Here it may be explained that of the story of his birth Adrian had heard something, but not all. He knew, for instance, that his father’s name was Montalvo, that the marriage with his mother for some reason was declared to be illegal, and that this Montalvo had left the Netherlands under a cloud to find his death, so he had been told, abroad. More than this Adrian did not know for certain, since everybody showed a singular reticence in speaking to him of the matter. Twice he had plucked up courage to question his mother on the subject, and on each occasion her face had turned cold and hard as stone, and she answered almost in the same words:
“Son, I beg you to be silent. When I am dead you will find all the story of your birth written down, but if you are wise you will not read.”
Once he had asked the same question of his stepfather, Dirk van Goorl, whereupon Dirk looked ill at ease and answered:
“Take my advice, lad, and be content to know that you are here and alive with friends to take care of you. Remember that those who dig in churchyards find bones.”
“Indeed,” replied Adrian haughtily; “at least I trust that there is nothing against my mother’s reputation.”
At these words, to his surprise, Dirk suddenly turned pale as a sheet and stepped towards him as though he were about to fly at his throat.
“You dare to doubt your mother,” he began, “that angel out of Heaven—” then ceased and added presently, “Go! I beg your pardon; I should have remembered that you at least are innocent, and it is but natural that the matter weighs upon your mind.”
So Adrian went, also that proverb about churchyards and bones made such an impression on him that he did no more digging. In other words he ceased to ask questions, trying to console his mind with the knowledge that, however his father might have behaved to his mother, at least he was a man of ancient rank and ancient blood, which blood was his to-day. The rest would be forgotten, although enough of it was still remembered to permit of his being taunted by those street louts, and when it was forgotten the blood, that precious blue blood of an hidalgo of Spain, must still remain his heritage.
ADRIAN RESCUES BEAUTY IN DISTRESS
All that long evening Adrian wandered about the causeways which pierced the meadowlands and marshes, pondering these things and picturing himself as having attained to the dignity of a grandee of Spain, perhaps even—who could tell—to the proud rank of a Knight of the Golden Fleece entitled to stand covered in the presence of his Sovereign. More than one snipe and other bird such as he had come to hawk rose at his feet, but so preoccupied was he that they were out of flight before he could unhood his falcon. At length, after he had passed the church of Weddinvliet, and, following the left bank of the Old Vliet, was