But what weighed down her simple mediaeval mind was this: that very contract of betrothal was not forthcoming. Instead of her keeping it, Gerard had got it, and Gerard was far, far away. She hated and despised herself for the miserable oversight which had placed her at the mercy of false opinion.
For though she had never heard Horace's famous couplet, Segnius irritant, etc., she was Horatian by the plain, hard, positive intelligence, which, strange to say, characterizes the judgment of her sex, when feeling happens not to blind it altogether. She gauged the understanding of the world to a T. Her marriage lines being out of sight, and in Italy, would never prevail to balance her visible pregnancy, and the sight of her child when born. What sort of a tale was this to stop slanderous tongues? "I have got my marriage lines, but I cannot show them you." What woman would believe her? or even pretend to believe her? And as she was in reality one of the most modest girls in Holland, it was women's good opinion she wanted, not men's.
Even barefaced slander attacks her sex at a great advantage; but here was slander with a face of truth. "The strong-minded woman" had not yet been invented; and Margaret, though by nature and by having been early made mistress of a family, she was resolute in some respects, was weak as water in others, and weakest of all in this. Like all the elite of her sex, she was a poor little leaf, trembling at each gust of the world's opinion, true or false. Much misery may be contained in few words. I doubt if pages of description from any man's pen could make any human creature, except virtuous women (and these need no such aid), realize the anguish of a virtuous woman foreseeing herself paraded as a frail one. Had she been frail at heart, she might have brazened it out. But she had not that advantage. She was really pure as snow, and saw the pitch coming nearer her and nearer. The poor girl sat listless hours at a time, and moaned with inner anguish. And often, when her father was talking to her, and she giving mechanical replies, suddenly her cheek would burn like fire, and the old man would wonder what he had said to discompose her. Nothing. His words were less than air to her. It was the ever-present dread sent the colour of shame into her burning cheek, no matter what she seemed to be talking and thinking about. But both shame and fear rose to a climax when she came back that night from Margaret Van Eyck's. Her condition was discovered, and by persons of her own sex. The old artist, secluded like herself, might not betray her; but Catherine, a gossip in the centre of a family, and a thick neighbourhood? One spark of hope remained. Catherine had spoken kindly, even lovingly. The situation admitted no half course. Gerard's mother thus roused must either be her best friend or worst enemy. She waited then in racking anxiety to hear more. No word came. She gave up hope. Catherine was not going to be her friend. Then she would expose her, since she had no strong and kindly feeling to balance the natural love of babbling.
Then it was the wish to fly from this neighbourhood began to grow and gnaw upon her, till it became a wild and passionate desire. But how persuade her father to this? Old people cling to places. He was very old and infirm to change his abode. There was no course but to make him her confidant; better so than to run away from him; and she felt that would be the alternative. And now between her uncontrollable desire to fly and hide, and her invincible aversion to speak out to a man, even to her father, she vibrated in a suspense full of lively torture. And presently betwixt these two came in one day the fatal thought, "end all!" Things foolishly worded are not always foolish; one of poor Catherine's bugbears, these numerous canals, did sorely tempt this poor fluctuating girl. She stood on the bank one afternoon, and eyed the calm deep water. It seemed an image of repose, and she was so harassed. No more trouble. No more fear of shame. If Gerard had not loved her, I doubt she had ended there.
As it was, she kneeled by the water side, and prayed fervently to God to keep such wicked thoughts from her. "Oh! selfish wretch," said she, "to leave thy father. Oh, wicked wretch, to kill thy child, and make thy poor Gerard lose all his pain and peril undertaken for thy sight. I will tell father all, ay, ere this sun shall set." And she went home with eager haste, lest her good resolution should ooze out ere she got there.
Now, in matters domestic the learned Peter was simple as a child, and Margaret, from the age of sixteen, had governed the house gently but absolutely. It was therefore a strange thing in this house, the faltering, irresolute way in which its young but despotic mistress addressed that person, who in a domestic sense was less important than Martin Wittenhaagen, or even than the little girl who came in the morning and for a pittance washed the vessels, etc., and went home at night.
"Father, I would speak to thee."
"Speak on, girl."
"Wilt listen to me? And—and—not—and try to excuse my faults?"
"We have all our faults, Margaret, thou no more than the rest of us; but fewer, unless parental feeling blinds me."
"Alas, no, father: I am a poor foolish girl, that would fain do well, but have done ill, most ill, most unwisely; and now must bear the shame. But, father, I love you, with all my faults, and will not you forgive my folly, and still love your motherless girl?"
"That ye may count on," said Peter cheerfully.
"Oh, well, smile not. For then how can I speak and make you sad?"
"Why, what is the matter?"
"Father, disgrace is coming on this house: it is at the door. And I the culprit. Oh, father, turn your head away. I—I—father, I have let Gerard take away my marriage lines."
"Is that all? 'Twas an oversight."
"'Twas the deed of a mad woman. But woe is me! that is not the worst."
Peter interrupted her. "The youth is honest, and loves you dear. You are young. What is a year or two to you? Gerard will assuredly come back and keep troth."
"And meantime know you what is coming?"
"Not I, except that I shall be gone first for one."
"Worse than that. There is worse pain than death. Nay, for pity's sake turn away your head, father."
"Foolish wench!" muttered Peter, but turned his head.
She trembled violently, and with her cheeks on fire began to falter out, "I did look on Gerard as my husband—we being betrothed-and he was in so sore danger, and I thought I had killed him, and I-oh, if you were but my mother I might find courage: you would question me. But you say not a word."
"Why, Margaret, what is all this coil about? and why are thy cheeks crimson, speaking to no stranger', but to thy old father?"
"Why are my cheeks on fire? Because—because—father kill me; send me to heaven! bid Martin shoot me with his arrow! And then the gossips will come and tell you why I blush so this day. And then, when I am dead, I hope you will love your girl again for her mother's sake."
"Give me thy hand, mistress," said Peter, a little sternly.
She put it out to him trembling. He took it gently and began with some anxiety in his face to feel her pulse.
"Alas, nay," said she. "'Tis my soul that burns, not my body, with fever. I cannot, will not, bide in Sevenbergen." And she wrung her hands impatiently.
"Be calm now," said the old man soothingly, "nor torment thyself for nought. Not bide in Sevenbergen? What need to bide a day, as it vexes thee, and puts thee in a fever: for fevered thou art, deny it not."
"What!" cried Margaret, "would you yield to go hence, and—and ask no reason but my longing to be gone?" and suddenly throwing herself on her knees beside him, in a fervour of supplication she clutched his sleeve, and then his arm, and then his shoulder, while imploring him to quit this place, and not ask her why. "Alas! what needs it? You will soon see it. And I could never say it. I would liever die."
"Foolish child, who seeks thy girlish secrets? Is it I, whose life hath been spent in searching Nature's? And for leaving Sevenbergen, what is there to keep me in it, thee unwilling? Is there respect for me here, or gratitude? Am I not yclept quacksalver by those that come not near me, and wizard by those I heal? And give they not the guerdon and the honour they deny me to the empirics that slaughter them? Besides, what is't to me where we sojourn? Choose thou that, as did thy mother before thee."
Margaret embraced him tenderly, and wept upon his shoulder.
She was respited.
Yet as she wept, respited, she almost wished she had had the courage to tell him.
After a while nothing would content him but her taking a medicament he went and brought her. She took it submissively, to please him. It was the least she could do. It was a composing draught, and though administered under an error, and a common one, did her more good than harm: she awoke calmed by a long sleep, and that very day began her preparations.
Next week they went to Rotterdam, bag and baggage, and lodged above a tailor's shop in the Brede-Kirk Straet.
Only one person in Tergou knew whither they were gone.
He locked the information in his own breast.
The use he made of it ere long, my reader will not easily divine: for he did not divine it himself.
But time will show.
Among strangers Margaret Brandt was comparatively happy. And soon a new and unexpected cause of content arose. A civic dignitary being ill, and fanciful in proportion, went from doctor to doctor; and having arrived at death's door, sent for Peter. Peter found him bled and purged to nothing. He flung a battalion of bottles out of window, and left it open; beat up yolks of eggs in neat Schiedam, and administered it in small doses; followed this up by meat stewed in red wine and water, shredding into both mild febrifugal herbs, that did no harm. Finally, his patient got about again, looking something between a man and a pillow-case, and being a voluble dignitary, spread Peter's fame in every street; and that artist, who had long merited a reputation in vain, made one rapidly by luck. Things looked bright. The old man's pride was cheered at last, and his purse began to fill. He spent much of his gain, however, in sovereign herbs and choice drugs, and would have so invested them all, but Margaret white-mailed a part. The victory came too late. Its happy excitement was fatal.
One evening, in bidding her good-night, his voice seemed rather inarticulate.
The next morning he was found speechless, and only just sensible.
Margaret, who had been for years her father's attentive pupil, saw at once that he had had a paralytic stroke. But not trusting to herself, she ran for a doctor. One of those who, obstructed by Peter, had not killed the civic dignitary, came, and cheerfully confirmed her views. He was for bleeding the patient. She declined. "He was always against blooding," said she, "especially the old." Peter lived, but was never the same man again. His memory became much affected, and of course he was not to be trusted to prescribe; and several patients had come, and one or two, that were bent on being cured by the new doctor and no other, awaited his convalescence. Misery stared her in the face. She resolved to go for advice and comfort to her cousin William Johnson, from whom she had hitherto kept aloof out of pride and poverty. She found him and his servant sitting in the same room, and neither of them the better for liquor. Mastering all signs of surprise, she gave her greetings, and presently told him she had come to talk on a family matter, and with this glanced quietly at the servant by way of hint. The woman took it, but not as expected.
"Oh, you can speak before me, can she not, my old man?"
At this familiarity Margaret turned very red, and said—
"I cry you mercy, mistress. I knew not my cousin had fallen into the custom of this town. Well, I must take a fitter opportunity;" and she rose to go.
"I wot not what ye mean by custom o' the town," said the woman, bouncing up. "But this I know; 'tis the part of a faithful servant to keep her master from being preyed on by his beggarly kin."
Margaret retorted: "Ye are too modest, mistress. Ye are no servant. Your speech betrays you. 'Tis not till the ape hath mounted the tree that she, shows her tail so plain. Nay, there sits the servant; God help him! And while so it is, fear not thou his kin will ever be so poor in spirit as come where the likes of you can flout their dole." And casting one look of mute reproach at her cousin for being so little of a man as to sit passive and silent all this time, she turned and went haughtily out; nor would she shed a single tear till she got home and thought of it. And now here were two men to be lodged and fed by one pregnant girl; and another mouth coming into the world.
But this last, though the most helpless of all, was their best friend.
Nature was strong in Margaret Brandt; that same nature which makes the brutes, the birds, and the insects, so cunning at providing food and shelter for their progeny yet to come.
Stimulated by nature she sat and brooded, and brooded, and thought, and thought, how to be beforehand with destitution. Ay, though she had still five gold pieces left, she saw starvation coming with inevitable foot.
Her sex, when, deviating from custom, it thinks with male intensity, thinks just as much to the purpose as we do. She rose, bade Martin move Peter to another room, made her own very neat and clean, polished the glass globe, and suspended it from the ceiling, dusted the crocodile and nailed him to the outside wall; and after duly instructing Martin, set him to play the lounging sentinel about the street door, and tell the crocodile-bitten that a great, and aged, and learned alchymist abode there, who in his moments of recreation would sometimes amuse himself by curing mortal diseases.
Patients soon came, and were received by Margaret, and demanded to see the leech. "That might not be. He was deep in his studies, searching for the grand elixir, and not princes could have speech of him. They must tell her their symptoms, and return in two hours." And oh! mysterious powers! when they did return, the drug or draught was always ready for them. Sometimes, when it was a worshipful patient, she would carefully scan his face, and feeling both pulse and skin, as well as hearing his story, would go softly with it to Peter's room; and there think and ask herself how her father, whose system she had long quietly observed, would have treated the case. Then she would write an illegible scrawl with a cabalistic letter, and bring it down reverently, and show it the patient, and "Could he read that?" Then it would be either, "I am no reader," or, with admiration, "Nay, mistress, nought can I make on't."
"Ay, but I can. 'Tis sovereign. Look on thyself as cured!" If she had the materials by her, and she was too good an economist not to favour somewhat those medicines she had in her own stock, she would sometimes let the patient see her compound it, often and anxiously consulting the sacred prescription lest great Science should suffer in her hands. And so she would send them away relieved of cash, but with their pockets full of medicine, and minds full of faith, and humbugged to their hearts' content. Populus vult decipi. And when they were gone, she would take down two little boxes Gerard had made her; and on one of these she had written To-day, and on the other To-morrow, and put the smaller coins into "To-day," and the larger into "To-morrow," along with such of her gold pieces as had survived the journey from Sevenbergen, and the expenses of housekeeping in a strange place, and so she met current expenses, and laid by for the rainy day she saw coming, and mixed drugs with simples, and vice with virtue. On this last score her conscience pricked her sore, and after each day's comedy, she knelt down and prayed God to forgive her "for the sake of her child." But lo and behold, cure and cure was reported to her; so then her conscience began to harden. Martin Wittenhaagen had of late been a dead weight on her hands. Like most men who had endured great hardships, he had stiffened rather suddenly. But though less supple, he was as strong as ever, and at his own pace could have carried the doctor herself round Rotterdam city. He carried her slops instead.
In this new business he showed the qualities of a soldier: unreasoning obedience, punctuality, accuracy, despatch, and drunkenness.
He fell among "good fellows;" the blackguards plied him with Schiedam; he babbled, he bragged.
Doctor Margaret had risen very high in his estimation. All this brandishing of a crocodile for a standard, and setting a dotard in ambush, and getting rid of slops, and taking good money in exchange, struck him not as Science but something far superior, Strategy. And he boasted in his cups and before a mixed company how "me and my General we are a biting of the burghers."
When this revelation had had time to leaven the city, his General, Doctor Margaret, received a call from the constables; they took her, trembling and begging subordinate machines to forgive her, before the burgomaster; and by his side stood real physicians, a terrible row, in long robes and square caps, accusing her of practising unlawfully on the bodies of the duke's lieges. At first she was too frightened to say a word. Novice like, the very name of "Law" paralyzed her. But being questioned closely, but not so harshly as if she had been ugly, she told the truth; she had long been her father's pupil, and had but followed his system, and she had cured many; "and it is not for myself in very deed, sirs, but I have two poor helpless honest men at home upon my hands, and how else can I keep them? Ah, good sirs, let a poor girl make her bread honestly; ye hinder them not to make it idly and shamefully; and oh, sirs, ye are husbands, ye are fathers; ye cannot but see I have reason to work and provide as best I may;" and ere this woman's appeal had left her lips, she would have given the world to recall it, and stood with one hand upon her heart and one before her face, hiding it, but not the tears that trickled underneath it. All which went to the wrong address. Perhaps a female bailiff might have yielded to such arguments, and bade her practise medicine, and break law, till such time as her child should be weaned, and no longer.
"What have we to do with that," said the burgomaster, "save and except that if thou wilt pledge thyself to break the law no more, I will remit the imprisonment, and exact but the fine?"
On this Doctor Margaret clasped her hands together, and vowed most penitently never, never, never to cure body or beast again; and being dismissed with the constables to pay the fine, she turned at the door, and curtsied, poor soul, and thanked the gentlemen for their forbearance.
And to pay the fine the "To-morrow box" must be opened on the instant; and with excess of caution she had gone and nailed it up, that no slight temptation might prevail to open it. And now she could not draw the nails, and the constables grew impatient, and doubted its contents, and said, "Let us break it for you." But she would not let them. "Ye will break it worse than I shall." And she took a hammer, and struck too faintly, and lost all strength for a minute, and wept hysterically; and at last she broke it, and a little cry bubbled from her when it broke; and she paid the fine, and it took all her unlawful gains and two gold pieces to boot; and when the men were gone, she drew the broken pieces of the box, and what little money they had left her, all together on the table, and her arms went round them, and her rich hair escaped, and fell down all loose, and she bowed her forehead on the wreck, and sobbed, "My love's box it is broken, and my heart withal;" and so remained. And Martin Wittenhaagen came in, and she could not lift her head, but sighed out to him what had befallen her, ending, "My love his box is broken, and so mine heart is broken."
And Martin was not so sad as wroth. Some traitor had betrayed him. What stony heart had told and brought her to this pass? Whoever it was should feel his arrow's point. The curious attitude in which he must deliver the shaft never occurred to him.
"Idle chat! idle chat!" moaned Margaret, without lifting her brow from the table. "When you have slain all the gossips in this town, can we eat them? Tell me how to keep you all, or prithee hold thy peace, and let the saints get leave to whisper me." Martin held his tongue, and cast uneasy glances at his defeated General.
Towards evening she rose, and washed her face and did up her hair, and doggedly bade Martin take down the crocodile, and put out a basket instead.
"I can get up linen better than they seem to do it in this street," said she, "and you must carry it in the basket."
"That will I for thy sake," said the soldier.
"Good Martin! forgive me that I spake shrewishly to thee."
Even while they were talking came a male for advice. Margaret told it the mayor had interfered and forbidden her to sell drugs. "But," said she, "I will gladly iron and starch your linen for you, and I will come and fetch it from your house."
"Are ye mad, young woman?" said the male. "I come for a leech, and ye proffer me a washerwoman;" and it went out in dudgeon.
"There is a stupid creature," said Margaret sadly.
Presently came a female to tell the symptoms of her sick child. Margaret stopped it.
"We are forbidden by the bailiff to sell drugs. But I will gladly wash, iron, and starch your linen for you-and-I will come and fetch it from your house."
"Oh, ay," said the female. "Well, I have some smocks and ruffs foul. Come for them; and when you are there, you can look at the boy;" and it told her where it lived, and when its husband would be out; yet it was rather fond of its husband than not.
An introduction is an introduction. And two or three patients out of all those who came and were denied medicine made Doctor Margaret their washerwoman.
"Now, Martin, you must help. I'll no more cats than can slay mice."
"Mistress, the stomach is not awanting for't, but the headpiece, worst luck."
"Oh! I mean not the starching and ironing; that takes a woman and a handy one. But the bare washing; a man can surely contrive that. Why, a mule has wit enough in's head to do't with his hoofs, an' ye could drive him into the tub. Come, off doublet, and try."
"I am your man," said the brave old soldier, stripping for the unwonted toil. "I'll risk my arm in soapsuds, an you will risk your glory."
"Your glory and honour as a—washerwoman."
"Gramercy! if you are man enough to bring me half-washed linen t' iron, I am woman enough to fling't back i' the suds."
And so the brave girl and the brave soldier worked with a will, and kept the wolf from the door. More they could not do. Margaret had repaired the "To-morrow box," and as she leaned over the glue, her tears mixed with it, and she cemented her exiled lover's box with them, at which a smile is allowable, but an intelligent smile tipped with pity, please, and not the empty guffaw of the nineteenth-century-jackass, burlesquing Bibles, and making fun of all things except fun. But when mended it stood unreplenished. They kept the weekly rent paid, and the pot boiling, but no more.
And now came a concatenation. Recommended from one to another, Margaret washed for the mayor. And bringing home the clean linen one day she heard in the kitchen that his worship's only daughter was stricken with disease, and not like to live, Poor Margaret could not help cross-questioning, and a female servant gave her such of the symptoms as she had observed. But they were too general. However, one gossip would add one fact, and another another. And Margaret pondered them all.
At last one day she met the mayor himself. He recognized her directly. "Why, you are the unlicensed doctor." "I was," said she, "but now I'm your worship's washerwoman." The dignitary coloured, and said that was rather a come down. "Nay, I bear no malice; for your worship might have been harder. Rather would I do you a good turn. Sir, you have a sick daughter. Let me see her."
The mayor shook his head. "That cannot be. The law I do enforce on others I may not break myself." Margaret opened her eyes. "Alack, sir, I seek no guerdon now for curing folk; why, I am a washerwoman. I trow one may heal all the world, an if one will but let the world starve one in return." "That is no more than just," said the mayor: he added, "an' ye make no trade on't, there is no offence." "Then let me see her."
"What avails it? The learnedest leeches in Rotterdam have all seen her, and bettered her nought. Her ill is inscrutable. One skilled wight saith spleen; another, liver; another, blood; another, stomach; and another, that she is possessed; and in very truth, she seems to have a demon; shunneth all company; pineth alone; eateth no more victuals than might diet a sparrow. Speaketh seldom, nor hearkens them that speak, and weareth thinner and paler and nearer and nearer the grave, well-a-day." "Sir," said Margaret, "an if you take your velvet doublet to half-a-dozen of shops in Rotterdam, and speer is this fine or sorry velvet, and worth how much the ell, those six traders will eye it and feel it, and all be in one story to a letter. And why? Because they know their trade. And your leeches are all in different stories. Why? Because they know not their trade. I have heard my father say each is enamoured of some one evil, and seeth it with his bat's eye in every patient. Had they stayed at home, and never seen your daughter, they had answered all the same, spleen, blood, stomach, lungs, liver, lunacy, or as they call it possession. Let me see her. We are of a sex, and that is much." And when he still hesitated, "Saints of heaven!" cried she, giving way to the irritability of a breeding woman, "is this how men love their own flesh and blood? Her mother had ta'en me in her arms ere this, and carried me to the sick room." And two violet eyes flashed fire.
"Come with me," said the mayor hastily.
"Mistress, I have brought thee a new doctor."
The person addressed, a pale young girl of eighteen, gave a contemptuous wrench of her shoulder, and turned more decidedly to the fire she was sitting over.
Margaret came softly and sat beside her. "But 'tis one that will not torment you.
"A woman!" exclaimed the young lady, with surprise and some contempt.
"Tell her your symptoms."
"What for? you will be no wiser."
"You will be none the worse."
"Well, I have no stomach for food, and no heart for any thing. Now cure me, and go."
"Patience awhile! Your food, is it tasteless like in your mouth?"
"Ay. How knew you that?"
"Nay, I knew it not till you did tell me. I trow you would be better for a little good company."
"I trow not. What is their silly chat to me?"
Here Margaret requested the father to leave them alone; and in his absence put some practical questions. Then she reflected.
"When you wake i' the morning you find yourself quiver, as one may say?"
"Nay. Ay. How knew you that?"
"Shall I dose you, or shall I but tease you a bit with my silly chat?"
"Which you will."
"Then I will tell you a story. 'Tis about two true lovers."
"I hate to hear of lovers," said the girl; "nevertheless canst tell me, 'twill be less nauseous than your physic—maybe."
Margaret then told her a love story. The maiden was a girl called Ursel, and the youth one Conrad; she an old physician's daughter, he the son of a hosier at Tergou. She told their adventures, their troubles, their sad condition. She told it from the female point of view, and in a sweet and winning and earnest voice, that by degrees soon laid hold of this sullen heart, and held it breathless; and when she broke it off her patient was much disappointed.
"Nay, nay, I must hear the end. I will hear it."
"Ye cannot, for I know it not; none knoweth that but God."
"Ah, your Ursel was a jewel of worth," said the girl earnestly. "Would she were here."
"Instead of her that is here?"
"I say not that;" and she blushed a little.
"You do but think it."
"Thought is free. Whether or no, an she were here, I'd give her a buss, poor thing."
"Then give it me, for I am she."
"Nay, nay, that I'll be sworn y' are not."
"Say not so; in very truth I am she. And prithee, sweet mistress, go not from your word, but give me the buss ye promised me, and with a good heart, for oh, my own heart lies heavy: heavy as thine, sweet mistress."
The young gentlewoman rose and put her arms round Margaret's neck and kissed her. "I am woe for you," she sighed. "You are a good soul; you have done me good—a little." (A gulp came in her throat.) "Come again! come again!"
Margaret did come again, and talked with her, and gently, but keenly watched what topics interested her, and found there was but one. Then she said to the mayor, "I know your daughter's trouble, and 'tis curable."
"What is't? the blood?"
"The foul fiend?"
"Love? stuff, impossible! She is but a child; she never stirs abroad unguarded. She never hath from a child."
"All the better; then we shall not have far to look for him."
"I vow not. I shall but command her to tell me the caitiff's name, that hath by magic arts ensnared her young affections."
"Oh, how foolish be the wise!" said Margaret; "what, would ye go and put her on her guard? Nay, let us work by art first; and if that fails, then 'twill still be time for violence and folly."
Margaret then with some difficulty prevailed on the mayor to take advantage of its being Saturday, and pay all his people their salaries in his daughter's presence and hers.
It was done: some fifteen people entered the room, and received their pay with a kind word from their employer. Then Margaret, who had sat close to the patient all the time, rose and went out. The mayor followed her.
"Sir, how call you yon black-haired lad?"
"That is Ulrich, my clerk."
"Well then, 'tis he."
"Now Heaven forbid a lad I took out of the streets."
"Well, but your worship is an understanding man. You took him not up without some merit of his?"
"Merit? not a jot! I liked the looks of the brat, that was all."
"Was that no merit? He pleased the father's eye. And now who had pleased the daughter's. That has oft been seen since Adam."
"How know ye 'tis he?"
"I held her hand, and with my finger did lightly touch her wrist; and when the others came and went, 'twas as if dogs and cats had fared in and out. But at this Ulrich's coming her pulse did leap, and her eye shine; and when he went, she did sink back and sigh; and 'twas to be seen the sun had gone out of the room for her. Nay, burgomaster, look not on me so scared: no witch or magician I, but a poor girl that hath been docile, and so bettered herself by a great neglected leech's art and learning. I tell ye all this hath been done before, thousands of years ere we were born. Now bide thou there till I come to thee, and prithee, prithee, spoil not good work wi' meddling." She then went back and asked her patient for a lock of her hair.
"Take it," said she, more listlessly than ever.
"Why, 'tis a lass of marble. How long do you count to be like that, mistress?"
"Till I am in my grave, sweet Peggy."
"Who knows? maybe in ten minutes you will be altogether as hot."
She ran into the shop, but speedily returned to the mayor and said, "Good news! He fancies her and more than a little. Now how is't to be? Will you marry your child, or bury her, for there is no third way, for shame and love they do rend her virgin heart to death."
The dignitary decided for the more cheerful rite, but not without a struggle; and with its marks on his face he accompanied Margaret to his daughter. But as men are seldom in a hurry to drink their wormwood, he stood silent. So Doctor Margaret said cheerfully, "Mistress, your lock is gone; I have sold it."
"And who was so mad as to buy such a thing?" inquired the young lady scornfully.
"Oh, a black-haired laddie wi' white teeth. They call him Ulrich."
The pale face reddened directly, brow and all.
"Says he, 'Oh, sweet mistress, give it me.' I had told them all whose 'twas. 'Nay,' said I, 'selling is my livelihood, not giving.' So he offered me this, he offered me that, but nought less would I take than his next quarter's wages.
"Cruel," murmured the girl, scarce audibly.
"Why, you are in one tale with your father. Says he to me when I told him, 'Oh, an he loves her hair so well, 'tis odd but he loves the rest of her. Well,' quoth he, ''tis an honest lad, and a shall have her, gien she will but leave her sulks and consent.' So, what say ye, mistress, will you be married to Ulrich, or buried i' the kirkyard?"
"'Tis so, girl, speak thy mind."
"I will obey my father—in all things," stammered the poor girl, trying hard to maintain the advantageous position in which Margaret had placed her. But nature, and the joy and surprise, were too strong even for a virgin's bashful cunning. She cast an eloquent look on them both, and sank at her father's knees, and begged his pardon, with many sobs for having doubted his tenderness.
He raised her in his arms, and took her, radiant through her tears with joy, and returning life, and filial love, to his breast; and the pair passed a truly sacred moment, and the dignitary was as happy as he thought to be miserable; so hard is it for mortals to foresee. And they looked round for Margaret, but she had stolen away softly.
The young girl searched the house for her.
"Where is she hid? Where on earth is she?"
Where was she? why, in her own house, dressing meat for her two old children, and crying bitterly the while at the living picture of happiness she had just created.
"Well-a-day, the odds between her lot and mine; well-a-day!"
Next time she met the dignitary he hemm'd and hawed, and remarked what a pity it was the law forbade him to pay her who had cured his daughter. "However, when all is done, 'twas not art, 'twas but woman's wit."
"Nought but that, burgomaster," said Margaret bitterly. "Pay the men of art for not curing her: all the guerdon I seek, that cured her, is this: go not and give your foul linen away from me by way of thanks."
"Why should I?" inquired he.
"Marry, because there be fools about ye will tell ye she that hath wit to cure dark diseases, cannot have wit to take dirt out o' rags; so pledge me your faith."
The dignitary promised pompously, and felt all the patron.
Something must be done to fill "To-morrow's" box. She hawked her initial letters and her illuminated vellums all about the town. Printing had by this time dealt caligraphy in black and white a terrible blow in Holland and Germany. But some copies of the printed books were usually illuminated and fettered. The printers offered Margaret prices for work in these two kinds.
"I'll think on't," said she.
She took down her diurnal book, and calculated that the price of an hour's work on those arts would be about one-fifth what she got for an hour at the tub and mangle. "I'll starve first," said she; "what, pay a craft and a mystery five times less than a handicraft!"
Martin, carrying the dry clothes-basket, got treated, and drunk. This time he babbled her whole story. The girls got hold of it and gibed her at the fountain.
All she had gone through was light to her, compared with the pins and bodkins her own sex drove into her heart, whenever she came near the merry crew with her pitcher, and that was every day. Each sex has its form of cruelty; man's is more brutal and terrible; but shallow women, that have neither read nor suffered, have an unmuscular barbarity of their own (where no feeling of sex steps in to overpower it). This defect, intellectual perhaps rather than moral, has been mitigated in our day by books, especially by able works of fiction; for there are two roads to the highest effort of intelligence, Pity; Experience of sorrows, and Imagination, by which alone we realize the grief we never felt. In the fifteenth century girls with pitchers had but one; Experience; and at sixteen years of age or so, that road had scarce been trodden. These girls persisted that Margaret was deserted by her lover. And to be deserted was a crime (They had not been deserted yet.) Not a word against the Gerard they had created out of their own heads. For the imaginary crime they fell foul of the supposed victim. Sometimes they affronted her to her face. Oftener they talked at her backwards and forwards with a subtle skill, and a perseverance which, "oh, that they had bestowed on the arts," as poor Aguecheek says.
Now Margaret was brave, and a coward; brave to battle difficulties and ill fortune; brave to shed her own blood for those she loved. Fortitude she had. But she had no true fighting courage. She was a powerful young woman, rather tall, full, and symmetrical; yet had one of those slips of girls slapped her face, the poor fool's hands would have dropped powerless, or gone to her own eyes instead of her adversary's. Nor was she even a match for so many tongues; and besides, what could she say? She knew nothing of these girls, except that somehow they had found out her sorrows, and hated her; only she thought to herself they must be very happy, or they would not be so hard on her.
So she took their taunts in silence; and all her struggle was not to let them see their power to make her writhe within.
Here came in her fortitude; and she received their blows with well-feigned, icy hauteur. They slapped a statue.
But one day, when her spirits were weak, as happens at times to females in her condition, a dozen assailants followed suit so admirably, that her whole sex seemed to the dispirited one to be against her, and she lost heart, and the tears began to run silently at each fresh stab.
On this their triumph knew no bounds, and they followed her half way home casting barbed speeches.
After that exposure of weakness the statue could be assumed no more. So then she would stand timidly aloof out of tongue-shot, till her young tyrants' pitchers were all filled, and they gone; and then creep up with hers. And one day she waited so long that the fount had ceased to flow. So the next day she was obliged to face the phalanx, or her house go dry. She drew near slowly, but with the less tremor, that she saw a man at the well talking to them. He would distract their attention, and besides, they would keep their foul tongues quiet if only to blind the male to their real character. This conjecture, though shrewd, was erroneous. They could not all flirt with that one man; so the outsiders indemnified themselves by talking at her the very moment she came up.
"Any news from foreign parts, Jacqueline?"
"None for me, Martha. My lad goes no farther from me than the town wall."
"I can't say as much," says a third.
"But if he goes t' Italy I have got another ready to take the fool's place."
"He'll not go thither, lass. They go not so far till they are sick of us that bide in Holland."
Surprise and indignation, and the presence of a man, gave Margaret a moment's fighting courage.
"Oh, flout me not, and show your ill nature before the very soldier. In Heaven's name, what ill did I ever to ye? what harsh word cast back, for all you have flung on me, a desolate stranger in your cruel town, that ye flout me for my bereavement and my poor lad's most unwilling banishment? Hearts of flesh would surely pity us both, for that ye cast in my teeth these many days, ye brows of brass, ye bosoms of stone."
They stared at this novelty, resistance; and ere they could recover and make mincement of her, she put her pitcher quietly down, and threw her coarse apron over her head, and stood there grieving, her short-lived spirit oozing fast. "Hallo!" cried the soldier, "why, what is your ill?" She made no reply. But a little girl, who had long secretly hated the big ones, squeaked out, "They did flout her, they are aye flouting her; she may not come nigh the fountain for fear o' them, and 'tis a black shame."
"Who spoke to her! Not I for one."
"Nor I. I would not bemean myself so far."
The man laughed heartily at this display of dignity. "Come, wife," said he, "never lower thy flag to such light skirmishers as these. Hast a tongue i' thy head as well as they."
"Alack, good soldier, I was not bred to bandy foul terms."
"Well, but hast a better arm than these. Why not take 'em by twos across thy knee, and skelp 'em till they cry Meculpee?"
"Nay, I would not hurt their bodies for all their cruel hearts."
"Then ye must e'en laugh at them, wife. What! a woman grown, and not see why mesdames give tongue? You are a buxom wife; they are a bundle of thread-papers. You are fair and fresh; they have all the Dutch rim under their bright eyes, that comes of dwelling in eternal swamps. There lies your crime. Come, gie me thy pitcher, and if they flout me, shalt see me scrub 'em all wi' my beard till they squeak holy mother." The pitcher was soon filled, and the soldier put it in Margaret's hand. She murmured, "Thank you kindly, brave soldier."
He patted her on the shoulder. "Come, courage, brave wife; the divell is dead!" She let the heavy pitcher fall on his foot directly. He cursed horribly, and hopped in a circle, saying, "No, the Thief's alive and has broken my great toe."
The apron came down, and there was a lovely face all flushed with' emotion, and two beaming eyes in front of him, and two hands held out clasped.
"Nay, nay, 'tis nought," said he good-humouredly, mistaking.
"Well?—But—Hallo! How know you my name is—"
"Denys of Burgundy!"
"Why, ods bodikins! I know you not, and you know me."
"By Gerard's letter. Crossbow! beard! handsome! The divell is dead."
"Sword of Goliah! this must be she. Red hair, violet eyes, lovely face. But I took ye for a married wife, seeing ye—-"
"Tell me my name," said she quickly.
"Gerard? Where is he? Is he in life? Is he well? Is he coming? Is he come? Why is he not here? Where have ye left him? Oh tell me! prithee, prithee, prithee, tell me!"
"Ay, ay, but not here. Oh, ye are all curiosity now, mesdames, eh? Lass, I have been three months a-foot travelling all Holland to find ye, and here you are. Oh, be joyful!" and he flung his cap in the air, and seizing both her hands kissed them ardently. "Ah, my pretty she-comrade, I have found thee at last. I knew I should. Shall be flouted no more. I'll twist your necks at the first word, ye little trollops. And I have got fifteen gold angels left for thee, and our Gerard will soon be here. Shalt wet thy purple eyes no more."
But the fair eyes were wet even now, looking kindly and gratefully at the friend that had dropped among her foes as if from heaven; Gerard's comrade. "Prithee come home with me good, kind Denys. I cannot speak of him before these." They went off together, followed by a chorus. "She has gotten a man. She has gotten a man at last. Boo! boo! boo!"
Margaret quickened her steps; but Denys took down his crossbow and pretended to shoot them all dead: they fled quadrivious, shrieking.
The reader already knows how much these two had to tell one another. It was a sweet yet bitter day for Margaret, since it brought her a true friend, and ill news; for now first she learned that Gerard was all alone in that strange land. She could not think with Denys that he would come home; indeed he would have arrived before this.
Denys was a balm. He called her his she-comrade, and was always cheering her up with his formula and hilarities, and she petted him and made much of him, and feebly hectored it over him as well as over Martin, and would not let him eat a single meal out of her house, and forbade him to use naughty words. "It spoils you, Denys. Good lack, to hear such ugly words come forth so comely a head: forbear, or I shall be angry: so be civil." Whereupon Denys was upon his good behaviour, and ludicrous the struggle between his native politeness and his acquired ruffianism. And as it never rains but it pours, other persons now solicited Margaret's friendship. She had written to Margaret Van Eyck a humble letter telling her she knew she was no longer the favourite she had been, and would keep her distance; but could not forget her benefactress's past kindness. She then told her briefly how many ways she had battled for a living, and in conclusion, begged earnestly that her residence might not be betrayed, "least of all to his people. I do hate them, they drove him from me. And even when he was gone, their hearts turned not to me as they would an if they had repented their cruelty to him."
The Van Eyck was perplexed. At last she made a confidante of Reicht. The secret ran through Reicht, as through a cylinder, to Catherine.
"Ay, and is she turned that bitter against us?" said that good woman. "She stole our son from us, and now she hates us for not running into her arms. Natheless it is a blessing she is alive and no farther away than Rotterdam."
The English princess, now Countess Charolois, made a stately progress through the northern states of the duchy, accompanied by her stepdaughter the young heiress of Burgundy, Marie de Bourgogne. Then the old duke, the most magnificent prince in Europe, put out his splendour. Troops of dazzling knights, and bevies of fair ladies gorgeously attired, attended the two princesses; and minstrels, jongleurs, or story-tellers, bards, musicians, actors, tumblers followed in the train; and there was fencing, dancing, and joy in every town they shone on. Richart invited all his people to meet him at Rotterdam and view the pageant.
They had been in Rotterdam some days, when Denys met Catherine accidentally in the street, and after a warm greeting on both sides, bade her rejoice, for he had found the she-comrade, and crowed; but Catherine cooled him by showing him how much earlier he would have found her by staying quietly at Tergou, than by vagabondizing it all over Holland. "And being found, what the better are we? her heart is set dead against us now."
"Oh, let that flea stick; come you with me to her house."
No, she would not go where she was sure of an ill welcome. "Them that come unbidden sit unseated." No, let Denys be mediator, and bring the parties to a good understanding. He undertook the office at once, and with great pomp and confidence. He trotted off to Margaret and said, "She-comrade, I met this day a friend of thine."
"Thou didst look into the Rotter then, and see thyself."
"Nay, 'twas a female, and one that seeks thy regard; 'twas Catherine, Gerard's mother."
"Oh, was it?" said Margaret; "then you may tell her she comes too late. There was a time I longed and longed for her; but she held aloof in my hour of most need, so now we will be as we ha' been."
Denys tried to shake this resolution. He coaxed her, but she was bitter and sullen, and not to be coaxed. Then he scolded her well; then, at that she went into hysterics.
He was frightened at this result of his eloquence, and being off his guard, allowed himself to be entrapped into a solemn promise never to recur to the subject. He went back to Catherine crestfallen, and told her. She fired up and told the family how his overtures had been received. Then they fired up; it became a feud and burned fiercer every day. Little Kate alone made some excuses for Margaret.
The very next day another visitor came to Margaret, and found the military enslaved and degraded, Martin up to his elbows in soapsuds, and Denys ironing very clumsily, and Margaret plaiting ruffs, but with a mistress's eye on her raw levies. To these there entered an old man, venerable at first sight, but on nearer view keen and wizened.
"Ah," cried Margaret. Then swiftly turned her back on him and hid her face with invincible repugnance. "Oh, that man! that man!"
"Nay, fear me not," said Ghysbrecht; "I come on a friend's errand. I bring ye a letter from foreign parts."
"Mock me not, old man," and she turned slowly round.
"Nay, see;" and he held out an enormous letter.
Margaret darted on it, and held it with trembling hands and glistening eyes. It was Gerard's handwriting.
"Oh, thank you, sir, bless you for this, I forgive you all the ill you ever wrought me."
And she pressed the letter to her bosom with one hand, and glided swiftly from the room with it.
As she did not come back, Ghysbrecht went away, but not without a scowl at Martha. Margaret was hours alone with her letter.
When she came down again she was a changed woman. Her eyes were wet, but calm, and all her bitterness and excitement charmed away.
"Denys," said she softly, "I have got my orders. I am to read my lover's letter to his folk."
"Ye will never do that?"
"Ay will I."
"I see there is something in the letter has softened ye towards them."
"Not a jot, Denys, not a jot. But an I hated them like poison I would not disobey my love. Denys, 'tis so sweet to obey, and sweetest of all to obey one who is far, far away, and cannot enforce my duty, but must trust my love for my obedience. Ah, Gerard, my darling, at hand I might have slighted thy commands, misliking thy folk as I have cause to do; but now, didst bid me go into the raging sea and read thy sweet letter to the sharks, there I'd go. Therefore, Denys, tell his mother I have got a letter, and if she and hers would hear it, I am their servant; let them say their hour, and I'll seat them as best I can, and welcome them as best I may."
Denys went off to Catherine with this good news. He found the family at dinner, and told them there was a long letter from Gerard. Then in the midst of the joy this caused, he said, "And her heart is softened, and she will read it to you herself; you are to choose your own time."
"What does she think there are none can read but her?" asked Catherine. "Let her send the letter and we will read it."
"Nay, but, mother," objected little Kate; "mayhap she cannot bear to part it from her hand; she loves him dearly."
"What, thinks she we shall steal it?"
Cornelis suggested that she would fain wedge herself into the family by means of this letter.
Denys cast a look of scorn on the speaker. "There spoke a bad heart," said he. "La camarade hates you all like poison. Oh, mistake me not, dame; I defend her not, but so 'tis; yet maugre her spleen at a word from Gerard she proffers to read you his letter with her own pretty mouth, and hath a voice like honey—sure 'tis a fair proffer."
"'Tis so, mine honest soldier," said the father of the family, "and merits a civil reply, therefore hold your whisht ye that be women, and I shall answer her. Tell her I, his father, setting aside all past grudges, do for this grace thank her, and would she have double thanks, let her send my son's letter by thy faithful hand, the which will I read to his flesh and blood, and will then to her so surely and faithful return, as I am Eli a Dierich a William a Luke, free burgher of Tergou, like my forbears, and like them, a man of my word."
"Ay, and a man who is better than his word," cried Catherine; "the only one I ever did foregather."
"Hold thy peace, wife."
"Art a man of sense, Eli, a dirk, a chose, a chose(1),"' shouted Denys. "The she-comrade will be right glad to obey Gerard and yet not face you all, whom she hates as wormwood, saving your presence. Bless ye, the world hath changed, she is all submission to-day: 'obedience is honey,' quoth she; and in sooth 'tis a sweetmeat she cannot but savour, eating so little on't, for what with her fair face, and her mellow tongue; and what wi' flying in fits and terrifying us that be soldiers to death, an we thwart her; and what wi' chiding us one while, and petting us like lambs t' other, she hath made two of the crawlingest slaves ever you saw out of two honest swashbucklers. I be the ironing ruffian, t' other washes."
"What next? why, whenever the brat is in the world I shall rock cradle, and t' other knave will wash tucker and bib. So, then, I'll go fetch the letter on the instant. Ye will let me bide and hear it read, will ye not?"
"Else our hearts were black as coal," said Catherine.
So Denys went for the letter. He came back crestfallen. "She will not let it out of her hand neither to me nor you, nor any he or she that lives."
"I knew she would not," said Cornelis.
"Whisht! whisht!" said Eli, "and let Denys tell his story."
"'Nay,' said I, 'but be ruled by me.' 'Not I,' quoth she. 'Well, but,' quoth I, 'that same honey Obedience ye spake of.' 'You are a fool,' says she; 'obedience to Gerard is sweet, but obedience to any other body, who ever said that was sweet?'
"At last she seemed to soften a bit, and did give me a written paper for you, mademoiselle. Here 'tis."
"For me?" said little Kate, colouring.
"Give that here!" said Eli, and he scanned the writing, and said almost in a whisper, "These be words from the letter Hearken!
"'And, sweetheart, an if these lines should travel safe to thee, make thou trial of my people's hearts withal. Maybe they are somewhat turned towards me, being far away. If 'tis so they will show it to thee, since now to me they may not. Read, then, this letter! But I do strictly forbid thee to let it from thy hand; and if they still hold aloof from thee, why, then say nought, but let them think me dead. Obey me in this; for, if thou dost disrespect my judgment and my will in this, thou lovest me not.'"
There was a silence, and Gerard's words copied by Margaret here handed round and inspected.
"Well," said Catherine, "that is another matter. But methinks 'tis for her to come to us, not we to her."
"Alas, mother! what odds does that make?"
"Much," said Eli. "Tell her we are over many to come to her, and bid her hither, the sooner the better."
When Denys was gone, Eli owned it was a bitter pill to him.
"When that lass shall cross my threshold, all the mischief and misery she hath made here will seem to come in adoors in one heap. But what could I do, wife? We must hear the news of Gerard. I saw that in thine eyes, and felt it in my own heart. And she is backed by our undutiful but still beloved son, and so is she stronger than we, and brings our noses down to the grindstone, the sly, cruel jade. But never heed. We will hear the letter; and then let her go unblessed as she came unwelcome."
"Make your mind easy," said Catherine. "She will not come at all." And a tone of regret was visible.
Shortly after Richart, who had been hourly expected, arrived from Amsterdam grave and dignified in his burgher's robe and gold chain, ruff, and furred cap, and was received not with affection only, but respect; for he had risen a step higher than his parents, and such steps were marked in mediaeval society almost as visibly as those in their staircases.
Admitted in due course to the family council, he showed plainly, though not discourteously, that his pride was deeply wounded by their having deigned to treat with Margaret Brandt. "I see the temptation," said he. "But which of us hath not at times to wish one way and do another?" This threw a considerable chill over the old people. So little Kate put in a word. "Vex not thyself, dear Richart. Mother says she will not come.
"All the better, sweetheart. I fear me, if she do, I shall hie me back to Amsterdam."
Here Denys popped his head in at the door, and said—
"She will be here at three on the great dial."
They all looked at one another in silence.
(1) Anglice, a Thing-em-bob.
"Nay, Richart," said Catherine at last, "for Heaven's sake let not this one sorry wench set us all by the ears: hath she not made ill blood enough already?"
"In very deed she hath. Fear me not, good mother. Let her come and read the letter of the poor boy she hath by devilish arts bewitched and then let her go. Give me your words to show her no countenance beyond decent and constrained civility: less we may not, being in our own house; and I will say no more." On this understanding they waited the foe. She, for her part, prepared for the interview in a spirit little less hostile. When Denys brought word they would not come to her, but would receive her, her lip curled, and she bade him observe how in them every feeling, however small, was larger than the love for Gerard. "Well," said she, "I have not that excuse; so why mimic the pretty burgher's pride, the pride of all unlettered folk? I will go to them for Gerard's sake. Oh, how I loathe them!"
Thus poor good-natured Denys was bringing into one house the materials of an explosion.
Margaret made her toilet in the same spirit that a knight of her day dressed for battle—he to parry blows, and she to parry glances—glances of contempt at her poverty, or of irony at her extravagance. Her kirtle was of English cloth, dark blue, and her farthingale and hose of the same material, but a glossy roan, or claret colour. Not an inch of pretentious fur about her, but plain snowy linen wristbands, and curiously plaited linen from the bosom of the kirtle up to the commencement of the throat; it did not encircle her throat, but framed it, being square, not round. Her front hair still peeped in two waves much after the fashion which Mary Queen of Scots revived a century later; but instead of the silver net, which would have ill become her present condition, the rest of her head was covered with a very small tight-fitting hood of dark blue cloth, hemmed with silver. Her shoes were red; but the roan petticoat and hose prepared the spectator's mind for the shock, and they set off the arched instep and shapely foot.
Beauty knew its business then as now.
And with all this she kept her enemies waiting, though it was three by the dial.
At last she started, attended by her he-comrade. And when they were halfway, she stopped and said thoughtfully, "Denys!"
"I must go home" (piteously).
"What, have ye left somewhat behind?"
"My courage. Oh! oh! oh!"
"Nay, nay, be brave, she-general. I shall be with you."
"Ay, but wilt keep close to me when I be there?"
Denys promised, and she resumed her march, but gingerly.
Meantime they were all assembled, and waiting for her with a strange mixture of feelings.
Mortification, curiosity, panting affection, aversion to her who came to gratify those feelings, yet another curiosity to see what she was like, and what there was in her to bewitch Gerard and make so much mischief.
At last Denys came alone, and whispered, "The she-comrade is without."
"Fetch her in," said Eli. "Now whisht, all of ye. None speak to her but I."
They all turned their eyes to the door in dead silence.
A little muttering was heard outside; Denys's rough organ and a woman's soft and mellow voice.
Presently that stopped; and then the door opened slowly, and Margaret Brandt, dressed as I have described, and somewhat pale, but calm and lovely, stood on the threshold, looking straight before her.
They all rose but Kate, and remained mute and staring.
"Be seated, mistress," said Eli gravely, and motioned to a seat that had been set apart for her.
She inclined her head, and crossed the apartment; and in so doing her condition was very visible, not only in her shape, but in her languor.
Cornelis and Sybrandt hated her for it. Richart thought it spoiled her beauty.
It softened the women somewhat.
She took her letter out of her bosom, and kissed it as if she had been alone; then disposed herself to read it, with the air of one who knew she was there for that single purpose.
But as she began, she noticed they had seated her all by herself like a leper. She looked at Denys, and putting her hand down by her side, made him a swift furtive motion to come by her.
He went with an obedient start as if she had cried "March!" and stood at her shoulder like a sentinel; but this zealous manner of doing it revealed to the company that he had been ordered thither; and at that she coloured. And now she began to read her Gerard, their Gerard, to their eager ears, in a mellow, clear voice, so soft, so earnest, so thrilling, her very soul seemed to cling about each precious sound. It was a voice as of a woman's bosom set speaking by Heaven itself.
"I do nothing doubt, my Margaret, that long ere this shall meet thy beloved eyes, Denys, my most dear friend, will have sought thee out, and told thee the manner of our unlooked for and most tearful parting. Therefore I will e'en begin at that most doleful day. What befell him after, poor faithful soul, fain, fain would I hear, but may not. But I pray for him day and night next after thee, dearest. Friend more stanch and loving had not David in Jonathan, than I in him. Be good to him, for poor Gerard's sake."
At these words, which came quite unexpectedly to him, Denys leaned his head on Margaret's high chair, and groaned aloud.
She turned quickly as she sat, and found his hand, and pressed it.
And so the sweetheart and the friend held hands while the sweetheart read.
"I went forward all dizzied, like one in an ill dream; and presently a gentleman came up with his servants, all on horseback, and had liked to have rid o'er me. And he drew rein at the brow of the hill, and sent his armed men back to rob me. They robbed me civilly enough and took my purse and the last copper, and rid gaily away. I wandered stupid on, a friendless pauper."
There was a general sigh, followed by an oath from Denys.
"Presently a strange dimness came o'er me; I lay down to sleep on the snow. 'Twas ill done, and with store of wolves hard by. Had I loved thee as thou dost deserve, I had shown more manhood. But oh, sweet love, the drowsiness that did crawl o'er me desolate, and benumb me, was more than nature. And so I slept; and but that God was better to us, than I to thee or to myself, from that sleep I ne'er had waked; so all do say. I had slept an hour or two, as I suppose, but no more, when a hand did shake me rudely. I awoke to my troubles. And there stood a servant girl in her holiday suit. 'Are ye mad,' quoth she, in seeming choler, 'to sleep in snow, and under wolves' nosen? Art weary o' life, and not long weaned? Come, now, said she, more kindly, 'get up like a good lad;' so I did rise up. 'Are ye rich, or are ye poor?' But I stared at her as one amazed. 'Why, 'tis easy of reply,' quoth she. 'Are ye rich, or are ye poor?' Then I gave a great, loud cry; that she did start back. 'Am I rich, or am I poor? Had ye asked me an hour agone, I had said I am rich. But now I am so poor as sure earth beareth on her bosom none poorer. An hour agone I was rich in a friend, rich in money, rich in hope and spirits of youth; but now the Bastard of Burgundy hath taken my friend, and another gentleman my purse; and I can neither go forward to Rome nor back to her I left in Holland. I am poorest of the poor.' 'Alack!' said the wench. 'Natheless, an ye had been rich ye might ha' lain down again in the snow for any use I had for ye; and then I trow ye had soon fared out o' this world as bare as ye came into it. But, being poor, you are our man: so come wi' me.' Then I went because she bade me, and because I recked not now whither I went. And she took me to a fine house hard by, and into a noble dining-hall hung with black; and there was set a table with many dishes, and but one plate and one chair. 'Fall to!' said she, in a whisper. 'What, alone?' said I. 'Alone? And which of us, think ye, would eat out of the same dish with ye? Are we robbers o' the dead?' Then she speered where I was born. 'At Tergou,' said I. Says she, 'And when a gentleman dies in that country, serve they not the dead man's dinner up as usual, till he be in the ground, and set some poor man to it?' I told her, 'nay.' She blushed for us then. Here they were better Christians.' So I behoved to sit down. But small was my heart for meat. Then this kind lass sat by me and poured me out wine; and tasting it, it cut me to the heart Denys was not there to drink with me. He doth so love good wine, and women good, bad, or indifferent. The rich, strong wine curled round my sick heart; and that day first I did seem to glimpse why folk in trouble run to drink so. She made me eat of every dish. ''Twas unlucky to pass one. Nought was here but her master's daily dinner.' 'He had a good stomach, then,' said I. 'Ay, lad, and a good heart. Leastways, so we all say now he is dead; but, being alive, no word on't e'er heard I.' So I did eat as a bird, nibbling of every dish. And she hearing me sigh, and seeing me like to choke at the food, took pity and bade me be of good cheer. I should sup and lie there that night. And she went to the hind, and he gave me a right good bed; and I told him all, and asked him would the law give me back my purse. 'Law!' quoth he; 'law there was none for the poor in Burgundy. Why, 'twas the cousin of the Lady of the Manor, he that had robbed me. He knew the wild spark. The matter must be judged before the lady; and she was quite young, and far more like to hang me for slandering her cousin, and a gentleman, and a handsome man, than to make him give me back my own. Inside the liberties of a town a poor man might now and then see the face of justice; but out among the grand seigneurs and dames—never.' So I said, 'I'll sit down robbed rather than seek justice and find gallows.' They were all most kind to me next day; and the girl proffered me money from her small wage to help me towards Rhine."
"Oh, then, he is coming home! he is coming home!" shouted Denys, interrupting the reader. She shook her head gently at him, by way of reproof.
"I beg pardon, all the company," said he stiffly.
"'Twas a sore temptation; but being a servant, my stomach rose against it. 'Nay, nay,' said I. She told me I was wrong. ''Twas pride out o' place; poor folk should help one another; or who on earth would?' I said if I could do aught in return 'twere well; but for a free gift, nay: I was overmuch beholden already. Should I write a letter for her? 'Nay, he is in the house at present,' said she. 'Should I draw her picture, and so earn my money?' 'What, can ye?' said she. I told her I could try; and her habit would well become a picture. So she was agog to be limned, and give it her lad. And I set her to stand in a good light, and soon made sketches two, whereof I send thee one, coloured at odd hours. The other I did most hastily, and with little conscience daub, for which may Heaven forgive me; but time was short. They, poor things, knew no better, and were most proud and joyous; and both kissing me after their country fashion, 'twas the hind that was her sweetheart, they did bid me God-speed; and I towards Rhine."
Margaret paused here, and gave Denys the coloured drawing to hand round. It was eagerly examined by the females on account of the costume, which differed in some respects from that of the Dutch domestic: the hair was in a tight linen bag, a yellow half kerchief crossed her head from ear to ear, but threw out a rectangular point that descended the centre of her forehead, and it met in two more points over her bosom. She wore a red kirtle with long sleeves, kilted very high in front, and showing a green farthingale and a great red leather purse hanging down over it; red stockings, yellow leathern shoes, ahead of her age; for they were low-quartered and square-toed, secured by a strap buckling over the instep, which was not uncommon, and was perhaps the rude germ of the diamond buckle to come.
"But oh! how I missed my Denys at every step! often I sat down on the road and groaned. And in the afternoon it chanced that I did so set me down where two roads met, and with heavy head in hand, and heavy heart, did think of thee, my poor sweetheart, and of my lost friend, and of the little house at Tergou, where they all loved me once; though now it is turned to hate."
Catherine. "Alas! that he will think so."
Eli. "Whisht, wife!"
"And I did sigh loud, and often. And me sighing so, one came carolling like a bird adown t' other road. 'Ay, chirp and chirp,' cried I bitterly. 'Thou has not lost sweetheart, and friend, thy father's hearth, thy mother's smile, and every penny in the world.' And at last he did so carol, and carol, I jumped up in ire to get away from his most jarring mirth. But ere I lied from it, I looked down the path to see what could make a man so lighthearted in this weary world; and lo! the songster was a humpbacked cripple, with a bloody bandage o'er his eye, and both legs gone at the knee."
"He! he! he! he! he!" went Sybrandt, laughing and cackling.
Margaret's eyes flashed: she began to fold the letter up.
"Nay, lass," said Eli, "heed him not! Thou unmannerly cur, offer't but again and I put thee to the door."
"Why, what was there to gibe at, Sybrandt?" remonstrated Catherine more mildly. "Is not our Kate afflicted? and is she not the most content of us all, and singeth like a merle at times between her pains? But I am as bad as thou; prithee read on, lass, and stop our gabble wi' somewhat worth the hearkening."
"'Then,' said I, 'may this thing be?' And I took myself to task. 'Gerard, son of Eli, dost thou well to bemoan thy lot, thou hast youth and health; and here comes the wreck of nature on crutches, praising God's goodness with singing like a mavis?'"
Catherine. "There you see."
Eli. "Whisht, dame, whisht!"
"And whenever he saw me, he left carolling and presently hobbled up and chanted, 'Charity, for love of Heaven, sweet master, charity,' with a whine as piteous as wind at keyhole. 'Alack, poor soul,' said I, 'charity is in my heart, but not my purse; I am poor as thou.' Then he believed me none, and to melt me undid his sleeve, and showed a sore wound on his arm, and said he, 'Poor cripple though I be, I am like to lose this eye to boot, look else.' I saw and groaned for him, and to excuse myself let him wot how I had been robbed of my last copper. Thereat he left whining all in a moment, and said, in a big manly voice, 'Then I'll e'en take a rest. Here, youngster, pull thou this strap: nay, fear not!' I pulled, and down came a stout pair of legs out of his back; and half his hump had melted away, and the wound in his eye no deeper than the bandage.
"Oh!" ejaculated Margaret's hearers in a body.
"Whereat, seeing me astounded, he laughed in my face, and told me I was not worth gulling, and offered me his protection. 'My face was prophetic,' he said. 'Of what?' said I. 'Marry,' said he, 'that its owner will starve in this thievish land.' Travel teaches e'en the young wisdom. Time was I had turned and fled this impostor as a pestilence; but now I listened patiently to pick up crumbs of counsel. And well I did: for nature and his adventurous life had crammed the poor knave with shrewdness and knowledge of the homelier sort—a child was I beside him. When he had turned me inside out, said he, 'Didst well to leave France and make for Germany; but think not of Holland again. Nay, on to Augsburg and Nurnberg, the Paradise of craftsmen: thence to Venice, an thou wilt. But thou wilt never bide in Italy nor any other land, having once tasted the great German cities. Why, there is but one honest country in Europe, and that is Germany; and since thou art honest, and since I am a vagabone, Germany was made for us twain.' I bade him make that good: how might one country fit true men and knaves! 'Why, thou novice,' said he, 'because in an honest land are fewer knaves to bite the honest man, and many honest men for the knave to bite. I was in luck, being honest, to have fallen in with a friendly sharp. Be my pal,' said he; 'I go to Nurnberg; we will reach it with full pouches. I'll learn ye the cul de bois, and the cul de jatte, and how to maund, and chaunt, and patter, and to raise swellings, and paint sores and ulcers on thy body would take in the divell.' I told him shivering, I'd liever die than shame myself and my folk so."
Eli. "Good lad! good lad!"
"Why, what shame was it for such as I to turn beggar? Beggary was an ancient and most honourable mystery. What did holy monks, and bishops, and kings, when they would win Heaven's smile? why, wash the feet of beggars, those favourites of the saints. 'The saints were no fools,' he told me. Then he did put out his foot. 'Look at that, that was washed by the greatest king alive, Louis, of France, the last Holy Thursday that was. And the next day, Friday, clapped in the stocks by the warden of a petty hamlet.' So I told him my foot should walk between such high honour and such low disgrace, on the same path of honesty, please God. Well then, since I had not spirit to beg, he would indulge my perversity. I should work under him, he be the head, I the fingers. And with that he set himself up like a judge, on a heap of dust by the road's side, and questioned me strictly what I could do. I began to say I was strong and willing. 'Ba!' said he, 'so is an ox. Say, what canst do that Sir Ox cannot?' I could write; I had won a prize for it. 'Canst write as fast as the printers?' quo' he, jeering. 'What else?' I could paint. 'That was better.' I was like to tear my hair to hear him say so, and me going to Rome to write. I could twang the psaltery a bit. 'That was well. Could I tell stories?' Ay, by the score. 'Then,' said he, 'I hire you from this moment.' 'What to do?' said I. 'Nought crooked, Sir Candour,' says he. 'I will feed thee all the way and find thee work; and take half thine earnings, no more.' 'Agreed,' said I, and gave my hand on it, 'Now, servant,' said he, 'we will dine. But ye need not stand behind my chair, for two reasons—first I ha' got no chair; and next, good fellowship likes me better than state.' And out of his wallet he brought flesh, fowl, and pastry, a good dozen of spices lapped in flax paper, and wine fit for a king. Ne'er feasted I better than out of this beggar's wallet, now my master. When we had well eaten I was for going on. 'But,' said he, 'servants should not drive their masters too hard, especially after feeding, for then the body is for repose, and the mind turns to contemplation;' and he lay on his back gazing calmly at the sky, and presently wondered whether there were any beggars up there. I told him I knew but of one, called Lazarus. 'Could he do the cul de jatte better than I?' said he, and looked quite jealous like. I told him nay; Lazarus was honest, though a beggar, and fed daily of the crumbs fal'n from a rich man's table, and the dogs licked his sores. 'Servant,' quo' he, 'I spy a foul fault in thee. Thou liest without discretion: now the end of lying being to gull, this is no better than fumbling with the divell's tail. I pray Heaven thou mayest prove to paint better than thou cuttest whids, or I am done out of a dinner. No beggar eats crumbs, but only the fat of the land; and dogs lick not a beggar's sores, being made with spearwort, or ratsbane, or biting acids, from all which dogs, and even pigs, abhor. My sores are made after my proper receipt; but no dog would lick e'en them twice. I have made a scurvy bargain: art a cozening knave, I doubt, as well as a nincompoop.' I deigned no reply to this bundle of lies, which did accuse heavenly truth of falsehood for not being in a tale with him. He rose and we took the road; and presently we came to a place where were two little wayside inns, scarce a furlong apart. 'Halt,' said my master. 'Their armories are sore faded—all the better. Go thou in; shun the master; board the wife; and flatter her inn sky high, all but the armories, and offer to colour them dirt cheap.' So I went in and told the wife I was a painter, and would revive her armories cheap; but she sent me away with a rebuff. I to my master. He groaned. 'Ye are all fingers and no tongue,' said he; 'I have made a scurvy bargain. Come and hear me patter and flatter.' Between the two inns was a high hedge. He goes behind it a minute and comes out a decent tradesman. We went on to the other inn, and then I heard him praise it so fulsome as the very wife did blush. 'But,' says he, 'there is one little, little fault; your armories are dull and faded. Say but the word, and for a silver franc my apprentice here, the cunningest e'er I had, shall make them bright as ever. Whilst she hesitated, the rogue told her he had done it to a little inn hard by, and now the inn's face was like the starry firmament. 'D'ye hear that, my man?' cries she, '"The Three Frogs" have been and painted up their armories; shall "The Four Hedgehogs" be outshone by them?' So I painted, and my master stood by like a lord, advising me how to do, and winking to me to heed him none, and I got a silver franc. And he took me back to 'The Three Frogs,' and on the way put me on a beard and disguised me, and flattered 'The Three Frogs,' and told them how he had adorned 'The Four Hedgehogs,' and into the net jumped the three poor simple frogs, and I earned another silver franc. Then we went on and he found his crutches, and sent me forward, and showed his "cicatrices d'emprunt," as he called them, and all his infirmities, at 'The Four Hedgehogs,' and got both food and money. 'Come, share and share,' quoth he: so I gave him one franc. 'I have made a good bargain,' said he. 'Art a master limner, but takest too much time.' So I let him know that in matters of honest craft things could not be done quick and well. 'Then do them quick,' quoth he. And he told me my name was Bon Bec; and I might call him Cul de Jatte, because that was his lay at our first meeting. And at the next town my master, Cul de Jatte, bought me a psaltery, and set himself up again by the roadside in state like him that erst judged Marsyas and Apollo, piping for vain glory. So I played a strain. 'Indifferent well, harmonious Bon Bec,' said he haughtily. 'Now tune thy pipes.' So I did sing a sweet strain the good monks taught me; and singing it reminded poor Bon Bec, Gerard erst, of his young days and home, and brought the water to my een. But looking up, my master's visage was as the face of a little boy whipt soundly, or sipping foulest medicine. 'Zounds, stop that bellyache blether,' quoth he, 'that will ne'er wile a stiver out o' peasants' purses; 'twill but sour the nurses' milk, and gar the kine jump into rivers to be out of earshot on't. What, false knave, did I buy thee a fine new psaltery to be minded o' my latter end withal? Hearken! these be the songs that glad the heart, and fill the minstrel's purse.' And he sung so blasphemous a stave, and eke so obscene, as I drew away from him a space that the lightning might not spoil the new psaltery. However, none came, being winter, and then I said, 'Master, the Lord is debonair. Held I the thunder, yon ribaldry had been thy last, thou foul-mouthed wretch.'
"'Why, Bon Bec, what is to do?' quoth he. 'I have made an ill bargain. Oh, perverse heart, that turneth from doctrine.' So I bade him keep his breath to cool his broth, ne'er would I shame my folk with singing ribald songs. 'Then,' says he sulkily, 'the first fire we light by the wayside, clap thou on the music box! so 'twill make our pot boil for the nonce; but with your,
Good people, let us peak and pine, Cut tristful mugs, and miaul and whine Thorough our nosen chaunts divine,
never, never, never. Ye might as well go through Lorraine crying, Mulleygrubs, Mulleygrubs, who'll buy my Mulleygrubs!' So we fared on, bad friends. But I took a thought, and prayed him hum me one of his naughty ditties again. Then he brightened, and broke forth into ribaldry like a nightingale. Finger in ears stuffed I. 'No words; naught but the bare melody.' For oh, Margaret, note the sly malice of the Evil One! Still to the scurviest matter he wedded the tunablest ditties."
Catherine. "That is true as Holy Writ."
Sybrandt. "How know you that, mother?"
Cornelis. "He! he! he!"
Eli. "Whisht, ye uneasy wights, and let me hear the boy. He is wiser than ye; wiser than his years."
"'What tomfoolery is this,' said he; yet he yielded to me, and soon I garnered three of his melodies; but I would not let Cul de Jatte wot the thing I meditated. 'Show not fools nor bairns unfinished work,' saith the byword. And by this time 'twas night, and a little town at hand, where we went each to his inn; for my master would not yield to put off his rags and other sores till morning; nor I to enter an inn with a tatterdemalion. So we were to meet on the road at peep of day, and indeed, we still lodged apart, meeting at morn and parting at eve outside each town we lay at. And waking at midnight and cogitating, good thoughts came down to me, and sudden my heart was enlightened. I called to mind that my Margaret had withstood the taking of the burgomaster's purse. ''Tis theft,' said you; 'disguise it how ye will.' But I must be wiser than my betters; and now that which I had as good as stolen, others had stolen from me. As it came so it was gone. Then I said, 'Heaven is not cruel, but just;' and I vowed a vow, to repay our burgomaster every shilling an' I could. And I went forth in the morning sad, but hopeful. I felt lighter for the purse being gone. My master was at the gate becrutched. I told him I'd liever have seen him in another disguise. 'Beggars must not be choosers,' said he. However, soon he bade me untruss him, for he felt sadly. His head swam. I told him forcefully to deform nature thus could scarce be wholesome. He answered none; but looked scared, and hand on head. By-and-by he gave a groan, and rolled on the ground like a ball, and writhed sore. I was scared, and wist not what to do, but went to lift him; but his trouble rose higher and higher, he gnashed his teeth fearfully, and the foam did fly from his lips; and presently his body bended itself like a bow, and jerked and bounded many times into the air. I exorcised him; it but made him worse. There was water in a ditch hard by, not very clear; but the poor creature struggling between life and death, I filled my hat withal, and came flying to souse him. Then my lord laughed in my face. 'Come, Bon Bec, by thy white gills, I have not forgotten my trade.' I stood with watery hat in hand, glaring. 'Could this be feigning?' 'What else?' said he. 'Why, a real fit is the sorriest thing; but a stroke with a feather compared with mine. Art still betters nature.' 'But look, e'en now blood trickleth from your nose,' said I. 'Ay, ay, pricked my nostrils with a straw.' 'But ye foamed at the lips.' 'Oh, a little soap makes a mickle foam.' And he drew out a morsel like a bean from his mouth. 'Thank thy stars, Bon Bec,' says he, 'for leading thee to a worthy master. Each day his lesson. To-morrow we will study the cul de bois and other branches. To-day, own me prince of demoniacs, and indeed of all good fellows.' Then, being puffed up, he forgot yesterday's grudge, and discoursed me freely of beggars; and gave me, who eftsoons thought a beggar was a beggar, and there an end, the names and qualities of full thirty sorts of masterful and crafty mendicants in France and Germany and England; his three provinces; for so the poor, proud knave yclept those kingdoms three; wherein his throne it was the stocks I ween. And outside the next village one had gone to dinner, and left his wheelbarrow. So says he, 'I'll tie myself in a knot, and shalt wheel me through; and what with my crippledom and thy piety, a-wheeling of thy poor old dad, we'll bleed the bumpkins of a dacha-saltee.' I did refuse. I would work for him; but no hand would have in begging. 'And wheeling an "asker" in a barrow, is not that work?' said he; 'then fling yon muckle stone in to boot: stay, I'll soil it a bit, and swear it is a chip of the holy sepulchre; and you wheeled us both from Jerusalem.' Said I, 'Wheeling a pair o' lies, one stony, one fleshy, may be work, and hard work, but honest work 'tis not. 'Tis fumbling with his tail you wot of. And,' said I, 'master, next time you go to tempt me to knavery, speak not to me of my poor old dad.' Said I, 'You have minded me of my real father's face, the truest man in Holland. He and I are ill friends now, worse luck. But though I offend him shame him I never will.' Dear Margaret, with this knave' saying, 'your poor old dad,' it had gone to my heart like a knife. ''Tis well,' said my master gloomily; 'I have made a bad bargain.' Presently he halts, and eyes a tree by the wayside. 'Go spell me what is writ on yon tree.' So I went, and there was nought but a long square drawn in outline. I told him so. 'So much for thy monkish lore,' quoth he. A little farther, and he sent me to read a wall. There was nought but a circle scratched on the stone with a point of nail or knife, and in the circle two dots. I said so Then said he, 'Bon Bec, that square was a warning. Some good Truand left it, that came through this village faring west; that means "dangerous." The circle with the two dots was writ by another of our brotherhood; and it signifies as how the writer, soit Rollin Trapu, soit Triboulet, soit Catin Cul de Bois, or what not, was becked for asking here, and lay two months in Starabin.' Then he broke forth. 'Talk: of your little snivelling books that go in pouch. Three books have I, France, England, and Germany; and they are writ all over in one tongue, that my brethren of all countries understand; and that is what I call learning. So sith here they whip sores, and imprison infirmities, I to my tiring room.' And he popped behind the hedge, and came back worshipful. We passed through the village, and I sat me down on the stocks, and even the barber's apprentice whets his razor on a block, so did I flesh my psaltery on this village, fearing great cities. I tuned it, and coursed up and down the wires nimbly with my two wooden strikers; and then chanted loud and clear, as I had heard the minstrels of the country,
'Qui veut ouir qui veut Savoir,'
some trash, I mind not what. And soon the villagers, male and female, thronged about me; thereat I left singing, and recited them to the psaltery a short but right merry tale out of 'the lives of the saints,' which it is my handbook of pleasant figments and this ended, instantly struck up and whistled one of Cul de Jatte's devil's ditties, and played it on the psaltery to boot. Thou knowest Heaven hath bestowed on me a rare whistle, both for compass and tune. And with me whistling bright and full this sprightly air, and making the wires slow when the tune did gallop, and tripping when the tune did amble, or I did stop and shake on one note like a lark i' the air, they were like to eat me; but looking round, lo! my master had given way to his itch, and there was his hat on the ground, and copper pouring in. I deemed it cruel to whistle the bread out of poverty's pouch; so broke off and away; yet could not get clear so swift, but both men and women did slobber me sore, and smelled all of garlic. 'There, master,' said I, 'I call that cleaving the divell in twain and keeping his white half.' Said he, 'Bon Bec, I have made a good bargain.' Then he bade me stay where I was while he went to the Holy Land. I stayed, and he leaped the churchyard dike, and the sexton was digging a grave, and my master chaffered with him, and came back with a knuckle bone. But why he clept a churchyard Holy Land, that I learned not then, but after dinner. I was colouring the armories of a little inn; and he sat by me most peaceable, a cutting, and filing, and polishing bones, sedately; so I speered was not honest work sweet? 'As rain water,' said he, mocking. 'What was he a making?' 'A pair of bones to play on with thee; and with the refuse a St. Anthony's thumb and a St. Martin's little finger, for the devout.' The vagabone! And now, sweet Margaret, thou seest our manner of life faring Rhineward. I with the two arts I had least prized or counted on for bread was welcome everywhere; too poor now to fear robbers, yet able to keep both master and man on the road. For at night I often made a portraiture of the innkeeper or his dame, and so went richer from an inn; the which it is the lot of few. But my master despised this even way of life. 'I love ups and downs,' said he. And certes he lacked them not. One day he would gather more than I in three; another, to hear his tale, it had rained kicks all day in lieu of 'saltees,' and that is pennies. Yet even then at heart he despised me for a poor mechanical soul, and scorned my arts, extolling his own, the art of feigning.
"Natheless, at odd times was he ill at his ease. Going through the town of Aix, we came upon a beggar walking, fast by one hand to a cart-tail, and the hangman a lashing his bare bloody back. He, stout knave, so whipt, did not a jot relent; but I did wince at every stroke; and my master hung his head.
"'Soon or late, Bon Bec,' quoth he. 'Soon or late.' I, seeing his haggard face, knew what he meaned. And at a town whose name hath slipped me, but 'twas on a fair river, as we came to the foot of the bridge he halted, and shuddered. 'Why what is the coil?' said I. 'Oh, blind,' said he, 'they are justifying there.' So nought would serve him but take a boat, and cross the river by water. But 'twas out of the frying-pan, as the word goeth. For the boatman had scarce told us the matter, and that it was a man and a woman for stealing glazed windows out of housen, and that the man was hanged at daybreak, and the quean to be drowned, when lo! they did fling her off the bridge, and fell in the water not far from us. And oh! Margaret, the deadly splash! It ringeth in mine ears even now. But worse was coming; for, though tied, she came up and cried 'Help! help!' and I, forgetting all, and hearing a woman's voice cry 'Help!' was for leaping in to save her; and had surely done it, but the boatman and Cul de Jatte clung round me, and in a moment the bourreau's man, that waited in a boat, came and entangled his hooked pole in her long hair, and so thrust her down and ended her. Oh! if the saints answered so our cries for help! And poor Cul de Jatte groaned; and I sat sobbing, and beat my breast, and cried, 'Of what hath God made men's hearts?'"