But being now three leagues and more from the town, and on a grassy road—sun down, moon not yet up—honest Hans suddenly found himself attacked before and behind at once by men with uplifted knives, who cried in loud though somewhat shaky voices, "Stand and deliver!"
The attack was so sudden, and so well planned, that Hans was dismayed. "Slay me not, good fellows," he cried; "I am but a poor man, and ye shall have my all."
"So be it then. Live! but empty thy wallet."
"There is nought in my wallet, good friend, but one letter."
"That we shall see," said Sybrandt, who was the one in front.
"Well, it is a letter."
"Take it not from me, I pray you. 'Tis worth nought, and the good dame would fret that writ it."
"There," said Sybrandt, "take back thy letter; and now empty thy pouch. Come I tarry not!"
But by this time Hans had recovered his confusion; and from a certain flutter in Sybrandt, and hard breathing of Cornelis, aided by an indescribable consciousness, felt sure the pair he had to deal with were no heroes. He pretended to fumble for his money: then suddenly thrust his staff fiercely into Sybrandt's face, and drove him staggering, and lent Cornelis a back-handed slash on the ear that sent him twirling like a weathercock in March; then whirled his weapon over his head and danced about the road like a figure on springs, shouting:
"Come on, ye thieving loons! Come on!"
It was a plain invitation; yet they misunderstood it so utterly as to take to their heels, with Hans after them, he shouting "Stop thieves!" and they howling with fear and pain as they ran.
Denys, placed in the middle of his companions, lest he should be so mad as attempt escape was carried off in an agony of grief and remorse. For his sake Gerard had abandoned the German route to Rome; and what was his reward? left all alone in the centre of Burgundy. This was the thought which maddened Denys most, and made him now rave at heaven and earth, now fall into a gloomy silence so savage and sinister that it was deemed prudent to disarm him. They caught up their leader just outside the town, and the whole cavalcade drew up and baited at the "Tete d'Or."
The young landlady, though much occupied with the count, and still more with the bastard, caught sight of Denys, and asked him somewhat anxiously what had become of his young companion?
Denys, with a burst of grief, told her all, and prayed her to send after Gerard. "Now he is parted from me, he will maybe listen to my rede," said he; "poor wretch, he loves not solitude."
The landlady gave a toss of her head. "I trow I have been somewhat over-kind already," said she, and turned rather red.
"You will not?"
"Then,"—and he poured a volley of curses and abuse upon her.
She turned her back upon him, and went off whimpering, and Saying she was not used to be cursed at; and ordered her hind to saddle two mules.
Denys went north with his troop, mute and drooping over his saddle, and quite unknown to him, that veracious young lady made an equestrian toilet in only forty minutes, she being really in a hurry, and spurred away with her servant in the opposite direction.
At dark, after a long march, the bastard and his men reached "The White Hart;" their arrival caused a prodigious bustle, and it was some time before Manon discovered her old friend among so many. When she did, she showed it only by heightened colour. She did not claim the acquaintance. The poor soul was already beginning to scorn.
"The base degrees by which she did ascend."
Denys saw but could not smile. The inn reminded him too much of Gerard.
Ere the night closed the wind changed. She looked into the room and beckoned him with her finger. He rose sulkily, and his guards with him.
"Nay, I would speak a word to thee in private."
She drew him to a corner of the room, and there asked him under her breath would he do her a kindness.
He answered out loud, "No, he would not; he was not in the vein to do kindnesses to man or woman. If he did a kindness it should be to a dog; and not that if he could help it."
"Alas, good archer, I did you one eftsoons, you and your pretty comrade," said Manon humbly.
"You did, dame, you did; well then, for his sake—what is't to do?"
"Thou knowest my story. I had been unfortunate. Now I am worshipful. But a woman did cast him in my teeth this day. And so 'twill be ever while he hangs there. I would have him ta'en down; well-a-day!"
"With all my heart."
"And none dare I ask but thee. Wilt do't?"
"Not I, even were I not a prisoner."
On this stern refusal the tender Manon sighed, and clasped her palms together despondently. Denys told her she need not fret. There were soldiers of a lower stamp who would not make two bites of such a cherry. It was a mere matter of money; if she could find two angels, he would find two soldiers to do the dirty work of "The White Hart."
This was not very palatable. However, reflecting that soldiers were birds of passage, drinking here to-night, knocked on the head there to-morrow, she said softly, "Send them out to me. But prithee, tell them that 'tis for one that is my friend; let them not think 'tis for me; I should sink into the earth; times are changed."
Denys found warriors glad to win an angel apiece so easily. He sent them out, and instantly dismissing the subject with contempt, sat brooding on his lost friend.
Manon and the warriors soon came to a general understanding. But what were they to do with the body when taken down? She murmured, "The river is nigh the—the place."
"Fling him in, eh?"
"Nay, nay; be not so cruel! Could ye not put him—gently—and—with somewhat weighty?"
She must have been thinking on the subject in detail; for she was not one to whom ideas came quickly.
All was speedily agreed, except the time of payment. The mail-clad itched for it, and sought it in advance. Manon demurred to that.
What, did she doubt their word? then let her come along with them, or watch them at a distance.
"Me?" said Manon with horror. "I would liever die than see it done."
"Which yet you would have done."
"Ay, for sore is my need. Times are changed."
She had already forgotten her precept to Denys.
An hour later the disagreeable relic of caterpillar existence ceased to canker the worshipful matron's public life, and the grim eyes of the past to cast malignant glances down into a white hind's clover field.
Total. She made the landlord an average wife, and a prime house-dog, and outlived everybody.
Her troops, when they returned from executing with mediaeval naivete the precept, "Off wi' the auld love," received a shock. They found the market-place black with groups; it had been empty an hour ago. Conscience smote them. This came of meddling with the dead. However, the bolder of the two, encouraged by the darkness, stole forward alone, and slily mingled with a group: he soon returned to his companion, saying, in a tone of reproach not strictly reasonable,
"Ye born fool, it is only a miracle."
Letters of fire on the church wall had just inquired, with an appearance of genuine curiosity, why there was no mass for the duke in this time of trouble. The supernatural expostulation had been seen by many, and had gradually faded, leaving the spectators glued there gaping. The upshot was, that the corporation, not choosing to be behind the angelic powers in loyalty to a temporal sovereign, invested freely in masses. By this an old friend of ours, the cure, profited in hard cash; for which he had a very pretty taste. But for this I would not of course have detained you over so trite an occurrence as a miracle.
Denys begged for his arms. "Why disgrace him as well as break his heart?"
"Then swear on the cross of thy sword not to leave the bastard's service until the sedition shall be put down." He yielded to necessity, and delivered three volleys of oaths, and recovered his arms and liberty.
The troops halted at "The Three Fish," and Marion at sight of him cried out, "I'm out of luck; who would have thought to see you again?" Then seeing he was sad, and rather hurt than amused at this blunt jest, she asked him what was amiss? He told her. She took a bright view of the case. Gerard was too handsome and well-behaved to come to harm. The women too would always be on his side. Moreover, it was clear that things must either go well or ill with him. In the former case he would strike in with some good company going to Rome; in the latter he would return home, perhaps be there before his friend; "for you have a trifle of fighting to do in Flanders by all accounts." She then brought him his gold pieces, and steadily refused to accept one, though he urged her again and again. Denys was somewhat convinced by her argument, because she concurred with his own wishes, and was also cheered a little by finding her so honest. It made him think a little better of that world in which his poor little friend was walking alone.
Foot soldiers in small bodies down to twos and threes were already on the road, making lazily towards Flanders, many of them penniless, but passed from town to town by the bailiffs, with orders for food and lodging on the innkeepers.
Anthony of Burgundy overtook numbers of these, and gathered them under his standard, so that he entered Flanders at the head of six hundred men. On crossing the frontier he was met by his brother Baldwyn, with men, arms, and provisions; he organized his whole force and marched on in battle array through several towns, not only without impediment, but with great acclamations. This loyalty called forth comments not altogether gracious.
"This rebellion of ours is a bite," growled a soldier called Simon, who had elected himself Denys's comrade.
Denys said nothing, but made a little vow to St. Mars to shoot this Anthony of Burgundy dead, should the rebellion, that had cost him Gerard, prove no rebellion.
That afternoon they came in sight of a strongly fortified town; and a whisper went through the little army that this was a disaffected place.
But when they came in sight, the great gate stood open, and the towers that flanked it on each side were manned with a single sentinel apiece. So the advancing force somewhat broke their array and marched carelessly.
When they were within a furlong, the drawbridge across the moat rose slowly and creaking till it stood vertical against the fort and the very moment it settled into this warlike attitude, down rattled the portcullis at the gate, and the towers and curtains bristled with lances and crossbows.
A stern hum ran through the bastard's front rank and spread to the rear.
"Halt!" cried he. The word went down the line, and they halted. "Herald to the gate!" A pursuivant spurred out of the ranks, and halting twenty yards from the gate, raised his bugle with his herald's flag hanging down round it, and blew a summons. A tall figure in brazen armour appeared over the gate. A few fiery words passed between him and the herald, which were not audible, but their import clear, for the herald blew a single keen and threatening note at the walls, and came galloping back with war in his face. The bastard moved out of the line to meet him, and their heads had not been together two seconds ere he turned in his saddle and shouted, "Pioneers, to the van!" and in a moment hedges were levelled, and the force took the field and encamped just out of shot from the walls; and away went mounted officers flying south, east, and west, to the friendly towns, for catapults, palisades, mantelets, raw hides, tar-barrels, carpenters, provisions, and all the materials for a siege.
The bright perspective mightily cheered one drooping soldier. At the first clang of the portcullis his eyes brightened and his temple flushed; and when the herald came back with battle in his eye he saw it in a moment, and for the first time this many days cried, "Courage, tout le monde, le diable est mort."
If that great warrior heard, how he must have grinned!
The besiegers encamped a furlong from the walls, and made roads; kept their pikemen in camp ready for an assault when practicable; and sent forward their sappers, pioneers, catapultiers, and crossbowmen. These opened a siege by filling the moat, and mining, or breaching the wall, etc. And as much of their work had to be done under close fire of arrows, quarels, bolts, stones, and little rocks, the above artists "had need of a hundred eyes," and acted in concert with a vigilance, and an amount of individual intelligence, daring, and skill, that made a siege very interesting, and even amusing: to lookers on.
The first thing they did was to advance their carpenters behind rolling mantelets, to erect a stockade high and strong on the very edge of the moat. Some lives were lost at this, but not many; for a strong force of crossbowmen, including Denys, rolled their mantelets up and shot over the workmen's heads at every besieged who showed his nose, and at every loophole, arrow-slit, or other aperture, which commanded the particular spot the carpenters happened to be upon. Covered by their condensed fire, these soon raised a high palisade between them and the ordinary missiles from the pierced masonry.
But the besieged expected this, and ran out at night their boards or wooden penthouses on the top of the curtains. The curtains were built with square holes near the top to receive the beams that supported these structures, the true defence of mediaeval forts, from which the besieged delivered their missiles with far more freedom and variety of range than they could shoot through the oblique but immovable loopholes of the curtain, or even through the sloping crenelets of the higher towers. On this the besiegers brought up mangonels, and set them hurling huge stones at these woodworks and battering them to pieces. Contemporaneously they built a triangular wooden tower as high as the curtain, and kept it ready for use, and just out of shot.
This was a terrible sight to the besieged. These wooden towers had taken many a town. They began to mine underneath that part of the moat the tower stood frowning at; and made other preparations to give it a warm reception. The besiegers also mined, but at another part, their object being to get under the square barbican and throw it down. All this time Denys was behind his mantelet with another arbalestrier, protecting the workmen and making some excellent shots. These ended by earning him the esteem of an unseen archer, who every now and then sent a winged compliment quivering into his mantelet. One came and struck within an inch of the narrow slit through which Denys was squinting at the moment. "Peste," cried he, "you shoot well, my friend. Come forth and receive my congratulations! Shall merit such as thine hide its head? Comrade, it is one of those cursed Englishmen, with his half ell shaft. I'll not die till I've had a shot at London wall."
On the side of the besieged was a figure that soon attracted great notice by promenading under fire. It was a tall knight, clad in complete brass, and carrying a light but prodigiously long lance, with which he directed the movements of the besieged. And when any disaster befell the besiegers, this tall knight and his long lance were pretty sure to be concerned in it.
My young reader will say, "Why did not Denys shoot him?" Denys did shoot him; every day of his life; other arbalestriers shot him; archers shot him. Everybody shot him. He was there to be shot, apparently. But the abomination was, he did not mind being shot. Nay, worse, he got at last so demoralised as not to seem to know when he was shot. He walked his battlements under fire, as some stout skipper paces his deck in a suit of Flushing, calmly oblivious of the April drops that fall on his woollen armour. At last the besiegers got spiteful, and would not waste any more good steel on him; but cursed him and his impervious coat of mail.
He took those missiles like the rest.
Gunpowder has spoiled war. War was always detrimental to the solid interests of mankind. But in old times it was good for something: it painted well, sang divinely, furnished Iliads. But invisible butchery, under a pall of smoke a furlong thick, who is any the better for that? Poet with his note-book may repeat, "Suave etiam belli certamina magna tueri;" but the sentiment is hollow and savours of cuckoo. You can't tueri anything but a horrid row. He didn't say, "Suave etiam ingentem caliginem tueri per campos instructam."
They managed better in the Middle Ages.
This siege was a small affair; but, such as it was, a writer or minstrel could see it, and turn an honest penny by singing it; so far then the sport was reasonable, and served an end.
It was a bright day, clear, but not quite frosty. The efforts of the besieging force were concentrated against a space of about two hundred and fifty yards, containing two curtains and two towers, one of which was the square barbican, the other had a pointed roof that was built to overlap, resting on a stone machicolade, and by this means a row of dangerous crenelets between the roof and the masonry grinned down at the nearer assailants, and looked not very unlike the grinders of a modern frigate with each port nearly closed. The curtains were overlapped with penthouses somewhat shattered by the mangonels, trebuchets, and other slinging engines of the besiegers. On the besiegers' edge of the moat was what seemed at first sight a gigantic arsenal, longer than it was broad, peopled by human ants, and full of busy, honest industry, and displaying all the various mechanical science of the age in full operation. Here the lever at work, there the winch and pulley, here the balance, there the capstan. Everywhere heaps of stones, and piles of fascines, mantelets, and rows of fire-barrels. Mantelets rolling, the hammer tapping all day, horses and carts in endless succession rattling up with materials. Only, on looking closer into the hive of industry, you might observe that arrows were constantly flying to and fro, that the cranes did not tenderly deposit their masses of stone, but flung them with an indifference to property, though on scientific principles, and that among the tubs full of arrows, and the tar-barrels and the beams, the fagots, and other utensils, here and there a workman or a soldier lay flatter than is usual in limited naps, and something more or less feathered stuck in them, and blood, and other essentials, oozed out.
At the edge of the moat opposite the wooden tower, a strong penthouse, which they called "a cat," might be seen stealing towards the curtain, and gradually filling up the moat with fascines and rubbish, which the workmen flung out at its mouth. It was advanced by two sets of ropes passing round pulleys, and each worked by a windlass at some distance from the cat. The knight burnt the first cat by flinging blazing tar-barrels on it. So the besiegers made the roof of this one very steep, and covered it with raw hides, and the tar-barrels could not harm it. Then the knight made signs with his spear, and a little trebuchet behind the walls began dropping stones just clear of the wall into the moat, and at last they got the range, and a stone went clean through the roof of the cat, and made an ugly hole.
Baldwyn of Burgundy saw this, and losing his temper, ordered the great catapult that was battering the wood-work of the curtain opposite it to be turned and levelled slantwise at this invulnerable knight. Denys and his Englishman went to dinner. These two worthies being eternally on the watch for one another had made a sort of distant acquaintance, and conversed by signs, especially on a topic that in peace or war maintains the same importance. Sometimes Denys would put a piece of bread on the top of his mantelet, and then the archer would hang something of the kind out by a string; or the order of invitation would be reversed. Anyway, they always managed to dine together.
And now the engineers proceeded to the unusual step of slinging fifty-pound stones at an individual.
This catapult was a scientific, simple, and beautiful engine, and very effective in vertical fire at the short ranges of the period.
Imagine a fir-tree cut down, and set to turn round a horizontal axis on lofty uprights, but not in equilibrio; three-fourths of the tree being on the hither side. At the shorter and thicker end of the tree was fastened a weight of half a ton. This butt end just before the discharge pointed towards the enemy. By means of a powerful winch the long tapering portion of the tree was forced down to the very ground, and fastened by a bolt; and the stone placed in a sling attached to the tree's nose. But this process of course raised the butt end with its huge weight high in the air, and kept it there struggling in vain to come down. The bolt was now drawn; Gravity, an institution which flourished even then, resumed its sway, the short end swung furiously down, the long end went as furiously round up, and at its highest elevation flung the huge stone out of the sling with a tremendous jerk. In this case the huge mass so flung missed the knight; but came down near him on the penthouse, and went through it like paper, making an awful gap in roof and floor. Through the latter fell out two inanimate objects, the stone itself and the mangled body of a besieger it had struck. They fell down the high curtain side, down, down, and struck almost together the sullen waters of the moat, which closed bubbling on them, and kept both the stone and the bone two hundred years, till cannon mocked those oft perturbed waters, and civilization dried them.
"Aha! a good shot," cried Baldwyn of Burgundy.
The tall knight retired. The besiegers hooted him.
He reappeared on the platform of the barbican, his helmet being just visible above the parapet. He seemed very busy, and soon an enormous Turkish catapult made its appearance on the platform and aided by the elevation at which it was planted, flung a twentypound stone some two hundred and forty yards in the air; it bounded after that, and knocked some dirt into the Lord Anthony's eye, and made him swear. The next stone struck a horse that was bringing up a sheaf of arrows in a cart, bowled the horse over dead like a rabbit, and spilt the cart. It was then turned at the besiegers' wooden tower, supposed to be out of shot. Sir Turk slung stones cut with sharp edges on purpose, and struck it repeatedly, and broke it in several places. The besiegers turned two of their slinging engines on this monster, and kept constantly slinging smaller stones on to the platform of the barbican, and killed two of the engineers. But the Turk disdained to retort. He flung a forty-pound stone on to the besiegers' great catapult, and hitting it in the neighbourhood of the axis, knocked the whole structure to pieces, and sent the engineers skipping and yelling.
In the afternoon, as Simon was running back to his mantelet from a palisade where he had been shooting at the besieged, Denys, peeping through his slit, saw the poor fellow suddenly stare and hold out his arms, then roll on his face, and a feathered arrow protruded from his back. The archer showed himself a moment to enjoy his skill. It was the Englishman. Denys, already prepared, shot his bolt, and the murderous archer staggered away wounded. But poor Simon never moved. His wars were over.
"I am unlucky in my comrades," said Denys.
The next morning an unwelcome sight greeted the besieged. The cat was covered with mattresses and raw hides, and fast filling up the moat. The knight stoned it, but in vain; flung burning tar-barrels on it, but in vain. Then with his own hands he let down by a rope a bag of burning sulphur and pitch, and stunk them out. But Baldwyn, armed like a lobster, ran, and bounding on the roof, cut the string, and the work went on. Then the knight sent fresh engineers into the mine, and undermined the place and underpinned it with beams, and covered the beams thickly with grease and tar.
At break of day the moat was filled, and the wooden tower began to move on its wheels towards a part of the curtain on which two catapults were already playing to breach the hoards, and clear the way. There was something awful and magical in its approach without visible agency, for it was driven by internal rollers worked by leverage. On the top was a platform, where stood the first assailing party protected in front by the drawbridge of the turret, which stood vertical till lowered on to the wall; but better protected by full suits of armour. The beseiged slung at the tower, and struck it often, but in vain. It was well defended with mattresses and hides, and presently was at the edge of the moat. The knight bade fire the mine underneath it.
Then the Turkish engine flung a stone of half a hundredweight right amongst the knights, and carried two away with it off the tower on to the plain. One lay and writhed: the other neither moved nor spake.
And now the besieging catapults flung blazing tar-barrels, and fired the hoards on both sides, and the assailants ran up the ladders behind the tower, and lowered the drawbridge on to the battered curtain, while the catapults in concert flung tar-barrels and fired the adjoining works to dislodge the defenders. The armed men on the platform sprang on the bridge, led by Baldwyn. The invulnerable knight and his men-at-arms met them, and a fearful combat ensued, in which many a figure was seen to fall headlong down off the narrow bridge. But fresh besiegers kept swarming up behind the tower, and the besieged were driven off the bridge.
Another minute, and the town was taken; but so well had the firing of the mine been timed, that just at this instant the underpinners gave way, and the tower suddenly sank away from the walls, tearing the drawbridge clear and pouring the soldiers off it against the masonry, and on to the dry moat. The besieged uttered a fierce shout, and in a moment surrounded Baldwyn and his fellows; but strange to say, offered them quarter. While a party disarmed and disposed of these, others fired the turret in fifty places with a sort of hand grenades. At this work who so busy as the tall knight. He put the fire-bags on his long spear, and thrust them into the doomed structure late so terrible. To do this he was obliged to stand on a projecting beam of the shattered hoard, holding on by the hand of a pikeman to steady himself. This provoked Denys; he ran out from his mantelet, hoping to escape notice in the confusion, and levelling his crossbow missed the knight clean, but sent his bolt into the brain of the pikeman, and the tall knight fell heavily from the wall, lance and all. Denys gazed wonder-struck; and in that unlucky moment, suddenly he felt his arm hot, then cold, and there was an English arrow skewering it.
This episode was unnoticed in a much greater matter. The knight, his armour glittering in the morning sun, fell headlong, but turning as he neared the water, struck it with a slap that sounded a mile off.
None ever thought to see him again. But he fell at the edge of the fascines on which the turret stood all cocked on one side, and his spear stuck into them under water, and by a mighty effort he got to the side, but could not get out. Anthony sent a dozen knights with a white flag to take him prisoner. He submitted like a lamb, but said nothing.
He was taken to Anthony's tent.
That worthy laughed at first at the sight of his muddy armour, but presently, frowning, said, "I marvel, sir, that so good a knight as you should know his devoir so ill as turn rebel, and give us all this trouble."
"I am nun-nun-nun-nun-nun-no knight."
"A what? Then thy armour shall be stripped off, and thou shalt be tied to a stake in front of the works, and riddled with arrows for a warning to traitors."
"N-n-n-n-no! duda-duda-duda-duda-don't do that."
"Tuta-tuta-tuta-townsfolk will-h-h-h-hang t'other buba-buba-buba-buba-bastard."
"Your bub-bub-bub-brother Baldwyn."
"What, have you knaves ta'en him?"
The warlike hosier nodded.
"Hang the fool!" said Anthony, peevishly.
The warlike hosier watched his eye, and doffing his helmet, took out of the lining an intercepted letter from the duke, bidding the said Anthony come to court immediately, as he was to represent the court of Burgundy at the court of England; was to go over and receive the English king's sister, and conduct her to her bridegroom, the Earl of Charolois. The mission was one very soothing to Anthony's pride, and also to his love of pleasure. For Edward the Fourth held the gayest and most luxurious court in Europe. The sly hosier saw he longed to be off, and said, "We'll gega-gega-gega-gega-give ye a thousand angels to raise the siege."
"I'll gega-gega-gega-gega-go and send him with the money."
It was now dinner-time; and a flag of truce being hoisted on both sides, the sham knight and the true one dined together and came to a friendly understanding.
"But what is your grievance, my good friend?"
"Tuta-tuta-tuta-tuta-too much taxes."
Denys, on finding the arrow in his right arm, turned his back, which was protected by a long shield, and walked sulkily into camp. He was met by the Comte de Jarnac, who had seen his brilliant shot, and finding him wounded into the bargain, gave him a handful of broad pieces.
"Hast got the better of thy grief, arbalestrier, methinks."
"My grief, yes; but not my love. As soon as ever I have put down this rebellion, I go to Holland, and there I shall meet with him."
This event was nearer than Denys thought. He was relieved from service next day, and though his wound was no trifle, set out with a stout heart to rejoin his friend in Holland.
A change came over Margaret Brandt. She went about her household duties like one in a dream. If Peter did but speak a little quickly to her, she started and fixed two terrified eyes on him. She went less often to her friend Margaret Van Eyck, and was ill at her ease when there. Instead of meeting her warm old friend's caresses, she used to receive them passive and trembling, and sometimes almost shrink from them. But the most extraordinary thing was, she never would go outside her own house in daylight. When she went to Tergou it was after dusk, and she returned before daybreak. She would not even go to matins. At last Peter, unobservant as he was, noticed it, and asked her the reason.
"Methinks the folk all look at me."
One day, Margaret Van Eyck asked her what was the matter.
A scared look and a flood of tears were all the reply; the old lady expostulated gently. "What, sweetheart, afraid to confide your sorrows to me?"
"I have no sorrows, madam, but of my own making. I am kinder treated than I deserve; especially in this house."
"Then why not come oftener, my dear?"
"I come oftener than I deserve;" and she sighed deeply.
"There, Reicht is bawling for you," said Margaret Van Eyck; "go, child!—what on earth can it be?"
Turning possibilities over in her mind, she thought Margaret must be mortified at the contempt with which she was treated by Gerard's family. "I will take them to task for it, at least such of them as are women;" and the very next day she put on her hood and cloak and followed by Reicht, went to the hosier's house. Catherine received her with much respect, and thanked her with tears for her kindness to Gerard. But when, encouraged by this, her visitor diverged to Margaret Brandt, Catherine's eyes dried, and her lips turned to half the size, and she looked as only obstinate, ignorant women can look. When they put on this cast of features, you might as well attempt to soften or convince a brick wall. Margaret Van Eyck tried, but all in vain. So then, not being herself used to be thwarted, she got provoked, and at last went out hastily with an abrupt and mutilated curtsey, which Catherine, returned with an air rather of defiance than obeisance. Outside the door Margaret Van Eyck found Reicht conversing with a pale girl on crutches. Margaret Van Eyck was pushing by them with heightened colour, and a scornful toss intended for the whole family, when suddenly a little delicate hand glided timidly into hers, and looking round she saw two dove-like eyes, with the water in them, that sought hers gratefully and at the same time imploringly. The old lady read this wonderful look, complex as it was, and down went her choler. She stopped and kissed Kate's brow. "I see," said she. "Mind, then, I leave it to you." Returned home, she said—"I have been to a house to-day, where I have seen a very common thing and a very uncommon thing; I have seen a stupid, obstinate woman, and I have seen an angel in the flesh, with a face-if I had it here I'd take down my brushes once more and try and paint it."
Little Kate did not belie the good opinion so hastily formed of her. She waited a better opportunity, and told her mother what she had learned from Reicht Heynes, that Margaret had shed her very blood for Gerard in the wood.
"See, mother, how she loves him."
"Who would not love him?"
"Oh, mother, think of it! Poor thing."
"Ay, wench. She has her own trouble, no doubt, as well as we ours. I can't abide the sight of blood, let alone my own."
This was a point gained; but when Kate tried to follow it up she was stopped short.
About a month after this a soldier of the Dalgetty tribe, returning from service in Burgundy, brought a letter one evening to the hosier's house. He was away on business; but the rest of the family sat at Supper. The soldier laid the letter on the table by Catherine, and refusing all guerdon for bringing it, went off to Sevenbergen.
The letter was unfolded and spread out; and curiously enough, though not one of them could read, they could all tell it was Gerard's handwriting.
"And your father must be away," cried Catherine. "Are ye not ashamed of yourselves? not one that can read your brother's letter."
But although the words were to them what hieroglyphics are to us, there was something in the letter they could read. There is an art can speak without words; unfettered by the penman's limits, it can steal through the eye into the heart and brain, alike of the learned and unlearned; and it can cross a frontier or a sea, yet lose nothing. It is at the mercy of no translator; for it writes an universal language.
When, therefore, they saw this,
[a picture of two hands clasped together]
which Gerard had drawn with his pencil between the two short paragraphs, of which his letter consisted, they read it, and it went straight to their hearts.
Gerard was bidding them farewell.
As they gazed on that simple sketch, in every turn and line of which they recognized his manner, Gerard seemed present, and bidding them farewell.
The women wept over it till they could see it no longer.
Giles said, "Poor Gerard!" in a lower voice than seemed to belong to him.
Even Cornelis and Sybrandt felt a momentary remorse, and sat silent and gloomy.
But how to get the words read to them. They were loth to show their ignorance and their emotion to a stranger.
"The Dame Van Eyck?" said Kate timidly.
"And so I will, Kate. She has a good heart. She loves Gerard, too. She will be glad to hear of him. I was short with her when she came here; but I will make my submission, and then she will tell me what my poor child says to me."
She was soon at Margaret Van Eyck's house. Reicht took her into a room, and said, "Bide a minute; she is at her orisons."
There was a young woman in the room seated pensively by the stove; but she rose and courteously made way for the visitor.
"Thank you, young lady; the winter nights are cold, and your stove is a treat." Catherine then, while warming her hands, inspected her companion furtively from head to foot, inclusive. The young person wore an ordinary wimple, but her gown was trimmed with fur, which was, in those days, almost a sign of superior rank or wealth. But what most struck Catherine was the candour and modesty of the face. She felt sure of sympathy from so good a countenance, and began to gossip.
"Now, what think you brings me here, young lady? It is a letter! a letter from my poor boy that is far away in some savage part or other. And I take shame to say that none of us can read it. I wonder whether you can read?"
"Can ye, now? It is much to your credit, my dear. I dare say she won't be long; but every minute is an hour to a poor longing mother."
"I will read it to you."
"Bless you, my dear; bless you!"
In her unfeigned eagerness she never noticed the suppressed eagerness with which the hand was slowly put out to take the letter. She did not see the tremor with which the fingers closed on it.
"Come, then, read it to me, prithee. I am wearying for it."
"The first words are, 'To my honoured parents.'"
"Ay! and he always did honour us, poor soul."
"'God and the saints have you in His holy keeping, and bless you by night and by day. Your one harsh deed is forgotten; your years of love remembered.'"
Catherine laid her hand on her bosom, and sank back in her chair with one long sob.
"Then comes this, madam. It doth speak for itself; 'a long farewell.'"
"Ay, go on; bless you, girl you give me sorry comfort. Still 'tis comfort."
"'To my brothers Cornelis and Sybrandt—Be content; you will see me no more!'"
"What does that mean? Ah!"
"'To my sister Kate. Little angel of my father's house. Be kind to her—' Ah!"
"That is Margaret Brandt, my dear—his sweetheart, poor soul. I've not been kind to her, my dear. Forgive me, Gerard!"
"'—for poor Gerard's sake: since grief to her is death to me—Ah!" And nature, resenting the poor girl's struggle for unnatural composure, suddenly gave way, and she sank from her chair and lay insensible, with the letter in her hand and her head on Catherine's knees.
Experienced women are not frightened when a woman faints, or do they hastily attribute it to anything but physical causes, which they have often seen produce it. Catherine bustled about; laid the girl down with her head on the floor quite flat, opened the window, and unloosed her dress as she lay. Not till she had done all this did she step to the door and say, rather loudly:
"Come here, if you please."
Margaret Van Eyck and Reicht came, and found Margaret lying quite flat, and Catherine beating her hands.
"Oh, my poor girl! What have you done to her?"
"Me?" said Catherine angrily.
"What has happened, then?"
"Nothing, madam; nothing more than is natural in her situation."
Margaret Van Eyck coloured with ire.
"You do well to speak so coolly," said she, "you that are the cause of her situation."
"That I am not," said Catherine bluntly; "nor any woman born."
"What! was it not you and your husband that kept them apart? and now he has gone to Italy all alone. Situation indeed! You have broken her heart amongst you."
"Why, madam? Who is it then? in Heaven's name! To hear you, one would think this was my Gerard's lass. But that can't be. This fur never cost less than five crowns the ell; besides, this young gentlewoman is a wife; or ought to be."
"Of course she ought. And who is the cause she is none? Who came before them at the very altar?"
"God forgive them, whoever it was," said Catherine gravely; "me it was not, nor my man."
"Well," said the other, a little softened, "now you have seen her, perhaps you will not be quite so bitter against her madam. She is coming to, thank Heaven."
"Me bitter against her?" said Catherine; "no, that is all over. Poor soul! trouble behind her and trouble afore her; and to think of my setting her, of all living women, to read Gerard's letter to me. Ay, and that was what made her go off, I'll be sworn. She is coming to. What, sweetheart! be not afeard, none are here but friends."
They seated her in an easy chair. As the colour was creeping back to her face and lips. Catherine drew Margaret Van Eyck aside.
"Is she staying with you, if you please?"
"I wouldn't let her go back to Sevenbergen to-night, then."
"That is as she pleases. She still refuses to bide the night."
"Ay, but you are older than she is; you can make her. There, she is beginning to notice."
Catherine then put her mouth to Margaret Van Eyck's ear for half a moment; it did not seem time enough to whisper a word, far less a sentence. But on some topics females can flash communication to female like lightning, or thought itself.
The old lady started, and whispered back—
"It's false! it is a calumny! it is monstrous! look at her face. It is blasphemy to accuse such a face."
"Tut! tut! tut!" said the other; "you might as well say this is not my hand. I ought to know; and I tell ye it is so."
Then, much to Margaret Van Eyck's surprise, she went up to the girl, and taking her round the neck, kissed her warmly.
"I suffered for Gerard, and you shed your blood for him I do hear; his own words show me that I have been to blame, the very words you have read to me. Ay, Gerard, my child, I have held aloof from her; but I'll make it up to her once I begin. You are my daughter from this hour."
Another warm embrace sealed this hasty compact, and the woman of impulse was gone.
Margaret lay back in her chair, and a feeble smile stole over her face. Gerard's mother had kissed her and called her daughter; but the next moment she saw her old friend looking at her with a vexed air.
"I wonder you let that woman kiss you."
"His mother!" murmured Margaret, half reproachfully.
"Mother, or no mother, you would not let her touch you if you knew what she whispered in my ear about you."
"About me?" said Margaret faintly.
"Ay, about you, whom she never saw till to-night." The old lady was proceeding, with some hesitation and choice of language, to make Margaret share her indignation, when an unlooked-for interruption closed her lips.
The young woman slid from her chair to her knees, and began to pray piteously to her for pardon. From the words and the manner of her penitence a bystander would have gathered she had inflicted some cruel wrong, some intolerable insult, upon her venerable friend.
The little party at the hosier's house sat at table discussing the recent event, when their mother returned, and casting a piercing glance all round the little circle, laid the letter flat on the table. She repeated every word of it by memory, following the lines with her finger, to cheat herself and bearers into the notion that she could read the words, or nearly. Then, suddenly lifting her head, she cast another keen look on Cornelis and Sybrandt: their eyes fell.
On this the storm that had long been brewing burst on their heads.
Catherine seemed to swell like an angry hen ruffling her feathers, and out of her mouth came a Rhone and Saone of wisdom and twaddle, of great and mean invective, such as no male that ever was born could utter in one current; and not many women.
The following is a fair though a small sample of her words: only they were uttered all in one breath.
"I have long had my doubts that you blew the flame betwixt Gerard and your father, and set that old rogue, Ghysbrecht, on. And now, here are Gerard's own written words to prove it. You have driven your own flesh and blood into a far land, and robbed the mother that bore you of her darling, the pride of her eye, the joy of her heart. But you are all of a piece from end to end. When you were all boys together, my others were a comfort; but you were a curse: mischievous and sly; and took a woman half a day to keep your clothes whole: for why? work wears cloth, but play cuts it. With the beard comes prudence; but none came to you: still the last to go to bed, and the last to leave it; and why? because honesty goes to bed early, and industry rises betimes; where there are two lie-a-beds in a house there are a pair of ne'er-do-weels. Often I've sat and looked at your ways, and wondered where ye came from: ye don't take after your father, and ye are no more like me than a wasp is to an ant; sure ye were changed in the cradle, or the cuckoo dropped ye on my floor: for ye have not our hands, nor our hearts: of all my blood, none but you ever jeered them that God afflicted; but often when my back was turned I've heard you mock at Giles, because he is not as big as some; and at my lily Kate, because she is not so strong as a Flanders mare. After that rob a church an you will! for you can be no worse in His eyes that made both Kate and Giles, and in mine that suffered for them, poor darlings, as I did for you, you paltry, unfeeling, treasonable curs! No, I will not hush, my daughter, they have filled the cup too full. It takes a deal to turn a mother's heart against the sons she has nursed upon her knees; and many is the time I have winked and wouldn't see too much, and bitten my tongue, lest their father should know them as I do; he would have put them to the door that moment. But now they have filled the cup too full. And where got ye all this money? For this last month you have been rolling in it. You never wrought for it. I wish I may never hear from other mouths how ye got it. It is since that night you were out so late, and your head came back so swelled, Cornelis. Sloth and greed are ill-mated, my masters. Lovers of money must sweat or steal. Well, if you robbed any poor soul of it, it was some woman, I'll go bail; for a man would drive you with his naked hand. No matter, it is good for one thing. It has shown me how you will guide our gear if ever it comes to be yourn. I have watched you, my lads, this while. You have spent a groat to-day between you. And I spend scarce a groat a week, and keep you all, good and bad. No I give up waiting for the shoes that will maybe walk behind your coffin; for this shop and this house shall never be yourn. Gerard is our heir; poor Gerard, whom you have banished and done your best to kill; after that never call me mother again! But you have made him tenfold dearer to me. My poor lost boy! I shall soon see him again shall hold him in my arms, and set him on my knees. Ay, you may stare! You are too crafty, and yet not crafty enow. You cut the stalk away; but you left the seed—the seed that shall outgrow you, and outlive you. Margaret Brandt is quick, and it is Gerard's, and what is Gerard's is mine; and I have prayed the saints it may be a boy; and it will—it must. Kate, when I found it was so, my bowels yearned over her child unborn as if it had been my own. He is our heir. He will outlive us. You will not; for a bad heart in a carcass is like the worm in the nut, soon brings the body to dust. So, Kate, take down Gerard's bib and tucker that are in the drawer you wot of, and one of these days we will carry them to Sevenbergen. We will borrow Peter Buyskens' cart, and go comfort Gerard's wife under her burden. She is his wife. Who is Ghysbrecht Van Swieten? Can he come between a couple and the altar, and sunder those that God and the priest make one? She is my daughter, and I am as proud of her as I am of you, Kate, almost; and as for you, keep out of my way awhile, for you are like the black dog in my eyes."
Cornelis and Sybrandt took the hint and slunk out, aching with remorse, and impenitence, and hate. They avoided her eye as much as ever they could; and for many days she never spoke a word, good, bad, or indifferent, to either of them. Liberaverat animum suum.
Catherine was a good housewife who seldom left home for a day, and then one thing or another always went amiss. She was keenly conscious of this, and watching for a slack tide in things domestic, put off her visit to Sevenbergen from day to day, and one afternoon that it really could have been managed, Peter Buyskens' mule was out of the way.
At last, one day Eli asked her before all the family, whether it was true she had thought of visiting Margaret Brandt.
"Ay, my man."
"Then I do forbid you."
"Oh, do you?"
"Then there is no more to be said, I suppose," said she, colouring.
"Not a word," replied Eli sternly.
When she was alone with her daughter she was very severe, not upon Eli, but upon herself.
"Behoved me rather go thither like a cat at a robin. But this was me all over. I am like a silly hen that can lay no egg without cackling, and convening all the house to rob her on't. Next time you and I are after aught the least amiss, let's do't in Heaven's name then and there, and not take time to think about it, far less talk; so then, if they take us to task we can say, alack we knew nought; we thought no ill; now, who'd ever? and so forth. For two pins I'd go thither in all their teeth."
Defiance so wild and picturesque staggered Kate. "Nay, mother, with patience father will come round."
"And so will Michaelmas; but when? and I was so bent on you seeing the girl. Then we could have put our heads together about her. Say what they will, there is no judging body or beast but by the eye. And were I to have fifty more sons I'd ne'er thwart one of them's fancy, till such time as I had clapped my eyes upon her and seen Quicksands; say you, I should have thought of that before condemning Gerard his fancy; but there, life is a school, and the lesson ne'er done; we put down one fault and take up t'other, and so go blundering here, and blundering there, till we blunder into our graves, and there's an end of us."
"Mother," said Kate timidly.
"Well, what is a-coming now? no good news though, by the look of you. What on earth can make the poor wretch so scared?"
"An avowal she hath to make," faltered Kate faintly.
"Now, there is a noble word for ye," said Catherine proudly. "Our Gerard taught thee that, I'll go bail. Come then, out with thy vowel."
"Well then, sooth to say, I have seen her."
"And spoken with her to boot."
"And never told me? After this marvels are dirt."
"Mother, you were so hot against her. I waited till I could tell you without angering you worse."
"Ay," said Catherine, half sadly, half bitterly, "like mother, like daughter; cowardice it is our bane. The others I whiles buffet, or how would the house fare? but did you, Kate, ever have harsh word or look from your poor mother, that you—Nay, I will not have ye cry, girl; ten to one ye had your reason; so rise up, brave heart, and tell me all, better late than ne'er; and first and foremost when ever, and how ever, wend you to Sevenbergen wi' your poor crutches, and I not know?"
"I never was there in my life; and, mammy dear, to say that I ne'er wished to see her that I will not, but I ne'er went nor sought to see her."
"There now," said Catherine disputatively, "said I not 'twas all unlike my girl to seek her unbeknown to me? Come now, for I'm all agog.
"Then thus 'twas. It came to my ears, no matter how, and prithee, good mother, on my knees ne'er ask me how, that Gerard was a prisoner in the Stadthouse tower."
"By father's behest as 'twas pretended."
Catherine uttered a sigh that was almost a moan. "Blacker than I thought," she muttered faintly.
"Giles and I went out at night to bid him be of good cheer. And there at the tower foot was a brave lass, quite strange to me I vow, on the same errand."
"Lookee there now, Kate."
"At first we did properly frighten one another, through the place his bad name, and our poor heads being so full o' divels, and we whitened a bit in moonshine. But next moment, quo' I, 'You are Margaret.' 'And you are Kate,' quo' she. Think on't!"
"Did one ever? 'Twas Gerard! He will have been talking backards and forrards of thee to her, and her to thee."
In return for this, Kate bestowed on Catherine one of the prettiest presents in nature—the composite kiss, i.e., she imprinted on her cheek a single kiss, which said—
1. Quite correct. 2. Good, clever mother, for guessing so right and quick. 3. How sweet for us twain to be' of one mind again after never having been otherwise. 4. Etc.
"Now then, speak thy mind, child, Gerard is not here. Alas, what am I saying? would to Heaven he were."
"Well then, mother, she is comely, and wrongs her picture but little."
"Eh, dear; hark to young folk! I am for good acts, not good looks. Loves she my boy as he did ought to be loved?"
"Sevenbergen is farther from the Stadthouse than we are," said Kate thoughtfully; "yet she was there afore me."
Catherine nodded intelligence.
"Nay, more, she had got him out ere I came. Ay, down from the captive's tower."
Catherine shook her head incredulously. "The highest tower for miles! It is not feasible."
"'Tis sooth though. She and an old man she brought found means and wit to send him up a rope. There 'twas dangling from his prison, and our Giles went up it. When first I saw it hang, I said, 'This is glamour.' But when the frank lass's arms came round me, and her bosom' did beat on mine, and her cheeks wet, then said I, ''Tis not glamour: 'tis love.' For she is not like me, but lusty and able; and, dear heart, even I, poor frail creature, do feel sometimes as I could move the world for them I love: I love you, mother. And she loves Gerard."
"God bless her for't! God bless her!"
"But what, lamb?"
"Her love, is it for very certain honest? 'Tis most strange; but that very thing, which hath warmed your heart, hath somewhat cooled mine towards her; poor soul. She is no wife, you know, mother, when all is done."
"Humph! They have stood at the altar together."
"Ay, but they went as they came, maid and bachelor."
"The parson, saith he so?"
"Nay, for that I know not."
"Then I'll take no man's word but his in such a tangled skein." After some reflection she added, "Natheless art right, girl; I'll to Sevenbergen alone. A wife I am but not a slave. We are all in the dark here. And she holds the clue. I must question her, and no one by; least of all you. I'll not take any lily to a house Wi' a spot, no, not to a palace o' gold and silver."
The more Catherine pondered this conversation, the more she felt drawn towards Margaret, and moreover "she was all agog" with curiosity, a potent passion with us all, and nearly omnipotent with those who like Catherine, do not slake it with reading. At last, one fine day, after dinner, she whispered to Kate, "Keep the house from going to pieces, an ye can;" and donned her best kirtle and hood, and her scarlet clocked hose and her new shoes, and trudged briskly off to Sevenbergen, troubling no man's mule.
When she got there she inquired where Margaret Brandt lived. The first person she asked shook his head, and said—"The name is strange to me." She went a little farther and asked a girl of about fifteen who was standing at a door. "Father," said the girl, speaking into the house, "here is another after that magician's daughter." The man came out and told Catherine Peter Brandt's cottage was just outside the town on the east side. "You may see the chimney hence;" and he pointed it out to her. "But you will not find them there, neither father nor daughter; they have left the town this week, bless you."
"Say not so, good man, and me walken all the way from Tergou."
"From Tergou? then you must ha' met the soldier."
"What soldier? ay, I did meet a soldier."
"Well, then, yon soldier was here seeking that self-same Margaret."
"Ay, and warn't a mad with us because she was gone?" put in the girl. "His long beard and her cheek are no strangers, I warrant."
"Say no more than ye know," said Catherine sharply. "You are young to take to slandering your elders. Stay! tell we more about this soldier, good man.
"Nay, I know no more than that he came hither seeking Margaret Brandt, and I told him she and her father had made a moonlight flit on't this day sennight, and that some thought the devil had flown away with them, being magicians. 'And,' says he, 'the devil fly away with thee for thy ill news;' that was my thanks. 'But I doubt 'tis a lie,' said he. 'An you think so,' said I, 'go and see.' 'I will,' said he, and burst out wi' a hantle o' gibberish: my wife thinks 'twas curses; and hied him to the cottage. Presently back a comes, and sings t'other tune. 'You were right and I was wrong,' says he, and shoves a silver coin in my hand. Show it the wife, some of ye; then she'll believe me; I have been called a liar once to-day."
"It needs not," said Catherine, inspecting the coin all the same.
"And he seemed quiet and sad like, didn't he now, wench?"
"That a did," said the young woman warmly; "and, dame, he was just as pretty a man as ever I clapped eyes on. Cheeks like a rose, and shining beard, and eyes in his head like sloes."
"I saw he was well bearded," said Catherine; "but, for the rest, at my age I scan them not as when I was young and foolish. But he seemed right civil: doffed his bonnet to me as I had been a queen, and I did drop him my best reverence, for manners beget manners. But little I wist he had been her light o' love, and most likely the—Who bakes for this town?"
The man, not being acquainted with her, opened his eyes at this transition, swift and smooth.
"Well, dame, there be two; John Bush and Eric Donaldson, they both bide in this street."
"Then, God be with you, good people," said she, and proceeded; but her sprightly foot came flat on the ground now, and no longer struck it with little jerks and cocking heel. She asked the bakers whether Peter Brandt had gone away in their debt. Bush said they were not customers. Donaldson said, "Not a stiver: his daughter had come round and paid him the very night they went. Didn't believe they owed a copper in the town." So Catherine got all the information of that kind she wanted with very little trouble.
"Can you tell me what sort this Margaret was?" said she, as she turned to go.
"Well, somewhat too reserved for my taste. I like a chatty customer—when I'm not too busy. But she bore a high character for being a good daughter."
"'Tis no small praise. A well-looking lass, I am told?"
"Why, whence come you, wyfe?"
"Oh, ay. Well you shall judge: the lads clept her 'the beauty of Sevenbergen;' the lasses did scout it merrily, and terribly pulled her to pieces, and found so many faults no two could agree where the fault lay."
"That is enough," said Catherine. "I see, the bakers are no fools in Sevenbergen, and the young women no shallower than in other burghs."
She bought a manchet of bread, partly out of sympathy and justice (she kept a shop), partly to show her household how much better bread she gave them daily; and returned to Tergou dejected.
Kate met her outside the town with beaming eyes.
"Well, Kate, lass, it is a happy thing I went; I am heartbroken. Gerard has been sore abused. The child is none of ourn, nor the mother from this hour."
"Alas, mother, I fathom not your meaning."
"Ask me no more, girl, but never mention her name to me again. That is all."
Kate acquiesced with a humble sigh, and they went home together.
They found a soldier seated tranquilly by their fire. The moment they entered the door he rose, and saluted them civilly. They stood and looked at him; Kate with some little surprise, but Catherine with a great deal, and with rising indignation.
"What makes you here?" was Catherine's greeting.
"I came to seek after Margaret."
"Well, we know no such person."
"Say not so, dame; sure you know her by name, Margaret Brandt."
"We have heard of her for that matter—to our cost."
"Comes, dame, prithee tell me at least where she bides."
"I know not where she bides, and care not."
Denys felt sure this was a deliberate untruth. He bit his lip. "Well, I looked to find myself in an enemy's country at this Tergou; but maybe if ye knew all ye would not be so dour."
"I do know all," replied Catherine bitterly. "This morn I knew nought." Then suddenly setting her arms akimbo she told him with a raised voice and flashing eyes she wondered at his cheek sitting down by that hearth of all hearths in the world.
"May Satan fly away with your hearth to the lake of fire and brimstone," shouted Denys, who could speak Flemish fluently. "Your own servant bade me sit there till you came, else I had ne'er troubled your hearth. My malison on it, and on the churlish roof-tree that greets an unoffending stranger this way," and he strode scowling to the door.
"Oh! oh!" ejaculated Catherine, frightened, and also a little conscience-stricken; and the virago sat suddenly down and burst into tears. Her daughter followed suit quietly, but without loss of time.
A shrewd writer, now unhappily lost to us, has somewhere the following dialogue:
She. "I feel all a woman's weakness."
He. "Then you are invincible."
Denys, by anticipation, confirmed that valuable statement; he stood at the door looking ruefully at the havoc his thunderbolt of eloquence had made.
"Nay, wife," said he, "weep not neither for a soldier's hasty word. I mean not all I said. Why, your house is your own, and what right in it have I? There now, I'll go."
"What is to do?" said a grave manly voice.
It was Eli; he had come in from the shop.
"Here is a ruffian been a-scolding of your women folk and making them cry," explained Denys.
"Little Kate, what is't? for ruffians do not use to call themselves ruffians," said Eli the sensible.
Ere she could explain, "Hold your tongue, girl," said Catherine; "Muriel bade him sat down, and I knew not that, and wyted on him; and he was going and leaving his malison on us, root and branch. I was never so becursed in all my days, oh! oh! oh!"
"You were both somewhat to blame; both you and he," said Eli calmly. "However, what the servant says the master should still stand to. We keep not open house, but yet we are not poor enough to grudge a seat at our hearth in a cold day to a wayfarer with an honest face, and, as I think, a wounded man. So, end all malice, and sit ye down!"
"Wounded?" cried mother and daughter in a breath.
"Think you a soldier slings his arm for sport?"
"Nay, 'tis but an arrow," said Denys cheerfully.
"But an arrow?" said Kate, with concentrated horror. "Where were our eyes, mother?"
"Nay, in good sooth, a trifle. Which, however, I will pray mesdames to accept as an excuse for my vivacity. 'Tis these little foolish trifling wounds that fret a man, worthy sir. Why, look ye now, sweeter temper than our Gerard never breathed, yet, when the bear did but strike a piece no bigger than a crown out of his calf, he turned so hot and choleric y'had said he was no son of yours, but got by the good knight Sir John Pepper on his wife dame Mustard; who is this? a dwarf? your servant, Master Giles."
"Your servant, soldier," roared the newcomer. Denys started. He had not counted on exchanging greetings with a petard.
Denys's words had surprised his hosts, but hardly more than their deportment now did him. They all three came creeping up to where he sat, and looked down into him with their lips parted, as if he had been some strange phenomenon.
And growing agitation succeeded to amazement.
"Now hush!" said Eli, "let none speak but I. Young man," said he solemnly, "in God's name who are you, that know us though we know you not, and that shake our hearts speaking to us of—the absent-our poor rebellious son: whom Heaven forgive and bless?"
"What, master," said Denys, lowering his voice, "hath he not writ to you? hath he not told you of me, Denys of Burgundy?"
"He hath writ, but three lines, and named not Denys of Burgundy, nor any stranger."
"Ay, I mind the long letter was to his sweetheart, this Margaret, and she has decamped, plague take her, and how I am to find her Heaven knows."
"What, she is not your sweetheart then?"
"Who, dame? an't please you."
"Why, Margaret Brandt."
"How can my comrade's sweetheart be mine? I know her not from Noah's niece; how should I? I never saw her."
"Whist with this idle chat, Kate," said Eli impatiently, "and let the young man answer me. How came you to know Gerard, our son? Prithee now think on a parent's cares, and answer me straightforward, like a soldier as thou art."
"And shall. I was paid off at Flushing, and started for Burgundy. On the German frontier I lay at the same inn with Gerard. I fancied him. I said, 'Be my comrade.' He was loth at first; consented presently. Many a weary league we trode together. Never were truer comrades: never will be while earth shall last. First I left my route a bit to be with him: then he his to be with me. We talked of Sevenbergen and Tergou a thousand times; and of all in this house. We had our troubles on the road; but battling them together made them light. I saved his life from a bear; he mine in the Rhine: for he swims like a duck and I like a hod o' bricks and one another's lives at an inn in Burgundy, where we two held a room for a good hour against seven cut-throats, and crippled one and slew two; and your son did his devoir like a man, and met the stoutest champion I ever countered, and spitted him like a sucking-pig. Else I had not been here. But just when all was fair, and I was to see him safe aboard ship for Rome, if not to Rome itself, met us that son of a—the Lord Anthony of Burgundy, and his men, making for Flanders, then in insurrection, tore us by force apart, took me where I got some broad pieces in hand, and a broad arrow in my shoulder, and left my poor Gerard lonesome. At that sad parting, soldier though I be, these eyes did rain salt scalding tears, and so did his, poor soul. His last word to me was, 'Go, comfort Margaret!' so here I be. Mine to him was, 'Think no more of Rome. Make for Rhine, and down stream home.' Now say, for you know best, did I advise him well or ill?"
"Soldier, take my hand," said Eli. "God bless thee! God bless thee!" and his lip quivered. It was all his reply, but more eloquent than many words.
Catherine did not answer at all, but she darted from the room and bade Muriel bring the best that was in the house, and returned with wood in both arms, and heaped the fire, and took out a snow-white cloth from the press, and was going in a great hurry to lay it for Gerard's friend, when suddenly she sat down and all the power ebbed rapidly out of her body.
"Father!" cried Kate, whose eye was as quick as her affection.
Denys started up; but Eli waved him back and flung a little water sharply in his wife's face. This did her instant good. She gasped, "So sudden. My poor boy!" Eli whispered Denys, "Take no notice! she thinks of him night and day." They pretended not to observe her, and she shook it off, and hustled and laid the cloth with her own hands; but as she smoothed it, her hands trembled and a tear or two stole down her cheeks.
They could not make enough of Denys. They stuffed him, and crammed him; and then gathered round him and kept filling his glass in turn, while by that genial blaze of fire and ruby wine and eager eyes he told all that I have related, and a vast number of minor details, which an artist, however minute, omits.
But how different the effect on my readers and on this small circle! To them the interest was already made before the first word came from his lips. It was all about Gerard, and he who sat there telling it them, was warm from Gerard and an actor with him in all these scenes.
The flesh and blood around that fire quivered for their severed member, hearing its struggles and perils.
I shall ask my readers to recall to memory all they can of Gerard's journey with Denys, and in their mind's eye to see those very matters told by his comrade to an exile's father, all stoic outside, all father within, and to two poor women, an exile's mother and a sister, who were all love and pity and tender anxiety both outside and in. Now would you mind closing this book for a minute and making an effort to realize all this? It will save us so much repetition.
Then you will not be surprised when I tell you that after a while Giles came softly and curled himself up before the fire, and lay gazing at the speaker with a reverence almost canine; and that, when the rough soldier had unconsciously but thoroughly betrayed his better qualities, and above all his rare affection for Gerard, Kate, though timorous as a bird, stole her little hand into the warrior's huge brown palm, where it lay an instant like a tea-spoonful of cream spilt on a platter, then nipped the ball of his thumb and served for a Kardiometer. In other words, Fate is just even to rival storytellers, and balances matters. Denys had to pay a tax to his audience which I have not. Whenever Gerard was in too much danger, the female faces became so white, and their poor little throats gurgled so, he was obliged in common humanity to spoil his recital. Suspense is the soul of narrative, and thus dealt Rough-and-Tender of Burgundy with his best suspenses. "Now, dame, take not on till ye hear the end; ma'amselle, let not your cheek blanch so; courage! it looks ugly; but you shall hear how we won through. Had he miscarried, and I at hand, would I be alive?"
And meantime Kate's little Kardiometer, or heart-measurer, graduated emotion, and pinched by scale. At its best it was by no means a high-pressure engine. But all is relative. Denys soon learned the tender gamut; and when to water the suspense, and extract the thrill as far as possible. On one occasion only he cannily indemnified his narrative for this drawback. Falling personally into the Rhine, and sinking, he got pinched, he Denys, to his surprise and satisfaction. "Oho!" thought he, and on the principle of the anatomists, "experimentum in corpore vili," kept himself a quarter of an hour under water; under pressure all the time. And even when Gerard had got hold of him, he was loth to leave the river, so, less conscientious than I was, swam with Gerard to the east bank first, and was about to land, but detected the officers and their intent, chaffed them a little space, treading water, then turned and swam wearily all across, and at last was obliged to get out, for very shame, or else acknowledge himself a pike; so permitted himself to land, exhausted: and the pressure relaxed.
It was eleven o'clock, an unheard-of hour, but they took no note of time this night; and Denys had still much to tell them, when the door was opened quietly, and in stole Cornelis and Sybrandt looking hang-dog. They had this night been drinking the very last drop of their mysterious funds.
Catherine feared her husband would rebuke them before Denys; but he only looked sadly at them, and motioned them to sit down quietly.
Denys it was who seemed discomposed. He knitted his brows and eyed them thoughtfully and rather gloomily. Then turned to Catherine. "What say you, dame? the rest to-morrow; for I am somewhat weary, and it waxes late."
"So be it," said Eli. But when Denys rose to go to his inn, he was instantly stopped by Catherine. "And think you to lie from this house? Gerard's room has been got ready for you hours agone; the sheets I'll not say much for, seeing I spun the flax and wove the web."
"Then would I lie in them blindfold," was the gallant reply. "Ah, dame, our poor Gerard was the one for fine linen. He could hardly forgive the honest Germans their coarse flax, and whene'er my traitors of countrymen did amiss, a would excuse them, saying, 'Well, well; bonnes toiles sont en Bourgogne:' that means, there be good lenten cloths in Burgundy.' But indeed he beat all for bywords and cleanliness.
"Oh, Eli! Eli! doth not our son come back to us at each word?"
"Ay. Buss me, my poor Kate. You and I know all that passeth in each other's hearts this night. None other can, but God."
Denys took an opportunity next day and told mother and daughter the rest, excusing himself characteristically for not letting Cornelis and Sybrandt hear of it. "It is not for me to blacken them; they come of a good stock. But Gerard looks on them as no friends of his in this matter; and I'm Gerard's comrade and it is a rule with us soldiers not to tell the enemy aught—but lies."
Catherine sighed, but made no answer.
The adventures he related cost them a tumult of agitation and grief, and sore they wept at the parting of the friends, which even now Denys could not tell without faltering. But at last all merged in the joyful hope and expectation of Gerard's speedy return. In this Denys confidently shared; but reminded them that was no reason why he should neglect his friend's wishes and last words. In fact, should Gerard return next week, and no Margaret to be found, what sort of figure should he cut?
Catherine had never felt so kindly towards the truant Margaret as now; and she was fully as anxious to find her, and be kind to her before Gerard's return, as Denys was; but she could not agree with him that anything was to be gained by leaving this neighbourhood to search for her. "She must have told somebody whither she was going. It is not as though they were dishonest folk flying the country; they owe not a stiver in Sevenbergen; and dear heart, Denys, you can't hunt all Holland for her."
"Can I not?" said Denys grimly. "That we shall see." He added, after some reflection, that they must divide their forces; she stay here with eyes and ears wide open, and he ransack every town in Holland for her, if need be. "But she will not be many leagues from here. They be three. Three fly not so fast, nor far, as one."
"That is sense," said Catherine. But she insisted on his going first to the demoiselle Van Eyck. "She and our Margaret were bosom friends. She knows where the girl is gone, if she will but tell us." Denys was for going to her that instant, so Catherine, in a turn of the hand, made herself one shade neater, and took him with her.
She was received graciously by the old lady sitting in a richly furnished room; and opened her business. The tapestry dropped out of Margaret Van Eyck's hands. "Gone? Gone from Sevenbergen and not told me; the thankless girl."
This turn greatly surprised the visitors. "What, you know not? when was she here last?"
"Maybe ten days agone. I had ta'en out my brushes, after so many years, to paint her portrait. I did not do it, though; for reasons."
Catherine remarked it was "a most strange thing she should go away bag and baggage like this, without with your leave or by your leave, why, or wherefore. Was ever aught so untoward; just when all our hearts are warm to her; and here is Gerard's mate come from the ends of the earth with comfort for her from Gerard, and can't find her, and Gerard himself expected. What to do I know not. But sure she is not parted like this without a reason. Can ye not give us the clue, my good demoiselle? Prithee now.
"I have it not to give," said the elder lady, rather peevishly.
"Then I can," said Reicht Heynes, showing herself in the doorway, with colour somewhat heightened.
"So you have been hearkening all the time, eh?"
"What are my ears for, mistress?"
"True. Well, throw us the light of thy wisdom on this dark matter."
"There is no darkness that I see," said Reicht. "And the clue, why, an ye call't a two-plye twine, and the ends on't in this room e'en now, ye'll not be far out. Oh, mistress, I wonder at you sitting there pretending."
"Marry, come up." and the mistress's cheek was now nearly as red as the servant's. "So 'twas I drove the foolish girl away."
"You did your share, mistress. What sort of greeting gave you her last time she came? Think you she could miss to notice it, and she all friendless? And you said, 'I have altered my mind about painting of you,' says you, a turning up your nose at her."
"I did not turn up my nose. It is not shaped like yours for looking heavenward."
"Oh, all our nosen can follow our heartys bent, for that matter. Poor soul. She did come into the kitchen to me. 'I am not to be painted now,' said she, and the tears in her eyes. She said no more. But I knew well what she did mean. I had seen ye."
"Well," said Margaret Van Eyck, "I do confess so much, and I make you the judge, madam. Know that these young girls can do nothing of their own heads, but are most apt at mimicking aught their sweethearts do. Now your Gerard is reasonably handy at many things, and among the rest at the illuminator's craft. And Margaret she is his pupil, and a patient one: what marvel? having a woman's eye for colour, and eke a lover to ape. 'Tis a trick I despise at heart: for by it the great art of colour, which should be royal, aspiring, and free, becomes a poor slave to the petty crafts of writing and printing, and is fettered, imprisoned, and made little, body and soul, to match the littleness of books, and go to church in a rich fool's pocket. Natheless affection rules us all, and when the poor wench would bring me her thorn leaves, and lilies, and ivy, and dewberries, and ladybirds, and butterfly grubs, and all the scum of Nature-stuck fast in gold-leaf like wasps in a honey-pot, and withal her diurnal book, showing she had pored an hundred, or an hundred and fifty, or two hundred hours over each singular page, certes I was wroth that an immortal soul, and many hours of labour, and much manual skill, should be flung away on Nature's trash, leaves, insects, grubs, and on barren letters; but, having bowels, I did perforce restrain, and as it were, dam my better feelings, and looked kindly at the work to see how it might be bettered; and said I, 'Sith Heaven for our sins hath doomed us to spend time, and soul, and colour on great letters and little beetles, omitting such small fry as saints and heroes, their acts and passions, why not present the scum naturally?' I told her 'the grapes I saw, walking abroad, did hang i' the air, not stick in a wall; and even these insects,' quo' I, 'and Nature her slime in general, pass not their noxious lives wedged miserably in metal prisons like flies in honey-pots and glue-pots, but do crawl or hover at large, infesting air.' 'Ah my dear friend,' says she, 'I see now whither you drive; but this ground is gold; whereon we may not shade.' 'Who said so?' quoth I. 'All teachers of this craft,' says she; and (to make an end o' me at once, I trow) 'Gerard himself!' 'That for Gerard himself,' quoth I, 'and all the gang; gi'e me a brush!'
"Then chose I, to shade her fruit and reptiles, a colour false in nature, but true relatively to that monstrous ground of glaring gold; and in five minutes out came a bunch of raspberries, stalk and all, and a'most flew in your mouth; likewise a butterfly grub she had so truly presented as might turn the stoutest stomach. My lady she flings her arms round my neck, and says she, 'Oh!'"
"Did she now?"
"The little love!" observed Denys, succeeding at last in wedging in a word.
Margaret Van Eyck stared at him; and then smiled. She went on to tell them how from step to step she had been led on to promise to resume the art she had laid aside with a sigh when her brothers died, and to paint the Madonna once more—with Margaret for model. Incidentally she even revealed how girls are turned into saints. "Thy hair is adorable," said I. "Why, 'tis red," quo' she. "Ay," quoth I, "but what a red! how brown! how glossy! most hair is not worth a straw to us painters; thine the artist's very hue. But thy violet eyes, which smack of earth, being now languid for lack of one Gerard, now full of fire in hopes of the same Gerard, these will I lift to heaven in fixed and holy meditation, and thy nose, which doth already somewhat aspire that way (though not so piously as Reicht's), will I debase a trifle, and somewhat enfeeble thy chin."
"Enfeeble her chin? Alack! what may that mean? Ye go beyond me, mistress."
"'Tis a resolute chin. Not a jot too resolute for this wicked world; but when ye come to a Madonna? No thank you."
"Well I never. A resolute chin."
Denys. "The darling!"
"And now comes the rub. When you told me she was—the way she is, it gave me a shock; I dropped my brushes. Was I going to turn a girl, that couldn't keep her lover at a distance, into the Virgin Mary, at my time of life? I love the poor ninny still. But I adore our blessed Lady. Say you, 'a painter must not be peevish in such matters'? Well, most painters are men; and men are fine fellows. They can do aught. Their saints and virgins are neither more nor less than their lemans, saving your presence. But know that for this very reason half their craft is lost on me, which find beneath their angels' white wings the very trollops I have seen flaunting it on the streets, bejewelled like Paynim idols, and put on like the queens in a pack o' cards. And I am not a fine fellow, but only a woman, and my painting is but one half craft, and t'other half devotion. So now you may read me. 'Twas foolish, maybe, but I could not help it; yet am I sorry." And the old lady ended despondently a discourse which she had commenced in a'mighty defiant tone.
"Well, you know, dame," observed Catherine, "you must think it would go to the poor girl's heart, and she so fond of ye?"
Margaret Van Eyck only sighed.
The Frisian girl, after biting her lips impatiently a little while, turned upon Catherine. "Why, dame, think you 'twas for that alone Margaret and Peter hath left Sevenbergen? Nay."
"For what else, then?"
"What else? Why, because Gerard's people slight her so cruel. Who would bide among hard-hearted folk that ha' driven her lad t' Italy, and now he is gone, relent not, but face it out, and ne'er come anigh her that is left?"
"Reicht, I was going."
"Oh, ay, going, and going, and going. Ye should ha' said less or else done more. But with your words you did uplift her heart and let it down wi' your deeds. 'They have never been,' said the poor thing to me, with such a sigh. Ay, here is one can feel for her: for I too am far from my friends, and often, when first I came to Holland, I did used to take a hearty cry all to myself. But ten times liever would I be Reicht Heynes with nought but the leagues atw'een me and all my kith, than be as she is i' the midst of them that ought to warm to her, and yet to fare as lonesome as I."
"Alack, Reicht, I did go but yestreen, and had gone before, but one plaguy thing or t'other did still come and hinder me."
"Mistress, did aught hinder ye to eat your dinner any one of those days? I trow not. And had your heart been as good towards your own flesh and blood, as 'twas towards your flesher's meat, nought had prevailed to keep you from her that sat lonely, a watching the road for you and comfort, wi' your child's child a beating 'neath her bosom."
Here this rude young woman was interrupted by an incident not uncommon in a domestic's bright existence. The Van Eyck had been nettled by the attack on her, but with due tact had gone into ambush. She now sprang out of it. "Since you disrespect my guests, seek another place!"
"With all my heart," said Reicht stoutly.
"Nay, mistress," put in the good-natured Catherine. "True folk will still speak out. Her tongue is a stinger." Here the water came into the speaker's eyes by way of confirmation. "But better she said it than thought it. So now 't won't rankle in her. And part with her for me, that shall ye not. Beshrew the wench, she wots she is a good servant, and takes advantage. We poor wretches which keep house must still pay 'em tax for value. I had a good servant once, when I was a young woman. Eh dear, how she did grind me down into the dust. In the end, by Heaven's mercy, she married the baker, and I was my own woman again. 'So,' said I, 'no more good servants shall come hither, a hectoring o' me.' I just get a fool and learn her; and whenever she knoweth her right hand from her left, she sauceth me: then out I bundle her neck and crop, and take another dunce in her place. Dear heart, 'tis wearisome, teaching a string of fools by ones; but there—I am mistress:" here she forgot that she was defending Reicht, and turning rather spitefully upon her, added, "and you be mistress here, I trow."
"No more than that stool," said the Van Eyck loftily. "She is neither mistress nor servant; but Gone. She is dismissed the house, and there's an end of her. What, did ye not hear me turn the saucy baggage off?"
"Ay, ay. We all heard ye," said Reicht, with vast indifference.
"Then hear me!" said Denys solemnly.
They all went round like things on wheels, and fastened their eyes on him.
"Ay, let us hear what the man says," urged the hostess. "Men are fine fellows, with their great hoarse voices."
"Mistress Reicht," said Denys, with great dignity and ceremony, indeed so great as to verge on the absurd, "you are turned off. If on a slight acquaintance I might advise, I'd say, since you are a servant no more, be a mistress, a queen."
"Easier said than done," replied Reicht bluntly.
"Not a jot. You see here one who is a man, though but half an arbalestrier, owing to that devilish Englishman's arrow, in whose carcass I have, however, left a like token, which is a comfort. I have twenty gold pieces" (he showed them) "and a stout arm. In another week or so I shall have twain. Marriage is not a habit of mine; but I capitulate to so many virtues. You are beautiful, good-hearted, and outspoken, and above all, you take the part of my she-comrade. Be then an arbalestriesse!"
"And what the dickens is that?" inquired Reicht.
"I mean, be the wife, mistress, and queen of Denys of Burgundy here present."
A dead silence fell on all.
It did not last long, though; and was followed by a burst of unreasonable indignation.
Catherine. "Well, did you ever?"
Margaret. "Never in all my born days."
Catherine. "Before our very faces."
Margaret. "Of all the absurdity, and insolence of this ridiculous sex—"
Then Denys observed somewhat drily, that the female to whom he had addressed himself was mute; and the others, on whose eloquence there was no immediate demand, were fluent: on this the voices stopped, and the eyes turned pivot-like upon Reicht.
She took a sly glance from under her lashes at her military assailant, and said, "I mean to take a good look at any man ere I leap into his arms."
Denys drew himself up majestically. "Then look your fill, and leap away."
This proposal led to a new and most unexpected result. A long white finger was extended by the Van Eyck in a line with the speaker's eye, and an agitated voice bade him stand, in the name of all the saints. "You are beautiful, so," cried she. "You are inspired—with folly. What matters that? you are inspired. I must take off your head." And in a moment she was at work with her pencil. "Come out, hussy," she screamed to Reicht, "more in front of him, and keep the fool inspired and beautiful. Oh, why had I not this maniac for my good centurion? They went and brought me a brute with a low forehead and a shapeless beard."
Catherine stood and looked with utter amazement at this pantomime, and secretly resolved that her venerable hostess had been a disguised lunatic all this time, and was now busy throwing off the mask. As for Reicht, she was unhappy and cross. She had left her caldron in a precarious state, and made no scruple to say so, and that duties so grave as hers left her no "time to waste a playing the statee and the fool all at one time." Her mistress in reply reminded her that it was possible to be rude and rebellious to one's poor, old, affectionate, desolate mistress, without being utterly heartless and savage; and a trampler on arts.
On this Reicht stopped, and pouted, and looked like a little basilisk at the inspired model who caused her woe. He retorted with unshaken admiration. The situation was at last dissolved by the artist's wrist becoming cramped from disuse; this was not, however, until she had made a rough but noble sketch. "I can work no more at present," said she sorrowfully.
"Then, now, mistress, I may go and mind my pot?"
"Ay, ay, go to your pot! And get into it, do; you will find your soul in it: so then you will all be together."
"Well, but, Reicht," said Catherine, laughing, "she turned you off."
"Boo, boo, boo!" said Reicht contemptuously. "When she wants to get rid of me, let her turn herself off and die. I am sure she is old enough for't. But take your time, mistress; if you are in no hurry, no more am I. When that day doth come, 'twill take a man to dry my eyes; and if you should be in the same mind then, soldier, you can say so; and if you are not, why, 'twill be all one to Reicht Heynes."
And the plain speaker went her way. But her words did not fall to the ground. Neither of her female hearers could disguise from herself that this blunt girl, solitary herself, had probably read Margaret Brandt aright, and that she had gone away from Sevenbergen broken-hearted.
Catherine and Denys bade the Van Eyck adieu, and that same afternoon Denys set out on a wild goose chase. His plan, like all great things, was simple. He should go to a hundred towns and villages, and ask in each after an old physician with a fair daughter, and an old long-bow soldier. He should inquire of the burgomasters about all new-comers, and should go to the fountains and watch the women and girls as they came with their pitchers for water.
And away he went, and was months and months on the tramp, and could not find her.
Happily, this chivalrous feat of friendship was in some degree its own reward.
Those who sit at home blindfolded by self-conceit, and think camel or man out of the depths of their inner consciousness, alias their ignorance, will tell you that in the intervals of war and danger, peace and tranquil life acquire their true value and satisfy the heroic mind. But those who look before they babble or scribble will see and say that men who risk their lives habitually thirst for exciting pleasures between the acts of danger, are not for innocent tranquility.
To this Denys was no exception. His whole military life had been half sparta, half Capua. And he was too good a soldier and too good a libertine to have ever mixed either habit with the other. But now for the first time he found himself mixed; at peace and yet on duty; for he took this latter view of his wild goose chase, luckily. So all these months he was a demi-Spartan; sober, prudent, vigilant, indomitable; and happy, though constantly disappointed, as might have been expected. He flirted gigantically on the road; but wasted no time about it. Nor in these his wanderings did he tell a single female that "marriage was not one of his habits, etc."
And so we leave him on the tramp, "Pilgrim of Friendship," as his poor comrade was of Love.
Catherine was in dismay when she reflected that Gerard must reach home in another month at farthest, more likely in a week; and how should she tell him she had not even kept an eye upon his betrothed? Then there was the uncertainty as to the girl's fate; and this uncertainty sometimes took a sickening form.
"Oh, Kate," she groaned, "if she should have gone and made herself away!"
"Mother, she would never be so wicked."
"Ah, my lass, you know not what hasty fools young lasses be, that have no mothers to keep 'em straight. They will fling themselves into the water for a man that the next man they meet would ha' cured 'em of in a week. I have known 'em to jump in like brass one moment and scream for help in the next. Couldn't know their own minds ye see even about such a trifle as yon. And then there's times when their bodies ail like no other living creatures ever I could hear of, and that strings up their feelings so, the patience, that belongs to them at other times beyond all living souls barring an ass, seems all to jump out of 'em at one turn, and into the water they go. Therefore, I say that men are monsters."
"Monsters, and no less, to go making such heaps o' canals just to tempt the poor women in. They know we shall not cut our throats, hating the sight of blood and rating our skins a hantle higher nor our lives; and as for hanging, while she is a fixing of the nail and a making of the noose she has time t' alter her mind. But a jump into a canal is no more than into bed; and the water it does all the lave, will ye, nill ye. Why, look at me, the mother o' nine, wasn't I agog to make a hole in our canal for the nonce?"
"Nay, mother, I'll never believe it of you."
"Ye may, though. 'Twas in the first year of our keeping house together. Eli hadn't found out my weak stitches then, nor I his; so we made a rent, pulling contrariwise; had a quarrel. So then I ran crying, to tell some gabbling fool like myself what I had no business to tell out o' doors except to the saints, and there was one of our precious canals in the way; do they take us for teal? Oh, how tempting it did look! Says I to myself, 'Sith he has let me go out of his door quarrelled, he shall see me drowned next, and then he will change his key. He will blubber a good one, and I shall look down from heaven' (I forgot I should be in t'other part), 'and see him take on, and oh, but that will be sweet!' and I was all a tiptoe and going in, only just then I thought I wouldn't. I had got a new gown a making, for one thing, and hard upon finished. So I went home instead, and what was Eli's first word, 'Let yon flea stick i' the wall, my lass,' says he. 'Not a word of all I said t' anger thee was sooth, but this, "I love thee."' These were his very words; I minded 'em, being the first quarrel. So I flung my arms about his neck and sobbed a bit, and thought o' the canal; and he was no colder to me than I to him, being a man and a young one; and so then that was better than lying in the water; and spoiling my wedding kirtle and my fine new shoon, old John Bush made 'em, that was uncle to him keeps the shop now. And what was my grief to hers?"
Little Kate hoped that Margaret loved her father too much to think of leaving him so at his age. "He is father and mother and all to her, you know."
"Nay, Kate, they do forget all these things in a moment o' despair when the very sky seems black above them. I place more faith in him that is unborn, than on him that is ripe for the grave, to keep her out o' mischief. For certes it do go sore against us to die when there's a little innocent a pulling at our hearts to let 'un live, and feeding at our very veins."
"Well, then, keep up a good heart, mother." She added, that very likely all these fears were exaggerated. She ended by solemnly entreating her mother at all events not to persist in naming the sex of Margaret's infant. It was so unlucky, all the gossips told her; "dear heart, as if there were not as many girls born as boys."
This reflection, though not unreasonable, was met with clamour.
"Have you the cruelty to threaten me with a girl!!? I want no more girls, while I have you. What use would a lass be to me? Can I set her on my knee and see my Gerard again as I can a boy? I tell thee 'tis all settled.
"How may that be?"
"In my mind. And if I am to be disappointed i' the end, 'tisn't for you to disappoint me beforehand, telling me it is not to be a child, but only a girl."
MARGARET BRANDT had always held herself apart from Sevenbergen; and her reserve had passed for pride; this had come to her ears, and she knew many hearts were swelling with jealousy and malevolence. How would they triumph over her when her condition could no longer be concealed! This thought gnawed her night and day. For some time it had made her bury herself in the house, and shun daylight even on those rare occasions when she went abroad.
Not that in her secret heart and conscience she mistook her moral situation, as my unlearned readers have done perhaps. Though not acquainted with the nice distinctions of the contemporary law, she knew that betrothal was a marriage contract, and could no more be legally broken on either side than any other compact written and witnessed; and that marriage with another party than the betrothed had been formerly annulled both by Church and State and that betrothed couples often came together without any further ceremony, and their children were legitimate.