Catherine told Joan in return whose child it was she had nursed, and all about Margaret and Gerard, and the deep anxiety his silence had plunged them in. "Ay," said Joan, "the world is full of trouble." One day she said to Catherine, "It's my belief my man knows more about your Gerard than anybody in these parts; but he has got to be closer than ever of late. Drop in some day just afore sunset, and set him talking. And for our Lady's sake say not I set you on. The only hiding he ever gave me was for babbling his business; and I do not want another. Gramercy! I married a man for the comfort of the thing, not to be hided."
Catherine dropped in. Jorian was ready enough to tell her how he had befriended her son and perhaps saved his life. But this was no news to Catherine; and the moment she began to cross-question him as to whether he could guess why her lost boy neither came nor wrote, he cast a grim look at his wife, who received it with a calm air of stolid candour and innocent unconsciousness; and his answers became short and sullen.
"What should he know more than another?" and so on. He added, after a pause, "Think you the burgomaster takes such as me into his secrets?"
"Oh, then the burgomaster knows something?" said Catherine sharply.
"Likely. Who else should?"
"I'll ask him."
"And tell him you say he knows."
"That is right, dame. Go make him mine enemy. That is what a poor fellow always gets if he says a word to you women."
And Jorian from that moment shrunk in and became impenetrable as a hedgehog, and almost as prickly.
His conduct caused both the poor women agonies of mind, alarm, and irritated curiosity. Ghysbrecht was for some cause Gerard's mortal enemy; had stopped his marriage, imprisoned him, hunted him. And here was his late servant, who when off his guard had hinted that this enemy had the clue to Gerard's silence. After sifting Jorian's every word and look, all remained dark and mysterious. Then Catherine told Margaret to go herself to him. "You are young, you are fair. You will maybe get more out of him than I could."
The conjecture was a reasonable one.
Margaret went with her child in her arms and tapped timidly at Jorian's door just before sunset. "Come in," said a sturdy voice. She entered, and there sat Jorian by the fireside. At sight of her he rose, snorted, and burst out of the house. "Is that for me, wife?" inquired Margaret, turning very red.
"You must excuse him," replied Joan, rather coldly; "he lays it to your door that he is a poor man instead of a rich one. It is something about a piece of parchment, There was one amissing, and he got nought from the burgomaster all along of that one."
"Alas! Gerard took it."
"Likely, But my man says you should not have let him: you were pledged to him to keep them all safe. And sooth to Say, I blame not my Jorian for being wroth, 'Tis hard for a poor man to be so near fortune and lose it by those he has befriended. However, I tell him another story. Says I, 'Folk that are out o' trouble like you and me didn't ought to be too hard on folk that are in trouble; and she has plenty. Going already? What is all your hurry, mistress?"
"Oh, it is not for me to drive the goodman out of his own house."
"Well, let me kiss the bairn afore ye go. He is not in fault anyway, poor innocent."
Upon this cruel rebuff Margaret came to a resolution, which she did not confide even to Catherine.
After six weeks' stay that good woman returned home.
On the child's birthday, which occurred soon after, Margaret did no work; but put on her Sunday clothes, and took her boy in her arms and went to the church and prayed there long and fervently for Gerard's safe return.
That same day and hour Father Clement celebrated a mass and prayed for Margaret's departed soul in the minster church at Basle.
Some blackguard or other, I think it was Sybrandt, said, "A lie is not like a blow with a curtal axe."
True: for we can predict in some degree the consequences of a stroke with any material weapon. But a lie has no bounds at all. The nature of the thing is to ramify beyond human calculation.
Often in the everyday world a lie has cost a life, or laid waste two or three.
And so, in this story, what tremendous consequences of that one heartless falsehood!
Yet the tellers reaped little from it.
The brothers, who invented it merely to have one claimant the less for their father's property, saw little Gerard take their brother's place in their mother's heart. Nay, more, one day Eli openly proclaimed that, Gerard being lost, and probably dead, he had provided by will for little Gerard, and also for Margaret, his poor son's widow.
At this the look that passed between the black sheep was a caution to traitors. Cornelis had it on his lips to say. Gerard was most likely alive, But he saw his mother looking at him, and checked himself in time.
Ghysbrecht Van Swieten, the other partner in that lie, was now a failing man. He saw the period fast approaching when all his wealth would drop from his body, and his misdeeds cling to his soul.
Too intelligent to deceive himself entirely, he had never been free from gusts of remorse. In taking Gerard's letter to Margaret he had compounded. "I cannot give up land and money," said his giant Avarice. "I will cause her no unnecessary pain," said his dwarf Conscience.
So, after first tampering with the seal, and finding there was not a syllable about the deed, he took it to her with his own hand; and made a merit of it to himself: a set-off; and on a scale not uncommon where the self-accuser is the judge.
The birth of Margaret's child surprised and shocked him, and put his treacherous act in a new light. Should his letter take effect he should cause the dishonour of her who was the daughter of one friend, the granddaughter of another, and whose land he was keeping from her too.
These thoughts preying on him at that period of life when the strength of body decays, and the memory of old friends revives, filled him with gloomy horrors. Yet he was afraid to confess. For the cure was an honest man, and would have made him disgorge. And with him Avarice was an ingrained habit, Penitence only a sentiment.
Matters were thus when, one day, returning from the town hall to his own house, he found a woman waiting for him in the vestibule, with a child in her arms. She was veiled, and so, concluding she had something to be ashamed of, he addressed her magisterially, On this she let down her veil and looked him full in the face.
It was Margaret Brandt.
Her sudden appearance and manner startled him, and he could not conceal his confusion.
"Where is my Gerard?" cried she, her bosom heaving. "Is he alive?"
"For aught I know," stammered Ghysbrecht. "I hope so, for your sake. Prithee come into this room. The servants!"
"Not a step," said Margaret, and she took him by the shoulder, and held him with all the energy of an excited woman. "You know the secret of that which is breaking my heart. Why does not my Gerard come, nor send a line this many months? Answer me, or all the town is like to hear me, let alone thy servants, My misery is too great to be sported with."
In vain he persisted he knew nothing about Gerard. She told him those who had sent her to him told her another tale.
"You do know why he neither comes nor sends," said she firmly.
At this Ghysbrecht turned paler and paler; but he summoned all his dignity, and said, "Would you believe those two knaves against a man of worship?"
"What two knaves?" said she keenly.
He stammered, "Said ye not—? There I am a poor old broken man, whose memory is shaken. And you come here, and confuse me so, I know not what I say."
"Ay, sir, your memory is shaken, or sure you would not be my enemy. My father saved you from the plague, when none other would come anigh you; and was ever your friend. My grandfather Floris helped you in your early poverty, and loved you, man and boy. Three generations of us you have seen; and here is the fourth of us; this is your old friend Peter's grandchild, and your old friend Floris his great-grandchild. Look down on his innocent face, and think of theirs!"
"Woman, you torture me," sighed Ghysbrecht, and sank upon a bench. But she saw her advantage, and kneeled before him, and put the boy on his knees. "This fatherless babe is poor Margaret Brandt's, that never did you ill, and comes of a race that loved you. Nay, look at his face. 'Twill melt thee more than any word of mine, Saints of heaven, what can a poor desolate girl and her babe have done to wipe out all memory of thine own young days, when thou wert guiltless as he is, that now looks up in thy face and implores thee to give him back his father?"
And with her arms under the child she held him up higher and higher, smiling under the old man's eyes.
He cast a wild look of anguish on the child, and another on the kneeling mother, and started up shrieking, "Avaunt, ye pair of adders."
The stung soul gave the old limbs a momentary vigour, and he walked rapidly, wringing his hands and clutching at his white hair. "Forget those days? I forget all else. Oh, woman, woman, sleeping or waking I see but the faces of the dead, I hear but the voices of the dead, and I shall soon be among the dead, There, there, what is done is done. I am in hell. I am in hell."
And unnatural force ended in prostration.
He staggered, and but for Margaret would have fallen, With her one disengaged arm she supported him as well as she could and cried for help.
A couple of servants came running, and carried him away in a state bordering on syncope, The last Margaret saw of him was his old furrowed face, white and helpless as his hair that hung down over the servant's elbow.
"Heaven forgive me," she said. "I doubt I have killed the poor old man."
Then this attempt to penetrate the torturing mystery left it as dark, or darker than before. For when she came to ponder every word, her suspicion was confirmed that Ghysbrecht did know something about Gerard. "And who were the two knaves he thought had done a good deed, and told me? Oh, my Gerard, my poor deserted babe, you and I are wading in deep waters."
The visit to Tergou took more money than she could well afford; and a customer ran away in her debt. She was once more compelled to unfold Catherine's angel. But strange to say, as she came down stairs with it in her hand she found some loose silver on the table, with a written line—
For Gerard his wife.
She fell with a cry of surprise on the writing; and soon it rose into a cry of joy.
"He is alive. He sends me this by some friendly hand."
She kissed the writing again and again, and put it in her bosom.
Time rolled on, and no news of Gerard.
And about every two months a small sum in silver found its way into the house. Sometimes it lay on the table. Once it was flung in through the bedroom window in a purse. Once it was at the bottom of Luke's basket. He had stopped at the public-house to talk to a friend. The giver or his agent was never detected. Catherine disowned it. Margaret Van Eyck swore she had no hand in it. So did Eli. And Margaret, whenever it came, used to say to little Gerard, "Oh, my poor deserted child, you and I are wading in deep waters."
She applied at least half this modest, but useful supply, to dressing the little Gerard beyond his station in life. "If it does come from Gerard, he shall see his boy neat." All the mothers in the street began to sneer, especially such as had brats out at elbows.
The months rolled on, and dead sickness of heart succeeded to these keener torments. She returned to her first thought: "Gerard must be dead. She should never see her boy's father again, nor her marriage lines." This last grief, which had been somewhat allayed by Eli and Catherine recognizing her betrothal, now revived in full force; others would not look so favourably on her story. And often she moaned over her boy's illegitimacy.
"Is it not enough for us to be bereaved? Must we be dishonoured too? Oh, that we had ne'er been born."
A change took place in Peter Brandt. His mind, clouded for nearly two years, seemed now to be clearing; he had intervals of intelligence; and then he and Margaret used to talk of Gerard, till he wandered again. But one day, returning after an absence of some hours, Margaret found him conversing with Catherine, in a way he had never done since his paralytic stroke. "Eh, girl, why must you be out?" said she. "But indeed I have told him all; and we have been a-crying together over thy troubles."
Margaret stood silent, looking joyfully from one to the other.
Peter smiled on her, and said, "Come, let me bless thee."
She kneeled at his feet, and he blessed her most eloquently.
He told her she had been all her life the lovingest, truest, and most obedient daughter Heaven ever sent to a poor old widowed man. "May thy son be to thee what thou hast been to me!"
After this he dozed. Then the females whispered together; and Catherine said—"All our talk e'en now was of Gerard. It lies heavy on his mind. His poor head must often have listened to us when it seemed quite dark. Margaret, he is a very understanding man; he thought of many things: 'He may be in prison, says he, 'or forced to go fighting for some king, or sent to Constantinople to copy books there, or gone into the Church after all.' He had a bent that way."
"Ah, mother," whispered Margaret, in reply, "he doth but deceive himself as we do."
Ere she could finish the sentence, a strange interruption occurred.
A loud voice cried out, "I SEE HIM, I SEE HIM."
And the old man with dilating eyes seemed to be looking right through the wall of the house.
"IN A BOAT; ON A GREAT RIVER; COMING THIS WAY. Sore disfigured; but I knew him. Gone! gone! all dark."
And he sank back, and asked feebly where was Margaret.
"Dear father, I am by thy side, Oh, mother! mother, what is this?"
"I cannot see thee, and but a moment agone I saw all round the world, Ay, ay. Well, I am ready. Is this thy hand? Bless thee, my child, bless thee! Weep not! The tree is ripe."
The old physician read the signs aright. These calm words were his last. The next moment he drooped his head, and gently, placidly, drifted away from earth, like an infant sinking to rest, The torch had flashed up before going out.
She who had wept for poor old Martin was not likely to bear this blow so stoically as the death of the old is apt to be borne. In vain Catherine tried to console her with commonplaces; in vain told her it was a happy release for him; and that, as he himself had said, the tree was ripe. But her worst failure was, when she urged that there were now but two mouths to feed; and one care the less.
"Such cares are all the joys I have," said Margaret. "They fill my desolate heart, which now seems void as well as waste. Oh, empty chair, my bosom it aches to see thee. Poor old man, how could I love him by halves, I that did use to sit and look at him and think, 'But for me thou wouldst die of hunger.' He, so wise, so learned erst, was got to be helpless as my own sweet babe, and I loved him as if he had been my child instead of my father. Oh, empty chair! Oh, empty heart! Well-a-day! well-a-day!"
And the pious tears would not be denied.
Then Catherine held her peace; and hung her head. And one day she made this confession, "I speak to thee out o' my head, and not out o' my bosom; thou dost well to be deaf to me. Were I in thy place I should mourn the old man all one as thou dost."
Then Margaret embraced her, and this bit of true sympathy did her a little good. The commonplaces did none.
Then Catherine's bowels yearned over her, and she said, "My poor girl, you were not born to live alone. I have got to look on you as my own daughter. Waste not thine youth upon my son Gerard. Either he is dead or he is a traitor. It cuts my heart to say it; but who can help seeing it? Thy father is gone; and I cannot always be aside thee. And here is an honest lad that loves thee well this many a day. I'd take him and Comfort together. Heaven hath sent us these creatures to torment us and comfort us and all; we are just nothing in the world without 'em," Then seeing Margaret look utterly perplexed, she went on to say, "Why, sure you are not so blind as not to see it?"
"Who but this Luke Peterson."
"What, our Luke? The boy that carries my basket?"
"Nay, he is over nineteen, and a fine healthy lad; and I have made inquiries for you; and they all do say he is a capable workman, and never touches a drop; and that is much in a Rotterdam lad, which they are mostly half man, half sponge."
Margaret smiled for the first time this many days. "Luke loves dried puddings dearly," said she, "and I make them to his mind, 'Tis them he comes a-courting here." Then she suddenly turned red. "But if I thought he came after your son's wife that is, or ought to be, I'd soon put him to the door."
"Nay, nay; for Heaven's sake let me not make mischief. Poor lad! Why, girl, Fancy will not be bridled, Bless you, I wormed it out of him near a twelvemonth agone."
"Oh, mother, and you let him?"
"Well, I thought of you. I said to myself, 'If he is fool enough to be her slave for nothing, all the better for her. A lone woman is lost without a man about her to fetch and carry her little matters,' But now my mind is changed, and I think the best use you can put him to is to marry him."
"So then, his own mother is against him, and would wed me to the first comer. An, Gerard, thou hast but me; I will not believe thee dead till I see thy tomb, nor false till I see thee with another lover in thine hand. Foolish boy, I shall ne'er be civil to him again."
Afflicted with the busybody's protection, Luke Peterson met a cold reception in the house where he had hitherto found a gentle and kind one. And by-and-by, finding himself very little spoken to at all, and then sharply and irritably, the great soft fellow fell to whimpering, and asked Margaret plump if he had done anything to offend her.
"Nothing. I am to blame. I am curst. If you will take my counsel you will keep out of my way awhile."
"It is all along of me, Luke," said the busybody.
"You, Mistress Catherine, Why, what have I done for you to set her against me?"
"Nay, I meant all for the best. I told her I saw you were looking towards her through a wedding ring, But she won't hear of it."
"There was no need to tell her that, wife; she knows I am courting her this twelvemonth."
"Not I," said Margaret; "or I should never have opened the street door to you.
"Why, I come here every Saturday night. And that is how the lads in Rotterdam do court. If we sup with a lass o' Saturdays, that wooing."
"Oh, that is Rotterdam, is it? Then next time you come, let it be Thursday or Friday. For my part, I thought you came after my puddings, boy."
"I like your puddings well enough. You make them better than mother does, But I like you still better than the puddings," said Luke tenderly.
"Then you have seen the last of them. How dare you talk so to another man's wife, and him far away?" She ended gently, but very firmly, "You need not trouble yourself to come here any more, Luke; I can carry my basket myself."
"Oh, very well," said Luke; and after sitting silent and stupid for a little while, he rose, and said sadly to Catherine, "Dame, I daresay I have got the sack;" and went out.
But the next Saturday Catherine found him seated on the doorstep blubbering. He told her he had got used to come there, and every other place seemed strange. She went in, and told Margaret; and Margaret sighed, and said, "Poor Luke, he might come in for her, if he could know his place, and treat her like a married wife." On this being communicated to Luke, he hesitated, "Pshaw!" said Catherine, "promises are pie-crusts. Promise her all the world, sooner than sit outside like a fool, when a word will carry you inside, now you humour her in everything, and then, if Poor Gerard come not home and claim her, you will be sure to have her—in time. A lone woman is aye to be tired out, thou foolish boy."
Brother Clement had taught and preached in Basle more than a twelvemonth, when one day Jerome stood before him, dusty, with a triumphant glance in his eye.
"Give the glory to God, Brother Clement; thou canst now wend to England with me."
"I am ready, Brother Jerome; and expecting thee these many months, have in the intervals of teaching and devotion studied the English tongue somewhat closely."
"'Twas well thought of," said Jerome. He then told him he had but delayed till he could obtain extraordinary powers from the Pope to collect money for the Church's use in England, and to hear confession in all the secular monasteries. "So now gird up thy loins, and let us go forth and deal a good blow for the Church, and against the Franciscans."
The two friars went preaching down the Rhine for England. In the larger places they both preached. At the smaller they often divided, and took different sides of the river, and met again at some appointed spot. Both were able orators, but in different styles.
Jerome's was noble and impressive, but a little contracted in religious topics, and a trifle monotonous in delivery compared with Clement's, though in truth not so, compared with most preachers.
Clement's was full of variety, and often remarkably colloquial. In its general flow, tender and gently winning, it curled round the reason and the heart. But it always rose with the rising thought; and so at times Clement soared as far above Jerome as his level speaking was below him. Indeed, in these noble heats he was all that we hue read of inspired prophet or heathen orator: Vehemens ut procella, excitatus ut torrens, incensus ut fulmen, tonabat, fulgurabat, et rapidis eloquentiae fiuctibus cuncta proruebat et perturbabat.
I would give literal specimens, but for five objections; it is difficult; time is short; I have done it elsewhere; an able imitator has since done it better and similarity, a virtue in peas, is a vice in books.
But (not to evade the matter entirely) Clement used secretly to try and learn the recent events and the besetting sin of each town he was to preach in.
But Jerome, the unbending, scorned to go out of his way for any people's vices. At one great town, some leagues from the Rhine, they mounted the same pulpit in turn. Jerome preached against vanity in dress, a favourite theme of his. He was eloquent and satirical, and the people listened with complacency. It was a vice that they were little given to.
Clement preached against drunkenness. It was a besetting sin, and sacred from preaching in these parts: for the clergy themselves were infected with it, and popular prejudice protected it, Clement dealt it merciless blows out of Holy Writ and worldly experience. A crime itself, it was the nursing mother of most crimes, especially theft and murder. He reminded them of a parricide that had lately been committed in their town by all honest man in liquor; and also how a band of drunkards had roasted one of their own comrades alive at a neighbouring village. "Your last prince," said he, "is reported to have died of apoplexy, but well you know he died of drink; and of your aldermen one perished miserably last month dead drunk, suffocated in a puddle. Your children's backs go bare that you may fill your bellies with that which makes you the worst of beasts, silly as calves, yet fierce as boars; and drives your families to need, and your souls to hell. I tell ye your town, ay, and your very nation, would sink to the bottom of mankind did your women drink as you do. And how long will they be temperate, and contrary to nature, resist the example of their husbands and fathers? Vice ne'er yet stood still. Ye must amend yourselves, or see them come down to your mark, Already in Bohemia they drink along with the men. How shows a drunken woman? Would you love to see your wives drunken, your mothers drunken?" At this there was a shout of horror, for mediaeval audiences had not learned to sit mumchance at a moving sermon. "Ah, that comes home to you," cried the friar. "What madmen! think you it doth not more shock the all-pure God to see a man, His noblest work, turned to a drunken beast, than it can shock you creatures of sin and unreason to see a woman turned into a thing no better nor worse than yourselves."
He ended with two pictures: a drunkard's house and family, and a sober man's; both so true and dramatic in all their details that the wives fell all to "ohing" and "ahing," and "Eh, but that is a true word."
This discourse caused quite all uproar. The hearers formed knots; the men were indignant; so the women flattered them and took their part openly against the preacher. A married man had a right to a drop; he needed it, working for all the family. And for their part they did not care to change their men for milksops.
The double faces! That very evening a hand of men caught near a hundred of them round Brother Clement, filling his wallet with the best, and offering him the very roses off their heads, and kissing his frock, and blessing him "for taking in hand to mend their sots."
Jerome thought this sermon too earthly.
"Drunkenness is not heresy, Clement, that a whole sermon should be preached against it."
As they went on, he found to his surprise that Clement's sermons sank into his hearers deeper than his own; made them listen, think, cry, and sometimes even amend their ways. "He hath the art of sinking to their peg," thought Jerome, "Yet he can soar high enough at times."
Upon the whole it puzzled Jerome, who had a secret sense of superiority to his tenderer brother. And after about two hundred miles of it, it got to displease him as well as puzzle him. But he tried to check this sentiment as petty and unworthy. "Souls differ like locks," said he, "and preachers must differ like keys, or the fewer should the Church open for God to pass in. And certes, this novice hath the key to these northern souls, being himself a northern man."
And so they came slowly down the Rhine, sometimes drifting a few miles down the stream; but in general walking by the banks preaching, and teaching, and confessing sinners in the towns and villages; and they reached the town of Dusseldorf.
There was the little quay where Gerard and Denys had taken boat up the Rhine, The friars landed on it. There were the streets, there was "The Silver Lion." Nothing had changed but he, who walked through it barefoot, with his heart calm and cold, his hands across his breast, and his eyes bent meekly on the ground, a true son of Dominic and Holy Church.
"Eli," said Catherine, "answer me one question like a man, and I'll ask no more to-day. What is wormwood?"
Eli looked a little helpless at this sudden demand upon his faculties; but soon recovered enough to say it was something that tasted main bitter.
"That is a fair answer, my man, but not the one I look for."
"Then answer it yourself."
"And shall. Wormwood is—to have two in the house a-doing nought, but waiting for thy shoes and mine," Eli groaned. The shaft struck home.
"Methinks waiting for their best friend's coffin, that and nothing to do, are enow to make them worse than Nature meant. Why not set them up somewhere, to give 'em a chance?"
Eli said he was willing, but afraid they would drink and gamble their very shelves away.
"Nay," said Catherine, "Dost take me for a simpleton? Of course I mean to watch them at starting, and drive them wi' a loose rein, as the saying is."
"Where did you think of? Not here; to divide our own custom."
"Not likely. I say Rotterdam against the world. Then I could start them."
Oh, self-deception! The true motive of all this was to get near little Gerard.
After many discussions and eager promises of amendment on these terms from Cornelis and Sybrandt, Catherine went to Rotterdam shop-hunting, and took Kate with her; for a change, They soon found one, and in a good street; but it was sadly out of order. However, they got it cheaper for that, and instantly set about brushing it up, fitting proper shelves for the business, and making the dwelling-house habitable.
Luke Peterson was always asking Margaret what he could do for her. The answer used to be in a sad tone, "Nothing, Luke, nothing."
"What, you that are so clever, can you think of nothing for me to do for you?"
"Nothing, Luke, nothing."
But at last she varied the reply thus: "If you could make something to help my sweet sister Kate about."
The slave of love consented joyfully, and soon made Kate a little cart, and cushioned it, and yoked himself into it, and at eventide drew her out of the town, and along the pleasant boulevard, with Margaret and Catherine walking beside. It looked a happier party than it was.
Kate, for one, enjoyed it keenly, for little Gerard was put in her lap, and she doted on him; and it was like a cherub carried by a little angel, or a rosebud lying in the cup of a lily.
So the vulgar jeered; and asked Luke how a thistle tasted, and if his mistress could not afford one with four legs, etc.
Luke did not mind these jeers; but Kate minded them for him.
"Thou hast made the cart for me, good Luke," said she, "'Twas much. I did ill to let thee draw me too; we can afford to pay some poor soul for that. I love my rides, and to carry little Gerard; but I'd liever ride no more than thou be mocked fort."
"Much I care for their tongues," said Luke; "if I did care I'd knock their heads together. I shall draw you till my mistress says give over.
"Luke, if you obey Kate, you will oblige me."
"Then I will obey Kate."
An honourable exception to popular humour was Jorian Ketel's wife. "That is strength well laid out, to draw the weak. And her prayers will be your guerdon; she is not long for this world; she smileth in pain." These were the words of Joan.
Single-minded Luke answered that he did not want the poor lass's prayers he did it to please his mistress, Margaret.
After that Luke often pressed Margaret to give him something to do—without success.
But one day, as if tired with his importuning, she turned on him, and said with a look and accent I should in vain try to convey:
"Find me my boy's father."
"Mistress, they all say he is dead."
"Not so. They feed me still with hopes."
"Ay, to your face, but behind your back they all say he is dead."
At this revelation Margaret's tears began to flow'.
Luke whimpered for company. He had the body of a man but the heart of a girl.
"Prithee, weep not so, sweet mistress," said he. "I'd bring him back to life an I could, rather than see thee weed so sore."
Margaret said she thought she was weeping because they were so double-tongued with her.
She recovered herself, and laying her hand on his shoulder, said solemnly, "Luke, he is not dead. Dying men are known to have a strange sight. And listen, Luke! My poor father, when he was a-dying, and I, simple fool, was so happy, thinking he was going to get well altogether, he said to mother and me—he was sitting in that very chair where you are now, and mother was as might be here, and I was yonder making a sleeve—said he, 'I see him!' I see him! Just so. Not like a failing man at all, but all o' fire. 'Sore disfigured-on a great river-coming this way.'
"Ah, Luke, if you were a woman, and had the feeling for me you think you have, you would pity me, and find him for me. Take a thought! The father of my child!"
"Alack, I would if I knew how," said Luke, "but how can I?"
"Nay, of course you cannot. I am mad to think it. But oh, if any one really cared for me, they would; that is all I know."
Luke reflected in silence for some time.
"The old folk all say dying men can see more than living wights. Let me think: for my mind cannot gallop like thine. On a great river Well, the Maas is a great river." He pondered on.
"Coming this way? Then if it 'twas the Maas, he would have been here by this time, so 'tis not the Maas. The Rhine is a great river, greater than the Maas; and very long. I think it will be the Rhine."
"And so do I, Luke; for Denys bade him come down the Rhine. But even if it is, he may turn off before he comes anigh his birthplace. He does not pine for me as I for him; that is clear. Luke, do you not think he has deserted me?" She wanted him to contradict her, but he said, "It looks very like it; what a fool he must be!"
"What do we know?" objected Margaret imploringly.
"Let me think again," said Luke. "I cannot gallop."
The result of this meditation was this. He knew a station about sixty miles up the Rhine, where all the public boats put in; and he would go to that station, and try and cut the truant off. To be sure he did not even know him by sight; but as each boat came in he would mingle with the passengers, and ask if one Gerard was there. "And, mistress, if you were to give me a bit of a letter to him; for, with us being strangers, mayhap a won't believe a word I say."
"Good, kind, thoughtful Luke, I will (how I have undervalued thee!). But give me till supper-time to get it writ." At supper she put a letter into his hand with a blush; it was a long letter, tied round with silk after the fashion of the day, and sealed over the knot.
Luke weighed it in his hand, with a shade of discontent, and said to her very gravely, "Say your father was not dreaming, and say I have the luck to fall in with this man, and say he should turn out a better bit of stuff than I think him, and come home to you then and there—what is to become o' me?"
Margaret coloured to her very brow. "Oh, Luke, Heaven will reward thee. And I shall fall on my knees and bless thee; and I shall love thee all my days, sweet Luke, as a mother does her son. I am so old by thee: trouble ages the heart. Thou shalt not go 'tis not fair of me. Love maketh us to be all self."
"Humph!" said Luke. "And if," resumed he, in the same grave way, "yon scapegrace shall read thy letter, and hear me tell him how thou pinest for him, and yet, being a traitor, or a mere idiot, will not turn to thee what shall become of me then? Must I die a bachelor, and thou fare lonely to thy grave, neither maid, wife, nor widow?"
Margaret panted with fear and emotion at this terrible piece of good sense, and the plain question which followed it. But at last she faltered out, "If, which our Lady be merciful to me, and forbid—Oh!"
"If he should read my letter, and hear thy words—and, sweet Luke, be just and tell him what a lovely babe he hath, fatherless, fatherless. Oh, Luke, can he be so cruel?"
"I trow not but if?"
"Then he will give thee up my marriage lines, and I shall be an honest woman, and a wretched one, and my boy will not be a bastard; and of course, then we could both go into any honest man's house that would be troubled with us; and even for thy goodness this day, I will—I will—ne'er be so ungrateful as go past thy door to another man's."
"Ay, but will you come in at mine? Answer me that!"
"Oh, ask me not! Some day, perhaps, when my wounds leave bleeding. Alas, I'll try. If I don't fling myself and my child into the Maas. Do not go, Luke! do not think of going! 'Tis all madness from first to last."
But Luke was as slow to forego an idea as to form one.
His reply showed how fast love was making a man of him. "Well," said he, "madness is something, anyway; and I am tired of doing nothing for thee; and I am no great talker. To-morrow, at peep of day, I start. But hold, I have no money. My mother, she takes care of all mine; and I ne'er see it again."
Then Margaret took out Catherine's gold angel, which had escaped so often, and gave it to Luke; and he set out on his mad errand.
It did not, however, seem so mad to him as to us. It was a superstitious age; and Luke acted on the dying man's dream, or vision, or illusion, or whatever it was, much as we should act on respectable information.
But Catherine was downright angry when she heard of it, "To send the poor lad on such a wild-goose chase! But you are like a many more girls; and mark my words; by the time you have worn that Luke fairly out, and made him as sick of you as a dog, you will turn as fond on him as a cow on a calf, and 'Too late' will be the cry."
The two friars reached Holland from the south just twelve hours after Luke started up the Rhine.
Thus, wild-goose chase or not, the parties were nearing each other, and rapidly too. For Jerome, unable to preach in low Dutch, now began to push on towards the coast, anxious to get to England as soon as possible.
And having the stream with them, the friars would in point of fact have missed Luke by passing him in full stream below his station, but for the incident which I am about to relate.
About twenty miles above the station Luke was making for, Clement landed to preach in a large village; and towards the end of his sermon he noticed a grey nun weeping.
He spoke to her kindly, and asked her what was her grief.
"Nay," said she, "'tis not for myself flow these tears; 'tis for my lost friend. Thy words reminded me of what she was, and what she is, poor wretch, But you are a Dominican, and I am a Franciscan nun."
"It matters little, my sister, if we are both Christians, and if I can aid thee in aught."
The nun looked in his face, and said, "These are strange words, but methinks they are good; and thy lips are oh, most eloquent, I will tell thee our grief."
She then let him know that a young nun, the darling of the convent, and her bosom friend, had been lured away from her vows, and after various gradations of sin, was actually living in a small inn as chambermaid, in reality as a decoy, and was known to be selling her favours to the wealthier customers, She added, "Anywhere else we might, by kindly violence, force her away from perdition, But this innkeeper was the servant of the fierce baron on the height there, and hath his ear still, and he would burn our convent to the ground, were we to take her by force."
"Moreover, souls will not be saved by brute force," said Clement.
While they were talking Jerome came up, and Clement persuaded him to lie at the convent that night, But when in the morning Clement told him he had had a long talk with the abbess, and that she was very sad, and he had promised her to try and win back her nun, Jerome objected, and said, "It was not their business, and was a waste of time," Clement, however, was no longer a mere pupil. He stood firm, and at last they agreed that Jerome should go forward, and secure their passage in the next ship for England, and Clement be allowed time to make his well-meant but idle experiment.
About ten o'clock that day, a figure in a horseman's cloak, and great boots to match, and a large flapping felt hat, stood like a statue near the auberge, where was the apostate nun, Mary. The friar thus disguised was at that moment truly wretched. These ardent natures undertake wonders; but are dashed when they come hand to hand with the sickening difficulties. But then, as their hearts are steel, though their nerves are anything but iron, they turn not back, but panting and dispirited, struggle on to the last.
Clement hesitated long at the door, prayed for help and wisdom, and at last entered the inn and sat down faint at heart, and with his body in a cold perspiration, But inside he was another man. He called lustily for a cup of wine: it was brought him by the landlord, He paid for it with money the convent had supplied him; and made a show of drinking it.
"Landlord," said he, "I hear there is a fair chambermaid in thine house."
"Ay, stranger, the buxomest in Holland. But she gives not her company to all comers only to good customers."
Friar Clement dangled a massive gold chain in the landlord's sight. He laughed, and shouted, "Here, Janet, here is a lover for thee would bind thee in chains of gold; and a tall lad into the bargain, I promise thee."
"Then I am in double luck," said a female voice; "send him hither."
Clement rose, shuddered, and passed into the room, where Janet was seated playing with a piece of work, and laying it down every minute, to sing a mutilated fragment of a song. For, in her mode of life, she had not the patience to carry anything out.
After a few words of greeting, the disguised visitor asked her if they could not be more private somewhere.
"Why not?" said she. And she rose and smiled, and went tripping before him, He followed, groaning inwardly, and sore perplexed.
"There," said she. "Have no fear! Nobody ever comes here, but such as pay for the privilege."
Clement looked round the room, and prayed silently for wisdom. Then he went softly, and closed the window-shutters carefully.
"What on earth is that for?" said Janet, in some uneasiness.
"Sweetheart," whispered the visitor, with a mysterious air, "it is that God may not see us.
"Madman," said Janet; "think you a wooden shutter can keep out His eye?"
"Nay, I know not. Perchance He has too much on hand to notice us, But I would not the saints and angels should see us. Would you?"
"My poor soul, hope not to escape their sight! The only way is not to think of them; for if you do, it poisons your cup. For two pins I'd run and leave thee. Art pleasant company in sooth."
"After all, girl, so that men see us not, what signify God and the saints seeing us? Feel this chain! 'Tis virgin gold. I shall cut two of these heavy links off for thee."
"Ah! now thy discourse is to the point," And she handled the chain greedily. "Why, 'tis as massy as the chain round the virgin's neck at the conv—" She did not finish the word.
"Whisht! whisht! whisht! 'Tis it. And thou shalt have thy share. But betray me not."
"Monster!" cried Janet, drawing back from him with repugnance; "what, rob the blessed Virgin of her chain, and give it to an—"
"You are none," cried Clement exultingly, "or you had not recked for that-Mary!"
"Ah! ah! ah!"
"Thy patron saint, whose chain this is, sends me to greet thee"
She ran screaming to the window and began to undo the shutters.
Her fingers trembled, and Clement had time to debarass himself of his boots and his hat before the light streamed in upon him, He then let his cloak quietly fall, and stood before her, a Dominican friar, calm and majestic as a statue, and held his crucifix towering over her with a loving, sad, and solemn look, that somehow relieved her of the physical part of fear, but crushed her with religious terror and remorse. She crouched and cowered against the wall.
"Mary," said he gently; "one word! Are you happy?"
"As happy as I shall be in hell."
"And they are not happy at the convent; they weep for you."
"Day and night; above all, the Sister Ursula."
"Poor Ursula!" And the strayed nun began to weep herself at the thought of her friend.
"The angels weep still more. Wilt not dry all their tears in earth and heaven and save thyself?"
"Ay! would I could; but it is too late."
"Satan avaunt," cried the monk sternly. "'Tis thy favourite temptation; and thou, Mary, listen not to the enemy of man, belying God, and whispering despair. I who come to save thee have been a far greater sinner than thou. Come, Mary, sin, thou seest, is not so sweet, e'n in this world, as holiness; and eternity is at the door."
"How can they ever receive me again?"
"'Tis their worthiness thou doubtest now. But in truth they pine for thee. 'Twas in pity of their tears that I, a Dominican, undertook this task; and broke the rule of my order by entering an inn; and broke it again by donning these lay vestments. But all is well done, and quit for a light penance, if thou wilt let us rescue thy soul from this den of wolves, and bring thee back to thy vows."
The nun gazed at him with tears in her eyes. "And thou, a Dominican, hast done this for a daughter of St. Francis! Why, the Franciscans and Dominicans hate one another."
"Ay, my daughter; but Francis and Dominic love one another."
The recreant nun seemed struck and affected by this answer
Clement now reminded her how shocked she had been that the Virgin should be robbed of her chain. "But see now," said he, "the convent, and the Virgin too, think ten times more of their poor nun than of golden chains; for they freely trusted their chain to me a stranger, that peradventure the sight of it might touch their lost Mary and remind her of their love," Finally he showed her with such terrible simplicity the end of her present course, and on the other hand so revived her dormant memories and better feelings, that she kneeled sobbing at his feet, and owned she had never known happiness nor peace since she betrayed her vows; and said she would go back if he would go with her; but alone she dared not, could not: even if she reached the gate she could never enter. How could she face the abbess and the sisters? He told her he would go with her as joyfully as the shepherd bears a strayed lamb to the fold.
But when he urged her to go at once, up sprung a crop of those prodigiously petty difficulties that entangle her sex, like silken nets, liker iron cobwebs.
He quietly swept them aside.
"But how can I walk beside thee in this habit?"
"I have brought the gown and cowl of thy holy order. Hide thy bravery with them. And leave thy shoes as I leave these" (pointing to his horseman's boots).
She collected her jewels and ornaments.
"What are these for?" inquired Clement.
"To present to the convent, father."
"Their source is too impure."
"But," objected the penitent, "it would be a sin to leave them here. They can be sold to feed the poor."
"Mary, fix thine eye on this crucifix, and trample those devilish baubles beneath thy feet."
She hesitated; but soon threw them down and trampled on them.
"Now open the window and fling them out on that dunghill. 'Tis well done. So pass the wages of sin from thy hands, its glittering yoke from thy neck, its pollution from thy soul. Away, daughter of St. Francis, we tarry in this vile place too long." She followed him.
But they were not clear yet.
At first the landlord was so astounded at seeing a black friar and a grey nun pass through his kitchen from the inside, that he gaped, and muttered, "Why, what mummery is this?" But he soon comprehended the matter, and whipped in between the fugitives and the door. "What ho! Reuben! Carl! Gavin! here is a false friar spiriting away our Janet."
The men came running in with threatening looks. The friar rushed at them crucifix in hand. "Forbear," he cried, in a stentorian voice. "She is a holy nun returning to her vows. The hand that touches her cowl or her robe to stay her, it shall wither, his body shall lie unburied, cursed by Rome, and his soul shall roast in eternal fire." They shrank back as if a flame had met them. "And thou—miserable panderer!"
He did not end the sentence in words, but seized the man by the neck, and strong as a lion in his moments of hot excitement, hurled him furiously from the door and sent him all across the room, pitching head foremost on to the stone floor; then tore the door open and carried the screaming nun out into the road.
"Hush! poor trembler," he gasped; "they dare not molest thee on the highroad. Away!"
The landlord lay terrified, half stunned, and bleeding; and Mary, though she often looked back apprehensively, saw no more of him.
On the road he bade her observe his impetuosity.
"Hitherto," said he, "we have spoken of thy faults: now for mine. My choler is ungovernable; furious. It is by the grace of God I am not a murderer, I repent the next moment; but a moment too late is all too late. Mary, had the churls laid finger on thee, I should have scattered their brains with my crucifix, Oh, I know myself; go to; and tremble at myself. There lurketh a wild beast beneath this black gown of mine."
"Alas, father," said Mary, "were you other than you are I had been lost. To take me from that place needed a man wary as a fox; yet bold as a lion."
Clement reflected. "This much is certain: God chooseth well his fleshly instruments; and with imperfect hearts doeth His perfect work, Glory be to God!"
When they were near the convent Mary suddenly stopped, and seized the friar's arm, and began to cry. He looked at her kindly, and told her she had nothing to fear. It would be the happiest day she had ever spent. He then made her sit down and compose herself till he should return, He entered the convent, and desired to see the abbess.
"My sister, give the glory to God: Mary is at the gate."
The astonishment and delight of the abbess were unbounded.
She yielded at once to Clement's earnest request that the road of penitence might be smoothed at first to this unstable wanderer, and after some opposition, she entered heartily into his views as to her actual reception. To give time for their little preparations Clement went slowly back, and seating himself by Mary soothed her; and heard her confession.
"The abbess has granted me that you shall propose your own penance."
"It shall be none the lighter," said she.
"I trow not," said he; "but that is future: to-day is given to joy alone."
He then led her round the building to the abbess's postern.
As they went they heard musical instruments and singing.
"'Tis a feastday," said Mary; "and I come to mar it."
"Hardly," said Clement, smiling; "seeing that you are the queen of the fete."
"I, father? what mean you?"
"What, Mary, have you never heard that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, than over ninety-nine just persons which need no repentance? Now this convent is not heaven; nor the nuns angels; yet are there among then, some angelic spirits; and these sing and exult at thy return. But here methinks comes one of them; for I see her hand trembles at the keyhole."
The postern was flung open, and in a moment Sister Ursula clung sobbing and kissing round her friend's neck. The abbess followed more sedately, but little less moved.
Clement bade them farewell. They entreated him to stay; but he told them with much regret he could not. He had already tried his good Brother Jerome's patience, and must hasten to the river; and perhaps sail for England to-morrow.
So Mary returned to the fold, and Clement strode briskly on towards the Rhine, and England.
This was the man for whom Margaret's boy lay in wait with her letter.
And that letter was one of those simple, touching appeals only her sex can write to those who have used them cruelly, and they love them. She began by telling him of the birth of the little boy, and the comfort he had been to her in all the distress of mind his long and strange silence had caused her. She described the little Gerard minutely, not forgetting the mole on his little finger.
"Know you any one that hath the like on his? If you only saw him you could not choose but be proud of him; all the mothers in the street do envy me; but I the wives; for thou comest not to us. My own Gerard, some say thou art dead. But if thou wert dead, how could I be alive? Others say that thou, whom I love so truly, art false. But this will I believe from no lips but thine. My father loved thee well; and as he lay a-dying he thought he saw thee on a great river, with thy face turned towards thy Margaret, but sore disfigured. Is't so, perchance? Have cruel men scarred thy sweet face? or hast thou lost one of thy precious limbs? Why, then thou hast the more need of me, and I shall love thee not worse, alas! thinkest thou a woman's love is light as a man's? but better, than I did when I shed those few drops from my arm, not worth the tears, thou didst shed for them; mindest thou? 'tis not so very long agone, dear Gerard."
The letter continued in this strain, and concluded without a word of reproach or doubt as to his faith and affection. Not that she was free from most distressing doubts; but they were not certainties; and to show them might turn the scale, and frighten him away from her with fear of being scolded. And of this letter she made soft Luke the bearer.
So she was not an angel after all.
Luke mingled with the passengers of two boats, and could hear nothing of Gerard Eliassoen. Nor did this surprise him.
He was more surprised when, at the third attempt, a black friar said to him, somewhat severely, "And what would you with him you call Gerard Eliassoen?"
"Why, father, if he is alive I have got a letter for him."
"Humph!" said Jerome. "I am sorry for it, However, the flesh is weak. Well, my son, he you seek will be here by the next boat, or the next boat after. And if he chooses to answer to that name—After all, I am not the keeper of his conscience."
"Good father, one plain word, for Heaven's sake, This Gerard Eliassoen of Tergou—is he alive?"
"Humph! Why, certes, he that went by that name is alive."
"Well, then, that is settled," said Luke drily. But the next moment he found it necessary to run out of sight and blubber.
"Oh, why did the Lord make any women?" said he to himself. "I was content with the world till I fell in love. Here his little finger is more to her than my whole body, and he is not dead, And here I have got to give him this." He looked at the letter and dashed it on the ground. But he picked it up again with a spiteful snatch, and went to the landlord, with tears in his eyes, and begged for work, The landlord declined, said he had his own people.
"Oh, I seek not your money," said Luke, "I only want some work to keep me from breaking my heart about another man's lass."
"Good lad! good lad!" exploded the landlord; and found him lots of barrels to mend—on these terms, And he coopered with fury in the interval of the boats coming down the Rhine.
Waiting an earnest letter seldom leaves the mind in statu quo.
Margaret, in hers, vented her energy and her faith in her dying father's vision, or illusion; and when this was done, and Luke gone, she wondered at her credulity, and her conscience pricked her about Luke; and Catherine came and scolded her, and she paid the price of false hopes, and elevation of spirits, by falling into deeper despondency. She was found in this state by a staunch friend she had lately made, Joan Ketel. This good woman came in radiant with an idea.
"Margaret, I know the cure for thine ill: the hermit of Gouda a wondrous holy man, Why, he can tell what is coming, when he is in the mood."
"Ay, I have heard of him," said Margaret hopelessly. Joan with some difficulty persuaded her to walk out as far as Gouda, and consult the hermit. They took some butter and eggs in a basket, and went to his cave.
What had made the pair such fast friends? Jorian some six weeks ago fell ill of a bowel disease; it began with raging pain; and when this went off, leaving him weak, an awkward symptom succeeded; nothing, either liquid or solid, would stay in his stomach a minute. The doctor said: "He must die if this goes on many hours; therefore boil thou now a chicken with a golden angel in the water, and let him sup that!" Alas! Gilt chicken broth shared the fate of the humbler viands, its predecessors. Then the cure steeped the thumb of St. Sergius in beef broth. Same result. Then Joan ran weeping to Margaret to borrow some linen to make his shroud. "Let me see him," said Margaret. She came in and felt his pulse. "Ah!" said she, "I doubt they have not gone to the root. Open the window! Art stifling him; now change all his linen.
"Alack, woman, what for? Why foul more linen for a dying man?" objected the mediaeval wife.
"Do as thou art bid," said Margaret dully, and left the room.
Joan somehow found herself doing as she was bid. Margaret returned with her apron full of a flowering herb. She made a decoction, and took it to the bedside; and before giving it to the patient, took a spoonful herself, and smacked her lips hypocritically. "That is fair," said he, with a feeble attempt at humour. "Why, 'tis sweet, and now 'tis bitter." She engaged him in conversation as soon as he had taken it. This bitter-sweet stayed by him. Seeing which she built on it as cards are built: mixed a very little schiedam in the third spoonful, and a little beaten yoke of egg in the seventh. And so with the patience of her sex she coaxed his body out of Death's grasp; and finally, Nature, being patted on the back, instead of kicked under the bed, set Jorian Ketel on his legs again. But the doctress made them both swear never to tell a soul her guilty deed. "They would put me in prison, away from my child."
The simple that saved Jorian was called sweet feverfew. She gathered it in his own garden. Her eagle eye had seen it growing out of the window.
Margaret and Joan, then, reached the hermit's cave, and placed their present on the little platform. Margaret then applied her mouth to the aperture, made for that purpose, and said: "Holy hermit, we bring thee butter and eggs of the best; and I, a poor deserted girl, wife, yet no wife, and mother of the sweetest babe, come to pray thee tell me whether he is quick or dead, true to his vows or false."
A faint voice issued from the cave: "Trouble me not with the things of earth, but send me a holy friar, I am dying."
"Alas!" cried Margaret. "Is it e'en so, poor soul? Then let us in to help thee."
"Saints forbid! Thine is a woman's voice. Send me a holy friar."
They went back as they came. Joan could not help saying, "Are women imps o' darkness then, that they must not come anigh a dying bed?"
But Margaret was too deeply dejected to say anything. Joan applied rough consolation. But she was not listened to till she said: "And Jorian will speak out ere long; he is just on the boil, He is very grateful to thee, believe it."
"Seeing is believing," replied Margaret, with quiet bitterness.
"Not but what he thinks you might have saved him with something more out o' the common than yon. 'A man of my inches to be cured wi' feverfew,' says he. 'Why, if there is a sorry herb,' says he. 'Why, I was thinking o' pulling all mine up, says he. I up and told him remedies were none the better for being far-fetched; you and feverfew cured him, when the grand medicines came up faster than they went down. So says I, 'You may go down on your four bones to feverfew.' But indeed, he is grateful at bottom; you are all his thought and all his chat. But he sees Gerard's folk coming around ye, and good friends, and he said only last night—"
"He made me vow not to tell ye."
"Prithee, tell me."
"Well, he said: 'An' if I tell what little I know, it won't bring him back, and it will set them all by the ears. I wish I had more headpiece,' said he; 'I am sore perplexed. But least said is soonest mended.' Yon is his favourite word; he comes back to't from a mile off."
Margaret shook her head. "Ay, we are wading in deep waters, my poor babe and me."
It was Saturday night and no Luke.
"Poor Luke!" said Margaret. "It was very good of him to go on such an errand."
"He is one out of a hundred," replied Catherine warmly.
"Mother, do you think he would be kind to little Gerard?"
"I am sure he would. So do you be kinder to him when he comes back! Will ye now?"
Brother Clement, directed by the nuns, avoided a bend in the river, and striding lustily forward, reached a station some miles nearer the coast than that where Luke lay in wait for Gerard Eliassoen. And the next morning he started early, and was in Rotterdam at noon. He made at once for the port, not to keep Jerome waiting.
He observed several monks of his order on the quay; he went to them; but Jerome was not amongst them. He asked one of them whether Jerome had arrived? "Surely, brother, was the reply.
"Prithee, where is he?"
"Where? Why, there!" said the monk, pointing to a ship in full sail. And Clement now noticed that all the monks were looking seaward.
"What, gone without me! Oh, Jerome! Jerome!" cried he, in a voice of anguish. Several of the friars turned round and stared.
"You must be brother Clement," said one of them at length; and on this they kissed him and greeted him with brotherly warmth, and gave him a letter Jerome had charged them with for him. It was a hasty scrawl. The writer told him coldly a ship was about to sail for England, and he was loth to lose time. He (Clement) might follow if he pleased, but he would do much better to stay behind, and preach to his own country folk. "Give the glory to God, brother; you have a wonderful power over Dutch hearts; but you are no match for those haughty islanders: you are too tender.
"Know thou that on the way I met one, who asked me for thee under the name thou didst bear in the world. Be on thy guard! Let not the world catch thee again by any silken net, And remember, Solitude, Fasting, and Prayer are the sword, spear, and shield of the soul. Farewell."
Clement was deeply shocked and mortified at this contemptuous desertion, and this cold-blooded missive.
He promised the good monks to sleep at the convent, and to preach wherever the prior should appoint for Jerome had raised him to the skies as a preacher, and then withdrew abruptly, for he was cut to the quick, and wanted to be alone. He asked himself, was there some incurable fault in him, repulsive to so true a son of Dominic? Or was Jerome himself devoid of that Christian Love which St. Paul had placed above Faith itself? Shipwrecked with him, and saved on the same fragment of the wreck: his pupil, his penitent, his son in the Church, and now for four hundred miles his fellow-traveller in Christ; and to be shaken off like dirt, the first opportunity, with harsh and cold disdain. "Why worldly hearts are no colder nor less trusty than this," said he. "The only one that ever really loved me lies in a grave hard by. Fly me, fly to England, man born without a heart; I will go and pray over a grave at Sevenbergen."
Three hours later he passed Peter's cottage. A troop of noisy children were playing about the door, and the house had been repaired, and a new outhouse added. He turned his head hastily away, not to disturb a picture his memory treasured; and went to the churchyard.
He sought among the tombstones for Margaret's. He could not find it. He could not believe they had grudged her a tombstone, so searched the churchyard all over again.
"Oh poverty! stern poverty! Poor soul, thou wert like me no one was left that loved thee, when Gerard was gone."
He went into the church, and after kissing the steps, prayed long and earnestly for the soul of her whose resting-place he could not find.
Coming out of the church he saw a very old man looking over the little churchyard gate. He went towards him, and asked him did he live in the place.
"Four score and twelve years, man and boy. And I come here every day of late, holy father, to take a peep. This is where I look to bide ere long."
"My son, can you tell me where Margaret lies?"
"Margaret? There's a many Margarets here."
"Margaret Brandt. She was daughter to a learned physician."
"As if I didn't know that," said the old man pettishly. "But she doesn't lie here. Bless you, they left this a longful while ago. Gone in a moment, and the house empty. What, is she dead? Margaret a Peter dead? Now only think on't. Like enow; like enow, They great towns do terribly disagree wi' country folk."
"What great towns, my son?"
"Well, 'twas Rotterdam they went to from here, so I heard tell; or was it Amsterdam? Nay, I trow 'twas Rotterdam? And gone there to die!"
"'Twas not in her face now, that I saw. And I can mostly tell, Alack, there was a blooming young flower to be cut off so soon, and all old weed like me left standing still. Well, well, she was a May rose yon; dear heart, what a winsome smile she had, and—"
"God bless thee, my son," said Clement; "farewell!" and he hurried away.
He reached the convent at sunset, and watched and prayed in the chapel for Jerome and Margaret till it was long past midnight, and his soul had recovered its cold calm.
The next day, Sunday, after mass, was a bustling day at Catherine's house in the Hoog Straet. The shop was now quite ready, and Cornelis and Sybrandt were to open it next day; their names were above the door; also their sign, a white lamb sucking a gilt sheep. Eli had come, and brought them some more goods from his store to give them a good start. The hearts of the parents glowed at what they were doing, and the pair themselves walked in the garden together, and agreed they were sick of their old life, and it was more pleasant to make money than waste it; they vowed to stick to business like wax. Their mother's quick and ever watchful ear overheard this resolution through an open window, and she told Eli, The family supper was to include Margaret and her boy, and be a kind of inaugural feast, at which good trade advice was to flow from the elders, and good wine to be drunk to the success of the converts to Commerce from Agriculture in its unremunerative form—wild oats. So Margaret had come over to help her mother-in-law, and also to shake off her own deep languor; and both their faces were as red as the fire. Presently in came Joan with a salad from Jorian's garden.
"He cut it for you, Margaret; you are all his chat; I shall be jealous. I told him you were to feast to-day. But oh, lass, what a sermon in the new kerk! Preaching? I never heard it till this day."
"Would I had been there then," said Margaret; "for I am dried up for want of dew from heaven."
"Why, he preacheth again this afternoon. But mayhap you are wanted here."
"Not she," said Catherine. "Come, away ye go, if y'are minded."
"Indeed," said Margaret, "methinks I should not be such a damper at table if I could come to 't warm from a good sermon."
"Then you must be brisk," observed Joan. "See the folk are wending that way, and as I live, there goes the holy friar. Oh, bless us and save us, Margaret; the hermit! We forgot." And this active woman bounded out of the house, and ran across the road, and stopped the friar. She returned as quickly. "There, I was bent on seeing him nigh hand."
"What said he to thee?"
"Says he, 'My daughter, I will go to him ere sunset, God willing.' The sweetest voice. But oh, my mistresses, what thin cheeks for a young man, and great eyes, not far from your colour, Margaret."
"I have a great mind to go hear him," said Margaret. "But my cap is not very clean, and they will all be there in their snow-white mutches."
"There, take my handkerchief out of the basket," said Catherine; "you cannot have the child, I want him for my poor Kate. It is one of her ill days."
Margaret replied by taking the boy upstairs. She found Kate in bed.
"How art thou, sweetheart? Nay, I need not ask. Thou art in sore pain; thou smilest so, See,' I have brought thee one thou lovest."
"Two, by my way of counting," said Kate, with an angelic smile. She had a spasm at that moment would have made some of us roar like bulls.
"What, in your lap?" said Margaret, answering a gesture of the suffering girl. "Nay, he is too heavy, and thou in such pain."
"I love him too dear to feel his weight," was the reply.
Margaret took this opportunity, and made her toilet. "I am for the kerk," said she, "to hear a beautiful preacher." Kate sighed. "And a minute ago, Kate, I was all agog to go; that is the way with me this month past; up and down, up and down, like the waves of the Zuyder Zee. I'd as lieve stay aside thee; say the word!"
"Nay," said Kate, "prithee go; and bring me back every word. Well-a-day that I cannot go myself." And the tears stood in the patient's eyes. This decided Margaret, and she kissed Kate, looked under her lashes at the boy, and heaved a little sigh. "I trow I must not," said she. "I never could kiss him a little; and my father was dead against waking a child by day or night When 'tis thy pleasure to wake, speak thy aunt Kate the two new words thou hast gotten." And she went out, looking lovingly over her shoulder, and shut the door inaudibly.
"Joan, you will lend me a hand, and peel these?" said Catherine.
"That I will, dame." And the cooking proceeded with silent vigour.
"Now, Joan, them which help me cook and serve the meat, they help me eat it; that's a rule."
"There's worse laws in Holland than that. Your will is my pleasure, mistress; for my Luke hath got his supper i' the air. He is digging to-day by good luck." (Margaret came down.)
"Eh, woman, yon is an ugly trade. There she has just washed her face and gi'en her hair a turn, and now who is like her? Rotterdam, that for you!" and Catherine snapped her fingers at the capital. "Give us a buss, hussy! Now mind, Eli won't wait supper for the duke. Wherefore, loiter not after your kerk is over."
Joan and she both followed her to the door, and stood at it watching her a good way down the street. For among homely housewives going out o' doors is half an incident. Catherine commented on the launch: "There, Joan, it is almost to me as if I had just started my own daughter for kerk, and stood a looking after: the which I've done it manys and manys the times. Joan, lass, she won't hear a word against our Gerard; and he be alive, he has used her cruel; that is why my bowels yearn for the poor wench. I'm older and wiser than she; and so I'll wed her to yon simple Luke, and there an end. What's one grandchild?"
THE CLOISTER AND THE HEARTH
The sermon had begun when Margaret entered the great church of St. Laurens. It was a huge edifice, far from completed. Churches were not built in a year. The side aisles were roofed, but not the mid aisle nor the chancel; the pillars and arches were pretty perfect, and some of them whitewashed. But only one window in the whole church was glazed; the rest were at present great jagged openings in the outer walls.
But to-day all these uncouth imperfections made the church beautiful. It was a glorious summer afternoon, and the sunshine came broken into marvellous forms through those irregular openings, and played bewitching pranks upon so many broken surfaces.
It streamed through the gaping walls, and clove the dark cool side aisles with rivers of glory, and dazzled and glowed on the white pillars beyond.
And nearly the whole central aisle was chequered with light and shade in broken outlines; the shades seeming cooler and more soothing than ever shade was, and the lights like patches of amber diamond animated with heavenly fire. And above, from west to east the blue sky vaulted the lofty aisle, and seemed quite close.
The sunny caps of the women made a sea of white contrasting exquisitely with that vivid vault of blue.
For the mid aisle, huge as it was, was crammed, yet quite still. The words and the mellow, gentle, earnest voice of the preacher held them mute.
Margaret stood spellbound at the beauty, the devotion, "the great calm," She got behind a pillar in the north aisle; and there, though she could hardly catch a word, a sweet devotional langour crept over her at the loveliness of the place and the preacher's musical voice; and balmy oil seemed to trickle over the waves in her heart and smooth them. So she leaned against the pillar with eyes half closed, and all seemed soft and dreamy.
She felt it good to be there.
Presently she saw a lady leave an excellent place opposite to get out of the sun, which was indeed pouring on her head from the window. Margaret went round softly but swiftly; and was fortunate enough to get the place. She was now beside a pillar of the south aisle, and not above fifty feet from the preacher. She was at his side, a little behind him, but could hear every word.
Her attention, however, was soon distracted by the shadow of a man's head and shoulders bobbing up and down so drolly she had some ado to keep from smiling.
Yet it was nothing essentially droll.
It was the sexton digging.
She found that out in a moment by looking behind her, through the window, to whence the shadow came.
Now as she was looking at Jorian Ketel digging, suddenly a tone of the preacher's voice fell upon her ear and her mind so distinctly, it seemed literally to strike her, and make her vibrate inside and out.
Her hand went to her bosom, so strange and sudden was the thrill. Then she turned round, and looked at the preacher. His back was turned, and nothing visible but his tonsure. She sighed. That tonsure, being all she saw, contradicted the tone effectually.
Yet she now leaned a little forward with downcast eyes, hoping for that accent again. It did not come. But the whole voice grew strangely upon her. It rose and fell as the preacher warmed; and it seemed to waken faint echoes of a thousand happy memories. She would not look to dispel the melancholy pleasure this voice gave her.
Presently, in the middle of an eloquent period, the preacher stopped.
She almost sighed; a soothing music had ended. Could the sermon be ended already? No; she looked round; the people did not move.
A good many faces seemed now to turn her way.' She looked behind her sharply. There was nothing there.
Startled countenances near her now eyed the preacher. She followed their looks; and there, in the pulpit, was a face as of a staring corpse. The friar's eyes, naturally large, and made larger by the thinness of his cheeks, were dilated to supernatural size, and glaring her way out of a bloodless face.
She cringed and turned fearfully round: for she thought there must be some terrible thing near her. No; there was nothing; she was the outside figure of the listening crowd.
At this moment the church fell into commotion, Figures got up all over the building, and craned forward; agitated faces by hundreds gazed from the friar to Margaret, and from Margaret to the friar. The turning to and fro of so many caps made a loud rustle. Then came shrieks of nervous women, and buzzing of men; and Margaret, seeing so many eyes levelled at her, shrank terrified behind the pillar, with one scared, hurried glance at the preacher.
Momentary as that glance was, it caught in that stricken face an expression that made her shiver.
She turned faint, and sat down on a heap of chips the workmen had left, and buried her face in her hands, The sermon went on again. She heard the sound of it; but not the sense. She tried to think, but her mind was in a whirl, Thought would fix itself in no shape but this: that on that prodigy-stricken face she had seen a look stamped. And the recollection of that look now made her quiver from head to foot.
For that look was "RECOGNITION."
The sermon, after wavering some time, ended in a strain of exalted, nay, feverish eloquence, that went far to make the crowd forget the preacher's strange pause and ghastly glare. Margaret mingled hastily with the crowd, and went out of the church with them.
They went their ways home. But she turned at the door, and went into the churchyard; to Peter's grave. Poor as she was, she had given him a slab and a headstone. She sat down on the slab, and kissed it. Then threw her apron over her head that no one might distinguish her by her hair.
"Father," she said, "thou hast often heard me say I am wading in deep waters; but now I begin to think God only knows the bottom of them. I'll follow that friar round the world, but I'll see him at arm's length. And he shall tell me why he looked towards me like a dead man wakened; and not a soul behind me. Oh, father; you often praised me here: speak a word for me there. For I am wading in deep waters."
Her father's tomb commanded a side view of the church door. And on that tomb she sat, with her face covered, waylaying the holy preacher.
THE CLOISTER AND THE HEARTH
The cool church chequered with sunbeams and crowned with heavenly purple, soothed and charmed Father Clement, as it did Margaret; and more, it carried his mind direct to the Creator of all good and pure delights. Then his eye fell on the great aisle crammed with his country folk; a thousand snowy caps, filigreed with gold. Many a hundred leagues he had travelled; but seen nothing like them, except snow. In the morning he had thundered; but this sweet afternoon seemed out of tune with threats. His bowels yearned over that multitude; and he must tell them of God's love: poor souls, they heard almost as little of it from the pulpit then a days as the heathen used. He told them the glad tidings of salvation. The people hung upon his gentle, earnest tongue.
He was not one of those preachers who keep gyrating in the pulpit like the weathercock on the steeple. He moved the hearts of others more than his own body. But on the other hand he did not entirely neglect those who were in bad places. And presently, warm with this theme, that none of all that multitude might miss the joyful tidings of Christ's love, he turned him towards the south aisle.
And there, in a stream of sunshine from the window, was the radiant face of Margaret Brandt. He gazed at it without emotion. It just benumbed him, soul and body.
But soon the words died in his throat, and he trembled as he glared at it.
There, with her auburn hair bathed in sunbeams, and glittering like the gloriola of a saint, and her face glowing doubly, with its own beauty, and the sunshine it was set in-stood his dead love.
She was leaning very lightly against a white column. She was listening with tender, downcast lashes.
He had seen her listen so to him a hundred times.
There was no change in her. This was the blooming Margaret he had left: only a shade riper and more lovely.
He started at her with monstrous eyes and bloodless cheeks.
The people died out of his sight. He heard, as in a dream, a rustling and rising all over the church; but could not take his prodigy-stricken eyes off that face, all life, and bloom, and beauty, and that wondrous auburn hair glistening gloriously in the sun.
He gazed, thinking she must vanish.
All in a moment she was looking at him, full.
Her own violet eyes!!
At this he was beside himself, and his lips parted to shriek out her name, when she turned her head swiftly, and soon after vanished, but not without one more glance, which, though rapid as lightning, encountered his, and left her couching and quivering with her mind in a whirl, and him panting and gripping the pulpit convulsively. For this glance of hers, though not recognition, was the startled inquiring, nameless, indescribable look that precedes recognition. He made a mighty effort, and muttered something nobody could understand: then feebly resumed his discourse; and stammered and babbled on a while, till by degrees forcing himself, now she was out of sight, to look on it as a vision from the other world, he rose into a state of unnatural excitement, and concluded in a style of eloquence that electrified the simple; for it bordered on rhapsody.
The sermon ended, he sat down on the pulpit stool, terribly shaken, But presently an idea very characteristic of the time took possession of him, He had sought her grave at Sevenbergen in vain. She had now been permitted to appear to him, and show him that she was buried here; probably hard by that very pillar, where her spirit had showed itself to him.
This idea once adopted soon settled on his mind with all the Certainty of a fact. And he felt he had only to speak to the sexton (whom to his great disgust he had seen working during the sermon), to learn the spot where she was laid.
The church was now quite empty. He came down from the pulpit and stepped through an aperture in the south wall on to the grass, and went up to the sexton. He knew him in a moment. But Jorian never suspected the poor lad, whose life he had saved, in this holy friar. The loss of his shapely beard had wonderfully altered the outline of his face. This had changed him even more than his tonsure, his short hair sprinkled with premature grey, and his cheeks thinned and paled by fasts and vigils.
"My son," said Friar Clement softly, "if you keep any memory of those whom you lay in the earth, prithee tell me is any Christian buried inside the church, near one of the pillars?"
"Nay, father," said Jorian, "here in the churchyard lie buried all that buried be. Why?"
"No matter, Prithee tell me then where lieth Margaret Brandt."
"Margaret Brandt?" And Jorian stared stupidly at the speaker.
"She died about three years ago, and was buried here."
"Oh, that is another matter," said Jorian; "that was before my time; the vicar could tell you, likely; if so be she was a gentlewoman, or at the least rich enough to pay him his fee."
"Alas, my son, she was poor (and paid a heavy penalty for it); but born of decent folk. Her father, Peter, was a learned physician; she came hither from Sevenbergen—to die."
When Clement had uttered these words his head sunk upon his breast, and he seemed to have no power nor wish to question Jorian more. I doubt even if he knew where he was. He was lost in the past.
Jorian put down his spade, and standing upright in the grave, set his arms akimbo, and said sulkily, "Are you making a fool of me, holy sir, or has some wag been making a fool of you!" And having relieved his mind thus, he proceeded to dig again, with a certain vigour that showed his somewhat irritable temper was ruffled.
Clement gazed at him with a puzzled but gently reproachful eye, for the tone was rude, and the words unintelligible. Good-natured, though crusty, Jorian had not thrown up three spadefuls ere he became ashamed of it himself. "Why, what a base churl am I to speak thus to thee, holy father; and thou a standing there, looking at me like a lamb. Aha! I have it; 'tis Peter Brandt's grave you would fain see, not Margaret's. He does lie here; hard by the west door. There; I'll show you." And he laid down his spade, and put on his doublet and jerkin to go with the friar.
He did not know there was anybody sitting on Peter's tomb. Still less that she was watching for this holy friar.
Pietro Vanucci and Andrea did not recognize him without his beard. The fact is, that the beard which has never known a razor grows in a very picturesque and characteristic form, and becomes a feature in the face; so that its removal may in some cases be an effectual disguise.
While Jorian was putting on his doublet and jerkin to go to Peter's tomb, his tongue was not idle. "They used to call him a magician out Sevenbergen way. And they do say he gave 'em a touch of his trade at parting; told 'em he saw Margaret's lad a-coming down Rhine in brave clothes and store o' money, but his face scarred by foreign glaive, and not altogether so many arms and legs as a went away wi'. But, dear heart, nought came on't. Margaret is still wearying for her lad; and Peter, he lies as quiet as his neighbours; not but what she hath put a stone slab over him, to keep him where he is: as you shall see."
He put both hands on the edge of the grave, and was about to raise himself out of it, but the friar laid a trembling hand on his shoulder, and said in a strange whisper—
"How long since died Peter Brandt?"
"About two months, Why?"
"And his daughter buried him, say you?"
"Nay, I buried him, but she paid the fee and reared the stone."
"Then—but he had just one daughter; Margaret?"
"No more leastways, that he owned to."
"Then you think Margaret is—is alive?"
"Think? Why, I should be dead else. Riddle me that."
"Alas, how can I? You love her!"
"No more than reason, being a married man, and father of four more sturdy knaves like myself. Nay, the answer is, she saved my life scarce six weeks agone. Now had she been dead she couldn't ha' kept me alive. Bless your heart, I couldn't keep a thing on my stomach; nor doctors couldn't make me. My Joan says, ''Tis time to buy thee a shroud.' 'I dare say, so 'tis,' says I; but try and borrow one first.' In comes my lady, this Margaret, which she died three years ago, by your way on't, opens the windows, makes 'em shift me where I lay, and cures me in the twinkling of a bedpost; but wi' what? there pinches the shoe; with the scurviest herb, and out of my own garden, too; with sweet feverfew. A herb, quotha, 'tis a weed; leastways it was a weed till it cured me, but now whene'er I pass my hunch I doff bonnet, and says I, 'fly service t'ye.' Why, how now, father, you look wondrous pale, and now you are red, and now you are white? Why, what is the matter? What, in Heaven's name, is the matter?"
"The surprise—the joy—the wonder—the fear," gasped Clement.
"Why, what is it to thee? Art thou of kin to Margaret Brandt?"
"Nay; but I knew one that loved her well, so well her death nigh killed him, body and soul. And yet thou sayest she lives. And I believe thee."
Jorian stared, and after a considerable silence said very gravely, "Father, you have asked me many questions, and I have answered them truly; now for our Lady's sake answer me but two. Did you in very sooth know one who loved this poor lass? Where?"
Clement was on the point of revealing himself, but he remembered Jerome's letter, and shrank from being called by the name he had borne in the world.
"I knew him in Italy," said he.
"If you knew him you can tell me his name," said Jorian cautiously.
"His name was Gerard Eliassoen."
"Oh, but this is strange. Stay, what made thee say Margaret Brandt was dead?"
"I was with Gerard when a letter came from Margaret Van Eyck. The letter told him she he loved was dead and buried. Let me sit down, for my strength fails me, Foul play! Foul play!"
"Father," said Jorian, "I thank Heaven for sending thee to me, Ay, sit ye down; ye do look like a ghost; ye fast overmuch to be strong. My mind misgives me; methinks I hold the clue to this riddle, and if I do, there be two knaves in this town whose heads I would fain batter to pieces as I do this mould;" and he clenched his teeth and raised his long spade above his head, and brought it furiously down upon the heap several times. "Foul play? You never said a truer word i' your life; and if you know where Gerard is now, lose no time, but show him the trap they have laid for him. Mine is but a dull head, but whiles the slow hound puzzles out the scent—go to, And I do think you and I ha' got hold of two ends o' one stick, and a main foul one."
Jorian then, after some of those useless preliminaries men of his class always deal in, came to the point of the story. He had been employed by the burgomaster of Tergou to repair the floor of an upper room in his house, and when it was almost done, Coming suddenly to fetch away his tools, curiosity had been excited by some loud words below, and he had lain down on his stomach, and heard the burgomaster talking about a letter which Cornelis and Sybrandt were minded to convey into the place of one that a certain Hans Memling was taking to Gerard; "and it seems their will was good, but their stomach was small; so to give them courage the old man showed them a drawer full of silver, and if they did the trick they should each put a hand in, and have all the silver they could hold in't. Well, father," continued Jorian, "I thought not much on't at the time, except for the bargain itself, that kept me awake mostly all night. Think on't! Next morning at peep of day who should I see but my masters Cornelis and Sybrandt come out of their house each with a black eye. 'Oho,' says I, 'what yon Hans hath put his mark on ye; well now I hope that is all you have got for your pains.' Didn't they make for the burgomaster's house? I to my hiding-place."
At this part of Jorian's revelation the monk's nostril dilated, and his restless eye showed the suspense he was in.
"Well, father," continued Jorian, "the burgomaster brought them into that same room. He had a letter in his hand; but I am no scholar; however, I have got as many eyes in my head as the Pope hath, and I saw the drawer opened, and those two knaves put in each a hand and draw it out full. And, saints in glory, how they tried to hold more, and more, and more o' yon stuff! And Sybrandt, he had daubed his hand in something sticky, I think 'twas glue, and he made shift to carry one or two pieces away a sticking to the back of his hand, he! he! he! 'Tis a sin to laugh. So you see luck was on the wrong side as usual; they had done the trick; but how they did it, that, methinks, will never be known till doomsday. Go to, they left their immortal jewels in yon drawer. Well, they got a handful of silver for them; the devil had the worst o' yon bargain. There, father, that is off my mind; often I longed to tell it some one, but I durst not to the women; or Margaret would not have had a friend left in the world; for those two black-hearted villains are the favourites, 'Tis always so. Have not the old folk just taken a brave new shop for them in this very town, in the Hoog Straet? There may you see their sign, a gilt sheep and a lambkin; a brace of wolves sucking their dam would be nigher the mark. And there the whole family feast this day; oh, 'tis a fine world. What, not a word, holy father; you sit there like stone, and have not even a curse to bestow on them, the stony-hearted miscreants. What, was it not enough the poor lad was all alone in a strange land; must his own flesh and blood go and lie away the one blessing his enemies had left him? And then think of her pining and pining all these years, and sitting at the window looking adown the street for Gerard! and so constant, so tender, and true: my wife says she is sure no woman ever loved a man truer than she loves the lad those villains have parted from her; and the day never passes but she weeps salt tears for him. And when I think, that, but for those two greedy lying knaves, yon winsome lad, whose life I saved, might be by her side this day the happiest he in Holland; and the sweet lass, that saved my life, might be sitting with her cheek upon her sweetheart's shoulder, the happiest she in Holland in place of the saddest; oh, I thirst for their blood, the nasty, sneaking, lying, cogging, cowardly, heartless, bowelless—how now?"
The monk started wildly up, livid with fury and despair, and rushed headlong from the place with both hands clenched and raised on high. So terrible was this inarticulate burst of fury, that Jorian's puny ire died out at sight of it, and he stood looking dismayed after the human tempest he had launched.
While thus absorbed he felt his arm grasped by a small, tremulous hand.
It was Margaret Brandt.
He started; her coming there just then seemed so strange. She had waited long on Peter's tombstone, but the friar did not come, So she went into the church to see if he was there still. She could not find him.
Presently, going up the south aisle, the gigantic shadow of a friar came rapidly along the floor and part of a pillar, and seemed to pass through her. She was near screaming; but in a moment remembered Jorian's shadow had come in so from the churchyard; and tried to clamber out the nearest way. She did so, but with some difficulty; and by that time Clement was just disappearing down the street; yet, so expressive at times is the body as well as the face, she could see he was greatly agitated. Jorian and she looked at one another, and at the wild figure of the distant friar.
"Well?" said she to Jorian, trembling.
"Well," said he, "you startled me. How come you here of all people?"
"Is this a time for idle chat? What said he to you? He has been speaking to you; deny it not."
"Girl, as I stand here, he asked me whereabout you were buried in this churchyard."
"I told him, nowhere, thank Heaven: you were alive and saving other folk from the churchyard."
"Well, the long and the short is, he knew thy Gerard in Italy; and a letter came saying you were dead; and it broke thy poor lad's heart. Let me see; who was the letter written by? Oh, by the demoiselle van Eyck. That was his way of it. But I up and told him nay; 'twas neither demoiselle nor dame that penned yon lie, but Ghysbrecht Van Swieten, and those foul knaves, Cornelis and Sybrandt; these changed the true letter for one of their own; I told him as how I saw the whole villainy done through a chink; and now, if I have not been and told you!"
"Oh, cruel! cruel! But he lives. The fear of fears is gone. Thank God!"
"Ay, lass; and as for thine enemies, I have given them a dig. For yon friar is friendly to Gerard, and he is gone to Eli's house, methinks. For I told him where to find Gerard's enemies and thine, and wow but he will give them their lesson. If ever a man was mad with rage, its yon. He turned black and white, and parted like a stone from a sling. Girl, there was thunder in his eye and silence on his lips. Made me cold a did."
"Oh, Jorian, what have you done?" cried Margaret. "Quick! quick! help me thither, for the power is gone all out of my body. You know him not as I do. Oh, if you had seen the blow he gave Ghysbrecht; and heard the frightful crash! Come, save him from worse mischief. The water is deep enow; but not bloody yet, come!"
Her accents were so full of agony that Jorian sprang out of the grave and came with her, huddling on his jerkin as he went.
But as they hurried along, he asked her what on earth she meant? "I talk of this friar, and you answer me of Gerard."