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- Lysbeth, A Tale Of The Dutch - 70/87 -

"Indeed? I lay it at as much again. What is the use? Who knows--one day you might become rich, for, as the great Emperor said, 'Fortune is a woman who reserves her favours for the young,' and then, doubtless, being the man of honour that you are, you would wish to pay your old gambling debts."

"Oh! yes, I should pay if I could," answered Adrian with a yawn. "But it seems hardly worthy while talking about, does it?" and he sauntered out of the place into the open air.

His father rose, and, standing by the great peat fire, watched him depart thoughtfully.

"Let me take stock of the position," he said to himself. "The dear child hasn't a farthing left; therefore, although he is getting bored, he can't run away. Moreover, he owes me more money than I ever saw; therefore, if he should chance to become the husband of the Jufvrouw Brant, and the legal owner of her parent's wealth, whatever disagreements may ensue between him and me I shall have earned my share of it in a clean and gentlemanly fashion. If, on the other hand, it should become necessary for me to marry the young lady, which God forbid, at least no harm is done, and he will have had the advantage of some valuable lessons from the most accomplished card-player in Spain.

"And now what we need to enliven this detestable place is the presence of Beauty herself. Our worthy friends should be back soon--bringing their sheaves with them, let us hope, for otherwise matters will be complicated. Let me see: have I thought of everything, for in such affairs one oversight--He is a Catholic, therefore can contract a legal marriage under the Proclamations--it was lucky I remembered that point of law, though it nearly cost us all our lives--and the priest, I can lay my hands on him, a discreet man, who won't hear if the lady says No, but filled beyond a question with the power and virtue of his holy office. No, I have nothing to reproach myself with in the way of precaution, nothing at all. I have sown the seed well and truly, it remains only for Providence to give the increase, or shall I say--no, I think not, for between the general and the private familiarity is always odious. Well, it is time that you met with a little success and settled down, for you have worked hard, Juan, my friend, and you are getting old--yes, Juan, you are getting old. Bah! what a hole and what weather!" and Montalvo established himself by the fireside to doze away his /ennui/.

When Adrian shut the door behind him the late November day was drawing to its close, and between the rifts in the sullen snow clouds now and again an arrow from the westering sun struck upon the tall, skeleton- like sails of the mill, through which the wind rushed with a screaming noise. Adrian had intended to walk on the marsh, but finding it too sodden, he crossed the western dyke by means of a board laid from bank to bank, and struck into the sand-dunes beyond. Even in the summer, when the air was still and flowers bloomed and larks sang, these dunes were fantastic and almost unnatural in appearance, with their deep, wind-scooped hollows of pallid sand, their sharp angles, miniature cliffs, and their crests crowned with coarse grasses. But now, beneath the dull pall of the winter sky, no spot in the world could have been more lonesome or more desolate, for never a sign of man was to be seen upon them and save for a solitary curlew, whose sad note reached Adrian's ears as it beat up wind from the sea, even the beasts and birds that dwelt there had hidden themselves away. Only the voices of Nature remained in all their majesty, the drear screams and moan of the rushing wind, and above it, now low and now voluminous as the gale veered, the deep and constant roar of the ocean.

Adrian reached the highest crest of the ridge, whence the sea, hidden hitherto, became suddenly visible, a vast, slate-coloured expanse, twisted here and there into heaps, hollowed here and there into valleys, and broken everywhere with angry lines and areas of white. In such trouble, for, after its own fashion, his heart was troubled, some temperaments might have found a kind of consolation in this sight, for while we witness them, at any rate, the throes and moods of Nature in their greatness declare a mastery of our senses, and stun or hush to silence the petty turmoil of our souls. This, at least, is so with those who have eyes to read the lesson written on Nature's face, and ears to hear the message which day by day she delivers with her lips; gifts given only to such as hold the cypher-key of imagination, and pray for grace to use it.

In Adrian's case, however, the weirdness of the sand-hills and the grandeur of the seascape with the bitter wind that blew between and the solitude which brooded over all, served only to exasperate nerves that already were strained well nigh to breaking.

Why had his father brought him to this hideous swamp bordered by a sailless sea? To save their lives from the fury of the mob? This he understood, but there was more in it than that, some plot which he did not understand, and which the ruffian, Hague Simon, and that she- fiend, his companion, had gone away to execute. Meanwhile he must sit here day after day playing cards with the wretch Ramiro, whom, for no fault of his own, God had chosen out to be his parent. By the way, why was the man so fond of playing cards? And what was the meaning of all that nonsense about notes of hand? Yes, here he must sit, and for company he had the sense of his unalterable shame, the memory of his mother's face as she spurned and rejected him, the vision of the woman whom he loved and had lost, and--the ghost of Dirk van Goorl.

He shivered as he thought of it; yes, his hair lifted and his lip twitched involuntarily, for to Adrian's racked nerves and distorted vision this ghost of the good man whom he had betrayed was no child of phantasy. He had woken in the night and seen it standing at his bedside, plague-defiled and hunger-wasted, and because of it he dreaded to sleep alone, especially in that creaking, rat-haunted mill, whose very board seemed charged with some tale of death and blood. Heavens! At this very moment he thought he could hear that dead voice calling down the gale. No, it must be the curlew, but at least he would be going home. Home--that place home--with not even a priest near to confess to and be comforted!

Thanks be to the Saints! the wind had dropped a little, but now in place of it came the snow, dense, whirling, white; so dense indeed that he could scarcely see his path. What an end that would be, to be frozen to death in the snow on these sand-hills while the spirit of Dirk van Goorl sat near and watched him die with those hollow, hungry eyes. The sweat came upon Adrian's forehead at the thought, and he broke into a run, heading for the bank of the great dyke that pierced the dunes half a mile or so away, which bank must, he knew, lead him to the mill. He reached it and trudged along what had been the towpath, though now it was overgrown with weeds and rushes. It was not a pleasant journey, for the twilight had closed in with speed and the thick flakes, that seemed to heap into his face and sting him, turned it into a darkness mottled with faint white. Still he stumbled forward with bent head and close-wrapped cloak till he judged that he must be near to the mill, and halted staring through the gloom.

Just then the snow ceased for a while and light crept back to the cold face of the earth, showing Adrian that he had done well to halt. In front of where he stood, within a few paces of his feet indeed, for a distance of quite twenty yards the lower part of the bank had slipped away, washed from the stone core with which it was faced at this point, by a slow and neglected percolation of water. Had he walked on therefore, he would have fallen his own height or more into a slough of mud, whence he might, or might not have been able to extricate himself. As it was, however, by such light as remained he could crawl upon the coping of the stonework which was still held in place with old struts of timber that, until they had been denuded by the slow and constant leakage, were buried and supported in the vanished earthwork. It was not a pleasant bridge, for to the right lay the mud-bottomed gulf, and to the left, almost level with his feet, were the black and peaty waters of the rain-fed dyke pouring onwards to the sea.

"Next flood this will go," thought Adrian to himself, "and then the marsh must become a mere which will be bad for whomever happens to be living in the Red Mill." He was on firm ground again now, and there, looming tall and spectral against the gloom, not five hundred yards away, rose the gaunt sails of the mill. To reach it he walked on six score paces or more to the little landing-quay, where a raised path ran to the building. As he drew near to it he was astonished to hear the rattle of oars working in rollocks and a man's voice say:

"Steady, here is the place, praise the Saints! Now, then, out passengers and let us be gone."

Adrian, whom events had made timid, drew beneath the shadow of the bank and watched, while from the dim outline of the boat arose three figures, or rather two figures arose, dragging the third between them.

"Hold her," said a voice that seemed familiar, "while I give these men their hire," and there followed a noise of clinking coin, mingled with some oaths and grumbling about the weather and the distance, which were abated with more coin. Then again the oars rattled and the boat was pushed off, whereon a sweet voice cried in agonised tones:

"Sirs, you who have wives and daughters, will you leave me in the hands of these wretches? In the name of God take pity upon my helplessness."

"It is a shame, and she so fair a maid," grumbled another thick and raucous voice, but the steersman cried, "Mind your business, Marsh Jan. We have done our job and got our pay, so leave the gentry to settle their own love affairs. Good night to you, passengers; give way, give way," and the boat swung round and vanished into the gloom.

For a moment Adrian's heart stood still; then he sprang forward to see before him Hague Simon, the Butcher, Black Meg his wife, and between them a bundle wrapped in shawls.

"What is this?" he asked.

"You ought to know, Heer Adrian," answered Black Meg with a chuckle, "seeing that this charming piece of goods has been brought all the way from Leyden, regardless of expense, for your especial benefit."

The bundle lifted its head, and the faint light shone upon the white and terrified face of--Elsa Brant.

"May God reward you for this evil deed, Adrian, called van Goorl," said the pitiful voice.

"This deed! What deed?" he stammered in answer. "I know nothing of it, Elsa Brant."

"You know nothing of it? Yet it was done in your name, and you are here to receive me, who was kidnapped as I walked outside Leyden to be dragged hither with force by these monsters. Oh! have you no heart and no fear of judgment that you can speak thus?"

"Free her," roared Adrian, rushing at the Butcher to see a knife gleaming in his hand and another in that of Black Meg.

"Stop your nonsense, Master Adrian, and stand back. If you have

Lysbeth, A Tale Of The Dutch - 70/87

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