The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 12

Ghysbrecht Van Swieten kept the key of Gerard’s prison in his pouch. He waited till ten of the clock ere he visited for he said to himself, “A little hunger sometimes does well it breaks ’em.” At ten he crept up the stairs with a loaf and pitcher, followed by his trusty servant well armed. Ghysbrecht listened at the door. There was no sound inside. A grim smile stole over his features. “By this time he will be as down-hearted as Albert Koestein was,” thought he. He opened the door.

No Gerard.

Ghysbrecht stood stupefied.

Although his face was not visible, his body seemed to lose all motion in so peculiar a way, and then after a little he fell trembling so, that the servant behind him saw there was something amiss, and crept close to him and peeped over his shoulder. At sight of the empty cell, and the rope, and iron bar, he uttered a loud exclamation of wonder; but his surprise doubled when his master, disregarding all else, suddenly flung himself on his knees before the empty chest, and felt wildly all over it with quivering hands, as if unwilling to trust his eyes in a matter so important.

The servant gazed at him in utter bewilderment.

“Why, master, what is the matter?”

Ghysbrecht’s pale lips worked as if he was going to answer; but they uttered no sound: his hands fell by his side, and he stared into the chest.

“Why, master, what avails glaring into that empty box? The lad is not there. See here! note the cunning of the young rogue; he hath taken out the bar, and —”

“GONE! GONE! GONE!”

“Gone! What is gone, Holy saints! he is planet-struck!”

“STOP THIEF!” shrieked Ghysbrecht, and suddenly turned, on his servant and collared him, and shook him with rage. “D’ye stand there, knave, and see your master robbed? Run! fly! A hundred crowns to him that finds it me again. No, no! ’tis in vain. Oh, fool! fool! to leave that in the same room with him. But none ever found the secret spring before. None ever would but he. It was to be. It is to be. Lost! lost!” and his years and infirmity now gained the better of his short-lived frenzy, and he sank on the chest muttering “Lost! lost!”

“What is lost, master?” asked the servant kindly.

“House and lands and good name,” groaned Ghysbrecht, and wrung his hands feebly.

“WHAT?” cried the servant.

This emphatic word, and the tone of eager curiosity, struck on Ghysbrecht’s ear and revived his natural cunning.

“I have lost the town records,” stammered he, and he looked askant at the man like a fox caught near a hen-roost.

“Oh, is that all?”

“Is’t not enough? What will the burghers say to me? What will the burghs do?” Then he suddenly burst out again, “A hundred crowns to him who shall recover them; all, mind, all that were in this box. If one be missing, I give nothing.”

“’Tis a bargain, master: the hundred crowns are in my pouch. See you not that where Gerard Eliassoen is, there are the pieces of sheepskin you rate so high?”

“That is true; that is true, good Dierich: good faithful Dierich. All, mind, all that were in the chest.”

“Master, I will take the constables to Gerard’s house, and seize him for the theft.”

“The theft? ay! good; very good. It is theft. I forgot that. So, as he is a thief now, we will put him in the dungeons below, where the toads are and the rats. Dierich, that man must never see daylight again. ’Tis his own fault; he must be prying. Quick, quick! ere he has time to talk, you know, time to talk.”

In less than half an hour Dierich Brower and four constables entered the hosier’s house, and demanded young Gerard of the panic-stricken Catherine.

“Alas! what has he done now?” cried she; “that boy will break my heart.”

“Nay, dame, but a trick of youth,” said Dierich. “He hath but made off with certain skins of parchment, in a frolic doubtless but the burgomaster is answerable to the burgh for their safe keeping, so he is in care about them; as for the youth, he will doubtless be quit for a reprimand.”

This smooth speech completely imposed on Catherine; but her daughter was more suspicious, and that suspicion was strengthened by the disproportionate anger and disappointment Dierich showed the moment he learned Gerard was not at home, had not been at home that night.

“Come away then,” said he roughly. “We are wasting time.” He added vehemently, “I’ll find him if he is above ground.”

Affection sharpens the wits, and often it has made an innocent person more than a match for the wily. As Dierich was going out, Kate made him a signal she would speak with him privately. He bade his men go on, and waited outside the door. She joined him.

“Hush!” said she; “my mother knows not. Gerard has left Tergou.”

“How?”

“I saw him last night.”

“Ay! Where?” cried Dierich eagerly.

“At the foot of the haunted tower.”

“How did he get the rope?”

“I know not; but this I know; my brother Gerard bade me there farewell, and he is many leagues from Tergou ere this. The town, you know, was always unworthy of him, and when it imprisoned him, he vowed never to set foot in it again. Let the burgomaster be content, then. He has imprisoned him, and he has driven him from his birthplace and from his native land. What need now to rob him and us of our good name?”

This might at another moment have struck Dierich as good sense; but he was too mortified at this escape of Gerard and the loss of a hundred crowns.

“What need had he to steal?” retorted he bitterly.

“Gerard stole not the trash; he but took it to spite the burgomaster, who stole his liberty; but he shall answer to the Duke for it, he shall. As for these skins of parchment you keep such a coil about, look in the nearest brook or stye, and ’tis odds but you find them.”

“Think ye so, mistress? — think ye so?” And Dierich’s eyes flashed. “Mayhap you know ’tis so.”

“This I know, that Gerard is too good to steal, and too wise to load himself with rubbish, going a journey.”

“Give you good day, then,” said Dierich sharply. “The sheepskin you scorn, I value it more than the skin of any in Tergou.”

And he went off hastily on a false scent.

Kate returned into the house and drew Giles aside.

“Giles, my heart misgives me; breathe not to a soul what I say to you. I have told Dirk Brower that Gerard is out of Holland, but much I doubt he is not a league from Tergou.”

“Why, where is he, then?”

“Where should he be, but with her he loves? But if so, he must not loiter. These be deep and dark and wicked men that seek him. Giles, I see that in Dirk Brower’s eye makes me tremble. Oh, why cannot I fly to Sevenbergen and bid him away? Why am I not lusty and active like other girls? God forgive me for fretting at His will; but I never felt till now what it is to be lame and weak and useless. But you are strong, dear Giles,” added she coaxingly; “you are very strong.”

“Yes, I am strong,” thundered Perpusillus; then, catching sight of her meaning, “but I hate to go on foot,” he added sulkily.

“Alas! alas! who will help me if you will not? Dear Giles, do you not love Gerard?”

“Yes, I like him best of the lot. I’ll go to Sevenbergen on Peter Buyskens his mule. Ask you him, for he won’t lend her me.”

Kate remonstrated. The whole town would follow him. It would be known whither he was gone, and Gerard be in worse danger than before.

Giles parried this by promising to ride out of the town the opposite way, and not turn the mule’s head towards Sevenbergen till he had got rid of the curious.

Kate then assented and borrowed the mule. She charged Giles with a short but meaning message, and made him repeat it after her over and over, till he could say it word for word.

Giles started on the mule, and little Kate retired, and did the last thing now in her power for her beloved brother — prayed on her knees long and earnestly for his safety.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33