Part 8 out of 18
Miscellaneous Hans then diverged into forty topics.
Sybrandt stole out of the company, and went in search of Cornelis.
They put their heads together over the news: Italy was an immense
distance off. If they could only keep him there?
"Keep him there? Nothing would keep him long from his Margaret."
"Curse her!" said Sybrandt. "Why didn't she die when she was about
"She die? She would outlive the pest to vex us." And Cornelis was
wroth at her selfishness in not dying, to oblige.
These two black sheep kept putting their heads together, and
tainting each other worse and worse, till at last their corrupt
hearts conceived a plan for keeping Gerard in Italy all his life,
and so securing his share of their father's substance.
But when they had planned it they were no nearer the execution:
for that required talent: so iniquity came to a standstill. But
presently, as if Satan had come between the two heads, and
whispered into the right ear of one and the left of the other
simultaneously, they both burst out -
They went to Ghysbrecht Van Swieten, and he received them at once:
for the man who is under the torture of suspense catches eagerly
at knowledge. Certainty is often painful, but seldom, like
"You have news of Gerard?" said he eagerly.
Then they told about the letter and Hans Memling. He listened with
restless eye. "Who writ the letter?"
"Margaret Van Eyck," was the reply; for they naturally thought the
contents were by the same hand as the superscription.
"Are ye sure?" And he went to a drawer and drew out a paper
written by Margaret Van Eyck while treating with the burgh for her
house."Was it writ like this?"
"Yes. 'Tis the same writing," said Sybrandt boldly.
"Good. And now what would ye of me?" said Ghysbrecht, with beating
heart, but a carelessness so well feigned that it staggered them.
They fumbled with their bonnets, and stammered and spoke a word or
two, then hesitated and beat about the bush, and let out by
degrees that they wanted a letter written, to say something that
might keep Gerard in Italy; and this letter they proposed to
substitute in Hans Memling's wallet for the one he carried. While
these fumbled with their bonnets and their iniquity, and
vacillated between respect for a burgomaster, and suspicion that
this one was as great a rogue as themselves, and somehow or other,
on their side against Gerard, pros and cons were coursing one
another to and fro in the keen old man's spirit. Vengeance said
let Gerard come back and feel the weight of the law. Prudence said
keep him a thousand miles off. But then Prudence said also, why do
dirty work on a doubtful chance? Why put it in the power of these
two rogues to tarnish your name? Finally, his strong persuasion
that Gerard was in possession of a secret by means of which he
could wound him to the quick, coupled with his caution, found
words thus: "It is my duty to aid the citizens that cannot write.
But for their matter I will not be responsible. Tell me, then,
what I shall write."
"Something about this Margaret."
"Ay, ay! that she is false, that she is married to another, I'll
"Nay, burgomaster, nay! not for all the world!" cried Sybrandt;
"Gerard would not believe it, or but half, and then he would come
back to see. No; say that she is dead."
"Dead! what, at her age, will he credit that?"
"Sooner than the other. Why she was nearly dead: so it is not to
say a downright lie, after all."
"Humph! And you think that will keep him in Italy?"
"We are sure of it, are we not, Cornelis?"
"Ay," said Cornelis, "our Gerard will never leave Italy now he is
there. It was always his dream to get there. He would come back
for his Margaret, but not for us. What cares he for us? He
despises his own family; always did."
"This would be a bitter pill to him," said the old hypocrite.
"It will be for his good in the end," replied the young one.
"What avails Famine wedding Thirst?" said Cornelis.
"And the grief you are preparing for him so coolly?" Ghysbrecht
spoke sarcastically, but tasted his own vengeance all the time.
"Oh, a lie is not like a blow with a curtal axe. It hacks no
flesh, and breaks no bones."
"A curtal axe?" said Sybrandt; "no, nor even like a stroke with a
cudgel." And he shot a sly envenomed glance at the burgomaster's
Ghysbrecht's face darkened with ire when this adder's tongue
struck his wound. But it told, as intended: the old man bristled
"Well," said he, "tell me what to write for you, and I must write
it; but take notice, you bear the blame if aught turns amiss. Not
the hand which writes, but the tongue which dictates, doth the
The brothers assented warmly, sneering within. Ghysbrecht then
drew his inkhorn towards him, and laid the specimen of Margaret
Van Eyck's writing before him, and made some inquiries as to the
size and shape of the letter, when an unlooked-for interruption
occurred; Jorian Ketel burst hastily into the room, and looked
vexed at not finding him alone.
"Thou seest I have matter on hand, good fellow."
"Ay; but this is grave. I bring good news; but 'tis not for every
The burgomaster rose, and drew Jorian aside into the embrasure of
his deep window, and then the brothers heard them converse in low
but eager tones. It ended by Ghysbrecht sending Jorian out to
saddle his mule. He then addressed the black sheep with a sudden
coldness that amazed them -
"I prize the peace of households; but this is not a thing to be
done in a hurry: we will see about it, we will see."
"But, burgomaster, the man will be gone. It will be too late."
"Where is he?"
"At the hostelry, drinking."
"Well, keep him drinking! We will see, we will see." And he sent
them off discomfited.
To explain all this we must retrograde a step. This very morning
then, Margaret Brandt had met Jorian Ketel near her own door. He
passed her with a scowl. This struck her, and she remembered him.
"Stay," said she. "Yes! it is the good man who saved him. Oh! why
have you not been near me since? And why have you not come for the
parchments? Was it not true about the hundred crowns?"
Jorian gave a snort; but, seeing her face that looked so candid,
began to think there might be some mistake. He told her he had
come, and how he had been received.
"Alas!" said she, "I knew nought of this. I lay at Death's door.
She then invited him to follow her, and took him into the garden
and showed him the spot where the parchments were buried. "Martin
was for taking them up, but I would not let him. He put them
there; and I said none should move them but you, who had earned
them so well of him and me,"
"Give me a spade!" cried Jorian eagerly. "But stay! No; he is a
suspicious man. You are sure they are there still?"
"I will openly take the blame if human hand hath touched them."
"Then keep them but two hours more, I prithee, good Margaret,"
said Jorian, and ran off to the Stadthouse of Tergou a joyful man.
The burgomaster jogged along towards Sevenbergen, with Jorian
striding beside him, giving him assurance that in an hour's time
the missing parchments would be in his hand.
"Ah, master!" said he, "lucky for us it wasn't a thief that took
"Not a thief? not a thief? what call you him, then?"
"Well, saving your presence, I call him a jackdaw. This is
jackdaw's work, if ever there was; 'take the thing you are least
in need of, and hide it' - that's a jackdaw. I should know," added
Jorian oracularly, "for I was brought up along with a chough. He
and I were born the same year, but he cut his teeth long before
me, and wow! but my life was a burden for years all along of him.
If you had but a hole in your hose no bigger than a groat, in went
his beak like a gimlet; and, for stealing, Gerard all over. What
he wanted least, and any poor Christian in the house wanted most,
that went first. Mother was a notable woman, so if she did but
look round, away flew her thimble. Father lived by cordwaining, so
about sunrise Jack went diligently off with his awl, his wax, and
his twine. After that, make your bread how you could! One day I
heard my mother tell him to his face he was enough to corrupt
half-a-dozen other children; and he only cocked his eye at her,
and next minute away with the nurseling's shoe off his very foot.
Now this Gerard is tarred with the same stick. The parchments are
no more use to him than a thimble or an awl to Jack. He took 'em
out of pure mischief and hid them, and you would never have found
them but for me."
"I believe you are right," said Ghysbrecht, "and I have vexed
myself more than need."
When they came to Peter's gate he felt uneasy.
"I wish it had been anywhere but here."
Jorian reassured him.
"The girl is honest and friendly," said he. "She had nothing to do
with taking them, I'll be sworn;" and he led him into the garden.
"There, master, if a face is to be believed, here they lie; and
see, the mould is loose."
He ran for a spade which was stuck up in the ground at some
distance, and soon went to work and uncovered a parchment.
Ghysbrecht saw it, and thrust him aside and went down on his knees
and tore it out of the hole. His hands trembled and his face
shone. He threw out parchment after parchment, and Jorian dusted
them and cleared them and shook them. Now, when Ghysbrecht had
thrown out a great many, his face began to darken and lengthen,
and when he came to the last, he put his hands to his temples and
seemed to be all amazed.
"What mystery lies here?" he gasped. "Are fiends mocking me? Dig
deeper! There must be another."
Jorian drove the spade in and threw out quantities of hard mould.
In vain. And even while he dug, his master's mood had changed.
"Treason! treachery!" he cried. "You knew of this."
"Knew what, master, in Heaven's name?"
"Caitiff, you knew there was another one worth all these twice
"'Tis false," cried Jorian, made suspicious by the other's
suspicion. "'Tis a trick to rob me of my hundred crowns. Oh! I
know you, burgomaster." And Jorian was ready to whimper.
A mellow voice fell on them both like oil upon the waves.
"No, good man, it is not false, nor yet is it quite true: there
was another parchment."
"There, there, there! Where is it?"
"But," continued Margaret calmly, "it was not a town record (so
you have gained your hundred crowns, good man): it was but a
private deed between the burgomaster here and my grandfather Flor
" - is Brandt."
"Where is it, girl? that is all we want to know."
"Have patience, and I shall tell you. Gerard read the title of it,
and he said, 'This is as much yours as the burgomaster's,' and he
put it apart, to read it with me at his leisure."
"It is in the house, then?" said the burgomaster, recovering his
"No, sir," said Margaret gravely, "it is not." Then, in a voice
that faltered suddenly, "You hunted - my poor Gerard - so hard -
and so close-that you gave him - no time-to think of aught - but
his life - and his grief. The parchment was in his bosom, and he
hath ta'en it with him."
"Ask me no more, sir. What right is yours to question me thus? It
was for your sake, good man, I put force upon my heart, and came
out here, and bore to speak at all to this hard old man. For, when
I think of the misery he has brought on him and me, the sight of
him is more than I can bear;" and she gave an involuntary shudder,
and went slowly in, with her hand to her head, crying bitterly.
Remorse for the past, and dread of the future - the slow, but, as
he now felt, the inevitable future - avarice, and fear, all tugged
in one short moment at Ghysbrecht's tough heart. He hung his head,
and his arms fell listless by his sides. A coarse chuckle made him
start round, and there stood Martin Wittenhaagen leaning on his
bow, and sneering from ear to ear. At sight of the man and his
grinning face, Ghysbrecht's worst passions awoke.
"Ho! attach him, seize him, traitor and thief!" cried he. "Dog,
thou shalt pay for all."
Martin, without a word, calmly thrust the duke's pardon under
Ghysbrecht's nose. He looked, and had not a word to say. Martin
followed up his advantage.
"The duke and I are soldiers. He won't let you greasy burghers
trample on an old comrade. He bade me carry you a message too."
"The duke send a message to me?"
"Ay! I told him of your masterful doings, of your imprisoning
Gerard for loving a girl; and says he, 'Tell him this is to be a
king, not a burgomaster. I'll have no kings in Holland but one.
Bid him be more humble, or I'll hang him at his own door'"
(Ghysbrecht trembled: he thought the duke capable of the deed)
"'as I hanged the burgomaster of Thingembob.' The duke could not
mind which of you he had hung, or in what part; such trifles stick
not in a soldier's memory; but he was sure he had hanged one of
you for grinding poor folk, 'and I'm the man to hang another,'
quoth the good duke."
These repeated insults from so mean a man, coupled with his
invulnerability, shielded as he was by the duke, drove the
choleric old man into a fit of impotent fury: he shook his fist at
the soldier, and tried to threaten him, but could not speak for
the rage and mortification that choked him: then he gave a sort of
screech, and coiled himself up in eye and form like a rattlesnake
about to strike; and spat furiously upon Martin's doublet.
The thick-skinned soldier treated this ebullition with genuine
contempt. "Here's a venomous old toad! he knows a kick from his
foot would send him to his last home; and he wants me to cheat the
gallows. But I have slain too many men in fair fight to lift limb
against anything less than a man; and this I count no man. What is
it, in Heaven's name? an old goat's-skin bag full o' rotten
"My mule! my mule!" screamed Ghysbrecht.
Jorian helped the old man up trembling in every joint. Once in the
saddle, he seemed to gather in a moment unnatural vigour; and the
figure that went flying to Tergou was truly weird-like and
terrible: so old and wizened the face; so white and reverend the
streaming hair; so baleful the eye; so fierce the fury which shook
the bent frame that went spurring like mad; while the quavering
voice yelled, "I'll make their hearts ache. I'll make their hearts
ache. I'll make their hearts ache. I'll make their hearts ache.
All of them. All! - all! - all!"
The black sheep sat disconsolate amidst the convivial crew, and
eyed Hans Memling's wallet. For more ease he had taken it off, and
flung it on the table. How readily they could have slipped out
that letter and put in another. For the first time in their lives
they were sorry they had not learned to write, like their brother.
And now Hans began to talk of going, and the brothers agreed in a
whisper to abandon their project for the time. They had scarcely
resolved this, when Dierich Brower stood suddenly in the doorway,
and gave them a wink.
They went out to him. "Come to the burgomaster with all speed,"
They found Ghysbrecht seated at a table, pale and agitated. Before
him lay Margaret Van Eyck's handwriting. "I have written what you
desired," said he. "Now for the superscription. What were the
words? did ye see?"
"We cannot read," said Cornelis.
"Then is all this labour lost," cried Ghysbrecht angrily. "Dolts!"
"Nay, but," said Sybrandt, "I heard the words read, and I have not
lost them. They were, 'To Gerard Eliassoen, these by the hand of
the trusty Hans Memling, with all speed.'"
"'Tis well. Now, how was the letter folded? how big was it?"
"Longer than that one, and not so long as this."
"'Tis well. Where is he?"
"At the hostelry."
"Come, then, take you this groat, and treat him. Then ask to see
the letter, and put this in place of it. Come to me with the other
The brothers assented, took the letter, and went to the hostelry.
They had not been gone a minute, when Dierich Brower issued from
the Stadthouse, and followed them. He had his orders not to let
them out of his sight till the true letter was in his master's
hands. He watched outside the hostelry.
He had not long to wait. They came out almost immediately, with
downcast looks. Dierich made up to them.
"Too late!" they cried; "too late! He is gone."
"Gone? How long?"
"Scarce five minutes. Cursed chance!"
"You must go back to the burgomaster at once," said Dierich
"To what end?"
"No matter; come!" and he hurried them to the Stadthouse.
Ghysbrecht Van Swieten was not the man to accept a defeat.
"Well," said he, on hearing the ill news, "suppose he is gone. Is
"Then what hinders you to come up with him?"
"But what avails coming up with him! There are no hostelries on
the road he is gone."
"Fools!" said Ghysbrecht, "is there no way of emptying a man's
pockets but liquor and sleight of hand?
A meaning look, that passed between Ghysbrecht and Dierich, aided
the brothers' comprehension. They changed colour, and lost all
zeal for the business.
"No! no! we don't hate our brother. We won't get ourselves hanged
to spite him," said Sybrandt; "that would be a fool's trick."
"Hanged!" cried Ghysbrecht. "Am I not the burgomaster? How can ye
be hanged? I see how 'tis ye fear to tackle one man, being two:
hearts of hare, that ye are! Oh! why cannot I be young again? I'd
do it single-handed."
The old man now threw off all disguise, and showed them his heart
was in this deed. He then flattered and besought, and jeered them
alternately, but he found no eloquence could move them to an
action, however dishonourable, which was attended with danger. At
last he opened a drawer, and showed them a pile of silver coins.
"Change but those letters for me," he said, "and each of you shall
thrust one hand into this drawer, and take away as many of them as
you can hold."
The effect was magical. Their eyes glittered with desire. Their
whole bodies seemed to swell, and rise into male energy.
"Swear it, then," said Sybrandt.
"I swear it."
"No; on the crucifix."
Ghysbrecht swore upon the crucifix.
The next minute the brothers were on the road, in pursuit of Hans
Memling. They came in sight of him about two leagues from Tergou,
but though they knew he had no weapon but his staff, they were too
prudent to venture on him in daylight; so they fell back.
But being now three leagues and more from the town, and on a
grassy road - sun down, moon not yet up - honest Hans suddenly
found himself attacked before and behind at once by men with
uplifted knives, who cried in loud though somewhat shaky voices,
"Stand and deliver!"
The attack was so sudden, and so well planned, that Hans was
dismayed. "Slay me not, good fellows," he cried; "I am but a poor
man, and ye shall have my all."
"So be it then. Live! but empty thy wallet."
"There is nought in my wallet, good friend, but one letter."
"That we shall see," said Sybrandt, who was the one in front.
"Well, it is a letter."
"Take it not from me, I pray you. 'Tis worth nought, and the good
dame would fret that writ it."
"There," said Sybrandt, "take back thy letter; and now empty thy
pouch. Come I tarry not I"
But by this time Hans had recovered his confusion; and from a
certain flutter in Sybrandt, and hard breathing of Cornelis, aided
by an indescribable consciousness, felt sure the pair he had to
deal with were no heroes. He pretended to fumble for his money:
then suddenly thrust his staff fiercely into Sybrandt's face, and
drove him staggering, and lent Cornelis a back-handed slash on the
ear that sent him twirling like a weathercock in March; then
whirled his weapon over his head and danced about the road like a
figure on springs, shouting
"Come on, ye thieving loons! Come on!"
It was a plain invitation; yet they misunderstood it so utterly as
to take to their heels, with Hans after them, he shouting "Stop
thieves!" and they howling with fear and pain as they ran.
Denys, placed in the middle of his companions, lest he should be
so mad as attempt escape was carried off in an agony of grief and
remorse. For his sake Gerard had abandoned the German route to
Rome; and what was his reward? left all alone in the centre of
Burgundy. This was the thought which maddened Denys most, and made
him now rave at heaven and earth, now fall into a gloomy silence
so savage and sinister that it was deemed prudent to disarm him.
They caught up their leader just outside the town, and the whole
cavalcade drew up and baited at the "Tete d'Or."
The young landlady, though much occupied with the count, and still
more with the bastard, caught sight of Denys, and asked him
somewhat anxiously what had become of his young companion?
Denys, with a burst of grief, told her all, and prayed her to send
after Gerard. "Now he is parted from me, he will maybe listen to
my rede," said he; "poor wretch, he loves not solitude."
The landlady gave a toss of her head. "I trow I have been somewhat
over-kind already," said she, and turned rather red.
"You will not?"
"Then," - and he poured a volley of curses and abuse upon her.
She turned her back upon him, and went off whimpering, and Saying
she was not used to be cursed at; and ordered her hind to saddle
Denys went north with his troop, mute and drooping over his
saddle, and quite unknown to him, that veracious young lady made
an equestrian toilet in only forty minutes, she being really in a
hurry, and spurred away with her servant in the opposite
At dark, after a long march, the bastard and his men reached "The
White Hart;" their arrival caused a prodigious bustle, and it was
some time before Manon discovered her old friend among so many.
When she did, she showed it only by heightened colour. She did not
claim the acquaintance. The poor soul was already beginning to
"The base degrees by which she did ascend."
Denys saw but could not smile. The inn reminded him too much of
Ere the night closed the wind changed. She looked into the room
and beckoned him with her finger. He rose sulkily, and his guards
"Nay, I would speak a word to thee in private."
She drew him to a corner of the room, and there asked him under
her breath would he do her a kindness.
He answered out loud, "No, he would not; he was not in the vein to
do kindnesses to man or woman. If he did a kindness it should be
to a dog; and not that if he could help it."
"Alas, good archer, I did you one eftsoons, you and your pretty
comrade," said Manon humbly.
"You did, dame, you did; well then, for his sake - what is't to
"Thou knowest my story. I had been unfortunate. Now I am
worshipful. But a woman did cast him in my teeth this day. And so
'twill be ever while he hangs there. I would have him ta'en down;
"With all my heart."
"And none dare I ask but thee. Wilt do't?"
"Not I, even were I not a prisoner."
On this stern refusal the tender Manon sighed, and clasped her
palms together despondently. Denys told her she need not fret.
There were soldiers of a lower stamp who would not make two bites
of such a cherry. It was a mere matter of money; if she could find
two angels, he would find two soldiers to do the dirty work of
"The White Hart."
This was not very palatable. However, reflecting that soldiers
were birds of passage, drinking here to-night, knocked on the head
there to-morrow, she said softly, "Send them out to me. But
prithee, tell them that 'tis for one that is my friend; let them
not think 'tis for me; I should sink into the earth; times are
Denys found warriors glad to win an angel apiece so easily. He
sent them out, and instantly dismissing the subject with contempt,
sat brooding on his lost friend.
Manon and the warriors soon came to a general understanding. But
what were they to do with the body when taken down? She murmured,
"The river is nigh the - the place."
"Fling him in, eh?"
"Nay, nay; be not so cruel! Could ye not put him - gently - and -
with somewhat weighty?"
She must have been thinking on the subject in detail; for she was
not one to whom ideas came quickly.
All was speedily agreed, except the time of payment. The mail-clad
itched for it, and sought it in advance. Manon demurred to that.
What, did she doubt their word? then let her come along with them,
or watch them at a distance.
"Me?" said Manon with horror. "I would liever die than see it
"Which yet you would have done."
"Ay, for sore is my need. Times are changed."
She had already forgotten her precept to Denys.
An hour later the disagreeable relic of caterpillar existence
ceased to canker the worshipful matron's public life, and the grim
eyes of the past to cast malignant glances down into a white
hind's clover field.
Total. She made the landlord an average wife, and a prime
house-dog, and outlived everybody.
Her troops, when they returned from executing with mediaeval
naivete the precept, "Off wi' the auld love," received a shock.
They found the market-place black with groups; it had been empty
an hour ago. Conscience smote them. This came of meddling with the
dead. However, the bolder of the two, encouraged by the darkness,
stole forward alone, and slily mingled with a group: he soon
returned to his companion, saying, in a tone of reproach not
"Ye born fool, it is only a miracle."
Letters of fire on the church wall had just inquired, with an
appearance of genuine curiosity, why there was no mass for the
duke in this time of trouble. The supernatural expostulation had
been seen by many, and had gradually faded, leaving the spectators
glued there gaping. The upshot was, that the corporation, not
choosing to be behind the angelic powers in loyalty to a temporal
sovereign, invested freely in masses. By this an old friend of
ours, the cure, profited in hard cash; for which he had a very
pretty taste. But for this I would not of course have detained you
over so trite an occurrence as a miracle.
Denys begged for his arms. "Why disgrace him as well as break his
"Then swear on the cross of thy sword not to leave the bastard's
service until the sedition shall be put down." He yielded to
necessity, and delivered three volleys of oaths, and recovered his
arms and liberty.
The troops halted at "The Three Fish," and Marion at sight of him
cried out, "I'm out of luck; who would have thought to see you
again?" Then seeing he was sad, and rather hurt than amused at
this blunt jest, she asked him what was amiss? He told her. She
took a bright view of the case. Gerard was too handsome and
well-behaved to come to harm. The women too would always be on his
side. Moreover, it was clear that things must either go well or
ill with him. In the former case he would strike in with some good
company going to Rome; in the latter he would return home, perhaps
be there before his friend; "for you have a trifle of fighting to
do in Flanders by all accounts." She then brought him his gold
pieces, and steadily refused to accept one, though he urged her
again and again. Denys was somewhat convinced by her argument,
because she concurred with his own wishes, and was also cheered a
little by finding her so honest. It made him think a little better
of that world in which his poor little friend was walking alone.
Foot soldiers in small bodies down to twos and threes were already
on the road, making lazily towards Flanders, many of them
penniless, but passed from town to town by the bailiffs, with
orders for food and lodging on the innkeepers.
Anthony of Burgundy overtook numbers of these, and gathered them
under his standard, so that he entered Flanders at the head of six
hundred men. On crossing the frontier he was met by his brother
Baldwyn, with men, arms, and provisions; he organized his whole
force and marched on in battle array through several towns, not
only without impediment, but with great acclamations. This loyalty
called forth comments not altogether gracious.
"This rebellion of ours is a bite," growled a soldier called
Simon, who had elected himself Denys's comrade.
Denys said nothing, but made a little vow to St. Mars to shoot
this Anthony of Burgundy dead, should the rebellion, that had cost
him Gerard, prove no rebellion.
That afternoon they came in sight of a strongly fortified town;
and a whisper went through the little army that this was a
But when they came in sight, the great gate stood open, and the
towers that flanked it on each side were manned with a single
sentinel apiece. So the advancing force somewhat broke their array
and marched carelessly.
When they were within a furlong, the drawbridge across the moat
rose slowly and creaking till it stood vertical against the fort
and the very moment it settled into this warlike attitude, down
rattled the portcullis at the gate, and the towers and curtains
bristled with lances and crossbows.
A stern hum ran through the bastard's front rank and spread to the
"Halt!" cried he. The word went down the line, and they halted.
"Herald to the gate!" A pursuivant spurred out of the ranks, and
halting twenty yards from the gate, raised his bugle with his
herald's flag hanging down round it, and blew a summons. A tall
figure in brazen armour appeared over the gate. A few fiery words
passed between him and the herald, which were not audible, but
their import clear, for the herald blew a single keen and
threatening note at the walls, and came galloping back with war in
his face. The bastard moved out of the line to meet him, and their
heads had not been together two seconds ere he turned in his
saddle and shouted, "Pioneers, to the van!" and in a moment hedges
were levelled, and the force took the field and encamped just out
of shot from the walls; and away went mounted officers flying
south, east, and west, to the friendly towns, for catapults,
palisades, mantelets, raw hides, tar-barrels, carpenters,
provisions, and all the materials for a siege.
The bright perspective mightily cheered one drooping soldier. At
the first clang of the portcullis his eyes brightened and his
temple flushed; and when the herald came back with battle in his
eye he saw it in a moment, and for the first time this many days
cried, "Courage, tout le monde, le diable est mort."
If that great warrior heard, how he must have grinned!
The besiegers encamped a furlong from the walls, and made roads;
kept their pikemen in camp ready for an assault when practicable;
and sent forward their sappers, pioneers. catapultiers, and
crossbowmen. These opened a siege by filling the moat, and mining,
or breaching the wall, etc. And as much of their work had to be
done under close fire of arrows, quarels, bolts, stones, and
little rocks, the above artists "had need of a hundred eyes," and
acted in concert with a vigilance, and an amount of individual
intelligence, daring, and skill, that made a siege very
interesting, and even amusing: to lookers on.
The first thing they did was to advance their carpenters behind
rolling mantelets, to erect a stockade high and strong on the very
edge of the moat. Some lives were lost at this, but not many; for
a strong force of crossbowmen, including Denys, rolled their
mantelets up and shot over the workmen's heads at every besieged
who showed his nose, and at every loophole, arrow-slit, or other
aperture, which commanded the particular spot the carpenters
happened to be upon. Covered by their condensed fire, these soon
raised a high palisade between them and the ordinary missiles from
the pierced masonry.
But the besieged expected this, and ran out at night their boards
or wooden penthouses on the top of the curtains. The curtains were
built with square holes near the top to receive the beams that
supported these structures, the true defence of mediaeval forts,
from which the besieged delivered their missiles with far more
freedom and variety of range than they could shoot through the
oblique but immovable loopholes of the curtain, or even through
the sloping crenelets of the higher towers. On this the besiegers
brought up mangonels, and set them hurling huge stones at these
woodworks and battering them to pieces. Contemporaneously they
built a triangular wooden tower as high as the curtain, and kept
it ready for use, and just out of shot.
This was a terrible sight to the besieged. These wooden towers had
taken many a town. They began to mine underneath that part of the
moat the tower stood frowning at; and made other preparations to
give it a warm reception. The besiegers also mined, but at another
part, their object being to get under the square barbican and
throw it down. All this time Denys was behind his mantelet with
another arbalestrier, protecting the workmen and making some
excellent shots. These ended by earning him the esteem of an
unseen archer, who every now and then sent a winged compliment
quivering into his mantelet. One came and struck within an inch of
the narrow slit through which Denys was squinting at the moment.
"Peste," cried he, you shoot well, my friend. Come forth and
receive my congratulations! Shall merit such as thine hide its
head? Comrade, it is one of those cursed Englishmen, with his half
ell shaft. I'll not die till I've had a shot at London wall."
On the side of the besieged was a figure that soon attracted great
notice by promenading under fire. It was a tall knight, clad in
complete brass, and carrying a light but prodigiously long lance,
with which he directed the movements of the besieged. And when any
disaster befell the besiegers, this tall knight and his long lance
were pretty sure to be concerned in it.
My young reader will say, "Why did not Denys shoot him?" Denys did
shoot him; every day of his life; other arbalestriers shot him;
archers shot him. Everybody shot him. He was there to be shot,
apparently. But the abomination was, he did not mind being shot.
Nay, worse, he got at last so demoralised as not to seem to know
when he was shot. He walked his battlements under fire, as some
stout skipper paces his deck in a suit of Flushing, calmly
oblivious of the April drops that fall on his woollen armour. At
last the besiegers got spiteful, and would not waste any more good
steel on him; but cursed him and his impervious coat of mail.
He took those missiles like the rest.
Gunpowder has spoiled war. War was always detrimental to the solid
interests of mankind. But in old times it was good for something:
it painted well, sang divinely, furnished Iliads. But invisible
butchery, under a pall of smoke a furlong thick, who is any the
better for that? Poet with his note-book may repeat, "Suave etiam
belli certamina magna tueri;" but the sentiment is hollow and
savours of cuckoo. You can't tueri anything but a horrid row. He
didn't say, "Suave etiam ingentem caliginem tueri per campos
They managed better in the Middle Ages.
This siege was a small affair; but, such as it was, a writer or
minstrel could see it, and turn an honest penny by singing it; so
far then the sport was reasonable, and served an end.
It was a bright day, clear, but not quite frosty. The efforts of
the besieging force were concentrated against a space of about two
hundred and fifty yards, containing two curtains and two towers,
one of which was the square barbican, the other had a pointed roof
that was built to overlap, resting on a stone machicolade, and by
this means a row of dangerous crenelets between the roof and the
masonry grinned down at the nearer assailants, and looked not very
unlike the grinders of a modern frigate with each port nearly
closed. The curtains were overlapped with penthouses somewhat
shattered by the mangonels, trebuchets, and other slinging engines
of the besiegers. On the besiegers' edge of the moat was what
seemed at first sight a gigantic arsenal, longer than it was
broad, peopled by human ants, and full of busy, honest industry,
and displaying all the various mechanical science of the age in
full operation. Here the lever at work, there the winch and
pulley, here the balance, there the capstan. Everywhere heaps of
stones, and piles of fascines, mantelets, and rows of
fire-barrels. Mantelets rolling, the hammer tapping all day,
horses and carts in endless succession rattling up with materials.
Only, on looking closer into the hive of industry, you might
observe that arrows were constantly flying to and fro, that the
cranes did not tenderly deposit their masses of stone, but flung
them with an indifference to property, though on scientific
principles, and that among the tubs full of arrows, and the
tar-barrels and the beams, the fagots, and other utensils, here
and there a workman or a soldier lay flatter than is usual in
limited naps, and something more or less feathered stuck in them,
and blood, and other essentials, oozed out.
At the edge of the moat opposite the wooden tower, a strong
penthouse, which they called "a cat," might be seen stealing
towards the curtain, and gradually filling up the moat with
fascines and rubbish, which the workmen flung out at its mouth. It
was advanced by two sets of ropes passing round pulleys, and each
worked by a windlass at some distance from the cat. The knight
burnt the first cat by flinging blazing tar-barrels on it. So the
besiegers made the roof of this one very steep, and covered it
with raw hides, and the tar-barrels could not harm it. Then the
knight made signs with his spear, and a little trebuchet behind
the walls began dropping stones just clear of the wall into the
moat, and at last they got the range, and a stone went clean
through the roof of the cat, and made an ugly hole.
Baldwyn of Burgundy saw this, and losing his temper, ordered the
great catapult that was battering the wood-work of the curtain
opposite it to be turned and levelled slantwise at this
invulnerable knight. Denys and his Englishman went to dinner.
These two worthies being eternally on the watch for one another
had made a sort of distant acquaintance, and conversed by signs,
especially on a topic that in peace or war maintains the same
importance. Sometimes Denys would put a piece of bread on the top
of his mantelet, and then the archer would hang something of the
kind out by a string; or the order of invitation would be
reversed. Anyway, they always managed to dine together.
And now the engineers proceeded to the unusual step of slinging
fifty-pound stones at an individual.
This catapult was a scientific, simple, and beautiful engine, and
very effective in vertical fire at the short ranges of the period.
Imagine a fir-tree cut down, and set to turn round a horizontal
axis on lofty uprights, but not in equilibrio; three-fourths of
the tree being on the hither side. At the shorter and thicker end
of the tree was fastened a weight of half a ton. This butt end
just before the discharge pointed towards the enemy. By means of a
powerful winch the long tapering portion of the tree was forced
down to the very ground, and fastened by a bolt; and the stone
placed in a sling attached to the tree's nose. But this process of
course raised the butt end with its huge weight high in the air,
and kept it there struggling in vain to come down. The bolt was
now drawn; Gravity, an institution which flourished even then,
resumed its sway, the short end swung furiously down, the long end
went as furiously round up, and at its highest elevation flung the
huge stone out of the sling with a tremendous jerk. In this case
the huge mass so flung missed the knight; but came down near him
on the penthouse, and went through it like paper, making an awful
gap in roof and floor. Through the latter fell out two inanimate
objects, the stone itself and the mangled body of a besieger it
had struck. They fell down the high curtain side, down, down, and
struck almost together the sullen waters of the moat, which closed
bubbling on them, and kept both the stone and the bone two hundred
years, till cannon mocked those oft perturbed waters, and
civilization dried them.
"Aha! a good shot," cried Baldwyn of Burgundy.
The tall knight retired. The besiegers hooted him.
He reappeared on the platform of the barbican, his helmet being
just visible above the parapet. He seemed very busy, and soon an
enormous Turkish catapult made its appearance on the platform and
aided by the elevation at which it was planted, flung a
twentypound stone some two hundred and forty yards in the air; it
bounded after that, and knocked some dirt into the Lord Anthony's
eye, and made him swear. The next stone struck a horse that was
bringing up a sheaf of arrows in a cart, bowled the horse over
dead like a rabbit, and spilt the cart. It was then turned at the
besiegers' wooden tower, supposed to be out of shot. Sir Turk
slung stones cut with sharp edges on purpose, and struck it
repeatedly, and broke it in several places. The besiegers turned
two of their slinging engines on this monster, and kept constantly
slinging smaller stones on to the platform of the barbican, and
killed two of the engineers. But the Turk disdained to retort. He
flung a forty-pound stone on to the besiegers' great catapult, and
hitting it in the neighbourhood of the axis, knocked the whole
structure to pieces, and sent the engineers skipping and yelling.
In the afternoon, as Simon was running back to his mantelet from a
palisade where he had been shooting at the besieged, Denys,
peeping through his slit, saw the poor fellow suddenly stare and
hold out his arms, then roll on his face, and a feathered arrow
protruded from his back. The archer showed himself a moment to
enjoy his skill. It was the Englishman. Denys, already prepared,
shot his bolt, and the murderous archer staggered away wounded.
But poor Simon never moved. His wars were over.
"I am unlucky in my comrades," said Denys.
The next morning an unwelcome sight greeted the besieged. The cat
was covered with mattresses and raw hides, and fast filling up the
moat. The knight stoned it, but in vain; flung burning tar-barrels
on it, but in vain. Then with his own hands he let down by a rope
a bag of burning sulphur and pitch, and stunk them out. But
Baldwyn, armed like a lobster, ran, and bounding on the roof, cut
the string, and the work went on. Then the knight sent fresh
engineers into the mine, and undermined the place and underpinned
it with beams, and covered the beams thickly with grease and tar.
At break of day the moat was filled, and the wooden tower began to
move on its wheels towards a part of the curtain on which two
catapults were already playing to breach the hoards, and clear the
way. There was something awful and magical in its approach without
visible agency, for it was driven by internal rollers worked by
leverage. On the top was a platform, where stood the first
assailing party protected in front by the drawbridge of the
turret, which stood vertical till lowered on to the wall; but
better protected by full suits of armour. The beseiged slung at
the tower, and struck it often, but in vain. It was well defended
with mattresses and hides, and presently was at the edge of the
moat. The knight bade fire the mine underneath it.
Then the Turkish engine flung a stone of half a hundredweight
right amongst the knights, and carried two away with it off the
tower on to the plain. One lay and writhed: the other neither
moved nor spake.
And now the besieging catapults flung blazing tar-barrels, and
fired the hoards on both sides, and the assailants ran up the
ladders behind the tower, and lowered the drawbridge on to the
battered curtain, while the catapults in concert flung tar-barrels
and fired the adjoining works to dislodge the defenders. The armed
men on the platform sprang on the bridge, led by Baldwyn. The
invulnerable knight and his men-at-arms met them, and a fearful
combat ensued, in which many a figure was seen to fall headlong
down off the narrow bridge. But fresh besiegers kept swarming up
behind the tower, and the besieged were driven off the bridge.
Another minute, and the town was taken; but so well had the firing
of the mine been timed, that just at this instant the underpinners
gave way, and the tower suddenly sank away from the walls, tearing
the drawbridge clear and pouring the soldiers off it against the
masonry, and on to the dry moat. The besieged uttered a fierce
shout, and in a moment surrounded Baldwyn and his fellows; but
strange to say, offered them quarter. While a party disarmed and
disposed of these, others fired the turret in fifty places with a
sort of hand grenades. At this work who so busy as the tall
knight. He put the fire-bags on his long spear, and thrust them
into the doomed structure late so terrible. To do this he was
obliged to stand on a projecting beam of the shattered hoard,
holding on by the hand of a pikeman to steady himself. This
provoked Denys; he ran out from his mantelet, hoping to escape
notice in the confusion, and levelling his crossbow missed the
knight clean, but sent his bolt into the brain of the pikeman, and
the tall knight fell heavily from the wall, lance and all. Denys
gazed wonder-struck; and in that unlucky moment, suddenly he felt
his arm hot, then cold, and there was an English arrow skewering
This episode was unnoticed in a much greater matter. The knight,
his armour glittering in the morning sun, fell headlong, but
turning as he neared the water, struck it with a slap that sounded
a mile off.
None ever thought to see him again. But he fell at the edge of the
fascines on which the turret stood all cocked on one side, and his
spear stuck into them under water, and by a mighty effort he got
to the side, but could not get out. Anthony sent a dozen knights
with a white flag to take him prisoner. He submitted like a lamb,
but said nothing.
He was taken to Anthony's tent.
That worthy laughed at first at the sight of his muddy armour. but
presently, frowning, said, "I marvel, sir, that so good a knight
as you should know his devoir so ill as turn rebel, and give us
all this trouble."
"I am nun-nun-nun-nun-nun-no knight."
"A what? Then thy armour shall be stripped off, and thou shalt be
tied to a stake in front of the works, and riddled with arrows for
a warning to traitors."
"N-n-n-n-no! duda-duda-duda-duda-don't do that."
"Tuta-tuta-tuta-townsfolk will-h-h-h-hang t'other
"Your bub-bub-bub-brother Baldwyn."
"What, have you knaves ta'en him?"
The warlike hosier nodded.
"Hang the fool!" said Anthony, peevishly.
The warlike hosier watched his eye, and doffing his helmet, took
out of the lining an intercepted letter from the duke, bidding the
said Anthony come to court immediately, as he was to represent the
court of Burgundy at the court of England; was to go over and
receive the English king's sister, and conduct her to her
bridegroom, the Earl of Charolois. The mission was one very
soothing to Anthony's pride, and also to his love of pleasure. For
Edward the Fourth held the gayest and most luxurious court in
Europe. The sly hosier saw he longed to be off, and said, "We'll
gega-gega-gega-gega-give ye a thousand angels to raise the siege."
"I'll gega-gega-gega-gega-go and send him with the money.
It was now dinner-time; and a flag of truce being hoisted on both
sides, the sham knight and the true one dined together and came to
a friendly understanding.
"But what is your grievance, my good friend?"
"Tuta-tuta-tuta-tuta-too much taxes."
Denys, on finding the arrow in his right arm, turned his back,
which was protected by a long shield, and walked sulkily into
camp. He was met by the Comte de Jarnac, who had seen his
brilliant shot, and finding him wounded into the bargain, gave him
a handful of broad pieces.
"Hast got the better of thy grief, arbalestrier, methinks."
"My grief, yes; but not my love. As soon as ever I have put down
this rebellion, I go to Holland, and there I shall meet with him."
This event was nearer than Denys thought. He was relieved from
service next day, and though his wound was no trifle, set out with
a stout heart to rejoin his friend in Holland.
A change came over Margaret Brandt. She went about her household
duties like one in a dream. If Peter did but speak a little
quickly to her, she started and fixed two terrified eyes on him.
She went less often to her friend Margaret Van Eyck, and was ill
at her ease when there. Instead of meeting her warm old friend's
caresses, she used to receive them passive and trembling, and
sometimes almost shrink from them. But the most extraordinary
thing was, she never would go outside her own house in daylight.
When she went to Tergou it was after dusk, and she returned before
daybreak. She would not even go to matins. At last Peter,
unobservant as he was, noticed it, and asked her the reason.
"Methinks the folk all look at me.
One day, Margaret Van Eyck asked her what was the matter.
A scared look and a flood of tears were all the reply; the old
lady expostulated gently. "What, sweetheart, afraid to confide
your sorrows to me?"
"I have no sorrows, madam, but of my own making. I am kinder
treated than I deserve; especially in this house."
"Then why not come oftener, my dear?"
"I come oftener than I deserve;" and she sighed deeply.
"There, Reicht is bawling for you," said Margaret Van Eyck; "go,
child! - what on earth can it be?"
Turning possibilities over in her mind, she thought Margaret must
be mortified at the contempt with which she was treated by
Gerard's family. "I will take them to task for it, at least such
of them as are women;" and the very next day she put on her hood
and cloak and followed by Reicht, went to the hosier's house.
Catherine received her with much respect, and thanked her with
tears for her kindness to Gerard. But when, encouraged by this,
her visitor diverged to Margaret Brandt, Catherine's eyes dried,
and her lips turned to half the size, and she looked as only
obstinate, ignorant women can look. When they put on this cast of
features, you might as well attempt to soften or convince a brick
wall. Margaret Van Eyck tried, but all in vain. So then, not being
herself used to be thwarted, she got provoked, and at last went
out hastily with an abrupt and mutilated curtsey, which Catherine,
returned with an air rather of defiance than obeisance. Outside
the door Margaret Van Eyck found Reicht conversing with a pale
girl on crutches. Margaret Van Eyck was pushing by them with
heightened colour, and a scornful toss intended for the whole
family, when suddenly a little delicate hand glided timidly into
hers, and looking round she saw two dove-like eyes, with the water
in them, that sought hers gratefully and at the same time
imploringly. The old lady read this wonderful look, complex as it
was, and down went her choler. She stopped and kissed Kate's brow.
"I see," said she. "Mind, then, I leave it to you." Returned home,
she said - "I have been to a house to-day, where I have seen a
very common thing and a very uncommon thing; I have seen a stupid,
obstinate woman, and I have seen an angel in the flesh, with a
face-if I had it here I'd take down my brushes once more and try
and paint it."
Little Kate did not belie the good opinion so hastily formed of
her. She waited a better opportunity, and told her mother what she
had learned from Reicht Heynes, that Margaret had shed her very
blood for Gerard in the wood.
"See, mother, how she loves him."
"Who would not love him?"
"oh, mother, think of it! Poor thing."
"Ay, wench. She has her own trouble, no doubt, as well as we ours.
I can't abide the sight of blood, let alone my own."
This was a point gained; but when Kate tried to follow it up she
was stopped short.
About a month after this a soldier of the Dalgetty tribe,
returning from service in Burgundy, brought a letter one evening
to the hosier's house. He was away on business; but the rest of
the family sat at Supper. The soldier laid the letter on the table
by Catherine, and refusing all guerdon for bringing it, went off
The letter was unfolded and spread out; and curiously enough,
though not one of them could read, they could all tell it was
"And your father must be away," cried Catherine. "Are ye not
ashamed of yourselves? not one that can read your brother's
But although the words were to them what hieroglyphics are to us,
there was something in the letter they could read. There is an art
can speak without words; unfettered by the penman's limits, it can
steal through the eye into the heart and brain, alike of the
learned and unlearned; and it can cross a frontier or a sea, yet
lose nothing. It is at the mercy of no translator; for it writes
an universal language.
When, therefore, they saw this,
[a picture of two hands clasped together]
which Gerard had drawn with his pencil between the two short
paragraphs, of which his letter consisted, they read it, and it
went straight to their hearts.
Gerard was bidding them farewelL
As they gazed on that simple sketch, in every turn and line of
which they recognized his manner, Gerard seemed present, and
bidding them farewell.
The women wept over it till they could see it no longer.
Giles said, "Poor Gerard!" in a lower voice than seemed to belong
Even Cornelis and Sybrandt felt a momentary remorse, and sat
silent and gloomy.
But how to get the words read to them. They were loth to show
their ignorance and their emotion to a stranger.
"The Dame Van Eyck?" said Kate timidly.
"And so I will, Kate. She has a good heart. She loves Gerard, too.
She will be glad to hear of him. I was short with her when she
came here; but I will make my submission, and then she will tell
me what my poor child says to me."
She was soon at Margaret Van Eyck's house. Reicht took her into a
room, and said, "Bide a minute; she is at her orisons."
There was a young woman in the room seated pensively by the stove;
but she rose and courteously made way for the visitor.
"Thank you, young lady; the winter nights are cold, and your stove
is a treat." Catherine then, while warming her hands, inspected
her companion furtively from head to foot, inclusive. The young
person wore an ordinary wimple, but her gown was trimmed with fur,
which was, in those days, almost a sign of superior rank or
wealth. But what most struck Catherine was the candour and modesty
of the face. She felt sure of sympathy from so good a countenance,
and began to gossip.
"Now, what think you brings me here, young lady? It is a letter! a
letter from my poor boy that is far away in some savage part or
other. And I take shame to say that none of us can read it. I
wonder whether you can read?"
"Can ye, now? It is much to your credit, my dear. I dare say she
won't be long; but every minute is an hour to a poor longing
"I will read it to you."
"Bless you, my dear; bless you!"
In her unfeigned eagerness she never noticed the suppressed
eagerness with which the hand was slowly put out to take the
letter. She did not see the tremor with which the fingers closed
"Come, then, read it to me, prithee. I am wearying for it."
"The first words are, 'To my honoured parents.'"
"Ay! and he always did honour us, poor soul,"
"'God and the saints have you in His holy keeping, and bless you
by night and by day. Your one harsh deed is forgotten; your years
of love remembered.'"
Catherine laid her hand on her bosom, and sank back in her chair
with one long sob.
"Then comes this, madam. It doth speak for itself; 'a long
"Ay, go on; bless you, girl you give me sorry comfort. Still 'tis
"'To my brothers Cornelis and Sybrandt - Be content; you will see
me no more!'"
"What does that mean? Ah!"
"'To my sister Kate. Little angel of my father's house. Be kind to
her -' Ah!"
"That is Margaret Brandt, my dear - his sweetheart, poor soul.
I've not been kind to her, my dear. Forgive me, Gerard!"
"' - for poor Gerard's sake: since grief to her is death to me-
Ah!" And nature, resenting the poor girl's struggle for unnatural
composure, suddenly gave way, and she sank from her chair and lay
insensible, with the letter in her hand and her head on
Experienced women are not frightened when a woman faints, or do
they hastily attribute it to anything but physical causes, which
they have often seen produce it. Catherine bustled about; laid the
girl down with her head on the floor quite flat, opened the
window, and unloosed her dress as she lay. Not till she had done
all this did she step to the door and say, rather loudly:
"Come here, if you please."
Margaret Van Eyck and Reicht came, and found Margaret lying quite
flat, and Catherine beating her hands.
"Oh, my poor girl! What have you done to her?"
"Me?" said Catherine angrily.
"What has happened, then?"
"Nothing, madam; nothing more than is natural in her situation."
Margaret Van Eyck coloured with ire.
"You do well to speak so coolly," said she, "you that are the
cause of her situation."
"That I am not," said Catherine bluntly; "nor any woman born."
"What! was it not you and your husband that kept them apart? and
now he has gone to Italy all alone. Situation indeed! You have
broken her heart amongst you."
"Why, madam? Who is it then? in Heaven's name! To hear you, one
would think this was my Gerard's lass. But that can't be.This fur
never cost less than five crowns the ell; besides, this young
gentlewoman is a wife; or ought to be."
"Of course she ought. And who is the cause she is none? Who came
before them at the very altar?"
"God forgive them, whoever it was," said Catherine gravely; "me it
was not, nor my man."
"Well," said the other, a little softened, "now you have seen her,
perhaps you will not be quite so bitter against her madam. She is
coming to, thank Heaven."
"Me bitter against her?" said Catherine; "no, that is all over.
Poor soul! trouble behind her and trouble afore her; and to think
of my setting her, of all living women, to read Gerard's letter to
me. Ay, and that was what made her go off, I'll be sworn. She is
coming to. What, sweetheart! be not afeard, none are here but
They seated her in an easy chair. As the colour was creeping back
to her face and lips. Catherine drew Margaret Van Eyck aside.
"Is she staying with you, if you please?"
"I wouldn't let her go back to Sevenbergen to-night, then."
"That is as she pleases. She still refuses to bide the night."
"Ay, but you are older than she is; you can make her. There, she
is beginning to notice."
Catherine then put her mouth to Margaret Van Eyck's ear for half a
moment; it did not seem time enough to whisper a word, far less a
sentence. But on some topics females can flash communication to
female like lightning, or thought itself.
The old lady started, and whispered back -
"It's false! it is a calumny! it is monstrous! look at her face.
It is blasphemy to accuse such a face."
"Tut! tut! tut!" said the other; "you might as well say this is
not my hand. I ought to know; and I tell ye it is so.
Then, much to Margaret Van Eyck's surprise, she went up to the
girl, and taking her round the neck, kissed her warmly.
"I suffered for Gerard, and you shed your blood for him I do hear;
his own words show me that I have been to blame, the very words
you have read to me. Ay, Gerard, my child, I have held aloof from
her; but I'll make it up to her once I begin. You are my daughter
from this hour."
Another warm embrace sealed this hasty compact, and the woman of
impulse was gone.
Margaret lay back in her chair, and a feeble smile stole over her
face. Gerard's mother had kissed her and called her daughter; but
the next moment she saw her old friend looking at her with a vexed
"I wonder you let that woman kiss you."
"His mother!" murmured Margaret, half reproachfully.
"Mother, or no mother, you would not let her touch you if you knew
what she whispered in my ear about you."
"About me?" said Margaret faintly.
"Ay, about you, whom she never saw till to-night." The old lady
was proceeding, with some hesitation and choice of language, to
make Margaret share her indignation, when an unlooked-for
interruption closed her lips.
The young woman slid from her chair to her knees, and began to
pray piteously to her for pardon. From the words and the manner of
her penitence a bystander would have gathered she had inflicted
some cruel wrong, some intolerable insult, upon her venerable
The little party at the hosier's house sat at table discussing the
recent event, when their mother returned, and casting a piercing
glance all round the little circle, laid the letter flat on the
table. She repeated every word of it by memory, following the
lines with her finger, to cheat herself and bearers into the
notion that she could read the words, or nearly. Then, suddenly
lifting her head, she cast another keen look on Cornelis and
Sybrandt: their eyes fell.
On this the storm that had long been brewing burst on their heads.
Catherine seemed to swell like an angry hen ruffling her feathers,
and out of her mouth came a Rhone and Saone of wisdom and twaddle,
of great and mean invective, such as no male that ever was born
could utter in one current; and not many women.
The following is a fair though a small sample of her words: only
they were uttered all in one breath
"I have long had my doubts that you blew the flame betwixt Gerard
and your father, and set that old rogue, Ghysbrecht, on. And now,
here are Gerard's own written words to prove it. You have driven
your own flesh and blood into a far land, and robbed the mother
that bore you of her darling, the pride of her eye, the joy of her
heart. But you are all of a piece from end to end. When you were
all boys together, my others were a comfort; but you were a curse:
mischievous and sly; and took a woman half a day to keep your
clothes whole: for why? work wears cloth, but play cuts it. With
the beard comes prudence; but none came to you: still the last to
go to bed, and the last to leave it; and why? because honesty goes
to bed early, and industry rises betimes; where there are two
lie-a-beds in a house there are a pair of ne'er-do-weels. Often
I've sat and looked at your ways, and wondered where ye came from:
ye don't take after your father, and ye are no more like me than a
wasp is to an ant; sure ye were changed in the cradle, or the
cuckoo dropped ye on my floor: for ye have not our hands, nor our
hearts: of all my blood, none but you ever jeered them that God
afflicted; but often when my back was turned I've heard you mock
at Giles, because he is not as big as some; and at my lily Kate,
because she is not so strong as a Flanders mare. After that rob a
church an you will! for you can be no worse in His eyes that made
both Kate and Giles, and in mine that suffered for them, poor
darlings, as I did for you, you paltry, unfeeling, treasonable
curs! No, I will not hush, my daughter, they have filled the cup
too full. It takes a deal to turn a mother's heart against the
sons she has nursed upon her knees; and many is the time I have
winked and wouldn't see too much, and bitten my tongue, lest their
father should know them as I do; he would have put them to the
door that moment. But now they have filled the cup too full. And
where got ye all this money? For this last month you have been
rolling in it. You never wrought for it. I wish I may never hear
from other mouths how ye got it. It is since that night you were
out so late, and your head came back so swelled, Cornelis. Sloth
and greed are ill-mated, my masters. Lovers of money must sweat or
steal. Well, if you robbed any poor soul of it, it was some woman,
I'll go bail; for a man would drive you with his naked hand. No
matter, it is good for one thing. It has shown me how you will
guide our gear if ever it comes to be yourn. I have watched you,
my lads, this while. You have spent a groat to-day between you.
And I spend scarce a groat a week, and keep you all, good and bad.
No I give up waiting for the shoes that will maybe walk behind
your coffin; for this shop and this house shall never be yourn.
Gerard is our heir; poor Gerard, whom you have banished and done
your best to kill; after that never call me mother again! But you
have made him tenfold dearer to me. My poor lost boy! I shall soon
see him again shall hold him in my arms, and set him on my knees.
Ay, you may stare! You are too crafty, and yet not crafty enow.
You cut the stalk away; but you left the seed - the seed that
shall outgrow you, and outlive you. Margaret Brandt is quick, and
it is Gerard's, and what is Gerard's is mine; and I have prayed
the saints it may be a boy; and it will - it must. Kate, when I
found it was so, my bowels yearned over her child unborn as if it
had been my own. He is our heir. He will outlive us. You will not;
for a bad heart in a carcass is like the worm in the nut, soon
brings the body to dust. So, Kate, take down Gerard's bib and
tucker that are in the drawer you wot of, and one of these days we
will carry them to Sevenbergen. We will borrow Peter Buyskens'
cart, and go comfort Gerard's wife under her burden. She is his
wife. Who is Ghysbrecht Van Swieten? Can he come between a couple
and the altar, and sunder those that God and the priest make one?
She is my daughter, and I am as proud of her as I am of you, Kate,
almost; and as for you, keep out of my way awhile, for you are
like the black dog in my eyes.
Cornelis and Sybrandt took the hint and slunk out, aching with
remorse, and impenitence, and hate. They avoided her eye as much
as ever they could; and for many days she never spoke a word,
good, bad, or indifferent, to either of them. Liberaverat animum
Catherine was a good housewife who seldom left home for a day, and
then one thing or another always went amiss. She was keenly
conscious of this, and watching for a slack tide in things
domestic, put off her visit to Sevenbergen from day to day, and
one afternoon that it really could have been managed, Peter
Buyskens' mule was out of the way.
At last, one day Eli asked her before all the family, whether it
was true she had thought of visiting Margaret Brandt.
"Ay, my man."
"Then I do forbid you."
"Oh, do you?"
"Then there is no more to be said, I suppose," said she,
"Not a word," replied Eli sternly.
When she was alone with her daughter she was very severe, not upon
Eli, but upon herself.
"Behoved me rather go thither like a cat at a robin. But this was
me all over. I am like a silly hen that can lay no egg without
cackling, and convening all the house to rob her on't. Next time
you and I are after aught the least amiss, let's do't in Heaven's
name then and there, and not take time to think about it, far less
talk; so then, if they take us to task we can say, alack we knew
nought; we thought no ill; now, who'd ever? and so forth. For two
pins I'd go thither in all their teeth."
Defiance so wild and picturesque staggered Kate. "Nay, mother,
with patience father will come round."
"And so will Michaelmas; but when? and I was so bent on you seeing
the girl. Then we could have put our heads together about her. Say
what they will, there is no judging body or beast but by the eye.
And were I to have fifty more sons I'd ne'er thwart one of them's
fancy, till such time as I had clapped my eyes upon her and seen
Quicksands; say you, I should have thought of that before
condemning Gerard his fancy; but there, life is a school, and the
lesson ne'er done; we put down one fault and take up t'other, and
so go blundering here, and blundering there, till we blunder into
our graves, and there's an end of us."
"Mother," said Kate timidly.
"Well, what is a-coming now? no good news though, by the look of
you. What on earth can make the poor wretch so scared?"
"An avowal she hath to make," faltered Kate faintly.
"Now, there is a noble word for ye," said Catherine proudly. "Our
Gerard taught thee that, I'll go bail. Come then, out with thy
"Well then, sooth to say, I have seen her."
"And spoken with her to boot."
"And never told me? After this marvels are dirt."
"Mother, you were so hot against her. I waited till I could tell
you without angering you worse."
"Ay," said Catherine, half sadly, half bitterly, "like mother,
like daughter; cowardice it is our bane. The others I whiles
buffet, or how would the house fare? but did you, Kate, ever have
harsh word or look from your poor mother, that you- Nay, I will
not have ye cry, girl; ten to one ye had your reason; so rise up,
brave heart, and tell me all, better late than ne'er; and first
and foremost when ever, and how ever, wend you to Sevenbergen wi'
your poor crutches, and I not know?"
"I never was there in my life; and, mammy dear, to say that I
ne'er wished to see her that I will not, but I ne'er went nor
sought to see her."
"There now," said Catherine disputatively, "said I not 'twas all
unlike my girl to seek her unbeknown to me? Come now, for I'm all
"Then thus 'twas. It came to my ears, no matter how, and prithee,
good mother, on my knees ne'er ask me how, that Gerard was a
prisoner in the Stadthouse tower."
"By father's behest as 'twas pretended."
Catherine uttered a sigh that was almost a moan. "Blacker than I
thought," she muttered faintly.
"Giles and I went out at night to bid him be of good cheer. And
there at the tower foot was a brave lass, quite strange to me I
vow, on the same errand."
"Lookee there now, Kate."
"At first we did properly frighten one another, through the place
his bad name, and our poor heads being so full o' divels, and we
whitened a bit in moonshine. But next moment, quo' I, 'You are
Margaret.' 'And you are Kate,' quo' she. Think on't!"
"Did one ever? 'Twas Gerard! He will have been talking backards
and forrards of thee to her, and her to thee."
In return for this, Kate bestowed on Catherine one of the
prettiest presents in nature - the composite kiss, i.e., she
imprinted on her cheek a single kiss, which said -
1. Quite correct.
2. Good, clever mother, for guessing so right and quick.
3. How sweet for us twain to be' of one mind again after
never having been otherwise.
"Now then, speak thy mind, child, Gerard is not here. Alas, what
am I saying? would to Heaven he were."
"Well then, mother, she is comely, and wrongs her picture but
"Eh, dear; hark to young folk! I am for good acts, not good looks.
Loves she my boy as he did ought to be loved?"
"Sevenbergen is farther from the Stadthouse than we are," said
Kate thoughtfully; "yet she was there afore me."
Catherine nodded intelligence.
"Nay, more, she had got him out ere I came. Ay, down from the
Catherine shook her head incredulously. "The highest tower for
miles! It is not feasible."
"'Tis sooth though. She and an old man she brought found means and
wit to send him up a rope. There 'twas dangling from his prison.
and our Giles went up it. When first I saw it hang, I said, 'This
is glamour.' But when the frank lass's arms came round me, and her
bosom' did beat on mine, and her cheeks wet, then said I, ''Tis
not glamour: 'tis love.' For she is not like me, but lusty and
able; and, dear heart, even I, poor frail creature, do feel
sometimes as I could move the world for them I love: I love you,
mother. And she loves Gerard."
"God bless her for't! God bless her!"
"But what, lamb?"
"Her love, is it for very certain honest? 'Tis most strange; but
that very thing, which hath warmed your heart, hath somewhat
cooled mine towards her; poor soul. She is no wife, you know,
mother, when all is done."
"Humph! They have stood at the altar together."
"Ay, but they went as they came, maid and bachelor."
"The parson, saith he so?"
"Nay, for that I know not."
"Then I'll take no man's word but his in such a tangled skein."
After some reflection she added, "Natheless art right, girl; I'll
to Sevenbergen alone. A wife I am but not a slave. We are all in
the dark here. And she holds the clue. I must question her, and no
one by; least of all you. I'll not take any, lily to a house Wi' a
spot, no, not to a palace o' gold and silver.
The more Catherine pondered this conversation, the more she felt
drawn towards Margaret, and moreover "she was all agog" with
curiosity, a potent passion with us all, and nearly omnipotent
with those who like Catherine, do not slake it with reading. At
last, one fine day, after dinner, she whispered to Kate, "Keep the
house from going to pieces, an ye can;" and donned her best kirtle
and hood, and her scarlet clocked hose and her new shoes, and
trudged briskly off to Sevenbergen, troubling no man's mule.
When she got there she inquired where Margaret Brandt lived. The
first person she asked shook his head, and said - "The name is
strange to me." She went a little farther and asked a girl of
about fifteen who was standing at a door. "Father," said the girl,
speaking into the house, "here is another after that magician's
daughter." The man came out and told Catherine Peter Brandt's
cottage was just outside the town on the east side. "You may see
the chimney hence;" and he pointed it out to her. "But you will
not find them there, neither father nor daughter; they have left
the town this week, bless you."
"Say not so, good man, and me walken all the way from Tergou."
"From Tergou? then you must ha' met the soldier."
"What soldier? ay, I did meet a soldier."
"Well, then, yon soldier was here seeking that self-same
"Ay, and warn't a mad with us because she was gone?" put in the
girl. "His long beard and her cheek are no strangers, I warrant."
"Say no more than ye know," said Catherine sharply. "You are young
to take to slandering your elders. Stay! tell we more about this
soldier, good man.
"Nay, I know no more than that he came hither seeking Margaret
Brandt, and I told him she and her father had made a moonlight
flit on't this day sennight, and that some thought the devil had
flown away with them, being magicians. 'And,' says he, 'the devil
fly away with thee for thy ill news;' that was my thanks. 'But I
doubt 'tis a lie,' said he. 'An you think so,' said I, 'go and
see.' 'I will,' said he, and burst out wi' a hantle o' gibberish:
my wife thinks 'twas curses; and hied him to the cottage.
Presently back a comes, and sings t'other tune. 'You were right
and I was wrong,' says he, and shoves a silver coin in my hand.
Show it the wife, some of ye; then she'll believe me; I have been
called a liar once to-day."
"It needs not," said Catherine, inspecting the coin all the same.
"And he seemed quiet and sad like, didn't he now, wench?"
"That a did," said the young woman warmly; "and, dame, he was just
as pretty a man as ever I clapped eyes on. Cheeks like a rose, and
shining beard, and eyes in his head like sloes."
"I saw he was well bearded," said Catherine; "but, for the rest,
at my age I scan them not as when I was young and foolish. But he
seemed right civil: doffed his bonnet to me as I had been a queen,
and I did drop him my best reverence, for manners beget manners.
But little I wist he had been her light o' love, and most likely
the-- Who bakes for this town?"
The man, not being acquainted with her, opened his eyes at this
transition, swift and smooth.
"Well, dame, there be two; John Bush and Eric Donaldson, they both
bide in this street."
"Then, God be with you, good people," said she, and proceeded; but
her sprightly foot came flat on the ground now, and no longer
struck it with little jerks and cocking heel. She asked the bakers
whether Peter Brandt had gone away in their debt. Bush said they
were not customers. Donaldson said, "Not a stiver: his daughter
had come round and paid him the very night they went. Didn't
believe they owed a copper in the town." So Catherine got all the
information of that kind she wanted with very little trouble.
"Can you tell me what sort this Margaret was?" said she, as she
turned to go.
"Well, somewhat too reserved for my taste. I like a chatty
customer - when I'm not too busy. But she bore a high character
for being a good daughter."
"'Tis no small praise. A well-looking lass, I am told?"
"Why, whence come you, wyfe?"
"Oh, ay. Well you shall judge: the lads clept her 'the beauty of
Sevenbergen;' the lasses did scout it merrily, and terribly pulled
her to pieces, and found so many faults no two could agree where
the fault lay."
"That is enough," said Catherine. "I see, the bakers are no fools
in Sevenbergen, and the young women no shallower than in other
She bought a manchet of bread, partly out of sympathy and justice
(she kept a shop), partly to show her household how much better
bread she gave them daily; and returned to Tergou dejected.
Kate met her outside the town with beaming eyes.
"Well, Kate, lass, it is a happy thing I went; I am heartbroken.
Gerard has been sore abused. The child is none of ourn, nor the
mother from this hour."
"Alas, mother, I fathom not your meaning."
"Ask me no more, girl, but never mention her name to me again.
That is all."
Kate acquiesced with a humble sigh, and they went home together.
They found a soldier seated tranquilly by their fire. The moment
they entered the door he rose, and saluted them civilly. They
stood and looked at him; Kate with some little surprise, but
Catherine with a great deal, and with rising indignation.
"What makes you here?" was Catherine's greeting.
"I came to seek after Margaret."
"Well, we know no such person."
"Say not so, dame; sure you know her by name, Margaret Brandt."
"We have heard of her for that matter - to our cost."
"Comes, dame, prithee tell me at least where she bides."
"I know not where she bides, and care not."
Denys felt sure this was a deliberate untruth. He bit his lip.
"Well, I looked to find myself in an enemy's country at this
Tergou; but maybe if ye knew all ye would not be so dour."
"I do know all," replied Catherine bitterly. "This morn I knew
nought." Then suddenly setting her arms akimbo she told him with a
raised voice and flashing eyes she wondered at his cheek sitting
down by that hearth of all hearths in the world.
"May Satan fly away with your hearth to the lake of fire and
brimstone," shouted Denys, who could speak Flemish fluently. "Your
own servant bade me sit there till you came, else I had ne'er
troubled your hearth. My malison on it, and on the churlish
roof-tree that greets an unoffending stranger this way," and he
strode scowling to the door.
"Oh! oh!" ejaculated Catherine, frightened, and also a little
conscience-stricken; and the virago sat suddenly down and burst
into tears. Her daughter followed suit quietly, but without loss
A shrewd writer, now unhappily lost to us, has somewhere the
She. "I feel all a woman's weakness."
He. "Then you are invincible."
Denys, by anticipation, confirmed that valuable statement; he
stood at the door looking ruefully at the havoc his thunderbolt of
eloquence had made.
"Nay, wife," said he, "weep not neither for a soldier's hasty
word. I mean not all I said. Why, your house is your own, and what
right in it have I? There now, I'll go."
"What is to do?" said a grave manly voice.
It was Eli; he had come in from the shop.
"Here is a ruffian been a-scolding of your women folk and making
them cry," explained Denys.
"Little Kate, what is't? for ruffians do not use to call
themselves ruffians," said Eli the sensible.
Ere she could explain, "Hold your tongue, girl," said Catherine;
"Muriel bade him sat down, and I knew not that, and wyted on him;
and he was going and leaving his malison on us, root and branch. I
was never so becursed in all my days, oh! oh! oh!"
"You were both somewhat to blame; both you and he," said Eli
calmly. "However, what the servant says the master should still
stand to. We keep not open house, but yet we are not poor enough
to grudge a seat at our hearth in a cold day to a wayfarer with an
honest face, and, as I think, a wounded man. So, end all malice,
and sit ye down!"
"Wounded?" cried mother and daughter in a breath.
"Think you a soldier slings his arm for sport?"
"Nay, 'tis but an arrow," said Denys cheerfully.
"But an arrow?" said Kate, with concentrated horror. "Where were
our eyes, mother?"
"Nay, in good sooth, a trifle. Which, however, I will pray
mesdames to accept as an excuse for my vivacity. 'Tis these little
foolish trifling wounds that fret a man, worthy sir. Why, look ye
now, sweeter temper than our Gerard never breathed, yet, when the
bear did but strike a piece no bigger than a crown out of his
calf, he turned so hot and choleric y'had said he was no son of
yours, but got by the good knight Sir John Pepper on his wife dame
Mustard; who is this? a dwarf? your servant, Master Giles."
"Your servant, soldier," roared the newcomer. Denys started. He
had not counted on exchanging greetings with a petard.
Denys's words had surprised his hosts, but hardly more than their
deportment now did him. They all three came creeping up to where
he sat, and looked down into him with their lips parted, as if he
had been some strange phenomenon.
And growing agitation succeeded to amazement.
"Now hush!" said Eli, "let none speak but I. Young man," said he
solemnly, "in God's name who are you, that know us though we know
you not, and that shake our hearts speaking to us of - the
absent-our poor rebellious son: whom Heaven forgive and bless?"
"What, master," said Denys, lowering his voice, "hath he not writ
to you? hath he not told you of me, Denys of Burgundy?"
"He hath writ, but three lines, and named not Denys of Burgundy,
nor any stranger."
"Ay, I mind the long letter was to his sweetheart, this Margaret,
and she has decamped, plague take her, and how I am to find her
"What, she is not your sweetheart then?"
"Who, dame? an't please you."
"Why, Margaret Brandt."
"How can my comrade's sweetheart be mine? I know her not from
Noah's niece; how should I? I never saw her."
"Whist with this idle chat, Kate," said Eli impatiently, "and let
the young man answer me. How came you to know Gerard, our son?
Prithee now think on a parent's cares, and answer me
straightforward, like a soldier as thou art."
"And shall. I was paid off at Flushing, and started for Burgundy.
On the German frontier I lay at the same inn with Gerard. I
fancied him. I said, 'Be my comrade.' He was loth at first;
consented presently. Many a weary league we trode together. Never
were truer comrades: never will be while earth shall last. First I
left my route a bit to be with him: then he his to be with me. We
talked of Sevenbergen and Tergou a thousand times; and of all in
this house. We had our troubles on the road; but battling them
together made them light. I saved his life from a bear; he mine in
the Rhine: for he swims like a duck and I like a hod o' bricks and
one another's lives at an inn in Burgundy, where we two held a
room for a good hour against seven cut-throats, and crippled one
and slew two; and your son did his devoir like a man, and met the
stoutest champion I ever countered, and spitted him like a
sucking-pig. Else I had not been here. But just when all was fair,
and I was to see him safe aboard ship for Rome, if not to Rome
itself, met us that son of a - the Lord Anthony of Burgundy, and
his men, making for Flanders, then in insurrection, tore us by
force apart, took me where I got some broad pieces in hand, and a
broad arrow in my shoulder, and left my poor Gerard lonesome. At
that sad parting. soldier though I be, these eyes did rain salt
scalding tears, and so did his, poor soul. His last word to me
was, 'Go, comfort Margaret!' so here I be. Mine to him was, 'Think
no more of Rome. Make for Rhine, and down stream home.' Now say,
for you know best, did I advise him well or ill?"
"Soldier, take my hand," said Eli. "God bless thee! God bless
thee!" and his lip quivered. It was all his reply, but more
eloquent than many words.
Catherine did not answer at all, but she darted from the room and
bade Muriel bring the best that was in the house, and returned
with wood in both arms, and heaped the fire, and took out a
snow-white cloth from the press, and was going in a great hurry to
lay it for Gerard's friend, when suddenly she sat down and all the