“Indeed, her ladyship the Mare is a more interesting person than I thought, though if she can talk like that, perhaps, after all, it would have been as well to drown her. And now, dropping prophecy and leaving posterity to arrange for itself, let us come to business. How much? For evidence which would suffice to procure his conviction, mind.”
“Five hundred florins, not a stiver less, so, Excellency, you need not waste your time trying to beat me down. You want good evidence, evidence on which the Council, or whoever they may appoint, will convict, and that means the unshaken testimony of two witnesses. Well, I tell you, it isn’t easy to come by; there is great danger to the honest folk who seek it, for these heretics are desperate people, and if they find a spy while they are engaged in devil-worship at one of their conventicles, why—they kill him.”
“I know all that, mother. What are you trying to cover up that you are so talkative? It isn’t your usual way of doing business. Well, it is a bargain—you shall have your money when you produce the evidence. And now really if we stop here much longer people will begin to make remarks, for who shall escape aspersion in this censorious world? So good-night, mother, good-night,” and he turned to leave the room.
“No, Excellency,” she croaked with a snort of indignation, “no pay, no play; I don’t work on the faith of your Excellency’s word alone.”
“How much?” he asked again.
“A hundred florins down.”
Then for a while they wrangled hideously, their heads held close together in the patch of moonlight, and so loathsome did their faces look, so plainly was the wicked purpose of their hearts written upon them, that in that faint luminous glow they might have been mistaken for emissaries from the under-world chaffering over the price of a human soul. At last the bargain was struck for fifty florins, and having received it into her hand Black Meg departed.
“Sixty-seven in all,” she muttered to herself as she regained the street. “Well, it was no use holding out for any more, for he hasn’t got the cash. The man’s as poor as Lazarus, but he wants to live like Dives, and, what is more, he gambles, as I learned at The Hague. Also, there’s something queer about his past; I have heard as much as that. It must be looked into, and perhaps the bundle of papers which I helped myself to out of his desk while I was waiting”—and she touched the bosom of her dress to make sure that they were safe—“may tell me a thing or two, though likely enough they are only unpaid bills. Ah! most noble cheat and captain, before you have done with her you may find that Black Meg knows how to pay back hot water for cold!”
THE DREAM OF DIRK