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- Lysbeth, A Tale Of The Dutch - 6/87 -
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,
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