The reader stopped, and the tears trickled down her cheeks. Gerard crying in Lorraine, made her cry at Rotterdam. The leagues were no more to her heart than the breadth of a room.
Eli, softened by many touches in the letter, and by the reader's womanly graces, said kindly enough, "Take thy time, lass. And methinks some of ye might find her a creepie to rest her foot, and she so near her own trouble."
"I'd do more for her than that an I durst," said Catherine. "Here, Cornelis," and she held out her little wooden stool, and that worthy, who hated Margaret worse than ever, had to take the creepie and put it carefully under her foot.
"You are very kind, dame," she faltered. "I will read on; 'tis all I can do for you in turn.
"Thus seeing my master ashy and sore shaken, I deemed this horrible tragic act came timeously to warn him, so I strove sore to turn him from his ill ways, discoursing of sinners and their lethal end. 'Too late!' said he, 'too late!' and gnashed his teeth. Then I told him 'too late' was the divell's favourite whisper in repentant ears. Said I—
'The Lord is debonair, Let sinners nought despair.'
'Too late!' said he, and gnashed his teeth, and writhed his face, as though vipers were biting his inward parts. But, dear heart, his was a mind like running water. Ere we cleared the town he was carolling, and outside the gate hung the other culprit, from the bough of a little tree, and scarce a yard above the ground. And that stayed my vagabone's music. But ere we had gone another furlong, he feigned to have dropped his, rosary, and ran back, with no good intent, as you shall hear. I strolled on very slowly, and often halting, and presently he came stumping up on one leg, and that bandaged. I asked him how he could contrive that, for 'twas masterly done. 'Oh, that was his mystery. Would I know that, I must join the brotherhood.' And presently we did pass a narrow lane, and at the mouth on't espied a written stone, telling beggars by a word like a wee pitchfork to go that way. ''Tis yon farmhouse,' said he: 'bide thou at hand.' And he went to the house, and came back with money, food, and wine. 'This lad did the business,' said he, slapping his one leg proudly. Then he undid the bandage, and with prideful face showed me a hole in his calf you could have put your neef in. Had I been strange to his tricks, here was a leg had drawn my last penny. Presently another farmhouse by the road. He made for it. I stood, and asked myself, should I run away and leave him, not to be shamed in my own despite by him? But while I doubted, there was a great noise, and my master well cudgelled by the farmer and his men, came towards me hobbling and holloaing, for the peasants had laid on heartily. But more trouble was at his heels. Some mischievous wight loosed a dog as big as a jackass colt, and came roaring after him, and downed him momently. I, deeming the poor rogue's death certain, and him least fit to die, drew my sword and ran shouting. But ere I could come near, the muckle dog had torn away his bad leg, and ran growling to his lair with it; and Cul de Jatte slipped his knot, and came running like a lapwing, with his hair on end, and so striking with both crutches before and behind at unreal dogs as 'twas like a windmill crazed. He fled adown the road. I followed leisurely, and found him at dinner. 'Curse the quiens,' said he. And not a word all dinner time but 'Curse the quiens!'
"I said, I must know who' they were, before I would curse them.
"'Quiens? why, that was dogs. And I knew not even that much? He had made a bad bargain. Well, well,' said he, 'to-morrow we shall be in Germany. There the folk are music bitten, and they molest not beggars, unless they fake to boot, and then they drown us out of hand that moment, curse 'em!' We came to Strasbourg. And I looked down Rhine with longing heart. The stream how swift! It seemed running to clip Sevenbergen to its soft bosom. With but a piece of timber and an oar I might drift at my ease to thee, sleeping yet gliding still. 'Twas a sore temptation. But the fear of an ill welcome from my folk, and of the neighbours' sneers, and the hope of coming back to thee victorious, not, as now I must, defeated and shamed, and thee with me, it did withhold me; and so, with many sighs, and often turning of the head to look on beloved Rhine, I turned sorrowful face and heavy heart towards Augsburg."
"Alas, dame, alas! Good master Eli, forgive me! But I ne'er can win over this part all at one time. It taketh my breath away. Welladay! Why did he not listen to his heart? Had he not gone through peril enow, sorrow enow? Well-a-day! well-a-day!"
The letter dropped from her hand, and she drooped like a wounded lily.
Then there was a clatter on the floor, and it was little Kate going on her crutches, with flushed face, and eyes full of pity, to console her. "Water, mother," she cried. "I am afeared she shall swoon."
"Nay, nay, fear me not," said Margaret feebly. "I will not be so troublesome. Thy good-will it maketh me stouter hearted, sweet mistress Kate. For, if thou carest how I fare, sure Heaven is not against me."
Catherine. "D'ye hear that, my man!"
Eli. "Ay, wife, I hear; and mark to boot."
Little Kate went back to her place, and Margaret read on.
"The Germans are fonder of armorials than the French. So I found work every day. And whiles I wrought, my master would leave me, and doff his raiment and don his rags, and other infirmities, and cozen the world, which he did clepe it 'plucking of the goose:' this done, would meet me and demand half my earnings; and with restless piercing eye ask me would I be so base as cheat my poor master by making three parts in lieu of two, till I threatened to lend him a cuff to boot in requital of his suspicion; and thenceforth took his due, with feigned confidence in my good faith, the which his dancing eye belied. Early in Germany we had a quarrel. I had seen him buy a skull of a jailer's wife, and mighty zealous a polishing it. Thought I, 'How can he carry yon memento, and not repent, seeing where ends his way?' Presently I did catch him selling it to a woman for the head of St. Barnabas, with a tale had cozened an Ebrew. So I snatched it out of their hands, and trundled it into the ditch. 'How, thou impious knave,' said I, 'wouldst sell for a saint the skull of some dead thief, thy brother?' He slunk away. But shallow she did crawl after the skull, and with apron reverently dust it for Barnabas, and it Barabbas; and so home with it. Said I, 'Non vult anser velli, sed populus vult decipi.'"
Catherine. "Oh, the goodly Latin!"
Eli. "What meaneth it?"
Catherine. "Nay, I know not; but 'tis Latin; is not that enow? He was the flower of the flock."
"Then I to him, 'Take now thy psaltery, and part we here, for art a walking prison, a walking hell.' But lo! my master fell on his knees, and begged me for pity's sake not turn him off. 'What would become of him? He did so love honesty.' 'Thou love honesty?' said I. 'Ay,' said he, 'not to enact it; the saints forbid. But to look on. 'Tis so fair a thing to look on. Alas, good Bon Bec,' said he; 'hadst starved peradventure but for me. Kick not down thy ladder! Call ye that just? Nay, calm thy choler! Have pity on me! I must have a pal; and how could I bear one like myself after one so simple as thou? He might cut my throat for the money that is hid in my belt. 'Tis not much; 'tis not much. With thee I walk at mine ease; with a sharp I dare not go before in a narrow way. Alas! forgive me. Now I know where in thy bonnet lurks the bee, I will ware his sting; I will but pluck the secular goose. 'So be it,' said I. 'And example was contagious: he should be a true man by then we reached Nurnberg. 'Twas a long way to Nurnberg.' Seeing him so humble, I said, 'well, doff rags, and make thyself decent; 'twill help me forget what thou art.' And he did so; and we sat down to our nonemete. Presently came by a reverend palmer with hat stuck round with cockle shells from Holy Land, and great rosary of beads like eggs of teal, and sandals for shoes. And he leaned a-weary on his long staff, and offered us a shell apiece. My master would none. But I, to set him a better example, took one, and for it gave the poor pilgrim two batzen, and had his blessing. And he was scarce gone, when we heard savage cries, and came a sorry sight, one leading a wild woman in a chain, all rags and howling like a wolf. And when they came nigh us, she fell to tearing her rags to threads. The man sought an alms of us, and told us his hard case. 'Twas his wife stark raving mad; and he could not work in the fields, and leave her in his house to fire it, nor cure her could be without the Saintys' help, and had vowed six pounds of wax to St. Anthony to heal her, and so was fain beg of charitable folk for the money. And now she espied us, and flew at me with her long nails, and I was cold with fear, so devilish showed, her face and rolling eyes and nails like birdys talons. But he with the chain checked her sudden, and with his whip did cruelly lash her for it, that I cried, 'Forbear! forbear! She knoweth not what she doth;' and gave him a batz. And being gone, said I, 'Master, of those twain I know not which is the more pitiable.' And he laughed in my face, 'Behold thy justice, Bon Bec,' said he. 'Thou railest on thy poor, good, within an ace of honest master, and bestowest alms on a "vopper."' 'Vopper,' said I, 'what is a vopper?' 'why, a trull that feigns madness. That was one of us, that sham maniac, and wow but she did it clumsily. I blushed for her and thee. Also gavest two batzen for a shell from Holy Land, that came no farther than Normandy. I have culled them myself on that coast by scores, and sold them to pilgrims true and pilgrims false, to gull flats like thee withal.' 'What!' said I; 'that reverend man?' 'One of us!' cried Cul de Jatte; 'one of us! In France we call them "Coquillarts," but here "Calmierers." Railest on me for selling a false relic now and then, and wastest thy earnings on such as sell nought else. I tell thee, Bon Bec,' said he, 'there is not one true relic on earth's face. The Saints died a thousand years agone, and their bones mixed with the dust; but the trade in relics, it is of yesterday; and there are forty thousand tramps in Europe live by it; selling relics of forty or fifty bodies; oh, threadbare lie! And of the true Cross enow to build Cologne Minster. Why, then, may not poor Cul de Jatte turn his penny with the crowd? Art but a scurvy tyrannical servant to let thy poor master from his share of the swag with your whoreson pilgrims, palmers and friars, black, grey, and crutched; for all these are of our brotherhood, and of our art, only masters they, and we but poor apprentices, in guild.' For his tongue was an ell and a half.
"'A truce to thy irreverend sophistries,' said I, 'and say what company is this a coming.' 'Bohemians,' cried he, 'Ay, ay, this shall be the rest of the band.' With that came along so motley a crew as never your eyes beheld, dear Margaret. Marched at their head one with a banner on a steel-pointed lance, and girded with a great long sword, and in velvet doublet and leathern jerkin, the which stuffs ne'er saw I wedded afore on mortal flesh, and a gay feather in his lordly cap, and a couple of dead fowls at his back, the which, an the spark had come by honestly, I am much mistook. Him followed wives and babes on two lean horses, whose flanks still rattled like parchment drum, being beaten by kettles and caldrons. Next an armed man a-riding of a horse, which drew a cart full of females and children; and in it, sitting backwards, a lusty lazy knave, lance in hand, with his luxurious feet raised on a holy water-pail, that lay along, and therein a cat, new kittened, sat glowing o'er her brood, and sparks for eyes. And the cart-horse cavalier had on his shoulders a round bundle, and thereon did perch a cock and crowed with zeal, poor ruffler, proud of his brave feathers as the rest, and haply with more reason, being his own. And on an ass another wife and new-born child; and one poor quean a-foot scarce dragged herself along, so near her time was she, yet held two little ones by the hand, and helplessly helped them on the road. And the little folk were just a farce; some rode sticks, with horses' heads, between their legs, which pranced and caracoled, and soon wearied the riders so sore, they stood stock still and wept, which cavaliers were presently taken into cart and cuffed. And one, more grave, lost in a man's hat and feather, walked in Egyptian darkness, handed by a girl; another had the great saucepan on his back, and a tremendous three-footed clay-pot sat on his head and shoulders, swallowing him so as he too went darkling led by his sweetheart three foot high. When they were gone by, and we had both laughed lustily, said I, 'Natheless, master, my bowels they yearn for one of that tawdry band, even for the poor wife so near the downlying, scarce able to drag herself, yet still, poor soul, helping the weaker on the way.'
Catherine. "Nay, nay, Margaret. Why, wench, pluck up heart. Certes thou art no Bohemian."
Kate. "Nay, mother, 'tis not that, I trow, but her father. And, dear heart, why take notice to put her to the blush?"
Richart. "So I say."
"And he derided me. 'Why, that is a "biltreger,"' said he, 'and you waste your bowels on a pillow, or so forth.' I told him he lied. 'Time would show,' said he, 'wait till they camp.' And rising after meat and meditation, and travelling forward, we found them camped between two great trees on a common by the wayside; and they had lighted a great fire, and on it was their caldron; and one of the trees slanting o'er the fire, a kid hung down by a chain from the tree-fork to the fire, and in the fork was wedged an urchin turning still the chain to keep the meat from burning, and a gay spark with a feather in his cap cut up a sheep; and another had spitted a leg of it on a wooden stake; and a woman ended chanticleer's pride with wringing of his neck. And under the other tree four rufflers played at cards and quarrelled, and no word sans oath; and of these lewd gamblers one had cockles in his hat and was my reverend pilgrim. And a female, young and comely, and dressed like a butterfly, sat and mended a heap of dirty rags. And Cul de Jatte said, 'Yon is the "vopper,"' and I looked incredulous and looked again, and it was so, and at her feet sat he that had so late lashed her; but I ween he had wist where to strike, or woe betide him; and she did now oppress him sore, and made him thread her very needle, the which he did with all humility; so was their comedy turned seamy side without; and Cul de Jatte told me 'twas still so with 'voppers' and their men in camp; they would don their bravery though but for an hour, and with their tinsel, empire, and the man durst not the least gainsay the 'vopper,' or she would turn him off at these times, as I my master, and take another tyrant more submissive. And my master chuckled over me. Natheless we soon espied a wife set with her back against the tree, and her hair down, and her face white, and by her side a wench held up to her eye a newborn babe, with words of cheer, and the rough fellow, her husband, did bring her hot wine in a cup, and bade her take courage. And just o'er the place she sat, they had pinned from bough to bough of those neighbouring trees two shawls, and blankets two, together, to keep the drizzle off her. And so had another poor little rogue come into the world; and by her own particular folk tended gipsywise, but of the roasters, and boilers, and voppers, and gamblers, no more noticed, no, not for a single moment, than sheep which droppeth her lamb in a field, by travellers upon the way. Then said I, 'What of thy foul suspicions, master? over-knavery blinds the eye as well as over-simplicity.' And he laughed and said, 'Triumph, Bon Bec, triumph. The chances were nine in ten against thee.' Then I did pity her, to be in a crowd at such a time; but he rebuked me. 'I should pity rather your queens and royal duchesses, which by law are condemned to groan in a crowd of nobles and courtiers, and do writhe with shame as, well as sorrow, being come of decent mothers, whereas these gipsy women have no more shame under their skins than a wolf ruth, or a hare valour. And, Bon Bec,' quoth he, 'I espy in thee a lamentable fault. Wastest thy bowels, wilt have none left for thy poor good master which doeth thy will by night and day.' Then we came forward; and he talked with the men in some strange Hebrew cant whereof no word knew I; and the poor knaves bade us welcome and denied us nought. With them, and all they had, 'twas lightly come and lightly go; and when we left them, my master said to me 'This is thy first lesson, but to-night we shall lie at Hansburgh. Come with me to the "rotboss" there, and I'll show thee all our folk and their lays, and especially "the lossners," "the dutzers," "the schleppers," "the gickisses," "the schwanfelders, whom in England we call "shivering Jemmies," "the suntvegers," "the schwiegers," "the joners," "the sesseldegers," "the gensscherers," in France "marcandiers or rifodes," "the veranerins," "the stabulers," with a few foreigners like ourselves, such as "pietres," "francmitoux," "polissons" "malingreux," "traters," "rufflers," "whipjalks," "dommerars," "glymmerars," "jarkmen," "patricos," "swadders," "autem morts," "walking morts" 'Enow,' cried I, stopping him, 'art as gleesome as the Evil One a counting of his imps. I'll jot down in my tablet all these caitiffs and their accursed names: for knowledge is knowledge. But go among them, alive or dead, that will I not with my good will. Moreover,' said I, 'what need? since I have a companion in thee who is all the knaves on earth in one?' and thought to abash him but his face shone with pride, and hand on breast he did bow low to me. 'If thy wit be scant, good Bon Bec, thy manners are a charm. I have made a good bargain.' So he to the 'rotboss,' and I to a decent inn, and sketched the landlord's daughter by candle-light, and started at morn batzen three the richer, but could not find my master, so loitered slowly on, and presently met him coming west for me, and cursing the quiens. Why so? Because he could blind the culls but not the quiens. At last I prevailed on him to leave cursing and canting, and tell me his adventure. Said he, 'I sat outside the gate of yon monastery, full of sores, which I sho'ed the passers-by. Oh, Bon Bec, beautifuller sores you never saw; and it rained coppers in my hat. Presently the monks came home from some procession, and the convent dogs ran out to meet them, curse the quiens!' 'What, did they fall on thee and bite thee, poor soul?' 'Worse, worse, dear Bon Bec. Had they bitten me I had earned silver. But the great idiots, being, as I think, puppies, or little better, fell on me where I sat, downed me, and fell a licking my sores among them. As thou, false knave, didst swear the whelps in heaven licked the sores of Lazybones, a beggar of old.' 'Nay, nay,' said I, 'I said no such thing. But tell me, since they bit thee not, but sportfully licked thee, what harm?' 'What harm, noodle; why, the sores came off.' 'How could that be?' 'How could aught else be? and them just fresh put on. Did I think he was so weak as bite holes in his flesh with ratsbane? Nay, he was an artist, a painter, like his servant, and had put on sores made of pig's blood, rye meal, and glue. So when the folk saw my sores go on tongues of puppies, they laughed, and I saw cord or sack before me. So up I jumped, and shouted, "A miracle a miracle! The very dogs of this holy convent be holy, and have cured me. Good fathers," cried I, "whose day is this?" "St. Isidore's," said one. "St. Isidore," cried I, in a sort of rapture. "Why, St. Isidore is my patron saint: so that accounts." And the simple folk swallowed my miracle as those accursed quiens my wounds. But the monks took me inside and shut the gate, and put their heads together; but I have a quick ear, and one did say, "Caret miraculo monasterium," which is Greek patter, leastways it is no beggar's cant. Finally they bade the lay brethren give me a hiding, and take me out a back way and put me on the road, and threatened me did I come back to the town to hand me to the magistrate and have me drowned for a plain impostor. "Profit now by the Church's grace," said they, "and mend thy ways." So forward, Bon Bec, for my life is not sure nigh hand this town.' As we went he worked his shoulders, 'Wow but the brethren laid on. And what means yon piece of monk's cant, I wonder?' So I told him the words meant 'the monastery is in want of a miracle,' but the application thereof was dark to me. 'Dark,' cried he, 'dark as noon. Why, it means they are going to work the miracle, my miracle, and gather all the grain I sowed. Therefore these blows on their benefactor's shoulders; therefore is he that wrought their scurry miracle driven forth with stripes and threats. Oh, cozening knaves!' Said I, 'Becomes you to complain of guile.' 'Alas, Bon Bec,' said he, 'I but outwit the simple, but these monks would pluck Lucifer of his wing feathers.' And went a league bemoaning himself that he was not convent-bred like his servant 'He would put it to more profit;' and railing on quiens. 'And as for those monks, there was one Above.' 'Certes,' said I, 'there is one Above. What then?' 'Who will call those shavelings to compt, one day,' quoth he. 'And all deceitful men' said I. At one that afternoon I got armories to paint: so my master took the yellow jaundice and went begging through the town, and with his oily tongue, and saffron-water face, did fill his hat. Now in all the towns are certain licensed beggars, and one of these was an old favourite with the townsfolk: had his station at St. Martin's porch, the greatest church: a blind man: they called him blind Hans. He saw my master drawing coppers on the other side the street, and knew him by his tricks for an impostor, so sent and warned the constables, and I met my master in the constables' hands, and going to his trial in the town hall. I followed and many more; and he was none abashed, neither by the pomp of justice, nor memory of his misdeeds, but demanded his accuser like a trumpet. And blind Hans's boy came forward, but was sifted narrowly by my master, and stammered and faltered, and owned he had seen nothing, but only carried blind Hans's tale to the chief constable. 'This is but hearsay,' said my master. 'Lo ye now, here standeth Misfortune backbit by Envy. But stand thou forth, blind Envy, and vent thine own lie.' And blind Hans behoved to stand forth, sore against his will. Him did my master so press with questions, and so pinch and torture, asking him again and again, how, being blind, he could see all that befell, and some that befell not, across a way; and why, an he could not see, he came there holding up his perjured hand, and maligning the misfortunate, that at last he groaned aloud and would utter no word more. And an alderman said, 'In sooth, Hans, ye are to blame; hast cast more dirt of suspicion on thyself than on him.' But the burgomaster, a wondrous fat man, and methinks of his fat some had gotten into his head, checked him, and said, 'Nay, Hans we know this many years, and be he blind or not, he hath passed for blind so long, 'tis all one. Back to thy porch, good Hans, and let the strange varlet leave the town incontinent on pain of whipping.' Then my master winked to me; but there rose a civic officer in his gown of state and golden chain, a Dignity with us lightly prized, and even shunned of some, but in Germany and France much courted, save by condemned malefactors, to wit the hangman; and says he, 'Ant please you, first let us see why he weareth his hair so thick and low.' And his man went and lifted Cul de Jatte's hair, and lo, the upper gristle of both ears was gone. 'How is this knave? quoth the burgomaster. My master said carelessly, he minded not precisely: his had been a life of misfortunes and losses. When a poor soul has lost the use of his leg, noble sirs, these more trivial woes rest lightly in his memory.' When he found this would not serve his turn, he named two famous battles, in each of which he had lost half an ear, a fighting like a true man against traitors and rebels. But the hangman showed them the two cuts were made at one time, and by measurement. ''Tis no bungling soldiers' work, my masters,' said he, ''tis ourn.' Then the burgomaster gave judgment: 'The present charge is not proven against thee; but, an thou beest not guilty now, thou hast been at other times, witness thine ears. Wherefore I send thee to prison for one month, and to give a florin towards the new hall of the guilds now a building, and to be whipt out of the town, and pay the hangman's fee for the same.' And all the aldermen approved, and my master was haled to prison with one look of anguish. It did strike my bosom. I tried to get speech of him, but the jailer denied me. But lingering near the jail I heard a whistle, and there was Cul de Jatte at a narrow window twenty feet from earth. I went under, and he asked me what made I there? I told him I was loath to go forward and not bid him farewell. He seemed quite amazed; but soon his suspicious soul got the better. That was not all mine errand. I told him not all: the psaltery: 'Well, what of that?' 'Twas not mine, but his; I would pay him the price of it. 'Then throw me a rix dollar,' said he. I counted out my coins, and they came to a rix dollar and two batzen. I threw him up his money in three throws, and when he had got it all he said, softly, 'Bon Bec.' 'Master,' said I. Then the poor rogue was greatly moved. 'I thought ye had been mocking me,' said he; 'oh, Bon Bec, Bon Bec, if I had found the world like thee at starting I had put my wit to better use, and I had not lain here.' Then he whimpered out, 'I gave not quite a rix dollar for the jingler;' and threw me back that he had gone to cheat me of; honest for once, and over late; and so, with many sighs, bade me Godspeed. Thus did my master, after often baffling men's justice, fall by their injustice; for his lost ears proved not his guilt only, but of that guilt the bitter punishment: so the account was even; yet they for his chastisement did chastise him. Natheless he was a parlous rogue. Yet he holp to make a man of me. Thanks to his good wit I went forward richer far with my psaltery and brush, than with yon as good as stolen purse; for that must have run dry in time, like a big trough, but these a little fountain."
Richart. "How pregnant his reflections be; and but a curly pated lad when last I saw him. Asking your pardon, mistress. Prithee read on."
"One day I walked alone, and sooth to say, lighthearted, for mine honest Denys sweetened the air on the way; but poor Cul de Jatte poisoned it. The next day passing a grand house, out came on prancing steeds a gentleman in brave attire and two servants; they overtook me. The gentleman bade me halt. I laughed in my sleeve; for a few batzen were all my store. He bade me doff my doublet and jerkin. Then I chuckled no more. 'Bethink you, my lord,' said I, ''tis winter. How may a poor fellow go bare and live? So he told me I shot mine arrow wide of his thought, and off with his own gay jerkin, richly furred, and doublet to match, and held them forth to me. Then a servant let me know it was a penance. 'His lordship had had the ill luck to slay his cousin in their cups.' Down to my shoes he changed with me; and set me on his horse like a popinjay, and fared by my side in my worn weeds, with my psaltery on his back. And said he, 'Now, good youth, thou art Cousin Detstein; and I, late count, thy Servant. Play the part well, and help me save my bloodstained soul! Be haughty and choleric, as any noble; and I will be as humble as I may.' I said I would do my best to play the noble. But what should I call him? He bade me call him nought but Servant. That would mortify him most, he wist. We rode on a long way in silence; for I was meditating this strange chance, that from a beggar's servant had made me master to a count, and also cudgelling my brains how best I might play the master, without being run through the body all at one time like his cousin. For I mistrusted sore my spark's humility; your German nobles being, to my knowledge, proud as Lucifer, and choleric as fire. As for the servants, they did slily grin to one another to see their master so humbled."
"What is that?"
A lump, as of lead, had just bounced against the door, and the latch was fumbled with unsuccessfully. Another bounce, and the door swung inwards with Giles arrayed in cloth of gold sticking to it like a wasp. He landed on the floor, and was embraced; but on learning what was going on, trumpeted that he would much liever hear of Gerard than gossip.
Sybrandt pointed to a diminutive chair.
Giles showed his sense of this civility by tearing the said Sybrandt out of a very big one, and there ensconced himself gorgeous and glowing. Sybrandt had to wedge himself into the one, which was too small for the magnificent dwarf's soul, and Margaret resumed. But as this part of the letter was occupied with notices of places, all which my reader probably knows, and if not, can find handled at large in a dozen well-known books, from Munster to Murray, I skip the topography, and hasten to that part where it occurred to him to throw his letter into a journal. The personal narrative that intervened may be thus condensed.
He spoke but little at first to his new companions, but listened to pick up their characters. Neither his noble Servant nor his servants could read or write; and as he often made entries in his tablets, he impressed them with some awe. One of his entries was, "Le peu que sont les hommes." For he found the surly innkeepers licked the very ground before him now; nor did a soul suspect the hosier's son in the count's feathers, nor the count in the minstrel's weeds.
This seems to have surprised him; for he enlarged on it with the naivete and pomposity of youth. At one place, being humbly requested to present the inn with his armorial bearings, he consented loftily; but painted them himself, to mine host's wonder, who thought he lowered himself by handling brush. The true count stood grinning by, and held the paint-pot, while the sham count painted the shield with three red herrings rampant under a sort of Maltese cross made with two ell-measures. At first his plebeian servants were insolent. But this coming to the notice of his noble one, he forgot what he was doing penance for, and drew his sword to cut off their ears, heads included. But Gerard interposed and saved them, and rebuked the count severely. And finally they all understood one another, and the superior mind obtained its natural influence. He played the barbarous noble of that day vilely. For his heart would not let him be either tyrannical or cold. Here were three human beings. He tried to make them all happier than he was; held them ravished with stories and songs, and set Herr Penitent and Co. dancing with his whistle and psaltery. For his own convenience he made them ride and tie, and thus pushed rapidly through the country, travelling generally fifteen leagues a day.
"This first day of January I observed a young man of the country to meet a strange maiden, and kissed his hand, and then held it out to her. She took it with a smile, and lo! acquaintance made; and babbled like old friends. Greeting so pretty and delicate I ne'er did see. Yet were they both of the baser sort. So the next lass I saw a coming, I said to my servant lord, 'For further penance bow thy pride; go meet yon base-born girl; kiss thy homicidal hand, and give it her, and hold her in discourse as best ye may.' And my noble Servant said humbly, 'I shall obey my lord.' And we drew rein and watched while he went forward, kissed his hand and held it out to her. Forthwith she took it smiling, and was most affable with him, and he with her. Presently came up a band of her companions. So this time I bade him doff his bonnet to them, as though they were empresses; and he did so. And lo! the lasses drew up as stiff as hedgestakes, and moved not nor spake."
Denys. "Aie! aie! aie Pardon, the company."
"This surprised me none; for so they did discountenance poor Denys. And that whole day I wore in experimenting these German lasses; and 'twas still the same. An ye doff bonnet to them they stiffen into statues; distance for distance. But accost them with honest freedom, and with that customary, and though rustical, most gracious proffer, of the kissed hand, and they withhold neither their hands in turn nor their acquaintance in an honest way. Seeing which I vexed myself that Denys was not with us to prattle with them; he is so fond of women." ("Are you fond of women, Denys?") And the reader opened two great violet eyes upon him with gentle surprise.
Denys. "Ahem! he says so, she-comrade. By Hannibal's helmet, 'tis their fault, not mine. They will have such soft voices, and white skins, and sunny hair, and dark blue eyes, and—"
Margaret. (Reading suddenly.) "Which their affability I put to profit thus. I asked them how they made shift to grow roses in yule? For know, dear Margaret, that throughout Germany, the baser sort of lasses wear for head-dress nought but a 'crantz,' or wreath of roses, encircling their bare hair, as laurel Caesar's; and though of the worshipful, scorned, yet is braver, I wist, to your eye and mine which painters be, though sorry ones, than the gorgeous, uncouth, mechanical head-gear of the time, and adorns, not hides her hair, that goodly ornament fitted to her head by craft divine. So the good lasses, being questioned close, did let me know, the rosebuds are cut in summer and laid then in great clay-pots, thus ordered:—first bay salt, then a row of buds, and over that row bay salt sprinkled; then, another row of buds placed crosswise; for they say it is death to the buds to touch one another; and so on, buds and salt in layers. Then each pot is covered and soldered tight, and kept in cool cellar. And on Saturday night the master of the house, or mistress, if master be none, opens a pot, and doles the rosebuds out to every female in the house, high or low, withouten grudge; then solders it up again. And such as of these buds would full-blown roses make, put them in warm water a little space, or else in the stove, and then with tiny brush and soft, wetted in Rhenish wine, do coax them till they ope their folds. And some perfume them with rose-water. For, alack, their smell it is fled with the summer; and only their fair bodyes lie withouten soul, in tomb of clay, awaiting resurrection.
"And some with the roses and buds mix nutmegs gilded, but not by my good will; for gold, brave in itself, cheek by jowl with roses, is but yellow earth. And it does the eye's heart good to see these fair heads of hair come, blooming with roses, over snowy roads, and by snow-capt hedges, setting winter's beauty by the side of summer's glory. For what so fair as winter's lilies, snow yclept, and what so brave as roses? And shouldst have had a picture here, but for their superstition. Leaned a lass in Sunday garb, cross ankled, against her cottage corner, whose low roof was snow-clad, and with her crantz did seem a summer flower sprouting from winter's bosom. I drew rein, and out pencil and brush to limn her for thee. But the simpleton, fearing the evil eye, or glamour, claps both hands to her face and flies panic-stricken. But indeed, they are not more superstitious than the Sevenbergen folk, which take thy father for a magician. Yet softly, sith at this moment I profit by this darkness of their minds; for, at first, sitting down to write this diary, I could frame nor thought nor word, so harried and deaved was I with noise of mechanical persons, and hoarse laughter at dull jests of one of these particoloured 'fools,' which are so rife in Germany. But oh, sorry wit, that is driven to the poor resource of pointed ear-caps, and a green and yellow body. True wit, methinks, is of the mind. We met in Burgundy an honest wench, though over free for my palate, a chambermaid, had made havoc of all these zanies, droll by brute force. Oh, Digressor! Well then, I to be rid of roaring rusticalls, and mindless jests, put my finger in a glass and drew on the table a great watery circle; whereat the rusticalls did look askant, like venison at a cat; and in that circle a smaller circle. The rusticalls held their peace; and besides these circles cabalistical, I laid down on the table solemnly yon parchment deed I had out of your house. The rusticalls held their breath. Then did I look as glum as might be, and muttered slowly thus 'Videamus—quam diu tu fictus morio—vosque veri stulti—audebitis—in hac aula morari, strepitantes ita—et olentes: ut dulcissimae nequeam miser scribere.' They shook like aspens, and stole away on tiptoe one by one at first, then in a rush and jostling, and left me alone; and most scared of all was the fool: never earned jester fairer his ass's ears. So rubbed I their foible, who first rubbed mine; for of all a traveller's foes I dread those giants twain, Sir Noise, and eke Sir Stench. The saints and martyrs forgive my peevishness. Thus I write to thee in balmy peace, and tell thee trivial things scarce worthy ink, also how I love thee, which there was no need to tell, for well thou knowest it. And oh, dear Margaret, looking on their roses, which grew in summer, but blow in winter, I see the picture of our true affection; born it was in smiles and bliss, but soon adversity beset us sore with many a bitter blast. Yet our love hath lost no leaf, thank God, but blossoms full and fair as ever, proof against frowns, and jibes, and prison, and banishment, as those sweet German flowers a blooming in winter's snow.
"January 2.—My servant, the count, finding me curious, took me to the stables of the prince that rules this part. In the first court was a horse-bath, adorned with twenty-two pillars, graven with the prince's arms; and also the horse-leech's shop, so furnished as a rich apothecary might envy. The stable is a fair quadrangle, whereof three sides filled with horses of all nations. Before each horse's nose was a glazed window, with a green curtain to be drawn at pleasure, and at his tail a thick wooden pillar with a brazen shield, whence by turning of a pipe he is watered, and serves too for a cupboard to keep his comb and rubbing clothes. Each rack was iron, and each manger shining copper, and each nag covered with a scarlet mantle, and above him his bridle and saddle hung, ready to gallop forth in a minute; and not less than two hundred horses, whereof twelve score of foreign breed. And we returned to our inn full of admiration, and the two varlets said sorrowfully, 'Why were we born with two legs?' And one of the grooms that was civil and had of me trinkgeld, stood now at his cottage-door and asked us in. There we found his wife and children of all ages, from five to eighteen, and had but one room to bide and sleep in, a thing pestiferous and most uncivil. Then I asked my Servant, knew he this prince? Ay, did he, and had often drunk with him in a marble chamber above the stable, where, for table, was a curious and artificial rock, and the drinking vessels hang on its pinnacles, and at the hottest of the engagement a statue of a horseman in bronze came forth bearing a bowl of liquor, and he that sat nearest behoved to drain it. ''Tis well,' said I: 'now for thy penance, whisper thou in yon prince's ear, that God hath given him his people freely, and not sought a price for them as for horses. And pray him look inside the huts at his horse-palace door, and bethink himself is it well to house his horses, and stable his folk.' Said he, ''Twill give sore offence.' 'But,' said I, 'ye must do it discreetly and choose your time.' So he promised. And riding on we heard plaintive cries. 'Alas,' said I, 'some sore mischance hath befallen some poor soul: what may it be?' And we rode up, and lo! it was a wedding feast, and the guests were plying the business of drinking sad and silent, but ever and anon cried loud and dolefully, 'Seyte frolich! Be merry.'
"January 3.—Yesterday between Nurnberg and Augsburg we parted company. I gave my lord, late Servant, back his brave clothes for mine, but his horse he made me keep, and five gold pieces, and said he was still my debtor, his penance it had been slight along of me, but profitable. But his best word was this: 'I see 'tis more noble to be loved than feared.' And then he did so praise me as I blushed to put on paper; yet, poor fool, would fain thou couldst hear his words, but from some other pen than mine. And the servants did heartily grasp my hand, and wish me good luck. And riding apace, yet could I not reach Augsburg till the gates were closed; but it mattered little, for this Augsburg it is an enchanted city. For a small coin one took me a long way round to a famous postern called der Einlasse. Here stood two guardians, like statues. To them I gave my name and business. They nodded me leave to knock; I knocked; and the iron gate opened with a great noise and hollow rattling of a chain, but no hand seen nor chain; and he who drew the hidden chain sits a butt's length from the gate; and I rode in, and the gate closed with a clang after me. I found myself in a great building with a bridge at my feet. This I rode over and presently came to a porter's lodge, where one asked me again my name and business, then rang a bell, and a great portcullis that barred the way began to rise, drawn by a wheel overhead, and no hand seen. Behind the portcullis was a thick oaken door studded with steel. It opened without hand, and I rode into a hall as dark as pitch. Trembling there a while, a door opened and showed me a smaller hall lighted. I rode into it: a tin goblet came down from the ceiling by a little chain: I put two batzen into it, and it went up again. Being gone, another thick door creaked and opened, and I rid through. It closed on me with a tremendous clang, and behold me in Augsburg city. I lay at an inn called 'The Three Moors,' over an hundred years old; and this morning, according to my way of viewing towns to learn their compass and shape, I mounted the highest tower I could find, and setting my dial at my foot surveyed the beautiful city: whole streets of palaces and churches tiled with copper burnished like gold; and the house fronts gaily painted and all glazed, and the glass so clean and burnished as 'tis most resplendent and rare; and I, now first seeing a great city, did crow with delight, and like cock on his ladder, and at the tower foot was taken into custody for a spy; for whilst I watched the city the watchman had watched me. The burgomaster received me courteously and heard my story; then rebuked he the officers. 'Could ye not question him yourselves, or read in his face? This is to make our city stink in strangers' report.' Then he told me my curiosity was of a commendable sort; and seeing I was a craftsman and inquisitive, bade his clerk take me among the guilds. God bless the city where the very burgomaster is cut of Soloman's cloth!
"January 5.—Dear Margaret, it is a noble city, and a kind mother to arts. Here they cut in wood and ivory, that 'tis like spider's work, and paint on glass, and sing angelical harmonies. Writing of books is quite gone by; here be six printers. Yet was I offered a bountiful wage to write fairly a merchant's accounts, one Fugger, a grand and wealthy trader, and hath store of ships, yet his father was but a poor weaver. But here in commerce, her very garden, men swell like mushrooms. And he bought my horse of me, and abated me not a jot, which way of dealing is not known in Holland. But oh, Margaret, the workmen of all the guilds are so kind and brotherly to one another, and to me. Here, methinks, I have found the true German mind, loyal, frank, and kindly, somewhat choleric withal, but nought revengeful. Each mechanic wears a sword. The very weavers at the loom sit girded with their weapons, and all Germans on too slight occasion draw them and fight; but no treachery: challenge first, then draw, and with the edge only, mostly the face, not with Sir Point; for if in these combats one thrust at his adversary and hurt him, 'tis called ein schelemstucke, a heinous act, both men and women turn their backs on him; and even the judges punish thrusts bitterly, but pass over cuts. Hence in Germany be good store of scarred faces, three in five at least, and in France scarce more than one in three.
"But in arts mechanical no citizens may compare with these. Fountains in every street that play to heaven, and in the gardens seeming trees, which being approached, one standing afar touches a spring, and every twig shoots water, and souses the guests to their host's much delectation. Big culverins of war they cast with no more ado than our folk horse-shoes, and have done this fourscore years. All stuffs they weave, and linen fine as ours at home, or nearly, which elsewhere in Europe vainly shall ye seek. Sir Printing Press—sore foe to poor Gerard, but to other humans beneficial—plieth by night and day, and casteth goodly words like sower afield; while I, poor fool, can but sow them as I saw women in France sow rye, dribbling it in the furrow grain by grain. And of their strange mechanical skill take two examples. For ending of exemplary rogues they have a figure like a woman, seven feet high, and called Jung Frau; but lo, a spring is touched, she seizeth the poor wretch with iron arms, and opening herself, hales him inside her, and there pierces him through and through with two score lances. Secondly, in all great houses the spit is turned not by a scrubby boy, but by smoke. Ay, mayst well admire, and judge me a lying knave. These cunning Germans do set in the chimney a little windmill, and the smoke struggling to wend past, turns it, and from the mill a wire runs through the wall and turns the spit on wheels; beholding which I doffed my bonnet to the men of Augsburg, for who but these had ere devised to bind ye so dark and subtle a knave as Sir Smoke, and set him to roast Dame Pullet?
"This day, January 8, with three craftsmen of the town, I painted a pack of cards. They were for a senator, in a hurry. I the diamonds. My queen came forth with eyes like spring violets, hair a golden brown, and witching smile. My fellow-craftsmen saw her, and put their arms round my neck and hailed me master. Oh, noble Germans! No jealousy of a brother-workman: no sour looks at a stranger; and would have me spend Sunday with them after matins; and the merchant paid me so richly as I was ashamed to take the guerdon; and I to my inn, and tried to paint the queen of diamonds for poor Gerard; but no, she would not come like again. Luck will not be bespoke. Oh, happy rich man that hath got her! Fie! fie! Happy Gerard that shall have herself one day, and keep house with her at Augsburg.
"January 8.—With my fellows, and one Veit Stoss, a wood-carver, and one Hafnagel, of the goldsmiths' guild, and their wives and lasses, to Hafnagel's cousin, a senator of this free city, and his stupendous wine-vessel. It is ribbed like a ship, and hath been eighteen months in hand, and finished but now, and holds a hundred and fifty hogsheads, and standeth not, but lieth; yet even so ye get not on his back, withouten ladders two, of thirty steps. And we sat about the miraculous mass, and drank Rhenish from it, drawn by a little artificial pump, and the lasses pinned their crantzes to it, and we danced round it, and the senator danced on its back, but with drinking of so many garausses, lost his footing and fell off, glass in hand, and broke an arm and a leg in the midst of us. So scurvily ended our drinking bout for this time.
"January 10.—This day started for Venice with a company of merchants, and among them him who had desired me for his scrivener; and so we are now agreed, I to write at night the letters he shall dict, and other matters, he to feed and lodge me on the road. We be many and armed, and soldiers with us to boot, so fear not the thieves which men say lie on the borders of Italy. But an if I find the printing press at Venice, I trow I shall not go unto Rome, for man may not vie with iron.
"Imprimit una dies quantum non scribitur anno. And, dearest, something tells me you and I shall end our days at Augsburg, whence going, I shall leave it all I can—my blessing.
"January 12.—My master affecteth me much, and now maketh me sit with him in his horse-litter. A grave good man, of all respected, but sad for loss of a dear daughter, and loveth my psaltery: not giddy-faced ditties, but holy harmonies such as Cul de Jatte made wry mouths at. So many men, so many minds. But cooped in horse-litter and at night writing his letters, my journal halteth.
"January 14.—When not attending on my good merchant, I consort with such of our company as are Italians, for 'tis to Italy I wend, and I am ill seen in Italian tongue. A courteous and a subtle people, at meat delicate feeders and cleanly: love not to put their left hand in the dish. They say Venice is the garden of Lombardy, Lombardy the garden of Italy, Italy of the world.
"January 16.-Strong ways and steep, and the mountain girls so girded up, as from their armpits to their waist is but a handful. Of all the garbs I yet have seen, the most unlovely.
"January 18.-In the midst of life we are in death. Oh! dear Margaret, I thought I had lost thee. Here I lie in pain and dole, and shall write thee that, which read you it in a romance ye should cry, 'Most improbable!' And so still wondering that I am alive to write it, and thanking for it God and the saints, this is what befell thy Gerard. Yestreen I wearied of being shut up in litter, and of the mule's slow pace, and so went forward; and being, I know not why, strangely full of spirit and hope, as I have heard befall some men when on trouble's brink, seemed to tread on air, and soon distanced them all. Presently I came to two roads, and took the larger; I should have taken the smaller. After travelling a good half-hour, I found my error, and returned; and deeming my company had long passed by, pushed bravely on, but I could not overtake them; and small wonder, as you shall hear. Then I was anxious, and ran, but bare was the road of those I sought; and night came down, and the wild beasts a-foot, and I bemoaned my folly; also I was hungered. The moon rose clear and bright exceedingly, and presently a little way off the road I saw a tall windmill. 'Come,' said I, 'mayhap the miller will take ruth on me.' Near the mill was a haystack, and scattered about were store of little barrels; but lo they were not flour-barrels, but tar-barrels, one or two, and the rest of spirits, Brant vein and Schiedam; I knew them momently, having seen the like in Holland. I knocked at the mill-door, but none answered. I lifted the latch, and the door opened inwards. I went in, and gladly, for the night was fine but cold, and a rime on the trees, which were a kind of lofty sycamores. There was a stove, but black; I lighted it with some of the hay and wood, for there was a great pile of wood outside, and I know not how, I went to sleep. Not long had I slept, I trow, when hearing a noise, I awoke; and there were a dozen men around me, with wild faces, and long black hair, and black sparkling eyes."
Catherine. "Oh, my poor boy! those black-haired ones do still scare me to look on."
"I made my excuses in such Italian as I knew, and eking out by signs. They grinned. 'I had lost my company.' They grinned. 'I was an hungered.' Still they grinned, and spoke to one another in a tongue I knew not. At last one gave me a piece of bread and a tin mug of wine, as I thought, but it was spirits neat. I made a wry face and asked for water: then these wild men laughed a horrible laugh. I thought to fly, but looking towards the door it was bolted with two enormous bolts of iron, and now first, as I ate my bread, I saw it was all guarded too, and ribbed with iron. My blood curdled within me, and yet I could not tell thee why; but hadst thou seen the faces, wild, stupid, and ruthless. I mumbled my bread, not to let them see I feared them; but oh, it cost me to swallow it and keep it in me. Then it whirled in my brain, was there no way to escape? Said I, 'They will not let me forth by the door; these be smugglers or robbers.' So I feigned drowsiness, and taking out two batzen said, 'Good men, for our Lady's grace let me lie on a bed and sleep, for I am faint with travel.' They nodded and grinned their horrible grin, and bade one light a lanthorn and lead me. He took me up a winding staircase, up, up, and I saw no windows, but the wooden walls were pierced like a barbican tower, and methinks for the same purpose, and through these slits I got glimpses of the sky, and thought, 'Shall I e'er see thee again?' He took me to the very top of the mill, and there was a room with a heap of straw in one corner and many empty barrels, and by the wall a truckle bed. He pointed to it, and went downstairs heavily, taking the light, for in this room was a great window, and the moon came in bright. I looked out to see, and lo, it was so high that even the mill sails at their highest came not up to my window by some feet, but turned very slow and stately underneath, for wind there was scarce a breath; and the trees seemed silver filagree made by angel craftsmen. My hope of flight was gone.
"But now, those wild faces being out of sight, I smiled at my fears: what an if they were ill men, would it profit them to hurt me? Natheless, for caution against surprise, I would put the bed against the door. I went to move it, but could not. It was free at the head, but at the foot fast clamped with iron to the floor. So I flung my psaltery on the bed, but for myself made a layer of straw at the door, so as none could open on me unawares. And I laid my sword ready to my hand. And said my prayers for thee and me, and turned to sleep.
"Below they drank and made merry. And hearing this gave me confidence. Said I, 'Out of sight, out of mind. Another hour and the good Schiedam will make them forget that I am here.' And so I composed myself to sleep. And for some time could not for the boisterous mirth below. At last I dropped off. How long I slept I knew not; but I woke with a start: the noise had ceased below, and the sudden silence woke me. And scarce was I awake, when sudden the truckle bed was gone with a loud clang all but the feet, and the floor yawned, and I heard my psaltery fall and break to atoms, deep, deep, below the very floor of the mill. It had fallen into a well. And so had I done, lying where it lay."
Margaret shuddered and put her face in her hands. But speedily resumed.
"I lay stupefied at first. Then horror fell on me, and I rose, but stood rooted there, shaking from head to foot. At last I found myself looking down into that fearsome gap, and my very hair did bristle as I peered. And then, I remember, I turned quite calm, and made up my mind to die sword in hand. For I saw no man must know this their bloody secret and live. And I said, 'Poor Margaret!' And I took out of my bosom, where they lie ever, our marriage lines, and kissed them again and again. And I pinned them to my shirt again, that they might lie in one grave with me, if die I must. And I thought, 'All our love and hopes to end thus!'"
Eli. "Whisht all! Their marriage lines? Give her time! But no word. I can bear no chat. My poor lad!"
During the long pause that ensued Catherine leaned forward and passed something adroitly from her own lap under her daughter's apron who sat next her.
"Presently thinking, all in a whirl, of all that ever passed between us, and taking leave of all those pleasant hours, I called to mind how one day at Sevenbergen thou taughtest me to make a rope of straw. Mindest thou? The moment memory brought that happy day back to me, I cried out very loud: 'Margaret gives me a chance for life even here.' I woke from my lethargy. I seized on the straw and twisted it eagerly, as thou didst teach me, but my fingers trembled and delayed the task. Whiles I wrought I heard a door open below. That was a terrible moment. Even as I twisted my rope I got to the window and looked down at the great arms of the mill coming slowly up, then passing, then turning less slowly down, as it seemed; and I thought, 'They go not as when there is wind: yet, slow or fast, what man rid ever on such steed as these, and lived. Yet,' said I, 'better trust to them and God than to ill men.' And I prayed to Him whom even the wind obeyeth.
"Dear Margaret, I fastened my rope, and let myself gently down, and fixed my eye on that huge arm of the mill, which then was creeping up to me, and went to spring on to it. But my heart failed me at the pinch. And methought it was not near enow. And it passed calm and awful by. I watched for another; they were three. And after a little while one crept up slower than the rest methought. And I with my foot thrust myself in good time somewhat out from the wall, and crying aloud 'Margaret!' did grip with all my soul the wood-work of the sail, and that moment was swimming in the air."
Giles. "WELL DONE! WELL DONE!"
"Motion I felt little; but the stars seemed to go round the sky, and then the grass came up to me nearer and nearer, and when the hoary grass was quite close I was sent rolling along it as if hurled from a catapult, and got up breathless, and every point and tie about me broken. I rose, but fell down again in agony. I had but one leg I could stand on."
Catherine. "Eh! dear! his leg is broke, my boy's leg is broke."
"And e'en as I lay groaning, I heard a sound like thunder. It was the assassins running up the stairs. The crazy old mill shook under them. They must have found that I had not fallen into their bloody trap, and were running to despatch me. Margaret, I felt no fear, for I had now no hope. I could neither run nor hide; so wild the place, so bright the moon. I struggled up all agony and revenge, more like some wounded wild beast than your Gerard. Leaning on my sword hilt I hobbled round; and swift as lighting, or vengeance, I heaped a great pile of their hay and wood at the mill door; then drove my dagger into a barrel of their smuggled spirits, and flung it on; then out with my tinder and lighted the pile. 'This will bring true men round my dead body,' said I. 'Aha!' I cried, 'think you I'll die alone, cowards, assassins! reckless fiends!' and at each word on went a barrel pierced. But oh, Margaret! the fire fed by the spirits surprised me: it shot up and singed my very hair, it went roaring up the side of the mill, swift as falls the lightning; and I yelled and laughed in my torture and despair, and pierced more barrels and the very tar-barrels, and flung them on. The fire roared like a lion for its prey, and voices answered it inside from the top of the mill, and the feet came thundering down, and I stood as near that awful fire as I could, with uplifted sword to slay and be slain. The bolt was drawn. A tar-barrel caught fire. The door was opened. What followed? Not the men came out, but the fire rushed in at them like a living death, and the first I thought to fight with was blackened and crumpled on the floor like a leaf. One fearsome yell, and dumb for ever. The feet ran up again, but fewer. I heard them hack with their swords a little way up at the mill's wooden sides; but they had no time to hew their way out: the fire and reek were at their heels, and the smoke burst out at every loophole, and oozed blue in the moonlight through each crevice. I hobbled back, racked with pain and fury. There were white faces up at my window. They saw me. They cursed me. I cursed them back and shook my naked sword: 'Come down the road I came,' I cried. 'But ye must come one by one, and as ye come, ye die upon this steel.' Some cursed at that, but others wailed. For I had them all at deadly vantage. And doubtless, with my smoke-grimed face and fiendish rage, I looked a demon. And now there was a steady roar inside the mill. The flame was going up it as furnace up its chimney. The mill caught fire. Fire glimmered through it. Tongues of flame darted through each loophole and shot sparks and fiery flakes into the night. One of the assassins leaped on to the sail, as I had done. In his hurry he missed his grasp and fell at my feet, and bounded from the hard ground like a ball, and never spoke, nor moved again. And the rest screamed like women, and with their despair came back to me both ruth for them and hope of life for myself. And the fire gnawed through the mill in placen, and shot forth showers of great flat sparks like flakes of fiery snow; and the sails caught fire one after another; and I became a man again and staggered away terror-stricken, leaning on my sword, from the sight of my revenge, and with great bodily pain crawled back to the road. And, dear Margaret, the rimy trees were now all like pyramids of golden filagree, and lace, cobweb fine, in the red firelight. Oh! most beautiful! And a poor wretch got entangled in the burning sails, and whirled round screaming, and lost hold at the wrong time, and hurled like stone from mangonel high into the air; then a dull thump; it was his carcass striking the earth. The next moment there was a loud crash. The mill fell in on its destroyer, and a million great sparks flew up, and the sails fell over the burning wreck, and at that a million more sparks flew up, and the ground was strewn with burning wood and men. I prayed God forgive me, and kneeling with my back to that fiery shambles, I saw lights on the road; a welcome sight. It was a company coming towards me, and scarce two furlongs off. I hobbled towards them. Ere I had gone far I heard a swift step behind me. I turned. One had escaped; how escaped, who can divine? His sword shone in the moonlight. I feared him. Methought the ghosts of all those dead sat on that glittering glaive. I put my other foot to the ground, maugre the anguish, and fled towards the torches, moaning with pain, and shouting for aid. But what could I do He gained on me. Behooved me turn and fight. Denys had taught me sword play in sport. I wheeled, our swords clashed. His clothes they smelled all singed. I cut swiftly upward with supple hand, and his dangled bleeding at the wrist, and his sword fell; it tinkled on the ground. I raised my sword to hew him should he stoop for't. He stood and cursed me. He drew his dagger with his left; I opposed my point and dared him with my eye to close. A great shout arose behind me from true men's throats. He started. He spat at me in his rage, then gnashed his teeth and fled blaspheming. I turned and saw torches close at hand. Lo, they fell to dancing up and down methought, and the next-moment-all-was-dark. I had—ah!"
Catherine. "Here, help! water! Stand aloof, you that be men!"
Margaret had fainted away.
When she recovered, her head was on Catherine's arm, and the honest half of the family she had invaded like a foe stood round her uttering rough homely words of encouragement, especially Giles, who roared at her that she was not to take on like that. "Gerard was alive and well, or he could not have writ this letter, the biggest mankind had seen as yet, and," as he thought, "the beautifullest, and most moving, and smallest writ."
"Ay, good Master Giles," sighed Margaret feebly, "he was alive. But how know I what hath since befallen him? Oh, why left he Holland to go among strangers fierce as lions? And why did I not drive him from me sooner than part him from his own flesh and blood? Forgive me, you that are his mother!"
And she gently removed Catherine's arm, and made a feeble attempt to slide off the chair on to her knees, which, after a brief struggle with superior force, ended in her finding herself on Catherine's bosom. Then Margaret held out the letter to Eli, and said faintly but sweetly, "I will trust it from my hand now. In sooth, I am little fit to read any more-and-and—loth to leave my comfort;" and she wreathed her other arm round Catherine's neck.
"Read thou, Richart," said Eli: "thine eyes be younger than mine."
Richart took the letter. "Well," said he, "such writing saw I never. A writeth with a needle's point; and clear to boot. Why is he not in my counting-house at Amsterdam instead of vagabonding it out yonder!"
"When I came to myself I was seated in the litter, and my good merchant holding of my hand. I babbled I know not what, and then shuddered awhile in silence. He put a horn of wine to my lips."
Catherine. "Bless him! bless him!"
"And I told him what had befallen. He would see my leg. It was sprained sore, and swelled at the ankle; and all my points were broken, as I could scarce keep up my hose, and I said, 'Sir, I shall be but a burden to you, I doubt, and can make you no harmony now; my poor psaltery it is broken;' and I did grieve over my broken music, companion of so many weary leagues. But he patted me on the cheek, and bade me not fret; also he did put up my leg on a pillow, and tended me like a kind father.
"January 19.—I sit all day in the litter, for we are pushing forward with haste, and at night the good, kind merchant sendeth me to bed, and will not let me work. Strange! whene'er I fall in with men like fiends, then the next moment God still sendeth me some good man or woman, lest I should turn away from human kind. Oh, Margaret! how strangely mixed they be, and how old I am by what I was three months agone. And lo! if good Master Fugger hath not been and bought me a psaltery."
Catherine. "Eli, my man, an yon merchant comes our way let us buy a hundred ells of cloth of him, and not higgle."
Eli. "That will I, take your oath on't!"
While Richart prepared to read, Kate looked at her mother, and with a faint blush drew out the piece of work from under her apron, and sewed with head depressed a little more than necessary. On this her mother drew a piece of work out of her pocket, and sewed too, while Richart read. Both the specimens these sweet surreptitious creatures now first exposed to observation were babies' caps, and more than half finished, which told a tale. Horror! they were like little monks' cowls in shape and delicacy.
"January 20.—Laid up in the litter, and as good as blind, but halting to bait, Lombardy plains burst on me. Oh, Margaret! a land flowing with milk and honey; all sloping plains, goodly rivers, jocund meadows, delectable orchards, and blooming gardens; and though winter, looks warmer than poor beloved Holland at midsummer, and makes the wanderer's face to shine, and his heart to leap for joy to see earth so kind and smiling. Here be vines, cedars, olives, and cattle plenty, but three goats to a sheep. The draught oxen wear white linen on their necks, and standing by dark green olive-trees each one is a picture; and the folk, especially women, wear delicate strawen hats with flowers and leaves fairly imitated in silk, with silver mixed. This day we crossed a river prettily in a chained ferry-boat. On either bank was a windlass, and a single man by turning of it drew our whole company to his shore, whereat I did admire, being a stranger. Passed over with us some country folk. And an old woman looking at a young wench, she did hide her face with her hand, and held her crucifix out like knight his sword in tourney dreading the evil eye.
"January 25.—Safe at Venice. A place whose strange and passing beauty is well known to thee by report of our mariners. Dost mind too how Peter would oft fill our ears withal, we handed beneath the table, and he still discoursing of this sea-enthroned and peerless city, in shape a bow, and its great canal and palaces on piles, and its watery ways plied by scores of gilded boats; and that market-place of nations, orbis, non urbis, forum, St. Mark, his place? And his statue with the peerless jewels in his eyes, and the lion at his gate? But I, lying at my window in pain, may see none of these beauties as yet, but only a street, fairly paved, which is dull, and houses with oiled paper and linen, in lieu of glass, which is rude; and the passers-by, their habits and their gestures, wherein they are superfluous. Therefore, not to miss my daily comfort of whispering to thee, I will e'en turn mine eyes inward, and bind my sheaves of wisdom reaped by travel. For I love thee so, that no treasure pleases me not shared with thee; and what treasure so good and enduring as knowledge? This then have I, Sir Footsore, learned, that each nation hath its proper wisdom, and its proper folly; and methinks, could a great king, or duke, tramp like me, and see with his own eyes, he might pick the flowers, and eschew the weeds of nations, and go home and set his own folk on Wisdom's hill. The Germans in the north were churlish, but frank and honest; in the south, kindly and honest too. Their general blot is drunkenness, the which they carry even to mislike and contempt of sober men. They say commonly, 'Kanstu niecht sauffen und fressen so kanstu kienem hern wol dienen.' In England, the vulgar sort drink as deep, but the worshipful hold excess in this a reproach, and drink a health or two for courtesy, not gluttony, and still sugar the wine. In their cups the Germans use little mirth or discourse, but ply the business sadly, crying 'Seyte frolich!' The best of their drunken sport is 'Kurlemurlehuff,' a way of drinking with touching deftly of the glass, the beard, the table, in due turn, intermixed with whistlings and snappings of the finger so curiously ordered as 'tis a labour of Hercules, but to the beholder right pleasant and mirthful. Their topers, by advice of German leeches, sleep with pebbles in their mouths. For, as of a boiling pot the lid must be set ajar, so with these fleshy wine-pots, to vent the heat of their inward parts: spite of which many die suddenly from drink; but 'tis a matter of religion to slur it, and gloze it, and charge some innocent disease therewith. Yet 'tis more a custom than very nature, for their women come among the tipplers, and do but stand a moment, and as it were, kiss the wine-cup; and are indeed most temperate in eating and drinking, and of all women, modest and virtuous, and true spouses and friends to their mates; far before our Holland lasses, that being maids, put the question to the men, and being wived, do lord it over them. Why, there is a wife in Tergou, not far from our door. One came to the house and sought her man. Says she, 'You'll not find him: he asked my leave to go abroad this afternoon, and I did give it him.'"
Catherine. "'Tis sooth! 'tis sooth! 'Twas Beck Hulse, Jonah's wife. This comes of a woman wedding a boy."
"In the south where wine is, the gentry drink themselves bare; but not in the north: for with beer a noble shall sooner burst his body than melt his lands. They are quarrelsome, but 'tis the liquor, not the mind; for they are none revengeful. And when they have made a bad bargain drunk, they stand to it sober. They keep their windows bright; and judge a man by his clothes. Whatever fruit or grain or herb grows by the roadside, gather and eat. The owner seeing you shall say, 'Art welcome, honest man.' But an ye pluck a wayside grape, your very life is in jeopardy. 'Tis eating of that Heaven gave to be drunken. The French are much fairer spoken, and not nigh so true-hearted. Sweet words cost them nought. They call it payer en blanche."
Denys. "Les coquins! ha! ha!"
"Natheless, courtesy is in their hearts, ay, in their very blood. They say commonly, 'Give yourself the trouble of sitting down.' And such straws of speech show how blows the wind. Also at a public show, if you would leave your seat, yet not lose it, tie but your napkin round the bench, and no French man or woman will sit here; but rather keep the place for you."
Catherine. "Gramercy! that is manners. France for me!"
Denys rose and placed his hand gracefully to his breastplate.
"Natheless, they say things in sport which are not courteous, but shocking. 'Le diable t'emporte!' 'Allez au diable!' and so forth. But I trow they mean not such dreadful wishes: custom belike. Moderate in drinking, and mix water with their wine, and sing and dance over their cups, and are then enchanting company. They are curious not to drink in another man's cup. In war the English gain the better of them in the field; but the French are their masters in attack and defence of cities; witness Orleans, where they besieged their besiegers and hashed them sore with their double and treble culverines; and many other sieges in this our century. More than all nations they flatter their women, and despise them. No. She may be their sovereign ruler. Also they often hang their female malefactors, instead of drowning them decently, as other nations use. The furniture in their inns is walnut, in Germany only deal. French windows are ill. The lower half is of wood, and opens; the upper half is of glass, but fixed; so that the servant cannot come at it to clean it. The German windows are all glass, and movable, and shine far and near like diamonds. In France many mean houses are not glazed at all. Once I saw a Frenchman pass a church without unbonneting. This I ne'er witnessed in Holland, Germany, or Italy. At many inns they show the traveller his sheets, to give him assurance they are clean, and warm them at the fire before him; a laudable custom. They receive him kindly and like a guest; they mostly cheat him, and whiles cut his throat. They plead in excuse hard and tyrannous laws. And true it is their law thrusteth its nose into every platter, and its finger into every pie. In France worshipful men wear their hats and their furs indoors, and go abroad lighter clad. In Germany they don hat and furred cloak to go abroad; but sit bareheaded and light clad round the stove.
"The French intermix not the men and women folk in assemblies, as we Hollanders use. Round their preachers the women sit on their heels in rows, and the men stand behind them. Their harvests are rye, and flax, and wine. Three mules shall you see to one horse, and whole flocks of sheep as black as coal.
"In Germany the snails be red. I lie not. The French buy minstrelsy, but breed jests, and make their own mirth. The Germans foster their set fools, with ear-caps, which move them to laughter by simulating madness; a calamity that asks pity, not laughter. In this particular I deem that lighter nation wiser than the graver German. What sayest thou? Alas! canst not answer me now.
"In Germany the petty laws are wondrous wise and just. Those against criminals, bloody. In France bloodier still; and executed a trifle more cruelly there. Here the wheel is common, and the fiery stake; and under this king they drown men by the score in Paris river, Seine yclept. But the English are as peremptory in hanging and drowning for a light fault; so travellers report. Finally, a true-hearted Frenchman, when ye chance on one, is a man as near perfect as earth affords; and such a man is my Denys, spite of his foul mouth."
Denys. "My foul mouth! Is that so writ, Master Richart?"
Richart. "Ay, in sooth; see else."
Denys (inspecting the letter gravely). "I read not the letter so."
Richart. "How then?"
Denys. "Humph! ahem why just the contrary." He added: "'Tis kittle work perusing of these black scratches men are agreed to take for words. And I trow 'tis still by guess you clerks do go, worthy sir. My foul mouth! This is the first time e'er I heard on't. Eh, mesdames?"
But the females did not seize the opportunity he gave them, and burst into a loud and general disclaimer. Margaret blushed and said nothing; the other two bent silently over their work with something very like a sly smile. Denys inspected their countenances long and carefully. And the perusal was so satisfactory, that he turned with a tone of injured, but patient innocence, and bade Richart read on.
"The Italians are a polished and subtle people. They judge a man, not by his habits, but his speech and gesture. Here Sir Chough may by no means pass for falcon gentle, as did I in Germany, pranked in my noble servant's feathers. Wisest of all nations in their singular temperance of food and drink. Most foolish of all to search strangers coming into their borders, and stay them from bringing much money in. They should rather invite it, and like other nations, let the traveller from taking of it out. Also here in Venice the dames turn their black hair yellow by the sun and art, to be wiser than Him who made them. Ye enter no Italian town without a bill of health, though now is no plague in Europe. This peevishness is for extortion's sake. The innkeepers cringe and fawn, and cheat, and in country places murder you. Yet will they give you clean sheets by paying therefor. Delicate in eating, and abhor from putting their hand in the plate; sooner they will apply a crust or what not. They do even tell of a cardinal at Rome, which armeth his guest's left hand with a little bifurcal dagger to hold the meat, while his knife cutteth it. But methinks this, too, is to be wiser than Him, who made the hand so supple and prehensile."
Eli. "I am of your mind, my lad."
"They are sore troubled with the itch. And ointment for it, unguento per la rogna, is cried at every corner of Venice. From this my window I saw an urchin sell it to three several dames in silken trains, and to two velvet knights."
Catherine. "Italy, my lass, I rede ye wash your body i' the tub o' Sundays; and then ye can put your hand i' the plate o' Thursday withouten offence."
"Their bread is lovely white. Their meats they spoil with sprinkling cheese over them; O, perversity! Their salt is black; without a lie. In commerce these Venetians are masters of the earth and sea; and govern their territories wisely. Only one flaw I find; the same I once heard a learned friar cast up against Plato his republic: to wit, that here women are encouraged to venal frailty, and do pay a tax to the State, which, not content with silk and spice, and other rich and honest freights, good store, must trade in sin. Twenty thousand of these Jezebels there be in Venice and Candia, and about, pampered and honoured for bringing strangers to the city, and many live in princely palaces of their own. But herein methinks the politic signors of Venice forget what King David saith, 'Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.' Also, in religion, they hang their cloth according to the wind, siding now with the Pope, now with the Turk; but aye with the god of traders, mammon hight. Shall flower so cankered bloom to the world's end? But since I speak of flowers, this none may deny them, that they are most cunning in making roses and gilliflowers to blow unseasonably. In summer they nip certain of the budding roses and water them not. Then in winter they dig round these discouraged plants, and put in cloves; and so with great art rear sweet-scented roses, and bring them to market in January. And did first learn this art of a cow. Buds she grazed in summer, and they sprouted at yule. Women have sat in the doctors' chairs at their colleges. But she that sat in St. Peter's was a German. Italy too, for artful fountains and figures that move by water and enact life. And next for fountains is Augsburg, where they harness the foul knave Smoke to good Sir Spit, and he turneth stout Master Roast. But lest any one place should vaunt, two towns there be in Europe, which, scorning giddy fountains, bring water tame in pipes to every burgher's door, and he filleth his vessels with but turning of a cock. One is London, so watered this many a year by pipes of a league from Paddington, a neighbouring city; and the other is the fair town of Lubeck. Also the fierce English are reported to me wise in that they will not share their land and flocks with wolves; but have fairly driven those marauders into their mountains. But neither in France, nor Germany, nor Italy, is a wayfarer's life safe from the vagabones after sundown. I can hear of no glazed house in all Venice; but only oiled linen and paper; and behind these barbarian eyelets, a wooden jalosy. Their name for a cowardly assassin is 'a brave man,' and for an harlot, 'a courteous person,' which is as much as to say that a woman's worst vice, and a man's worst vice, are virtues. But I pray God for little Holland that there an assassin may be yclept an assassin, and an harlot an harlot, till domesday; and then gloze foul faults with silken names who can!"
Eli (with a sigh). "He should have been a priest, saving your presence, my poor lass."
"January 26.—Sweetheart, I must be brief, and tell thee but a part of that I have seen, for this day my journal ends. To-night it sails for thee, and I, unhappy, not with it, but to-morrow, in another ship, to Rome.
"Dear Margaret, I took a hand litter, and was carried to St. Mark his church. Outside it, towards the market-place, is a noble gallery, and above it four famous horses, cut in brass by the ancient Romans, and seem all moving, and at the very next step must needs leap down on the beholder. About the church are six hundred pillars of marble, porphyry, and ophites. Inside is a treasure greater than either, at St. Denys, or Loretto, or Toledo. Here a jewelled pitcher given the seigniory by a Persian king, also the ducal cap blazing with jewels, and on its crown a diamond and a chrysolite, each as big as an almond; two golden crowns and twelve golden stomachers studded with jewels, from Constantinople; item, a monstrous sapphire; item, a great diamond given by a French king; item, a prodigious carbuncle; item, three unicorns' horns. But what are these compared with the sacred relics?
"Dear Margaret, I stood and saw the brazen chest that holds the body of St. Mark the Evangelist. I saw with these eyes and handled his ring, and his gospel written with his own hand, and all my travels seemed light; for who am I that I should see such things? Dear Margaret, his sacred body was first brought from Alexandria, by merchants in 810, and then not prized as now; for between 829, when this church was builded, and 1094, the very place where it lay was forgotten. Then holy priests fasted and prayed many days seeking for light, and lo! the Evangelist's body brake at midnight through the marble and stood before them. They fell to the earth; but in the morning found the crevice the sacred body had burst through, and peering through it saw him lie. Then they took and laid him in his chest beneath the altar, and carefully put back the stone with its miraculous crevice, which crevice I saw, and shall gape for a monument while the world lasts. After that they showed me the Virgin's chair, it is of stone; also her picture, painted by St. Luke, very dark, and the features now scarce visible. This picture, in time of drought, they carry in procession, and brings the rain. I wish I had not seen it. Item, two pieces of marble spotted with John the Baptist's blood; item, a piece of the true cross, and of the pillar to which Christ was tied; item, the rock struck by Moses, and wet to this hour; also a stone Christ sat on, preaching at Tyre; but some say it is the one the patriarch Jacob laid his head on, and I hold with them, by reason our Lord never preached at Tyre. Going hence, they showed me the state nursery for the children of those aphrodisian dames, their favourites. Here in the outer wall was a broad niche, and if they bring them so little as they can squeeze them through it alive, the bairn falls into a net inside, and the state takes charge of it, but if too big, their mothers must even take them home again, with whom abiding 'tis like to be mali corvi mali ovum. Coming out of the church we met them carrying in a corpse, with the feet and face bare. This I then first learned is Venetian custom, and sure no other town will ever rob them of it, nor of this that follows. On a great porphyry slab in the piazza were three ghastly heads rotting and tainting the air, and in their hot summers like to take vengeance with breeding of a plague. These were traitors to the state, and a heavy price—two thousand ducats—being put on each head, their friends had slain them and brought all three to the slab, and so sold blood of others and their own faith. No state buys heads so many, nor pays half so high a price for that sorry merchandise. But what I most admired was to see over against the Duke's palace a fair gallows in alabaster, reared express to bring him, and no other, for the least treason to the state; and there it stands in his eye whispering him memento mori. I pondered, and owned these signors my masters, who will let no man, not even their sovereign, be above the common weal. Hard by, on a wall, the workmen were just finishing, by order of the seigniory, the stone effigy of a tragical and enormous act enacted last year, yet on the wall looks innocent. Here two gentle folks whisper together, and there other twain, their swords by their side. Four brethren were they, which did on either side conspire to poison the other two, and so halve their land in lieu of quartering it; and at a mutual banquet these twain drugged the wine, and those twain envenomed a marchpane, to such good purpose that the same afternoon lay four 'brave men' around one table grovelling in mortal agony, and cursing of one another and themselves, and so concluded miserably, and the land, for which they had lost their immortal souls, went into another family. And why not? it could not go into a worse.
"But O, sovereign wisdom of bywords! how true they put the finger on each nation's, or particular's, fault.
"Quand Italie sera sans poison Et France sans trahison Et l'Angleterre sans guerre, Lors sera le monde sans terre."
Richart explained this to Catherine, then proceeded: "And after this they took me to the quay, and presently I espied among the masts one garlanded with amaranth flowers. 'Take me thither,' said I, and I let my guide know the custom of our Dutch skippers to hoist flowers to the masthead when they are courting a maid. Oft had I scoffed at this saying, 'So then his wooing is the earth's concern. But now, so far from the Rotter, that bunch at a masthead made my heart leap with assurance of a countryman. They carried me, and oh, Margaret! on the stern of that Dutch boy, was written in muckle letters,
RICHART ELIASSOEN, AMSTERDAM.
'Put me down,' I said; 'for our Lady's sake put me down.' I sat on the bank and looked, scarce believing my eyes, and looked, and presently fell to crying, till I could see the words no more. Ah me, how they went to my heart, those bare letters in a foreign land. Dear Richart! good, kind brother Richart! often I have sat on his knee and rid on his back. Kisses many he has given me, unkind word from him had I never. And there was his name on his own ship, and his face and all his grave, but good and gentle ways, came back to me, and I sobbed vehemently, and cried aloud, 'Why, why is not brother Richart here, and not his name only?' I spake in Dutch, for my heart was too full to hold their foreign tongues, and
Eli. "Well, Richart, go on, lad, prithee go on. Is this a place to halt at?"
Richart. "Father, with my duty to you, it is easy to say go on, but think ye I am not flesh and blood? The poor boy's—simple grief and brotherly love coming—so sudden-on me, they go through my heart and—I cannot go on; sink me if I can even see the words, 'tis writ so fine."
Denys. "Courage, good Master Richart! Take your time. Here are more eyne wet than yours. Ah, little comrade! would God thou wert here, and I at Venice for thee."
Richart. "Poor little curly-headed lad, what had he done that we have driven him so far?"
"That is what I would fain know," said Catherine drily, then fell to weeping and rocking herself, with her apron over her head.
"Kind dame, good friends," said Margaret trembling, "let me tell you how the letter ends. The skipper hearing our Gerard speak his grief in Dutch, accosted him, and spake comfortably to him; and after a while our Gerard found breath to say he was worthy Master Richart's brother. Thereat was the good skipper all agog to serve him."
Richart. "So! so! skipper! Master Richart aforesaid will be at thy wedding and bring's purse to boot."
Margaret. "Sir, he told Gerard of his consort that was to sail that very night for Rotterdam; and dear Gerard had to go home and finish his letter and bring it to the ship. And the rest, it is but his poor dear words of love to me, the which, an't please you, I think shame to hear them read aloud, and ends with the lines I sent to Mistress Kate, and they would sound so harsh now and ungrateful."
The pleading tone, as much as the words, prevailed, and Richart said he would read no more aloud, but run his eye over it for his own brotherly satisfaction. She blushed and looked uneasy, but made no reply.
"Eli," said Catherine, still sobbing a little, "tell me, for our Lady's sake, how our poor boy is to live at that nasty Rome. He is gone there to write, but here he his own words to prove writing avails nought: a had died o' hunger by the way but for paint-brush and psaltery. Well a-day!"
"Well," said Eli, "he has got brush and music still. Besides, so many men so many minds. Writing, though it had no sale in other parts, may be merchandise at Rome."
"Father," said little Kate, "have I your good leave to put in my word 'twixt mother and you?"
"And welcome, little heart."
"Then, seems to me, painting and music, close at hand, be stronger than writing, but being distant, nought to compare; for see what glamour written paper hath done here but now. Our Gerard, writing at Venice, hath verily put his hand into this room at Rotterdam, and turned all our hearts. Ay, dear dear Gerard, methinks thy spirit hath rid hither on these thy paper wings; and oh! dear father, why not do as we should do were he here in the body?"
"Kate," said Eli, "fear not; Richart and I will give him glamour for glamour. We will write him a letter, and send it to Rome by a sure hand with money, and bid him home on the instant."
Cornelis and Sybrandt exchanged a gloomy look.
"Ah, good father! And meantime?"
"Dear father, dear mother, what can we do to pleasure the absent, but be kind to his poor lass; and her own trouble afore her?"
"'Tis well!" said Eli; "but I am older than thou." Then he turned gravely to Margaret: "Wilt answer me a question, my pretty mistress?"
"If I may, sir," faltered Margaret.
"What are these marriage lines Gerard speaks of in the letter?"
"Our marriage lines, sir. His and mine. Know you not that we are betrothed?"
"Ay, sure. My poor father and Martin Wittenhaagen."
"This is the first I ever heard of it. How came they in his hands? They should be in yours."
"Alas, sir, the more is my grief; but I ne'er doubted him; and he said it was a comfort to him to have them in his bosom."
"Y'are a very foolish lass."
"Indeed I was, sir. But trouble teaches the simple."
"'Tis a good answer. Well, foolish or no, y'are honest. I had shown ye more respect at first, but I thought y'had been his leman, and that is the truth."
"God forbid, sir! Denys, methinks 'tis time for us to go. Give me my letter, sir!"
"Bide ye! bide ye! be not so hot for a word! Natheless, wife, methinks her red cheek becomes her."
"Better than it did you to give it her, my man."
"Softly, wife, softly. I am not counted an unjust man though I be somewhat slow."
Here Richart broke in. "Why, mistress, did ye shed your blood for our Gerard?"
"Not I, sir. But maybe I would."
"Nay, nay. But he says you did. Speak sooth now!"
"Alas! I know not what ye mean. I rede ye believe not all that my poor lad says of me. Love makes him blind."
"Traitress!" cried Denys. "Let not her throw dust in thine eyes, Master Richart. Old Martin tells me ye need not make signals to me, she-comrade; I am as blind as love—Martin tells me she cut her arm, and let her blood flow, and smeared her heels when Gerard was hunted by the bloodhounds, to turn the scent from her lad."
"Well, and if I did, 'twas my own, and spilled for the good of my own," said Margaret defiantly. But Catherine suddenly clasping her, she began to cry at having found a bosom to cry on, of one who would have also shed her blood for Gerard in danger.
Eli rose from his chair. "Wife," said he solemnly, "you will set another chair at our table for every meal: also another plate and knife. They will be for Margaret and Peter. She will come when she likes, and stay away when she pleases. None may take her place at my left hand. Such as can welcome her are welcome to me. Such as cannot, I force them not to abide with me. The world is wide and free. Within my walls I am master, and my son's betrothed is welcome."
Catherine bustled out to prepare supper. Eli and Richart sat down and concocted a letter to bring Gerard home. Richart promised it should go by sea to Rome that very week. Sybrandt and Cornelis exchanged a gloomy wink, and stole out. Margaret, seeing Giles deep in meditation, for the dwarf's intelligence had taken giant strides, asked him to bring her the letter. "You have heard but half, good master Giles," said she. "Shall I read you the rest?"
"I shall be much beholden to you," shouted the sonorous atom.
She gave him her stool: curiosity bowed his pride to sit on it; and Margaret murmured the first part of the letter into his ear very low, not to disturb Eli and Richart. And to do this, she leaned forward and put her lovely face cheek by jowl with Giles's hideous one: a strange contrast, and worth a painter's while to try and represent. And in this attitude Catherine found her, and all the mother warmed towards her, and she exchanged an eloquent glance with little Kate.
The latter smiled, and sewed, with drooping lashes.
"Get him home on the instant," roared Giles. "I'll make a man of him."
"Hear the boy!" said Catherine, half comically, half proudly.
"We hear him," said Richart; "a mostly makes himself heard when a do speak."
Sybrandt. "Which will get to him first?"
Cornelis (gloomily). "Who can tell?"
About two months before this scene in Eli's home, the natives of a little' maritime place between Naples and Rome might be seen flocking to the sea beach, with eyes cast seaward at a ship, that laboured against a stiff gale blowing dead on the shore.
At times she seemed likely to weather the danger, and then the spectators congratulated her aloud: at others the wind and sea drove her visibly nearer, and the lookers-on were not without a secret satisfaction they would not have owned even to themselves.
Non quia vexari quemquam est jucunda voluptas Sed quibus ipse malis careas quia cernere suave est.
And the poor ship, though not scientifically built for sailing, was admirably constructed for going ashore, with her extravagant poop that caught the wind, and her lines like a cocked hat reversed. To those on the beach that battered labouring frame of wood seemed alive, and struggling against death with a panting heart. But could they have been transferred to her deck they would have seen she had not one beating heart but many, and not one nature but a score were coming out clear in that fearful hour.
The mariners stumbled wildly about the deck, handling the ropes as each thought fit, and cursing and praying alternately.
The passengers were huddled together round the mast, some sitting, some kneeling, some lying prostrate, and grasping the bulwarks as the vessel rolled and pitched in the mighty waves. One comely young man, whose ashy cheek, but compressed lips, showed how hard terror was battling in him with self-respect, stood a little apart, holding tight by a shroud, and wincing at each sea. It was the ill-fated Gerard. Meantime prayers and vows rose from the trembling throng amid-ships, and to hear them, it seemed there were almost as many gods about as men and women. The sailors, indeed, relied on a single goddess. They varied her titles only, calling on her as "Queen of Heaven," "Star of the Sea," "Mistress of the World," "Haven of Safety." But among the landsmen Polytheism raged. Even those who by some strange chance hit on the same divinity did not hit on the same edition of that divinity. An English merchant vowed a heap of gold to our lady of Walsingham. But a Genoese merchant vowed a silver collar of four pounds to our lady of Loretto; and a Tuscan noble promised ten pounds of wax lights to our lady of Ravenna; and with a similar rage for diversity they pledged themselves, not on the true Cross, but on the true Cross in this, that, or the other modern city.