Emma Orczy.

The Laughing Cavalier: The Story of the Ancestor of the Scarlet Pimpernel



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CHAPTER XII
THE PORTRAIT

When Beresteyn returned to the studio in the company of Frans Hals they found Diogenes once more clad in his own well-fitting and serviceable doublet.

The artist looked bitterly disappointed at the sight, but naturally forbore to give vent to his feelings in the presence of his exalted patron.

Apparently he had been told what was required, for he went straight up to a large canvas which stood at the further end of the room with its face to the wall, and this he brought out now and placed upon the easel.

"It is an excellent likeness of my sister," said Nicolaes with his usual gracious condescension, to the artist, "and does your powers of faithful portraiture vast credit, my good Hals. I pray you, sir," he added calling to Diogenes, "come and look at it."

The latter came and stood in front of the easel and looked on the picture which was there exhibited for his gaze.

Among the hard lessons which varying Fortune teaches to those whom she most neglects, there is none so useful as self-control. Diogenes had learned that lesson early in his life, and his own good humour often had to act as a mask for deeper emotions. Now, when in the picture he recognized the woman who had spoken to him last night after the affray, in the Dam Straat, his face in no sense expressed surprise, it still smiled and mocked and twinkled, and neither of the two men who stood by guessed that he had seen the original of this dainty picture under peculiar circumstances not many hours before.

That portrait of Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn is one of the finest ever painted by Frans Hals, the intense naturalness of the pose is perfect, the sweet yet imperious expression of the face is most faithfully portrayed. Diogenes saw her now very much as he had seen her last night, for the artist had painted the young head against a dark background and it stood out delicate as a flower, right out of the canvas and in full light.

The mouth smiled as it had done last night when first she caught sight of the ludicrous apparition of one philosopher astride on the shoulders of the other, the eyes looked grave as they had done when she humbly, yet gracefully begged pardon for her levity. The chin was uplifted as it had been last night, when she made with haughty condescension her offers of patronage to the penniless adventurer, and there was the little hand soft and smooth as the petal of a rose which had rested for one moment against his lips.

And looking on the picture of this young girl, Diogenes remembered the words which her own brother had spoken to him only a few moments ago; "her honour and her safety are forfeit to me. I would kill you if you cheated me, but I would not even then regret what I had done."

The daughter of the rich city burgher was, of course, less than nothing to the nameless carver of his own fortunes; she was as far removed from his sphere of life as were the stars from the Zuyder Zee, nor did women as a sex play any serious part in his schemes for the future, but at the recollection of those callous and selfish words, Diogenes felt a wave of fury rushing through his blood; the same rage seized his temper now as when he saw a lout once plucking out the feathers of a song bird, and he fell on him with fists and stick and left him lying bruised and half-dead in a ditch.

But the hard lesson learned early in life stood him in good stead.

He crossed his arms over his broad chest and anon his well-shaped hand went up to his moustache and it almost seemed as if the slender fingers smoothed away the traces of that wave of wrath which had swept over him so unaccountably just now, and only left upon his face those lines of mockery and of good-humour which a nature redolent of sunshine had rendered indelible.

"What think you of it, sir?" asked Beresteyn impatiently, seeing that Diogenes seemed inclined to linger over long in his contemplation of the picture.

"I think, sir," replied the other, "that the picture once seen would for ever be imprinted on the memory."

"Ah! it pleases me to hear you say that. I think too that it does our friend Hals here infinite credit. You must finish that picture soon, my good Frans. My father I know is prepared to pay you well for it."

Then he turned once more to Diogenes.

"I'll take my leave now, sir," he said, "and must thank you for so kindly listening to my proposals. Hals, I thank you for the hospitality of your house. We meet again soon I hope."

He took up his hat and almost in spite of himself he acknowledged Diogenes' parting bow with one equally courteous. Patron and employ? stood henceforth on equal terms.

"And you desire to see me again to-day, sir," he said before finally taking his leave, "I shall be in the tapperij of the 'Lame Cow' between the hours of four and five and entirely at your service."

After that he walked out of the room escorted by Frans Hals, and Diogenes who had remained alone in the big, bare studio, stood in front of Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn's portrait and had another long look at it.

A whimsical smile sat round his lips even as they apostrophized the image that looked so gravely on him out of the canvas.

"You poor, young, delicate creature!" he murmured, "what of your imperious little ways now? your offers of condescension, your gracious wiping of your dainty shoes on the commoner herd of humanity? Your own brother has thrown you at the mercy of a rogue, eh? A rogue whose valour must needs be rewarded by money and patronage!.. Will you recognise him to-night I wonder, as the rogue he really is? the rogue paid to do work that is too dirty for exalted gentlemen's hands to touch? How you will loathe him after to-night!"

He drew in his breath with a quaint little sigh that had a thought of sadness in it, and turned away from the picture just as Frans Hals re-entered the room.

"When this picture is finished," he said at once to his friend, "your name, my dear Hals, will ring throughout Europe."

"'Tis your picture I want to finish," said the other reproachfully, "I have such a fine chance of selling it the day after to-morrow."

"Why the day after to-morrow?"

"The Burgomaster, Mynheer van der Meer, comes to visit my studio. He liked the beginnings of the picture very much when he saw it, and told me then that he would come to look at it again and would probably buy it."

"I can be back here in less than a week. You can finish the picture then. The Burgomaster will wait."

The artist sighed a plaintive, uncomplaining little sigh and shrugged his shoulders with an air of hopelessness.

"You don't know what these people are," he said, "they will buy a picture when the fancy seizes them. A week later they will mayhap not even look at it. Besides which the Burgomaster goes to Amsterdam next week. He will visit Rembrandt's studio, and probably buy a picture there…"

His speech meandered on, dully and tonelessly, losing itself finally in incoherent mutterings. Diogenes looked on him with good-natured contempt.

"And you would lick the boots of such rabble," he said.

"I have a wife and a growing family," rejoined the artist, "we must all live."

"I don't see the necessity," quoth Diogenes lightly, "not at that price in any case. You must live of course, my dear Hals," he continued, "because you are a genius and help to fill this ugly grey world with your magnificent works, but why should your wife and family live at the expense of your manhood."

Then seeing the look of horror which his tirade had called forth in the face of his friend, he said with more seriousness:

"Would the price of that picture be of such vital importance then?"

"It is not the money so much," rejoined Frans Hals, "though God knows that that too would be acceptable, but 'tis the glory of it to which I had aspired. This picture to hang in the Stanhuis, mayhap in the reception hall, has been my dream these weeks past; not only would all the wealthy burghers of Haarlem see it there, but all the civic dignitaries of other cities when they come here on a visit, aye! and the foreign ambassadors too, who often come to Haarlem. My fame then would indeed ring throughout Europe… It is very hard that you should disappoint me so."

While he went on mumbling in his feeble querulous voice, Diogenes had been pacing up and down the floor apparently struggling with insistent thoughts. There was quite a suspicion of a frown upon his smooth brow, but he said nothing until his friend had finished speaking. Then he ceased his restless pacing and placed a hand upon Hals' shoulder.

"Look here, old friend," he said, "this will never do. It seems as if I, by leaving you in the lurch to-day, stood in the way of your advancement and of your fortune. That of course will never do," he reiterated earnestly. "You the friend, who, like last night, are always ready to give me food and shelter when I have been without a grote in my pocket. You who picked me up ten years ago a shoeless ragamuffin wandering homeless in the streets, and gave me a hot supper and a bed, knowing nothing about me save that I was starving … for that was the beginning of our friendship was it not, old Frans?"

"Of course it was," assented the other, "but that was long ago. You have more than repaid me since then … when you had the means … and now there is the picture…"

"To repay a debt is not always to be rid of an obligation. How can I then leave you in the lurch now?"

"Why cannot you stay and sit for me to-day… The light is fairly good…"

"I cannot stay now, dear old friend," said the other earnestly, "on my honour I would do my duty by you now if I only could. I have business of the utmost importance to transact to-day and must see to it forthwith."

"Then why not to-morrow?.. I could work on the doublet and the lace collar to-day, by putting them on a dummy model… All I want is a good long sitting from you for the head… I could almost finish the picture to-morrow," he pleaded in his peevish, melancholy voice, "and the Burgomaster comes on the next day."

Diogenes was silent for awhile. Again that puzzled frown appeared between his brows. To-morrow he should be leaving Leyden on his way to Rotterdam; 1,000 guilders would be in his pocket, and 3,000 more would be waiting for him at the end of his journey… To-morrow!..

Frans Hals' keen, restless eyes followed every varying expression in the face he knew so well.

"Why should you not give up your day to me to-morrow?" he murmured peevishly. "You have nothing to do."

"Why indeed not?" said the other with a sudden recrudescence of his usual gaiety. "I can do it, old compeer! Dondersteen, but I should be a smeerlap if I did not. Wait one moment… Let me just think… Yes! I have the way clear in my mind now… I will be here as early as I was to-day."

"By half-past seven o'clock the light is tolerable," said the artist.

"By half-past seven then I shall have donned the doublet, and will not move off that platform unless you bid me, until the shadows have gathered in, in the wake of the setting sun. After that," he added with his accustomed merry laugh, "let Mynheer, the Burgomaster come, your picture shall not hang fire because of me."

"That's brave!" said Frans Hals more cheerily. "If you will come I can do it. You will see how advanced that sleeve and collar will be by half-past seven to-morrow."

His voice had quite a ring in it now; he fussed about in his studio, re-arranged the picture on the easel, and put aside the portrait of Jongejuffrouw Beresteyn; Diogenes watched him with amusement, but the frown had not quite disappeared from his brow. He had made two promises to-day, both of which he would have to fulfil at all costs. Just now, it was in a flash, that the thought came to him how he could help his friend and yet keep his word to Beresteyn. A quick plan had formed itself in his mind for accomplishing this – he saw in a mental vision the forced run on the ice back to Haarlem and back again in the wake of the sleigh. It could be done with much pluck and endurance and a small modicum of good luck, and already his mind was made up to it, whatever the cost in fatigue or privations might be.

But time was pressing now. After a renewed and most solemn promise he took leave of Frans Hals, who already was too deeply absorbed in work to take much notice of his friend. The glorious, self-centred selfishness of genius was in him. He cared absolutely nothing for any worry or trouble he might cause to the other man by his demand for that sitting on the morrow. The picture mattered – nothing else – and the artist never even asked his friend if he would suffer inconvenience or worse by sacrificing his day to it to-morrow.

CHAPTER XIII
THE SPANISH WENCH

An hour later in the tap-room of the "Lame Cow" Diogenes had finished explaining to his brother philosophers the work which he had in hand and for which he required their help. The explanation had begun with the words filled with portentous charm:

"There will be 500 guilders for each of you at the end of our journey."

And they knew from many and varied experiences of adventures undertaken in amicable trilogy that Diogenes would be as good as these words.

For the rest they did not greatly trouble themselves. There was a lady to be conveyed with respect and with safety, out of Haarlem and as far as Rotterdam, and it was in Rotterdam that the 500 guilders would reward each man for his obedience to orders, his circumspection at all times and his valour if necessity arose. From this hour onwards and throughout the journey friend Diogenes would provide for everything and see that his faithful compeers lacked in nothing. Temperance and sober conduct would be the order paramount, but with that exception the adventure promised to be as exciting as it was lucrative.

It was good to hear the guilders jingling in Diogenes' wallet, and though he was sparing of them in the matter of heady ale or strong wines, he scattered them liberally enough on smoked sausage, fried livers and the many other delicacies for which his brother philosophers had a fancy and for which the kitchen of the "Lame Cow" was famous.

When they had all eaten enough and made merry on a little good ale and the prospects of the adventure, they parted on the doorstep of the tavern, Diogenes to attend to business, the other two to see to the horses and the sleigh for this night. These were to be in readiness at the point where the street of the Holy Cross abuts on the left bank of the Oude Gracht. Three good saddle horses were wanted – thick-set Flanders mares, rough shod against the slippery roads; also a covered sledge, with two equally reliable horses harnessed there to and a coachman of sober appearance on the box. Socrates and Pythagoras were required to scour the city for these, and to bespeak them for seven o'clock this evening, Diogenes undertaking to make payment for them in advance. There were also some warm rugs and wraps to be bought, for the night would be bitterly cold and the lady not prepared mayhap with a cloak sufficiently heavy for a lengthy journey.

All these matters having been agreed upon, Socrates and Pythagoras started to walk toward the eastern portion of the city where several posting inns were situated and where they hoped to find the conveyance which they required as well as the necessary horses. Diogenes on the other hand turned his steps deliberately southwards.

After a few minutes brisk walking he found himself at the further end of the Kleine Hout Straat, there where stood the ricketty, half-mildewed and wholly insalubrious house which had previously sheltered him. The door as usual was loose upon its hinges and swinging backwards and forwards in the draught with a squeaking, melancholy sound. Diogenes pushed it further open and went in. The same fetid smells, peculiar to all the houses in this quarter of the city, greeted his nostrils, and from the depths of the dark and dank passage a dog gave a perfunctory bark.

Without hesitation Diogenes now began the ascent of the creaking stairs, his heavy footfall echoing through the silent house. On one or two of the landings as he mounted he was greeted by pale, inquiring faces and round inquisitive eyes, whilst ghostlike forms emerged out of hidden burrows for a moment to look on the noisy visitor and then equally furtively vanished again.

On the topmost landing he halted; here a small skylight in the roof afforded a modicum of light. Two doors confronted him, he went up to one of them and knocked on it loudly with his fist.

Then he waited – not with great patience but with his ear glued to the door listening to the sounds within. It almost seemed as if the room beyond was the abode of the dead, for not a sound reached the listener's ear. He knocked again, more loudly this time and more insistently. Still no response. At the other door on the opposite side of the landing a female figure appeared wrapped in a worsted rag, and a head half hidden by a linen coif was thrust forward out of the darkness behind it.

"They's won't answer you," said the apparition curtly. "They are strangers … only came last night, but all this morning when the landlord or his wife knocked at the door, they simply would not open it."

"But I am a friend," said Diogenes, "the best I fancy that these poor folk have."

"You used to lodge here until last night."

"Why yes. The lodgings are mine, I gave them up to these poor people who had nowhere else to go."

"They won't answer you," reiterated the female apparition dolefully and once more retired into its burrow.

The situation was becoming irritating. Diogenes put his mouth against the keyhole and shouted "What ho, there! Open!" as lustily as his powerful lungs would allow.

"Dondersteen!" he exclaimed, when even then he received no response.

But strange to relate no sooner was this expletive out of his mouth, than there came a cry like that of a frightened small animal, followed by a patter of naked feet upon a naked floor; the next moment the door was thrown invitingly open, and Diogenes was able to step across its thresh-hold.

"Dondersteen!" he ejaculated again, "hadst thou not opened, wench, I would within the next few seconds have battered in the door."

The woman stood looking at him with great, dark eyes in which joy, surprise and fear struggled for mastery. Her hair though still unruly was coiled around her head, her shift and kirtle were neatly fastened, but her legs and feet were bare and above the shift her neck and shoulders appeared colourless and attenuated. Eyes and hair were dark, and her skin had the olive tint of the south, but her lips at this moment looked bloodless, and there was the look of starvation in her wan face.

Diogenes walked past her into the inner room. The old man was lying on the bed, and on the coverlet close to him a much fingered prayer-book lay open. The woman slipped noiselessly past the visitor and quietly put the prayer-book away.

"You have come to tell us that we must go," she said in an undertone as she suddenly faced the newcomer.

"Indeed, that was not my purpose," he replied gaily, "I have come on the contrary to bring you good news, and it was foolish of you to keep me dangling on your doorstep for so long."

"The landlord hates us," she murmured, "because you forced him last night to take us in. He came thundering at the door early this morning, and threatened to eject us as vagabonds or to denounce us as Spanish spies. I would not open the door to him, and he shouted his threats at us through the keyhole. When you knocked just now I was frightened. I thought that he had come back."

Her voice was low and though she spoke Dutch fluently her throat had in it the guttural notes of her native land. A touch of the gipsy there must be in her, thought Diogenes as he looked with suddenly aroused interest on the woman before him, her dark skin, the long, supple limbs, the velvety eyes with their submissive, terrified look.

With embarrassed movements she offered the only chair in the room to her visitor, then cast shy, timorous glances on him as he refused to sit, preferring to lean his tall figure against the white-washed wall. She thought that never in her life had she seen any man so splendid and her look of bold admiration told him so without disguise.

"Well!" he said with his quaint smile, "I am not the landlord, nor yet an enemy. Art thou convinced of that?"

"Yes, I am!" she said with a little sigh, as she turned away from him in order to attend to the old man, who was moaning peevishly in bed.

"He has lost the use of speech," she said to Diogenes as soon as she had seen to the old man's wants, "and to-day he is so crippled that he can scarcely move. We ought never to have come to this horrible cold part of the country," she added with a sudden tone of fierce resentment. "I think that we shall both die of misery before we leave it again."

"Why did you come here then at all?" asked Diogenes.

"We wandered hither, because we heard that the people in this city were so rich. I was born not far from here, and so was my mother, but my father is a native of Spain. In France, in Brabant where we wandered before, we always earned a good living by begging at the church doors, but here the people are so hard…"



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