"Thou, and thou only; no dead saint, but my living friend and comrade true; 'tis thou alone draws Denys of Burgundy to Cologne?"
Gerard hung his head.
At this juncture one of the younger boatmen suddenly inquired what was amiss with "little turnip-face?"
His young nephew thus described had just come aft grave as a judge, and burst out crying in the midst without more ado. On this phenomenon, so sharply defined, he was subjected to many interrogatories, some coaxingly uttered, some not. Had he hurt himself? had he over-ate himself? was he frightened? was he cold? was he sick? was he an idiot?
To all and each he uttered the same reply, which English writers render thus, oh! oh! oh! and French writers thus, hi! hi! hi! So fixed are Fiction's phonetics.
"Who can tell what ails the peevish brat?" snarled the young boatman impatiently. "Rather look this way and tell me whom be these after!" The old man and his other son looked, and saw four men walking along the east bank of the river; at the sight they left rowing awhile, and gathered mysteriously in the stern, whispering and casting glances alternately at their passengers and the pedestrians.
The sequel may show they would have employed speculation better in trying to fathom the turnip-face mystery; I beg pardon of my age: I mean the deep mind of dauntless infancy.
"If 'tis as I doubt," whispered one of the young men, "why not give them a squeak for their lives; let us make for the west bank."
The old man objected stoutly. "What," said he, "run our heads into trouble for strangers! are ye mad? Nay, let us rather cross to the east side; still side with the strong arm! that is my rede. What say you, Werter?"
"I say, please yourselves."
What age and youth could not decide upon, a puff of wind settled most impartially. Came a squall, and the little vessel heeled over; the men jumped to windward to trim her; but to their horror they saw in the very boat from stem to stern a ditch of water rushing to leeward, and the next moment they saw nothing, but felt the Rhine, the cold and rushing Rhine.
"Turnip-face" had drawn the plug.
The officers unwound the cords from their waists.
Gerard could swim like a duck; but the best swimmer, canted out of a boat capsized, must sink ere he can swim. The dark water bubbled loudly over his head, and then he came up almost blind and deaf for a moment; the next, he saw the black boat bottom uppermost, and figures clinging to it; he shook his head like a water-dog, and made for it by a sort of unthinking imitation; but ere he reached it he heard a voice behind him cry not loud but with deep manly distress, "Adieu, comrade, adieu!"
He looked, and there was poor Denys sinking, sinking, weighed down by his wretched arbalest. His face was pale, and his eyes staring wide, and turned despairingly on his dear friend. Gerard uttered a wild cry of love and terror, and made for him, cleaving the water madly; but the next moment Denys was under water.
The next, Gerard was after him.
The officers knotted a rope and threw the end in.
Things good and evil balance themselves in a remarkable manner and almost universally. The steel bow attached to the arbalestrier's back, and carried above his head, had sunk him. That very steel bow, owing to that very position, could not escape Gerard's hands, one of which grasped it, and the other went between the bow and the cord, which was as good. The next moment, Denys, by means of his crossbow, was hoisted with so eager a jerk that half his body bobbed up out of water.
"Now, grip me not! grip me not!" cried Gerard, in mortal terror of that fatal mistake.
"Pas si bete," gurgled Denys.
Seeing the sort of stuff he had to deal with, Gerard was hopeful and calm directly. "On thy back," said he sharply, and seizing the arbalest, and taking a stroke forward, he aided the desired movement. "Hand on my shoulder! slap the water with the other hand! No—with a downward motion; so. Do nothing more than I bid thee." Gerard had got hold of Denys's long hair, and twisting it hard, caught the end between his side teeth, and with the strong muscles of his youthful neck easily kept up the soldier's head, and struck out lustily across the current. A moment he had hesitated which side to make for, little knowing the awful importance of that simple decision; then seeing the west bank a trifle nearest, he made towards it, instead of swimming to jail like a good boy, and so furnishing one a novel incident. Owing to the force of the current they slanted considerably, and when they had covered near a hundred yards, Denys murmured uneasily, "How much more of it?"
"Courage," mumbled Gerard. "Whatever a duck knows, a Dutchman knows; art safe as in bed."
The next moment, to their surprise, they found themselves in shallow water, and so waded ashore. Once on terra firma, they looked at one another from head to foot as if eyes could devour, then by one impulse flung each an arm round the other's neck, and panted there with hearts too full to speak. And at this sacred moment life was sweet as heaven to both; sweetest perhaps to the poor exiled lover, who had just saved his friend. Oh, joy to whose height what poet has yet soared, or ever tried to soar? To save a human life; and that life a loved one. Such moments are worth living for, ay, three score years and ten. And then, calmer, they took hands, and so walked along the bank hand in hand like a pair of sweethearts, scarce knowing or caring whither they went.
The boat people were all safe on the late concave, now convex craft, Herr Turnip-face, the "Inverter of things," being in the middle. All this fracas seemed not to have essentially deranged his habits. At least he was greeting when he shot our friends into the Rhine, and greeting when they got out again.
"Shall we wait till they right the boat?"
"No, Denys, our fare is paid; we owe them nought. Let us on, and briskly."
Denys assented, observing that they could walk all the way to Cologne on this bank.
"I fare not to Cologne," was the calm reply.
"Why, whither then?"
"To Burgundy? Ah, no! that is too good to be sooth."
"Sooth 'tis, and sense into the bargain. What matters it to me how I go to Rome?"
"Nay, nay; you but say so to pleasure me. The change is too sudden; and think me not so ill-hearted as take you at your word. Also did I not see your eyes sparkle at the wonders of Cologne? the churches, the images, the relics
"How dull art thou, Denys; that was when we were to enjoy them together. Churches! I shall see plenty, go Rome-ward how I will. The bones of saints and martyrs; alas! the world is full of them; but a friend like thee, where on earth's face shall I find another? No, I will not turn thee farther from the road that leads to thy dear home, and her that pines for thee. Neither will I rob myself of thee by leaving thee. Since I drew thee out of Rhine I love thee better than I did. Thou art my pearl: I fished thee; and must keep thee. So gainsay me not, or thou wilt bring back my fever; but cry courage, and lead on; and hey for Burgundy!"
Denys gave a joyful caper. "Courage! va pour la Bourgogne. Oh! soyes tranquille! cette fois il est bien decidement mort, ce coquin-la." And they turned their backs on the Rhine.
On this decision making itself clear, across the Rhine there was a commotion in the little party that had been watching the discussion, and the friends had not taken many steps ere a voice came to them over the water. "HALT!"
Gerard turned, and saw one of those four holding out a badge of office and a parchment slip. His heart sank; for he was a good citizen, and used to obey the voice that now bade him turn again to Dusseldorf—the Law's.
Denys did not share his scruples. He was a Frenchman, and despised every other nation, laws, inmates, and customs included. He was a soldier, and took a military view of the situation. Superior force opposed; river between; rear open; why, 'twas retreat made easy. He saw at a glance that the boat still drifted in mid-stream, and there was no ferry nearer than Dusseldorf. "I shall beat a quick retreat to that hill," said he, "and then, being out of sight, quick step."
They sauntered off.
"Halt! in the bailiff's name," cried a voice from the shore.
Denys turned round and ostentatiously snapped his fingers at the bailiff, and proceeded.
"Halt! in the archbishop's name."
Denys snapped his fingers at his grace, and proceeded.
"Halt! in the emperor's name."
Denys snapped his fingers at his majesty, and proceeded.
Gerard saw this needless pantomime with regret, and as soon as they had passed the brow of the hill, said, "There is now but one course, we must run to Burgundy instead of walking;" and he set off, and ran the best part of a league without stopping.
Denys was fairly blown, and inquired what on earth had become of Gerard's fever. "I begin to miss it sadly," said he drily.
"I dropped it in Rhine, I trow," was the reply.
Presently they came to a little village, and here Denys purchased a loaf and a huge bottle of Rhenish wine. "For," he said, "we must sleep in some hole or corner. If we lie at an inn, we shall be taken in our beds." This was no more than common prudence on the old soldier's part.
The official network for catching law-breakers, especially plebeian ones, was very close in that age; though the co-operation of the public was almost null, at all events upon the Continent. The innkeepers were everywhere under close surveillance as to their travellers, for whose acts they were even in some degree responsible, more so it would seem than for their sufferings.
The friends were both glad when the sun set; and delighted, when, after a long trudge under the stars (for the moon, if I remember right, did not rise till about three in the morning) they came to a large barn belonging to a house at some distance. A quantity of barley had been lately thrashed; for the heap of straw on one side the thrashing-floor was almost as high as the unthrashed corn on the other.
"Here be two royal beds," said Denys; "which shall we lie on, the mow, or the straw?"
"The straw for me," said Gerard.
They sat on the heap, and ate their brown bread, and drank their wine, and then Denys covered his friend up in straw, and heaped it high above him, leaving him only a breathing hole: "Water, they say, is death to fevered men; I'll make warm water on't, anyhow."
Gerard bade him make his mind easy. "These few drops from Rhine cannot chill me. I feel heat enough in my body now to parch a kennel, or boil a cloud if I was in one." And with this epigram his consciousness went so rapidly, he might really be said to "fall asleep."
Denys, who lay awake awhile, heard that which made him nestle closer. Horses' hoofs came ringing up from Dusseldorf, and the wooden barn vibrated as they rattled past howling in a manner too well known and understood in the 15th century, but as unfamiliar in Europe now as a red Indian's war-whoop.
Denys shook where he lay.
Gerard slept like a top.
It all swept by, and troop and howls died away.
The stout soldier drew a long breath, whistled in a whisper, closed his eyes, and slept like a top, too.
In the morning he sat up and put out his hand to wake Gerard. It lighted on the young man's forehead, and found it quite wet. Denys then in his quality of nurse forbore to wake him. "It is ill to check sleep or sweat in a sick man," said he. "I know that far, though I ne'er minced ape nor gallows-bird."
After waiting a good hour he felt desperately hungry; so he turned, and in self-defence went to sleep again.
Poor fellow, in his hard life he had been often driven to this manoeuvre. At high noon he was waked by Gerard moving, and found him sitting up with the straw smoking round him like a dung-hill. Animal heat versus moisture. Gerard called him "a lazy loon." He quietly grinned.
They set out, and the first thing Denys did was to give Gerard his arbalest, etc., and mount a high tree on the road. "Coast clear to the next village," said he, and on they went.
On drawing near the village, Denys halted and suddenly inquired of Gerard how he felt.
"What! can you not see? I feel as if Rome was no further than yon hamlet."
"But thy body, lad; thy skin?"
"Neither hot nor cold; and yesterday 'twas hot one while and cold another. But what I cannot get rid of is this tiresome leg."
"Le grand malheur! Many of my comrades have found no such difficulty."
"Ah! there it goes again; itches consumedly."
"Unhappy youth," said Denys solemnly, "the sum of thy troubles is this: thy fever is gone, and thy wound is—healing. Sith so it is," added he indulgently, "I shall tell thee a little piece of news I had otherwise withheld."
"What is't?" asked Gerard, sparkling with curiosity.
"THE HUE AND CRY IS OUT AFTER US: AND ON FLEET HORSES."
Gerard was staggered by this sudden communication, and his colour came and went. Then he clenched his teeth with ire. For men of any spirit at all are like the wild boar; he will run from a superior force, owing perhaps to his not being an ass; but if you stick to his heels too long and too close, and, in short, bore him, he will whirl, and come tearing at a multitude of hunters, and perhaps bore you. Gerard then set his teeth and looked battle, But the next moment his countenance fell, and he said plaintively, "And my axe is in Rhine."
They consulted together. Prudence bade them avoid that village; hunger said "buy food."
Hunger spoke loudest. Prudence most convincingly. They settled to strike across the fields.
They halted at a haystack and borrowed two bundles of hay, and lay on them in a dry ditch out of sight, but in nettles.
They sallied out in turn and came back with turnips. These they munched at intervals in their retreat until sunset.
Presently they crept out shivering into the rain and darkness, and got into the road on the other side of the village.
It was a dismal night, dark as pitch, and blowing hard. They could neither see, nor hear, nor be seen, nor heard; and for aught I know, passed like ghosts close to their foes. These they almost forgot in the natural horrors of the black tempestuous night, in which they seemed to grope and hew their way as in black marble. When the moon rose they were many a league from Dusseldorf. But they still trudged on. Presently they came to a huge building.
"Courage!" cried Denys, "I think I know this convent. Aye it is. We are in the see of Juliers. Cologne has no power here."
The next moment they were safe within the walls.
Here Gerard made acquaintance with a monk, who had constructed the great dial in the prior's garden, and a wheel for drawing water, and a winnowing machine for the grain, etc., and had ever some ingenious mechanism on hand. He had made several psalteries and two dulcimers, and was now attempting a set of regalles, or little organ for the choir.
Now Gerard played the humble psaltery a little; but the monk touched that instrument divinely, and showed him most agreeably what a novice he was in music. He also illuminated finely, but could not write so beautifully as Gerard. Comparing their acquirements with the earnestness and simplicity of an age in which accomplishments implied a true natural bent, Youth and Age soon became like brothers, and Gerard was pressed hard to stay that night. He consulted Denys, who assented with a rueful shrug.
Gerard told his old new friend whither he was going, and described their late adventures, softening down the bolster.
"Alack!" said the good old man, "I have been a great traveller in my day, but none molested me." He then told him to avoid inns; they were always haunted by rogues and roysterers, whence his soul might take harm even did his body escape, and to manage each day's journey so as to lie at some peaceful monastery; then suddenly breaking off and looking as sharp as a needle at Gerard, he asked him how long since he had been shriven? Gerard coloured up and replied feebly—
"Better than a fortnight."
"And thou an exorcist! No wonder perils have overtaken thee. Come, thou must be assoiled out of hand."
"Yes, father," said Gerard, "and with all mine heart;" and was sinking down to his knees, with his hands joined, but the monk stopped him half fretfully—
"Not to me! not to me! not to me! I am as full of the world as thou or any be that lives in't. My whole soul it is in these wooden pipes, and sorry leathern stops, which shall perish—with them whose minds are fixed on such like vanities."
"Dear father," said Gerard, "they are for the use of the Church, and surely that sanctifies the pains and labour spent on them?"
"That is just what the devil has been whispering in mine ear this while," said the monk, putting one hand behind his back and shaking his finger half threateningly, half playfully, at Gerard. "He was even so kind and thoughtful as to mind me that Solomon built the Lord a house with rare hangings, and that this in him was counted gracious and no sin. Oh! he can quote Scripture rarely. But I am not so simple a monk as you think, my lad," cried the good father, with sudden defiance, addressing not Gerard but—Vacancy. "This one toy finished, vigils, fasts, and prayers for me; prayers standing, prayers lying on the chapel floor, and prayers in a right good tub of cold water." He nudged Gerard and winked his eye knowingly. "Nothing he hates and dreads like seeing us monks at our orisons up to our chins in cold water. For corpus domat aqua. So now go confess thy little trumpery sins, pardonable in youth and secularity, and leave me to mine, sweet to me as honey, and to be expiated in proportion."
Gerard bowed his head, but could not help saying, "Where shall I find a confessor more holy and clement?"
"In each of these cells," replied the monk simply (they were now in the corridor) "there, go to Brother Anselm, yonder."
Gerard followed the monk's direction, and made for a cell; but the doors were pretty close to one another, and it seems he mistook; for just as he was about to tap, he heard his old friend crying to him in an agitated whisper, "Nay! nay! nay!" He turned, and there was the monk at his cell-door, in a strange state of anxiety, going up and down and beating the air double-handed, like a bottom sawyer. Gerard really thought the cell he was at must be inhabited by some dangerous wild beast, if not by that personage whose presence in the convent had been so distinctly proclaimed. He looked back inquiringly and went on to the next door. Then his old friend nodded his head rapidly, bursting in a moment into a comparatively blissful expression of face, and shot back into his den. He took his hour-glass, turned it, and went to work on his regalles; and often he looked up, and said to himself, "Well-a-day, the sands how swift they run when the man is bent over earthly toys."
Father Anselm was a venerable monk, with an ample head, and a face all dignity and love. Therefore Gerard in confessing to him, and replying to his gentle though searching questions, could not help thinking, "Here is a head!—Oh dear! oh dear! I wonder whether you will let me draw it when I have done confessing." And so his own head got confused, and he forgot a crime or two. However, he did not lower the bolstering this time, nor was he so uncandid as to detract from the pagan character of the bolstered.
The penance inflicted was this: he was to enter the convent church, and prostrating himself, kiss the lowest step of the altar three times; then kneeling on the floor, to say three paternosters and a credo: "this done, come back to me on the instant."
Accordingly, his short mortification performed, Gerard returned, and found Father Anselm spreading plaster.
"After the soul the body," said he; "know that I am the chirurgeon here, for want of a better. This is going on thy leg; to cool it, not to burn it; the saints forbid."
During the operation the monastic leech, who had naturally been interested by the Dusseldorf branch of Gerard's confession, rather sided with Denys upon "bleeding." "We Dominicans seldom let blood nowadays; the lay leeches say 'tis from timidity and want of skill; but, in sooth, we have long found that simples will cure most of the ills that can be cured at all. Besides, they never kill in capable hands; and other remedies slay like thunderbolts. As for the blood, the Vulgate saith expressly it is the life of a man.' And in medicine or law, as in divinity, to be wiser than the All-wise is to be a fool. Moreover, simples are mighty. The little four-footed creature that kills the poisonous snake, if bitten herself, finds an herb powerful enough to quell that poison, though stronger and of swifter operation than any mortal malady; and we, taught by her wisdom, and our own traditions, still search and try the virtues of those plants the good God hath strewed this earth with, some to feed men's bodies, some to heal them. Only in desperate ills we mix heavenly with earthly virtue. We steep the hair or the bones of some dead saint in the medicine, and thus work marvellous cures."
"Think you, father, it is along of the reliques? for Peter a Floris, a learned leech and no pagan, denies it stoutly."
"What knows Peter a Floris? And what know I? I take not on me to say we can command the saints, and will they nill they, can draw corporal virtue from their blest remains. But I see that the patient drinking thus in faith is often bettered as by a charm. Doubtless faith in the recipient is for much in all these cures. But so 'twas ever. A sick woman, that all the Jewish leeches failed to cure, did but touch Christ's garment and was healed in a moment. Had she not touched that sacred piece of cloth she had never been healed. Had she without faith not touched it only, but worn it to her grave, I trow she had been none the better for't. But we do ill to search these things too curiously. All we see around us calls for faith. Have then a little patience. We shall soon know all. Meantime, I, thy confessor for the nonce, do strictly forbid thee, on thy soul's health, to hearken learned lay folk on things religious. Arrogance is their bane; with it they shut heaven's open door in their own faces. Mind, I say, learned laics. Unlearned ones have often been my masters in humility, and may be thine. Thy wound is cared for; in three days 'twill be but a scar. And now God speed thee, and the saints make thee as good and as happy as thou art thoughtful and gracious." Gerard hoped there was no need to part yet, for he was to dine in the refectory. But Father Anselm told him, with a shade of regret just perceptible and no more, that he did not leave his cell this week, being himself in penitence; and with this he took Gerard's head delicately in both hands, and kissed him on the brow, and almost before the cell door had closed on him, was back to his pious offices. Gerard went away chilled to the heart by the isolation of the monastic life, and saddened too. "Alas!" he thought, "here is a kind face I must never look to see again on earth; a kind voice gone from mine ear and my heart for ever. There is nothing but meeting and parting in this sorrowful world. Well-a-day! well-a-day!" This pensive mood was interrupted by a young monk who came for him and took him to the refectory; there he found several monks seated at a table, and Denys standing like a poker, being examined as to the towns he should pass through: the friars then clubbed their knowledge, and marked out the route, noting all the religious houses on or near that road; and this they gave Gerard. Then supper, and after it the old monk carried Gerard to his cell, and they had an eager chat, and the friar incidentally revealed the cause of his pantomime in the corridor. "Ye had well-nigh fallen into Brother Jerome's clutches. Yon was his cell."
"Is Father Jerome an ill man, then?"
"An ill man!" and the friar crossed himself; "a saint, an anchorite, the very pillar of this house! He had sent ye barefoot to Loretto. Nay, I forgot, y'are bound for Italy; the spiteful old saint upon earth, had sent ye to Canterbury or Compostella. But Jerome was born old and with a cowl; Anselm and I were boys once, and wicked beyond anything you can imagine" (Gerard wore a somewhat incredulous look): "this keeps us humble more or less, and makes us reasonably lenient to youth and hot blood."
Then, at Gerard's earnest request, one more heavenly strain upon the psalterion, and so to bed, the troubled spirit calmed, and the sore heart soothed.
I have described in full this day, marked only by contrast, a day that came like oil on waves after so many passions and perils—because it must stand in this narrative as the representative of many such days which now succeeded to it. For our travellers on their weary way experienced that which most of my readers will find in the longer journey of life, viz., that stirring events are not evenly distributed over the whole road, but come by fits and starts, and as it were, in clusters. To some extent this may be because they draw one another by links more or less subtle. But there is more in it than that. It happens so. Life is an intermittent fever. Now all narrators, whether of history or fiction, are compelled to slur these barren portions of time or else line trunks. The practice, however, tends to give the unguarded reader a wrong arithmetical impression, which there is a particular reason for avoiding in these pages as far as possible. I invite therefore your intelligence to my aid, and ask you to try and realize that, although there were no more vivid adventures for a long while, one day's march succeeded another; one monastery after another fed and lodged them gratis with a welcome always charitable, sometimes genial; and though they met no enemy but winter and rough weather, antagonists not always contemptible, yet they trudged over a much larger tract of territory than that, their passage through which I have described so minutely. And so the pair, Gerard bronzed in the face and travel-stained from head to foot, and Denys with his shoes in tatters, stiff and footsore both of them, drew near the Burgundian frontier.
Gerard was almost as eager for this promised land as Denys; for the latter constantly chanted its praises, and at every little annoyance showed him "they did things better in Burgundy;" and above all played on his foible by guaranteeing clean bedclothes at the inns of that polished nation. "I ask no more," the Hollander would say; "to think that I have not lain once in a naked bed since I left home! When I look at their linen, instead of doffing habit and hose, it is mine eyes and nose I would fain be shut of."
Denys carried his love of country so far as to walk twenty leagues in shoes that had exploded, rather than buy of a German churl, who would throw all manner of obstacles in a customer's way, his incivility, his dinner, his body.
Towards sunset they found themselves at equal distances from a little town and a monastery, only the latter was off the road. Denys was for the inn, Gerard for the convent. Denys gave way, but on condition that once in Burgundy they should always stop at an inn. Gerard consented to this the more readily that his chart with its list of convents ended here. So they turned off the road. And now Gerard asked with surprise whence this sudden aversion to places that had fed and lodged them gratis so often. The soldier hemmed and hawed at first, but at last his wrongs burst forth. It came out that this was no sudden aversion, but an ancient and abiding horror, which he had suppressed till now, but with infinite difficulty, and out of politeness: "I saw they had put powder in your drink," said he, "so I forbore them. However, being the last, why not ease my mind? Know then I have been like a fish out of water in all those great dungeons. You straightway levant with some old shaveling: so you see not my purgatory."
"Forgive me! I have been selfish."
"Ay, ay, I forgive thee, little one; 'tis not thy fault: art not the first fool that has been priest-rid, and monk-hit. But I'll not forgive them my misery." Then, about a century before Henry VIII.'s commissioners, he delivered his indictment. These gloomy piles were all built alike. Inns differed, but here all was monotony. Great gate, little gate, so many steps and then a gloomy cloister. Here the dortour, there the great cold refectory, where you must sit mumchance, or at least inaudible, he who liked to speak his mind out; "and then," said he, "nobody is a man here, but all are slaves, and of what? of a peevish, tinkling bell, that never sleeps. An 'twere a trumpet now, aye sounding alarums, 'twouldn't freeze a man's heart so. Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, and you must sit to meat with may be no stomach for food. Ere your meat settles in your stomach, tinkle, tinkle! and ye must to church with may be no stomach for devotion: I am not a hog at prayers, for one. Tinkle, tinkle, and now you must to bed with your eyes open. Well, by then you have contrived to shut them, some uneasy imp of darkness has got to the bell-rope, and tinkle, tinkle, it behoves you say a prayer in the dark, whether you know one or not. If they heard the sort of prayers I mutter when they break my rest with their tinkle! Well, you drop off again and get about an eyeful of sleep: lo, it is tinkle, tinkle, for matins."
"And the only clapper you love is a woman's," put in Gerard half contemptuously.
"Because there is some music in that even when it scolds," was the stout reply. "And then to be always checked. If I do but put my finger in the salt-cellar, straightway I hear, 'Have you no knife that you finger the salt?' And if I but wipe my knife on the cloth to save time, then 'tis, 'Wipe thy knife dirty on the bread, and clean upon the cloth!' Oh small of soul! these little peevish pedantries fall chill upon good fellowship like wee icicles a-melting down from strawen eaves."
"I hold cleanliness no pedantry," said Gerard. "Shouldst learn better manners once for all."
"Nay; 'tis they who lack manners. They stop a fellow's mouth at every word."
"At every other word, you mean; every obscene or blasphemous one."
"Exaggerator, go to! Why, at the very last of these dungeons I found the poor travellers sitting all chilled and mute round one shaveling, like rogues awaiting their turn to be hanged; so to cheer them up, I did but cry out, 'Courage, tout le monde, le dia—
"Connu! what befell?"
"Marry, this. 'Blaspheme not!' quo' the bourreau. 'Plait-il,' say I. Doesn't he wheel and wyte on me in a sort of Alsatian French, turning all the P's into B's. I had much ado not to laugh in his face."
"Being thyself unable to speak ten words of his language without a fault."
"Well, all the world ought to speak French. What avail so many jargons except to put a frontier atwixt men's hearts?"
"But what said he?"
"What signifies it what a fool says?"
"Oh, not all the words of a fool are folly, or I should not listen to you."
"Well, then, he said, 'Such as begin by making free with the devil's name, aye end by doing it with all the names in heaven.' 'Father,' said I, 'I am a soldier, and this is but my "consigne" or watchword." 'Oh, then, it is just a custom?' said he. I not divining the old fox, and thinking to clear myself, said, 'Ay, it was.' 'Then that is ten times worse,' said he. ''Twill bring him about your ears one of these days. He still comes where he hears his name often called.' Observe! no gratitude for the tidings which neither his missals nor his breviary had ever let him know. Then he was so good as to tell me, soldiers do commonly the crimes for which all other men are broke on the wheel; a savoir murder, rape, and pillage."
"And is't not true?"
"True or not, it was ill manners," replied Denys guardedly. "And so says this courteous host of mine, 'Being the foes of mankind, why make enemies of good spirits into the bargain, by still shouting the names of evil ones?' and a lot more stuff."
"Well, but, Denys, whether you hearken his rede, or slight it, wherefore blame a man for raising his voice to save your soul?"
"How can his voice save my soul, when he keeps turning of his P's into B's."
Gerard was staggered: ere he could recover at this thunderbolt of Gallicism, Denys went triumphant off at a tangent, and stigmatized all monks as hypocrites. "Do but look at them, how they creep about and cannot eye you like honest men."
"Nay," said Gerard eagerly, "that modest downcast gaze is part of their discipline, 'tis 'custodia oculorum'."
"Cussed toads eating hoc hac horum? No such thing; just so looks a cut-purse. Can't meet a true man's eye. Doff cowl, monk; and behold, a thief; don cowl thief, and lo, a monk. Tell me not they will ever be able to look God Almighty in the face, when they can't even look a true man in the face down here. Ah, here it is, black as ink! into the well we go, comrade. Misericorde, there goes the tinkle already. 'Tis the best of tinkles though; 'tis for dinner: stay, listen! I thought so: the wolf in my stomach cried 'Amen!'" This last statement he confirmed with two oaths, and marched like a victorious gamecock into the convent, thinking by Gerard's silence he had convinced him, and not dreaming how profoundly he had disgusted him.
In the refectory allusion was made, at the table where Gerard sat, to the sudden death of the monk who had undertaken to write out fresh copies of the charter of the monastery, and the rule, etc.
Gerard caught this, and timidly offered his services. There was a hesitation which he mistook. "Nay, not for hire, my lords, but for love, and as a trifling return for many a good night's lodging the brethren of your order have bestowed on me a poor wayfarer."
A monk smiled approvingly; but hinted that the late brother was an excellent penman, and his work could not be continued but by a master. Gerard on this drew from his wallet with some trepidation a vellum deed, the back of which he had cleaned and written upon by way of specimen. The monk gave quite a start at sight of it, and very hastily went up the hall to the high table, and bending his knee so as just to touch in passing the fifth step and the tenth, or last, presented it to the prior with comments. Instantly a dozen knowing eyes were fixed on it, and a buzz of voices was heard; and soon Gerard saw the prior point more than once, and the monk came back, looking as proud as Punch, with a savoury crustade ryal, or game pie gravied and spiced, for Gerard, and a silver grace cup full of rich pimentum. This latter Gerard took, and bowing low, first to the distant prior, then to his own company, quaffed, and circulated the cup.
Instantly, to his surprise, the whole table hailed him as a brother: "Art convent bred, deny it not?" He acknowledged it, and gave Heaven thanks for it, for otherwise he had been as rude and ignorant as his brothers, Sybrandt and Cornelis.
"But 'tis passing strange how you could know," said he.
"You drank with the cup in both hands," said two monks, speaking together.
The voices had for some time been loudish round a table at the bottom of the hall; but presently came a burst of mirth so obstreperous and prolonged, that the prior sent the very sub-prior all down the hall to check it, and inflict penance on every monk at the table. And Gerard's cheek burned with shame; for in the heart of the unruly merriment his ear had caught the word "courage!" and the trumpet tones of Denys of Burgundy.
Soon Gerard was installed in feu Werter's cell, with wax lights, and a little frame that could be set at any angle, and all the materials of caligraphy. The work, however, was too much for one evening. Then came the question, how could he ask Denys, the monk-hater, to stay longer? However, he told him, and offered to abide by his decision. He was agreeably surprised when Denys said graciously, "A day's rest will do neither of us harm. Write thou, and I'll pass the time as I may."
Gerard's work was vastly admired; they agreed that the records of the monastery had gained by poor Werter's death. The sub-prior forced a rix-dollar on Gerard, and several brushes and colours out of the convent stock, which was very large. He resumed his march warm at heart, for this was of good omen; since it was on the pen he relied to make his fortune and recover his well-beloved. "Come, Denys," said he good-humouredly, "see what the good monks have given me; now, do try to be fairer to them; for to be round with you, it chilled my friendship for a moment to hear even you call my benefactors 'hypocrites.'"
"I recant," said Denys.
"Thank you! thank you! Good Denys."
"I was a scurrilous vagabond."
"Nay, nay, say not so, neither!"
"But we soldiers are rude and hasty. I give myself the lie, and I offer those I misunderstood all my esteem. 'Tis unjust that thousands should be defamed for the hypocrisy of a few."
"Now are you reasonable. You have pondered what I said?"
"Nay, it is their own doing."
Gerard crowed a little, we all like to be proved in the right; and was all attention when Denys offered to relate how his conversion was effected.
"Well then, at dinner the first day a young monk beside me did open his jaws and laughed right out and most musically. 'Good,' said I, 'at last I have fallen on a man and not a shorn ape.' So, to sound him further, I slapped his broad back and administered my consigne. 'Heaven forbid!' says he. I stared. For the dog looked as sad as Solomon; a better mime saw you never, even at a Mystery. 'I see war is no sharpener of the wits,' said he. 'What are the clergy for but to fight the foul fiend? and what else are the monks for?
"The fiend being dead, The friars are sped."
You may plough up the convents, and we poor monks shall have nought to do—but turn soldiers, and so bring him to life again.' Then there was a great laugh at my expense. 'Well, you are the monk for me,' said I. 'And you are the crossbowman for me,' quo' he. 'And I'll be bound you could tell us tales of the war should make our hair stand on end.' 'Excusez! the barber has put that out of the question,' quoth I, and then I had the laugh."
"What wretched ribaldry!" observed Gerard pensively.
The candid Denys at once admitted he had seen merrier jests hatched with less cackle. "'Twas a great matter to have got rid of hypocrisy. 'So,' said I, 'I can give you the chaire de poule, if that may content ye.' 'That we will see,' was the cry, and a signal went round."
Denys then related, bursting with glee, how at bedtime he had been taken to a cell instead of the great dortour, and strictly forbidden to sleep; and to aid his vigil, a book had been lent him of pictures representing a hundred merry adventures of monks in pursuit of the female laity; and how in due course he had been taken out barefooted and down to the parlour, where was a supper fit for the duke, and at it twelve jolly friars, the roaringest boys he had ever met in peace or war. How the story, the toast, the jest, the wine-cup had gone round, and some had played cards with a gorgeous pack, where Saint Theresa, and Saint Catherine, etc., bedizened with gold, stood for the four queens; and black, white, grey, and crutched friars for the four knaves; and had staked their very rosaries, swearing like troopers when they lost. And how about midnight a sly monk had stolen out, but had by him and others been as cannily followed into the garden, and seen to thrust his hand into the ivy and out with a rope-ladder. With this he had run up on the wall, which was ten feet broad, yet not so nimbly but what a russet kirtle had popped up from the outer world as quick as he; and so to billing and cooing: that this situation had struck him as rather feline than ecclesiastical, and drawn from him the appropriate comment of a "mew!" The monks had joined the mewsical chorus, and the lay visitor shrieked and been sore discomforted; but Abelard only cried, "What, are ye there, ye jealous miauling knaves? ye shall caterwaul to some tune to-morrow night. I'll fit every man-jack of ye with a fardingale." That this brutal threat had reconciled him to stay another day—at Gerard's request.
Meantime, unable to disconcert so brazen a monk, and the demoiselle beginning to whimper, they had danced caterwauling in a circle, then bestowed a solemn benediction on the two wall-flowers, and off to the parlour, where they found a pair lying dead drunk, and other two affectionate to tears. That they had straightway carried off the inanimate, and dragged off the loving and lachymose, kicked them all merrily each into his cell.
"And so shut up in measureless content."
Gerard was disgusted: and said so.
Denys chuckled, and proceeded to tell him how the next day he and the young monks had drawn the fish-ponds and secreted much pike, carp, tench, and eel for their own use: and how, in the dead of night, he had been taken shoeless by crooked ways into the chapel, a ghost-like place, being dark, and then down some steps into a crypt below the chapel floor, where suddenly paradise had burst on him.
"'Tis there the holy fathers retire to pray," put in Gerard.
"Not always," said Denys; "wax candles by the dozen were lighted, and princely cheer; fifteen soups maigre, with marvellous twangs of venison, grouse, and hare in them, and twenty different fishes (being Friday), cooked with wondrous art, and each he between two buxom lasses, and each lass between two lads with a cowl; all but me: and to think I had to woo by interpreter. I doubt the knave put in three words for himself and one for me; if he didn't, hang him for a fool. And some of the weaker vessels were novices, and not wont to hold good wine; had to be coaxed ere they would put it to their white teeth; mais elles s'y faisaient; and the story, and the jest, and the cup went round (by-the-by, they had flagons made to simulate breviaries); and a monk touched the cittern, and sang ditties with a voice tunable as a lark in spring. The posies did turn the faces of the women folk bright red at first: but elles s'y faisaient."
Here Gerard exploded.
"Miserable wretches! Corrupters of youth! Perverters of innocence! but for your being there, Denys, who have been taught no better, oh, would God the church had fallen on the whole gang. Impious, abominable hypocrites!"
"Hypocrites?" cried Denys, with unfeigned surprise. "Why, that is what I clept them ere I knew them: and you withstood me. Nay, they are sinners; all good fellows are that; but, by St. Denys his helmeted skull, no hypocrites, but right jolly roaring blades."
"Denys," said Gerard solemnly, "you little know the peril you ran that night. That church you defiled amongst you is haunted; I had it from one of the elder monks. The dead walk there, their light feet have been heard to patter o'er the stones."
"Misericorde!" whispered Denys.
"Ay, more," said Gerard, lowering his voice almost to a whisper; "celestial sounds have issued from the purlieus of that very crypt you turned into a tavern. Voices of the dead holding unearthly communion have chilled the ear of midnight, and at times, Denys, the faithful in their nightly watches have even heard music from dead lips; and chords, made by no mortal finger, swept by no mortal hand, have rung faintly, like echoes, deep among the dead in those sacred vaults."
Denys wore a look of dismay. "Ugh! if I had known, mules and wain-ropes had not hauled me thither; and so" (with a sigh) "I had lost a merry time."
Whether further discussion might have thrown any more light upon these ghostly sounds, who can tell? for up came a "bearded brother" from the monastery, spurring his mule, and waving a piece of vellum in his hand. It was the deed between Ghysbrecht and Floris Brandt. Gerard valued it deeply as a remembrance of home: he turned pale at first but to think he had so nearly lost it, and to Denys's infinite amusement not only gave a piece of money to the lay brother, but kissed the mule's nose.
"I'll read you now," said Gerard, "were you twice as ill written; and—to make sure of never losing you"—here he sat down, and taking out needle and thread, sewed it with feminine dexterity to his doublet, and his mind, and heart, and soul were away to Sevenbergen.
They reached the promised land, and Denys, who was in high spirits, doffed his bonnet to all the females; who curtsied and smiled in return; fired his consigne at most of the men; at which some stared, some grinned, some both; and finally landed his friend at one of the long-promised Burgundian inns.
"It is a little one," said he, "but I know it of old for a good one; Les Trois Poissons.' But what is this writ up? I mind not this;" and he pointed to an inscription that ran across the whole building in a single line of huge letters. "Oh, I see. 'Ici on loge a pied et a cheval,'" said Denys, going minutely through the inscription, and looking bumptious when he had effected it.
Gerard did look, and the sentence in question ran thus:
"ON NE LOGE CEANS A CREDIT; CE BONHOMME EST MORT, LES MAUVAIS PAIEURS L'ONT TUE."
They met the landlord in the passage.
"Welcome, messieurs," said he, taking off his cap, with a low bow.
"Come, we are not in Germany," said Gerard.
In the public room they found the mistress, a buxom woman of forty. She curtsied to them, and smiled right cordially "Give yourself the trouble of sitting ye down, fair sir," said she to Gerard, and dusted two chairs with her apron, not that they needed it.
"Thank you, dame," said Gerard. "Well," thought he, "this is a polite nation: the trouble of sitting down? That will I with singular patience; and presently the labour of eating, also the toil of digestion, and finally, by Hercules his aid, the strain of going to bed, and the struggle of sinking fast asleep.
"Why, Denys, what are you doing? ordering supper for only two?"
"What, can we sup without waiting for forty more? Burgundy forever!"
"Aha! Courage, camarade. Le dia—"
The salic law seemed not to have penetrated to French inns. In this one at least wimple and kirtle reigned supreme; doublets and hose were few in number, and feeble in act. The landlord himself wandered objectless, eternally taking off his cap to folk for want of thought; and the women, as they passed him in turn, thrust him quietly aside without looking at him, as we remove a live twig in bustling through a wood.
A maid brought in supper, and the mistress followed her, empty handed.
"Fall to, my masters," said she cheerily; "y'have but one enemy here; and he lies under your knife." (I shrewdly suspect this of formula.)
They fell to. The mistress drew her chair a little toward the table; and provided company as well as meat; gossiped genially with them like old acquaintances: but this form gone through, the busy dame was soon off and sent in her daughter, a beautiful young woman of about twenty, who took the vacant seat. She was not quite so broad and genial as the elder, but gentle and cheerful, and showed a womanly tenderness for Gerard on learning the distance the poor boy had come, and had to go. She stayed nearly half-an-hour, and when she left them Gerard said, "This an inn? Why, it is like home."
"Qui fit Francois il fit courtois," said Denys, bursting with gratified pride.
"Courteous? nay, Christian; to welcome us like home guests and old friends, us vagrants, here to-day and gone to-morrow. But indeed who better merits pity and kindness than the worn traveller far from his folk? Hola! here's another."
The new-comer was the chambermaid, a woman of about twenty-five, with a cocked nose, a large laughing mouth, and a sparkling black eye, and a bare arm very stout but not very shapely.
The moment she came in, one of the travellers passed a somewhat free jest on her; the next the whole company were roaring at his expense, so swiftly had her practised tongue done his business. Even as, in a passage of arms between a novice and a master of fence, foils clash—novice pinked. On this another, and then another, must break a lance with her; but Marion stuck her great arms upon her haunches, and held the whole room in play. This country girl possessed in perfection that rude and ready humour which looks mean and vulgar on paper, but carries all before it spoken: not wit's rapier; its bludgeon. Nature had done much for her in this way, and daily practice in an inn the rest.
Yet shall she not be photographed by me, but feebly indicated: for it was just four hundred years ago, the raillery was coarse, she returned every stroke in kind, and though a virtuous woman, said things without winking, which no decent man of our day would say even among men.
Gerard sat gaping with astonishment. This was to him almost a new variety of "that interesting species," homo. He whispered "Denys, Now I see why you Frenchmen say 'a woman's tongue is her sword:'" just then she levelled another assailant; and the chivalrous Denys, to console and support "the weaker vessel," the iron kettle among the clay pots, administered his consigne, "Courage, ma mie, le—-" etc.
She turned on him directly. "How can he be dead as long as there is an archer left alive?" (General laughter at her ally's expense.)
"It is 'washing day,' my masters," said she, with sudden gravity.
"Apres? We travellers cannot strip and go bare while you wash our clothes," objected a peevish old fellow by the fireside, who had kept mumchance during the raillery, but crept out into the sunshine of commonplaces.
"I aimed not your way, ancient man," replied Marion superciliously. "But since you ask me" (here she scanned him slowly from head to foot), "I trow you might take a turn in the tub, clothes and all, and no harm done" (laughter). "But what I spoke for, I thought this young sire might like his beard starched."
Poor Gerard's turn had come; his chin crop was thin and silky.
The loudest of all the laughers this time was the traitor Denys, whose beard was of a good length, and singularly stiff and bristly; so that Shakespeare, though he never saw him, hit him in the bull's eye.
"Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard." —As You Like It.
Gerard bore the Amazonian satire mighty calmly. He had little personal vanity. "Nay, 'chambriere,'" said he, with a smile, "mine is all unworthy your pains; take you this fair growth in hand!" and he pointed to Denys's vegetable.
"Oh, time for that, when I starch the besoms."
Whilst they were all shouting over this palpable hit, the mistress returned, and in no more time than it took her to cross the threshold, did our Amazon turn to a seeming Madonna meek and mild.
Mistresses are wonderful subjugators. Their like I think breathes not on the globe. Housemaids, decide! It was a waste of histrionic ability though; for the landlady had heard, and did not at heart disapprove, the peals of laughter.
"Ah, Marion, lass," said she good-humouredly, "if you laid me an egg every time you cackle, 'L'es Trois Poissons' would never lack an omelet."
"Now, dame," said Gerard, "what is to pay?"
"Where is the hurry? cannot you be content to pay when you go? lose the guest, find the money, is the rule of 'The Three Fish.'"
"But, dame, outside 'The Three Fish' it is thus written—'Ici-on ne loge—"
"Bah! Let that flea stick on the wall! Look hither," and she pointed to the smoky ceiling, which was covered with hieroglyphics. These were accounts, vulgo scores; intelligible to this dame and her daughter, who wrote them at need by simply mounting a low stool, and scratching with a knife so as to show lines of ceiling through the deposit of smoke. The dame explained that the writing on the wall was put there to frighten moneyless folk from the inn altogether, or to be acted on at odd times when a non-paying face should come in and insist on being served. "We can't refuse them plump, you know. The law forbids us."
"And how know you mine is not such a face?"
"Out fie! it is the best face that has entered 'The Three Fish' this autumn."
"And mine, dame?" said Denys; "dost see no knavery here?"
She eyed him calmly. "Not such a good one as the lad's; nor ever will be. But it is the face of a true man. For all that," added she drily, "an I were ten years younger, I'd as lieve not meet that face on a dark night too far from home."
Gerard stared. Denys laughed. "Why, dame, I would but sip the night dew off the flower; and you needn't take ten years off, nor ten days, to be worth risking a scratched face for."
"There, our mistress," said Marion, who had just come in, "said I not t'other day you could make a fool of them still, an if you were properly minded?"
"I dare say ye did; it sounds like some daft wench's speech."
"Dame," said Gerard, "this is wonderful."
"What? Oh! no, no, that is no wonder at all. Why, I have been here all my life; and reading faces is the first thing a girl picks up in an inn."
Marion. "And frying eggs the second; no, telling lies; frying eggs is the third, though."
The Mistress. "And holding her tongue the last, and modesty the day after never at all."
Marion. "Alack! Talk of my tongue. But I say no more. She under whose wing I live now deals the blow. I'm sped—'tis but a chambermaid gone. Catch what's left on't!" and she staggered and sank backwards on to the handsomest fellow in the room, which happened to be Gerard.
"Tic! tic!" cried he peevishly; "there, don't be stupid! that is too heavy a jest for me. See you not I am talking to the mistress?"
Marion resumed her elasticity with a grimace, made two little bounds into the middle of the floor, and there turned a pirouette. "There, mistress," said she, "I give in; 'tis you that reigns supreme with the men, leastways with male children."
"Young man," said the mistress, "this girl is not so stupid as her deportment; in reading of faces, and frying of omelets, there we are great. 'Twould be hard if we failed at these arts, since they are about all we do know."
"You do not quite take me, dame," said Gerard. "That honesty in a face should shine forth to your experienced eye, that seems reasonable: but how by looking on Denys here could you learn his one little foible, his insanity, his miserable mulierosity?" Poor Gerard got angrier the more he thought of it.
"His mule—his what?" (crossing herself with superstitious awe at the polysyllable).
"Nay, 'tis but the word I was fain to invent for him."
"Invent? What, can a child like you make other words than grow in Burgundy by nature? Take heed what ye do! why, we are overrun with them already, especially bad ones. Lord, these be times. I look to hear of a new thistle invented next."
"Well then, dame, mulierose—that means wrapped up, body and soul, in women. So prithee tell me; how did you ever detect the noodle's mulierosity?"
"Alas! good youth, you make a mountain of a molehill. We that are women be notice-takers; and out of the tail of our eye see more than most men can, glaring through a prospect glass. Whiles I move to and fro doing this and that, my glance is still on my guests, and I did notice that this soldier's eyes were never off the womenfolk: my daughter, or Marion, or even an old woman like me, all was gold to him: and there a sat glowering; oh, you foolish, foolish man! Now you still turned to the speaker, her or him, and that is common sense."
Denys burst into a hoarse laugh. "You never were more out. Why, this silky, smooth-faced companion is a very Turk—all but his beard. He is what d'ye call 'em oser than ere an archer in the Duke's body-guard. He is more wrapped up in one single Dutch lass called Margaret, than I am in the whole bundle of ye, brown and fair."
"Man alive, that is just the contrary," said the hostess. "Yourn is the bane, and hisn the cure. Cling you still to Margaret, my dear. I hope she is an honest girl."
"Dame, she is an angel."
"Ay, ay, they are all that till better acquainted. I'd as lieve have her no more than honest, and then she will serve to keep you out of worse company. As for you, soldier, there is trouble in store for you. Your eyes were never made for the good of your soul."
"Nor of his pouch either," said Marion, striking in, "and his lips, they will sip the dew, as he calls it, off many a bramble bush."
"Overmuch clack! Marion overmuch clack."
"Ods bodikins, mistress; ye didn't hire me to be one o' your three fishes, did ye?" and Marion sulked thirty seconds.
"Is that the way to speak to our mistress?" remonstrated the landlord, who had slipped in.
"Hold your whisht," said his wife sharply; "it is not your business to check the girl; she is a good servant to you."
"What, is the cock never to crow, and the hens at it all day?"
"You can crow as loud as you like, my man out o' doors. But the hen means to rule the roost."
"I know a byword to that tune." said Gerard.
"Do ye, now? out wi't then."
"Femme veut en toute saison, Estre dame en sa mason."
"I never heard it afore; but 'tis as sooth as gospel. Ay, they that set these bywords a rolling had eyes and tongues, and tongues and eyes. Before all the world give me an old saw."
"And me a young husband," said Marion. "Now there was a chance for you all, and nobody spoke. Oh! it is too late now, I've changed my mind."
"All the better for some poor fellow," suggested Denys.
And now the arrival of the young mistress, or, as she was called, the little mistress, was the signal for them all to draw round the fire, like one happy family, travellers, host, hostess, and even servants in the outer ring, and tell stories till bedtime. And Gerard in his turn told a tremendous one out of his repertory, a MS. collection of "acts of the saints," and made them all shudder deliciously; but soon after began to nod, exhausted by the effort, I should say. The young mistress saw, and gave Marion a look. She instantly lighted a rush, and laying her hand on Gerard's shoulder, invited him to follow her. She showed him a room where were two nice white beds, and bade him choose.
"Either is paradise," said he. "I'll take this one. Do you know, I have not lain in a naked bed once since I left my home in Holland."
"Alack! poor soul!" said she; "well, then, the sooner my flax and your down (he! he!) come together, the better; so—allons!" and she held out her cheek as business-like as if it had been her hand for a fee.
"Allons? what does that mean?"
"It means 'good-night.' Ahem! What, don't they salute the chambermaid in your part?"
"Not all in a moment."
"What, do they make a business on't?"
"Nay, perverter of words, I mean we make not so free with strange women.
"They must be strange women if they do not think you strange fools, then. Here is a coil. Why, all the old greasy greybeards that lie at our inn do kiss us chambermaids; faugh! and what have we poor wretches to set on t'other side the compt but now and then a nice young——? Alack! time flies, chambermaids can't be spared long in the nursery, so how is't to be?"
"An't please you arrange with my comrade for both. He is mulierose; I am not."
"Nay, 'tis the curb he will want, not the spur. Well! well! you shall to bed without paying the usual toll; and oh, but 'tis sweet to fall in with a young man who can withstand these ancient ill customs, and gainsay brazen hussies. Shalt have thy reward."
"Thank you! But what are you doing with my bed?"
"Me? oh, only taking off these sheets, and going to put on the pair the drunken miller slept in last night."
"Oh, no! no! You cruel, black-hearted thing! There! there!"
"A la bonne heure! What will not perseverance effect? But note now the frowardness of a mad wench! I cared not for't a button. I am dead sick of that sport this five years. But you denied me; so then forthwith I behoved to have it; belike had gone through fire and water for't. Alas, young sir, we women are kittle cattle; poor perverse toads: excuse us: and keep us in our place, savoir, at arm's length; and so good-night!"
At the door she turned and said, with a complete change of tone and manner: "The Virgin guard thy head, and the holy Evangelists watch the bed where lies a poor young wanderer far from home! Amen!"
And the next moment he heard her run tearing down the stairs, and soon a peal of laughter from the salle betrayed her whereabouts.
"Now that is a character," said Gerard profoundly, and yawned over the discovery.
In a very few minutes he was in a dry bath of cold, clean linen, inexpressibly refreshing to him after so long disuse: then came a delicious glow; and then—Sevenbergen.
In the morning Gerard awoke infinitely refreshed, and was for rising, but found himself a close prisoner. His linen had vanished. Now this was paralysis; for the nightgown is a recent institution. In Gerard's century, and indeed long after, men did not play fast and loose with clean sheets (when they could get them), but crept into them clothed with their innocence, like Adam: out of bed they seem to have taken most after his eldest son.
Gerard bewailed his captivity to Denys; but that instant the door opened, and in sailed Marion with their linen, newly washed and ironed, on her two arms, and set it down on the table.
"Oh you good girl," cried Gerard.
"Alack, have you found me out at last?"
"Yes, indeed. Is this another custom?"
"Nay, not to take them unbidden: but at night we aye question travellers, are they for linen washed. So I came into you, but you were both sound. Then said I to the little mistress, 'La! where is the sense of waking wearied men, t'ask them is Charles the Great dead, and would they liever carry foul linen or clean, especially this one with a skin like cream? 'And so he has, I declare,' said the young mistress."
"That was me," remarked Denys, with the air of a commentator.
"Guess once more, and you'll hit the mark."
"Notice him not, Marion, he is an impudent fellow; and I am sure we cannot be grateful enough for your goodness, and I am sorry I ever refused you—anything you fancied you should like."
"Oh, are ye there," said l'espiegle. "I take that to mean you would fain brush the morning dew off, as your bashful companion calls it; well then, excuse me, 'tis customary, but not prudent. I decline. Quits with you, lad."
"Stop! stop!" cried Denys, as she was making off victorious, "I am curious to know how many, of ye were here last night a-feasting your eyes on us twain.
"'Twas so satisfactory a feast as we weren't half a minute over't. Who? why the big mistress, the little mistress, Janet, and me, and the whole posse comitatus, on tiptoe. We mostly make our rounds the last thing, not to get burned down; and in prodigious numbers. Somehow that maketh us bolder, especially where archers lie scattered about."
"Why did not you tell me? I'd have lain awake."
"Beau sire, the saying goes that the good and the ill are all one while their lids are closed. So we said, 'Here is one who will serve God best asleep, Break not his rest!'"
"She is funny," said Gerard dictatorially.
"I must be either that or knavish."
"Because 'The Three Fish' pay me to be funny. You will eat before you part? Good! then I'll go see the meat be fit for such worshipful teeth."
"What is your will?"
"I wish that was a great boy, and going along with us, to keep us cheery."
"So do not I. But I wish it was going along with us as it is."
"Now Heaven forefend! A fine fool you would make of yourself."
They broke their fast, settled their score, and said farewell. Then it was they found that Marion had not exaggerated the "custom of the country." The three principal women took and kissed them right heartily, and they kissed the three principal women. The landlord took and kissed them, and they kissed the landlord; and the cry was, "Come back, the sooner the better!"
"Never pass 'The Three Fish'; should your purses be void, bring yourselves: 'le sieur credit' is not dead for you."
And they took the road again.
They came to a little town, and Denys went to buy shoes. The shopkeeper was in the doorway, but wide awake. He received Denys with a bow down to the ground. The customer was soon fitted, and followed to the street, and dismissed with graceful salutes from the doorstep.
The friends agreed it was Elysium to deal with such a shoemaker as this. "Not but what my German shoes have lasted well enough," said Gerard the just.
Outside the town was a pebbled walk.
"This is to keep the burghers's feet dry, a-walking o' Sundays with their wives and daughters," said Denys.
Those simple words of Denys, one stroke of a careless tongue, painted "home" in Gerard's heart. "Oh, how sweet!" said he.
"Mercy! what is this? A gibbet! and ugh, two skeletons thereon! Oh, Denys, what a sorry sight to woo by!"
"Nay," said Denys, "a comfortable sight; for every rogue i' the air there is one the less a-foot."
A little farther on they came to two pillars, and between these was a huge wheel closely studded with iron prongs; and entangled in these were bones and fragments of cloth miserably dispersed over the wheel.
Gerard hid his face in his hands. "Oh, to think those patches and bones are all that is left of a man! of one who was what we are now."
"Excusez! a thing that went on two legs and stole; are we no more than that?"
"How know ye he stole? Have true men never suffered death and torture too?"
"None of my kith ever found their way to the gibbet, I know."
"The better their luck. Prithee, how died the saints?"
"Hard. But not in Burgundy."
"Ye massacred them wholesale at Lyons, and that is on Burgundy's threshold. To you the gibbet proves the crime, because you read not story. Alas! had you stood on Calvary that bloody day we sigh for to this hour, I tremble to think you had perhaps shouted for joy at the gibbet builded there; for the cross was but the Roman gallows, Father Martin says."
"The blaspheming old hound!"
"Oh, fie! fie! a holy and a book-learned man. Ay, Denys, y'had read them, that suffered there, by the bare light of the gibbet. 'Drive in the nails!' y'had cried: 'drive in the spear!' Here be three malefactors. Three 'roues.' Yet of those little three one was the first Christian saint, and another was the Saviour of the world which gibbeted him."
Denys assured him on his honour they managed things better in Burgundy. He added, too, after profound reflection, that the horrors Gerard had alluded to had more than once made him curse and swear with rage when told by the good cure in his native village at Eastertide: "but they chanced in an outlandish nation, and near a thousand years agone. Mort de ma vie, let us hope it is not true; or at least sore exaggerated. Do but see how all tales gather as they roll!"
Then he reflected again, and all in a moment turned red with ire. "Do ye not blush to play with your book-craft on your unlettered friend, and throw dust in his eyes, evening the saints with these reptiles?"
Then suddenly he recovered his good humour. "Since your heart beats for vermin, feel for the carrion crows! they be as good vermin as these; would ye send them to bed supperless, poor pretty poppets? Why, these be their larder; the pangs of hunger would gnaw them dead, but for cold cut-purse hung up here and there."
Gerard, who had for some time maintained a dead silence, informed him the subject was closed between them, and for ever. "There are things," said he, "in which our hearts seem wide as the poles asunder, and eke our heads. But I love thee dearly all the same," he added, with infinite grace and tenderness.
Towards afternoon they heard a faint wailing noise on ahead; it grew distincter as they proceeded. Being fast walkers they soon came up with its cause: a score of pikemen, accompanied by several constables, were marching along, and in advance of them was a herd of animals they were driving. These creatures, in number rather more than a hundred, were of various ages, only very few were downright old: the males were downcast and silent. It was the females from whom all the outcry came. In other words, the animals thus driven along at the law's point were men and women.
"Good Heaven!" cried Gerard, "what a band of them! But stay, surely all those children cannot be thieves; why, there are some in arms. What on earth is this, Denys?"
Denys advised him to ask that "bourgeois" with the badge; "This is Burgundy: here a civil question ever draws a civil reply."
Gerard went up to the officer, and removing his cap, a civility which was immediately returned, said, "For our Lady's sake, sir, what do ye with these poor folk?"
"Nay, what is that to you, my lad?" replied the functionary suspiciously.
"Master, I'm a stranger, and athirst for knowledge."
"That is another matter. What are we doing? ahem. Why we—Dost hear, Jacques? Here is a stranger seeks to know what we are doing," and the two machines were tickled that there should be a man who did not know something they happened to know. In all ages this has tickled. However, the chuckle was brief and moderated by the native courtesy, and the official turned to Gerard again. "What we are doing? hum!" and now he hesitated, not from any doubt as to what he was doing, but because he was hunting for a single word that should convey the matter.
"Ce que nous faisons, mon gars?—Mais—dam—NOUS TRANSVASONS."
"You decant? that should mean you pour from one vessel to another."
"Precisely." He explained that last year the town of Charmes had been sore thinned by a pestilence, whole houses emptied and trades short of hands. Much ado to get in the rye, and the flax half spoiled. So the bailiff and aldermen had written to the duke's secretary; and the duke he sent far and wide to know what town was too full. "That are we," had the baillie of Toul writ back. "Then send four or five score of your townsfolk," was the order. "Was not this to decant the full town into the empty, and is not the good duke the father of his people, and will not let the duchy be weakened, nor its fair towns laid waste by sword nor pestilence; but meets the one with pike, and arbalest (touching his cap to the sergeant and Denys alternately), and t'other with policy? LONG LIVE THE DUKE!"
The pikemen of course were not to be outdone in loyalty; so they shouted with stentorian lungs "LONG LIVE THE DUKE!" Then the decanted ones, partly because loyalty was a non-reasoning sentiment in those days, partly perhaps because they feared some further ill consequence should they alone be mute, raised a feeble, tremulous shout, "Long live the Duke!"
But, at this, insulted nature rebelled. Perhaps indeed the sham sentiment drew out the real, for, on the very heels of that royal noise, a loud and piercing wail burst from every woman's bosom, and a deep, deep groan from every man's; oh! the air filled in a moment with womanly and manly anguish. Judge what it must have been when the rude pikemen halted unbidden, all confused; as if a wall of sorrow had started up before them.
"En avant," roared the sergeant, and they marched again, but muttering and cursing.
"Ah the ugly sound," said the civilian, wincing. "Les malheureux!" cried he ruefully: for where is the single man can hear the sudden agony of a multitude and not be moved? "Les ingrats! They are going whence they were de trop to where they will be welcome: from starvation to plenty—and they object. They even make dismal noises. One would think we were thrusting them forth from Burgundy."
"Come away," whispered Gerard, trembling; "come away," and the friends strode forward.
When they passed the head of the column, and saw the men walk with their eyes bent in bitter gloom upon the ground, and the women, some carrying, some leading little children, and weeping as they went, and the poor bairns, some frolicking, some weeping because "their mammies" wept, Gerard tried hard to say a word of comfort, but choked and could utter nothing to the mourners; but gasped, "Come on, Denys, I cannot mock such sorrow with little words of comfort." And now, artist-like, all his aim was to get swiftly out of the grief he could not soothe. He almost ran not to hear these sighs and sobs.
"Why, mate," said Denys, "art the colour of a lemon. Man alive, take not other folk's troubles to heart! not one of those whining milksops there but would see thee, a stranger, hanged without winking."
Gerard scarce listened to him.
"Decant them?" he groaned; "ay, if blood were no thicker than wine. Princes, ye are wolves. Poor things! Poor things! Ah, Denys! Denys! with looking on their grief mine own comes home to me. Well-a-day! ah, well-a-day!"
"Ay, now you talk reason. That you, poor lad, should be driven all the way from Holland to Rome is pitiful indeed. But these snivelling curs, where is their hurt? There is six score of 'em to keep one another company: besides, they are not going out of Burgundy."
"Better for them if they had never been in it."
"Mechant, va! they are but going from one village to another, a mule's journey! whilst thou—there, no more. Courage, camarade, le diable est mort."
Gerard shook his head very doubtfully, but kept silence for about a mile, and then he said thoughtfully, "Ay, Denys, but then I am sustained by booklearning. These are simple folk that likely thought their village was the world: now what is this? more weeping. Oh! 'tis a sweet world Humph! A little girl that hath broke her pipkin. Now may I hang on one of your gibbets but I'll dry somebody's tears," and he pounced savagely upon this little martyr, like a kite on a chick, but with more generous intentions. It was a pretty little lass of about twelve; the tears were raining down her two peaches, and her palms lifted to heaven in that utter, though temporary, desolation which attends calamity at twelve; and at her feet the fatal cause, a broken pot, worth, say the fifth of a modern farthing.
"What, hast broken thy pot, little one?" said Gerard, acting intensest sympathy.
"Helas! bel gars; as you behold;" and the hands came down from the sky and both pointed at the fragments. A statuette of adversity.
"And you weep so for that?"
"Needs I must, bel gars. My mammy will massacre me. Do they not already" (with a fresh burst of woe) "c-c-call me J-J-Jean-net-on C-c-casse tout? It wanted but this; that I should break my poor pot. Helas! fallait-il donc, mere de Dieu?"
"Courage, little love," said Gerard; "'tis not thy heart lies broken; money will soon mend pots. See now, here is a piece of silver, and there, scarce a stone's throw off, is a potter; take the bit of silver to him, and buy another pot, and the copper the potter will give thee keep that to play with thy comrades."
The little mind took in all this, and smiles began to struggle with the tears: but spasms are like waves, they cannot go down the very moment the wind of trouble is lulled. So Denys thought well to bring up his reserve of consolation "Courage, ma mie, le diable est mort!" cried that inventive warrior gaily. Gerard shrugged his shoulders at such a way of cheering a little girl,
"What a fine thing Is a lute with one string,"
The little girl's face broke into warm sunshine.
"Oh, the good news! oh, the good news!" she sang out with such heartfelt joy, it went off into a honeyed whine; even as our gay old tunes have a pathos underneath "So then," said she, "they will no longer be able to threaten us little girls with him, making our lives a burden!" And she bounded off "to tell Nanette," she said.
There is a theory that everything has its counterpart; if true, Denys it would seem had found the mind his consigne fitted.
While he was roaring with laughter at its unexpected success and Gerard's amazement, a little hand pulled his jerkin and a little face peeped round his waist. Curiosity was now the dominant passion in that small but vivid countenance.
"Est-ce toi qui l'a tue, beau soldat?"
"Oui, ma mie," said Denys, as gruffly as ever he could, rightly deeming this would smack of supernatural puissance to owners of bell-like trebles. "C'est moi. Ca vaut une petite embrassade—pas?"
"Je crois ben. Aie! aie!"
"Ca pique! ca pique!"
"Quel dommage! je vais la couper."
"Nein, ce n'est rien; et pisque t'as tue ce mechant. T'es fierement beau, tout d' meme, toi; t'es lien miex que ma grande soeur.
"Will you not kiss me, too, ma mie?" said Gerard.
"Je ne demande par miex. Tiens, tiens, tiens! c'est doulce celle-ci. Ah! que j'aimons les hommes! Des fames, ca ne m'aurait jamais donne l'arjan, blanc, plutot ca m'aurait ri au nez. C'est si peu de chose, les fames. Serviteur, beaulx sires! Bon voiage; et n'oubliez point la Jeanneton!"
"Adieu, petit coeur," said Gerard, and on they marched; but presently looking back they saw the contemner of women in the middle of the road, making them a reverence, and blowing them kisses with little May morning face.
"Come on," cried Gerard lustily. "I shall win to Rome yet. Holy St. Bavon, what a sunbeam of innocence hath shot across our bloodthirsty road! Forget thee, little Jeanneton? not likely, amidst all this slobbering, and gibbeting, and decanting. Come on, thou laggard! forward!"
"Dost call this marching?" remonstrated Denys; "why, we shall walk o'er Christmas Day and never see it."
At the next town they came to, suddenly an arbalestrier ran out of a tavern after them, and in a moment his beard and Denys's were like two brushes stuck together. It was a comrade. He insisted on their coming into the tavern with him, and breaking a bottle of wine. In course of conversation, he told Denys there was an insurrection in the Duke's Flemish provinces, and soldiers were ordered thither from all parts of Burgundy. "Indeed, I marvelled to see thy face turned this way.
"I go to embrace my folk that I have not seen these three years. Ye can quell a bit of a rising without me I trow."
Suddenly Denys gave a start. "Dost hear Gerard? this comrade is bound for Holland."
"What then? ah, a letter! a letter to Margaret! but will he be so good, so kind?"
The soldier with a torrent of blasphemy informed him he would not only take it, but go a league or two out of his way to do it.
In an instant out came inkhorn and paper from Gerard's wallet; and he wrote a long letter to Margaret, and told her briefly what I fear I have spun too tediously; dwelt most on the bear, and the plunge in the Rhine, and the character of Denys, whom he painted to the life. And with many endearing expressions bade her to be of good cheer; some trouble and peril there had been, but all that was over now, and his only grief left was, that he could not hope to have a word from her hand till he should reach Rome. He ended with comforting her again as hard as he could. And so absorbed was he in his love and his work, that he did not see all the people in the room were standing peeping, to watch the nimble and true finger execute such rare penmanship.
Denys, proud of his friend's skill, let him alone, till presently the writer's face worked, and soon the scalding tears began to run down his young cheeks, one after another, on the paper where he was then writing comfort, comfort. Then Denys rudely repulsed the curious, and asked his comrade with a faltering voice whether he had the heart to let so sweet a love-letter miscarry? The other swore by the face of St. Luke he would lose the forefinger of his right hand sooner.
Seeing him so ready, Gerard charged him also with a short, cold letter to his parents; and in it he drew hastily with his pen two hands grasping each other, to signify farewell. By-the-by, one drop of bitterness found its way into his letter to Margaret. But of that anon.
Gerard now offered money to the soldier. He hesitated, but declined it. "No, no! art comrade of my comrade; and may" (etc.) "but thy love for the wench touches me. I'll break another bottle at thy charge an thou wilt, and so cry quits."
"Well said, comrade," cried Denys. "Hadst taken money, I had invited thee to walk in the courtyard and cross swords with me."
"Whereupon I had cut thy comb for thee," retorted the other.
"Hadst done thy endeavour, drole, I doubt not."
They drank the new bottle, shook hands, adhered to custom, and parted on opposite routes.
This delay, however, somewhat put out Denys's calculations, and evening surprised them ere they reached a little town he was making for, where was a famous hotel. However, they fell in with a roadside auberge, and Denys, seeing a buxom girl at the door, said, "This seems a decent inn," and led the way into the kitchen. They ordered supper, to which no objection was raised, only the landlord requested them to pay for it beforehand. It was not an uncommon proposal in any part of the world. Still it was not universal, and Denys was nettled, and dashed his hand somewhat ostentatiously into his purse and pulled out a gold angel. "Count me the change, and speedily," said he. "You tavern-keepers are more likely to rob me than I you."
While the supper was preparing, Denys disappeared, and was eventually found by Gerard in the yard, helping Manon, his plump but not bright decoy duck, to draw water, and pouring extravagant compliments into her dullish ear. Gerard grunted and returned to table, but Denys did not come in for a good quarter of an hour.
"Uphill work at the end of a march," said he, shrugging his shoulders.
"What matters that to you!" said Gerard drily. "The mad dog bites all the world."
"Exaggerator. You know I bite but the fairer half. Well, here comes supper; that is better worth biting."
During supper the girl kept constantly coming in and out, and looking point-blank at them, especially at Denys; and at last in leaning over him to remove a dish, dropped a word in his ear; and he replied with a nod.
As soon as supper was cleared away, Denys rose and strolled to the door, telling Gerard the sullen fair had relented, and given him a little rendezvous in the stable-yard.
Gerard suggested that the calf-pen would have been a more appropriate locality. "I shall go to bed, then," said he, a little crossly. "Where is the landlord? out at this time of night? no matter. I know our room. Shall you be long, pray?"
"Not I. I grudge leaving the fire and thee. But what can I do? There are two sorts of invitations a Burgundian never declines."
Denys found a figure seated by the well. It was Manon; but instead of receiving him as he thought he had a right to expect, coming by invitation, all she did was to sob. He asked her what ailed her? She sobbed. Could he do anything for her? She sobbed.
The good-natured Denys, driven to his wits' end, which was no great distance, proffered the custom of the country by way of consolation. She repulsed him roughly. "Is it a time for fooling?" said she, and sobbed.
"You seem to think so," said Denys, waxing wroth. But the next moment he added tenderly, "and I, who could never bear to see beauty in distress."
"It is not for myself."
"Who then? your sweetheart?"
"Oh, que nenni. My sweetheart is not on earth now: and to think I have not an ecu to buy masses for his soul;" and in this shallow nature the grief seemed now to be all turned in another direction.
"Come, come," said Denys, "shalt have money to buy masses for thy dead lad; I swear it. Meantime tell me why you weep."
"For me? Art mad?"
"No; I am not mad. 'Tis you that were mad to open your purse before him."
The mystery seemed to thicken, and Denys, wearied of stirring up the mud by questions, held his peace to see if it would not clear of itself. Then the girl, finding herself no longer questioned, seemed to go through some internal combat. At last she said, doggedly and aloud, "I will. The Virgin give me courage? What matters it if they kill me, since he is dead? Soldier, the landlord is out."
"Oh, is he?"
"What, do landlords leave their taverns at this time of night? also see what a tempest! We are sheltered here, but t'other side it blows a hurricane."
Denys said nothing.
"He is gone to fetch the band."
"The band! what band?"
"Those who will cut your throat and take your gold. Wretched man; to go and shake gold in an innkeeper's face!"
The blow came so unexpectedly it staggered even Denys, accustomed as he was to sudden perils. He muttered a single word, but in it a volume.
"Gerard! What is that? Oh, 'tis thy comrade's name, poor lad. Get him out quick ere they come; and fly to the next town."
"They will kill me."
"That shall they not. Fly with us."
"'Twill avail me nought: one of the band will be sent to kill me. They are sworn to slay all who betray them."
"I'll take thee to my native place full thirty leagues from hence, and put thee under my own mother's wing, ere they shall hurt a hair o' thy head. But first Gerard. Stay thou here whilst I fetch him!"
As he was darting off, the girl seized him convulsively, and with all the iron strength excitement lends to women. "Stay me not! for pity's sake," he cried; "'tis life or death."
"Sh!—sh!" whispered the girl, shutting his mouth hard with her hand, and putting her pale lips close to him, and her eyes, that seemed to turn backwards, straining towards some indistinct sound.
He heard footsteps, many footsteps, and no voices. She whispered in his ear, "They are come." And trembled like a leaf.
Denys felt it was so. Travellers in that number would never have come in dead silence.
The feet were now at the very door.
"How many?" said he, in a hollow whisper.
"Hush!" and she put her mouth to his very ear. And who, that had seen this man and woman in that attitude, would have guessed what freezing hearts were theirs, and what terrible whispers passed between them?
"Sword and dagger: and the giant with his axe. They call him the Abbot."
"And my comrade?"
"Nothing can save him. Better lose one life than two. Fly!"
Denys's blood froze at this cynical advice. "Poor creature, you know not a soldier's heart."
He put his head in his hands a moment, and a hundred thoughts of dangers baffled whirled through his brain.
"Listen, girl! There is one chance for our lives, if thou wilt but be true to us. Run to the town; to the nearest tavern, and tell the first soldier there, that a soldier here is sore beset, but armed, and his life to be saved if they will but run. Then to the bailiff. But first to the soldiers. Nay, not a word, but buss me, good lass, and fly! men's lives hang on thy heels."
She kilted up her gown to run. He came round to the road with her, saw her cross the road cringing with fear, then glide away, then turn into an erect shadow, then melt away in the storm.
And now he must get to Gerard. But how? He had to run the gauntlet of the whole band. He asked himself, what was the worst thing they could do? for he had learned in war that an enemy does, not what you hope he will do, but what you hope he will not do. "Attack me as I enter the kitchen! Then I must not give them time."
Just as he drew near to the latch, a terrible thought crossed him. "Suppose they had already dealt with Gerard. Why, then," thought he, "nought is left but to kill, and be killed;" and he strung his bow, and walked rapidly into the kitchen. There were seven hideous faces seated round the fire, and the landlord pouring them out neat brandy, blood's forerunner in every age.
"What? company!" cried Denys gaily; "one minute, my lads, and I'll be with you;" and he snatched up a lighted candle off the table, opened the door that led to the staircase, and went up it hallooing. "What, Gerard! whither hast thou skulked to?" There was no answer. He hallooed louder, "Gerard, where art thou?"
After a moment, in which Denys lived an hour of agony, a peevish, half-inarticulate noise issued from the room at the head of the little stairs. Denys burst in, and there was Gerard asleep.
"Thank God!" he said, in a choking voice, then began to sing loud, untuneful ditties. Gerard put his fingers into his ears; but presently he saw in Denys's face a horror that contrasted strangely with this sudden merriment.
"What ails thee?" said he, sitting up and staring.
"Hush!" said Denys, and his hand spoke even more plainly than his lips. "Listen to me."
Denys then pointing significantly to the door, to show Gerard sharp ears were listening hard by, continued his song aloud but under cover of it threw in short muttered syllables.