"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, they 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 hooks 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 beat, 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?'"
The reader stopped, and the tears trickled down her cheeks. Gerard crying in Lorraine, made her cry at Rotterdam. The leagues were no more to her heart than the breadth of a room.
Eli, softened by many touches in the letter, and by the reader's womanly graces, said kindly enough, "Take thy time, lass. And methinks some of ye might find her a creepie to rest her foot, and she so near her own trouble."
"I'd do more for her than that an I durst," said Catherine. "Here, Cornelis," and she held out her little wooden stool, and that worthy, who hated Margaret worse than ever, had to take the creepie and put it carefully under her foot.
"You are very kind, dame," she faltered. "I will read on; 'tis all I can do for you in turn.
"Thus seeing my master ashy and sore shaken, I deemed this horrible tragic act came timeously to warn him, so I strove sore to turn him from his ill ways, discoursing of sinners and their lethal end. 'Too late!' said he, 'too late!' and gnashed his teeth. Then I told him 'too late' was the divell's favourite whisper in repentant ears. Said I--
'The Lord is debonair,
Let sinners nought despair.'
'Too late!' said he, and gnashed his teeth, and writhed his face, as though vipers were biting his inward parts. But, dear heart, his was a mind like running water. Ere we cleared the town he was carolling, and outside the gate hung the other culprit, from the bough of a little tree, and scarce a yard above the ground. And that stayed my vagabone's music. But ere we had gone another furlong, he feigned to have dropped his, rosary, and ran back, with no good intent, as you shall hear. I strolled on very slowly, and often halting, and presently he came stumping up on one leg, and that bandaged. I asked him how he could contrive that, for 'twas masterly done. 'Oh, that was his mystery. Would I know that, I must join the brotherhood.' And presently we did pass a narrow lane, and at the mouth on't espied a written stone, telling beggars by a word like a wee pitchfork to go that way. ''Tis yon farmhouse,' said he: 'bide thou at hand.' And he went to the house, and came back with money, food, and wine. 'This lad did the business,' said he, slapping his one leg proudly. Then he undid the bandage, and with prideful face showed me a hole in his calf you could have put your neef in. Had I been strange to his tricks, here was a leg had drawn my last penny. Presently another farmhouse by the road. He made for it. I stood, and asked myself, should I run away and leave him, not to be shamed in my own despite by him? But while I doubted, there was a great noise, and my master well cudgelled by the farmer and his men, came towards me hobbling and holloaing, for the peasants had laid on heartily. But more trouble was at his heels. Some mischievous wight loosed a dog as big as a jackass colt, and came roaring after him, and downed him momently. I, deeming the poor rogue's death certain, and him least fit to die, drew my sword and ran shouting. But ere I could come near, the muckle dog had torn away his bad leg, and ran growling to his lair with it; and Cul de Jatte slipped his knot, and came running like a lapwing, with his hair on end, and so striking with both crutches before and behind at unreal dogs as 'twas like a windmill crazed. He fled adown the road. I followed leisurely, and found him at dinner. 'Curse the quiens,' said he. And not a word all dinner time but 'Curse the quiens!'
"I said, I must know who' they were, before I would curse them.
"'Quiens? why, that was dogs. And I knew not even that much? He had made a bad bargain. Well, well,' said he, 'to-morrow we shall be in Germany. There the folk are music bitten, and they molest not beggars, unless they fake to boot, and then they drown us out of hand that moment, curse 'em!' We came to Strasbourg. And I looked down Rhine with longing heart. The stream how swift! It seemed running to clip Sevenbergen to its soft bosom. With but a piece of timber and an oar I might drift at my ease to thee, sleeping yet gliding still. 'Twas a sore temptation. But the fear of an ill welcome from my folk, and of the neighbours' sneers, and the hope of coming back to thee victorious, not, as now I must, defeated and shamed, and thee with me, it did withhold me; and so, with many sighs, and often turning of the head to look on beloved Rhine, I turned sorrowful face and heavy heart towards Augsburg."
"Alas, dame, alas! Good master Eli, forgive me! But I ne'er can win over this part all at one time. It taketh my breath away. Welladay! Why did he not listen to his heart? Had he not gone through peril enow, sorrow enow? Well-a-day! well-a-day!"
The letter dropped from her hand, and she drooped like a wounded lily.
Then there was a clatter on the floor, and it was little Kate going on her crutches, with flushed face, and eyes full of pity, to console her. "Water, mother," she cried. "I am afeared she shall swoon."
"Nay, nay, fear me not," said Margaret feebly. "I will not be so troublesome. Thy good-will it maketh me stouter hearted, sweet mistress Kate. For, if thou carest how I fare, sure Heaven is not against me."
Catherine. "D'ye hear that, my man!"
Eli. "Ay, wife, I hear; and mark to boot."
Little Kate went back to her place, and Margaret read on.
"The Germans are fonder of armorials than the French. So I found work every day. And whiles I wrought, my master would leave me, and doff his raiment and don his rags, and other infirmities, and cozen the world, which he did clepe it 'plucking of the goose:' this done, would meet me and demand half my earnings; and with restless piercing eye ask me would I be so base as cheat my poor master by making three parts in lieu of two, till I threatened to lend him a cuff to boot in requital of his suspicion; and thenceforth took his due, with feigned confidence in my good faith, the which his dancing eye belied. Early in Germany we had a quarrel. I had seen him buy a skull of a jailer's wife, and mighty zealous a polishing it. Thought I, 'How can he carry yon memento, and not repent, seeing where ends his way?' Presently I did catch him selling it to a woman for the head of St. Barnabas, with a tale had cozened an Ebrew. So I snatched it out of their hands, and trundled it into the ditch. 'How, thou impious knave,' said I, 'wouldst sell for a saint the skull of some dead thief, thy brother?' He slunk away. But shallow she did crawl after the skull, and with apron reverently dust it for Barnabas, and it Barabbas; and so home with it. Said I, 'Non vult anser velli, sed populus vult decipi.'"
Catherine. "Oh, the goodly Latin!"
Eli. "What meaneth it?"
Catherine. "Nay, I know not; but 'tis Latin; is not that enow? He was the flower of the flock."
"Then I to him, 'Take now thy psaltery, and part we here, for art a walking prison, a walking hell.' But lo! my master fell on his knees, and begged me for pity's sake not turn him off. 'What would become of him? He did so love honesty.' 'Thou love honesty?' said I. 'Ay,' said he, 'not to enact it; the saints forbid. But to look on. 'Tis so fair a thing to look on. Alas, good Bon Bec,' said he; 'hadst starved peradventure but for me. Kick not down thy ladder! Call ye that just? Nay, calm thy choler! Have pity on me! I must have a pal; and how could I bear one like myself after one so simple as thou? He might cut my throat for the money that is hid in my belt. 'Tis not much; 'tis not much. With thee I walk at mine ease; with a sharp I dare not go before in a narrow way. Alas! forgive me. Now I know where in thy bonnet lurks the bee, I will ware his sting; I will but pluck the secular goose. 'So be it,' said I. 'And example was contagious: he should be a true man by then we reached Nurnberg. 'Twas a long way to Nurnberg.' Seeing him so humble, I said, 'well, doff rags, and make thyself decent; 'twill help me forget what thou art.' And he did so; and we sat down to our nonemete. Presently came by a reverend palmer with hat stuck round with cockle shells from Holy Land, and great rosary of beads like eggs of teal, and sandals for shoes. And he leaned a-weary on his long staff, and offered us a shell apiece. My master would none. But I, to set him a better example, took one, and for it gave the poor pilgrim two batzen, and had his blessing. And he was scarce gone, when we heard savage cries, and came a sorry sight, one leading a wild woman in a chain, all rags and howling like a wolf. And when they came nigh us, she fell to tearing her rags to threads. The man sought an alms of us, and told us his hard case. 'Twas his wife stark raving mad; and he could not work in the fields, and leave her in his house to fire it, nor cure her could be without the Saintys' help, and had vowed six pounds of wax to St. Anthony to heal her, and so was fain beg of charitable folk for the money. And now she espied us, and flew at me with her long nails, and I was cold with fear, so devilish showed, her face and rolling eyes and nails like birdys talons. But he with the chain checked her sudden, and with his whip did cruelly lash her for it, that I cried, 'Forbear! forbear! She knoweth not what she doth;' and gave him a batz. And being gone, said I, 'Master, of those twain I know not which is the more pitiable.' And he laughed in my face, 'Behold thy justice, Bon Bec,' said he. 'Thou railest on thy poor, good, within an ace of honest master, and bestowest alms on a "vopper."' 'Vopper,' said I, 'what is a vopper?' 'why, a trull that feigns madness. That was one of us, that sham maniac, and wow but she did it clumsily. I blushed for her and thee. Also gavest two batzen for a shell from Holy Land, that came no farther than Normandy. I have culled them myself on that coast by scores, and sold them to pilgrims true and pilgrims false, to gull flats like thee withal.' 'What!' said I; 'that reverend man?' 'One of us!' cried Cul de Jatte; 'one of us! In France we call them "Coquillarts," but here "Calmierers." Railest on me for selling a false relic now and then, and wastest thy earnings on such as sell nought else. I tell thee, Bon Bec,' said he, 'there is not one true relic on earth's face. The Saints died a thousand years agone, and their bones mixed with the dust; but the trade in relics, it is of yesterday; and there are forty thousand tramps in Europe live by it; selling relics of forty or fifty bodies; oh, threadbare lie! And of the true Cross enow to build Cologne Minster. Why, then, may not poor Cul de Jatte turn his penny with the crowd? Art but a scurvy tyrannical servant to let thy poor master from his share of the swag with your whoreson pilgrims, palmers and friars, black, grey, and crutched; for all these are of our brotherhood, and of our art, only masters they, and we but poor apprentices, in guild.' For his tongue was an ell and a half.
"'A truce to thy irreverend sophistries,' said I, 'and say what company is this a coming.' 'Bohemians,' cried he, 'Ay, ay, this shall be the rest of the band.' With that came along so motley a crew as never your eyes beheld, dear Margaret. Marched at their head one with a banner on a steel-pointed lance, and girded with a great long sword, and in velvet doublet and leathern jerkin, the which stuffs ne'er saw I wedded afore on mortal flesh, and a gay feather in his lordly cap, and a couple of dead fowls at his back, the which, an the spark had come by honestly, I am much mistook. Him followed wives and babes on two lean horses, whose flanks still rattled like parchment drum, being beaten by kettles and caldrons. Next an armed man a-riding of a horse, which drew a cart full of females and children; and in it, sitting backwards, a lusty lazy knave, lance in hand, with his luxurious feet raised on a holy water-pail, that lay along, and therein a cat, new kittened, sat glowing o'er her brood, and sparks for eyes. And the cart-horse cavalier had on his shoulders a round bundle, and thereon did perch a cock and crowed with zeal, poor ruffler, proud of his brave feathers as the rest, and haply with more reason, being his own. And on an ass another wife and new-born child; and one poor quean a-foot scarce dragged herself along, so near her time was she, yet held two little ones by the hand, and helplessly helped them on the road. And the little folk were just a farce; some rode sticks, with horses' heads, between their legs, which pranced and caracoled, and soon wearied the riders so sore, they stood stock still and wept, which cavaliers were presently taken into cart and cuffed. And one, more grave, lost in a man's hat and feather, walked in Egyptian darkness, handed by a girl; another had the great saucepan on his back, and a tremendous three-footed clay-pot sat on his head and shoulders, swallowing him so as he too went darkling led by his sweetheart three foot high. When they were gone by, and we had both laughed lustily, said I, 'Natheless, master, my bowels they yearn for one of that tawdry band, even for the poor wife so near the downlying, scarce able to drag herself, yet still, poor soul, helping the weaker on the way.'
Catherine. "Nay, nay, Margaret. Why, wench, pluck up heart. Certes thou art no Bohemian."
Kate. "Nay, mother, 'tis not that, I trow, but her father. And, dear heart, why take notice to put her to the blush?"
Richart. "So I say."
"And he derided me. 'Why, that is a "biltreger,"' said he, 'and you waste your bowels on a pillow, or so forth.' I told him he lied. 'Time would show,' said he, 'wait till they camp.' And rising after meat and meditation, and travelling forward, we found them camped between two great trees on a common by the wayside; and they had lighted a great fire, and on it was their caldron; and one of the trees slanting o'er the fire, a kid hung down by a chain from the tree-fork to the fire, and in the fork was wedged an urchin turning still the chain to keep the meat from burning, and a gay spark with a feather in his cap cut up a sheep; and another had spitted a leg of it on a wooden stake; and a woman ended chanticleer's pride with wringing of his neck. And under the other tree four rufflers played at cards and quarrelled, and no word sans oath; and of these lewd gamblers one had cockles in his hat and was my reverend pilgrim. And a female, young and comely, and dressed like a butterfly, sat and mended a heap of dirty rags. And Cul de Jatte said, 'Yon is the "vopper,"' and I looked incredulous and looked again, and it was so, and at her feet sat he that had so late lashed her; but I ween he had wist where to strike, or woe betide him; and she did now oppress him sore, and made him thread her very needle, the which he did with all humility; so was their comedy turned seamy side without; and Cul de Jatte told me 'twas still so with 'voppers' and their men in camp; they would don their bravery though but for an hour, and with their tinsel, empire, and the man durst not the least gainsay the 'vopper,' or she would turn him off at these times, as I my master, and take another tyrant more submissive. And my master chuckled over me. Natheless we soon espied a wife set with her back against the tree, and her hair down, and her face white, and by her side a wench held up to her eye a newborn babe, with words of cheer, and the rough fellow, her husband, did bring her hot wine in a cup, and bade her take courage. And just o'er the place she sat, they had pinned from bough to bough of those neighbouring trees two shawls, and blankets two, together, to keep the drizzle off her. And so had another poor little rogue come into the world; and by her own particular folk tended gipsywise, but of the roasters, and boilers, and voppers, and gamblers, no more noticed, no, not for a single moment, than sheep which droppeth her lamb in a field, by travellers upon the way. Then said I, 'What of thy foul suspicions, master? over-knavery blinds the eye as well as over-simplicity.' And he laughed and said, 'Triumph, Bon Bec, triumph. The chances were nine in ten against thee.' Then I did pity her, to be in a crowd at such a time; but he rebuked me. 'I should pity rather your queens and royal duchesses, which by law are condemned to groan in a crowd of nobles and courtiers, and do writhe with shame as, well as sorrow, being come of decent mothers, whereas these gipsy women have no more shame under their skins than a wolf ruth, or a hare valour. And, Bon Bec,' quoth he, 'I espy in thee a lamentable fault. Wastest thy bowels, wilt have none left for thy poor good master which doeth thy will by night and day.' Then we came forward; and he talked with the men in some strange Hebrew cant whereof no word knew I; and the poor knaves bade us welcome and denied us nought. With them, and all they had, 'twas lightly come and lightly go; and when we left them, my master said to me 'This is thy first lesson, but to-night we shall lie at Hansburgh. Come with me to the "rotboss" there, and I'll show thee all our folk and their lays, and especially "the lossners," "the dutzers," "the schleppers," "the gickisses," "the schwanfelders, whom in England we call "shivering Jemmies," "the suntvegers," "the schwiegers," "the joners," "the sesseldegers," "the gensscherers," in France "marcandiers or rifodes," "the veranerins," "the stabulers," with a few foreigners like ourselves, such as "pietres," "francmitoux," "polissons" "malingreux," "traters," "rufflers," "whipjalks," "dommerars," "glymmerars," "jarkmen," "patricos," "swadders," "autem morts," "walking morts" 'Enow,' cried I, stopping him, 'art as gleesome as the Evil One a counting of his imps. I'll jot down in my tablet all these caitiffs and their accursed names: for knowledge is knowledge. But go among them, alive or dead, that will I not with my good will. Moreover,' said I, 'what need? since I have a companion in thee who is all the knaves on earth in one?' and thought to abash him but his face shone with pride, and hand on breast he did bow low to me. 'If thy wit be scant, good Bon Bec, thy manners are a charm. I have made a good bargain.' So he to the 'rotboss,' and I to a decent inn, and sketched the landlord's daughter by candle-light, and started at morn batzen three the richer, but could not find my master, so loitered slowly on, and presently met him coming west for me, and cursing the quiens. Why so? Because he could blind the culls but not the quiens. At last I prevailed on him to leave cursing and canting, and tell me his adventure. Said he, 'I sat outside the gate of yon monastery, full of sores, which I sho'ed the passers-by. Oh, Bon Bec, beautifuller sores you never saw; and it rained coppers in my hat. Presently the monks came home from some procession, and the convent dogs ran out to meet them, curse the quiens!' 'What, did they fall on thee and bite thee, poor soul?' 'Worse, worse, dear Bon Bec. Had they bitten me I had earned silver. But the great idiots, being, as I think, puppies, or little better, fell on me where I sat, downed me, and fell a licking my sores among them. As thou, false knave, didst swear the whelps in heaven licked the sores of Lazybones, a beggar of old.' 'Nay, nay,' said I, 'I said no such thing. But tell me, since they bit thee not, but sportfully licked thee, what harm?' 'What harm, noodle; why, the sores came off.' 'How could that be?' 'How could aught else be? and them just fresh put on. Did I think he was so weak as bite holes in his flesh with ratsbane? Nay, he was an artist, a painter, like his servant, and had put on sores made of pig's blood, rye meal, and glue. So when the folk saw my sores go on tongues of puppies, they laughed, and I saw cord or sack before me. So up I jumped, and shouted, "A miracle a miracle! The very dogs of this holy convent be holy, and have cured me. Good fathers," cried I, "whose day is this?" "St. Isidore's," said one. "St. Isidore," cried I, in a sort of rapture. "Why, St. Isidore is my patron saint: so that accounts." And the simple folk swallowed my miracle as those accursed quiens my wounds. But the monks took me inside and shut the gate, and put their heads together; but I have a quick ear, and one did say, "Caret miraculo monasterium," which is Greek patter, leastways it is no beggar's cant. Finally they bade the lay brethren give me a hiding, and take me out a back way and put me on the road, and threatened me did I come back to the town to hand me to the magistrate and have me drowned for a plain impostor. "Profit now by the Church's grace," said they, "and mend thy ways." So forward, Bon Bec, for my life is not sure nigh hand this town.' As we went he worked his shoulders, 'Wow but the brethren laid on. And what means yon piece of monk's cant, I wonder?' So I told him the words meant 'the monastery is in want of a miracle,' but the application thereof was dark to me. 'Dark,' cried he, 'dark as noon. Why, it means they are going to work the miracle, my miracle, and gather all the grain I sowed. Therefore these blows on their benefactor's shoulders; therefore is he that wrought their scurry miracle driven forth with stripes and threats. Oh, cozening knaves!' Said I, 'Becomes you to complain of guile.' 'Alas, Bon Bec,' said he, 'I but outwit the simple, but these monks would pluck Lucifer of his wing feathers.' And went a league bemoaning himself that he was not convent-bred like his servant 'He would put it to more profit;' and railing on quiens. 'And as for those monks, there was one Above.' 'Certes,' said I, 'there is one Above. What then?' 'Who will call those shavelings to compt, one day,' quoth he. 'And all deceitful men' said I. At one that afternoon I got armories to paint: so my master took the yellow jaundice and went begging through the town, and with his oily tongue, and saffron-water face, did fill his hat. Now in all the towns are certain licensed beggars, and one of these was an old favourite with the townsfolk: had his station at St. Martin's porch, the greatest church: a blind man: they called him blind Hans. He saw my master drawing coppers on the other side the street, and knew him by his tricks for an impostor, so sent and warned the constables, and I met my master in the constables' hands, and going to his trial in the town hall. I followed and many more; and he was none abashed, neither by the pomp of justice, nor memory of his misdeeds, but demanded his accuser like a trumpet. And blind Hans's boy came forward, but was sifted narrowly by my master, and stammered and faltered, and owned he had seen nothing, but only carried blind Hans's tale to the chief constable. 'This is but hearsay,' said my master. 'Lo ye now, here standeth Misfortune backbit by Envy. But stand thou forth, blind Envy, and vent thine own lie.' And blind Hans behoved to stand forth, sore against his will. Him did my master so press with questions, and so pinch and torture, asking him again and again, how, being blind, he could see all that befell, and some that befell not, across a way; and why, an he could not see, he came there holding up his perjured hand, and maligning the misfortunate, that at last he groaned aloud and would utter no word more. And an alderman said, 'In sooth, Hans, ye are to blame; hast cast more dirt of suspicion on thyself than on him.' But the burgomaster, a wondrous fat man, and methinks of his fat some had gotten into his head, checked him, and said, 'Nay, Hans we know this many years, and be he blind or not, he hath passed for blind so long, 'tis all one. Back to thy porch, good Hans, and let the strange varlet leave the town incontinent on pain of whipping.' Then my master winked to me; but there rose a civic officer in his gown of state and golden chain, a Dignity with us lightly prized, and even shunned of some, but in Germany and France much courted, save by condemned malefactors, to wit the hangman; and says he, 'Ant please you, first let us see why he weareth his hair so thick and low.' And his man went and lifted Cul de Jatte's hair, and lo, the upper gristle of both ears was gone. 'How is this knave? quoth the burgomaster. My master said carelessly, he minded not precisely: his had been a life of misfortunes and losses. When a poor soul has lost the use of his leg, noble sirs, these more trivial woes rest lightly in his memory.' When he found this would not serve his turn, he named two famous battles, in each of which he had lost half an ear, a fighting like a true man against traitors and rebels. But the hangman showed them the two cuts were made at one time, and by measurement. ''Tis no bungling soldiers' work, my masters,' said he, ''tis ourn.' Then the burgomaster gave judgment: 'The present charge is not proven against thee; but, an thou beest not guilty now, thou hast been at other times, witness thine ears. Wherefore I send thee to prison for one month, and to give a florin towards the new hall of the guilds now a building, and to be whipt out of the town, and pay the hangman's fee for the same.' And all the aldermen approved, and my master was haled to prison with one look of anguish. It did strike my bosom. I tried to get speech of him, but the jailer denied me. But lingering near the jail I heard a whistle, and there was Cul de Jatte at a narrow window twenty feet from earth. I went under, and he asked me what made I there? I told him I was loath to go forward and not bid him farewell. He seemed quite amazed; but soon his suspicious soul got the better. That was not all mine errand. I told him not all: the psaltery: 'Well, what of that?' 'Twas not mine, but his; I would pay him the price of it. 'Then throw me a rix dollar,' said he. I counted out my coins, and they came to a rix dollar and two batzen. I threw him up his money in three throws, and when he had got it all he said, softly, 'Bon Bec.' 'Master,' said I. Then the poor rogue was greatly moved. 'I thought ye had been mocking me,' said he; 'oh, Bon Bec, Bon Bec, if I had found the world like thee at starting I had put my wit to better use, and I had not lain here.' Then he whimpered out, 'I gave not quite a rix dollar for the jingler;' and threw me back that he had gone to cheat me of; honest for once, and over late; and so, with many sighs, bade me Godspeed. Thus did my master, after often baffling men's justice, fall by their injustice; for his lost ears proved not his guilt only, but of that guilt the bitter punishment: so the account was even; yet they for his chastisement did chastise him. Natheless he was a parlous rogue. Yet he holp to make a man of me. Thanks to his good wit I went forward richer far with my psaltery and brush, than with yon as good as stolen purse; for that must have run dry in time, like a big trough, but these a little fountain."
Richart. "How pregnant his reflections be; and but a curly pated lad when last I saw him. Asking your pardon, mistress. Prithee read on."
"One day I walked alone, and sooth to say, lighthearted, for mine honest Denys sweetened the air on the way; but poor Cul de Jatte poisoned it. The next day passing a grand house, out came on prancing steeds a gentleman in brave attire and two servants; they overtook me. The gentleman bade me halt. I laughed in my sleeve; for a few batzen were all my store. He bade me doff my doublet and jerkin. Then I chuckled no more. 'Bethink you, my lord,' said I, ''tis winter. How may a poor fellow go bare and live? So he told me I shot mine arrow wide of his thought, and off with his own gay jerkin, richly furred, and doublet to match, and held them forth to me. Then a servant let me know it was a penance. 'His lordship had had the ill luck to slay his cousin in their cups.' Down to my shoes he changed with me; and set me on his horse like a popinjay, and fared by my side in my worn weeds, with my psaltery on his back. And said he, 'Now, good youth, thou art Cousin Detstein; and I, late count, thy Servant. Play the part well, and help me save my bloodstained soul! Be haughty and choleric, as any noble; and I will be as humble as I may.' I said I would do my best to play the noble. But what should I call him? He bade me call him nought but Servant. That would mortify him most, he wist. We rode on a long way in silence; for I was meditating this strange chance, that from a beggar's servant had made me master to a count, and also cudgelling my brains how best I might play the master, without being run through the body all at one time like his cousin. For I mistrusted sore my spark's humility; your German nobles being, to my knowledge, proud as Lucifer, and choleric as fire. As for the servants, they did slily grin to one another to see their master so humbled."
"What is that?"
A lump, as of lead, had just bounced against the door, and the latch was fumbled with unsuccessfully. Another bounce, and the door swung inwards with Giles arrayed in cloth of gold sticking to it like a wasp. He landed on the floor, and was embraced; but on learning what was going on, trumpeted that he would much liever hear of Gerard than gossip.
Sybrandt pointed to a diminutive chair.
Giles showed his sense of this civility by tearing the said Sybrandt out of a very big one, and there ensconced himself gorgeous and glowing. Sybrandt had to wedge himself into the one, which was too small for the magnificent dwarf's soul, and Margaret resumed. But as this part of the letter was occupied with notices of places, all which my reader probably knows, and if not, can find handled at large in a dozen well-known books, from Munster to Murray, I skip the topography, and hasten to that part where it occurred to him to throw his letter into a journal. The personal narrative that intervened may be thus condensed.
He spoke but little at first to his new companions, but listened to pick up their characters. Neither his noble Servant nor his servants could read or write; and as he often made entries in his tablets, he impressed them with some awe. One of his entries was, "Le peu que sont les hommes." For he found the surly innkeepers licked the very ground before him now; nor did a soul suspect the hosier's son in the count's feathers, nor the count in the minstrel's weeds.
This seems to have surprised him; for he enlarged on it with the naivete and pomposity of youth. At one place, being humbly requested to present the inn with his armorial bearings, he consented loftily; but painted them himself, to mine host's wonder, who thought he lowered himself by handling brush. The true count stood grinning by, and held the paint-pot, while the sham count painted the shield with three red herrings rampant under a sort of Maltese cross made with two ell-measures. At first his plebeian servants were insolent. But this coming to the notice of his noble one, he forgot what he was doing penance for, and drew his sword to cut off their ears, heads included. But Gerard interposed and saved them, and rebuked the count severely. And finally they all understood one another, and the superior mind obtained its natural influence. He played the barbarous noble of that day vilely. For his heart would not let him be either tyrannical or cold. Here were three human beings. He tried to make them all happier than he was; held them ravished with stories and songs, and set Herr Penitent and Co. dancing with his whistle and psaltery. For his own convenience he made them ride and tie, and thus pushed rapidly through the country, travelling generally fifteen leagues a day.
"This first day of January I observed a young man of the country to meet a strange maiden, and kissed his hand, and then held it out to her. She took it with a smile, and lo! acquaintance made; and babbled like old friends. Greeting so pretty and delicate I ne'er did see. Yet were they both of the baser sort. So the next lass I saw a coming, I said to my servant lord, 'For further penance bow thy pride; go meet yon base-born girl; kiss thy homicidal hand, and give it her, and hold her in discourse as best ye may.' And my noble Servant said humbly, 'I shall obey my lord.' And we drew rein and watched while he went forward, kissed his hand and held it out to her. Forthwith she took it smiling, and was most affable with him, and he with her. Presently came up a band of her companions. So this time I bade him doff his bonnet to them, as though they were empresses; and he did so. And lo! the lasses drew up as stiff as hedgestakes, and moved not nor spake."
Denys. "Aie! aie! aie Pardon, the company."
"This surprised me none; for so they did discountenance poor Denys. And that whole day I wore in experimenting these German lasses; and 'twas still the same. An ye doff bonnet to them they stiffen into statues; distance for distance. But accost them with honest freedom, and with that customary, and though rustical, most gracious proffer, of the kissed hand, and they withhold neither their hands in turn nor their acquaintance in an honest way. Seeing which I vexed myself that Denys was not with us to prattle with them; he is so fond of women." ("Are you fond of women, Denys?") And the reader opened two great violet eyes upon him with gentle surprise.
Denys. "Ahem! he says so, she--comrade. By Hannibal's helmet, 'tis their fault, not mine. They will have such soft voices, and white skins, and sunny hair, and dark blue eyes, and--"
Margaret. (Reading suddenly.) "Which their affability I put to profit thus. I asked them how they made shift to grow roses in yule? For know, dear Margaret, that throughout Germany, the baser sort of lasses wear for head-dress nought but a 'crantz,' or wreath of roses, encircling their bare hair, as laurel Caesar's; and though of the worshipful, scorned, yet is braver, I wist, to your eye and mine which painters be, though sorry ones, than the gorgeous, uncouth, mechanical head-gear of the time, and adorns, not hides her hair, that goodly ornament fitted to her head by craft divine. So the good lasses, being questioned close, did let me know, the rosebuds are cut in summer and laid then in great clay-pots, thus ordered:--first bay salt, then a row of buds, and over that row bay salt sprinkled; then, another row of buds placed crosswise; for they say it is death to the buds to touch one another; and so on, buds and salt in layers. Then each pot is covered and soldered tight, and kept in cool cellar. And on Saturday night the master of the house, or mistress, if master be none, opens a pot, and doles the rosebuds out to every female in the house, high or low, withouten grudge; then solders it up again. And such as of these buds would full-blown roses make, put them in warm water a little space, or else in the stove, and then with tiny brush and soft, wetted in Rhenish wine, do coax them till they ope their folds. And some perfume them with rose-water. For, alack, their smell it is fled with the summer; and only their fair bodyes lie withouten soul, in tomb of clay, awaiting resurrection.
"And some with the roses and buds mix nutmegs gilded, but not by my good will; for gold, brave in itself, cheek by jowl with roses, is but yellow earth. And it does the eye's heart good to see these fair heads of hair come, blooming with roses, over snowy roads, and by snow-capt hedges, setting winter's beauty by the side of summer's glory. For what so fair as winter's lilies, snow yclept, and what so brave as roses? And shouldst have had a picture here, but for their superstition. Leaned a lass in Sunday garb, cross ankled, against her cottage corner, whose low roof was snow-clad, and with her crantz did seem a summer flower sprouting from winter's bosom. I drew rein, and out pencil and brush to limn her for thee. But the simpleton, fearing the evil eye, or glamour, claps both hands to her face and flies panic-stricken. But indeed, they are not more superstitious than the Sevenbergen folk, which take thy father for a magician. Yet softly, sith at this moment I profit by this darkness of their minds; for, at first, sitting down to write this diary, I could frame nor thought nor word, so harried and deaved was I with noise of mechanical persons, and hoarse laughter at dull jests of one of these particoloured 'fools,' which are so rife in Germany. But oh, sorry wit, that is driven to the poor resource of pointed ear-caps, and a green and yellow body. True wit, methinks, is of the mind. We met in Burgundy an honest wench, though over free for my palate, a chambermaid, had made havoc of all these zanies, droll by brute force. Oh, Digressor! Well then, I to be rid of roaring rusticalls, and mindless jests, put my finger in a glass and drew on the table a great watery circle; whereat the rusticalls did look askant, like venison at a cat; and in that circle a smaller circle. The rusticalls held their peace; and besides these circles cabalistical, I laid down on the table solemnly yon parchment deed I had out of your house. The rusticalls held their breath. Then did I look as glum as might be, and muttered slowly thus 'Videamus--quam diu tu fictus morio--vosque veri stulti--audebitis--in hac aula morari, strepitantes ita--et olentes: ut dulcissimae nequeam miser scribere.' They shook like aspens, and stole away on tiptoe one by one at first, then in a rush and jostling, and left me alone; and most scared of all was the fool: never earned jester fairer his ass's ears. So rubbed I their foible, who first rubbed mine; for of all a traveller's foes I dread those giants twain, Sir Noise, and eke Sir Stench. The saints and martyrs forgive my peevishness. Thus I write to thee in balmy peace, and tell thee trivial things scarce worthy ink, also how I love thee, which there was no need to tell, for well thou knowest it. And oh, dear Margaret, looking on their roses, which grew in summer, but blow in winter, I see the picture of our true affection; born it was in smiles and bliss, but soon adversity beset us sore with many a bitter blast. Yet our love hath lost no leaf, thank God, but blossoms full and fair as ever, proof against frowns, and jibes, and prison, and banishment, as those sweet German flowers a blooming in winter's snow.
"January 2.--My servant, the count, finding me curious, took me to the stables of the prince that rules this part. In the first court was a horse-bath, adorned with twenty-two pillars, graven with the prince's arms; and also the horse-leech's shop, so furnished as a rich apothecary might envy. The stable is a fair quadrangle, whereof three sides filled with horses of all nations. Before each horse's nose was a glazed window, with a green curtain to be drawn at pleasure, and at his tail a thick wooden pillar with a brazen shield, whence by turning of a pipe he is watered, and serves too for a cupboard to keep his comb and rubbing clothes. Each rack was iron, and each manger shining copper, and each nag covered with a scarlet mantle, and above him his bridle and saddle hung, ready to gallop forth in a minute; and not less than two hundred horses, whereof twelve score of foreign breed. And we returned to our inn full of admiration, and the two varlets said sorrowfully, 'Why were we born with two legs?' And one of the grooms that was civil and had of me trinkgeld, stood now at his cottage-door and asked us in. There we found his wife and children of all ages, from five to eighteen, and had but one room to bide and sleep in, a thing pestiferous and most uncivil. Then I asked my Servant, knew he this prince? Ay, did he, and had often drunk with him in a marble chamber above the stable, where, for table, was a curious and artificial rock, and the drinking vessels hang on its pinnacles, and at the hottest of the engagement a statue of a horseman in bronze came forth bearing a bowl of liquor, and he that sat nearest behoved to drain it. ''Tis well,' said I: 'now for thy penance, whisper thou in yon prince's ear, that God hath given him his people freely, and not sought a price for them as for horses. And pray him look inside the huts at his horse-palace door, and bethink himself is it well to house his horses, and stable his folk.' Said he, ''Twill give sore offence.' 'But,' said I, 'ye must do it discreetly and choose your time.' So he promised. And riding on we heard plaintive cries. 'Alas,' said I, 'some sore mischance hath befallen some poor soul: what may it be?' And we rode up, and lo! it was a wedding feast, and the guests were plying the business of drinking sad and silent, but ever and anon cried loud and dolefully, 'Seyte frolich! Be merry.'
"January 3.--Yesterday between Nurnberg and Augsburg we parted company. I gave my lord, late Servant, back his brave clothes for mine, but his horse he made me keep, and five gold pieces, and said he was still my debtor, his penance it had been slight along of me, but profitable. But his best word was this: 'I see 'tis more noble to be loved than feared.' And then he did so praise me as I blushed to put on paper; yet, poor fool, would fain thou couldst hear his words, but from some other pen than mine. And the servants did heartily grasp my hand, and wish me good luck. And riding apace, yet could I not reach Augsburg till the gates were closed; but it mattered little, for this Augsburg it is an enchanted city. For a small coin one took me a long way round to a famous postern called der Einlasse. Here stood two guardians, like statues. To them I gave my name and business. They nodded me leave to knock; I knocked; and the iron gate opened with a great noise and hollow rattling of a chain, but no hand seen nor chain; and he who drew the hidden chain sits a butt's length from the gate; and I rode in, and the gate closed with a clang after me. I found myself in a great building with a bridge at my feet. This I rode over and presently came to a porter's lodge, where one asked me again my name and business, then rang a bell, and a great portcullis that barred the way began to rise, drawn by a wheel overhead, and no hand seen. Behind the portcullis was a thick oaken door studded with steel. It opened without hand, and I rode into a hall as dark as pitch. Trembling there a while, a door opened and showed me a smaller hall lighted. I rode into it: a tin goblet came down from the ceiling by a little chain: I put two batzen into it, and it went up again. Being gone, another thick door creaked and opened, and I rid through. It closed on me with a tremendous clang, and behold me in Augsburg city. I lay at an inn called 'The Three Moors,' over an hundred years old; and this morning, according to my way of viewing towns to learn their compass and shape, I mounted the highest tower I could find, and setting my dial at my foot surveyed the beautiful city: whole streets of palaces and churches tiled with copper burnished like gold; and the house fronts gaily painted and all glazed, and the glass so clean and burnished as 'tis most resplendent and rare; and I, now first seeing a great city, did crow with delight, and like cock on his ladder, and at the tower foot was taken into custody for a spy; for whilst I watched the city the watchman had watched me. The burgomaster received me courteously and heard my story; then rebuked he the officers. 'Could ye not question him yourselves, or read in his face? This is to make our city stink in strangers' report.' Then he told me my curiosity was of a commendable sort; and seeing I was a craftsman and inquisitive, bade his clerk take me among the guilds. God bless the city where the very burgomaster is cut of Soloman's cloth!
"January 5.--Dear Margaret, it is a noble city, and a kind mother to arts. Here they cut in wood and ivory, that 'tis like spider's work, and paint on glass, and sing angelical harmonies. Writing of books is quite gone by; here be six printers. Yet was I offered a bountiful wage to write fairly a merchant's accounts, one Fugger, a grand and wealthy trader, and hath store of ships, yet his father was but a poor weaver. But here in commerce, her very garden, men swell like mushrooms. And he bought my horse of me, and abated me not a jot, which way of dealing is not known in Holland. But oh, Margaret, the workmen of all the guilds are so kind and brotherly to one another, and to me. Here, methinks, I have found the true German mind, loyal, frank, and kindly, somewhat choleric withal, but nought revengeful. Each mechanic wears a sword. The very weavers at the loom sit girded with their weapons, and all Germans on too slight occasion draw them and fight; but no treachery: challenge first, then draw, and with the edge only, mostly the face, not with Sir Point; for if in these combats one thrust at his adversary and hurt him, 'tis called ein schelemstucke, a heinous act, both men and women turn their backs on him; and even the judges punish thrusts bitterly, but pass over cuts. Hence in Germany be good store of scarred faces, three in five at least, and in France scarce more than one in three.
"But in arts mechanical no citizens may compare with these. Fountains in every street that play to heaven, and in the gardens seeming trees, which being approached, one standing afar touches a spring, and every twig shoots water, and souses the guests to their host's much delectation. Big culverins of war they cast with no more ado than our folk horse-shoes, and have done this fourscore years. All stuffs they weave, and linen fine as ours at home, or nearly, which elsewhere in Europe vainly shall ye seek. Sir Printing Press--sore foe to poor Gerard, but to other humans beneficial--plieth by night and day, and casteth goodly words like sower afield; while I, poor fool, can but sow them as I saw women in France sow rye, dribbling it in the furrow grain by grain. And of their strange mechanical skill take two examples. For ending of exemplary rogues they have a figure like a woman, seven feet high, and called Jung Frau; but lo, a spring is touched, she seizeth the poor wretch with iron arms, and opening herself, hales him inside her, and there pierces him through and through with two score lances. Secondly, in all great houses the spit is turned not by a scrubby boy, but by smoke. Ay, mayst well admire, and judge me a lying knave. These cunning Germans do set in the chimney a little windmill, and the smoke struggling to wend past, turns it, and from the mill a wire runs through the wall and turns the spit on wheels; beholding which I doffed my bonnet to the men of Augsburg, for who but these had ere devised to bind ye so dark and subtle a knave as Sir Smoke, and set him to roast Dame Pullet?
"This day, January 8, with three craftsmen of the town, I painted a pack of cards. They were for a senator, in a hurry. I the diamonds. My queen came forth with eyes like spring violets, hair a golden brown, and witching smile. My fellow-craftsmen saw her, and put their arms round my neck and hailed me master. Oh, noble Germans! No jealousy of a brother-workman: no sour looks at a stranger; and would have me spend Sunday with them after matins; and the merchant paid me so richly as I was ashamed to take the guerdon; and I to my inn, and tried to paint the queen of diamonds for poor Gerard; but no, she would not come like again. Luck will not be bespoke. Oh, happy rich man that hath got her! Fie! fie! Happy Gerard that shall have herself one day, and keep house with her at Augsburg.
"January 8.--With my fellows, and one Veit Stoss, a wood-carver, and one Hafnagel, of the goldsmiths' guild, and their wives and lasses, to Hafnagel's cousin, a senator of this free city, and his stupendous wine-vessel. It is ribbed like a ship, and hath been eighteen months in hand, and finished but now, and holds a hundred and fifty hogsheads, and standeth not, but lieth; yet even so ye get not on his back, withouten ladders two, of thirty steps. And we sat about the miraculous mass, and drank Rhenish from it, drawn by a little artificial pump, and the lasses pinned their crantzes to it, and we danced round it, and the senator danced on its back, but with drinking of so many garausses, lost his footing and fell off, glass in hand, and broke an arm and a leg in the midst of us. So scurvily ended our drinking bout for this time.
"January 10.--This day started for Venice with a company of merchants, and among them him who had desired me for his scrivener; and so we are now agreed, I to write at night the letters he shall dict, and other matters, he to feed and lodge me on the road. We be many and armed, and soldiers with us to boot, so fear not the thieves which men say lie on the borders of Italy. But an if I find the printing press at Venice, I trow I shall not go unto Rome, for man may not vie with iron.
"Imprimit una dies quantum non scribitur anno. And, dearest, something tells me you and I shall end our days at Augsburg, whence going, I shall leave it all I can--my blessing.
"January 12.--My master affecteth me much, and now maketh me sit with him in his horse-litter. A grave good man, of all respected, but sad for loss of a dear daughter, and loveth my psaltery: not giddy-faced ditties, but holy harmonies such as Cul de Jatte made wry mouths at. So many men, so many minds. But cooped in horse-litter and at night writing his letters, my journal halteth.
"January 14.--When not attending on my good merchant, I consort with such of our company as are Italians, for 'tis to Italy I wend, and I am ill seen in Italian tongue. A courteous and a subtle people, at meat delicate feeders and cleanly: love not to put their left hand in the dish. They say Venice is the garden of Lombardy, Lombardy the garden of Italy, Italy of the world.
"January 16.-Strong ways and steep, and the mountain girls so girded up, as from their armpits to their waist is but a handful. Of all the garbs I yet have seen, the most unlovely.
"January 18.-In the midst of life we are in death. Oh! dear Margaret, I thought I had lost thee. Here I lie in pain and dole, and shall write thee that, which read you it in a romance ye should cry, 'Most improbable!' And so still wondering that I am alive to write it, and thanking for it God and the saints, this is what befell thy Gerard. Yestreen I wearied of being shut up in litter, and of the mule's slow pace, and so went forward; and being, I know not why, strangely full of spirit and hope, as I have heard befall some men when on trouble's brink, seemed to tread on air, and soon distanced them all. Presently I came to two roads, and took the larger; I should have taken the smaller. After travelling a good half-hour, I found my error, and returned; and deeming my company had long passed by, pushed bravely on, but I could not overtake them; and small wonder, as you shall hear. Then I was anxious, and ran, but bare was the road of those I sought; and night came down, and the wild beasts a-foot, and I bemoaned my folly; also I was hungered. The moon rose clear and bright exceedingly, and presently a little way off the road I saw a tall windmill. 'Come,' said I, 'mayhap the miller will take ruth on me.' Near the mill was a haystack, and scattered about were store of little barrels; but lo they were not flour-barrels, but tar-barrels, one or two, and the rest of spirits, Brant vein and Schiedam; I knew them momently, having seen the like in Holland. I knocked at the mill-door, but none answered. I lifted the latch, and the door opened inwards. I went in, and gladly, for the night was fine but cold, and a rime on the trees, which were a kind of lofty sycamores. There was a stove, but black; I lighted it with some of the hay and wood, for there was a great pile of wood outside, and I know not how, I went to sleep. Not long had I slept, I trow, when hearing a noise, I awoke; and there were a dozen men around me, with wild faces, and long black hair, and black sparkling eyes."
Catherine. "Oh, my poor boy! those black-haired ones do still scare me to look on."
"I made my excuses in such Italian as I knew, and eking out by signs. They grinned. 'I had lost my company.' They grinned. 'I was an hungered.' Still they grinned, and spoke to one another in a tongue I knew not. At last one gave me a piece of bread and a tin mug of wine, as I thought, but it was spirits neat. I made a wry face and asked for water: then these wild men laughed a horrible laugh. I thought to fly, but looking towards the door it was bolted with two enormous bolts of iron, and now first, as I ate my bread, I saw it was all guarded too, and ribbed with iron. My blood curdled within me, and yet I could not tell thee why; but hadst thou seen the faces, wild, stupid, and ruthless. I mumbled my bread, not to let them see I feared them; but oh, it cost me to swallow it and keep it in me. Then it whirled in my brain, was there no way to escape? Said I, 'They will not let me forth by the door; these be smugglers or robbers.' So I feigned drowsiness, and taking out two batzen said, 'Good men, for our Lady's grace let me lie on a bed and sleep, for I am faint with travel.' They nodded and grinned their horrible grin, and bade one light a lanthorn and lead me. He took me up a winding staircase, up, up, and I saw no windows, but the wooden walls were pierced like a barbican tower, and methinks for the same purpose, and through these slits I got glimpses of the sky, and thought, 'Shall I e'er see thee again?' He took me to the very top of the mill, and there was a room with a heap of straw in one corner and many empty barrels, and by the wall a truckle bed. He pointed to it, and went downstairs heavily, taking the light, for in this room was a great window, and the moon came in bright. I looked out to see, and lo, it was so high that even the mill sails at their highest came not up to my window by some feet, but turned very slow and stately underneath, for wind there was scarce a breath; and the trees seemed silver filagree made by angel craftsmen. My hope of flight was gone.
"But now, those wild faces being out of sight, I smiled at my fears: what an if they were ill men, would it profit them to hurt me? Natheless, for caution against surprise, I would put the bed against the door. I went to move it, but could not. It was free at the head, but at the foot fast clamped with iron to the floor. So I flung my psaltery on the bed, but for myself made a layer of straw at the door, so as none could open on me unawares. And I laid my sword ready to my hand. And said my prayers for thee and me, and turned to sleep.
"Below they drank and made merry. And hearing this gave me confidence. Said I, 'Out of sight, out of mind. Another hour and the good Schiedam will make them forget that I am here.' And so I composed myself to sleep. And for some time could not for the boisterous mirth below. At last I dropped off. How long I slept I knew not; but I woke with a start: the noise had ceased below, and the sudden silence woke me. And scarce was I awake, when sudden the truckle bed was gone with a loud clang all but the feet, and the floor yawned, and I heard my psaltery fall and break to atoms, deep, deep, below the very floor of the mill. It had fallen into a well. And so had I done, lying where it lay."
Margaret shuddered and put her face in her hands. But speedily resumed.
"I lay stupefied at first. Then horror fell on me, and I rose, but stood rooted there, shaking from head to foot. At last I found myself looking down into that fearsome gap, and my very hair did bristle as I peered. And then, I remember, I turned quite calm, and made up my mind to die sword in hand. For I saw no man must know this their bloody secret and live. And I said, 'Poor Margaret!' And I took out of my bosom, where they lie ever, our marriage lines, and kissed them again and again. And I pinned them to my shirt again, that they might lie in one grave with me, if die I must. And I thought, 'All our love and hopes to end thus!'"
Eli. "Whisht all! Their marriage lines? Give her time! But no word. I can bear no chat. My poor lad!"
During the long pause that ensued Catherine leaned forward and passed something adroitly from her own lap under her daughter's apron who sat next her.
"Presently thinking, all in a whirl, of all that ever passed between us, and taking leave of all those pleasant hours, I called to mind how one day at Sevenbergen thou taughtest me to make a rope of straw. Mindest thou? The moment memory brought that happy day hack to me, I cried out very loud: 'Margaret gives me a chance for life even here.' I woke from my lethargy. I seized on the straw and twisted it eagerly, as thou didst teach me, but my fingers trembled and delayed the task. Whiles I wrought I heard a door open below. That was a terrible moment. Even as I twisted my rope I got to the window and looked down at the great arms of the mill coming slowly up, then passing, then turning less slowly down, as it seemed; and I thought, 'They go not as when there is wind: yet, slow or fast, what man rid ever on such steed as these, and lived. Yet,' said I, 'better trust to them and God than to ill men.' And I prayed to Him whom even the wind obeyeth.
"Dear Margaret, I fastened my rope, and let myself gently down, and fixed my eye on that huge arm of the mill, which then was creeping up to me, and went to spring on to it. But my heart failed me at the pinch. And methought it was not near enow. And it passed calm and awful by. I watched for another; they were three. And after a little while one crept up slower than the rest methought. And I with my foot thrust myself in good time somewhat out from the wall, and crying aloud 'Margaret!' did grip with all my soul the wood-work of the sail, and that moment was swimming in the air."
Giles. "WELL DONE! WELL DONE!"
"Motion I felt little; but the stars seemed to go round the sky, and then the grass came up to me nearer and nearer, and when the hoary grass was quite close I was sent rolling along it as if hurled from a catapult, and got up breathless, and every point and tie about me broken. I rose, but fell down again in agony. I had but one leg I could stand on."
Catherine. "Eh! dear! his leg is broke, my boy's leg is broke."
"And e'en as I lay groaning, I heard a sound like thunder. It was the assassins running up the stairs. The crazy old mill shook under them. They must have found that I had not fallen into their bloody trap, and were running to despatch me. Margaret, I felt no fear, for I had now no hope. I could neither run nor hide; so wild the place, so bright the moon. I struggled up all agony and revenge, more like some wounded wild beast than your Gerard. Leaning on my sword hilt I hobbled round; and swift as lighting, or vengeance, I heaped a great pile of their hay and wood at the mill door; then drove my dagger into a barrel of their smuggled spirits, and flung it on; then out with my tinder and lighted the pile. 'This will bring true men round my dead body,' said I. 'Aha!' I cried, 'think you I'll die alone, cowards, assassins! reckless fiends!' and at each word on went a barrel pierced. But oh, Margaret! the fire fed by the spirits surprised me: it shot up and singed my very hair, it went roaring up the side of the mill, swift as falls the lightning; and I yelled and laughed in my torture and despair, and pierced more barrels and the very tar-barrels, and flung them on. The fire roared like a lion for its prey, and voices answered it inside from the top of the mill, and the feet came thundering down, and I stood as near that awful fire as I could, with uplifted sword to slay and be slain. The bolt was drawn. A tar-barrel caught fire. The door was opened. What followed? Not the men came out, but the fire rushed in at them like a living death, and the first I thought to fight with was blackened and crumpled on the floor like a leaf. One fearsome yell, and dumb for ever. The feet ran up again, but fewer. I heard them hack with their swords a little way up at the mill's wooden sides; but they had no time to hew their way out: the fire and reek were at their heels, and the smoke burst out at every loophole, and oozed blue in the moonlight through each crevice. I hobbled back, racked with pain and fury. There were white faces up at my window. They saw me. They cursed me. I cursed them back and shook my naked sword: 'Come down the road I came,' I cried. 'But ye must come one by one, and as ye come, ye die upon this steel.' Some cursed at that, but others wailed. For I had them all at deadly vantage. And doubtless, with my smoke-grimed face and fiendish rage, I looked a demon. And now there was a steady roar inside the mill. The flame was going up it as furnace up its chimney. The mill caught fire. Fire glimmered through it. Tongues of flame darted through each loophole and shot sparks and fiery flakes into the night. One of the assassins leaped on to the sail, as I had done. In his hurry he missed his grasp and fell at my feet, and bounded from the hard ground like a ball, and never spoke, nor moved again. And the rest screamed like women, and with their despair came back to me both ruth for them and hope of life for myself. And the fire gnawed through the mill in placen, and shot forth showers of great flat sparks like flakes of fiery snow; and the sails caught fire one after another; and I became a man again and staggered away terror-stricken, leaning on my sword, from the sight of my revenge, and with great bodily pain crawled back to the road. And, dear Margaret, the rimy trees were now all like pyramids of golden filagree, and lace, cobweb fine, in the red firelight. Oh! most beautiful! And a poor wretch got entangled in the burning sails, and whirled round screaming, and lost hold at the wrong time, and hurled like stone from mangonel high into the air; then a dull thump; it was his carcass striking the earth. The next moment there was a loud crash. The mill fell in on its destroyer, and a million great sparks flew up, and the sails fell over the burning wreck, and at that a million more sparks flew up, and the ground was strewn with burning wood and men. I prayed God forgive me, and kneeling with my back to that fiery shambles, I saw lights on the road; a welcome sight. It was a company coming towards me, and scarce two furlongs off. I hobbled towards them. Ere I had gone far I heard a swift step behind me. I turned. One had escaped; how escaped, who can divine? His sword shone in the moonlight. I feared him. Methought the ghosts of all those dead sat on that glittering glaive. I put my other foot to the ground, maugre the anguish, and fled towards the torches, moaning with pain, and shouting for aid. But what could I do He gained on me. Behooved me turn and fight. Denys had taught me sword play in sport. I wheeled, our swords clashed. His clothes they smelled all singed. I cut swiftly upward with supple hand, and his dangled bleeding at the wrist, and his sword fell; it tinkled on the ground. I raised my sword to hew him should he stoop for't. He stood and cursed me. He drew his dagger with his left; I opposed my point and dared him with my eye to close. A great shout arose behind me from true men's throats. He started. He spat at me in his rage, then gnashed his teeth and fled blaspheming. I turned and saw torches close at hand. Lo, they fell to dancing up and down methought, and the next-moment-all-was-dark. I had--ah!"
Catherine. "Here, help! water! Stand aloof, you that be men!"
Margaret had fainted away.
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