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The year is 1623, the place Haarlem in the Netherlands. Diogenes - the first Sir Percy Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel’s ancestor - and his friends Pythagoras and Socrates defend justice and the royalist cause. The famous artist Frans Hals also makes an appearance in this historical adventure. Orczy maintains that Hal’s celebrated portrait of The Laughing Cavalier is actually a portrayal of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s ancestor.
509 pages, with a reading time of ~7.75 hours (127,445 words), and first published in 1913. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2014.
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If the snow had come down again or the weather been colder, or wetter, or other than it was….
If one of the three men had been more thirsty, or the other more insistent….
If it had been any other day of the year, or any other hour of any other day….
If the three philosophers had taken their walk abroad in any other portion of the city of Haarlem….
Nay! but there’s no end to the Ifs which I might adduce in order to prove to you beyond a doubt that but for an extraordinary conglomeration of minor circumstances, the events which I am about to relate neither would nor could ever have taken place.
For indeed you must admit that had the snow come down again or the weather been colder, or wetter, the three philosophers would mayhap all have felt that priceless thirst and desire for comfort which the interior of a well-administered tavern doth so marvellously assuage. And had it been any other day of the year or any other hour of that same last day of the year 1623, those three philosophers would never have thought of wiling away the penultimate hour of the dying year by hanging round the Grootemarkt in order to see the respectable mynheer burghers and the mevrouws their wives, filing into the cathedral in a sober and orderly procession, with large silver-clasped Bibles under their arms, and that air of satisfied unctuousness upon their faces which is best suited to the solemn occasion of watch-night service, and the desire to put oneself right with Heaven before commencing a New Year of commercial and industrial activity.
And had those three philosophers not felt any desire to watch this same orderly procession they would probably have taken their walk abroad in another portion of the city from whence….
But now I am anticipating.
Events crowded in so thickly and so fast, during the last hour of the departing year, and the first of the newly-born one, that it were best mayhap to proceed with their relation in the order in which they occurred.
For look you, the links of a mighty chain had their origin on the steps of the Stadhuis, for it is at the foot of these that three men were standing precisely at the moment when the bell of the cathedral struck the penultimate hour of the last day of the year 1623.
Mynheer van der Meer, Burgomaster of Haarlem, was coming down those same steps in the company of Mynheer van Zilcken, Mynheer Beresteyn and other worthy gentlemen, all members of the town council and all noted for their fine collections of rare tulips, the finest in the whole of the province of Holland.
There was great rivalry between Mynheer van der Meer, Mynheer van Zilcken and Mynheer Beresteyn on the subject of their tulip bulbs, on which they expended thousands of florins every year. Some people held that the Burgomaster had exhibited finer specimens of “Semper Augustus” than any horticulturist in the land, while others thought that the “Schwarzer Kato” shown by Mynheer Beresteyn had been absolutely without a rival.
And as this group of noble councillors descended the steps of the Stadhuis, preparatory to joining their wives at home and thence escorting them to the watch-night service at the cathedral, their talk was of tulips and of tulip bulbs, of the specimens which they possessed and the prices which they had paid for these.
“Fourteen thousand florins did I pay for my ‘Schwarzer Kato,’” said Mynheer Beresteyn complacently, “and now I would not sell it for twenty thousand.”
“There’s a man up at Overveen who has a new hybrid now, a sport of ‘Schone Juffrouw’–the bulb has matured to perfection, he is putting it up for auction next week,” said Mynheer van Zilcken.
“It will fetch in the open market sixteen thousand at least,” commented Mynheer van der Meer sententiously.
“I would give that for it and more,” rejoined the other, “if it is as perfect as the man declares it to be.”
“Too late,” now interposed Mynheer Beresteyn with a curt laugh, “I purchased the bulb from the man at Overveen this afternoon. He did not exaggerate its merits. I never saw a finer bulb.”
“You bought it?” exclaimed the Burgomaster in tones that were anything but friendly toward his fellow councillor.
“This very afternoon,” replied the other. “I have it in the inner pocket of my doublet at this moment.”
And he pressed his hand to his side, making sure that the precious bulb still reposed next to his heart.
“I gave the lout fifteen thousand florins for it,” he added airily, “he was glad not to take the risks of an auction, and I equally glad to steal a march on my friends.”