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- Lysbeth, A Tale Of The Dutch - 10/87 -

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.

Now that of a grandee has never been a cheap profession; indeed, as many a pauper peer knows to-day, rank without resources is a terrific burden. Montalvo had the rank, for he was a well-born man, whose sole heritage was an ancient tower built by some warlike ancestor in a position admirably suited to the purpose of the said ancestor, namely, the pillage of travellers through a neighbouring mountain pass. When, however, travellers ceased to use that pass, or for other reasons robbery became no longer productive, the revenues of the Montalvo family declined till at the present date they were practically nil. Thus it came about that the status of the last representative of this ancient stock was that of a soldier of fortune of the common type, endowed, unfortunately for himself, with grand ideas, a gambler's fatal fire, expensive tastes, and more than the usual pride of race.

Although, perhaps, he had never defined them very clearly, even to himself, Juan de Montalvo had two aims in life: first to indulge his every freak and fancy to the full, and next--but this was secondary and somewhat nebulous--to re-establish the fortunes of his family. In themselves they were quite legitimate aims, and in those times, when fishers of troubled waters generally caught something, and when men of ability and character might force their way to splendid positions, there was no reason why they should not have led him to success. Yet so far, at any rate, in spite of many opportunities, he had not succeeded although he was now a man of more than thirty. The causes of his failures were various, but at the bottom of them lay his lack of stability and genuineness.

A man who is always playing a part amuses every one but convinces nobody. Montalvo convinced nobody. When he discoursed on the mysteries of religion with priests, even priests who in those days for the most part were stupid, felt that they assisted in a mere intellectual exercise. When his theme was war his audience guessed that his object was probably love. When love was his song an inconvenient instinct was apt to assure the lady immediately concerned that it was love of self and not of her. They were all more or less mistaken, but, as usual, the women went nearest to the mark. Montalvo's real aim was self, but he spelt it, Money. Money in large sums was what he wanted, and what in this way or that he meant to win.

Now even in the sixteenth century fortunes did not lie to the hand of every adventurer. Military pay was small, and not easily recoverable; loot was hard to come by, and quickly spent. Even the ransom of a rich prisoner or two soon disappeared in the payment of such debts of honour as could not be avoided. Of course there remained the possibility of wealthy marriage, which in a country like the Netherlands, that was full of rich heiresses, was not difficult to a high-born, handsome, and agreeable man of the ruling Spanish caste. Indeed, after many chances and changes the time had come at length when Montalvo must either marry or be ruined. For his station his debts, especially his gaming debts, were enormous, and creditors met him at every turn. Unfortunately for him, also, some of these creditors were persons who had the ear of people in authority. So at last it came about that an intimation reached him that this scandal must be abated, or he must go back to Spain, a country which, as it happened, he did not in the least wish to visit. In short, the sorry hour of reckoning, that hour which overtakes all procrastinators, had arrived, and marriage, wealthy marriage, was the only way wherewith it could be defied. It was a sad alternative to a man who for his own very excellent reasons did not wish to marry, but this had to be faced.

Thus it came about that, as the only suitable /partie/ in Leyden, the Count Montalvo had sought out the well-favoured and well-endowed Jufvrouw Lysbeth van Hout to be his companion in the great sledge race, and taken so much trouble to ensure to himself a friendly reception at her house.

So far, things went well, and, what was more, the opening of the chase had proved distinctly entertaining. Also, the society of the place, after his appropriation of her at a public festival and their long moonlight /tete-a-tete/, which by now must be common gossip's talk, would be quite prepared for any amount of attention which he might see fit to pay to Lysbeth. Indeed, why should he not pay attention to an unaffianced woman whose rank was lower if her means were greater than his own? Of course, he knew that her name had been coupled with that of Dirk van Goorl. He was perfectly aware also that these two young people were attached to each other, for as they walked home together on the previous night Dirk, possibly for motives of his own, had favoured him with a semi-intoxicated confidence to that effect. But as they were not affianced what did that matter? Indeed, had they been affianced, what would it matter? Still, Dirk van Goorl was an obstacle, and, therefore, although he seemed to be a good fellow, and he was sorry for him, Dirk van Goorl must be got out of the way, since he was convinced that Lysbeth was one of those stubborn-natured creatures who would probably decline to marry himself until this young Leyden lout had vanished. And yet he did not wish to be mixed up with duels, if for no other reason because in a duel the unexpected may always happen, and that would be a poor end. Certainly also he did not wish to be mixed up with murder; first, because he intensely disliked the idea of killing anybody, unless he was driven to it; and secondly, because murder has a nasty way of coming out. One could never be quite sure in what light the despatching of a young Netherlander of respectable family and fortune would be looked at by those in authority.

Also, there was another thing to be considered. If this young man died it was impossible to know exactly how Lysbeth would take his death. Thus she might elect to refuse to marry or decide to mourn him for four or five years, which for all practical purposes would be just as bad. And yet while Dirk lived how could he possibly persuade her to transfer her affections to himself? It seemed, therefore, that Dirk ought to decease. For quite a quarter of an hour Montalvo thought the matter over, and then, just as he had given it up and determined to leave things to chance, for a while at least, inspiration came, a splendid, a heaven-sent inspiration.

Dirk must not die, Dirk must live, but his continued existence must be the price of the hand of Lysbeth van Hout. If she was half as fond of the man as he believed, it was probable that she would be delighted to marry anybody else in order to save his precious neck, for that was just the kind of sentimental idiotcy of which nine women out of ten really enjoyed the indulgence. Moreover, this scheme had other merits; it did every one a good turn. Dirk would be saved from extinction for which he should be grateful: Lysbeth, besides earning the honour of an alliance, perhaps only temporary, with himself, would be able to go through life wrapped in a heavenly glow of virtue arising from the impression that she had really done something very fine and tragic, while he, Montalvo, under Providence, the humble purveyor of these blessings, would also benefit to some small extent.

The difficulty was: How could the situation be created? How could the interesting Dirk be brought to a pass that would give the lady an opportunity of exercising her finer feelings on his behalf? If only he were a heretic now! Well, by the Pope why shouldn't he be a heretic? If ever a fellow had the heretical cut this fellow had; flat-faced, sanctimonious-looking, and with a fancy for dark-coloured stockings-- he had observed that all heretics, male and female, wore dark-coloured stockings, perhaps by way of mortifying the flesh. He could think of only one thing against it, the young man had drunk too much last night. But there were certain breeds of heretics who did not mind drinking too much. Also the best could slip sometimes, for, as he had learned from the old Castilian priest who taught him Latin, /humanum est/, etc.

This, then, was the summary of his reflections. (1) That to save the situation, within three months or so he must be united in holy matrimony with Lysbeth van Hout. (2) That if it proved impossible to remove the young man, Dirk van Goorl, from his path by overmatching him in the lady's affections, or by playing on her jealousy (Query: Could a woman be egged into becoming jealous of that flounder of a fellow and into marrying some one else out of pique?), stronger measures must be adopted. (3) That such stronger measures should consist of inducing the lady to save her lover from death by uniting herself in marriage with one who for her sake would do violence to his conscience and manipulate the business. (4) That this plan would be best put into execution by proving the lover to be a heretic, but if unhappily this could not be proved because he was not, still he must figure in that capacity for this occasion only. (5) That meanwhile it would be well to cultivate the society of Mynheer van Goorl as much as possible, first because he was a person with whom, under the circumstances, he, Montalvo, would naturally wish to become intimate, and secondly, because he was quite certain to be an individual with cash to lend.

Now, these researches after heretics invariably cost money, for they involved the services of spies. Obviously, therefore, friend Dirk, the Dutch Flounder, was a man to provide the butter in which he was going to be fried. Why, if any Hollander had a spark of humour he would see the joke of it himself--and Montalvo ended his reflections as he had begun them, with a merry peal of laughter, after which he rose and ate a most excellent breakfast.

It was about half-past five o'clock that afternoon before the Captain and Acting-Commandant Montalvo returned from some duty to which he had

Lysbeth, A Tale Of The Dutch - 10/87

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