A Tale Of The Dutch
By H. Rider Haggard
First Published 1901.
In token of the earnest reverence of a man of a later generation for his character, and for that life work whereof we inherit the fruits to-day, this tale of the times he shaped is dedicated to the memory of one of the greatest and most noble-hearted beings that the world has known; the immortal William, called the Silent, of Nassau.
There are, roughly, two ways of writing an historical romance—the first to choose some notable and leading characters of the time to be treated, and by the help of history attempt to picture them as they were; the other, to make a study of that time and history with the country in which it was enacted, and from it to deduce the necessary characters.
In the case of "Lysbeth" the author has attempted this second method. By an example of the trials, adventures, and victories of a burgher family of the generation of Philip II. and William the Silent, he strives to set before readers of to-day something of the life of those who lived through perhaps the most fearful tyranny that the western world has known. How did they live, one wonders; how is it that they did not die of very terror, those of them who escaped the scaffold, the famine and the pestilence?
This and another—Why were such things suffered to be?—seem problems worth consideration, especially by the young, who are so apt to take everything for granted, including their own religious freedom and personal security. How often, indeed, do any living folk give a grateful thought to the forefathers who won for us these advantages, and many others with them?
The writer has sometimes heard travellers in the Netherlands express surprise that even in an age of almost universal decoration its noble churches are suffered to remain smeared with melancholy whitewash. Could they look backward through the centuries and behold with the mind's eye certain scenes that have taken place within these very temples and about their walls, they would marvel no longer. Here we are beginning to forget the smart at the price of which we bought deliverance from the bitter yoke of priest and king, but yonder the sword bit deeper and smote more often. Perhaps that is why in Holland they still love whitewash, which to them may be a symbol, a perpetual protest; and remembering stories that have been handed down as heirlooms to this day, frown at the sight of even the most modest sacerdotal vestment. Those who are acquainted with the facts of their history and deliverance will scarcely wonder at the prejudice.
A TALE OF THE DUTCH
BOOK THE FIRST
THE WOLF AND THE BADGER
The time was in or about the year 1544, when the Emperor Charles V. ruled the Netherlands, and our scene the city of Leyden.
Any one who has visited this pleasant town knows that it lies in the midst of wide, flat meadows, and is intersected by many canals filled with Rhine water. But now, as it was winter, near to Christmas indeed, the meadows and the quaint gabled roofs of the city lay buried beneath a dazzling sheet of snow, while, instead of boats and barges, skaters glided up and down the frozen surface of the canals, which were swept for their convenience. Outside the walls of the town, not far from the Morsch poort, or gate, the surface of the broad moat which surrounded them presented a sight as gay as it was charming. Just here one of the branches of the Rhine ran into this moat, and down it came the pleasure-seekers in sledges, on skates, or afoot. They were dressed, most of them, in their best attire, for the day was a holiday set apart for a kind of skating carnival, with sleighing matches, such games as curling, and other amusements.
Among these merry folk might have been seen a young lady of two or three and twenty years of age, dressed in a coat of dark green cloth trimmed with fur, and close-fitting at the waist. This coat opened in front, showing a broidered woollen skirt, but over the bust it was tightly buttoned and surmounted by a stiff ruff of Brussels lace. Upon her head she wore a high-crowned beaver hat, to which the nodding ostrich feather was fastened by a jewelled ornament of sufficient value to show that she was a person of some means. In fact, this lady was the only child of a sea captain and shipowner named Carolus van Hout, who, whilst still a middle-aged man, had died about a year before, leaving her heiress to a very considerable fortune. This circumstance, with the added advantages of a very pretty face, in which were set two deep and thoughtful grey eyes, and a figure more graceful than was common among the Netherlander women, caused Lysbeth van Hout to be much sought after and admired, especially by the marriageable bachelors of Leyden.
On this occasion, however, she was unescorted except by a serving woman somewhat older than herself, a native of Brussels, Greta by name, who in appearance was as attractive as in manner she was suspiciously discreet.
As Lysbeth skated down the canal towards the moat many of the good burghers of Leyden took off their caps to her, especially the young burghers, one or two of whom had hopes that she would choose them to be her cavalier for this day's fete. Some of the elders, also, asked her if she would care to join their parties, thinking that, as she was an orphan without near male relations, she might be glad of their protection in times when it was wise for beautiful young women to be protected. With this excuse and that, however, she escaped from them all, for Lysbeth had already made her own arrangements.
At that date there was living in Leyden a young man of four or five and twenty, named Dirk van Goorl, a distant cousin of her own. Dirk was a native of the little town of Alkmaar, and the second son of one of its leading citizens, a brass founder by trade. As in the natural course of events the Alkmaar business would descend to his elder brother, their father appointed him to a Leyden firm, in which, after eight or nine years of hard work, he had become a junior partner. While he was still living, Lysbeth's father had taken a liking to the lad, with the result that he grew intimate at the house which, from the first, was open to him as a kinsman. After the death of Carolus van Hout, Dirk had continued to visit there, especially on Sundays, when he was duly and ceremoniously received by Lysbeth's aunt, a childless widow named Clara van Ziel, who acted as her guardian. Thus, by degrees, favoured with such ample opportunity, a strong affection had sprung up between these two young people, although as yet they were not affianced, nor indeed had either of them said a word of open love to the other.
This abstinence may seem strange, but some explanation of their self-restraint was to be found in Dirk's character. In mind he was patient, very deliberate in forming his purposes, and very sure in carrying them out. He felt impulses like other men, but he did not give way to them. For two years or more he had loved Lysbeth, but being somewhat slow at reading the ways of women he was not quite certain that she loved him, and above everything on earth he dreaded a rebuff. Moreover he knew her to be an heiress, and as his own means were still humble, and his expectations from his father small, he did not feel justified in asking her in marriage until his position was more assured. Had the Captain Carolus still been living the case would have been different, for then he could have gone to him. But he was dead, and Dirk's fine and sensitive nature recoiled from the thought that it might be said of him that he had taken advantage of the inexperience of a kinswoman in order to win her fortune. Also deep down in his mind he had a sincerer and quite secret reason for reticence, whereof more in its proper place.
Thus matters stood between these two. To-day, however, though only with diffidence and after some encouragement from the lady, he had asked leave to be his cousin's cavalier at the ice fete, and when she consented, readily enough, appointed the moat as their place of meeting. This was somewhat less than Lysbeth expected, for she wished his escort through the town. But, when she hinted as much, Dirk explained that he would not be able to leave the works before three o'clock, as the metal for a large bell had been run into the casting, and he must watch it while it cooled.
So, followed only by her maid, Greta, Lysbeth glided lightly as a bird down the ice path on to the moat, and across it, through the narrow cut, to the frozen mere beyond, where the sports were to be held and the races run. There the scene was very beautiful.
Behind her lay the roofs of Leyden, pointed, picturesque, and covered with sheets of snow, while above them towered the bulk of the two great churches of St. Peter and St. Pancras, and standing on a mound known as the Burg, the round tower which is supposed to have been built by the Romans. In front stretched the flat expanse of white meadows, broken here and there by windmills with narrow waists and thin tall sails, and in the distance, by the church towers of other towns and villages.
Immediately before her, in strange contrast to this lifeless landscape, lay the peopled mere, fringed around with dead reeds standing so still in the frosty air that they might have been painted things. On this mere half the population of Leyden seemed to be gathered; at least there were thousands of them, shouting, laughing, and skimming to and fro in their bright garments like flocks of gay-plumaged birds. Among them, drawn by horses with bells tied to their harness, glided many sledges of wickerwork and wood mounted upon iron runners, their fore-ends fashioned to quaint shapes, such as the heads of dogs or bulls, or Tritons. Then there were vendors of cakes and sweetmeats, vendors of spirits also, who did a good trade on this cold day. Beggars too were numerous, and among them deformities, who, nowadays, would be hidden in charitable homes, slid about in wooden boxes, which they pushed along with crutches. Lastly many loafers had gathered there with stools for fine ladies to sit on while the skates were bound to their pretty feet, and chapmen with these articles for sale and straps wherewith to fasten them. To complete the picture the huge red ball of the sun was sinking to the west, and opposite to it the pale full moon began already to gather light and life.
The scene seemed so charming and so happy that Lysbeth, who was young, and now that she had recovered from the shock of her beloved father's death, light-hearted, ceased her forward movement and poised herself upon her skates to watch it for a space. While she stood thus a little apart, a woman came towards her from the throng, not as though she were seeking her, but aimlessly, much as a child's toy-boat is driven by light, contrary winds upon the summer surface of a pond.
She was a remarkable-looking woman of about thirty-five years of age, tall and bony in make, with deep-set eyes, light grey of colour, that seemed now to flash fiercely and now to waver, as though in memory of some great dread. From beneath a coarse woollen cap a wisp of grizzled hair fell across the forehead, where it lay like the forelock of a horse. Indeed, the high cheekbones, scarred as though by burns, wide-spread nostrils and prominent white teeth, whence the lips had strangely sunk away, gave the whole countenance a more or less equine look which this falling lock seemed to heighten. For the rest the woman was poorly and not too plentifully clad in a gown of black woollen, torn and stained as though with long use and journeys, while on her feet she wore wooden clogs, to which were strapped skates that were not fellows, one being much longer than the other.
Opposite to Lysbeth this strange, gaunt person stopped, contemplating her with a dreamy eye. Presently she seemed to recognise her, for she said in a quick, low voice, the voice of one who lives in terror of being overheard:—
"That's a pretty dress of yours, Van Hout's daughter. Oh, yes, I know you; your father used to play with me when I was a child, and once he kissed me on the ice at just such a fete as this. Think of it! Kissed me, Martha the Mare," and she laughed hoarsely, and went on: "Yes, well-warmed and well-fed, and, without doubt, waiting for a gallant to kiss you"; here she turned and waved her hand towards the people—"all well-warmed and well-fed, and all with lovers and husbands and children to kiss. But I tell you, Van Hout's daughter, as I have dared to creep from my hiding hole in the great lake to tell all of them who will listen, that unless they cast out the cursed Spaniard, a day shall come when the folk of Leyden must perish by thousands of hunger behind those walls. Yes, yes, unless they cast out the cursed Spaniard and his Inquisition. Oh, I know him, I know him, for did they not make me carry my own husband to the stake upon my back? And have you heard why, Van Hout's daughter? Because what I had suffered in their torture-dens had made my face—yes, mine that once was so beautiful—like the face of a horse, and they said that 'a horse ought to be ridden.'"
Now, while this poor excited creature, one of a whole class of such people who in those sad days might be found wandering about the Netherlands crazy with their griefs and sufferings, and living only for revenge, poured out these broken sentences, Lysbeth, terrified, shrank back before her. As she shrank the other followed, till presently Lysbeth saw her expression of rage and hate change to one of terror. In another instant, muttering something about a request for alms which she did not wait to receive, the woman had wheeled round and fled away as fast as her skates would carry her—which was very fast indeed.
Turning about to find what had frightened her, Lysbeth saw standing on the bank of the mere, so close that she must have overheard every word, but behind the screen of a leafless bush, a tall, forbidding-looking woman, who held in her hand some broidered caps which apparently she was offering for sale. These caps she began to slowly fold up and place one by one in a hide satchel that was hung about her shoulders. All this while she was watching Lysbeth with her keen black eyes, except when from time to time she took them off her to follow the flight of that person who had called herself the Mare.
"You keep ill company, lady," said the cap-seller in a harsh voice.
"It was none of my seeking," answered Lysbeth, astonished into making a reply.
"So much the better for you, lady, although she seemed to know you and to know also that you would listen to her song. Unless my eyes deceived me, which is not often, that woman is an evil-doer and a worker of magic like her dead husband Van Muyden; a heretic, a blasphemer of the Holy Church, a traitor to our Lord the Emperor, and one," she added with a snarl, "with a price upon her head that before night will, I hope, be in Black Meg's pocket." Then, walking with long firm steps towards a fat man who seemed to be waiting for her, the tall, black-eyed pedlar passed with him into the throng, where Lysbeth lost sight of them.
Lysbeth watched them go, and shivered. To her knowledge she had never seen this woman before, but she knew enough of the times they lived in to be sure that she was a spy of the priests. Already there were such creatures moving about in every gathering, yes, and in many a private place, who were paid to obtain evidence against suspected heretics. Whether they won it by fair means or by foul mattered not, provided they could find something, and it need be little indeed, to justify the Inquisition in getting to its work.
As for the other woman, the Mare, doubtless she was one of those wicked outcasts, accursed by God and man, who were called heretics; people who said dreadful things about the Pope and the Church and God's priests, having been misled and stirred up thereto by a certain fiend in human form named Luther. Lysbeth shuddered at the thought and crossed herself, for in those days she was an excellent Catholic. Yet the wanderer said that she had known her father, so that she must be as well born as herself—and then that dreadful story—no, she could not bear to think of it. But of course heretics deserved all these things; of that there could be no doubt whatever, for had not her father confessor told her that thus alone might their souls be saved from the grasp of the Evil One?
The thought was comforting, still Lysbeth felt upset, and not a little rejoiced when she saw Dirk van Goorl skating towards her accompanied by another young man, also a cousin of her own on her mother's side who was destined in days to come to earn himself an immortal renown—young Pieter van de Werff. The two took off their bonnets to her, Dirk van Goorl revealing in the act a head of fair hair beneath which his steady blue eyes shone in a rather thick-set, self-contained face. Lysbeth's temper, always somewhat quick, was ruffled, and she showed it in her manner.
"I thought, cousins, that we were to meet at three, and the kirk clock yonder has just chimed half-past," she said, addressing them both, but looking—not too sweetly—at Dirk van Goorl.
"That's right, cousin," answered Pieter, a pleasant-faced and alert young man, "look at him, scold him, for he is to blame. Ever since a quarter past two have I—I who must drive a sledge in the great race and am backed to win—been waiting outside that factory in the snow, but, upon my honour, he did not appear until seven minutes since. Yes, we have done the whole distance in seven minutes, and I call that very good skating."
"I thought as much," said Lysbeth. "Dirk can only keep an appointment with a church bell or a stadhuis chandelier."
"It was not my fault," broke in Dirk in his slow voice; "I have my business to attend. I promised to wait until the metal had cooled sufficiently, and hot bronze takes no account of ice-parties and sledge races."
"So I suppose that you stopped to blow on it, cousin. Well, the result is that, being quite unescorted, I have been obliged to listen to things which I did not wish to hear."
"What do you mean?" asked Dirk, taking fire at once.
Then she told them something of what the woman who called herself the Mare had said to her, adding, "Doubtless the poor creature is a heretic and deserves all that has happened to her. But it is dreadfully sad, and I came here to enjoy myself, not to be sad."
Between the two young men there passed a glance which was full of meaning. But it was Dirk who spoke. The other, more cautious, remained silent.
"Why do you say that, Cousin Lysbeth?" he asked in a new voice, a voice thick and eager. "Why do you say that she deserves all that can happen to her? I have heard of this poor creature who is called Mother Martha, or the Mare, although I have never seen her myself. She was noble-born, much better born than any of us three, and very fair—once they called her the Lily of Brussels—when she was the Vrouw van Muyden, and she has suffered dreadfully, for one reason only, because she and hers did not worship God as you worship Him."
"As we worship Him," broke in Van de Werff with a cough.
"No," answered Dirk sullenly, "as our Cousin Lysbeth van Hout worships Him. For that reason only they killed her husband and her little son, and drove her mad, so that she lives among the reeds of the Haarlemer Meer like a beast in its den; yes, they, the Spaniards and their Spanish priests, as I daresay that they will kill us also."
"Don't you think that it is getting rather cold standing here?" interrupted Pieter van de Werff before she could answer. "Look, the sledge races are just beginning. Come, cousin, give me your hand," and, taking Lysbeth by the arm, he skated off into the throng, followed at a distance by Dirk and the serving-maid, Greta.
"Cousin," he whispered as he went, "this is not my place, it is Dirk's place, but I pray you as you love him—I beg your pardon—as you esteem a worthy relative—do not enter into a religious argument with him here in public, where even the ice and sky are two great ears. It is not safe, little cousin, I swear to you that it is not safe."
In the centre of the mere the great event of the day, the sledge races, were now in progress. As the competitors were many these must be run in heats, the winners of each heat standing on one side to compete in the final contest. Now these victors had a pretty prerogative not unlike that accorded to certain dancers in the cotillion of modern days. Each driver of a sledge was bound to carry a passenger in the little car in front of him, his own place being on the seat behind, whence he directed the horse by means of reins supported upon a guide-rod so fashioned that it lifted them above the head of the traveller in the car. This passenger he could select from among the number of ladies who were present at the games; unless, indeed, the gentleman in charge of her chose to deny him in set form; namely, by stepping forward and saying in the appointed phrase, "No, for this happy hour she is mine."
Among the winners of these heats was a certain Spanish officer, the Count Don Juan de Montalvo, who, as it chanced, in the absence on leave of his captain, was at that date the commander of the garrison at Leyden. He was a man still young, only about thirty indeed, reported to be of noble birth, and handsome in the usual Castilian fashion. That is to say, he was tall, of a graceful figure, dark-eyed, strong-featured, with a somewhat humorous expression, and of very good if exaggerated address. As he had but recently come to Leyden, very little was known about this attractive cavalier beyond that he was well spoken of by the priests and, according to report, a favourite with the Emperor. Also the ladies admired him much.
For the rest everything about him was handsome like his person, as might be expected in the case of a man reputed to be as rich as he was noble. Thus his sledge was shaped and coloured to resemble a great black wolf rearing itself up to charge. The wooden head was covered in wolf skin and adorned by eyes of yellow glass and great fangs of ivory. Round the neck also ran a gilded collar hung with a silver shield, whereon were painted the arms of its owner, a knight striking the chains from off a captive Christian saint, and the motto of the Montalvos, "Trust to God and me." His black horse, too, of the best breed, imported from Spain, glittered in harness decorated with gilding, and bore a splendid plume of dyed feathers rising from the head-band.
Lysbeth happened to be standing near to the spot where this gallant had halted after his first victory. She was in the company of Dirk van Goorl alone—for as he was the driver of one of the competing sledges, her other cousin, Pieter van de Werff, had now been summoned away. Having nothing else to do at the moment, she approached and not unnaturally admired this brilliant equipage, although in truth it was the sledge and the horse rather than their driver which attracted her attention. As for the Count himself she knew him slightly, having been introduced to and danced a measure with him at a festival given by a grandee of the town. On that occasion he was courteous to her in the Spanish fashion, rather too courteous, she thought, but as this was the manner of Castilian dons when dealing with burgher maidens she paid no more attention to the matter.
The Captain Montalvo saw Lysbeth among the throng and recognised her, for he lifted his plumed hat and bowed to her with just that touch of condescension which in those days a Spaniard showed when greeting one whom he considered his inferior. In the sixteenth century it was understood that all the world were the inferiors to those whom God had granted to be born in Spain, the English who rated themselves at a valuation of their own—and were careful to announce the fact—alone excepted.
An hour or so later, after the last heat had been run, a steward of the ceremonies called aloud to the remaining competitors to select their passengers and prepare for the final contest. Accordingly each Jehu, leaving his horse in charge of an attendant, stepped up to some young lady who evidently was waiting for him, and led her by the hand to his sledge. While Lysbeth was watching this ceremony with amusement—for these selections were always understood to show a strong preference on behalf of the chooser for the chosen—she was astonished to hear a well-trained voice addressing her, and on looking up to see Don Juan de Montalvo bowing almost to the ice.
"Senora," he said in Castilian, a tongue which Lysbeth understood well enough, although she only spoke it when obliged, "unless my ears deceived me, I heard you admiring my horse and sledge. Now, with the permission of your cavalier," and he bowed courteously to Dirk, "I name you as my passenger for the great race, knowing that you will bring me fortune. Have I your leave, Senor?"
Now if there was a people on earth whom Dirk van Goorl hated, the Spaniards were that people, and if there lived a cavalier who he would prefer should not take his cousin Lysbeth for a lonely drive, that cavalier was the Count Juan de Montalvo. But as a young man, Dirk was singularly diffident and so easily confused that on the spur of the moment it was quite possible for a person of address to make him say what he did not mean. Thus, on the present occasion, when he saw this courtly Spaniard bowing low to him, a humble Dutch tradesman, he was overwhelmed, and mumbled in reply, "Certainly, certainly."
If a glance could have withered him, without doubt Dirk would immediately have been shrivelled to nothing. To say that Lysbeth was angry is too little, for in truth she was absolutely furious. She did not like this Spaniard, and hated the idea of a long interview with him alone. Moreover, she knew that among her fellow townspeople there was a great desire that the Count should not win this race, which in its own fashion was the event of the year, whereas, if she appeared as his companion it would be supposed that she was anxious for his success. Lastly—and this was the chiefest sore—although in theory the competitors had a right to ask any one to whom they took a fancy to travel in their sledges, in practise they only sought the company of young women with whom they were on the best of terms, and who were already warned of their intention.
In an instant these thoughts flashed through her mind, but all she did was to murmur something about the Heer van Goorl——
"Has already given his consent, like an unselfish gentleman," broke in Captain Juan tendering her his hand.
Now, without absolutely making a scene, which then, as to-day, ladies considered an ill-bred thing to do, there was no escape, since half Leyden gathered at these "sledge choosings," and many eyes were on her and the Count. Therefore, because she must, Lysbeth took the proferred hand, and was led to the sledge, catching, as she passed to it through the throng, more than one sour look from the men and more than one exclamation of surprise, real or affected, on the lips of the ladies of her acquaintance. These manifestations, however, put her upon her mettle. So determining that at least she would not look sullen or ridiculous, she began to enter into the spirit of the adventure, and smiled graciously while the Captain Montalvo wrapped a magnificent apron of wolf skins about her knees.
When all was ready her charioteer took the reins and settled himself upon the little seat behind the sleigh, which was then led into line by a soldier servant.
"Where is the course, Senor?" Lysbeth asked, hoping that it would be a short one.
But in this she was to be disappointed, for he answered:
"Up to the little Quarkel Mere, round the island in the middle of it, and back to this spot, something over a league in all. Now, Senora, speak to me no more at present, but hold fast and have no fear, for at least I drive well, and my horse is sure-footed and roughed for ice. This is a race that I would give a hundred gold pieces to win, since your countrymen, who contend against me, have sworn that I shall lose it, and I tell you at once, Senora, that grey horse will press me hard."
Following the direction of his glance, Lysbeth's eye lit upon the next sledge. It was small, fashioned and painted to resemble a grey badger, that silent, stubborn, and, if molested, savage brute, which will not loose its grip until the head is hacked from off its body. The horse, which matched it well in colour, was of Flemish breed; rather a raw-boned animal, with strong quarters and an ugly head, but renowned in Leyden for its courage and staying power. What interested Lysbeth most, however, was to discover that the charioteer was none other than Pieter van de Werff, though now when she thought of it, she remembered he had told her that his sledge was named the Badger. In his choice of passenger she noted, too, not without a smile, that he showed his cautious character, disdainful of any immediate glory, so long as the end in view could be attained. For there in the sleigh sat no fine young lady, decked out in brave attire, who might be supposed to look at him with tender eyes, but a little fair-haired mate aged nine, who was in fact his sister. As he explained afterwards, the rules provided that a lady passenger must be carried, but said nothing of her age and weight.
Now the competitors, eight of them, were in a line, and coming forward, the master of the course, in a voice that every one might hear, called out the conditions of the race and the prize for which it was to be run, a splendid glass goblet engraved with the cross-keys, the Arms of Leyden. This done, after asking if all were ready, he dropped a little flag, whereon the horses were loosed and away they went.
Before a minute had passed, forgetting all her doubts and annoyances, Lysbeth was lost in the glorious excitement of the moment. Like birds in the heavens, cleaving the keen, crisp air, they sped forward over the smooth ice. The gay throng vanished, the dead reeds and stark bushes seemed to fly away from them. The only sounds in their ears were the rushing of the wind, the swish of the iron runners, and the hollow tapping of the hooves of their galloping horses. Certain sledges drew ahead in the first burst, but the Wolf and the Badger were not among these. The Count de Montalvo was holding in his black stallion, and as yet the grey Flemish gelding looped along with a constrained and awkward stride. When, passing from the little mere, they entered the straight of the canal, these two were respectively fourth and fifth. Up the course they sped, through a deserted snow-clad country, past the church of the village of Alkemaade. Now, half a mile or more away appeared the Quarkel Mere, and in the centre of it the island which they must turn. They reached it, they were round it, and when their faces were once more set homewards, Lysbeth noted that the Wolf and the Badger were third and fourth in the race, some one having dropped behind. Half a mile more and they were second and third; another half mile and they were first and second with perhaps a mile to go. Then the fight began.
Yard by yard the speed increased, and yard by yard the black stallion drew ahead. Now in front of them lay a furlong or more of bad ice encumbered with lumps of frozen snow that had not been cleared away, which caused the sleigh to shake and jump as it struck. Lysbeth looked round.
"The Badger is coming up," she said.
Montalvo heard, and for the first time laid his whip upon the haunches of his horse, which answered gallantly. But still the Badger came up. The grey was the stronger beast, and had begun to put out his strength. Presently his ugly head was behind them, for Lysbeth felt the breath from his nostrils blowing on her, and saw their steam. Then it was past, for the steam blew back into her face; yes, and she could see the eager eyes of the child in the grey sledge. Now they were neck and neck, and the rough ice was done with. Six hundred yards away, not more, lay the goal, and all about them, outside the line of the course, were swift skaters travelling so fast that their heads were bent forward and down to within three feet of the ice.
Van de Werff called to his horse, and the grey began to gain. Montalvo lashed the stallion, and once more they passed him. But the black was failing, and he saw it, for Lysbeth heard him curse in Spanish. Then of a sudden, after a cunning glance at his adversary, the Count pulled upon the right rein, and a shrill voice rose upon the air, the voice of the little girl in the other sledge.
"Take care, brother," it cried, "he will overthrow us."
True enough, in another moment the black would have struck the grey sideways. Lysbeth saw Van de Werff rise from his seat and throw his weight backward, dragging the grey on to his haunches. By an inch—not more—the Wolf sleigh missed the gelding. Indeed, one runner of it struck his hoof, and the high wood work of the side brushed and cut his nostril.
"A foul, a foul!" yelled the skaters, and it was over. Once more they were speeding forward, but now the black had a lead of at least ten yards, for the grey must find his stride again. They were in the straight; the course was lined with hundreds of witnesses, and from the throats of every one of them arose a great cry, or rather two cries.
"The Spaniard, the Spaniard wins!" said the first cry that was answered by another and a deeper roar.
"No, Hollander, the Hollander! The Hollander comes up!"
Then in the midst of the fierce excitement—bred of the excitement perhaps—some curious spell fell upon the mind of Lysbeth. The race, its details, its objects, its surroundings faded away; these physical things were gone, and in place of them was present a dream, a spiritual interpretation such as the omens and influences of the times she lived in might well inspire. What did she seem to see?
She saw the Spaniard and the Hollander striving for victory, but not a victory of horses. She saw the black Spanish Wolf, at first triumphant, outmatch the Netherland Badger. Still, the Badger, the dogged Dutch badger, held on.
Who would win? The fierce beast or the patient beast? Who would be the master in this fight? There was death in it. Look, the whole snow was red, the roofs of Leyden were red, and red the heavens; in the deep hues of the sunset they seemed bathed in blood, while about her the shouts of the backers and factions transformed themselves into a fierce cry as of battling peoples. All voices mingled in that cry—voices of hope, of agony, and of despair; but she could not interpret them. Something told her that the interpretation and the issue were in the mind of God alone.
Perhaps she swooned, perhaps she slept and dreamed this dream; perhaps the sharp rushing air overcame her. At the least Lysbeth's eyes closed and her mind gave way. When they opened and it returned again their sledge was rushing past the winning post. But in front of it travelled another sledge, drawn by a gaunt grey horse, which galloped so hard that its belly seemed to lie upon the ice, a horse driven by a young man whose face was set like steel and whose lips were as the lips of a trap.
Could that be the face of her cousin Pieter van de Werff, and, if so, what passion had stamped that strange seal thereon? She turned herself in her seat and looked at him who drove her.
Was this a man, or was it a spirit escaped from doom? Blessed Mother of Christ! what a countenance! The eyeballs starting and upturned, nothing but the white of them to be seen; the lips curled, and, between, two lines of shining fangs; the lifted points of the mustachios touching the high cheekbones. No—no, it was neither a spirit nor a man, she knew now what it was; it was the very type and incarnation of the Spanish Wolf.
Once more she seemed to faint, while in her ears there rang the cry—"The Hollander! Outstayed! Outstayed! Conquered is the accursed Spaniard!"
Then Lysbeth knew that it was over, and again the faintness overpowered her.
SHE WHO BUYS—PAYS
When Lysbeth's mind recovered from its confusion she found herself still in the sledge and beyond the borders of the crowd that was engaged in rapturously congratulating the winner. Drawn up alongside of the Wolf was another sleigh of plain make, and harnessed to it a heavy Flemish horse. This vehicle was driven by a Spanish soldier, with whom sat a second soldier apparently of the rank of sergeant. There was no one else near; already people in the Netherlands had learnt to keep their distance from Spanish soldiers.
"If your Excellency would come now," the sergeant was saying, "this little matter can be settled without any further trouble."
"Where is she?" asked Montalvo.
"Not more than a mile or so away, near the place called Steene Veld."
"Tie her up in the snow to wait till to-morrow morning. My horse is tired and it may save us trouble," he began, then added, after glancing back at the crowd behind him and next at Lysbeth, "no, I will come."
Perhaps the Count did not wish to listen to condolences on his defeat, or perhaps he desired to prolong the tete-a-tete with his fair passenger. At any rate, without further hesitation, he struck his weary horse with the whip, causing it to amble forward somewhat stiffly but at a good pace.
"Where are we going, Senor?" asked Lysbeth anxiously. "The race is over and I must seek my friends."
"Your friends are engaged in congratulating the victor, lady," he answered in his suave and courteous voice, "and I cannot leave you alone upon the ice. Do not trouble; this is only a little matter of business which will scarcely take a quarter of an hour," and once more he struck the horse urging it to a better speed.
Lysbeth thought of remonstrating, she thought even of springing from the sledge, but in the end she did neither. To seem to continue the drive with her cavalier would, she determined, look more natural and less absurd than to attempt a violent escape from him. She was certain that he would not put her down merely at her request; something in his manner told her so, and though she had no longing for his company it was better than being made ridiculous before half the inhabitants of Leyden. Moreover, the position was no fault of hers; it was the fault of Dirk van Goorl, who should have been present to take her from the sledge.
As they drove along the frozen moat Montalvo leant forward and began to chat about the race, expressing regret at having lost it, but using no angry or bitter words. Could this be the man, wondered Lysbeth as she listened, whom she had seen deliberately attempt to overthrow his adversary in a foul heedless of dishonour or of who might be killed by the shock? Could this be the man whose face just now had looked like the face of a devil? Had these things happened, indeed, or was it not possible that her fancy, confused with the excitement and the speed at which they were travelling, had deceived her? Certainly it seemed to have been overcome at last, for she could not remember the actual finish of the race, or how they got clear of the shouting crowd.
While she was still wondering thus, replying from time to time to Montalvo in monosyllables, the sledge in front of them turned the corner of one of the eastern bastions and came to a halt. The place where it stopped was desolate and lonely, for the town being in a state of peace no guard was mounted on the wall, nor could any living soul be found upon the snowy waste that lay beyond the moat. At first, indeed, Lysbeth was able to see nobody at all, for by now the sun had gone down and her eyes were not accustomed to the increasing light of the moon. Presently, however, she caught sight of a knot of people standing on the ice in a recess or little bay of the moat, and half hidden by a fringe of dead reeds.
Montalvo saw also, and halted his horse within three paces of them. The people were five in number, three Spanish soldiers and two women. Lysbeth looked, and with difficulty stifled a cry of surprise and fear, for she knew the women. The tall, dark person, with lowering eyes, was none other than the cap-seller and Spanish spy, Black Meg. And she who crouched there upon the ice, her arms bound behind her, her grizzled locks, torn loose by some rough hand, trailing on the snow—surely it was the woman who called herself the Mare, and who that very afternoon spoke to her, saying that she had known her father, and cursing the Spaniards and their Inquisition. What were they doing here? Instantly an answer leapt into her mind, for she remembered Black Meg's words—that there was a price upon this heretic's head which before nightfall would be in her pocket. And why was there a square hole cut in the ice immediately in front of the captive? Could it be—no, that was too horrible.
"Well, officer," broke in Montalvo, addressing the sergeant in a quiet, wearied voice, "what is all this about? Set out your case."
"Excellency," replied the man, "it is a very simple matter. This creature here, so that woman is ready to take oath," and he pointed to Black Meg, "is a notorious heretic who has already been condemned to death by the Holy Office, and whose husband, a learned man who painted pictures and studied the stars, was burnt on a charge of witchcraft and heresy, two years ago at Brussels. But she managed to escape the stake, and since then has lived as a vagrant, hiding in the islands of the Haarlemer Meer, and, it is suspected, working murder and robbery on any of Spanish blood whom she can catch. Now she has been caught herself and identified, and, of course, the sentence being in full force against her, can be dealt with at once on your Excellency's command. Indeed, it would not have been necessary that you should be troubled about the thing at all had it not been that this worthy woman," and again he pointed to Black Meg, "who was the one who waylaid her, pulled her down and held her till we came, requires your certificate in order that she may claim the reward from the Treasurer of the Holy Inquisition. Therefore, you will be asked to certify that this is, indeed, the notorious heretic commonly known as Martha the Mare, but whose other name I forget, after which, if you will please to withdraw, we will see to the rest."
"You mean that she will be taken to the prison to be dealt with by the Holy Office?" queried Montalvo.
"Not exactly, Excellency," answered the sergeant with a discreet smile and a cough. "The prison, I am told, is quite full, but she may start for the prison and—there seems to be a hole in the ice into which, since Satan leads the footsteps of such people astray, this heretic might chance to fall—or throw herself."
"What is the evidence?" asked Montalvo.
Then Black Meg stood forward, and, with the rapidity and unction of a spy, poured out her tale. She identified the woman with one whom she had known who was sentenced to death by the Inquisition and escaped, and, after giving other evidence, ended by repeating the conversation which she had overheard between the accused and Lysbeth that afternoon.
"You accompanied me in a fortunate hour, Senora van Hout," said the captain gaily, "for now, to satisfy myself, as I wish to be just, and do not trust these paid hags," and he nodded towards Black Meg, "I must ask you upon your oath before God whether or no you confirm that woman's tale, and whether or no this very ugly person named the Mare called down curses upon my people and the Holy Office? Answer, and quickly, if you please, Senora, for it grows cold here and my horse is beginning to shiver."
Then, for the first time, the Mare raised her head, dragging at her hair, which had become frozen to the ice, until she tore it free.
"Lysbeth van Hout," she cried in shrill, piercing tones, "would you, to please your Spanish lover, bring your father's playmate to her death? The Spanish horse is cold and cannot stay, but the poor Netherland Mare—ah! she may be thrust beneath the blue ice and bide there till her bones rot at the bottom of the moat. You have sought the Spaniards, you, whose blood should have warned you against them, and I tell you that it shall cost you dear; but if you say this word they seek, then it shall cost you everything, not only the body, but the spirit also. Woe to you, Lysbeth van Hout, if you cut me off before my work is done. I fear not death, nay I welcome it, but I tell you I have work to do before I die."
Now, in an agony of mind, Lysbeth turned and looked at Montalvo.
The Count was a man of keen perceptions, and understood it all. Leaning forward, his arm resting on the back of the sledge, as though to contemplate the prisoner, he whispered into Lysbeth's ear, so low that no one else could hear his words.
"Senora," he said, "I have no wishes in this matter. I do not desire to drown that poor mad woman, but if you confirm the spy's story, drown she must. At present I am not satisfied, so everything turns upon your evidence. I do not know what passed between you this afternoon, and personally I do not care, only, if you should chance to have no clear recollection of the matter alleged, I must make one or two little stipulations—very little ones. Let me see, they are—that you will spend the rest of this evening's fete in my company. Further, that whenever I choose to call upon you, your door will be open to me, though I must remind you that, on three occasions already, when I have wished to pay my respects, it has been shut."
Lysbeth heard and understood. If she would save this woman's life she must expose herself to the attentions of the Spaniard, which she desired least of anything in the world. More, speaking upon her oath in the presence of God, she must utter a dreadful lie, she who as yet had never lied. For thirty seconds or more she thought, staring round her with anguished eyes, while the scene they fell on sank into her soul in such fashion that never till her death's day did she forget its aspect.
The Mare spoke no more, she only knelt searching her face with a stern and wondering glance. A little to the right stood Black Meg, glaring at her sullenly, for the blood-money was in danger. Behind the prisoner were two of the soldiers, one patting his hand to his face to hide a yawn, while the other beat his breast to warm himself. The third soldier, who was placed somewhat in front, stirred the surface of the hole with the shaft of his halbert to break up the thin film of ice which was forming over it, while Montalvo himself, still leaning sideways and forwards, watched her eyes with an amused and cynical expression. And over all, over the desolate snows and gabled roofs of the town behind; over the smooth blue ice, the martyr and the murderers; over the gay sledge and the fur-wrapped girl who sat within it, fell the calm light of the moon through a silence broken only by the beating of her heart, and now and again by the sigh of a frost-wind breathing among the rushes.
"Well, Senora," asked Montalvo, "if you have sufficiently reflected shall I administer the oath in the form provided?"
"Administer it," she said hoarsely.
So, descending from the sledge, he stood in front of Lysbeth, and, lifting his cap, repeated the oath to her, an oath strong enough to blast her soul if she swore to it with false intent.
"In the name of God the Son and of His Blessed Mother, you swear?" he asked.
"I swear," she answered.
"Good, Senora. Now listen to me. Did you meet that woman this afternoon?"
"Yes, I met her on the ice."
"And did she in your hearing utter curses upon the Government and the Holy Church, and call upon you to assist in driving the Spaniards from the land, as this spy, whom I believe is called Black Meg, has borne witness?"
"No," said Lysbeth.
"I am afraid that is not quite enough, Senora; I may have misquoted the exact words. Did the woman say anything of the sort?"
For one second Lysbeth hesitated. Then she caught sight of the victim's watching, speculative eyes, and remembered that this crazed and broken creature once had been a child whom her father had kissed and played with, and that the crime of which she was accused was that she had escaped from death at the stake.
"The water is cold to die in!" the Mare said, in a meditative voice, as though she were thinking aloud.
"Then why did you run away from the warm fire, heretic witch?" jeered Black Meg.
Now Lysbeth hesitated no longer, but again answered in a monosyllable, "No."
"Then what did she do or say, Senora?"
"She said she had known my father who used to play with her when she was a child, and begged for alms, that is all. Then that woman came up, and she ran away, whereon the woman said there was a price upon her head, and that she meant to have the money."
"It is a lie," screamed Black Meg in fierce, strident tones.
"If that person will not be silent, silence her," said Montalvo, addressing the sergeant. "I am satisfied," he went on, "that there is no evidence at all against the prisoner except the story of a spy, who says she believes her to be a vagrant heretic of bad character who escaped from the stake several years ago in the neighbourhood of Brussels, whither it is scarcely worth while to send to inquire about the matter. So that charge may drop. There remains the question as to whether or no the prisoner uttered certain words this afternoon, which, if she did utter them, are undoubtedly worthy of the death that, under my authority as acting commandant of this town, I have power to inflict. This question I foresaw, and that is why I asked the Senora, to whom the woman is alleged to have spoken the words, to accompany me here to give evidence. She has done so, and her evidence on oath as against the statement of a spy woman not on oath, is that no such words were spoken. This being so, as the Senora is a good Catholic whom I have no reason to disbelieve, I order the release of the prisoner, whom for my part I take for nothing more than a crazy and harmless wanderer."
"At least you will detain her till I can prove that she is the heretic who escaped from the stake near Brussels," shouted Black Meg.
"I will do nothing of the sort; the prison here is over-full already. Untie her arms and let her go."
The soldiers obeyed, wondering somewhat, and the Mare scrambled to her feet. For a moment she stood looking at her deliverer. Then crying, "We shall met again, Lysbeth van Hout!" suddenly she turned and sped up a dyke at extraordinary speed. In a few seconds there was nothing to be seen of her but a black spot upon the white landscape, and presently she had vanished altogether.
"Gallop as you will, Mare, I shall catch you yet," screamed Black Meg after her. "And you too, my pretty little liar, who have cheated me out of a dozen florins. Wait till you are up before the Inquisition as a heretic—for that's where you'll end. No fine Spanish lover will save you then. So you have gone to the Spanish, have you, and thrown over your fat-faced burgher; well, you will have enough of Spaniards before you have done with them, I can tell you."
Twice had Montalvo tried to stop this flood of furious eloquence, which had become personal and might prove prejudicial to his interests, but without avail. Now he adopted other measures.
"Seize her," he shouted to two of the soldiers; "that's it; now hold her under water in that hole till I tell you to let her up again."
They obeyed, but it took all three of them to carry out the order, for Black Meg fought and bit like a wild cat, until at last she was thrust into the icy moat head downwards. When at length she was released, soaked and shivering, she crept off silently enough, but the look of fury which she cast at Montalvo and Lysbeth drew from the captain a remark that perhaps it would have been as well to have kept her under water two minutes longer.
"Now, sergeant," he added, in a genial voice, "it is a cold night, and this has been a troublesome business for a feast-day, so here's something for you and your watch to warm yourselves with when you go off duty," and he handed him what in those days was a very handsome present. "By the way," he said, as the men saluted him gratefully, "perhaps you will do me a favour. It is only to take this black horse of mine to his stable and harness that grey trooper nag to the sledge instead, as I wish to go the round of the moat, and my beast is tired."
Again the men saluted and set to work to change the horses, whereon Lysbeth, guessing her cavalier's purpose, turned as though to fly away, for her skates were still upon her feet. But he was watching.
"Senora," he said in a quiet voice, "I think that you gave me the promise of your company for the rest of this evening, and I am certain," he added with a slight bow, "that you are a lady whom nothing would induce to tell an untruth. Had I not been sure of that I should scarcely have accepted your evidence so readily just now."
Lysbeth winced visibly. "I thought, Senor, that you were going to return to the fete."
"I do not remember saying so, Senora, and as a matter of fact I have pickets to visit. Do not be afraid, the drive is charming in this moonlight, and afterwards perhaps you will extend your hospitality so far as to ask me to supper at your house."
Still she hesitated, dismay written on her face.
"Jufvrouw Lysbeth," he said in an altered voice, "in my country we have a homely proverb which says, 'she who buys, pays.' You have bought and—the goods have been delivered. Do you understand? Ah! allow me to have the pleasure of arranging those furs. I knew that you were the soul of honour, and were but—shall we say teasing me? Otherwise, had you really wished to go, of course you would have skated away just now while you had the opportunity. That is why I gave it you, as naturally I should not desire to detain you against your will."
Lysbeth heard and was aghast, for this man's cleverness overwhelmed her. At every step he contrived to put her in the wrong; moreover she was crushed by the sense that he had justice on his side. She had bought and she must pay. Why had she bought? Not for any advantage of her own, but from an impulse of human pity—to save a fellow creature's life. And why should she have perjured herself so deeply in order to save that life? She was a Catholic and had no sympathy with such people. Probably this person was an Anabaptist, one of that dreadful sect which practised nameless immoralities, and ran stripped through the streets crying that they were "the naked Truth." Was it then because the creature had declared that she had known her father in her childhood? To some extent yes, but was not there more behind? Had she not been influenced by the woman's invocation about the Spaniards, of which the true meaning came home to her during that dreadful sledge race; at the moment, indeed, when she saw the Satanic look upon the face of Montalvo? It seemed to her that this was so, though at the time she had not understood it; it seemed to her that she was not a free agent; that some force pushed her forward which she could neither control nor understand.
Moreover—and this was the worst of it—she felt that little good could come of her sacrifice, or that if good came, at least it would not be to her or hers. Now she was as a fish in a net, though why it was worth this brilliant Spaniard's while to snare her she could not understand, for she forgot that she was beautiful and a woman of property. Well, to save the blood of another she had bought, and in her own blood and happiness, or in that of those dear to her, assuredly she must pay, however cruel and unjust might be the price.
Such were the thoughts that passed through Lysbeth's mind as the strong Flemish gelding lumbered forward, dragging the sledge at the same steady pace over rough ice and smooth. And all the while Montalvo behind her was chatting pleasantly about this matter and that; telling her of the orange groves in Spain, of the Court of the Emperor Charles, of adventures in the French wars, and many other things, to which conversation she made such answer as courtesy demanded and no more. What would Dirk think, she was wondering, and her cousin, Pieter van de Werff, whose good opinion she valued, and all the gossips of Leyden? She only prayed that they might not have missed her, or at least that they took it for granted that she had gone home.
On this point, however, she was soon destined to be undeceived, for presently, trudging over the snow-covered ice and carrying his useless skates in his hand, they met a young man whom she knew as Dirk's fellow apprentice. On seeing them he stopped in front of the sledge in such a position that the horse, a steady and a patient animal, pulled up of its own accord.
"Is the Jufvrouw Lysbeth van Hout there?" he asked anxiously.
"Yes," she replied, but before she could say more Montalvo broke in, inquiring what might be the matter.
"Nothing," he answered, "except that she was lost and Dirk van Goorl, my friend, send me to look for her this way while he took the other."
"Indeed. Then, noble sir, perhaps you will find the Heer Dirk van Goorl and tell him that the Senora, his cousin, is merely enjoying an evening drive, and that if he comes to her house in an hour's time he will find her safe and sound, and with her myself, the Count Juan de Montalvo, whom she has honoured with an invitation to supper."
Then, before the astonished messenger could answer; before, indeed, Lysbeth could offer any explanation of his words, Montalvo lashed up the horse and left him standing on the moat bewildered, his cap off and scratching his head.
After this they proceeded on a journey which seemed to Lysbeth almost interminable. When the circuit of the walls was finished, Montalvo halted at one of the shut gates, and, calling to the guard within, summoned them to open. This caused delay and investigation, for at first the sergeant of the guard would not believe that it was his acting commandant who spoke without.
"Pardon, Excellency," he said when he had inspected him with a lantern, "but I did not think that you would be going the rounds with a lady in your sledge," and holding up the light the man took a long look at Lysbeth, grinning visibly as he recognised her.
"Ah, he is a gay bird, the captain, a very gay bird, and it's a pretty Dutch dickey he is teaching to pipe now," she heard him call to a comrade as he closed the heavy gates behind their sleigh.
Then followed more visits to other military posts in the town, and with each visit a further explanation. All this while the Count Montalvo uttered no word beyond those of ordinary compliment, and ventured on no act of familiarity; his conversation and demeanour indeed remaining perfectly courteous and respectful. So far as it went this was satisfactory, but at length there came a moment when Lysbeth felt that she could bear the position no longer.
"Senor," she said briefly, "take me home; I grow faint."
"With hunger doubtless," he interrupted; "well, by heaven! so do I. But, my dear lady, as you are aware, duty must be attended to, and, after all, you may have found some interest in accompanying me on a tour of the pickets at night. I know your people speak roughly of us Spanish soldiers, but I hope that after this you will be able to bear testimony to their discipline. Although it is a fete day you will be my witness that we have not found a man off duty or the worse for drink. Here, you," he called to a soldier who stood up to salute him, "follow me to the house of the Jufvrouw Lysbeth van Hout, where I sup, and lead this sledge back to my quarters."
MONTALVO WINS A TRICK
Turning up the Bree Straat, then as now perhaps the finest in the town of Leyden, Montalvo halted his horse before a substantial house fronted with three round-headed gables, of which the largest—that over the entrance in the middle—was shaped into two windows with balconies. This was Lysbeth's house which had been left to her by her father, where, until such time as she should please to marry, she dwelt with her aunt, Clara van Ziel. The soldier whom he had summoned having run to the horse's head, Montalvo leapt from his driver's seat to assist the lady to alight. At the moment Lysbeth was occupied with wild ideas of swift escape, but even if she could make up her mind to try it there was an obstacle which her thoughtful cavalier had foreseen.
"Jufvrouw van Hout," he said as he pulled up, "do you remember that you are still wearing skates?"
It was true, though in her agitation she had forgotten all about them, and the fact put sudden flight out of the question. She could not struggle into her own house walking on the sides of her feet like the tame seal which old fisherman Hans had brought from northern seas. It would be too ridiculous, and the servants would certainly tell the story all about the town. Better for a while longer to put up with the company of this odious Spaniard than to become a laughing stock in an attempt to fly. Besides, even if she found herself on the other side of it, could she shut the door in his face? Would her promise let her, and would he consent?
"Yes," she answered briefly, "I will call my servant."
Then for the first time the Count became complimentary in a dignified Spanish manner.
"Let no base-born menial hold the foot which it is an honour for an hidalgo of Spain to touch. I am your servant," he said, and resting one knee on the snow-covered step he waited.
Again there was nothing to be done, so Lysbeth must needs thrust out her foot from which very delicately and carefully he unstrapped the skate.
"What Jack can bear Jill must put up with," muttered Lysbeth to herself as she advanced the other foot. Just at that moment, however, the door behind them began to open.
"She who buys," murmured Montalvo as he commenced on the second set of straps. Then the door swung wide, and the voice of Dirk van Goorl was heard saying in a tone of relief:
"Yes, sure enough it is she, Tante Clara, and some one is taking off her boots."
"Skates, Senor, skates," interrupted Montalvo, glancing backward over his shoulder, then added in a whisper as he bent once more to his task, "ahem—pays. You will introduce me, is it not so? I think it will be less awkward for you."
So, as flight was impossible, for he held her by the foot, and an instinct told her that, especially to the man she loved, the only thing to do was to make light of the affair, Lysbeth said—
"Dirk, Cousin Dirk, I think you know—this is—the Honourable Captain the Count Juan de Montalvo."
"Ah! it is the Senor van Goorl," said Montalvo, pulling off the skate and rising from his knee, which, from his excess of courtesy, was now wet through. "Senor, allow me to return to you, safe and sound, the fair lady of whom I have robbed you for a while."
"For a while, captain," blurted Dirk; "why, from first to last, she has been gone nearly four hours, and a fine state we have been in about her."
"That will all be explained presently, Senor—at supper, to which the Jufvrouw has been so courteous as to ask me," then, aside and below his breath, again the ominous word of reminder—"pays." "Most happily, your cousin's presence was the means of saving a fellow-creature's life. But, as I have said, the tale is long. Senor—permit," and in another second Lysbeth found herself walking down her own hall upon the arm of the Spaniard, while Dirk, her aunt, and some guests followed obediently behind.
Now Montalvo knew that his difficulties were over for that evening at any rate, since he had crossed the threshold and was a guest.
Half unconsciously Lysbeth guided him to the balconied sit-kamer on the first floor, which in our day would answer to the drawing-room. Here several other of her friends were gathered, for it had been arranged that the ice-festival should end with a supper as rich as the house could give. To these, too, she must introduce her cavalier, who bowed courteously to each in turn. Then she escaped, but, as she passed him, distinctly, she could swear, did she see his lips shape themselves to the hateful word—"pays."
When she reached her chamber, so great was Lysbeth's wrath and indignation that almost she choked with it, till again reason came to her aid, and with reason a desire to carry the thing off as well as might be. So she told her maid Greta to robe her in her best garment, and to hang about her neck the famous collar of pearls which her father had brought from the East, that was the talk and envy of half the women in Leyden. On her head, too, she placed the cap of lovely lace which had been a wedding gift to her mother by her grandmother, the old dame who wove it. Then she added such golden ornaments as it was customary for women of her class of wear, and descended to the gathering room.
Meanwhile Montalvo had not been idle. Taking Dirk aside, and pleading his travel-worn condition, he had prayed him to lead him to some room where he might order his dress and person. Dirk complied, though with an ill grace, but so pleasant did Montalvo make himself during those few minutes, that before he ushered him back to the company in some way Dirk found himself convinced that this particular Spaniard was not, as the saying went, "as black as his mustachios." He felt almost sure too, although he had not yet found time to tell him the details of it, that there was some excellent reason to account for his having carried off the adorable Lysbeth during an entire afternoon and evening.
It is true that there still remained the strange circumstance of the attempted foul of his cousin Van de Werff's sledge in the great race, but, after all, why should there not be some explanation of this also? It had happened, if it did happen, at quite a distance from the winning post, when there were few people to see what passed. Indeed, now that he came to think of it, the only real evidence on the matter was that of his cousin, the little girl passenger, since Van de Werff himself had brought no actual accusation against his opponent.
Shortly after they returned to the company it was announced that supper had been served, whereon ensued a pause. It was broken by Montalvo, who, stepping forward, offered his hand to Lysbeth, saying in a voice that all could hear:
"Lady, my companion of the race, permit the humblest representative of the greatest monarch in the world to have an honour which doubtless that monarch would be glad to claim."
That settled the matter, for as the acting commandant of the Spanish garrison of Leyden had chosen to refer to his official position, it was impossible to question his right of precedence over a number of folk, who, although prominent in their way, were but unennobled Netherlander burghers.
Lysbeth, indeed, did find courage to point to a rather flurried and spasmodic lady with grey hair who was fanning herself as though the season were July, and wondering whether the cook would come up to the grand Spaniard's expectations, and to murmur "My aunt." But she got no further, for the Count instantly added in a low voice—
"Doubtless comes next in the direct line, but unless my education has been neglected, the heiress of the house who is of age goes before the collateral—however aged."
By this time they were through the door, so it was useless to argue the point further, and again Lysbeth felt herself overmatched and submitted. In another minute they had passed down the stairs, entered the dining hall, and were seated side by side at the head of the long table, of which the foot was occupied presently by Dirk van Goorl and her aunt, who was also his cousin, the widow Clara van Ziel.
There was a silence while the domestics began their service, of which Montalvo took opportunity to study the room, the table and the guests. It was a fine room panelled with German oak, and lighted sufficiently, if not brilliantly, by two hanging brass chandeliers of the famous Flemish workmanship, in each of which were fixed eighteen of the best candles, while on the sideboards were branch candlesticks, also of worked brass. The light thus provided was supplemented by that from the great fire of peat and old ships' timber which burned in a wide blue-tiled fire-place, half way down the chamber, throwing its reflections upon many a flagon and bowl of cunningly hammered silver that adorned the table and the sideboards.
The company was of the same character as the furniture, handsome and solid; people of means, every man and woman of them, accumulated by themselves or their fathers, in the exercise of the honest and profitable trade whereof at this time the Netherlands had a practical monopoly.
"I have made no mistake," thought Montalvo to himself, as he surveyed the room and its occupants. "My little neighbour's necklace alone is worth more cash than ever I had the handling of, and the plate would add up handsomely. Well, before very long I hope to be in a position to make its inventory." Then, having first crossed himself devoutly, he fell to upon a supper that was well worth his attention, even in a land noted for the luxury of its food and wines and the superb appetites of those who consumed them.
It must not be supposed, however, that the gallant captain allowed eating to strangle conversation. On the contrary, finding that his hostess was in no talkative mood, he addressed himself to his fellow guests, chatting with them pleasantly upon every convenient subject. Among these guests was none other than Pieter van de Werff, his conqueror in that afternoon's conquest, upon whose watchful and suspicious reserve he brought all his batteries to bear.
First he congratulated Pieter and lamented his own ill-luck, and this with great earnestness, for as a matter of fact he had lost much more money on the event than he could afford to pay. Then he praised the grey horse and asked if he was for sale, offering his own black in part exchange.
"A good nag," he said, "but one that I do not wish to conceal has his faults, which must be taken into consideration if it comes to the point of putting a price upon him. For instance, Mynheer van de Werff, you may have noticed the dreadful position in which the brute put me towards the end of the race. There are certain things that this horse always shies at, and one of them is a red cloak. Now I don't know if you saw that a girl in a red cloak suddenly appeared on the bank. In an instant the beast was round and you may imagine what my feelings were, being in charge of your fair kinswoman, for I thought to a certainty that we should be over. What is more, it quite spoilt my chance of the race, for after he has shied like that, the black turns sulky, and won't let himself go."
When Lysbeth heard this amazing explanation, remembering the facts, she gasped. And yet now that she came to think of it, a girl in a red cloak did appear near them at the moment, and the horse did whip round as though it had shied violently. Was it possible, she wondered, that the captain had not really intended to foul the Badger sledge?
Meanwhile Van de Werff was answering in his slow voice. Apparently he accepted Montalvo's explanation; at least he said that he, too, saw the red-cloaked girl, and was glad that nothing serious had come of the mischance. As regarded the proposed deal, he should be most happy to go into it upon the lines mentioned, as the grey, although a very good horse, was aged, and he thought the barb one of the most beautiful animals that he had ever seen. At this point, as he had not the slightest intention of parting with his valuable charger, at any rate on such terms, Montalvo changed the subject.
At length, when men, and, for the matter of that, women, too, had well eaten, and the beautiful tall Flemish glasses not for the first time were replenished with the best Rhenish or Spanish wines, Montalvo, taking advantage of a pause in the conversation, rose and said that he wished to claim the privilege of a stranger among them and propose a toast, namely, the health of his late adversary, Pieter van de Werff.
At this the audience applauded, for they were all very proud of the young man's success, and some of them had won money over him. Still more did they applaud, being great judges of culinary matters, when the Spaniard began his speech by an elegant tribute to the surpassing excellence of the supper. Rarely, he assured them, and especially did he assure the honourable widow Van Ziel (who blushed all over with pleasure at his compliments, and fanned herself with such vigour that she upset Dirk's wine over his new tunic, cut in the Brussels style), the fame of whose skill in such matters had travelled so far as The Hague, for he had heard of it there himself—rarely even in the Courts of Kings and Emperors, or at the tables of Popes and Archbishops, had he eaten food so exquisitely cooked, or drunk wines of a better vintage.
Then, passing on to the subject of his speech, Van de Werff, he toasted him and his horse and his little sister and his sledge, in really well-chosen and appropriate terms, not by any means overdoing it, for he confessed frankly that his defeat was a bitter disappointment to him, especially as every solder in the camp had expected him to win and—he was afraid—backed him for more than they could afford. Also, incidentally, so that every one might be well acquainted with it, he retold the story of the girl with the red cloak. Next, suddenly dropping his voice and adopting a quieter manner, he addressed himself to the Aunt Clara and the "well-beloved Heer Dirk," saying that he owed them both an apology, which he must take this opportunity to make, for having detained the lady at his right during so unreasonable a time that afternoon. When, however, they had heard the facts they would, he was sure, blame him no longer, especially if he told them that this breach of good manners had been the means of saving a human life.
Immediately after the race, he explained, one of his sergeants had found him out to tell him that a woman, suspected of certain crimes against life and property and believed to be a notorious escaped witch or heretic, had been captured, asking for reasons which he need not trouble them with, that he would deal with the case at once. This woman also, so said the man, had been heard that every afternoon to make use of the most horrible, the most traitorous and blaspheming language to a lady of Leyden, the Jufvrouw Lysbeth van Hout, indeed; as was deposed by a certain spy named Black Meg, who had overheard the conversation.
Now, went on Montalvo, as he knew well, every man and woman in that room would share his horror of traitorous and blasphemous heretics—here most of the company crossed themselves, especially those who were already secret adherents of the New Religion. Still, even heretics had a right to a fair trial; at least he, who although a soldier by profession, was a man who honestly detested unnecessary bloodshed, held that opinion. Also long experience taught him great mistrust of the evidence of informers, who had a money interest in the conviction of the accused. Lastly, it did not seem well to him that the name of a young and noble lady should be mixed up in such a business. As they knew under the recent edicts, his powers in these cases were absolute; indeed, in his official capacity he was ordered at once to consign any suspected of Anabaptism or other forms of heresy to be dealt with by the appointed courts, and in the case of people who had escaped, to cause them, on satisfactory proof of their identity, to be executed instantly without further trial. Under these circumstances, fearing that did the lady knew his purpose she might take fright, he had, he confessed, resorted to artifice, as he was very anxious both for her sake and in the interest of justice that she should bear testimony in the matter. So he asked her to accompany him on a short drive while he attended to a business affair; a request to which she had graciously assented.
"Friends," he went on in a still more solemn voice, "the rest of my story is short. Indeed I do congratulate myself on the decision that I took, for when confronted with the prisoner our young and honourable hostess was able upon oath to refute the story of the spy with the result that I in my turn was to save an unfortunate, and, as I believe, a half-crazed creature from an immediate and a cruel death. Is it not so, lady?" and helpless in the net of circumstance, not knowing indeed what else to do, Lysbeth bowed her head in assent.
"I think," concluded Montalvo, "that after this explanation, what may have appeared to be a breach of manners will be forgiven. I have only one other word to add. My position is peculiar; I am an official here, and I speak boldly among friends taking the risk that any of you present will use what I say against me, which for my part I do not believe. Although there is no better Catholic and no truer Spaniard in the Netherlands, I have been accused of showing too great a sympathy with your people, and of dealing too leniently with those who have incurred the displeasure of our Holy Church. In the cause of right and justice I am willing to bear such aspersions; still this is a slanderous world, a world in which truth does not always prevail. Therefore, although I have told you nothing but the bare facts, I do suggest in the interests of your hostess—in my own humble interest who might be misrepresented, and I may add in the interest of every one present at this board—that it will perhaps be well that the details of the story which I have had the honour of telling you should not be spread about—that they should in fact find a grave within these walls? Friends, do you agree?"
Then moved by a common impulse, and by a common if a secret fear, with the single exception of Lysbeth, every person present, yes, even the cautious and far-seeing young Van de Werff, echoed "We agree."
"Friends," said Montalvo, "those simple words carry to my mind conviction deep as any vow however solemn; deep, if that were possible, as did the oath of your hostess, upon the faith of which I felt myself justified in acquitting the poor creature who was alleged to be an escaped heretic." Then with a courteous and all-embracing bow Montalvo sat down.
"What a good man! What a delightful man!" murmured Aunt Clara to Dirk in the buzz of conversation which ensued.
"Yes, yes, cousin, but——"
"And what discrimination he has, what taste! Did you notice what he said about the cooking?"
"I heard something, but——"
"It is true that folk have told me that my capon stewed in milk, such as we had to-night—Why, lad, what is the matter with your doublet? You fidget me by continually rubbing at it."
"You have upset the red wine over it, that is all," answered Dirk, sulkily. "It is spoiled."
"And little loss either; to tell you the truth, Dirk, I never saw a coat worse cut. You young men should learn in the matter of clothes from the Spanish gentlemen. Look at his Excellency, the Count Montalvo, for instance——"
"See here, aunt," broke in Dirk with suppressed fury, "I think I have heard enough about Spaniards and the Captain Montalvo for one night. First of all he spirits off Lysbeth and is absent with her for four hours; then he invites himself to supper and places himself at the head of the table with her, setting me down to the dullest meal I ever ate at the other end——"
"Cousin Dirk," said Aunt Clara with dignity, "your temper has got the better of your manners. Certainly you might learn courtesy as well as dress, even from so humble a person as a Spanish hidalgo and commander." Then she rose from the table, adding—"Come, Lysbeth, if you are ready, let us leave these gentlemen to their wine."
After the ladies had gone the supper went on merrily. In those days, nearly everybody drank too much liquor, at any rate at feasts, and this company was no exception. Even Montalvo, his game being won and the strain on his nerves relaxed, partook pretty freely, and began to talk in proportion to his potations. Still, so clever was the man that in his cups he yet showed a method, for his conversation revealed a sympathy with Netherlander grievances and a tolerance of view in religious matters rarely displayed by a Spaniard.
From such questions they drifted into a military discussion, and Montalvo, challenged by Van de Werff, who, as it happened, had not drunk too much wine, explained how, were he officer in command, he would defend Leyden from attack by an overwhelming force. Very soon Van de Werff saw that he was a capable soldier who had studied his profession, and being himself a capable civilian with a thirst for knowledge pressed the argument from point to point.
"And suppose," he asked at length, "that the city were starving and still untaken, so that its inhabitants must either fall into the hands of the enemy or burn the place over their heads, what would you do then?"
"Then, Mynheer, if I were a small man I should yield to the clamour of the starving folk and surrender——"
"And if you were a big man, captain?"
"If I were a big man—ah! if I were a big man, why then—I should cut the dykes and let the sea beat once more against the walls of Leyden. An army cannot live in salt water, Mynheer."
"That would drown out the farmers and ruin the land for twenty years."
"Quite so, Mynheer, but when the corn has to be saved, who thinks of spoiling the straw?"
"I follow you, Senor, your proverb is good, although I have never heard it."
"Many good things come from Spain, Mynheer, including this red wine. One more glass with you, for, if you will allow me to say it, you are a man worth meeting over a beaker—or a blade."
"I hope that you will always retain the same opinion of me," answered Van de Werff as he drank, "at the trencher or in the trenches."
Then Pieter went home, and before he slept that night made careful notes of all the Spaniard's suggested military dispositions, both of attackers and attacked, writing underneath them the proverb about the corn and the straw. There existed no real reason why he should have done so, as he was only a civilian engaged in business, but Pieter van de Werff chanced to be a provident young man who knew many things might happen which could not precisely be foreseen. As it fell out in after years, a time came when he was able to put Montalvo's advice to good use. All readers of the history of the Netherlands know how the Burgomaster Pieter van de Werff saved Leyden from the Spanish.
As for Dirk van Goorl, he sought his lodging rather tipsy, and arm-in-arm with none other than Captain the Count Don Juan de Montalvo.
There were three persons in Leyden whose reflections when they awoke on the morning after the sledge race are not without interest, at any rate to the student of their history. First there was Dirk van Goorl, whose work made an early riser of him—to say nothing of a splitting headache which on this morning called him into consciousness just as the clock in the bell tower was chiming half-past four. Now there are few things more depressing than to be awakened by a bad headache at half-past four in the black frost of a winter dawn. Yet as Dirk lay and thought a conviction took hold of him that his depression was not due entirely to the headache or to the cold.
One by one he recalled the events of yesterday. First he had been late for this appointment with Lysbeth, which evidently vexed her. Then the Captain Montalvo had swooped down and carried her away, as a hawk bears off a chicken under the very eyes of the hen-wife, while he—donkey that he was—could find no words in which to protest. Next, thinking it his duty to back the sledge wherein Lysbeth rode, although it was driven by a Spaniard, he had lost ten florins on that event, which, being a thrifty young man, did not at all please him. The rest of the fete he had spent hunting for Lysbeth, who mysteriously vanished with the Spaniard, an unentertaining and even an anxious pastime. Then came the supper, when once more the Count swooped down on Lysbeth, leaving him to escort his Cousin Clara, whom he considered an old fool and disliked, and who, having spoilt his new jacket by spilling wine over it, ended by abusing his taste in dress. Nor was that all—he had drunk a great deal more strong wine than was wise, for to this his head certified. Lastly he had walked home arm in arm with his lady-snatching Spaniard, and by Heaven! yes, he had sworn eternal friendship with him on the doorstep.
Well, there was no doubt that the Count was an uncommonly good fellow—for a Spaniard. As for that story of the foul he had explained it quite satisfactorily, and he had taken his beating like a gentleman. Could anything be nicer or in better feeling than his allusions to Cousin Pieter in his after-supper speech? Also, and this was a graver matter, the man had shown that he was tolerant and kindly by the way in which he dealt with the poor creature called the Mare, a woman whose history Dirk knew well; one whose sufferings had made of her a crazy and rash-tongued wanderer, who, so it was rumoured, could use a knife.
In fact, for the truth may as well be told at once, Dirk was a Lutheran, having been admitted to that community two years before. To be a Lutheran in those days, that is in the Netherlands, meant, it need scarcely be explained, that you walked the world with a halter round your neck and a vision of the rack and the stake before your eyes; circumstances under which religion became a more earnest and serious thing than most people find it in this century. Still even at that date the dreadful penalties attaching to the crime did not prevent many of the burgher and lower classes from worshipping God in their own fashion. Indeed, if the truth had been known, of those who were present at Lysbeth's supper on the previous night more than half, including Pieter van de Werff, were adherents of the New Faith.
To dismiss religious considerations, however, Dirk could have wished that this kindly natured Spaniard was not quite so good-looking or quite so appreciative of the excellent points of the young Leyden ladies, and especially of Lysbeth's, with whose sterling character, he now remembered, Montalvo had assured him he was much impressed. What he feared was that this regard might be reciprocal. After all a Spanish hidalgo in command of the garrison was a distinguished person, and, alas! Lysbeth also was a Catholic. Dirk loved Lysbeth; he loved her with that patient sincerity which was characteristic of his race and his own temperament, but in addition to and above the reasons that have been given already it was this fact of the difference of religion which hitherto had built a wall between them. Of course she was unaware of anything of the sort. She did not know even that he belonged to the New Faith, and without the permission of the elders of his sect, he would not dare to tell her, for the lives of men and of their families could not be confided lightly to the hazard of a girl's discretion.
Herein lay the real reason why, although Dirk was so devoted to Lysbeth, and although he imagined that she was not indifferent to him, as yet no word had passed between them of love or marriage. How could he who was a Lutheran ask a Catholic to become his wife without telling her the truth? And if he told her the truth, and she consented to take the risk, how could he drag her into that dreadful net? Supposing even that she kept to her own faith, which of course she would be at liberty to do, although equally, of course, he was bound to try to convert her, their children, if they had any, must be brought up in his beliefs. Then, sooner or later, might come the informer, that dreadful informer whose shadow already lay heavy upon thousands of homes in the Netherlands, and after the informer the officer, and after the officer the priest, and after the priest the judge, and after the judge—the executioner and the stake.
In this case, what would happen to Lysbeth? She might prove herself innocent of the horrible crime of heresy, if by that time she was innocent, but what would life become to the loving young woman whose husband and children, perhaps, had been haled off to the slaughter chambers of the Papal Inquisition? This was the true first cause why Dirk had remained silent, even when he was sorely tempted to speak; yes, although his instinct told him that his silence had been misinterpreted and set down to over-caution, or indifference, or to unnecessary scruples.
The next to wake up that morning was Lysbeth, who, if she was not troubled with headache resulting from indulgence—and in that day women of her class sometimes suffered from it—had pains of her own to overcome. When sifted and classified these pains resolved themselves into a sense of fiery indignation against Dirk van Goorl. Dirk had been late for his appointment, alleging some ridiculous excuse about the cooling of a bell, as though she cared whether the bell were hot or cold, with the result that she had been thrown into the company of that dreadful Martha the Mare. After the Mare—aggravated by Black Meg—came the Spaniard. Here again Dirk had shown contemptible indifference and insufficiency, for he allowed her to be forced into the Wolf sledge against her will. Nay, he had actually consented to the thing. Next, in a fateful sequence followed all the other incidents of that hideous carnival; the race, the foul, if it was a foul; the dreadful nightmare vision called into her mind by the look upon Montalvo's face; the trial of the Mare, her own unpremeditated but indelible perjury; the lonely drive with the man who compelled her to it; the exhibition of herself before all the world as his willing companion; and the feast in which he appeared as her cavalier, and was accepted of the simple company almost as an angel entertained by chance.
What did he mean? Doubtless, for on that point she could scarcely be mistaken, he meant to make love to her, for had he not in practice said as much? And now—this was the terrible thing—she was in his power, since if he chose to do so, without doubt he could prove that she had sworn a false oath for her own purposes. Also that lie weighed upon her mind, although it had been spoken in a good cause; if it was good to save a wretched fanatic from the fate which, were the truth known, without doubt her crime deserved.
Of course, the Spaniard was a bad man, if an attractive one, and he had behaved wickedly, if with grace and breeding; but who expected anything else from a Spaniard, who only acted after his kind and for his own ends? It was Dirk—Dirk—that was to blame, not so much—and here again came the rub—for his awkwardness and mistakes of yesterday, as for his general conduct. Why had he not spoken to her before, and put her beyond the reach of such accidents as these to which a woman of her position and substance must necessarily be exposed? The saints knew that she had given him opportunity enough. She had gone as far as a maiden might, and not for all the Dirks on earth would she go one inch further. Why had she ever come to care for his foolish face? Why had she refused So-and-so, and So-and-so and So-and-so—all of them honourable men—with the result that now no other bachelor ever came near her, comprehending that she was under bond to her cousin? In the past she had persuaded herself that it was because of something she felt but could not see, of a hidden nobility of character which after all was not very evident upon the surface, that she loved Dirk van Goorl. But where was this something, this nobility? Surely a man who was a man ought to play his part, and not leave her in this false position, especially as there could be no question of means. She would not have come to him empty-handed, very far from it, indeed. Oh! were it not for the unlucky fact that she still happened to care about him—to her sorrow—never, never would she speak to him again.
The last of our three friends to awake on this particular morning, between nine and ten o'clock, indeed, when Dirk had been already two hours at his factory and Lysbeth was buying provisions in the market place, was that accomplished and excellent officer, Captain the Count Juan de Montalvo. For a few seconds after his dark eyes opened he stared at the ceiling collecting his thoughts. Then, sitting up in bed, he burst into a prolonged roar of laughter. Really the whole thing was too funny for any man of humour to contemplate without being moved to merriment. That gaby, Dirk van Goorl; the furiously indignant but helpless Lysbeth; the solemn, fat-headed fools of Netherlanders at the supper, and the fashion in which he had played his own tune on the whole pack of them as though they were the strings of a fiddle—oh! it was delicious.
As the reader by this time may have guessed, Montalvo was not the typical Spaniard of romance, and, indeed, of history. He was not gloomy and stern; he was not even particularly vengeful or bloodthirsty. On the contrary, he was a clever and utterly unprincipled man with a sense of humour and a gift of bonhomie which made him popular in all places. Moreover, he was brave, a good soldier; in a certain sense sympathetic, and, strange to say, no bigot. Indeed, which seems to have been a rare thing in those days, his religious views were so enlarged that he had none at all. His conduct, therefore, if from time to time it was affected by passing spasms of acute superstition, was totally uninfluenced by any settled spiritual hopes or fears, a condition which, he found, gave him great advantages in life. In fact, had it suited his purpose, Montalvo was prepared, at a moment's notice, to become Lutheran or Calvinist, or Mahomedan, or Mystic, or even Anabaptist; on the principle, he would explain, that it is easy for the artist to paint any picture he likes upon a blank canvas.
And yet this curious pliancy of mind, this lack of conviction, this absolute want of moral sense, which ought to have given the Count such great advantages in his conflict with the world, were, in reality, the main source of his weakness. Fortune had made a soldier of the man, and he filled the part as he would have filled any part. But nature intended him for a play-actor, and from day to day he posed and mimed and mouthed through life in this character or in that, though never in his own character, principally because he had none. Still, far down in Montalvo's being there was something solid and genuine, and that something not good but bad. It was very rarely on view; the hand of circumstance must plunge deep to find it, but it dwelt there; the strong, cruel Spanish spirit which would sacrifice anything to save, or even to advance, itself. It was this spirit that Lysbeth had seen looking out of his eyes on the yesterday, which, when he knew that the race was lost, had prompted him to try to kill his adversary, although he killed himself and her in the attempt. Nor did she see it then for the last time, for twice more at least in her life she was destined to meet and tremble at its power.
In short, although Montalvo was a man who really disliked cruelty, he could upon occasion be cruel to the last degree; although he appreciated friends, and desired to have them, he could be the foulest of traitors. Although without a cause he would do no hurt to a living thing, yet if that cause were sufficient he would cheerfully consign a whole cityful to death. No, not cheerfully, he would have regretted their end very much, and often afterwards might have thought of it with sympathy and even sorrow. This was where he differed from the majority of his countrymen in that age, who would have done the same thing, and more brutally, from honest principle, and for the rest of their lives rejoiced at the memory of the deed.
Montalvo had his ruling passion; it was not war, it was not women; it was money. But here again he did not care about the money for itself, since he was no miser, and being the most inveterate of gamblers never saved a single stiver. He wanted it to spend and to stake upon the dice. Thus again, in variance to the taste of most of his countrymen, he cared little for the other sex; he did not even like their society, and as for their passion and the rest he thought it something of a bore. But he did care intensely for their admiration, so much so that if no better game were at hand, he would take enormous trouble to fascinate even a serving maid or a fish girl. Wherever he went it was his ambition to be reported the man the most admired of the fair in that city, and to attain this end he offered himself upon the altar of numerous love affairs which did not amuse him in the least. Of course, the indulgence of this vanity meant expense, since the fair require money and presents, and he who pursues them should be well dressed and horsed and able to do things in the very finest style. Also their relatives must be entertained, and when they were entertained impressed with the sense that they had the honour to be guests of a grandee of Spain.