The Laughing Cavalier: The Story of the Ancestor of the Scarlet Pimpernel
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"I have no means of finding out, sir, if my father hath or hath not remorse for his wilful desertion of wife and child – England is a far-off country – I would not care to undertake so unprofitable a pilgrimage."
"Then why not let me do so, sir?" queried Cornelius Beresteyn calmly.
"Yes. Why not?"
"Why should you trouble, mynheer, to seek out the father of such a vagabond as I?"
"Because I would like to give a man – an old man your father must be now – the happiness of calling you his son. You say he lives in England. I often go to England on business. Will you not at least tell me your father's name?"
"I have no cause to conceal it, mynheer," rejoined Diogenes carelessly. "In England they call him Blake of Blakeney; his home is in Sussex and I believe that it is a stately home."
"But I know the Squire of Blakeney well," said Cornelius Beresteyn eagerly, "my bankers at Amsterdam also do business for him. I know that just now he is in Antwerp on a mission from King James of England to the Archduchess. He hath oft told Mynheer Beuselaar, our mutual banker, that he was moving heaven and earth to find the son whom he had lost."
"Heaven and earth take a good deal of moving," quoth Diogenes lightly, "once a wife and son have been forsaken and left to starve in a foreign land. Mine English father wedded my mother in the church of St. Pieter at Haarlem. My friend Frans Hals – God bless him – knew my mother and cared for me after she died. He has all the papers in his charge relating to the marriage. It has long ago been arranged between us that if I die with ordinary worthiness, he will seek out my father in England and tell him that mayhap – after all – even though I have been a vagabond all my life – I have never done anything that should cause him to blush for his son."
Apparently at this juncture, Maria must have knocked at the door of the tapperij, for Gilda, whose heart was beating more furiously than ever, heard presently the well-known firm footsteps of her father as he rapidly ascended the stairs.
Two minutes later Gilda lay against her father's heart, and her hand resting in his she told him from beginning to end everything that she had suffered from the moment when after watch-night service in the Groote Kerk she first became aware of the murmur of voices, to that when she first realized that the man whom she should have hated, the knave whom she should have despised, filled her heart and soul to the exclusion of all other happiness in the world, and that he was about to pass out of her life for ever.
It took a long time to tell – for she had suffered more, felt more, lived more in the past five days than would fill an ordinary life – nor did she disguise anything from her father, not even the conversation which she had had at Rotterdam in the dead of night with the man who had remained nameless until now, and in consequence of which he had gone at once to warn the Stadtholder and had thus averted the hideous conspiracy which would have darkened for ever the destinies of many Dutch homes.
Of Nicolaes she did not speak; she knew that he had confessed his guilt to his father, who would know how to forgive in the fullness of time.
When she had finished speaking her father said somewhat roughly:
"But for that vervloekte adventurer down there, you would never have suffered, Gilda, as you did.Nicolaes…"
"Nicolaes, father dear," she broke in quietly, "is very dear to us both. I think that his momentary weakness will endear him to us even more. But he was a tool in the hands of that unscrupulous Stoutenburg – and but for that nameless and penniless soldier whose hand you were proud to grasp just now, I would not be here in your arms at this moment."
"Ah!" said Cornelius Beresteyn dryly, "is this the way that the wind blows, my girl? Did you not know then that the rascal – the day after he dared to lay hands upon you – was back again in Haarlem bargaining with me to restore you to my arms in exchange for a fortune?"
"And two days later, father dear," she retorted, "he endured insults, injuries, cruelties from Stoutenburg, rather than betray Nicolaes' guilt before me."
"Hm!" murmured Cornelius, and there was a humorous twinkle in his eyes as he looked down upon his daughter's bowed head.
"And but for that same rascal, father," she continued softly, "you would at this moment be mourning a dead daughter and Holland a hideous act of treachery."
"Hush, my dear!" cried the old man impulsively, as he put his kind protecting arms round the child whom he loved so dearly.
"I would never have followed the Lord of Stoutenburg while I lived," she said simply.
"Please God," he said earnestly, "I would sooner have seen you in the crypt beside your mother."
"Then, father, hath not the rascal you speak of deserved well of us? Can we not guess that even originally he took me away from Haarlem, only because he knew that if he refused the bargain, proposed to him by mine own brother, Stoutenburg would have found some other means of ensuring my silence."
"You are a good advocate, my girl," rejoined Cornelius with a sly wink which brought the colour rushing up to Gilda's cheeks. "I think, by your leave, I'll go and shake that vervloekte Keerl once more by the hand… And … shall I tell him that you bear him no ill-will?" he added roguishly.
"Yes, father dear, tell him that," she said gently.
"Then will you go to bed, dear?" he asked, "you are overwrought and tired."
"I will sit by the window quietly for a quarter of an hour," she said, "after that I promise you that I will go peaceably to bed."
He kissed her tenderly, for she was very dear to him, but being a man of vast understanding and profound knowledge of men and things, the humorous twinkle did not altogether fade from his eyes as he finally bade his daughter "Good night," and then quietly went out of the room.