always mistrusted and despised him, why, if he found the chance, he would tear him limb from limb as a kite tears a partridge. And, worse still, Dirk van Goorl, the man who had befriended him, who had bred him up although he was no son of his, but the child of some rival, he would sit there in his prison cell, and while his face fell in and his bones grew daily plainer, till at length his portly presence was as that of a living skeleton, he would sit there by the window, watching the dishes of savoury food pass in and out beneath him, and between the pangs of his long-drawn, hideous agony, put up his prayer to God to pay back to him, Adrian, all the woe that he had caused.
Oh! it was too much. Under the crushing weight of his suffering, his senses left him, and he found such peace as to-day is won by those who are about to pass beneath the surgeon's knife; the peace that but too often wakes to a livelier agony.
When Adrian came to himself again, he felt cold, for already the autumn evening had begun to fall, and there was a feel in the clear, still air as of approaching frost. Also he was hungry (Dirk van Goorl, too, must be growing hungry now, he remembered), for he had eaten nothing since the yesterday. He would go into the town, get food, and then make up his mind what he should do.
Accordingly, descending from the Burg, Adrian went to the best inn in Leyden, and, seating himself at a table under the trees that grew outside of it, bade the waiting-man bring him food and beer. Unconsciously, for he was thinking of other things, in speaking to him, Adrian had assumed the haughty, Spanish hidalgo manner that was customary with him when addressing his inferiors. Even then he noticed, with the indignation of one who dwells upon his dignity, that this server made him no bow, but merely called his order to someone in the house, and, turning his back upon him, began to speak to a man who was loitering near. Soon Adrian became aware that he was the subject of that conversation, for the two of them looked at him out of the corners of their eyes, and jerked their thumbs towards him. Moreover, first one, then two, then quite a number of passers-by stopped and joined in the conversation, which appeared to interest them very much. Boys came also, a dozen or more of them, and women of the fish-wife stamp, and all of these looked at him out of the corner of their eyes, and from time to time jerked their thumbs towards him. Adrian began to feel uneasy and angered, but, drawing down his bonnet, and folding his arms upon his breast, he took no notice. Presently the server thrust his meal and flagon of beer before him with such clattering clumsiness that some of the liquor splashed over upon the table.
"Be more careful and wipe that up," said Adrian.
"Wipe it yourself," answered the man, rudely turning upon his heel.
Now Adrian was minded to be gone, but he was hungry and thirsty, so first, thought he, he would satisfy himself. Accordingly he lifted the tankard and took a long pull at it, when suddenly something struck the bottom of the vessel, jerking liquor over his face and doublet. He set it down with an oath, and laying his hand upon his sword hilt asked who had done this. But the mob, which by now numbered fifty or sixty, and was gathered about him in a triple circle, made no answer. They stood there staring sullenly, and in the fading light their faces seemed dangerous and hostile.
He was frightened. What could they mean? Yes, he was frightened, but he determined to brave it out, and lifted the cover from his meat, when something passed over his shoulder and fell into the dish, something stinking and abominable—to be particular, a dead cat. This was too much. Adrian sprang to his feet, and asked who dared thus to foul his food. The crowd did not jeer, did not even mock; it seemed too much in earnest for gibes, but a voice at the back called out:
"Take it to Dirk van Goorl. He'll be glad of it soon."
Now Adrian understood. All these people knew of his infamy; the whole of Leyden knew that tale. His lips turned dry, and the sweat broke out upon his body. What should he do? Brave it out? He sat down, and the fierce ring of silent faces drew a pace or two nearer. He tried to bid the man to bring more meat, but the words stuck in his throat. Now the mob saw his fear, and of a sudden seemed to augur his guilt from it, and to pass sentence on him in their hearts. At least, they who had been so dumb broke out into yells and hoots.
"Traitor!" "Spanish spy!" "Murderer!" they screamed. "Who gave evidence against our Dirk? Who sold his brother to the rack?"
Then came another shriller note. "Kill him." "Hang him up by the heels and stone him." "Twist off his tongue," and so forth. Out shot a hand, a long, skinny, female hand, and a harsh voice cried, "Give us a keepsake, my pretty boy!" Then there was a sharp wrench at his head, and he knew that from it a lock of hair was missing. This was too much. He ought to have stopped there and let them kill him if they would, but a terror of these human wolves entered his soul and mastered him. To be trodden beneath those mire-stained feet, to be rent by those filthy hands, to be swung up living by the ankles to some pole and then carved piecemeal—he could not bear it. He drew his sword and turned to fly.
"Stop him," yelled the mob, whereon he lunged at them wildly, running a small boy through the arm.
The sight of blood and the screech of the wounded lad settled the question, and those who were foremost came at him with a spring. But Adrian was swifter than they, and before a hand could be laid upon him, amidst a shower of stones and filth, he was speeding down the street. After him came the mob, and then began one of the finest man-hunts ever known in Leyden.
From one street to another, round this turn and round that, sped the quarry, and after him, a swiftly growing pack, came the hounds. Some women drew a washing-line across the street to trip him. Adrian jumped it like a deer. Four men got ahead and tried to cut him off. He dodged them. Down the Bree Straat he went, and on his mother's door he saw a paper and guessed what was written there. They were gaining, they were gaining, for always fresh ones took the place of those who grew weary. There was but one chance for him now. Near by ran the Rhine, and here it was wide and unbridged. Perhaps they would not follow him through the water. In he went, having no choice, and swam for his life. They threw stones and bits of wood at him, and called for bows but, luckily for him, by now the night was falling fast, so that soon he vanished from their sight, and heard them crying to each other that he was drowned.
But Adrian was not drowned, for at that moment he was dragging himself painfully through the deep, greasy mud of the opposing bank and hiding among the old boats and lumber which were piled there, till his breath came to him again. But he could not stay long, for even if he had not been afraid that they would come and find him, it was too cold. So he crept away into the darkness.
Half an hour later, as, resting from their daily labours, Hague Simon and his consort Meg were seated at their evening meal, a knock came at the door, causing them to drop their knives and to look at each other suspiciously.
"Who can it be?" marvelled Meg.
Simon shook his fat head. "I have no appointment," he murmured, "and I don't like strange visitors. There's a nasty spirit abroad in the town, a very nasty spirit."
"Go and see," said Meg.
"Go and see yourself, you——" and he added an epithet calculated to anger the meekest woman.
She answered it with an oath and a metal plate, which struck him in the face, but before the quarrel could go farther, again came the sound of raps, this time louder and more hurried. Then Black Meg went to open the door, while Simon took a knife and hid himself behind a curtain. After some whispering, Meg bade the visitor enter, and ushered him into the room, that same fateful room where the evidence was signed. Now he was in the light, and she saw him.
"Oh! come here," she gasped. "Simon, come and look at our little grandee." So Simon came, whereon the pair of them, clapping their hands to their ribs, burst into screams of laughter.
"It's the Don! Mother of Heaven! it is the Don," gurgled Simon.
Well might they laugh, they who had known Adrian in his pride and rich attire, for before them, crouching against the wall, was a miserable, bareheaded object, his hair stained with mud and rotten eggs, blood running from his temple where a stone had caught him, his garments a mass of filth and dripping water, one boot gone and his hose burst to tatters. For a while the fugitive bore it, then suddenly, without a word, he drew the sword that still remained to him and rushed at the bestial looking Simon, who skipped away round the table.
"Stop laughing," he said, "or I will put this through you. I am a desperate man."
"You look it," said Simon, but he laughed no more, for the joke had become risky. "What do you want, Heer Adrian?"
"I want food and lodging for so long as I please to stop here. Don't be afraid, I have money to pay you."
"I am thinking that you are a dangerous guest," broke in Meg.
"I am," replied Adrian; "but I tell you that I shall be more dangerous outside. I was not the only one concerned in that matter of the evidence, and if they get me they will have you too. You understand?"
Meg nodded. She understood perfectly; for those of her trade Leyden was growing a risky habitation.
"We will accommodate you with our best, Mynheer," she said. "Come upstairs to the Master's room and put on some of his clothes. They will fit you well; you are much of the same figure."
Adrian's breath caught in his throat.
"Is he here?" he asked.
"No, but he keeps his room."
"Is he coming back?"
"I suppose so, sometime, as he keeps his room. Do you want to see him?"
"Very much, but you needn't mention it; my business can wait till we meet. Get my clothes washed and dried as quickly as you can, will you? I don't care about wearing other men's garments."
A quarter of an hour later Adrian, cleaned and clothed, different indeed to look on from the torn and hunted fugitive, re-entered the sitting-room. As he came, clad in Ramiro's suit, Meg nudged her husband and whispered, "Like, ain't they?"
"Like as two devils in hell," Simon answered critically, then added, "Your food is ready; come, Mynheer, and eat."
So Adrian ate and drank heartily enough, for the meat and wine were good, and he needed them. Also it rejoiced him in a dull way to find that there was something left in which he could take pleasure, even if it were but eating and drinking. When he had finished he told his story, or so much of it as he wished to tell, and afterwards went to bed wondering whether his hosts would murder him in his sleep for the purse of gold he carried, half hoping that they might indeed, and slept for twelve hours without stirring.
All that day and until the evening of the next Adrian sat in the home of his spy hosts recovering his strength and brooding over his fearful fall. Black Meg brought in news of what passed without; thus he learned that his mother had sickened with the plague, and that the sentence of starvation was being carried out upon the body of her husband, Dirk van Goorl. He learned also the details of the escape of Foy and Martin, which were the talk of all the city. In the eyes of the common people they had become heroes, and some local poet had made a song about them which men were singing in the streets. Two verses of that song were devoted to him, Adrian; indeed, Black Meg repeated them to him word by word with a suppressed but malignant joy. Yes, this was what had happened; his brother had become a popular hero and he, Adrian, who in every way was so infinitely that brother's superior, an object of popular execration. And of all this the man, Ramiro, was the cause.
Well, he was waiting for Ramiro. That was why he risked his life by staying in Leyden. Sooner or later Ramiro would be bound to visit this haunt of his, and then—here Adrian drew his rapier and lunged and parried, and finally with hissing breath drove it down into the wood of the flooring, picturing, in a kind of luxury of the imagination, that the throat of Ramiro was between its point and the ground. Of course in the struggle that must come, the said Ramiro, who doubtless was a skilful swordsman, might get the upper hand; it might be his, Adrian's throat, which was between the point and the ground. Well, if so, it scarcely mattered; he did not care. At any rate, for this once he would play the man and then let the devil take his own; himself, or Ramiro, or both of them.
On the afternoon of the second day Adrian heard shouting in the streets, and Hague Simon came in and told him that a man had arrived with bad news from Mechlin; what it was he could not say, he was going to find out. A couple of hours went by and there was more shouting, this time of a determined and ordered nature. Then Black Meg appeared and informed him that the news from Mechlin was that everyone in that unhappy town had been slain by the Spaniards; that further the people of Leyden had risen and were marching to attack the Gevangenhuis. Out she hurried again, for when the waters were stormy then Black Meg must go afishing.
Another hour went by, and once more the street door was opened with a key, to be carefully shut when the visitor had entered.
Simon or Meg, thought Adrian, but as he could not be sure he took the precaution of hiding himself behind the curtain. The door of the room opened, and not Meg or Simon, but Ramiro entered. So his opportunity had come!
The Master seemed disturbed. He sat down upon a chair and wiped his brow with a silk handkerchief. Then aloud, and shaking his fist in the air, he uttered a most comprehensive curse upon everybody and everything, but especially upon the citizens of Leyden. After this once more he lapsed into silence, sitting, his one eye fixed upon vacancy, and twisting his waxed moustaches with his hand.
Now was Adrian's chance; he had only to step out from behind the curtain and run him through before he could rise from his seat. The plan had great charms, and doubtless he might have put it into execution had not Adrian's histrionic instincts stayed his hand. If he killed Ramiro thus, he would never know why he had been killed, and above all things Adrian desired that he should know. He wanted not only to wreak his wrongs, but to let his adversary learn why they were wreaked. Also, to do him justice, he preferred a fair fight to a secret stab delivered from behind, for gentlemen fought, but assassins stabbed.
Still, as there were no witnesses, he might have been willing to waive this point, if only he could make sure that Ramiro should learn the truth before he died. He thought of springing out and wounding him, and then, after he had explained matters, finishing him off at his leisure. But how could he be sure of his sword-thrust, which might do too much or too little? No, come what would, the matter must be concluded in the proper fashion.
Choosing his opportunity, Adrian stepped from behind the hanging and placed himself between Ramiro and the door, the bolt of which he shot adroitly that no one might interrupt their interview. At the sound Ramiro started and looked up. In an instant he grasped the situation, and though his bronzed face paled, for he knew that his danger was great, rose to it, as might have been expected from a gentleman of his long and varied experience.
"The Heer Adrian called van Goorl, as I live!" he said. "My friend and pupil, I am glad to see you; but, if I might ask, although the times are rough, why in this narrow room do you wave about a naked rapier in that dangerous fashion?"
"Villain," answered Adrian, "you know why; you have betrayed me and mine, and I am dishonoured, and now I am going to kill you in payment."
"I see," said Ramiro, "the van Goorl affair again. I can never be clear of it for half an hour even. Well, before you begin, it may interest you to know that your worthy stepfather, after a couple of days' fasting, is by now, I suppose, free, for the rabble have stormed the Gevangenhuis. Truth, however, compels me to add that he is suffering badly from the plague, which your excellent mother, with a resource that does her credit, managed to communicate to him, thinking this end less disagreeable on the whole than that which the law had appointed."
Thus spoke Ramiro, slowly and with purpose, for all the while he was so manoeuvring that the light from the lattice fell full upon his antagonist, leaving himself in the shadow, a position which experience taught him would prove of advantage in emergency.
Adrian made no answer, but lifted his sword.
"One moment, young gentleman," went on Ramiro, drawing his own weapon and putting himself on guard; "are you in earnest? Do you really wish to fight?"
"Yes," answered Adrian.
"What a fool you must be," mused Ramiro. "Why at your age should you seek to be rid of life, seeing that you have no more chance against me than a rat in a corner against a terrier dog? Look!" and suddenly he lunged most viciously straight at his heart. But Adrian was watching and parried the thrust.
"Ah!" continued Ramiro, "I knew you would do that, otherwise I should not have let fly, for all the angels know I do not wish to hurt you." But to himself he added, "The lad is more dangerous than I thought—my life hangs on it. The old fault, friend, too high, too high!"
Then Adrian came at him like a tiger, and for the next thirty seconds nothing was heard in the room but the raspings of steel and the hard breathing of the two men.
At first Adrian had somewhat the better of it, for his assault was fierce, and he forced the older and cooler man to be satisfied with guarding himself. He did more indeed, for presently thrusting over Ramiro's guard, he wounded him slightly in the left arm. The sting of his hurt seemed to stir Ramiro's blood; at any rate he changed his tactics and began to attack in turn. Now, moreover, his skill and seasoned strength came to his aid; slowly but surely Adrian was driven back before him till his retreat in the narrow confines of the room became continuous. Suddenly, half from exhaustion and half because of a stumble, he reeled right across it, to the further wall indeed. With a guttural sound of triumph Ramiro sprang after him to make an end of him while his guard was down, caught his foot on a joined stool which had been overset in the struggle, and fell prone to the ground.
This was Adrian's chance. In an instant he was on him and had the point of his rapier at his throat. But he did not stab at once, not from any compunction, but because he wished his enemy to feel a little before he died, for, like all his race, Adrian could be vindictive and bloodthirsty enough when his hate was roused. Rapidly Ramiro considered the position. In a physical sense he was helpless, for Adrian had one foot upon his breast, the other upon his sword-arm, and the steel at his throat. Therefore if time were given him he must trust to his wit.
"Make ready, you are about to die," said Adrian.
"I think not," replied the prostrate Ramiro.
"Why not?" asked Adrian, astonished.
"If you will be so kind as to move that sword-point a little—it is pricking me—thank you. Now I will tell you why. Because it is not usual for a son to stick his father as though he were a farmyard pig."
"Son? Father?" said Adrian. "Do you mean——?"
"Yes, I do mean that we have the happiness of filling those sacred relationships to each other."
"You lie," said Adrian.
"Let me stand up and give me my sword, young sir, and you shall pay for that. Never yet did a man tell the Count Juan de Montalvo that he lied, and live."
"Prove it," said Adrian.
"In this position, to which misfortune, not skill, has reduced me, I can prove nothing. But if you doubt it, ask your mother, or your hosts, or consult the registers of the Groote Kerke, and see whether on a date, which I will give you, Juan de Montalvo was, or was not, married to Lysbeth van Hout, of which marriage was born one Adrian. Man, I will prove it to you. Had I not been your father, would you have been saved from the Inquisition with others, and should I not within the last five minutes had run you through twice over, for though you fought well, your swordsmanship is no match for mine?"
"Even if you are my father, why should I not kill you, who have forced me to your will by threats of death, you who wronged and shamed me, you because of whom I have been hunted through the streets like a mad dog, and made an outcast?" And Adrian looked so fierce, and brought down his sword so close, that hope sank very low in Ramiro's heart.
"There are reasons which might occur to the religious," he said, "but I will give you one that will appeal to your own self-interest. If you kill me, the curse which follows the parricide will follow you to your last hour—of the beyond I say nothing."
"It would need to be a heavy one," answered Adrian, "if it was worse than that of which I know." But there was hesitation in his voice, for Ramiro, the skilful player upon human hearts, had struck the right string, and Adrian's superstitious nature answered to the note.
"Son," went on Ramiro, "be wise and hold your hand before you do that for which all hell itself would cry shame upon you. You think that I have been your enemy, but it is not so; all this while I have striven to work you good, but how can I talk lying thus like a calf before its butcher? Take the swords, both of them, and let me sit up, and I will tell you all my plans for the advantage of us both. Or if you wish it, thrust on and make an end. I will not plead for my life with you; it is not worthy of an hidalgo of Spain. Moreover, what is life to me who have known so many sorrows that I should seek to cling to it? Oh! God, who seest all, receive my soul, and I pray Thee pardon this youth his horrible crime, for he is mad and foolish, and will live to sorrow for the deed."
Since it was no further use to him, Ramiro had let the sword fall from his hand. Drawing it towards him with the point of his own weapon, Adrian stooped and picked it up.
"Rise," he said, lifting his foot, "I can kill you afterwards if I wish."
Could he have looked into the heart of his new-found parent as stiff and aching he staggered to his feet, the execution would not have been long delayed.