"Thereafter God did write His rainbow in the sky as a bond that earth should be flooded no more; and between whom the bond? between God and man? nay, between God and man, and every living creature of all flesh: or my memory fails me with age. In Exodus God commanded that the cattle should share the sweet blessing of the one day's rest. Moreover He 'forbade to muzzle the ox that trod out the corn. 'Nay, let the poor overwrought soul snatch a mouthful as he goes his toilsome round: the bulk of the grain shall still be for man.' Ye will object perchance that St. Paul, commenting this, saith rudely, 'Doth God care for oxen?' Verily, had I been Peter, instead of the humblest of his successors, I had answered him. 'Drop thy theatrical poets, Paul, and read the Scriptures: then shalt thou know whether God careth only for men and sparrows, or for all his creatures. O, Paul,' had I made bold to say, 'think not to learn God by looking into Paul's heart, nor any heart of man, but study that which he hath revealed concerning himself.'
"Thrice he forbade the Jews to boil the kid in his mother's milk; not that this is cruelty, but want of thought and gentle sentiments, and so paves the way for downright cruelty. A prophet riding on an ass did meet an angel. Which of these two, Paulo judice, had seen the heavenly spirit? marry, the prophet. But it was not so. The man, his vision cloyed with sin, saw nought. The poor despised creature saw all. Nor is this recorded as miraculous. Poor proud things, we overrate ourselves. The angel had slain the prophet and spared the ass, but for that creature's clearer vision of essences divine. He said so, methinks. But in sooth I read it many years agone. Why did God spare repentant Nineveh? Because in that city were sixty thousand children, besides much cattle.
"Profane history and vulgar experience add their mite of witness. The cruel to animals end in cruelty to man; and strange and violent deaths, marked with retribution's bloody finger, have in all ages fallen from heaven on such as wantonly harm innocent beasts. This I myself have seen. All this duly weighed, and seeing that, despite this Francesco's friends, the Stoics, who in their vanity say the creatures all subsist for man's comfort, there be snakes and scorpions which kill 'Dominum terra' with a nip, musquitoes which eat him piecemeal, and tigers and sharks which crack him like an almond, we do well to be grateful to these true, faithful, patient, four-footed friends, which, in lieu of powdering us, put forth their strength to relieve our toils, and do feed us like mothers from their gentle dugs.
"Methinks then the Church is never more divine than in this benediction of our four-footed friends, which has revolted you great theological authority, the captain of the Pope's guards; since here she inculcates humility and gratitude, and rises towards the level of the mind divine, and interprets God to man, God the Creator, parent, and friend of man and beast.
"But all this, young gentles, you will please to receive, not as delivered by the Pope ex cathedra, but uttered carelessly, in a free hour, by an aged clergyman. On that score you will perhaps do well to entertain it with some little consideration. For old age must surely bring a man somewhat, in return for his digestion (his 'dura puerorum ilia,' eh, Francesco!), which it carries away."
Such was the purport of the Pope's discourse but the manner high bred, languid, kindly, and free from all tone of dictation. He seemed to be gently probing the matter in concert with his hearers, not playing Sir Oracle. At the bottom of all which was doubtless a slight touch of humbug, but the humbug that embellishes life; and all sense of it was lost in the subtle Italian grace of the thing.
"I seem to hear the oracle of Delphi," said Fra Colonna enthusiastically.
"I call that good sense," shouted Jacques Bonaventura.
"Oh, captain, good sense!" said Gerard, with a deep and tender reproach.
The Pope smiled on Gerard. "Cavil not at words; that was an unheard of concession from a rival theologian." He then asked for all Gerard's work, and took it away in his hand. But before going, he gently pulled Fra Colonna's ear, and asked him whether he remembered when they were school-fellows together and robbed the Virgin by the roadside of the money dropped into her box. "You took a flat stick and applied bird-lime to the top, and drew the money out through the chink, you rogue," said his holiness severely.
"To every signor his own honour," replied Fra Colonna. "It was your holiness's good wit invented the manoeuvre. I was but the humble instrument."
"It is well. Doubtless you know 'twas sacrilege."
"Of the first water; but I did it in such good company, it troubles me not."
"Humph! I have not even that poor consolation. What did we spend it in, dost mind?"
"Can your holiness ask? why, sugar-plums."
"What, all on't?"
"These are delightful reminiscences, my Francesco. Alas! I am getting old. I shall not be here long. And I am sorry for it, for thy sake. They will go and burn thee when I am gone. Art far more a heretic than Huss, whom I saw burned with these eyes; and oh, he died like a martyr."
"Ay, your holiness; but I believe in the Pope; and Huss did not."
"Fox! They will not burn thee; wood is too dear. Adieu, old playmate; adieu, young gentlemen; an old man's blessing be on you."
That afternoon the Pope's secretary brought Gerard a little bag: in it were several gold pieces.
He added them to his store.
Margaret seemed nearer and nearer.
For some time past, too, it appeared as if the fairies had watched over him. Baskets of choice provisions and fruits were brought to his door by porters, who knew not who had employed them, or affected ignorance; and one day came a jewel in a letter, but no words.
The Princess Claelia ordered a full-length portrait of herself. Gerard advised her to employ his friend Pietro Vanucci.
But she declined. "'Twill be time to put a slight on the Gerardo, when his work discontents me." Then Gerard, who knew he was an excellent draughtsman, but not so good a colourist, begged her to stand to him as a Roman statue. He showed her how closely he could mimic marble on paper. She consented at first; but demurred when this enthusiast explained to her that she must wear the tunic, toga, and sandals of the ancients.
"Why, I had as lieve be presented in my smock," said she, with mediaeval frankness.
"Alack! signorina," said Gerard, "you have surely never noted the ancient habit; so free, so ample, so simple, yet so noble; and most becoming your highness, to whom Heaven hath given the Roman features, and eke a shapely arm and hand, his in modern guise."
"What, can you flatter, like the rest, Gerardo? Well, give me time to think on't. Come o' Saturday, and then I will say ay or nay."
The respite thus gained was passed in making the tunic and toga, etc., and trying them on in her chamber, to see whether they suited her style of beauty well enough to compensate their being a thousand years out of date.
Gerard, hurrying along to this interview, was suddenly arrested, and rooted to earth at a shop window.
His quick eye had discerned in that window a copy of Lactantius lying open. "That is fairly writ, anyway," thought he.
He eyed it a moment more with all his eyes.
It was not written at all. It was printed.
"I am sped; mine enemy is at the door. The press is in Rome."
He went into the shop, and affecting nonchalance, inquired how long the printing-press had been in Rome. The man said he believed there was no such thing in the city. "Oh, the Lactantius; that was printed on the top of the Apennines."
"What, did the printing-press fall down there out o' the moon?"
"Nay, messer," said the trader, laughing; "it shot up there out of Germany. See the title-page!"
Gerard took the Lactantius eagerly, and saw the following—
Opera et impensis Sweynheim et Pannartz Alumnorum Joannis Fust. Impressum Subiacis. A.D. 1465.
"Will ye buy, messer? See how fair and even be the letters. Few are left can write like that; and scarce a quarter of the price."
"I would fain have it," said Gerard sadly, "but my heart will not let me. Know that I am a caligraph, and these disciples of Fust run after me round the world a-taking the bread out of my mouth. But I wish them no ill. Heaven forbid!" And he hurried from the shop.
"Dear Margaret," said he to himself, "we must lose no time; we must make our hay while shines the sun. One month more and an avalanche of printer's type shall roll down on Rome from those Apennines, and lay us waste that writers be."
And he almost ran to the Princess Claelia.
He was ushered into an apartment new to him. It was not very large, but most luxurious; a fountain played in the centre, and the floor was covered with the skins of panthers, dressed with the hair, so that no footfall could be heard. The room was an ante-chamber to the princess's boudoir, for on one side there was no door, but an ample curtain of gorgeous tapestry.
Here Gerard was left alone till he became quite uneasy, and doubted whether the maid had not shown him to the wrong place.
These doubts were agreeably dissipated.
A light step came swiftly behind the curtain; it parted in the middle, and there stood a figure the heathens might have worshipped. It was not quite Venus, nor quite Minerva; but between the two; nobler than Venus, more womanly than Jupiter's daughter. Toga, tunic, sandals; nothing was modern. And as for beauty, that is of all times.
Gerard started up, and all the artist in him flushed with pleasure.
"Oh!" he cried innocently, and gazed in rapture.
This added the last charm to his model: a light blush tinted her cheeks, and her eyes brightened, and her mouth smiled with delicious complacency at this genuine tribute to her charms.
When they had looked at one another so some time, and she saw Gerard's eloquence was confined to ejaculating and gazing, she spoke. "Well, Gerardo, thou seest I have made myself an antique monster for thee."
"A monster? I doubt Fra Colonna would fall down and adore your highness, seeing you so habited."
"Nay, I care not to be adored by an old man. I would liever be loved by a young one: of my own choosing."
Gerard took out his pencils, arranged his canvas, which he had covered with stout paper, and set to work; and so absorbed was he that he had no mercy on his model. At last, after near an hour in one posture, "Gerardo," said she faintly, "I can stand so no more, even for thee."
"Sit down and rest awhile, Signora."
"I thank thee," said she; and sinking into a chair turned pale and sighed.
Gerard was alarmed, and saw also he had been inconsiderate. He took water from the fountain and was about to throw it in her face; but she put up a white hand deprecatingly: "Nay, hold it to my brow with thine hand: prithee, do not fling it at me!"
Gerard timidly and hesitating applied his wet hand to her brow.
"Ah!" she sighed, "that is reviving. Again."
He applied it again. She thanked him, and asked him to ring a little hand-bell on the table. He did so, and a maid came, and was sent to Floretta with orders to bring a large fan.
Floretta speedily came with the fan.
She no sooner came near the princess, than that lady's highbred nostrils suddenly expanded like a bloodhorse's. "Wretch!" said she; and rising up with a sudden return to vigour, seized Floretta with her left hand, twisted it in her hair, and with the right hand boxed her ears severely three times.
Floretta screamed and blubbered; but obtained no mercy.
The antique toga left quite disengaged a bare arm, that now seemed as powerful as it was beautiful: it rose and fell like the piston of a modern steam-engine, and heavy slaps resounded one after another on Floretta's shoulders; the last one drove her sobbing and screaming through the curtain, and there she was heard crying bitterly for some time after.
"Saints of heaven!" cried Gerard, "what is amiss? what has she done?"
"She knows right well. 'Tis not the first time. The nasty toad! I'll learn her to come to me stinking of the musk-cat."
"Alas! Signora, 'twas a small fault, methinks."
"A small fault? Nay, 'twas a foul fault." She added with an amazing sudden descent to humility and sweetness, "Are you wroth with me for beating her, Gerar-do?"
"Signora, it ill becomes me to school you; but methinks such as Heaven appoints to govern others should govern themselves."
"That is true, Gerardo. How wise you are, to be so young." She then called the other maid, and gave her a little purse. "Take that to Floretta, and tell her 'the Gerardo' hath interceded for her; and so I must needs forgive her. There, Gerardo."
Gerard coloured all over at the compliment; but not knowing how to turn a phrase equal to the occasion, asked her if he should resume her picture.
"Not yet; beating that hussy hath somewhat breathed me. I'll sit awhile, and you shall talk to me. I know you can talk, an it pleases you, as rarely as you draw."
"That were easily done.
"Do it then, Gerardo."
Gerard was taken aback.
"But, signora, I know not what to say. This is sudden."
"Say your real mind. Say you wish you were anywhere but here."
"Nay, signora, that would not be sooth. I wish one thing though."
"Ay, and what is that?" said she gently.
"I wish I could have drawn you as you were beating that poor lass. You were awful, yet lovely. Oh, what a subject for a Pythoness!"
"Alas! he thinks but of his art. And why keep such a coil about my beauty, Gerardo? You are far fairer than I am. You are more like Apollo than I to Venus. Also, you have lovely hair and lovely eyes—but you know not what to do with them."
"Ay, do I. To draw you, signora."
"Ah, yes; you can see my features with them; but you cannot see what any Roman gallant had seen long ago in your place. Yet sure you must have noted how welcome you are to me, Gerardo?"
"I can see your highness is always passing kind to me; a poor stranger like me."
"No, I am not, Gerardo. I have often been cold to you; rude sometimes; and you are so simple you see not the cause. Alas! I feared for my own heart. I feared to be your slave. I who have hitherto made slaves. Ah! Gerardo, I am unhappy. Ever since you came here I have lived upon your visits. The day you are to come I am bright. The other days I am listless, and wish them fled. You are not like the Roman gallants. You make me hate them. You are ten times braver to my eye; and you are wise and scholarly, and never flatter and lie. I scorn a man that lies. Gerar-do, teach me thy magic; teach me to make thee as happy by my side as I am still by thine."
As she poured out these strange words, the princess's mellow voice sunk almost to a whisper, and trembled with half-suppressed passion, and her white hand stole timidly yet earnestly down Gerard's arm, till it rested like a soft bird upon his wrist, and as ready to fly away at a word.
Destitute of vanity and experience, wrapped up in his Margaret and his art, Gerard had not seen this revelation coming, though it had come by regular and visible gradations.
He blushed all over. His innocent admiration of the regal beauty that besieged him, did not for a moment displace the absent Margaret's image. Yet it was regal beauty, and wooing with a grace and tenderness he had never even figured in imagination. How to check her without wounding her?
He blushed and trembled.
The siren saw, and encouraged him.
"Poor Gerardo," she murmured, "fear not; none shall ever harm thee under my wing. Wilt not speak to me, Gerar-do mio?"
"Signora!" muttered Gerard deprecatingly.
At this moment his eye, lowered in his confusion, fell on the shapely white arm and delicate hand that curled round his elbow like a tender vine, and it flashed across him how he had just seen that lovely limb employed on Floretta.
He trembled and blushed.
"Alas!" said the princess, "I scare him. Am I then so very terrible? Is it my Roman robe? I'll doff it, and habit me as when thou first camest to me. Mindest thou? 'Twas to write a letter to yon barren knight Ercole d'Orsini. Shall I tell thee? 'twas the sight of thee, and thy pretty ways, and thy wise words, made me hate him on the instant. I liked the fool well enough before; or wist I liked him. Tell me now how many times hast thou been here since then. Ah! thou knowest not; lovest me not, I doubt, as I love thee. Eighteen times, Gerardo. And each time dearer to me. The day thou comest not 'tis night, not day, to Claelia. Alas! I speak for both. Cruel boy, am I not worth a word? Hast every day a princess at thy feet? Nay, prithee, prithee, speak to me, Gerar-do."
"Signora," faltered Gerard, "what can I say, that were not better left unsaid? Oh, evil day that ever I came here."
"Ah! say not so. 'Twas the brightest day ever shone on me or indeed on thee. I'll make thee confess so much ere long, ungrateful one."
"Your highness," began Gerard, in a low, pleading voice.
"Call me Claelia, Gerar-do."
"Signora, I am too young and too little wise to know how I ought to speak to you, so as not to seem blind nor yet ungrateful. But this I know, I were both naught and ungrateful, and the worst foe e'er you had, did I take advantage of this mad fancy. Sure some ill spirit hath had leave to afflict you withal. For 'tis all unnatural that a princess adorned with every grace should abase her affections on a churl."
The princess withdrew her hand slowly from Gerard's wrist.
Yet as it passed lightly over his arm it seemed to linger a moment at parting.
"You fear the daggers of my kinsmen," said she, half sadly, half contemptuously.
"No more than I fear the bodkins of your women," said Gerard haughtily. "But I fear God and the saints, and my own conscience."
"The truth, Gerardo, the truth! Hypocrisy sits awkwardly on thee. Princesses, while they are young, are not despised for love of God, but of some other woman. Tell me whom thou lovest; and if she is worthy thee I will forgive thee."
"No she in Italy, upon my soul."
"Ah! there is one somewhere then. Where? where?"
"In Holland, my native country."
"Ah! Marie de Bourgoyne is fair, they say. Yet she is but a child."
"Princess, she I love is not noble. She is as I am. Nor is she so fair as thou. Yet is she fair; and linked to my heart for ever by her virtues, and by all the dangers and griefs we have borne together, and for one another. Forgive me; but I would not wrong my Margaret for all the highest dames in Italy."
The slighted beauty started to her feet, and stood opposite him, as beautiful, but far more terrible than when she slapped Floretta, for then her cheeks were red, but now they were pale, and her eyes full of concentrated fury.
"This to my face, unmannered wretch," she cried. "Was I born to be insulted, as well as scorned, by such as thou? Beware! We nobles brook no rivals. Bethink thee whether is better, the love of a Cesarini, or her hate: for after all I have said and done to thee, it must be love or hate between us, and to the death. Choose now!"
He looked up at her with wonder and awe, as she stood towering over him in her Roman toga, offering this strange alternative.
He seemed to have affronted a goddess of antiquity; he a poor puny mortal.
He sighed deeply, but spoke not.
Perhaps something in his deep and patient sigh touched a tender chord in that ungoverned creature; or perhaps the time had come for one passion to ebb and another to flow. The princess sank languidly into a seat, and the tears began to steal rapidly down her cheeks.
"Alas! alas!" said Gerard. "Weep not, sweet lady; your tears they do accuse me, and I am like to weep for company. My kind patron, be yourself; you will live to see how much better a friend I was to you than I seemed."
"I see it now, Gerardo," said the princess. "Friend is the word! the only word can ever pass between us twain. I was mad. Any other man had ta'en advantage of my folly. You must teach me to be your friend and nothing more."
Gerard hailed this proposition with joy; and told her out of Cicero how godlike a thing was friendship, and how much better and rarer and more lasting than love: to prove to her he was capable of it, he even told her about Denys and himself.
She listened with her eyes half shut, watching his words to fathom his character, and learn his weak point.
At last, she addressed him calmly thus: "Leave me now, Gerardo, and come as usual to-morrow. You will find your lesson well bestowed."
She held out her hand to him: he kissed it; and went away pondering deeply this strange interview, and wondering whether he had done prudently or not.
The next day he was received with marked distance, and the princess stood before him literally like a statue, and after a very short sitting, excused herself and dismissed him. Gerard felt the chilling difference; but said to himself, "She is wise." So she was in her way.
The next day he found the princess waiting for him surrounded by young nobles flattering her to the skies. She and they treated him like a dog that could do one little trick they could not. The cavaliers in particular criticised his work with a mass of ignorance and insolence combined that made his cheeks burn.
The princess watched his face demurely with half-closed eyes at each sting the insects gave him; and when they had fled, had her doors closed against every one of them for their pains.
The next day Gerard found her alone: cold and silent. After standing to him so some time, she said, "You treated my company with less respect than became you."
"Did I, Signora?"
"Did you? you fired up at the comments they did you the honour to make on your work."
"Nay, I said nought," observed Gerard.
"Oh, high looks speak as plain as high words. Your cheeks were red as blood."
"I was nettled a moment at seeing so much ignorance and ill-nature together."
"Now it is me, their hostess, you affront."
"Forgive me, Signora, and acquit me of design. It would ill become me to affront the kindest patron and friend I have in Rome but one."
"How humble we are all of a sudden. In sooth, Ser Gerardo, you are a capital feigner. You can insult or truckle at will."
"Truckle? to whom?"
"To me, for one; to one, whom you affronted for a base-born girl like yourself; but whose patronage you claim all the same."
Gerard rose, and put his hand to his heart. "These are biting words, signora. Have I really deserved them?"
"Oh, what are words to an adventurer like you? cold steel is all you fear?"
"I am no swashbuckler, yet I have met steel with steel and methinks I had rather face your kinsmen's swords than your cruel tongue, lady. Why do you use me so?"
"Gerar-do, for no good reason, but because I am wayward, and shrewish, and curst, and because everybody admires me but you."
"I admire you too, Signora. Your friends may flatter you more; but believe me they have not the eye to see half your charms. Their babble yesterday showed me that. None admire you more truly, or wish you better, than the poor artist, who might not be your lover, but hoped to be your friend; but no, I see that may not be between one so high as you, and one so low as I."
"Ay! but it shall, Gerardo," said the princess eagerly. "I will not be so curst. Tell me now where abides thy Margaret; and I will give thee a present for her; and on that you and I will be friends."
"She is a daughter of a physician called Peter, and they bide at Sevenbergen; ah me, shall I e'er see it again?"
"'Tis well. Now go." And she dismissed him somewhat abruptly.
Poor Gerard. He began to wade in deep waters when he encountered this Italian princess; callida et calida selis filia. He resolved to go no more when once he had finished her likeness. Indeed he now regretted having undertaken so long and laborious a task.
This resolution was shaken for a moment by his next reception, which was all gentleness and kindness.
After standing to him some time in her toga, she said she was fatigued, and wanted his assistance in another way: would he teach her to draw a little? He sat down beside her, and taught her to make easy lines. He found her wonderfully apt. He said so.
"I had a teacher before thee, Gerar-do. Ay, and one as handsome as thyself." She then went to a drawer, and brought out several heads drawn with a complete ignorance of the art, but with great patience and natural talent. They were all heads of Gerard, and full of spirit; and really not unlike. One was his very image. "There," said she. "Now thou seest who was my teacher."
"Not I, signora."
"What, know you not who teaches us women to do all things? 'Tis love, Gerar-do. Love made me draw because thou draweth, Gerar-do. Love prints thine image in my bosom. My fingers touch the pen, and love supplies the want of art, and lo thy beloved features lie upon the paper."
Gerard opened his eyes with astonishment at this return to an interdicted topic. "Oh, Signora, you promised me to be friends and nothing more."
She laughed in his face. "How simple you are: who believes a woman promising nonsense, impossibilities? Friendship, foolish boy, who ever built that temple on red ashes? Nay Gerardo," she added gloomily, "between thee and me it must be love or hate."
"Which you will, signora," said Gerard firmly. "But for me I will neither love nor hate you; but with your permission I will leave you." And he rose abruptly.
She rose too, pale as death, and said, "Ere thou leavest me so, know thy fate; outside that door are armed men who wait to slay thee at a word from me."
"But you will not speak that word, signora."
"That word I will speak. Nay, more, I shall noise it abroad it was for proffering brutal love to me thou wert slain; and I will send a special messenger to Sevenbergen: a cunning messenger, well taught his lesson. Thy Margaret shall know thee dead, and think thee faithless; now, go to thy grave; a dog's. For a man thou art not."
Gerard turned pale, and stood dumb-stricken. "God have mercy on us both."
"Nay, have thou mercy on her, and on thyself. She will never know in Holland what thou dost in Rome; unless I be driven to tell her my tale. Come, yield thee, Gerar-do mio: what will it cost thee to say thou lovest me? I ask thee but to feign it handsomely. Thou art young: die not for the poor pleasure of denying a lady what-the shadow of a heart. Who will shed a tear for thee? I tell thee men will laugh, not weep over thy tombstone-ah!" She ended in a little scream, for Gerard threw himself in a moment at her feet, and poured out in one torrent of eloquence the story of his love and Margaret's. How he had been imprisoned, hunted with bloodhounds for her, driven to exile for her; how she had shed her blood for him, and now pined at home. How he had walked through Europe environed by perils, torn by savage brutes, attacked by furious men with sword and axe and trap, robbed, shipwrecked for her.
The princess trembled, and tried to get away from him; but he held her robe, he clung to her, he made her hear his pitiful story and Margaret's; he caught her hand, and clasped it between both his, and his tears fell fast on her hand, as he implored her to think on all the woes of the true lovers she would part; and what but remorse, swift and lasting, could come of so deep a love betrayed, and so false a love feigned, with mutual hatred lurking at the bottom.
In such moments none ever resisted Gerard.
The princess, after in vain trying to get away from him, for she felt his power over her, began to waver, and sigh, and her bosom to rise and fall tumultuously, and her fiery eyes to fill.
"You conquer me," she sobbed. "You, or my better angel. Leave Rome!"
"I will, I will."
"If you breathe a word of my folly, it will be your last."
"Think not so poorly of me. You are my benefactress once more. Is it for me to slander you?"
"Go! I will send you the means. I know myself; if you cross my path again, I shall kill you. Addio; my heart is broken."
She touched her bell. "Floretta," said she, in a choked voice, "take him safe out of the house, through my chamber, and by the side postern."
He turned at the door; she was leaning with one hand on a chair, crying, with averted head. Then he thought only of her kindness, and ran back and kissed her robe. She never moved.
Once clear of the house he darted home, thanking Heaven for his escape, soul and body.
"Landlady," said he, "there is one would pick a quarrel with me. What is to be done?"
"Strike him first, and at vantage! Get behind him; and then draw."
"Alas, I lack your Italian courage. To be serious, 'tis a noble."
"Oh, holy saints, that is another matter. Change thy lodging awhile, and keep snug; and alter the fashion of thy habits."
She then took him to her own niece, who let lodgings at some little distance, and installed him there.
He had little to do now, and no princess to draw, so he set himself resolutely to read that deed of Floris Brandt, from which he had hitherto been driven by the abominably bad writing. He mastered it, and saw at once that the loan on this land must have been paid over and over again by the rents, and that Ghysbrecht was keeping Peter Brandt out of his own.
"Fool! not to have read this before," he cried. He hired a horse and rode down to the nearest port. A vessel was to sail for Amsterdam in four days.
He took a passage; and paid a small sum to secure it.
"The land is too full of cut-throats for me," said he; "and 'tis lovely fair weather for the sea. Our Dutch skippers are not shipwrecked like these bungling Italians."
When he returned home there sat his old landlady with her eyes sparkling.
"You are in luck, my young master," said she. "All the fish run to your net this day methinks. See what a lackey hath brought to our house! This bill and this bag."
Gerard broke the seals, and found it full of silver crowns. The letter contained a mere slip of paper with this line, cut out of some MS.:—"La lingua non ha osso, ma fa rompere il dosso."
"Fear me not!" said Gerard aloud. "I'll keep mine between my teeth."
"What is that?"
"Oh, nothing. Am I not happy, dame? I am going back to my sweetheart with money in one pocket, and land in the other." And he fell to dancing round her.
"Well," said she, "I trow nothing could make you happier."
"Nothing, except to be there."
"Well, that is a pity, for I thought to make you a little happier with a letter from Holland."
"A letter? for me? where? how? who brought it?—Oh, dame!"
"A stranger; a painter, with a reddish face and an outlandish name; Anselmin, I trow."
"Hans Memling! a friend of mine. God bless him!"
"Ay, that is it: Anselmin. He could scarce speak a word, but a had the wit to name thee; and a puts the letter down, and a nods and smiles, and I nods and smiles, and gives him a pint o' wine, and it went down him like a spoonful."
"That is Hans, honest Hans. Oh, dame, I am in luck to-day; but I deserve it. For, I care not if I tell you, I have just overcome a great temptation for dear Margaret's sake."
"Who is she?"
"Nay, I'd have my tongue cut out sooner than betray her, but oh, it was a temptation. Gratitude pushing me wrong, Beauty almost divine pulling me wrong: curses, reproaches, and hardest of all to resist, gentle tears from eyes used to command. Sure some saint helped me Anthony belike. But my reward is come."
"Ay, is it, lad; and no farther off than my pocket. Come out, Gerard's reward," and she brought a letter out of her capacious pocket.
Gerard threw his arm round her neck and hugged her.
"My best friend," said he, "my second mother, I'll read it to you.
"Ay, do, do."
"Alas! it is not from Margaret. This is not her hand." And he turned it about.
"Alack; but maybe her bill is within. The lasses are aye for gliding in their bills under cover of another hand."
"True. Whose hand is this? sure I have seen it. I trow 'tis my dear friend the demoiselle Van Eyck. Oh, then Margaret's bill will be inside." He tore it open. "Nay, 'tis all in one writing. 'Gerard, my well beloved son' (she never called me that before that I mind), 'this letter brings thee heavy news from one would liever send thee joyful tidings. Know that Margaret Brandt died in these arms on Thursday sennight last.' (What does the doting old woman mean by that?) 'The last word on her lips was "Gerard:" she said, "Tell him I prayed for him at my last hour; and bid him pray for me." She died very comfortable, and I saw her laid in the earth, for her father was useless, as you shall know. So no more at present from her that is with sorrowing heart thy loving friend and servant,
"MARGARET VAN EYCK.'"
"Ay, that is her signature sure enough. Now what d'ye think of that, dame?" cried Gerard, with a grating laugh. "There is a pretty letter to send to a poor fellow so far from home. But it is Reicht Heynes I blame for humouring the old woman and letting her do it; as for the old woman herself, she dotes, she has lost her head, she is fourscore. Oh, my heart, I'm choking. For all that she ought to be locked up, or her hands tied. Say this had come to a fool; say I was idiot enough to believe this; know ye what I should do? run to the top of the highest church tower in Rome and fling myself off it, cursing Heaven. Woman! woman! what are you doing?" And he seized her rudely by the shoulder. "What are ye weeping for?" he cried, in a voice all unlike his own, and loud and hoarse as a raven. "Would ye scald me to death with your tears? She believes it. She believes it. Ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah!—Then there is no God."
The poor woman sighed and rocked herself.
"And must be the one to bring it thee all smiling and smirking? I could kill myself for't. Death spares none," she sobbed. "Death spares none."
Gerard staggered against the window sill. "But He is master of death," he groaned. "Or they have taught me a lie. I begin to fear there is no God, and the saints are but dead bones, and hell is master of the world. My pretty Margaret; my sweet, my loving Margaret. The best daughter! the truest lover! the pride of Holland! the darling of the world! It is a lie. Where is this caitiff Hans? I'll hunt him round the town. I'll cram his murdering falsehood down his throat."
And he seized his hat and ran furiously about the streets for hours.
Towards sunset he came back white as a ghost. He had not found Memling; but his poor mind had had time to realise the woman's simple words, that Death spares none.
He crept into the house bent, and feeble as an old man, and refused all food. Nor would he speak, but sat, white, with great staring eyes, muttering at intervals, "There is no God." Alarmed both on his account and on her own (for he looked a desperate maniac), his landlady ran for her aunt.
The good dame came, and the two women, braver together, sat one on each side of him, and tried to soothe him with kind and consoling voices. But he heeded them no more than the chairs they sat on. Then the younger held a crucifix out before him, to aid her. "Maria, mother of heaven, comfort him," they sighed. But he sat glaring, deaf to all external sounds.
Presently, without any warning, he jumped up, struck the crucifix rudely out of his way with a curse, and made a headlong dash at the door. The poor women shrieked. But ere he reached the door, something seemed to them to draw him up straight by his hair, and twirl him round like a top. He whirled twice round with arms extended; then fell like a dead log upon the floor, with blood trickling from his nostrils and ears.
Gerard returned to consciousness and to despair.
On the second day he was raving with fever on the brain.
On a table hard by lay his rich auburn hair, long as a woman's.
The deadlier symptoms succeeded one another rapidly.
On the fifth day his leech retired and gave him up.
On the sunset of that same day he fell into a deep sleep.
Some said he would wake only to die.
But an old gossip, whose opinion carried weight (she had been a professional nurse), declared that his youth might save him yet, could he sleep twelve hours.
On this his old landlady cleared the room and watched him alone. She vowed a wax candle to the Virgin for every hour he should sleep.
He slept twelve hours.
The good soul rejoiced, and thanked the Virgin on her knees.
He slept twenty-four hours.
His kind nurse began to doubt. At the thirtieth hour she sent for the woman of art.
"Thirty hours! shall we wake him?"
The other inspected him closely for some time.
"His breath is even, his hand moist. I know there be learned leeches would wake him, to look at his tongue, and be none the wiser; but we that be women should have the sense to let bon Nature alone. When did sleep ever harm the racked brain or the torn heart?"
When he had been forty-eight hours asleep, it got wind, and they had much ado to keep the curious out. But they admitted only Fra Colonna and his friend the gigantic Fra Jerome.
These two relieved the women, and sat silent; the former eyeing his young friend with tears in his eyes, the latter with beads in his hand looked as calmly on him as he had on the sea when Gerard and he encountered it hand to hand.
At last, I think it was about the sixtieth hour of this strange sleep, the landlady touched Fra Colonna with her elbow. He looked. Gerard had opened his eyes as gently as if he had been but dozing.
He drew himself up a little in bed.
He put his hand to his head, and found his hair was gone.
He noticed his friend Colonna, and smiled with pleasure.
But in the middle of smiling his face stopped, and was convulsed in a moment with anguish unspeakable, and he uttered a loud cry, and turned his face to the wall.
His good landlady wept at this. She had known what it is to awake bereaved.
Fra Jerome recited canticles, and prayers from his breviary.
Gerard rolled himself in the bed-clothes.
Fra Colonna went to him, and whimpering, reminded him that all was not lost. The divine Muses were immortal. He must transfer his affection to them; they would never betray him nor fail him like creatures of clay. The good, simple father then hurried away; for he was overcome by his emotion.
Fra Jerome remained behind. "Young man," said he, "the Muses exist but in the brains of pagans and visionaries. The Church alone gives repose to the heart on earth, and happiness to the soul hereafter. Hath earth deceived thee, hath passion broken thy heart after tearing it, the Church opens her arms: consecrate thy gifts to her! The Church is peace of mind."
He spoke these words solemnly at the door, and was gone as soon as they were uttered.
"The Church!" cried Gerard, rising furiously, and shaking his fist after the friar. "Malediction on the Church! But for the Church I should not lie broken here, and she lie cold, cold, cold, in Holland. Oh, my Margaret! oh, my darling! my darling! And I must run from thee the few months thou hadst to live. Cruel! cruel! The monsters, they let her die. Death comes not without some signs. These the blind selfish wretches saw not, or recked not; but I had seen them, I that love her. Oh, had I been there, I had saved her, I had saved her. Idiot! idiot! to leave her for a moment."
He wept bitterly a long time.
Then, suddenly bursting into rage again, he cried vehemently "The Church! for whose sake I was driven from her; my malison be on the Church! and the hypocrites that name it to my broken heart. Accursed be the world! Ghysbrecht lives; Margaret dies. Thieves, murderers, harlots, live for ever. Only angels die. Curse life! curse death! and whosoever made them what they are!"
The friar did not hear these mad and wicked words; but only the yell of rage with which they were flung after him.
It was as well. For, if he had heard them, he would have had his late shipmate burned in the forum with as little hesitation as he would have roasted a kid.
His old landlady who had accompanied Fra Colonna down the stair, heard the raised voice, and returned in some anxiety.
She found Gerard putting on his clothes, and crying.
"What avails my lying here?" said he gloomily. "Can I find here that which I seek?"
"Saints preserve us! Is he distraught again? What seek ye?"
"Oblivion, my little heart? Oh, but y'are young to talk so."
"Young or old, what else have I to live for?"
He put on his best clothes.
The good dame remonstrated. "My pretty Gerard, know that it is Tuesday, not Sunday."
"Oh, Tuesday is it? I thought it had been Saturday."
"Nay, thou hast slept long. Thou never wearest thy brave clothes on working days. Consider."
"What I did, when she lived, I did. Now I shall do whatever erst I did not. The past is the past. There lies my hair, and with it my way of life. I have served one Master as well as I could. You see my reward. Now I'll serve another, and give him a fair trial too."
"Alas!" sighed the woman, turning pale, "what mean these dark words? and what new master is this whose service thou wouldst try?"
And with this horrible declaration on his lips the miserable creature walked out with his cap and feather set jauntily on one side, and feeble limbs, and a sinister face pale as ashes, and all drawn down as if by age.
A dark cloud fell on a noble mind.
His pure and unrivalled love for Margaret had been his polar star. It was quenched, and he drifted on the gloomy sea of no hope.
Nor was he a prey to despair alone, but to exasperation at all his self-denial, fortitude, perils, virtue, wasted and worse than wasted; for it kept burning and stinging him, that, had he stayed lazily, selfishly at home, he should have saved his Margaret's life.
These two poisons, raging together in his young blood, maddened and demoralized him. He rushed fiercely into pleasure. And in those days, even more than now, pleasure was vice. Wine, women, gambling, whatever could procure him an hour's excitement and a moment's oblivion. He plunged into these things, as men tired of life have rushed among the enemy's bullets.
The large sums he had put by for Margaret gave him ample means for debauchery, and he was soon the leader of those loose companions he had hitherto kept at a distance.
His heart deteriorated along with his morals.
He sulked with his old landlady for thrusting gentle advice and warning on him; and finally removed to another part of the town, to be clear of remonstrance and reminiscences. When he had carried this game on some time, his hand became less steady, and he could no longer write to satisfy himself. Moreover, his patience declined as the habits of pleasure grew on him. So he gave up that art, and took likenesses in colours.
But this he neglected whenever the idle rakes, his companions, came for him.
And so he dived in foul waters, seeking that sorry oyster-shell, Oblivion.
It is not my business to paint at full length the scenes of coarse vice in which this unhappy young man now played a part. But it is my business to impress the broad truth, that he was a rake, a debauchee, and a drunkard, and one of the wildest, loosest, and wickedest young men in Rome.
They are no lovers of truth, nor of mankind, who conceal or slur the wickedness of the good, and so by their want of candour rob despondent sinners of hope.
Enough, the man was not born to do things by halves. And he was not vicious by halves.
His humble female friends often gossiped about him. His old landlady told Teresa he was going to the bad, and prayed her to try and find out where he was.
Teresa told her husband Lodovico his sad story, and bade him look about and see if he could discover the young man's present abode. "Shouldst remember his face, Lodovico mio?"
"Teresa, a man in my way of life never forgets a face, least of all a benefactor's. But thou knowest I seldom go abroad by daylight."
Teresa sighed. "And how long is it to be so, Lodovico?"
"Till some cavalier passes his sword through me. They will not let a poor fellow like me take to any honest trade."
Pietro Vanucci was one of those who bear prosperity worse than adversity.
Having been ignominiously ejected for late hours by their old landlady, and meeting Gerard in the street, he greeted him warmly, and soon after took up his quarters in the same house.
He brought with him a lad called Andrea, who ground his colours, and was his pupil, and also his model, being a youth of rare beauty, and as sharp as a needle.
Pietro had not quite forgotten old times, and professed a warm friendship for Gerard.
Gerard, in whom all warmth of sentiment seemed extinct, submitted coldly to the other's friendship.
And a fine acquaintance it was. This Pietro was not only a libertine, but half a misanthrope, and an open infidel.
And so they ran in couples, with mighty little in common. O, rare phenomenon!
One day, when Gerard had undermined his health, and taken the bloom off his beauty, and run through most of his money, Vanucci got up a gay party to mount the Tiber in a boat drawn by buffaloes. Lorenzo de' Medici had imported these creatures into Florence about three years before. But they were new in Rome, and nothing would content this beggar on horseback, Vanucci, but being drawn by the brutes up the Tiber.
Each libertine was to bring a lady and she must be handsome, or he be fined. But the one that should contribute the loveliest was to be crowned with laurel, and voted a public benefactor. Such was their reading of "Vir bonus est quis?" They got a splendid galley, and twelve buffaloes. And all the libertines and their female accomplices assembled by degrees at the place of embarkation. But no Gerard.
They waited for him some time, at first patiently, then impatiently.
Vanucci excused him. "I heard him say he had forgotten to provide himself with a fardingale. Comrades, the good lad is hunting for a beauty fit to take rank among these peerless dames. Consider the difficulty, ladies, and be patient!"
At last Gerard was seen at some distance with a female in his hand.
"She is long enough," said one of her sex, criticising her from afar.
"Gemini! what steps she takes," said another. "Oh! it is wise to hurry into good company," was Pietro's excuse.
But when the pair came up, satire was choked.
Gerard's companion was a peerless beauty; she extinguished the boat-load, as stars the rising sun. Tall, but not too tall; and straight as a dart, yet supple as a young panther. Her face a perfect oval, her forehead white, her cheeks a rich olive with the eloquent blood mantling below and her glorious eyes fringed with long thick silken eyelashes, that seemed made to sweep up sensitive hearts by the half dozen. Saucy red lips, and teeth of the whitest ivory.
The women were visibly depressed by this wretched sight; the men in ecstasies; they received her with loud shouts and waving of caps, and one enthusiast even went down on his knees upon the boat's gunwale, and hailed her of origin divine. But his chere amie pulling his hair for it—and the goddess giving him a little kick—cotemporaneously, he lay supine; and the peerless creature frisked over his body without deigning him a look, and took her seat at the prow. Pietro Vanucci sat in a sort of collapse, glaring at her, and gaping with his mouth open like a dying cod-fish.
The drover spoke to the buffaloes, the ropes tightened, and they moved up stream.
"What think ye of this new beef, mesdames?"
"We ne'er saw monsters so viley ill-favoured; with their nasty horns that make one afeard, and, their foul nostrils cast up into the air. Holes be they; not nostrils."
"Signorina, the beeves are a present from Florence the beautiful Would ye look a gift beef i' the nose?"
"They are so dull," objected a lively lady. "I went up Tiber twice as fast last time with but five mules and an ass."
"Nay, that is soon mended," cried a gallant, and jumping ashore he drew his sword, and despite the remonstrances of the drivers, went down the dozen buffaloes goading them.
They snorted and whisked their tails, and went no faster, at which the boat-load laughed loud and long: finally he goaded a patriarch bull, who turned instantly on the sword, sent his long horns clean through the spark, and with a furious jerk of his prodigious neck sent him flying over his head into the air. He described a bold parabola and fell sitting, and unconsciously waving his glittering blade, into the yellow Tiber. The laughing ladies screamed and wrung their hands, all but Gerard's fair. She uttered something very like an oath, and seizing the helm steered the boat out, and the gallant came up sputtering, griped the gunwale, and was drawn in dripping.
He glared round him confusedly. "I understand not that," said he, a little peevishly; puzzled, and therefore, it would seem, discontented. At which, finding he was by some strange accident not slain, his doublet being perforated, instead of his body, they began to laugh again louder than ever.
"What are ye cackling at?" remonstrated the spark, "I desire to know how 'tis that one moment a gentleman is out yonder a pricking of African beef, and the next moment—"
Gerard's lady. "Disporting in his native stream."
"Tell him not, a soul of ye," cried Vanucci. "Let him find out 's own riddle."
Confound ye all. I might puzzle my brains till doomsday, I should ne'er find it out. Also, where is my sword?
Gerard's lady. "Ask Tiber! Your best way, signor, will be to do it over again; and, in a word, keep pricking of Afric's beef, till your mind receives light. So shall you comprehend the matter by degrees, as lawyers mount heaven, and buffaloes Tiber."
Here a chevalier remarked that the last speaker transcended the sons of Adam as much in wit as she did the daughters of Eve in beauty.
At which, and indeed at all their compliments, the conduct of Pietro Vanucci was peculiar. That signor had left off staring, and gaping bewildered; and now sat coiled up snake-like, on each, his mouth muffled, and two bright eyes fixed on the' lady, and twinkling and scintillating most comically.
He did not appear to interest or amuse her in return. Her glorious eyes and eyelashes swept him calmly at times, but scarce distinguished him from the benches and things.
Presently the unanimity of the party suffered a momentary check.
Mortified by the attention the cavaliers paid to Gerard's companion, the ladies began to pick her to pieces sotto voce, and audibly.
The lovely girl then showed that, if rich in beauty, she was poor in feminine tact. Instead of revenging herself like a true woman through the men, she permitted herself to overhear, and openly retaliate on her detractors.
"There is not one of you that wears Nature's colours," said she. "Look here," and she pointed rudely in one's face. "This is the beauty that is to be bought in every shop. Here is cerussa, here is stibium, and here purpurissum. Oh, I know the articles bless you, I use them every day—but not on my face, no thank you."
Here Vanucci's eyes twinkled themselves nearly out of sight.
"Why, your lips are coloured, and the very veins in your forehead: not a charm but would come off with a wet towel. And look at your great coarse black hair like a horse's tail, drugged and stained to look like tow. And then your bodies are as false as your heads and your cheeks, and your hearts I trow. Look at your padded bosoms, and your wooden heeled chopines to raise your little stunted limbs up and deceive the world. Skinny dwarfs ye are, cushioned and stultified into great fat giants. Aha, mesdames, well is it said of you, grande—di legni: grosse—di straci: rosse—di bettito: bianche—di calcina."
This drew out a rejoinder. "Avaunt, vulgar toad, telling the men everything. Your coarse, ruddy cheeks are your own, and your little handful of African hair. But who is padded more? Why, you are shaped like a fire-shovel."
"Ye lie, malapert."
"Oh, the well-educated young person! Where didst pick her up, Ser Gerard?"
"Hold thy peace, Marcia," said Gerard, awakened by the raised trebles from a gloomy reverie. "Be not so insolent! The grave shall close over thy beauty as it hath over fairer than thee."
"They began," said Marcia petulantly.
"Then be thou the first to leave off."
"At thy request, my friend." She then whispered Gerard, "It was only to make you laugh; you are distraught, you are sad. Judge whether I care for the quips of these little fools, or the admiration of these big fools. Dear Signor Gerard, would I were what they take me for? You should not be so sad."
Gerard sighed deeply; and shook his head. But touched by the earnest young tones, caressed the jet black locks, much as one strokes the head of an affectionate dog.
At this moment a galley drifting slowly down stream got entangled for an instant in their ropes: for, the river turning suddenly, they had shot out into the stream; and this galley came between them and the bank. In it a lady of great beauty was seated under a canopy with gallants and dependents standing behind her.
Gerard looked up at the interruption. It was the Princess Claelia.
He coloured and withdrew his hand from Marcia's head.
Marcia was all admiration. "Aha! ladies," said she, "here is a rival an ye will. Those cheeks were coloured by Nature-like mine."
"Peace, child! peace!" said Gerard. "Make not too free with the great."
"Why, she heard me not. Oh, Ser Gerard, what a lovely creature!"
Two of the females had been for some time past putting their heads together and casting glances at Marcia.
One of them now addressed her.
"Signorina, do you love almonds?"
The speaker had a lapful of them.
"Yes, I love them; when I can get them," said Marcia pettishly, and eyeing the fruit with ill-concealed desire; "but yours is not the hand to give me any, I trow."
"You are much mistook," said the other. "Here, catch!" And suddenly threw a double handful into Marcia's lap.
Marcia brought her knees together by an irresistible instinct.
"Aha! you are caught, my lad," cried she of the nuts. "'Tis a man; or a boy. A woman still parteth her knees to catch the nuts the surer in her apron; but a man closeth his for fear they should all between his hose. Confess, now, didst never wear fardingale ere to-day?"
"Give me another handful, sweetheart, and I'll tell thee."
"There! I said he was too handsome for a woman."
"Ser Gerard, they have found me out," observed the Epicaene, calmly cracking an almond.
The libertines vowed it was impossible, and all glared at the goddess like a battery. But Vanucci struck in, and reminded the gaping gazers of a recent controversy, in which they had, with a unanimity not often found among dunces, laughed Gerard and him to scorn, for saying that men were as beautiful as women in a true artist's eye.
"Where are ye now? This is my boy Andrea. And you have all been down on your knees to him. Ha! ha! But oh, my little ladies, when he lectured you and flung your stibium, your cerussa, and your purpurissum back in your faces, 'tis then I was like to burst; a grinds my colours. Ha! ha! he! he! he! ho!"
"The little impostor! Duck him!"
"What for, signors?" cried Andrea, in dismay, and lost his rich carnation.
But the females collected round him, and vowed nobody should harm a hair of his head.
"The dear child! How well his pretty little saucy ways become him."
"Oh, what eyes and teeth!"
"And what eyebrows and hair!"
"And what lashes!"
"And what a nose!"
"The sweetest little ear in the world!"
"And what health! Touch but his cheek with a pin the blood should squirt."
"Who would be so cruel?"
"He is a rosebud washed in dew."
And they revenged themselves for their beaux' admiration of her by lavishing all their tenderness on him.
But one there was who was still among these butterflies, but no longer of them. The sight of the Princess Claelia had torn open his wound.
Scarce three months ago he had declined the love of that peerless creature; a love illicit and insane; but at least refined.
How much lower had he fallen now.
How happy he must have been, when the blandishments of Claelia, that might have melted an anchorite, could not tempt him from the path of loyalty!
Now what was he? He had blushed at her seeing him in such company. Yet it was his daily company.
He hung over the boat in moody silence.
And from that hour another phase of his misery began; and grew upon him.
Some wretched fools try to drown care in drink.
The fumes of intoxication vanish; the inevitable care remains, and must be faced at last—with an aching head, disordered stomach, and spirits artificially depressed.
Gerard's conduct had been of a piece with these maniacs'. To survive his terrible blow he needed all his forces; his virtue, his health, his habits of labour, and the calm sleep that is labour's satellite; above all, his piety.
Yet all these balms to wounded hearts he flung away and trusted to moral intoxication.
Its brief fumes fled; the bereaved heart lay still heavy as lead within his bosom; but now the dark vulture Remorse sat upon it rending it.
Broken health; means wasted; innocence fled; Margaret parted from him by another gulf wider than the grave! The hot fit of despair passed away.
The cold fit of despair came on.
Then this miserable young man spurned his gay companions, and all the world.
He wandered alone. He drank wine alone to stupefy himself; and paralyze a moment the dark foes to man that preyed upon his soul. He wandered alone amidst the temples of old Rome, and lay stony eyed, woebegone, among their ruins, worse wrecked than they.
Last of all came the climax, to which solitude, that gloomy yet fascinating foe of minds diseased, pushes the hopeless.
He wandered alone at night by dark streams, and eyed them, and eyed them, with decreasing repugnance. There glided peace; perhaps annihilation.
What else was left him?
These dark spells have been broken by kind words, by loving and cheerful voices.
The humblest friend the afflicted one possesses may speak, or look, or smile, a sunbeam between him and that worst madness Gerard now brooded.
Where was Teresa? Where his hearty, kind old landlady?
They would see with their homely but swift intelligence; they would see and save.
No; they knew not where he was, or whither he was gliding.
And is there no mortal eye upon the poor wretch, and the dark road he is going?
Yes; one eye there is upon him; watching his every movement; following him abroad; tracking him home.
And that eye is the eye of an enemy.
An enemy to the death.
In an apartment richly furnished, the floor covered with striped and spotted skins of animals, a lady sat with her arms extended before her, and her hands half clenched. The agitation of her face corresponded with this attitude; she was pale and red by turns; and her foot restless.
Presently the curtain was drawn by a domestic.
The lady's brow flushed.
The maid said, in an awe-struck whisper: "Altezza, the man is here."
The lady bade her admit him, and snatched up a little black mask and put it on; and in a moment her colour was gone, and the contrast between her black mask and her marble cheeks was strange and fearful.
A man entered bowing and scraping. It was such a figure as crowds seem made of; short hair, roundish head, plain, but decent clothes; features neither comely not forbidding. Nothing to remark in him but a singularly restless eye.
After a profusion of bows he stood opposite the lady, and awaited her pleasure.
"They have told you for what you are wanted?"
"Did those who spoke to you agree as to what you are to receive?"
"Yes, Signora. 'Tis the full price; and purchases the greater vendetta: unless of your benevolence you choose to content yourself with the lesser."
"I understand you not," said the lady.
"Ah; this is the Signora's first. The lesser vendetta, lady, is the death of the body only. We watch our man come out of a church; or take him in an innocent hour; and so deal with him. In the greater vendetta we watch him, and catch him hot from some unrepented sin, and so slay his soul as well as his body. But this vendetta is not so run upon now as it was a few years ago."
"Man, silence me his tongue, and let his treasonable heart beat no more. But his soul I have no feud with."
"So be it, signora. He who spoke to me knew not the man, nor his name, nor his abode. From whom shall I learn these?"
At this the man, with the first symptoms of anxiety he had shown, entreated her to be cautious, and particular, in this part of the business.
"Fear me not," said she. "Listen. It is a young man, tall of stature, and auburn hair, and dark blue eyes, and an honest face, would deceive a saint. He lives in the Via Claudia, at the corner house; the glover's. In that house there lodge but three males: he; and a painter short of stature and dark visaged, and a young, slim boy. He that hath betrayed me is a stranger, fair, and taller than thou art."
The bravo listened with all his ears. "It is enough," said he.
"Stay, Signora; haunteth he any secret place where I may deal with him?"
"My spy doth report me he hath of late frequented the banks of Tiber after dusk; doubtless to meet his light o' love, who calls me her rival; even there slay him! and let my rival come and find him; the smooth, heartless, insolent traitor."
"Be calm, signora. He will betray no more ladies."
"I know not that. He weareth a sword, and can use it. He is young and resolute."
"Neither will avail him."
"Are ye so sure of your hand? What are your weapons?"
The bravo showed her a steel gauntlet. "We strike with such force we need must guard our hand. This is our mallet." He then undid his doublet, and gave her a glimpse of a coat of mail beneath, and finally laid his glittering stiletto on the table with a flourish.
The lady shuddered at first, but presently took it up in her white hand and tried its point against her finger.
"Beware, madam," said the bravo.
"What, is it poisoned?"
"Saints forbid! We steal no lives. We take them with steel point, not drugs. But 'tis newly ground, and I feared for the Signora's white skin."
"His skin is as white as mine," said she, with a sudden gleam of pity. It lasted but a moment. "But his heart is black as soot. Say, do I not well to remove a traitor that slanders me?"
"The signora will settle that with her confessor. I am but a tool in noble hands; like my stiletto."
The princess appeared not to hear the speaker. "Oh, how I could have loved him; to the death; as now I hate him. Fool! he will learn to trifle with princes; to spurn them and fawn on them, and prefer the scum of the town to them, and make them a by-word." She looked up. "Why loiter'st thou here? haste thee, revenge me."
"It is customary to pay half the price beforehand, Signora."
"Ah I forgot; thy revenge is bought. Here is more than half," and she pushed a bag across the table to him. "When the blow is struck, come for the rest."
"You will soon see me again, signora."
And he retired bowing and scraping.
The princess, burning with jealousy, mortified pride, and dread of exposure (for till she knew Gerard no public stain had fallen on her), sat where he left her, masked, with her arms straight out before her, and the nails of her clenched hand nipping the table.
So sat the fabled sphynx: so sits a tigress.
Yet there crept a chill upon her now that the assassin was gone. And moody misgivings heaved within her, precursors of vain remorse. Gerard and Margaret were before their age. This was your true mediaeval. Proud, amorous, vindictive, generous, foolish, cunning, impulsive, unprincipled: and ignorant as dirt.
Power is the curse of such a creature.
Forced to do her own crimes, the weakness of her nerves would have balanced the violence of her passions, and her bark been worse than her bite. But power gives a feeble, furious woman, male instruments. And the effect is as terrible as the combination is unnatural.
In this instance it whetted an assassin's dagger for a poor forlorn wretch just meditating suicide.
It happened, two days after the scene I have endeavoured to describe, that Gerard, wandering through one of the meanest streets in Rome, was overtaken by a thunderstorm, and entered a low hostelry. He called for wine, and the rain continuing, soon drank himself into a half stupid condition, and dozed with his head on his hands and his hands upon the table.
In course of time the room began to fill and the noise of the rude guests to wake him.
Then it was he became conscious of two figures near him conversing in a low voice.
One was a pardoner. The other by his dress, clean but modest, might have passed for a decent tradesman; but the way he had slouched his hat over his brows, so as to hide all his face except his beard, showed he was one of those who shun the eye of honest men, and of the law. The pair were driving a bargain in the sin market. And by an arrangement not uncommon at that date, the crime to be forgiven was yet to be committed—under the celestial contract.
He of the slouched hat was complaining of the price pardons had reached. "If they go up any higher we poor fellows shall be shut out of heaven altogether."
The pardoner denied the charge flatly. "Indulgences were never cheaper to good husbandmen."
The other inquired, "Who were they?"
"Why, such as sin by the market, like reasonable creatures. But if you will be so perverse as go and pick out a crime the Pope hath set his face against, blame yourself, not me!"
Then, to prove that crime of one sort or another was within the means of all but the very scum of society, he read out the scale from a written parchment.
It was a curious list; but not one that could be printed in this book. And to mutilate it would be to misrepresent it. It is to be found in any great library. Suffice it to say that murder of a layman was much cheaper than many crimes my lay readers would deem light by comparison.
This told; and by a little trifling concession on each side, the bargain was closed, the money handed over, and the aspirant to heaven's favour forgiven beforehand for removing one layman. The price for disposing of a clerk bore no proportion.
The word assassination was never once uttered by either merchant.
All this buzzed in Gerard's ear. But he never lifted his head from the table; only listened stupidly.
However, when the parties rose and separated, he half raised his head, and eyed with a scowl the retiring figure of the purchaser.
"If Margaret was alive," muttered he, "I'd take thee by the throat and throttle thee, thou cowardly stabber. But she is dead; dead; dead. Die all the world; 'tis nought to me: so that I die among the first."
When he got home there was a man in a slouched hat walking briskly to and fro on the opposite side of the way.
"Why, there is that cur again," thought Gerard.
But in this state of mind, the circumstance made no impression whatever on him.
Two nights after this Pietro Vanucci and Andrea sat waiting supper for Gerard.
The former grew peevish. It was past nine o'clock. At last he sent Andrea to Gerard's room on the desperate chance of his having come in unobserved. Andrea shrugged his shoulders and went.
He returned without Gerard, but with a slip of paper. Andrea could not read, as scholars in his day and charity boys in ours understand the art; but he had a quick eye, and had learned how the words Pietro Vanucci looked on paper.
"That is for you, I trow," said he, proud of his intelligence.
Pietro snatched it, and read it to Andrea, with his satirical comments.
"'Dear Pietro, dear Andrea, life is too great a burden.'
"So 'tis, my lad,' but that is no reason for being abroad at supper-time. Supper is not a burden."
"'Wear my habits!'
"Said the poplar to the juniper bush."
"'And thou, Andrea, mine amethyst ring; and me in both your hearts a month or two.'
"'For my body, ere this ye read, it will lie in Tiber. Trouble not to look for it. 'Tis not worth the pains. Oh unhappy day that it was born oh happy night that rids me of it.
"'The broken-hearted Gerard.'
"Here is a sorry jest of the peevish rogue," said Pietro. But his pale cheek and chattering teeth belied his words. Andrea filled the house with his cries.
"O, miserable day! O, calamity of calamities! Gerard, my friend, my sweet patron! Help! help! He is killing himself! Oh, good people, help me save him!" And after alarming all the house he ran into the street, bareheaded, imploring all good Christians to help him save his friend.
A number of persons soon collected.
But poor Andrea could not animate their sluggishness. Go down to the river? No. It was not their business. What part of the river? It was a wild goose chase.
It was not lucky to go down to the river after sunset. Too many ghosts walked those banks all night.
A lackey, however, who had been standing some time opposite the house, said he would go with Andrea; and this turned three or four of the younger ones.
The little band took the way to the river.
The lackey questioned Andrea.
Andrea, sobbing, told him about the letter, and Gerard's moody ways of late.
That lackey was a spy of the Princess Claelia.
Their Italian tongues went fast till they neared the Tiber.
But the moment they felt the air from the river, and the smell of the stream in the calm spring night, they were dead silent.
The moon shone calm and clear in a cloudless sky. Their feet sounded loud and ominous. Their tongues were hushed.
Presently hurrying round a corner they met a man. He stopped irresolute at sight of them.
The man was bareheaded, and his dripping hair glistened in the moonlight; and at the next step they saw his clothes were drenched with water.
"Here he is," cried one of the young men, unacquainted with Gerard's face and figure.
The stranger turned instantly and fled.
They ran after him might and main, Andrea leading, and the princess's lackey next.
Andrea gained on him; but in a moment he twisted up a narrow alley. Andrea shot by, unable to check himself; and the pursuers soon found themselves in a labyrinth in which it was vain to pursue a quickfooted fugitive who knew every inch of it, and could now only be followed by the ear.
They returned to their companions, and found them standing on the spot where the man had stood, and utterly confounded. For Pietro had assured them that the fugitive had neither the features nor the stature of Gerard.
"Are ye verily sure?" said they. "He had been in the river. Why, in the saints' names, fled he at our approach?"
Then said Vanucci, "Friends, methinks this has nought to do with him we seek. What shall we do, Andrea?"
Here the lackey put in his word. "Let us track him to the water's side, to make sure. See, he hath come dripping all the way."
This advice was approved, and with very little difficulty they tracked the man's course.
But soon they encountered a new enigma.
They had gone scarcely fifty yards ere the drops turned away from the river, and took them to the gate of a large gloomy building. It was a monastery.
They stood irresolute before it, and gazed at the dark pile.
It seemed to them to hide some horrible mystery.
But presently Andrea gave a shout. "Here be the drops again," cried he. "And this road leadeth to the river."
They resumed the chase; and soon it became clear the drops were now leading them home. The track became wetter and wetter, and took them to the Tiber's edge. And there on the bank a bucketful appeared to have been discharged from the stream.
At first they shouted, and thought they had made a discovery: but reflection showed them it amounted to nothing. Certainly a man had been in the water, and had got out of it in safety; but that man was not Gerard. One said he knew a fisherman hard by that had nets and drags. They found the fisherman and paid him liberally to sink nets in the river below the place, and to drag it above and below; and promised him gold should he find the body. Then they ran vainly up and down the river which flowed so calm and voiceless, holding this and a thousand more strange secrets. Suddenly Andrea, with a cry of hope, ran back to the house.
He returned in less than half an hour.
"No," he groaned, and wrung his hands.
"What is the hour?" asked the lackey.
"Four hours past midnight."
"My pretty lad," said the lackey solemnly, "say a mass for thy friend's soul: for he is not among living men."
The morning broke. Worn out with fatigue, Andrea and Pietro went home, heart sick.
The days rolled on, mute as the Tiber as to Gerard's fate.
It would indeed have been strange if with such barren data as they possessed, those men could have read the handwriting on the river's bank.
For there on that spot an event had just occurred, which, take it altogether, was perhaps without a parallel in the history of mankind, and may remain so to the end of time.
But it shall be told in a very few words, partly by me, partly by an actor in the scene.
Gerard, then, after writing his brief adieu to Pietro and Andrea, had stolen down to the river at nightfall.
He had taken his measures with a dogged resolution not uncommon in those who are bent on self-destruction. He filled his pockets with all the silver and copper he possessed, that he might sink the surer; and so provided, hurried to a part of the stream that he had seen was little frequented.
There are some, especially women, who look about to make sure there is somebody at hand.
But this resolute wretch looked about him to make sure there was nobody.
And to his annoyance, he observed a single figure leaning against the corner of an alley. So he affected to stroll carelessly away; but returned to the spot.
Lo! the same figure emerged from a side street and loitered about.
"Can he be watching me? Can he know what I am here for?" thought Gerard. "Impossible."
He went briskly off, walked along a street or two, made a detour and came back.
The man had vanished. But lo! on Gerard looking all round, to make sure, there he was a few yards behind, apparently fastening his shoe.
Gerard saw he was watched, and at this moment observed in the moonlight a steel gauntlet in his sentinel's hand.
Then he knew it was an assassin.
Strange to say, it never occurred to him that his was the life aimed at. To be sure he was not aware he had an enemy in the world.
He turned and walked up to the bravo. "My good friend," said he eagerly, "sell me thine arm! a single stroke! See, here is all I have;" and he forced his money into the bravo's hands.
"Oh, prithee! prithee! do one good deed, and rid me of my hateful life!" and even while speaking he undid his doublet and bared his bosom.
The man stared in his face.
"Why do ye hesitate?" shrieked Gerard. "Have ye no bowels? Is it so much pains to lift your arm and fall it? Is it because I am poor, and can't give ye gold? Useless wretch, canst only strike a man behind; not look one in the face. There, then, do but turn thy head and hold thy tongue!"
And with a snarl of contempt he ran from him, and flung himself into the water.
At the heavy plunge of his body in the stream the bravo seemed to recover from a stupor. He ran to the bank, and with a strange cry the assassin plunged in after the self-destroyer.
What followed will be related by the assassin.
A woman has her own troubles, as a man has his. And we male writers seldom do more than indicate the griefs of the other sex. The intelligence of the female reader must come to our aid, and fill up our cold outlines. So have I indicated, rather than described, what Margaret Brandt went through up to that eventful day, when she entered Eli's house an enemy, read her sweetheart's letter, and remained a friend.
And now a woman's greatest trial drew near, and Gerard far away.
She availed herself but little of Eli's sudden favour; for this reserve she had always a plausible reason ready; and never hinted at the true one, which was this; there were two men in that house at sight of whom she shuddered with instinctive antipathy and dread. She had read wickedness and hatred in their faces, and mysterious signals of secret intelligence. She preferred to receive Catherine and her daughter at home. The former went to see her every day, and was wrapped up in the expected event.
Catherine was one of those females whose office is to multiply, and rear the multiplied: who, when at last they consent to leave off pelting one out of every room in the house with babies, hover about the fair scourges that are still in full swing, and do so cluck, they seem to multiply by proxy. It was in this spirit she entreated Eli to let her stay at Rotterdam, while he went back to Tergou.
"The poor lass hath not a soul about her, that knows anything about anything. What avail a pair o' soldiers? Why, that sort o' cattle should be putten out o' doors the first, at such an a time."
Need I say that this was a great comfort to Margaret.
Poor soul, she was full of anxiety as the time drew near.
She should die; and Gerard away.
But things balance themselves. Her poverty, and her father's helplessness, which had cost her such a struggle, stood her in good stead now.
Adversity's iron hand had forced her to battle the lassitude that overpowers the rich of her sex, and to be for ever on her feet, working. She kept this up to the last by Catherine's advice.
And so it was, that one fine evening, just at sunset, she lay weak as water, but safe; with a little face by her side, and the heaven of maternity opening on her.
"Why dost weep, sweetheart? All of a sudden?"
"He is not here to see it."
"Ah, well, lass, he will be here ere 'tis weaned. Meantime God hath been as good to thee as to e'er a woman born; and do but bethink thee it might have been a girl; didn't my very own Kate threaten me with one; and here we have got the bonniest boy in Holland, and a rare heavy one, the saints be praised for't."
"Ay, mother, I am but a sorry, ungrateful wretch to weep. If only Gerard were here to see it. 'Tis strange; I bore him well enow to be away from me in my sorrow; but oh, it does seem so hard he should not share my joy. Prithee, prithee, come to me, Gerard! dear, dear Gerard!" And she stretched out her feeble arms.
Catherine hustled about, but avoided Margaret's eyes; for she could not restrain her own tears at hearing her own absent child thus earnestly addressed.
Presently, turning round, she found Margaret looking at her with a singular expression. "Heard you nought?"
"No, my lamb. What?"
"I did cry on Gerard, but now."
"Ay, ay, sure I heard that."
"Well, he answered me."
"Tush, girl: say not that."
"Mother, as sure as I lie here, with his boy by my side, his voice came back to me, 'Margaret!' So. Yet methought 'twas not his happy voice. But that might be the distance. All voices go off sad like at a distance. Why art not happy, sweetheart? and I so happy this night? Mother, I seem never to have felt a pain or known a care." And her sweet eyes turned and gloated on the little face in silence.
That very night Gerard flung himself into the Tiber. And that very hour she heard him speak her name, he cried aloud in death's jaws and despair's.
Account for it those who can. I cannot.
In the guest chamber of a Dominican convent lay a single stranger, exhausted by successive and violent fits of nausea, which had at last subsided, leaving him almost as weak as Margaret lay that night in Holland.
A huge wood fire burned on the hearth, and beside it hung the patient's clothes.
A gigantic friar sat by his bedside, reading pious collects aloud from his breviary.
The patient at times eyed him, and seemed to listen: at others closed his eyes and moaned.
The monk kneeled down with his face touching the ground and prayed for him; then rose and bade him farewell. "Day breaks," said he; "I must prepare for matins."
"Good Father Jerome, before you go, how came I hither?"
"By the hand of Heaven. You flung away God's gift. He bestowed it on you again. Think on it! Hast tried the world and found its gall. Now try the Church! The Church is peace. Pax vobiscum."
He was gone. Gerard lay back, meditating and wondering, till weak and wearied he fell into a doze.
When he awoke again he found a new nurse seated beside him. It was a layman, with an eye as small and restless as Friar Jerome's was calm and majestic.
The man inquired earnestly how he felt.
"Very, very weak. Where have I seen you before, messer?"
"None the worse for my gauntlet?" inquired the other, with considerable anxiety; "I was fain to strike you withal, or both you and I should be at the bottom of Tiber."
Gerard stared at him. "What, 'twas you saved me? How?"
"Well, signor, I was by the banks of Tiber on-on an errand, no matter what. You came to me and begged hard for a dagger stroke. But ere I could oblige you, ay, even as you spoke to me, I knew you for the signor that saved my wife and child upon the sea."
"It is Teresa's husband. And an assassin?!!?"
"At your service. Well, Ser Gerard, the next thing was, you flung yourself into Tiber, and bade me hold aloof."
"I remember that."
"Had it been any but you, believe me I had obeyed you, and not wagged a finger. Men are my foes. They may all hang on one rope, or drown in one river for me. But when thou, sinking in Tiber, didst cry 'Margaret!'"
"My heart it cried 'Teresa!' How could I go home and look her in the face, did I let thee die, and by the very death thou savedst her from? So in I went; and luckily for us both I swim like a duck. You, seeing me near, and being bent on destruction, tried to grip me, and so end us both. But I swam round thee, and (receive my excuses) so buffeted thee on the nape of the neck with my steel glove; that thou lost sense, and I with much ado, the stream being strong, did draw thy body to land, but insensible and full of water. Then I took thee on my back and made for my own home. 'Teresa will nurse him, and be pleased with me,' thought I. But hard by this monastery, a holy friar, the biggest e'er I saw, met us and asked the matter. So I told him. He looked hard at thee. 'I know the face,' quoth he. ''Tis one Gerard, a fair youth from Holland.' 'The same,' quo' I. Then said his reverence, 'He hath friends among our brethren. Leave him with us! Charity, it is our office.'
"Also he told me they of the convent had better means to tend thee than I had. And that was true enow. So I just bargained to be let in to see thee once a day, and here thou art."
And the miscreant cast a strange look of affection and interest upon Gerard.
Gerard did not respond to it. He felt as if a snake were in the room. He closed his eyes.
"Ah, thou wouldst sleep," said the miscreant eagerly. "I go." And he retired on tip-toe with a promise to come every day.
Gerard lay with his eyes closed: not asleep, but deeply pondering.
Saved from death, by an assassin
Was not this the finger of Heaven?
Of that Heaven he had insulted, cursed, and defied.
He shuddered at his blasphemies. He tried to pray.
He found he could utter prayers. But he could not pray.
"I am doomed eternally," he cried, "doomed, doomed."
The organ of the convent church burst on his ear in rich and solemn harmony.
Then rose the voices of the choir chanting a full service.
Among them was one that seemed to hover above the others, and tower towards heaven; a sweet boy's voice, full, pure, angelic.
He closed his eyes and listened. The days of his own boyhood flowed back upon him in those sweet, pious harmonies. No earthly dross there, no foul, fierce passions, rending and corrupting the soul.
Peace, peace; sweet, balmy peace.
"Ay," he sighed, "the Church is peace of mind. Till I left her bosom I ne'er knew sorrow, nor sin."
And the poor torn, worn creature wept.
And even as he wept, there beamed on him the sweet and reverend face of one he had never thought to see again. It was the face of Father Anselm.
The good father had only reached the convent the night before last. Gerard recognized him in a moment, and cried to him, "Oh, Father Anselm, you cured my wounded body in Juliers: now cure my hurt soul in Rome! Alas, you cannot."
Anselm sat down by the bedside, and putting a gentle hand on his head, first calmed him with a soothing word or two.
He then (for he had learned how Gerard came there) spoke to him kindly but solemnly, and made him feel his crime, and urged him to repentance, and gratitude to that Divine Power which had thwarted his will to save his soul.
"Come, my son," said he, "first purge thy bosom of its load."
"Ah, father," said Gerard, "in Juliers I could; then I was innocent but now, impious monster that I am, I dare not confess to you."
"Why not, my son? Thinkest thou I have not sinned against Heaven in my time, and deeply? oh, how deeply! Come, poor laden soul, pour forth thy grief, pour forth thy faults, hold back nought! Lie not oppressed and crushed by hidden sins."
And soon Gerard was at Father Anselm's knees confessing his every sin with sighs and groans of penitence.
"Thy sins are great," said Anselm. "Thy temptation also was great, terribly great. I must consult our good prior."
The good Anselm kissed his brow, and left him, to consult the superior as to his penance.
And lo! Gerard could pray now.
And he prayed with all his heart.
The phase, through which this remarkable mind now passed, may be summed in a word—Penitence.
He turned with terror and aversion from the world, and begged passionately to remain in the convent. To him, convent nurtured, it was like a bird returning wounded, wearied, to its gentle nest.
He passed his novitiate in prayer, and mortification, and pious reading and meditation.
The Princess Claelia's spy went home and told her that Gerard was certainly dead, the manner of his death unknown at present.
She seemed literally stunned. When, after a long time, she found breath to speak at all, it was to bemoan her lot, cursed with such ready tools. "So soon," she sighed; "see how swift these monsters are to do ill deeds. They come to us in our hot blood, and first tempt us with their venal daggers, then enact the mortal deeds we ne'er had thought on but for them."
Ere many hours had passed, her pity for Gerard and hatred of his murderer had risen to fever heat; which with this fool was blood heat.
"Poor soul! I cannot call thee back to life. But he shall never live that traitorously slew thee."
And she put armed men in ambush, and kept them on guard all day, ready, when Lodovico should come for his money, to fall on him in a certain antechamber and hack him to pieces.
"Strike at his head," said she, "for he weareth a privy coat of mail; and if he goes hence alive your own heads shall answer it."
And so she sat weeping her victim, and pulling the strings of machines to shed the blood of a second for having been her machine to kill the first.
One of the novice Gerard's self-imposed penances was to receive Lodovico kindly, feeling secretly as to a slimy serpent.
Never was self-denial better bestowed; and like most rational penances, it soon became no penance at all. At first the pride and complacency, with which the assassin gazed on the one life he had saved, was perhaps as ludicrous as pathetic; but it is a great thing to open a good door in a heart. One good thing follows another through the aperture. Finding it so sweet to save life, the miscreant went on to be averse to taking it; and from that to remorse; and from remorse to something very like penitence. And here Teresa cooperated by threatening, not for the first time, to leave him unless he would consent to lead an honest life. The good fathers of the convent lent their aid, and Lodovico and Teresa were sent by sea to Leghorn, where Teresa had friends, and the assassin settled down and became a porter.
He found it miserably dull work at first; and said so.
But methinks this dull life of plodding labour was better for him, than the brief excitement of being hewn in pieces by the Princess Claelia's myrmidons. His exile saved the unconscious penitent from that fate; and the princess, balked of her revenge, took to brooding, and fell into a profound melancholy; dismissed her confessor, and took a new one with a great reputation for piety, to whom she confided what she called her griefs. The new confessor was no other than Fra Jerome. She could not have fallen into better hands.
He heard her grimly out. Then took her and shook the delusions out of her as roughly as if she had been a kitchen-maid. For, to do this hard monk justice, on the path of duty he feared the anger of princes as little as he did the sea. He showed her in a few words, all thunder and lightning, that she was the criminal of criminals.
"Thou art the devil, that with thy money hath tempted one man to slay his fellow, and then, blinded with self-love, instead of blaming and punishing thyself, art thirsting for more blood of guilty men, but not so guilty as thou."
At first she resisted, and told him she was not used to be taken to task by her confessors. But he overpowered her, and so threatened her with the Church's curse here and hereafter, and so tore the scales off her eyes, and thundered at her, and crushed her, that she sank down and grovelled with remorse and terror at the feet of the gigantic Boanerges.
"Oh, holy father, have pity on a poor weak woman, and help me save my guilty soul. I was benighted for want of ghostly counsel like thine, good father. I waken as from a dream.
"Doff thy jewels," said Fra Jerome sternly.
"I will. I will."
"Doff thy silk and velvet; and in humbler garb than wears thy meanest servant, wend thou instant to Loretto."
"I will," said the princess faintly.
"No shoes; but a bare sandal.'
"Wash the feet of pilgrims both going and coming; and to such of them as be holy friars tell thy sin, and abide their admonition."
"Oh, holy father, let me wear my mask."
"Oh, mercy! Bethink thee! My features are known through Italy."
"Ay. Beauty is a curse to most of ye. Well, thou mayst mask thine eyes; no more."
On this concession she seized his hand, and was about to kiss it; but he snatched it rudely from her.
"What would ye do? That hand handled the eucharist but an hour agone: is it fit for such as thou to touch it?"
"Ah, no. But oh, go not without giving your penitent daughter your blessing."
"Time enow to ask it when you come back from Loretto."
Thus that marvellous occurrence by Tiber's banks left its mark on all the actors, as prodigies are said to do. The assassin, softened by saving the life he was paid to take, turned from the stiletto to the porter's knot. The princess went barefoot to Loretto, weeping her crime and washing the feet of base-born men.
And Gerard, carried from the Tiber into that convent a suicide, now passed for a young saint within its walls.
Loving but experienced eyes were on him.
Upon a shorter probation than usual he was admitted to priest's orders.
And soon after took the monastic vows, and became a friar of St. Dominic.
Dying to the world, the monk parted with the very name by which he had lived in it, and so broke the last link of association with earthly feelings.
Here Gerard ended, and Brother Clement began.
"As is the race of leaves so is that of men." And a great man budded unnoticed in a tailor's house at Rotterdam this year, and a large man dropped to earth with great eclat.
Philip, Duke of Burgundy, Earl of Holland, etc., etc., lay sick at Bruges. Now paupers got sick and got well as Nature pleased; but woe betided the rich in an age when, for one Mr. Malady killed three fell by Dr. Remedy.
The Duke's complaint, nameless then, is now diphtheria. It is, and was, a very weakening malady, and the Duke was old; so altogether Dr. Remedy bled him.
The Duke turned very cold: wonderful!
Then Dr. Remedy had recourse to the arcana of science.
"Ho! This is grave. Flay me an ape incontinent, and clap him to the Duke's breast!"
Officers of state ran septemvious, seeking an ape, to counteract the bloodthirsty tomfoolery of the human species.
Perdition! The duke was out of apes. There were buffaloes, lizards, Turks, leopards; any unreasonable beast but the right one.
"Why, there used to be an ape about," said one. "If I stand here I saw him."
So there used; but the mastiff had mangled the sprightly creature for stealing his supper; and so fulfilled the human precept, "Soyez de votre siecle!"
In this emergency the seneschal cast his despairing eyes around; and not in vain. A hopeful light shot into them.
"Here is this," said he, sotto voce. "Surely this will serve: 'tis altogether apelike, doublet and hose apart."
"Nay," said the chancellor peevishly, "the Princess Marie would hang us. She doteth on this."
Now this was our friend Giles, strutting, all unconscious, in cloth of gold.
Then Dr. Remedy grew impatient, and bade flay a dog.
"A dog is next best to an ape; only it must be a dog all of one colour."
So they flayed a liver-coloured dog, and clapped it, yet palpitating, to their sovereign's breast and he died.
Philip the Good, thus scientifically disposed of, left thirty-one children: of whom one, somehow or another, was legitimate; and reigned in his stead.
The good duke provided for nineteen out of the other thirty; the rest shifted for themselves.
According to the Flemish chronicle the deceased prince was descended from the kings of Troy through Thierry of Aquitaine, and Chilperic, Pharamond, etc., the old kings of Franconia.
But this in reality was no distinction. Not a prince of his day have I been able to discover who did not come down from Troy. "Priam" was mediaeval for "Adam."
The good duke's, body was carried into Burgundy, and laid in a noble mausoleum of black marble at Dijon.
Holland rang with his death; and little dreamed that anything as famous was born in her territory that year. That judgment has been long reversed. Men gaze at the tailor's house, here the great birth of the fifteenth century took place. In what house the good duke died "no one knows and no one cares," as the song says.
Dukes Philip the Good come and go, and leave mankind not a halfpenny wiser, nor better, nor other than they found it.
But when, once in three hundred years, such a child is born to the world as Margaret's son, lo! a human torch lighted by fire from heaven; and "FIAT LUX" thunder's from pole to pole.
The Dominicans, or preaching friars, once the most powerful order in Europe, were now on the wane; their rivals and bitter enemies, the Franciscans, were overpowering them throughout Europe; even in England, a rich and religious country, where under the name of the Black Friars, they had once been paramount.
Therefore the sagacious men, who watched and directed the interests of the order, were never so anxious to incorporate able and zealous sons and send them forth to win back the world.
The zeal and accomplishments of Clement, especially his rare mastery of language (for he spoke Latin, Italian, French, high and low Dutch), soon transpired, and he was destined to travel and preach in England, corresponding with the Roman centre.
But Jerome, who had the superior's ear, obstructed this design.
"Clement," said he, "has the milk of the world still in his veins, its feelings, its weaknesses let not his new-born zeal and his humility tempt us to forego our ancient wisdom. Try him first, and temper him, lest one day we find ourselves leaning on a reed for a staff.
"It is well advised," said the prior. "Take him in hand thyself."
Then Jerome, following the ancient wisdom, took Clement and tried him.
One day he brought him to a field where the young men amused themselves at the games of the day; he knew this to be a haunt of Clement's late friends.