Part 2 out of 6
larger they are, the more they eat."
No word did he say to me as to my dwelling on with him, yet there I
remained, by common consent, as it were. Indeed on the morrow of my
coming a tailor appeared to measure me for such garments as he thought
I should wear, by his command, I suppose, as I was never asked for
payment, and he bade me furnish my chamber to my own liking, also
another room at the back of the house that was much larger than it
seemed, which he told me was to be mine to work in, though at what I
was to work he did not say.
For a day or two I remained idle, staring at the sights of London and
only meeting my uncle at meals which sometimes we ate alone and
sometimes in the company of sea-captains and learned clerks or of
other merchants, all of whom treated him with great deference and as I
soon guessed, were in truth his servants. At night, however, we were
always alone and then he would pour out his wisdom on me while I
listened, saying little. On the sixth day, growing weary of this
idleness, I made bold to ask him if there was aught that I could do.
"Aye, plenty if you have a mind to work," he answered. "Sit down now,
and take pen and paper and write what I shall tell you."
Then he dictated a short letter to me as to shipping wine from Spain,
and when it was sanded, read it carefully.
"You have it right," he said, seeming pleased, "and your script is
clear if boyish. They taught you none so ill yonder at Hastings where
I thought you had only learned to handle ropes and arrows. Work? Yes,
there is plenty of it of the more private sort which I do not give to
this scribe or to that who might betray my secrets. For know," he went
on in a stern voice, "there is one thing which I never pardon, and it
is betrayal. Remember that, nephew Hubert, even in the arms of your
loves, if you should be fool enough to seek them, or in your cups."
So he talked on, and while he did so went to an iron chest that he
unlocked, and thence drew out a parchment roll which he bade me take
to my workroom and copy there. I did so, and found that it was an
inventory of his goods and estates, and oh! before I had done I wished
that there were fewer of them. All the long day I laboured, only
stopping for a bite at noon, till my head swam and my fingers ached.
Yet as I did so I felt proud, for I guessed that my uncle had set me
this task for two reasons: first, to show his trust in me, and,
secondly, to acquaint me with the state of his possessions, but as it
were in the way of business. By nightfall I had finished and checked
the copy which with the original I hid in my robe when the green-robed
waiting maid summoned me to eat.
At our meal my uncle asked me what I had seen that day and I replied--
naught but figures and crabbed writing--and handed him the parchments
which he compared item by item.
"I am pleased with you," he said at last, "for heresofar I find but a
single error and that is my fault, not yours; also you have done two
days' work in one. Still, it is not fit that you who are accustomed to
the open air should bend continually over deeds and inventories.
Therefore, to-morrow I shall have another task for you, for like
yourself your horse needs exercise."
And so he had, for with two stout servants riding with me and guiding
me, he sent me out of London to view a fair estate of his upon the
borders of the Thames and to visit his tenants there and make report
of their husbandry, also of certain woods where he proposed to fell
oak for shipbuilding. This I did, for the servants made me known to
the tenants, and got back at night-fall, able to tell him all which he
was glad to learn, since it seemed that he had not seen this estate
for five long years.
On another day he sent me to visit ships in which goods of his were
being laden at the wharf, and on another took me with him to a sale of
furs that came from the far north where I was told the snow never
melts and there is always ice in the sea.
Also he made me known to merchants with whom he traded, and to his
agents who were many, though for the most part secret, together with
other goldsmiths who held moneys of his, and in a sense were partners,
forming a kind of company so that they could find great sums in sudden
need. Lastly, his clerks and dependents were made to understand that
if I gave an order it must be obeyed, though this did not happen until
I had been with him for some time.
Thus it came about that within a year I knew all the threads of John
Grimmer's great business, and within two it drifted more and more into
my hands. The last part of it with which he made me acquainted was
that of lending money to those in high places, and even to the State
itself, but at length I was taught this also and came to know sundry
of these men, who in private were humble borrowers, but if they met us
in the street passed us with the nod that the great give to their
inferiors. Then my uncle would bow low, keeping his eyes fixed upon
the ground and bid me do the same. But when they were out of hearing
he would chuckle and say,
"Fish in my net, goldfish in my net! See how they shine who presently
must wriggle on the shore. Vanity of vanities! All is vanity, and
doubtless Solomon knew such in his day."
Hard I worked, and ever harder, toiling at the mill of all these large
affairs and keeping myself in health during such time as I could spare
by shooting at the butts with my big bow where I found that none could
beat me, or practising sword play in a school of arms that was kept by
a master of the craft from Italy. Also on holidays and on Sundays
after mass I rode out of London to visit my uncle's estates where
sometimes I slept a night, and once or twice sailed to Holland or to
Calais with his cargoes.
One day, it was when I had been with him about eighteen months, he
said to me suddenly.
"You plough the field, Hubert, and do not tithe the crop, but live
upon the bounty of the husbandman. Henceforward take as much of it as
you will. I ask no account."
So I found myself rich, though in truth I spent but little, both
because my tastes were simple and it was part of my uncle's policy to
make no show which he said would bring envy on us. From this time
forward he began to withdraw himself from business, the truth being
that age took hold of him and he grew feeble. The highest of the
affairs he left to me, only inquiring of them and giving his counsel
from time to time. Still, because he must do something, he busied
himself in the shop which, as he said, he kept as a trap for the
birds, chaffering in ornaments and furs as though his bread depended
upon his earning a gold piece, and directing the manufacture of
beautiful jewels and cups which he, who was an artist, designed to be
made by his skilled and highly paid workmen, some of whom were
"We end where we began," he would say. "A smith was I from my
childhood and a smith I shall die. What a fate for one of the blood of
Thorgrimmer! Yet I am selling you into the same bondage, or so it
would seem. But who knows? Who knows? We design, but God decrees."
It is to be noted that when old men cease from the occupation of their
lives, often enough within a very little time they also cease from
life itself. So it was with my uncle. Day by day he faded till at last
at the beginning of the third winter after I came to him he took to
his bed where he lay growing ever weaker till at length he died in the
hour of the birth of the new year.
To the last his mind remained clear and strong, and never more so than
on the night of his death. That evening after I had eaten I went to
his room as usual and found him reading a beautiful manuscript of the
book of the Wisdom of Solomon that is called Ecclesiastes, a work
which he preferred to all others, since its thoughts were his. "I
gathered me also silver and gold and the peculiar treasures of kings,"
he read aloud, whether to himself or to me I knew not, and went on,
"So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me.
. . . Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on
the labour that I had laboured to do; and behold all was vanity and
vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun."
He closed the book, saying,
"So shall you find, Nephew, you, and every man in the evil days of age
when you shall say, 'I have no pleasure in them.' Hubert, I am going
to my long home, nor do I grieve. In youth I met with sorrow, for
though I have never told you, I was married then and had one son, a
bright boy, and oh! I loved him and his mother. Then came the plague
and took them both. So having naught left and being by nature one of
those who could wean himself from women, which I fear that you are
not, Hubert, noting all the misery there is in the world and how those
who are called noble whom I hate, grind down the humble and the poor,
I turned myself to good works. Half of all my gains I have given and
still give to those who minister to poverty and sickness; you will
find a list of them when I am gone should you wish to continue the
bounty, as to which I do not desire to bind you in any way. For know,
Hubert, that I have left you all that is mine; the gold and the ships
with the movables and chattels to be your own, but the lands which are
the main wealth, for life and afterwards to be your children's, or if
you should die childless, then to go to certain hospitals where the
sick are tended."
Now I would have thanked him, but he waved my words aside and went on:
"You will be a very rich man, Hubert, one of the richest in all
London; yet set not your heart on wealth, and above all do not ape
nobility or strive to climb from the honest class of which you come
into the ranks of those idle and dissolute cut-throats and pick-brains
who are called the great. Lighten their pockets if you will, but do
not seek to wear their silken, scented garments. That is my counsel to
He paused a while, picking at the bedclothes as the dying do, and
"You told me that your mother thought you would be a wanderer, and it
is strange that now my mind should be as hers was in this matter. For
I seem to see you far away amidst war and love and splendour, holding
Wave-Flame aloft as did that Thorgrimmer who begat us. Well, go where
you are called or as occasion drives, though you have much to keep you
at home. I would that you were wed, since marriage is an anchor that
few ships can drag. Yet I am not sure, for how know I whom you should
wed, and once that anchor is down no windlass will wind it up and
death alone can cut its chain. One word more. Though you are so young
and strong remember that as I am, so shall you be. To-day for me,
to-morrow for thee, said the wise old man, and thus it ever was and
"Hubert, I do not know why we are born to struggle and to suffer and
at last be noosed with the rope of Doom. Yet I hope the priests are
right and that we live again, though Solomon thought not so; that is,
if we live where there is neither sin nor sorrow nor fear of death. If
so, be sure that in some new land we shall meet afresh, and there I
shall ask account of you of the wealth I entrusted to your keeping.
Think of me kindly at times, for I have learned to love you who are of
my blood, and while we live on in the hearts of those we love, we are
not truly dead. Come hither that I may bless you in your coming in and
going out while you still look upon the sun."
So he blessed me in beautiful and tender words, and kissed me on the
brow, after which he bade me leave him and send the woman to watch
him, because he desired to sleep.
When she looked at him at midnight just as the bells rang in the new
year, he was dead.
According to his wish John Grimmer, the last of that name, was buried
by the bones of his forgotten wife and child, who had left the world
over fifty years before, in the chancel of that church in the Cheap
which was within a stone's throw of his dwelling house. By his desire
also the funeral was without pomp, yet many came to it, some of them
of high distinction, although the day was cold and snowy. I noted,
moreover, the deference they showed to me who by now was known to be
his heir, even if they had never spoken with me before, as was the
case with certain of them, taking occasion to draw me aside and say
that they trusted that their ancient friendship with my honoured uncle
would be continued by myself.
Afterwards I looked up their names in his private book and found that
one and all of those who had spoken thus owed moneys to his estate.
When the will was sworn and I found myself the master of many legions,
or rather of more money, land, and other wealth than I had ever
dreamed of, at first I was minded to be rid of trade and to take up my
abode upon one or other of my manors, where I might live in plenty for
the rest of my days. In the end, however, I did not do so, partly
because I shrank from new faces and surroundings, and partly because I
was sure that such would not have been my uncle's wish.
Instead I set myself to play and outpass his game. He had died very
rich; I determined that I would die five or ten times richer; the
richest man in England if I could, not because I cared for money, of
which indeed I spent but little upon myself, but because the getting
of it and the power that it brought, seemed to me the highest kind of
sport. So bending my mind to the matter I doubled and trebled his
enterprises on this line and on that, and won and won again, for even
where skill and foresight failed, Fortune stood my friend with a such
strange persistence that at length I became superstitious and grew
frightened of her gifts. Also I took pains to hide my great riches
from the public eye, placing much of them in the names of others whom
I could trust, and living most modestly in the same old house, lest I
should become a man envied by the hungry and marked for plunder by the
It was during the summer following my uncle's death that I went to the
wharves to see to the unloading of a ship that came in from Venice,
bearing many goods from the East on my account, such as ivory, silks,
spices, glass, carpets, and I know not what. Having finished my
business and seen these precious things warehoused, I handed over the
checking of a list of them to another and turned to seek my horse.
Then it was that I saw a number of half-grown lads and other idlers
mobbing a man who stood among them wrapped in a robe of what looked
like tattered sheepskin, yet was not because the wool on it was of a
reddish hue and very long and soft, which robe was thrown over his
head hiding his face. At this man--a tall figure who stood there
patiently like a martyr at the stake--these lewd fellows were hurling
offal, such as fishes' heads and rotted fruits that lay in plenty on
the quay, together with coarse words. "Blackamoor" was one I caught.
Such sights were common enough, but there was a quiet dignity of
bearing about this victim which moved me, so that I went to the rabble
commanding them to desist. One of them, a rough bumpkin, not knowing
who I was, pushed me aside, bidding me mind my own business,
whereupon, being very strong, I dealt him such a blow between the eyes
that he went down like a felled ox and lay there half stunned. His
companions beginning to threaten me, I blew upon my whistle, whereon
two of my serving-men, without whom I seldom rode in those troublous
times, ran up from behind a shed, laying hands upon their short
swords, on seeing which the idlers took to their heels.
When they had gone I turned to look at the stranger, whose hood had
fallen back in the hustling, and saw that he was about thirty years of
age, and of a dark and noble countenance, beardless, but with straight
black hair, black flashing eyes, and an aquiline nose. Another thing I
noted about him was that the lobe of his ear was pierced and in a
strange fashion, since the gristle was stretched to such a size that a
small apple could have been placed within its ring. For the rest the
man's limbs were so thin as though from hunger, that everywhere his
bones showed, while his skin was scarred with cuts and scratches, and
on his forehead was a large bruise. He seemed bewildered also and very
weak, yet I think he understood that I was playing a friend's part to
him, for he bowed towards me in a stately, courteous way and kissed
the air thrice, but what this meant at the time I did not know.
I spoke to him in English, but he shook his head gently to show that
he did not understand. Then, as though by an afterthought, he touched
his breast several times, and after each touch, said in a voice of
strange softness, "Kari," which I took it he meant was his name. At
any rate, from that time forward I called him Kari.
Now the question was how to deal with him. Leave him there to be
mocked or to perish I could not, nor was there anywhere whither I
could send him. Therefore it seemed the only thing to do was to take
him home with me. So grasping his arm gently I led him off the quay
where our horses were and motioned to him to mount one that had been
ridden by a servant whom I bade to walk. At the sight of these horses,
however, a great terror took hold of him for he trembled all over, a
sweat bursting out upon his face, and clung to me as though for
protection, making it evident that he had never seen such an animal
before. Indeed, nothing would persuade him to go near them, for he
shook his head and pointed to his feet, thus showing me that he
preferred to walk, however weak his state.
The end of it was that walk he did and I with him from Thames side to
the Cheap, since I dared not leave him alone for fear lest he should
run away. A strange sight we presented, I leading this dusky wanderer
through the streets, and glad was I that night was falling so that few
saw us and those who did thought, I believe, that I was bringing some
foreign thief to jail.
At length we reached the Boat House as my dwelling was called, from
the image of the old Viking vessel that my uncle had carved and set
above the door, and I led him in staring about him with all his eyes,
which in his thin face looked large as those of an owl, taking him up
the stairs, which seemed to puzzle him much, for at every step he
lifted his leg high into the air, to an empty guest room.
Here besides the bed and other furniture was a silver basin with its
jug, one of the beautiful things that John Grimmer had brought I know
not whence. On these Kari fixed his eyes at once, staring at them in
the light of the candles that I had lit, as though they were familiar
to him. Indeed, after glancing at me as though for permission, he went
to the jug that was kept full of water in case of visitors of whom I
had many on business, lifted it, and after pouring a few drops of the
water on to the floor as though he made some offering, drank deeply,
thus showing that he was parched with thirst.
Then without more ado he filled the basin and throwing off his
tattered robe began to wash himself to the waist, round which he wore
another garment, of dirty cotton I thought, which looked like a
woman's petticoat. Watching him I noted two things, that his poor body
was as scratched and scarred as though by old thorn wounds, as were
his face and hands, also marked with great bruises as though from
kicks and blows, and secondly that hung about his neck was a wondrous
golden image about four inches in length. It was of rude workmanship
with knees bent up under the chin, but the face, in which little
emeralds were set for eyes, was of a great and solemn dignity.
This image Kari washed before he touched himself with water, bowing to
it the while, and when he saw me observing him, looked upwards to the
sky and said a word that sounded like /Pachacamac/, from which I took
it to be some idol that the poor man worshipped. Lastly, tied about
his middle was a hide bag filled with I knew not what.
Now I found a washball made of oil of olives mixed with beech ash and
showed him the use of it. At first he shrank from this strange thing,
but coming to understand its office, served himself of it readily,
smiling when he saw how well it cleansed his flesh. Further, I fetched
a shirt of silk with a pair of easy shoes and a fur-lined robe that
had belonged to my uncle, also hosen, and showed him how to put them
on, which he learned quickly enough. A comb and a brush that were on
the table he seemed to understand already, for with them he dressed
his tangled hair.
When all was finished in a fashion, I led him down the stairs again to
the eating-room where supper was waiting, and offered him food, at the
sight of which his eyes glistened, for clearly he was well-nigh
starving. The chair I gave him he would not sit on, whether from
respect for me or because it was strange to him, I do not know, but
seeing a low stool of tapestry which my uncle had used to rest his
feet, he crouched upon this, and thus ate of whatever I gave him, very
delicately though he was so hungry. Then I poured wine from Portugal
into a goblet and drank some myself to show him that it was harmless,
which, after tasting it, he swallowed to the last drop.
The meal being finished which I thought it was well to shorten lest he
should eat too much who was so weak, again he lifted up his eyes as
though in gratitude, and as a sign of thankfulness, or so I suppose,
knelt before me, took my hand, and pressed it against his forehead,
thereby, although I did not know it at the time, vowing himself to my
service. Then seeing how weary he was I conducted him back to the
chamber and pointed out the bed to him, shutting my eyes to show that
he should sleep there. But this he would not do until he had dragged
the bedding on to the floor, from which I gathered that his people,
whoever they might be, had the habit of sleeping on the ground.
Greatly did I wonder who this man was and from what race he sprang,
since never had I seen any human being who resembled him at all. Of
one thing only was I certain, namely, that his rank was high, since no
noble of the countries that I knew had a bearing so gentle or manners
so fine. Of black men I had seen several, who were called negroes, and
others of a higher sort called Moors; gross, vulgar fellows for the
most part and cut-throats if in an ill-humour, but never a one of them
like this Kari.
It was long before my curiosity was satisfied, and even then I did not
gather much. By slow degrees Kari learned English, or something of it,
though never enough to talk fluently in that tongue into which he
always seemed to translate in his mind from another full of strange
figures of thought and speech. When after many months he had mastered
sufficient of our language, I asked him to tell me his story which he
tried to do. All I could make of it, however, came to this.
He was, he said, the son of a king who ruled over a mighty empire far
far away, across thousands of miles of sea towards that part of the
sky where the sun sank. He declared that he was the eldest lawful son,
born of the King's sister, which seemed dreadful to my ideas though
perhaps he meant cousin or relative, but that there were scores of
other children of his father, which, if true, showed that this king
must be a very loose-living man who resembled in his domesticities the
wise Solomon of whom my uncle was so fond.
It appeared, further, according to the tale, that this king, his
father, had another son born of a different mother, and that of this
son he was fonder than of my guest, Kari. His name was Urco, and he
was jealous of and hated Kari the lawful heir. Moreover, as is common,
a woman came into the business, since Kari had a wife, the loveliest
lady in all the land, though as I understood, not of the same tribe or
blood as himself, and with this wife of his Urco fell in love. So
greatly did he desire her, although he had plenty of wives of his own,
that being the general of the King's troops, he sent Kari, with the
consent of their father, to command an army that was to fight a
distant savage nation, hoping that he would be killed, much as David
did in the matter of Uriah and Bathsheba, of whom the Bible tells the
story. But as it happened, instead of being killed like Uriah, Kari
conquered the distant nation, and after two years returned to the
King's court, where he found that his brother Urco had led astray his
wife whom he had taken into his household. Being very angry, Kari
recovered his wife by command of the King, and put her to death
because of her faithlessness.
Thereon the King, his father, a stern man, ordered him into banishment
because he had broken the laws of the land, which did not permit of
private vengeance over a matter of a woman who was not even of the
royal blood, however fair she might be. Before he went, however, Urco,
who was mad at the loss of his love, caused some kind of poison to be
given to Kari, which although it does not kill, for he dared not kill
him because of his station, deprives him who takes it of his reason,
sometimes for ever and sometimes for a year or more. After this, said
Kari, he remembered little or nothing, save long travellings in boats
and through forests, and then again upon a raft or boat on which he
was driven alone, for many, many days, drinking a jar of water which
he had with him, and eating some dried flesh and with it a marvellous
drug of his people, some of which remained to him in the leathern bag
that has power to keep the life in a man for weeks, even if he is
At last, he declared, he was picked up by a great ship such as he had
never seen before, though of this ship he recalled little. Indeed he
remembered nothing more until he found himself upon the quay where I
discovered him, and of a sudden his mind seemed to return but he said
he believed that he had come ashore in a boat in which were fishermen,
having been thrown into it by the people on the ship which went on
elsewhere, and that he had walked up the shores of a river. This story
the bruises on his forehead and body seemed to bear out, but it was
far from clear, and by the time I learned it months afterwards of
course no traces of the fishermen or their boat could be found. I
asked him the name of the country from which he came. He answered that
it was called /Tavantinsuyu/. He added that it was a wonderful country
in which were cities and churches and great snow-clad mountains and
fertile valleys and high plains and hot forests through which ran wide
From all the learned men whom I could meet, especially those who had
travelled far, I made inquiries concerning this country called
Tavantinsuyu, but none of them had so much as heard its name. Indeed,
they declared that my brown man must have come from Africa, and that
his mind being disordered, he had invented this wondrous land which he
said lay far away to the west where the sun sank.
So there I must leave this matter, though for my part I was sure that
Kari was not mad, whatever he might have been in the past. A great
dreamer he was, it is true, who declared that the poison which his
brother had given him had "eaten a hole in his mind" through which he
could see and hear things which others could not. Thus he was able to
read the secret motives of men and women with wonderful clearness, so
much so that sometimes I asked him, laughing, if he could not give me
some of that poison that I might see into the hearts of those with
whom I dealt. Of another thing, too, he was always certain, namely,
that he would return to his country Tavantinsuyu of which he thought
day and night, and that /I should accompany him/. At this I laughed
again and said that if so it would be after we were both dead.
By degrees he learned English quite well and even how to read and
write it, teaching me in return much of his own language which he
called /Quichua/, a soft and beautiful tongue, though he said that
there were also many others in his country, including one that was
secret to the King and his family, which he was not allowed to reveal
although he knew it. In time I mastered enough of this Quichua to be
able to talk to Kari in brief sentences of it when I did not wish
others to understand what I said.
To tell the truth, while I studied thus and listened to his marvellous
tales, a great desire arose in me to see this land of his and to open
up a trade with it, since there he declared gold was as plentiful as
was iron with us. I thought even of making a voyage of discovery to
the west, but when I spoke of it to certain sea-captains, even the
most venturesome mocked at me and said that they would wait for that
journey till they "went west" themselves, by which in their sea
parlance that they had learned in the Mediterranean, they meant until
they died.[*] When I told Kari this he smiled in his mysterious way
and answered that all the same, I and he should make that journey
together and this before we died, a thing that came about, indeed,
though, not by my own will or his.
[*] Of late there has been much dispute as to the origin of the phrase
"to go west," or in other words, to die. Surely it arises from the
custom of the Ancient Egyptians who, after death, were ferried
across the Nile and entombed upon the western shore.--Ed.
For the rest when Kari saw my workmen fashioning gold and setting
jewels in it for sale to the nobles and ladies of the Court, he was
much interested and asked if he might be allowed to follow this craft,
of which he said he understood something, and thus earn the bread he
ate. I answered, yes, for I knew that it irked his proud nature to be
dependent on me, and gave him gold and silver with a little room
having a furnace in it where he could labour. The first thing he made
was an object about two inches across, round and with a groove at the
back of it, on the front of which he fashioned an image of the sun
having a human face and rays of light projecting all about. I asked
him what was its purpose, whereon he took the piece and thrust it into
the lobe of his ear where the gristle had been stretched in the
fashion that I have described, which it fitted exactly. Then he told
me that in his country all the nobles wore such ornaments and that
those who did so were called "ear-men" to distinguish them from the
common people. Also he told me many other things too long to set out,
which made me desire more than ever to see this empire with my eyes,
for an empire and no less he declared it to be.
Afterwards Kari made many such ornaments which I sold for brooches
with a pin set at the back of them. Also he shaped other things, for
his skill as a goldsmith was wonderful, such as cups and platters of
strange design and rich ornamentation which commanded a great price.
But on every one of them, in the centre or some other part of the
embossment, appeared this image of the sun. I asked him why. He
answered because the sun was his god and his people were Sun-
worshippers. I reminded him that he had said that a certain Pachacamac
whose image he wore about his neck was his god. To this he replied:
"Yes, Pachacamac is the god above gods, the Creator, the Spirit of the
World, but the Sun is his visible house and raiment that all may see
and worship," a saying that I thought had truth in it, seeing that all
Nature is the raiment of God.
I tried to instruct him in our faith, but although he listened
patiently and I think understood, he would not become a Christian,
making it very plain to me that he thought that a man should live and
die in the religion in which he was born and that from what he saw in
London he did not hold that Christians were any better than those who
worshipped the sun and the great spirit, Pachacamac. So I abandoned
this attempt, although there was danger to him while he remained a
heathen. Indeed twice or thrice the priests made inquiry concerning
his faith, being curious as to all that had to do with him. However, I
silenced them by pretending that I was instructing him as well as I
was able and that as yet he did not know enough English to hearken to
their holy expositions. Also when they became persistent I made gifts
to the monasteries to which they belonged, or if they were parish
priests, then to their curés or churches.
Still I was troubled about this matter, for some of these priests were
very fierce and intolerant, and I was sure that in time they would
push the business further.
One more thing I noticed about Kari, namely, that he shrank from women
and indeed seemed to hate them. The maids who had remained with me
since my uncle's death noticed this, by nature as it were, and in
revenge would not serve him. The end of it was that, fearing lest they
should do him some evil turn with the priests or otherwise, I sent
them away and hired men to take their place. This distaste of Kari for
women I set down to all that he had suffered at the hands of his false
and beautiful wife not wrongly as I think.
THE COMING OF BLANCHE
One day, it was the last of the year, the anniversary of the death of
my uncle whose goodness and wisdom I pondered on more and more as time
went by, having a little time to spare from larger affairs, I chanced
to be in the shop in the front of the house, which, as John Grimmer
had said, he kept as a trap to "snare the ladybirds," and I continued,
because I knew that he would not wish that anything should be changed.
Here I was pleasing myself by looking over such pieces as we had to
sell which the head craftsman was showing to me, since myself I knew
little of them, except as a matter of account.
Whilst I was thus engaged there entered the shop a very fine lady
accompanied by a still finer lordling arrayed so similarly that, at
first sight, in their hooded ermine cloaks it was difficult to know
which was man and which was woman. When they threw these aside,
however, for the shop was warm after the open air, I knew more than
that, since with a sudden stoppage of the heart I saw before me none
other than the lady Blanche Aleys and her relative, the lord Deleroy.
She, who in the old days of the Hastings burnings had been but a lily
bud, was now an open flower and beautiful exceedingly; indeed in her
own fashion the most beautiful woman that ever I beheld. Tall she was
and stately as a lily bloom, white as a lily also, save for those
wondrous blue eyes over which curled the dark lashes. In shape, too,
she was perfect, full-breasted, yet not too full, small-waisted, and
with delicate limbs, a very Venus, such an one as I had seen in
ancient marble brought in a ship from Italy and given, as I believe,
to the King, who loved such things, to be set up in his palace.
My lord also was yet handsomer than he had been, more set and manly,
though still he affected his coxcomb party-coloured dress with the
turned-up shoes of which the points were fastened by little golden
chains beneath the knee. Still he was a fine man with his roving black
eyes, his loose mouth and little pointed beard from which, as from his
hair, came an odour of scents. Seeing me in my merchant's gown, for I
remained mindful of my uncle's advice as regards attire, he spoke to
me as great men do to shop-keepers.
"Well met, Goldsmith," he said in his round, well-trained voice, "I
would make a new-year gift to the lady here, and I am told that you
have plate-wares of the best; gold cups and jewels of rich and rare
design, stamped all of them with the image of the sun which one would
wish to remember on such a day as this. But hearken, let John Grimmer
himself come to serve me for I would treat with no underlings, or take
me to him where he is."
Now I bowed before him, rubbing my hands, and answered, for so the
humour led me: "Then I fear that I must take my lord farther than my
lord would wish to travel just at present, though who knows?
Perchance, like the rest of us, he may take that journey sooner than
Now at the sound of my voice I saw the lady Blanche stare at me,
trying to catch sight of my face beneath the hood which I wore on this
cold day, while Deleroy started and said briefly:
"It is plain, my lord. John Grimmer is dead and I know not where he
dwells at present since he took that secret with him. But I, who
unworthily carry on his trade, am at your lordship's service."
Then I turned and bade the shopman command Kari to come hither and
bring with him the choicest of our cups and jewels.
He went and I busied myself in setting stools for these noble
customers to rest on before the fire. As I did so by chance my hand
touched that of the lady Blanche, whereat once more she strove to peer
beneath my hood. It was as though the nature in her knew that touch
again, as by some instinct every woman does, if once the toucher's
lips have been near her own, though it be long ago. But I only turned
my head away and drew that hood the closer.
Now Kari came and with him the shopman, bearing the precious wares.
Kari wore a wool-lined robe, very plain, which yet became him so well
that with his fine-cut face and flashing eyes he looked like an
Eastern prince disguised. At him this fine pair stared, for never had
they seen such a man, but taking no note, with many bows he showed the
jewels one by one. Among these was a gem of great value, a large,
heart-shaped ruby that Kari had set in a surround of twisted golden
serpents with heads raised to strike and little eyes of diamonds. Upon
this brooch the lady Blanche fixed her gaze and discarding all others,
began to play with it, till at length the lord Deleroy asked the
price. I consulted with Kari, explaining that myself I did not handle
this branch of my business, then named it carelessly; it was a great
"God's truth! Blanche," said Deleroy, "this merchant thinks I am made
of gold. You must choose a cheaper ornament for your new year's gift,
or he will have to wait for payment."
"Which mayhap I should be willing to do from one of your quality, my
lord," I interrupted, bowing.
He looked at me and said:
"Can I have a word apart with you, merchant?"
Again I bowed and led him to the eating-room where he gazed about him,
amazed at the richness of the furnishings. He sat him down upon a
carven chair while I stood before him humbly and waited.
"I am told," he said at length, "that John Grimmer did other business
besides that of selling jewels."
"Yes, my lord, some foreign trade."
"And some home trade also. I mean that he lent money."
"At times, my lord, and on good security, if he chanced to have any at
command, and at a certain interest. Perhaps my lord will come to his
"It is short and clear. Those of us who are at Court always want money
where it is needful if we would have advancement and earn the royal
favour of one who does not pay, at least in gold."
"Be pleased to state the amount and the security offered, my lord."
He did so. The sum was high and the security was bad.
"Are there any who would stand surety for my lord?"
"Yes, one of great estate, Sir Robert Aleys, who has wide lands in
"I have heard the name, and if my lord will bid his lawyers put the
matter in writing, I will cause the lands to be valued and give an
answer as quickly as may be."
"For a young man you are careful, merchant."
"Alas! such as I need to be who must guard our small earnings in these
troublous times of war and tumult. Such a sum as you speak of would
take all that John Grimmer and I have laid by after years of toil."
Again he looked at the furnishings of the room and shrugged his
shoulders, then said:
"Good, it shall be done for the need is urgent. To whom is the letter
to be sent?"
"To John Grimmer, at the Boat House, Cheapside."
"But you told me that John Grimmer was dead."
"And so he is, my lord, but his name remains."
Then we returned to the sop and as we went I said,
"If your lordship's lady should set her heart upon the ruby the cost
of it can stand over a while, since I know that it is hard for a
husband to disappoint a wife of what she desires."
"Man, she is my distant cousin, not my wife. I would she were, but how
can two high-placed paupers wed?"
"Perhaps it is for this reason that my lord wishes to borrow money."
Again he shrugged his shoulders, and as we entered the shop I threw
back the hood from off my head upon which I wore a merchant's cap of
velvet. The lady Blanche caught sight of me and started.
"Surely, surely," she began, "you are he who shot the three arrows at
the cave's mouth at Hastings."
"Yes, my lady, and did your hawk escape the dogs upon the London
"Nay, it was crippled and died, which was the first of many troubles,
for I think my luck rode away with you that day, Master Hubert of
Hastings," she added with a sigh.
"There are other hawks and luck returns," I replied, bowing. "Perhaps
this trinket will bring it back to you, my lady," and taking the
snake-surrounded ruby heart, I proffered it to her with another bow.
"Oh!" she said, her blue eyes shining with pleasure, "oh! it is
beautiful, but whence is the price to come for so costly a thing?"
"I think the matter is one that can wait."
At that moment the lord Deleroy broke in, saying,
"So you are the man who slew the French knight with an ancient sword,
and afterwards shot three other Frenchmen with three shafts, sending
one of them through shield and mail and body, a tale that was spoken
of afterwards, even in London. God's truth! you should be serving the
King in the wars, not yourself behind the counter."
"There are many ways of serving, my lord," I answered, "by pen and
merchandise as well as by steel and shafts. Now with me it is the turn
of the former, though perhaps the ancient sword and the great black
bow wait till their time comes again."
He stared at me and muttered, half to himself:
"A strange merchant and a grim, as those dead Frenchmen may have
thought. I tell you, Sir Trader, that your talk and the eyes of that
tall Moor of yours turn my back cold; it is as though someone walked
over my grave. Come, Blanche, let us begone ere our horses be chilled
as I am. Master Grimmer, or Hastings, you shall hear from me, unless I
can do my business otherwise, and for the trinket send me a note at
Then they went, but as the lady Blanche left the shop she caught her
robe and turned to free it, while she did so flashing at me one of her
sweet looks such as I remembered well.
Kari followed to the door and watched them mount their horses at the
gate, then he searched the ground with his eyes.
"What was it hooked her cloak?" I asked.
"A dream, or the air, Master, for there is nothing else to which it
could have hung. Those who would throw spears behind them must first
"What think you of those two, Kari?"
"I think that they will not pay for your jewel, but perhaps this was
but a bait upon the hook."
"And what more, Kari?"
"I think that the lady is very fair and false, and that the great
lord's heart is as black as are his eyes. Also I think that they are
dear to each other and well matched. But it seems that you have met
them both before, Master, so you will know better about them than your
"Yes, I have met them," I answered sharply, for his words about
Blanche angered me, adding, "I have noted, Kari, that you have never a
good word for any one whom I favour. You are jealous-natured, Kari,
especially of women."
"You ask, I answer," he replied, falling into broken English, as was
his fashion when moved, "and it is true that those who have much love,
are much jealous. That is a fault in my people. Also I love not women.
Now I go make another piece for that which Master give the lady. Only
this time it all snake and no heart."
He went, taking the tray of jewels with him, and I, too, went to the
eating-room to think.
How strange was this meeting. I had never forgotten the lady Blanche,
but in a sense I had lived her memory down and mindful of my uncle's
counsel, had not sought to look upon her again, for which reason I
kept away from Hastings where I thought that I should find her. And
now here she was in London and in my house, brought thither by fate.
Nor was that all, since those blue eyes of hers had re-lighted the
dead fires in my heart and, seated there alone, I knew that I loved
her; indeed had never ceased to love her. She was more to me than all
my wealth, more than anything, and alas! between us there was still a
great gulf fixed.
She was not wed, it was true, but she was a highly placed lady, and I
but a merchant who could not even call myself a squire, or by law wear
garments made of certain stuffs which I handled daily in my trade. How
might that gulf be crossed?
Then as I mused there rose in my mind a memory of certain sayings of
my wise old uncle, and with it an answer to the question. Gold would
bridge the widest streams of human difference. These fine folk for all
their flauntings were poor. They came to me to borrow money wherewith
to gild their coronets and satisfy the importunate creditors at their
door, lest they should be pulled from their high place and forced back
into the number of the common herd as those who could no longer either
give or pay.
And after all, was this difference between them and me so wide? The
grandsire of Sir Robert Aleys, I had been told, gathered his wealth by
trade and usury in the old wars; indeed, it was said that he was one
who dealt in cattle, while Lord Deleroy was reported to be a bastard,
if of the bluest blood, so blue that it ran nigh to the royal purple.
Well, what was mine? On the father's side, Saxon descended from that
of Thanes who went down before the Normans and thereafter became
humble landed folk of the lesser sort. On the mother's, of the race of
the old sea-kings who slew and conquered through all the world they
knew. Was I then so far beneath these others? Nay, but like my father
and my uncle I was one who bought and sold and the hand of the dyer
was stained to the colour of his vat.
Thus stood the business. I, a stubborn man, not ill-favoured, to whom
Fortune had given wealth, was determined to win this woman who, it
seemed to me, looked upon me with no unkind eye since I had saved her
from certain perils. To myself then and there I swore I would win her.
The question was--how could it be done? I might enter the service of
the King and fight his battles and doubtless win myself a knighthood,
or more, which would open the closed gate.
Nay, it would take too long, and something warned me that time
pressed. That strange foreign man, Kari, said that Blanche was
enamoured of this Deleroy, and although I was wrath with him, setting
his words down to jealousy of any on whom I looked with kindness, I
knew well that Kari saw far. If I tarried, this rare white bird would
slip from my hand into another's cage. I must stir at once or let the
matter be. Well, I had wealth, so let wealth be my friend. Time enough
to try war when it failed me.
On the third day of the new year, which at this time of Court revelry
showed that the matter must indeed be pressing, I received those
particulars for which I had asked, together with a list of the lands
and tenements that Sir Robert Aleys was ready to put in pawn on behalf
of his friend and relative, the lord Deleroy. Why should he do this, I
wondered? There could only be one answer: because he and not Deleroy
was to receive the money, or most of it.
Nay, another came into my mind as probable. Because he looked upon
Deleroy as his heir, which, should he marry the lady Blanche, he would
become. If this were so I must act, and quickly, that is, if I would
ever see more of the lady Blanche, as perchance I might do by treading
this gold-paved road, but not otherwise. I studied the list of lands.
As it chanced I knew most of them, for they lay about Pevensey and
Hastings, and saw that they were scarcely worth the moneys which were
asked of me. Well, what of it? This matter was not one of trade and
large as the sum might be, I would risk it for the chance of winning
The end of it was that waiting for no valuings I wrote that on proof
of title clean and unencumbered and completion of all deeds, I would
pay over the gold to whoever might be appointed to receive it.
This letter of mine proved to be but the beginning of a long business
whereof the details may be left untold. On the very next day indeed I
was summoned to the house of Sir Robert Aleys which was near to the
palace and abbey of Westminster. Here I found the gruff old knight
grown greyer and having, as it seemed to me, a hunted air, and with
him the lord Deleroy and two foxy lawyers of whom I did not like the
look. Indeed, for the first, I suspected that I was being tricked and
had it not been for the lady Blanche, would have broken off the loan.
Because of her, however, this I did not do, but having stated my terms
anew, and the rate and dates of interest, sat for a long while saying
as little as possible, while the others unfolded parchments and talked
and talked, telling tales that often contradicted each other, till at
length the lord Deleroy, who seemed ill at ease, grew weary and left
the chamber. At last all was done that could be done at that sitting
and it being past the hour of dinner, I was taken in to eat,
consenting, because I hoped that I should see the lady Blanche.
A butler, or chamber-groom, led me to the dining-hall and sat me with
the lawyers at a table beneath the dais. Presently on this dais
appeared Sir Robert Aleys, his daughter Blanche, the lord Deleroy,
and perhaps eight or ten other fine folk whom I had never seen. She,
looking about her, saw me seated at the lower table, and spoke to her
father and Deleroy, reasoning with the latter, as it would appear.
Indeed, in a sudden hush I caught some of her words. They were, "If
you are not ashamed to take his money, you should not be ashamed to
sit at meat with him."
Deleroy stamped his foot, but the end of it was that I was summoned to
the high table where the lady Blanche made place for me beside her,
while Deleroy sat himself down between two splendid dames at the other
end of the board.
Here, then, I stayed by Blanche who, I noted, wore the ruby heart
encircled by serpents. Indeed, this was the first thing of which she
spoke to me, saying,
"It looks well upon my robe, does it not, and I thank you for it,
Master Hubert, who know surely that it is not my cousin Deleroy's
gift, but yours, since for it you will never see your money."
By way of answer I looked at the sumptuous plate and furnishings, the
profusion of the viands, and the number of the serving-men. Reading my
thought, she replied,
"Aye, but pledged, all of it. I tell you, Master Hubert, that we are
starved hounds, though we live in a kennel with golden bars. And now
they would pawn you that kennel also."
Then, while I wondered what to say, she began to talk of our great
adventure in bygone years, recalling every tiny thing that had
happened and every word that had been spoken between us, some of which
I had forgotten. Of one thing only she said nothing--the kisses with
which we parted. Amongst much else, she spoke of how the ancient sword
had shorn through the armour of the French knight, and I told her that
the sword was named Wave-Flame and that it had come down to me from my
ancestor, Thorgrimmer the Viking, and of what was written on its
blade, to all of which she listened greedily.
"And they thought you not fit to sit at meat with them, you whose race
is so old and who are so great a warrior, as you showed that day. And
it is to you that I owe my life and more than life, to you and not to
So saying she shot a glance at me that pierced me through and through,
as my arrows had pierced the Frenchmen, and what is more beneath the
cover of the board for a moment let her slim hand rest upon my own.
After this for a while we were silent, for indeed I could not speak.
Then we talked on as we could do well enough, since there was no one
on my left where the board ended, and on Blanche's right was a fat old
lord who seemed to be deaf and occupied himself in drinking more than
he should have done. I told her much about myself, also what my mother
had said to me on the day of the Burning, and of how she had
prophesied that I should be a wanderer, words at which Blanche sighed
"Yet you seem to be well planted in London and in rich soil, Master
"Aye, Lady, but it is not my native soil and for the rest we go where
Fate leads us."
"Fate! What does that word bring to my mind? I have it; yonder Moor of
yours who makes those jewels. He has the very eyes of Fate and I fear
"That is strange, Lady, and yet not so strange, for about this man
there is something fateful. Ever he swears to me that I shall
accompany him to some dim land where he was born, of which land he is
Then I told her all the story of Kari, to which she listened open-eyed
and wondering, saying when I had finished,
"So you saved this poor wanderer also, and doubtless he loves you
"Yes, Lady, almost too well, seeing that at times he is jealous of me,
though God knows I did little for him save pick him from a crowd upon
"Ah! I guess it, who saw him watching you the other day. Yet it is
strange, for I thought that only women could be jealous of men, and
men of women. Hush! they are mocking us because we talk so friendly."
I looked up, following her glance, and saw that Deleroy and the two
fine ladies between whom he sat, all of whom appeared to have had
enough of wine, were pointing at us. Indeed, in a silence, such as now
and again happens at feasts, I heard one of them say,
"You had best beware lest that fair white dove of yours does not slip
your hand and begin to coo in another's ear, my Lord Deleroy," and
heard his answer,
"Nay, I have her too fast, and who cares for a pining dove whereof the
feathers adorn another's cap?"
Whilst I was wondering what this dark talk might mean the company
broke up, the lady Blanche gliding away through a door at the back of
the dais, followed, as I noted, by Deleroy who seemed flushed and
Many times I visited that prodigal house which seemed to me to be the
haunt of folk who, however highly placed and greatly favoured at
Court, were as loose in their lives as they were in their talk.
Indeed, although I was no saint, I liked them not at all, especially
the men with their scented hair, turned-up shoes, and party-coloured
clothes. Nor as I thought, did Sir Robert Aleys like them, who,
whatever his faults, was a bluff knight of the older sort, who had
fought with credit in the French wars. Yet I noted that he seemed to
be helpless in their hands, or rather in those of Deleroy, the King's
favourite, who was the chief of all the gang. It was as though that
gay and handsome young man had some hold over the old soldier, yes,
and over his daughter also, though what this might be I could not
Now I will move on with the tale. In due course the parchments were
signed and delivered, and the money in good gold was paid over on my
behalf, after which the great household at Westminster became more
prodigal than before. But when the time came for the discharge of the
interest due not a groat was forthcoming. Then afterwards there was
talk of my taking over certain of the pledged lands in lieu of this
interest. Sir Robert suggested this and I assented, because Blanche
had told me that it would help her father. Only when the matter was
set on foot by my lawyers was it found that these lands were not his
to transfer, inasmuch as they had been already mortgaged to their
Then there was a fierce quarrel between Sir Robert Aleys and the lord
Deleroy, at which I was present. Sir Robert with many oaths accused
his cousin of having forged his name when he was absent in France,
while Deleroy declared that what he did was done with due authority.
Almost they drew swords on each other, till at length Deleroy took
Aleys aside and with a fierce grin whispered something into his ear
which caused the old knight to sink down on a stool and call out,
"Get you gone, you false rogue! Get out of this house, aye, and out of
England. If I meet you again, by God's Blood I swear that King's
favourite or no King's favourite, I'll throat you like a hog!"
To which Deleroy mocked in answer:
"Good! I'll go, my gentle cousin, which it suits me well to do who
have certain business of the King's awaiting me in France. Aye, I'll
go and leave you to settle with this worthy trader who may hold that
you have duped him. Do it as you will, except in one fashion, of which
you know. Now a word with my cousin Blanche and another at the Palace
and I ride for Dover. Farewell, Cousin Aleys. Farewell, worthy
merchant for whose loss I should grieve, did I not know that soon you
will recoup yourself out of gentle pockets. Mourn not over me over
much, either of you, since doubtless ere so very long I shall return."
Now my blood flamed up and I answered:
"I pray you do not hurry, my lord, lest you should find me waiting for
you with a shield and a sword in place of a warrant and a pen."
He heard and called out, "Fore God, this chapman thinks himself a
Then with a mocking laugh he went.
Sir Robert and I stood facing each other speechless with rage, both of
us. At length he said in a hoarse voice:
"Your pardon, Master Hastings, for the affronts that this bastard
lordling has put upon you, an honest man. I tell you that he is a
loose-living knave, as you would agree if you knew all his story, a
cockatrice that for my sins I have nurtured in my bosom. 'Tis he that
has wasted all my substance; 'tis he that has made free of my name, so
that I fear me you are defrauded. 'Tis he that uses my house as though
it were his own, bringing into it vile women of the Court, and men
that are viler still, however high their names and gaudy their
attire," and he choked with his wrath and stopped.
"Why do you suffer these things, sir?" I asked.
"Forsooth because I must," he answered sullenly, "for he has me and
mine by the throat. This Deleroy is very powerful, Master Hastings. At
a word from him whispered in the King's ear, I, or you, or any man
might find ourselves in the Tower accused of treason, whence we should
appear no more."
Then, as though he wished to get away from the subject of Deleroy and
his hold upon him, he went on:
"I fear me that your money, or much of it, is in danger for Deleroy's
bond is worthless, and since the land is already pledged without my
knowledge, I have nowhere to turn for gold. I tell you that I am an
honest man if one who has fallen into ill company, and this wickedness
cuts me deep, for I know not how you will be repaid."
Now a thought came to me, and as was my bold fashion in all business,
I acted on it instantly.
"Sir Robert Aleys," I said, "should it be pleasing to you and another,
I can see a way in which this debt may be cancelled without shame to
you and yet to my profit."
"Then in God's name speak it! For I see none."
"Sir, in bygone time, as it chanced I was able yonder at Hastings to
do some service to your daughter and in that hour she took my heart."
He started but motioned to me to continue.
"Sir, I love her truly and desire more than anything to make her my
wife. I know she is far above me in station, still although but a
merchant, I am of good descent as I can prove to you. Moreover, I am
rich, for this money that I have advanced to you, or to the lord
Deleroy, is but a small part of my wealth which grows day by day
through honest trade. Sir, if my suit were accepted I should be ready,
not only to help you further on certain terms, but by deed and will to
settle most of it upon the lady Blanche and upon our children. Sir,
what say you?"
Sir Robert tugged at his red beard and stared down at the floor.
Presently he lifted his head and I saw that his face was troubled, the
face of a man, indeed, who is struggling with himself, or, as I
thought, with his pride.
"A fair offer fairly put," he said, "but the question is, not what I
say, but what says Blanche."
"Sir, I do not know who have never asked her. Yet at times I have
thought that her mind towards me is not unkind."
"Is it so? Well, perhaps now that he--well, let that lie. Master
Hastings, you have my leave to try your fortune and I tell you
straight that I hope it will be good. With your wealth your rank may
be soon mended and you are an honest man whom I should be glad to
welcome as a son, for I have had enough of these Court knaves and
painted Jezebels. But if such is your fancy towards Blanche, my
counsel to you is that you put it quickly to the proof--aye, man, at
once. Mark my words, for such a swan as she is many snares are set
beneath the dirty waters of this Court."
"The sooner the better, sir."
"Good. I'll send her to you and, one word more--be not over shy, or
ready to take the first 'no' for an answer, or to listen to the tale
of bygone fancies, such as all women have."
Then suddenly he went, leaving me there wondering at his words and
manner, which I did not understand. This I understood, however, that
he desired that I should marry Blanche, which considering all things I
held somewhat strange, although I had the wealth she lacked.
Doubtless, I thought, it must be because his honour had been touched
on the matter of the trick that had been played upon him without his
knowledge. Then I ceased from these wonderings and gave my thought to
what I should say to Blanche.
I waited a long while and still she did not come, till at last I
believed that she was away from the house, or guessing my business,
had refused to see me. At length, however, she entered the room, so
silently that I who was staring at the great abbey through a window-
place never heard the door open or close. I think that some sense of
her presence must have drawn me, since suddenly I turned to see her
standing before me. She was clad all in white, having a round cap or
coronet upon her head beneath which her shining fair hair was looped
in braids. Her little coat, trimmed with ermine, was fastened with a
single jewel, that ruby heart embraced by serpents which I had given
her. She wore no other ornament. Thus seen she looked most lovely and
most sweet and all my heart went out in yearning for her.
"My father tells me that you wish to speak with me, so I have come,"
she said in her low clear voice, searching my face curiously with her
I bowed my head and paused, not knowing how to begin.
"How can I serve you, who, I fear, have been ill served?" she went on
with a little smile as though she found amusement in my confusion.
"In one way only," I exclaimed, "by giving yourself in marriage to me.
For that I seek, no less."
Now her fair face that had been pale became stained with red and she
let her eyes fall as though she were searching for something among the
rushes that strewed the floor.
"Hearken before you answer," I continued. "When first I spoke with you
on that bloody day at Hastings and you had but just come to womanhood,
I loved you and swore to myself that I would die to save you. I saved
you and we kissed and were parted. Afterwards I tried to put you out
of my heart, knowing that you were set far above me and no meat for
such as I, though still for your sake I wooed no other woman in
marriage. The years went by and fortune brought us together again, and
lo! the old love was stronger than before. I know that I am not worthy
of you who are so high and good and pure. Still----" and I stopped,
She moved uneasily and the red colour left her cheeks as though she
had been suddenly pained.
"Bethink you," she said with a touch of hardness in her voice, "can
one who lives the life I live and keeps my company, remain as holy and
unstained as you believe? If you would gather such a lily, surely you
should seek it in a country garden, not in the reek of London."
"I neither know nor care," I answered, whose blood was all afire. "I
know only that wherever you grow and from whatever soil, you are the
flower I would pluck."
"Bethink you again; an ugly slug might have smeared my whiteness."
"If so the honest sun and rain will recover and wash it and I am a
gardener who scatters lime to shrivel slugs."
"If to this one you will not listen, then hear another argument.
Perchance I do not love you. Would you win a loveless bride?"
"Perchance you can learn of love, or if not, I have enough to serve
"By my faith! it should not be difficult with a man so honest and so
well favoured. And yet--a further plea. My cousin Deleroy has cheated
you" (here her face hardened), "and I think I am offered to you by my
father in satisfaction of his honour, as men who have no gold offer a
house or a horse to close a debt."
"It is not so. I prayed you of your father. The loss, if loss there
be, is but a chance of trade, such as I face every day. Still, I will
be plain and tell you that I risked it with open eyes, expecting
nothing less, that I might come near to you."
Now she sat herself down in a chair, covering her face with her hands,
and I saw from the trembling of her body that she was sobbing. While I
wondered what to do, for the sight wrung me, she let fall her hands
and there were tears upon her face.
"Shall I tell you all my story, you good, simple gentleman?" she
"Nay, only two things. Are you the wife of some other man?"
"Not so, though perhaps--once I went near to it. What is the other
"Do you love some other man so that your heart tells you it is not
possible that you should ever love me?"
"No, I do not," she answered almost fiercely, "but by the Rood! I hate
"Which is no affair of mine," I said, laughing. "For the rest, let it
sleep. Few are they that know life's wars who have no scar to hide,
and I am not one of them, though in truth your lips made the deepest
yonder by the cave at Hastings."
When she heard this she coloured to her brow and forgetting her tears,
laughed outright, while I went on:
"Therefore let the past be and if it is your will, let us set our eyes
upon the future. Only one promise would I ask of you, that never again
will you be alone with the lord Deleroy, since one so light-fingered
with a pen would, I think, steal other things."
"By my soul! the last thing I desire is to be alone with my cousin
Now she rose from the chair and for a little while we stood facing
each other. Then she very slightly opened her arms and lifted her face
Thus did Blanche Aleys and I become affianced, though afterwards, when
I thought the business over, I remembered that never once did she say
that she would marry me. This, however, troubled me little, since in
such matters it is what women do that weighs, not what they say. For
the rest I was mad with love of her, also both then and as the days
went by, more and more did she seem to be travelling on this same road
of Love. If not, indeed she acted well.
Within a month we were wed on a certain October day in the church of
St. Margaret's at Westminster. Once it was agreed all desired to push
on this marriage, and not least Blanche herself. Sir Robert Aleys said
that he wished to be gone from London to his estates in Sussex, having
had enough of the Court and its ways, desiring there to live quietly
till the end; I, being so much in love, was on fire for my bride, and
Blanche herself vowed that she was eager to become my wife, saying
that our courtship, which began on Hastings Hill, had lasted long
enough. For the rest, there was nothing to cause delay. I cancelled
Sir Robert's debt to me and signed a deed in favour of his daughter
and her offspring, whereof I gave a copy to his lawyer and there was
nought else to be done except to prepare my house for her which, with
money at command, was easy.
No great business was made of this marriage, since neither his kin nor
Sir Robert himself wished to noise it about that his only child, the
last of his House, was taking a merchant for her husband to save her
and him from wreck. Nor did I, the merchant, wish to provoke talk
amongst those of my own station, especially as it was known that I had
advanced moneys to these fine folks of the Court. So it came about
that few were asked to the ceremony that was fixed for an early hour,
and of these not many came, because on that day, although it was but
October, a great gale with storms of rain began to blow, the greatest
indeed that I had known in my life.
Thus it chanced that we were wed in an almost empty church while the
fierce wind, thundering against the windows, overcame the feeble voice
of the old priest, so that he looked like one acting in a show without
words. The darkness caused by the thick rain was so deep, also, that
scarce could I see my bride's lovely face or find the finger upon
which I must set the ring.
At length it was done and we went down the aisle to find our horses
whereon we must ride to my house in Cheapside, where there was to be a
feast for my dependents and such of my few friends as cared to come,
among whom were not numbered any grand folk from Westminster. As we
drew near the church door I noted among those who were present those
two gaudy ladies between whom Deleroy had sat at that meal after the
business of the loan was settled. Moreover, I heard one of them say:
"What will Deleroy do when he comes back to find his darling gone?"
and the other answer with a high laugh:
"Seek another, doubtless, or borrow more money from the merchant,
and----" Here I lost their talk in the rush of the wind through the
In the porch was old Sir Robert Aleys.
"Mother of God!" he shouted, "may the rest of the lives of you two be
smoother than your nuptials. No Cheapside feast for me, I'm for home
in such fiend's weather. Farewell, son Hubert, and all joy to you.
Farewell, Blanche. Learn to be obedient as a wife and keep your eyes
for your husband's face, that is my counsel to you. Till we meet again
at Christmastide in Sussex, whither I ride to-morrow, farewell to both
Farewell, it was indeed, for never did either of us look on him again.
Wrapped close in our cloaks we battled through the storm and at
length, somewhat breathless, reached my house in the Cheap where the
garlands of autumn flowers and greenery that I had caused to be
wreathed from posts before the door were all torn away by the gale.
Here I welcomed my wife as best I could, kissing her as she crossed
the threshold and saying certain sweet words that I had prepared, to
which she smiled an answer. Then the women took her to her chamber to
make herself ready and afterwards came the feast, which was sumptuous
of its sort, though the evil weather kept some of the guests away.
Scarcely had it begun when Kari, who of late had been sad-faced and
brooding, and who did not eat with us, entered and whispered to me
that my Master of Lading from the docks prayed to see me at once on a
matter which would brook no delay. Making excuse to Blanche and the
company, I went out to see him in the shop and found the man much
disturbed. It seemed that a certain vessel of mine that I had
rechristened /Blanche/ in honour of my wife, which lay in the stream
ready to sail, was in great danger because of the tempest. Indeed, she
was dragging at her anchor, and it was feared that unless more anchors
could be let down she would come ashore and be wrecked against the
jetty-heads or otherwise. The reason why this had not been done, was
that only the master and one sailor were on board the vessel; the rest
were feasting ashore in honour of my marriage, and refused to row out
to her, saying that the boat would be swamped in the gale.
Now this ship, although not very large, was the best and staunchest
that I owned, being almost new; moreover, the cargo on board of her,
laden for the Mediterranean, was of great value, so great indeed that
its loss would have been very grievous to me. Therefore, it was plain
that I must see to the matter without delay, since from my servant's
account there was no hope that these rebellious sailors would listen
to any lesser man than myself. So, if I would save the ship and her
cargo, I must ride for the docks at once.
Going back to the eating-chamber, in a few words I told my wife and
the guests how the matter stood, praying the oldest man among the
latter to take my place by the bride, which he did unwillingly,
muttering that this was an unlucky marriage feast.
Then it was that Blanche rose, beseeching me earnestly and almost with
tears that I would take her with me to the docks. I laughed at her, as
did the company, but still she besought with much persistence, till I
began to believe that she must be afraid of something, though the
others cried that it was but love and fear lest I should come to harm.
In the end I made her drink a cup of wine with me, but her hand shook
so much that she spilled the cup and the rich red wine ran down her
breast, staining the whiteness of her robe, whereat some women among
the company murmured, thinking it a bad omen. At length with a kiss I
tore myself away, for I could bide no longer and the horses were
waiting presently. So I was riding for the docks as fast as the storm
would suffer, with tiles from the roofs, and when we were clear of
these the torn-off limbs of trees hurtling round me. Kari, I should
say, would have accompanied me, but I took a serving-man, bidding Kari
bide where he was in the house in case he might be of service.
At last we came safely to the docks where I found all as my cargo-
master had described. The ship /Blanche/ was in great peril and
dragging every minute towards a pierhead which, if she struck, would
stave her in and make an end of her. The men, too, were still feasting
in the inn with their wharfside trollops, and some of them half drunk.
I spoke to them, showing them their shame, and saying that if they
would not come, I and my man would take a boat and get aboard alone
and this upon my wedding day. Then they hung their heads and came.
We won to the ship safely though with much toil and danger, and there
found the master almost crazed with fear and doubt of the issue, and
the man with him injured by a falling block. Indeed, this poor captain
clung to the rail, watching the cable as it dragged the anchor and
fearing every moment lest it should part.
The rest is soon told. We got out two more anchors and did other
things such as sailors know, to help in such a case. When all was as
safe as it could be made, I and my man and four sailors started for
the quay, telling the master that I would return upon the morrow. The
wind and current aiding us, we landed safe and sound and at once I
rode back to Cheapside.
Now, though it is short to tell, all this had taken a long while, also
the way was far to ride in such a storm. Thus it came about that it
was nigh to ten o'clock at night when, thanking God, I dismounted at
the gate of my house and bade the servant take the horses to the
stable. As I drew near the door, it opened, which astonished me and,
as the light within showed, there stood Kari. What astonished me still
more, he had the great sword, Wave-Flame, in his hand, though not
drawn, which sword he must have fetched from where it was kept with
the French knight's armour and the shield that bore three arrows as a
Laying his finger on his lips he shut the door softly, then said in a
"Master, there is a man up yonder with the lady."
"What man?" I asked.
"That same lord, Master, who came here with her once before to buy
jewels and borrow gold. Hearken. The feast being finished the guests
went away at fall of night, but the wife-lady withdrew herself into
the chamber that is called sun-room (the solar), that up the stairs,
which looks out on the street. About one hour gone there came a knock
at the door. I who was watching, opened, thinking it was you returned,
and there stood that lord. He spoke to me, saying:
"'Moor-man, I know that your master is from home, but that the lady is
here. I would speak with her.'
"Now I would have turned him away, but at that moment the lady
herself, who it seemed was watching, came down the stairs, looking
very white, and said:
"'Kari, let the lord come in. I have matters of your master's business
about which I must talk with him.' So, Master, knowing that you had
lent money to this lord, I obeyed, though I liked it not, and having
fetched the sword which I thought perchance might be needed, I
This was the substance of what he said, though his talk was more
broken since he never learned to speak English well and helped it out
with words of his own tongue, of which, as I have told, he had taught
"I do not understand," I exclaimed, when he had finished. "Doubtless
it is little or nothing. Yet give me the sword, for who knows? and
come with me."
Kari obeyed, and as I went up the stairs I buckled Wave-Flame about
me. Also Kari brought two candles of Italian wax lighted upon their
stands. Coming to the door of the solar I tried to open it, but it was
"God's truth!" I said, "this is strange," and hammered on the panel
with my fist.
Presently it opened, but before entering it, for I feared some trick,
I stood without and looked in. The room was lit by a hanging lamp and
a fire burned brightly on the hearth, for the night was cold. In an
oak chair by the fire and staring into it sat Blanche still as any
statue. She glanced round and saw me in the light of the candles that
Kari held, and again stared into the fire. Half-way between her and
the door stood Deleroy, dressed as ever in fine clothes, though I
noted that his cape was off and hung over a stool near the fire as
though to dry. I noted also that he wore a sword and a dagger. I
entered the room, followed by Kari, shut the door behind me and shot
the bolt. Then I spoke, asking:
"Why are you here with my wife, Lord Deleroy?"
"It is strange, Master merchant," he answered, "but I was about to put
much the same question to you: namely, why is /my/ wife in your
Now, while I reeled beneath these words, without turning her head,
Blanche by the fire said:
"He lies, Hubert. I am not his wife."
"Why are you here, my Lord Deleroy?" I repeated.
"Well, if you would know, Master merchant, I bring a paper for you, or
rather a copy of it, for the writ itself will be served on you
to-morrow by the King's officers. It commits you to the Tower under
the royal seal for trading with the King's enemies, a treason that can
be proved against you, of which as you know, or will shortly learn,
the punishment is death," and as he spoke he threw a writing down upon
a side table.
"I see the plot," I answered coldly. "The King's unworthy favourite,
forger and thief, uses the King's authority to try to bring the King's
honest subject to bonds and death by a false accusation. It is a
common trick in these days. But let that be. For the third time I ask
you--why are you here with my new-wed wife and at this hour of the
"So courteous a question demands a courteous answer, Master merchant,
but to give it I must trouble you to listen to a tale."
"Then let it be like my patience, brief," I replied.
"It shall," he said with a mocking bow.
Then very clearly and quietly he set out a dreadful story, giving
dates and circumstances. Let that story be. The substance of it was
that he had married Blanche soon after she reached womanhood and that
she had borne him a child which died.
"Blanche," I said when he had done, "you have heard. Is this true?"
"Much of it is true," she answered in that strange, cold voice, still
staring at the fire. "Only the marriage was a false one by which I was
deceived. He who celebrated it was a companion of the Lord Deleroy
tricked out as a priest."
"Do not let us wrangle of this matter," said Deleroy. "A man who mixes
with the world like yourself, Master merchant, will know that women in
a trap rarely lack excuses. Still if it be admitted that this marriage
did not fulfil all formalities, then so much the better for Blanche
and myself. If she be your lawful wife and not mine, you, I learn,
have signed a writing in her favour under which she will inherit your
great wealth. That indenture I think you can find no opportunity to
dispute, and if you do I have a promise that the property of a certain
traitor shall pass to me, the revealer of his treachery. Let it
console you in your last moments, Master merchant, to remember that
the lady whom you have honoured with your fancy will pass her days in
wealth and comfort in the company of him whom she has honoured with
"Draw!" I said briefly as I unsheathed my sword.
"Why should I fight with a base, trading usurer?" he asked, still
mocking me, though I thought that there was doubt in his voice.
"Answer your own question, thief. Fight if you will, or die without
fighting if you will not. For know that until I am dead you do not
leave this room living."
"Until I dead too, O Lord," broke in Kari in his gentle voice, bowing
in his courteous foreign fashion.
As he did so with a sudden motion Kari shook the cloak back from his
body and for the first time I saw that thrust through his leathern
belt was a long weapon, half sword and half dagger, also that its
sharpened steel was bare.
"Oh!" exclaimed Deleroy, "now I understand that I am trapped and that
when you told me, Blanche, that this man would not return to-night and
that therefore we were safe together, you lied. Well, my Lady Blanche,
you shall pay for this trick later."
Whilst he spoke thus, slowly, as though to gain time, he was looking
about him, and as the last word left his lips, knowing that the door
was locked, he dashed for the window, hoping, I suppose, to leap
through the casement, or if that failed, to shout for help. But Kari,
who had set the candles he bore on a side table, that where the
writing lay, read his mind. With a movement more swift than that of a
polecat leaping on its prey, the swiftest indeed that ever I saw, he
sprang between him and the casement, so that Deleroy scarce escaped
pinning himself upon the steel that he held in his long, outstretched
arm. Indeed, I think it pricked his throat, for he checked himself
with an oath and drew his sword, a double-edged weapon with a sharp
point, as long as mine perhaps, but not so heavy.
"I see that I must finish the pair of you. Perchance, Blanche, you
will protect my back as a loving wife should do, until this lout is
done with," he said, swaggering to the last.
"Kari," I commanded, "hold the candles aloft that the light may be
good, and leave this man to me."
Kari bowed and took the copper taper stands, one in either hand, and
held them aloft. But first he placed his long dagger, not back in his
belt, but between his teeth with the handle towards his right hand.
Even then in some strange fashion I noted how terrible looked this
grim dark man holding the candles high with the knife gripped between
his white teeth.
Deleroy and I faced each other in the open space between the fire and
the door. Blanche turned round upon her stool and watched, uttering no
sound. But I laughed aloud for of the end I had no doubt. Had there
been ten Deleroys I would have slain them all. Still presently I found
there was cause to doubt, for when, parrying his first thrust, I drove
at him with all my strength, instead of piercing him through and
through the ancient sword, Wave-Flame, bent in my hand like a bow as
it is strung, telling me that beneath his Joseph's coat of silk
Deleroy wore a shirt of mail.
Then I cried: "/A-hoi!/" as Thorgrimmer my ancestor may have done when
he wielded this same sword, and while Deleroy still staggered beneath
my thrust I grasped Wave-Flame with both hands, wheeled it aloft, and
smote. He lifted his arm round which he had wound his cloak, to
protect his head, but the sword shore through cloak and arm, so that
his hand with the glittering rings upon it fell to the floor.
Again I smote for, as both of us knew, this business was to the death,
and Deleroy fell down dead, smitten through the brain.
Kari smiled gently, and lifting the cloak, shook it out and threw it
over what had been Deleroy. Then he took my sword and while I watched
him idly, cleansed it with rushes from the floor.
Next I heard a sound from the neighbourhood of the fire, and
bethinking me of Blanche turned to speak to her, though what I was
going to say God knows for I do not.
A terrible sight met my eyes and burned itself into my very soul so
that it could never be forgot. Blanche was leaning back in the oak
chair over which flowed her long, fair locks, and the front of her
robe was red. I remembered how she had spilt the wine at the feast and
thought I saw its stain, till presently, still staring, I noted that
it grew and knew it to be caused by another wine, that of her blood.
Also I noted that from the midst of it seen in the lamplight, just
beneath the snake-encircled ruby heart, appeared the little handle of
I sprang to her, but she lifted her hand and waved me back.
"Touch me not," she whispered, "I am not fit, also the thrust is
mortal. If you draw the knife I shall die at once, and first I would
speak. I would have you know that I love you and hoped to be a good
wife to you. What I said was true. That dead man tricked me with a
false marriage when I was scarcely more than a child, and afterwards
he would not mend it with an honest. Perchance he himself was wed, or
he had other reasons, I do not know. My father guessed much but not
all. I tried to warn you when you offered yourself, but you were deaf
and blind and would not see or listen. Then I gave way, liking you
well and thinking that I should find rest, as indeed I do; thinking
also that I should be wealthy and able to shut that villain's mouth
with gold. I never knew he was coming here or even that he had sailed
home from France, but he broke in upon me, having learned that you
were away, and was about to leave when you returned. He came for money
for which he believed that I had wed, and thinking to win me back from
one doomed by his lies to a traitor's death. You know the rest, and
for me there was but one thing to do. Be glad that you are no longer
burdened with me and go find happiness in the arms of a more fortunate
or a better woman. Fly, and swiftly, for Deleroy had many friends and
the King himself loved him as a brother--as well he may. Fly, I say,
and forgive--forgive! Hubert, farewell!"
Thus she spoke, ever more slowly and lower, till with the last word
her life left her lips.
Thus ended the story of my marriage with Blanche Aleys.
THE NEW WORLD
They were forever silent now, who, but a breath before, had been so
full of life and the stir of mortal passion; Deleroy dead beneath the
cloak upon the floor, Blanche dead in the oaken chair. We who remained
alive were silent also. I glanced at Kari's face; it was as that of a
stone statue on a tomb, only in it his large eyes shone, noting all
things and, as I imagined in my distraught fancy, filled with triumph
and foreknowledge. Considering it in that strange calm of the spirit
which sometimes supervenes on great and terrible events that for a
while crush its mortality from the soul and set it free to marvel at
the temporal pettiness of all we consider immediate and mighty, I
wondered what was the aspect of my own.
At the moment, I, who on this day had passed the portals of so many
emotions: that of the lover's longing for his bride won at last, only
to be lost again, that of acute and necessary business, that of the
ancient joy of battle and vengeance wreaked upon an evil man; that of
the unshuttering of my own eyes to the flame of a hellish truth, that
of the self-murder and turning to cold clay before those same eyes of
her whom I had hoped to clasp in honest love--I, I say, felt as though
I, too, were dead. Indeed all within was dead, only the shell of flesh
remained alive, and in my heart I echoed the words of my old uncle and
of a wiser than he who went before him--"Vanity of vanities! All is
It was Kari who spoke first, Kari as ever calm and even-voiced, saying
in his broken English of which but the substance is recorded:
"Things have happened, good things I hold, though you, Master, may
think otherwise for a little while. Yet in this rough land of savages
and small justice these things may bring trouble. That lord brought a
writing," and he nodded towards the document on the table, "and talked
of death for /you/, Master--not for himself. And the lady, while she
still lived, she say--'Fly, fly or die!' And now?" and he glanced at
the two bodies.
I looked at him vacantly for the numbness following the first shock
was passing away and all the eating agony of my loss began to fix its
fangs upon my heart.
"Whither can I fly?" I asked. "And why should I fly? I am an innocent
man and for the rest, the sooner I am dead the better."
"My Master must fly," answered Kari in swift, broken words, "because
he still live and is free. Also sorrow behind, joy before. Kari, who
hate women and read heart, Kari who drink this same bitter water long
ago, guess these things coming and think and think. No need that
Master trouble, Kari settle all and tell Master that if he do what he
say, everything come right."
"What am I to do?" I asked with a groan.
"Ship /Blanche/ on great river ready for sea. Master and Kari sail in
her before daybreak. Here leave everything: much land, much wealth--
what matter? Life more than these things which can get again. Come.
No, one minute, wait."
Then he went to the body of Deleroy and with wonderful swiftness took
off it the chain coat he wore beneath his tunic, which he put on his
own body. Also he took his sword and buckled it about him, while the
parchment writ he threw upon the fire. Then he extinguished the
hanging lamp and gave me one of the candles, taking the other himself.
At the door I held up my candle and by the light of it looked my last
upon the ashen face of Blanche, which face I knew must go with me
through all my life's days.
Kari locked the stout oaken door of the solar from the outside and
took me into my chamber, where was the armour of the knight whom I had
killed on Hastings Hill, which armour I had caused to be altered to
fit myself. Swiftly he buckled it on to me, throwing over all a long,
dark robe such as merchants wear. From the cupboard, too, he brought
the big black bow and a sheath of arrows, also a purseful of gold
pieces from where they were kept, and with them the leathern bag which
he had worn when I found him on the quay.
We went into the room where the feast had been held and there drank
some wine, though eat I could not. The cup from which I drank was, as
it chanced, the same in which I had pledged Blanche at the bride
feast. Now I pledged her spirit whereon I prayed God's mercy.
We left the house and in the stable saddled two horses, strong, quiet
beasts. Then by way of the back yard we rode out into the night, none
seeing us, for by now all were asleep, and in that weather the streets
were empty, even of such as walked them in darkness.
We reached the quay I know not how long afterwards whose mind was full
of thoughts that blotted out all else. How strange had been my life--
that was one of them. Within a few years I had risen to great wealth,
and won the woman I desired. And now where was the wealth and where
was the woman, and what was I? One flying his native land by night
with blood upon his hands, the blood of a King's favourite that, if he
were taken, would bring him to the noose. Oh! how great was the
contrast between the morn and the midnight of that day for me! "Vanity
of vanities. All is vanity!"
I think that my mind must have wandered, for when my soul was
swallowed in this deepest pit of hell, it seemed to me that he whom I
had worshipped as a heavenly patron, St. Hubert, appeared striding by
my horse with a shining countenance and said to me:
"Have good courage, Godson, and remember your mother's words--a
wanderer shall you be, but where'er you go the good bow and the good
sword shall keep you safe and I wander with you. Nor does all love die
with one woman's passing breath."
This phantasy, as it were, lanced the abscess of my pain and for a
while I was easier. Also something of hope came back to me. I no
longer desired to die but rather to live and in life, not in the tomb,
to find forgetfulness.
We reached the quay and placed the horses in a shed that served as
stables there, ridding them of their bits and saddles that they might
eat of the hay in the racks. The thought to do this came to me, which
showed that my mind was working again since still I could attend to
the wants of other creatures. Then we went to the quayside where was
made fast that boat in which I had come ashore some hours gone. There
was a moon which now and again showed between the drifting clouds, and
by the light of it I saw that the /Blanche/ lay safe at her anchors
not a bowshot away. The gale had fallen much with the rising of the
moon, as it often does, and so it came about that although the boat
was over-large for two men to handle rightly, Kari and I, by watching
our chance, were able to row it to the ship, on to which we climbed by
Here we found a sailor on watch who was amazed to see us, and with his
help, made the boat fast by the tow rope to the stern of the ship.
This done I caused the captain to be awakened and told him briefly
that as the gale had abated and tide and wind served, I desired to
sail at once. He stared at me, thinking me mad, whom he knew to have
been married but that day.
Surely, he said, I should wait for the light and to gather up those of
the ship's company who were still ashore. I answered that I would wait
for nothing, and when he asked why, was inspired to tell him that it
was because I went about the King's business, having letters from his
Grace to deliver to his Envoys in the South Seas that brooked of no
delay, since on them hung peace or war.
"Beware," I said to him, "how you, or any of you, dare to disobey the
King's orders, for you know that the fate of such is a short shrift
and a long rope."
Then that captain grew frightened and summoned the sailors, who by now
had slept off their drink, and to them he told my commands. They
murmured, pointing to the sky, but when they saw me standing there,
wearing a knight's armour and looking very stern with my hand upon my
sword, when also through Kari I promised them double pay for the
voyage, they, too, grew frightened, and having set some small sails,
got up the anchors.
So it came about that within little more than an hour of our boarding
of that ship she was running out towards the sea as fast as tide and
wind could drive her. I think that it was not too soon, for as the
quay vanished in the gloom I saw men with lanterns moving on it, and
thought to myself that perhaps an alarm had been given and they were
come to take me.
This captain was one who knew the river well, and with the help of
another sailor he steered us down its reaches safely. By dawn we had
passed Tilbury and at full light were off Gravesend racing for the
open sea. Now it was that behind us we perceived from the rushing
clouds that the gale, which had lulled during the night, was coming up
more strongly than ever and still easterly. The sailors grew afraid
again and together with the captain vowed that it was madness to face
the sea in such weather, and that we must anchor, or make the shore if
I refused to listen to them, whereat they seemed to give way.
At that moment Kari, who had gone forward, called to me. I went to him
and he pointed out to me men galloping along the bank and waving
kerchiefs, as though to signal to us to stop.
"I think, Master," said Kari, "that some have entered the sun-room at
I nodded and watched the men who galloped and waved. For some minutes
I watched them till suddenly I saw that the ship was altering her
course so that her bow pointed first one way and then another, as
though she were no longer being steered. We ran aft to learn the
cause, and found this.
That crew of dastards, every man of them and the captain with them,
had drawn up the boat in which Kari and I came aboard, that was still
tied to the ship's stern, and slid down the rope into her, purposing
to win ashore before it was too late. Kari smiled as though he were
not astonished, but in my rage I shouted at them, calling them curs
and traitors. I think that the captain heard my words for I saw him
turn his head and look away as though in shame, but not the others.
They were engaged in hunting for the oars, only to find them gone, for
it would seem that they had been washed or had fallen overboard.
Then they tried to set some kind of sail by aid of a boathook, but
while they were doing this, the boat, which had drifted side on to the
great waves raised by the gale upon the face of the broad river,
overturned. I saw some of the men clinging to the boat and one or two
scrambling on to her keel, but what chanced to them and the others I
do not know, who had rushed to the steering gear to set the ship upon
her course again, lest her fate should be that of the boat, or we
should go ashore and be captured by those who galloped on the bank, or
be drowned. This was the last I ever saw or heard of the crew of the
The ship's bow came round and, driven by the ever-increasing gale, she
rushed on her course towards the sea, bearing us with her, two weak
and lonely men.
"Kari," I said, "what shall we do? Try to run ashore, or sail on?"
He thought awhile then answered, pointing to those who galloped, now
but tiny figures on the distant bank:
"Master, yonder is death, sure death; and yonder," here he pointed to
the sea, "is death--perhaps. Master, you have a God, and I, Kari, have
another God, mayhap same God with different name. I say--Trust our
Gods and sail on, for Gods better than men. If we die in water, what
matter? Water softer than rope, but I think not die."
I nodded, for the reasoning seemed good. Rather would I be drowned
than fall into the hands of those who were galloping on the shore, to
be dragged back to London and a felon's doom.
So I pressed upon the tiller to bring the /Blanche/ more into mid-
channel, and headed for the sea. Wider and wider grew the estuary and
farther and farther away the shores as the /Blanche/ scudded on
beneath her small sails with the weight of the gale behind her, till
at last there was the open sea.
Within a few feet of the tiller was a deck-house, in which the crew
ate, built of solid oak and clamped with iron. Here was food in
plenty, ale, too, and with these we filled ourselves. Also, leaving
Kari to hold the tiller, I took off my armour and in place of it
clothed myself in the rough sea garments that lay about with tall
greased boots, and then sent him to do likewise.
Soon we lost sight of land and were climbing the great ocean billows,
whose foamy crests rolled and spurted wherever the eye fell. We could
set no course but must go where the gale drove us, away, away we knew
not whither. As I have said, the /Blanche/ was new and strong and the
best ship that ever I had sailed in upon a heavy sea. Moreover, her
hatches were closed down, for this the sailors had done after we
weighed, so she rode the waters like a duck, taking no harm. Oh! well
it was for me that from my childhood I had had to do with ships and
the sailing of them, and flying from the following waves thus was able
to steer and keep the /Blanche's/ poop right in the wind, which seemed
to blow first from one quarter and then from that.
Now over my memory of these events there comes a great confusion and
sense of amazement. All became fragmentary and disjointed, separated
also by what seemed to be considerable periods of time--days or weeks
perhaps. There was a sense of endless roaring seas before which the
ship fled on and on, driven by a screaming gale that I noted dimly
seemed to blow first from the northwest and then steadily from the
I see myself, very distinctly, lashing the tiller to iron rings that
were screwed in the deck beams, and know that I did this because I was
too weak to hold it any longer and desired to set it so that the
/Blanche/ should continue to drive straight before the gale. I see
myself lying in the deck-house of which I have spoken, while Kari fed
me with food and water and sometimes thrust into my mouth little
pellets of I knew not what, which he took from the leathern bag he
wore about him. I remembered that bag. It had been on his person when
I rescued him at the quay, for I had seen it first as he washed
himself afterwards, half full of something, and wondered what it
contained. Later, I had seen it in his hand again when we left my
house after the death of Blanche. I noted that whenever he gave me one
of these pellets I seemed to grow strong for a while, and then to fall
into sleep, deep and prolonged.
After more days--or weeks, I began to behold marvels and to hear
strange voices. I thought that I was talking with my mother and with
my patron, St. Hubert; also that Blanche came to me and explained
everything, showing how little she had been to blame for all that had
happened to me and her. These things made me certain that I was dead
and I was glad to be dead, since now I knew there would be no more
pain or strivings; that the endeavours which make up life from hour to
hour had ceased and that rest was won. Only then appeared my uncle,
John Grimmer, who kept quoting his favourite text at me--"Vanity of
vanities. All is vanity," he said, adding: "Did I not tell you that it
was thus years ago? Now you have learned it for yourself. Only, Nephew
Hubert, don't think that you have finished with vanities yet, as I
have, for I say that there are plenty more to come for you."
Thus he seemed to talk on about this and other matters, such as what
would happen to his wealth and whether the hospitals would be quick to
seize the lands to which he had given it the reversion, till I grew
quite tired of him and wished that he would go away.
Then at length there was a great crash that I think disturbed him, for
he did go, saying that it was only another "vanity," after which I
seemed to fall asleep for weeks and weeks.
I woke up again for a warmth and brightness on my face caused me to
open my eyes. I lifted my hand to shield them from the brightness and
noted with a kind of wonder that it was so thin that the light shone
through it as it does through parchment, and that the bones were
visible beneath the skin. I let it fall from weakness, and it dropped
on to hair which I knew must be that of a beard, which set me