The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 27

THE worthy physician went home and told his housekeeper he was in agony from “a bad burn.” Those were the words. For in phlogistic as in other things, we cauterize our neighbour’s digits, but burn our own fingers. His housekeeper applied some old women’s remedy mild as milk. He submitted like a lamb to her experience: his sole object in the case of this patient being cure: meantime he made out his bill for broken phials, and took measures to have the travellers imprisoned at once. He made oath before a magistrate that they, being strangers and indebted to him, meditated instant flight from the township.

Alas! it was his unlucky day. His sincere desire and honest endeavour to perjure himself were baffled by a circumstance he had never foreseen nor indeed thought possible.

He had spoken the truth.

And IN AN AFFIDAVIT!

The officers, on reaching “The Silver Lion”, found the birds were flown.

They went down to the river, and from intelligence they received there, started up the bank in hot pursuit.

This temporary escape the friends owed to Denys’s good sense and observation. After a peal of laughter, that it was a cordial to hear, and after venting his watchword three times, he turned short grave, and told Gerard Dusseldorf was no place for them. “That old fellow,” said he, “went off unnaturally silent for such a babbler: we are strangers here; the bailiff is his friend: in five minutes we shall lie in a dungeon for assaulting a Dusseldorf dignity, are you strong enough to hobble to the water’s edge? it is hard by. Once there you have but to lie down in a boat instead of a bed; and what is the odds?”

“The odds, Denys? untold, and all in favour of the boat. I pine for Rome; for Rome is my road to Sevenbergen; and then we shall lie in the boat, but ON the Rhine, the famous Rhine; the cool, refreshing Rhine. I feel its breezes coming: the very sight will cure a little hop-‘o-my-thumb fever like mine; away! away!”

Finding his excitable friend in this mood, Denys settled hastily with the landlord, and they hurried to the river. On inquiry they found to their dismay that the public boat was gone this half hour, and no other would start that day, being afternoon. By dint, however, of asking a great many questions, and collecting a crowd, they obtained an offer of a private boat from an old man and his two sons.

This was duly ridiculed by a bystander. “The current is too strong for three oars.”

“Then my comrade and I will help row,” said the invalid.

“No need,” said the old man. “Bless your silly heart, he owns t’other boat.”

There was a powerful breeze right astern; the boatmen set a broad sail, and rowing also, went off at a spanking rate.

“Are ye better, lad, for the river breeze?”

“Much better. But indeed the doctor did me good.”

“The doctor? Why, you would none of his cures.”

“No, but I mean — you will say I am nought — but knocking the old fool down — somehow — it soothed me.”

“Amiable dove! how thy little character opens more and more every day, like a rosebud. I read thee all wrong at first.”

“Nay, Denys, mistake me not, neither. I trust I had borne with his idle threats, though in sooth his voice went through my poor ears; but he was an infidel, or next door to one, and such I have been taught to abhor. Did he not as good as say, we owed our inward parts to men with long Greek names, and not to Him, whose name is but a syllable, but whose hand is over all the earth? Pagan!”

“So you knocked him down forthwith — like a good Christian.”

“Now, Denys, you will still be jesting. Take not an ill man’s part. Had it been a thunderbolt from Heaven, he had met but his due; yet he took but a sorry bolster from this weak arm.”

“What weak arm?” inquired Denys, with twinkling eyes. “I have lived among arms, and by Samson’s hairy pow never saw I one more like a catapult. The bolster wrapped round his nose and the two ends kissed behind his head, and his forehead resounded, and had he been Goliath, or Julius Caesar, instead of an old quacksalver, down he had gone. St. Denys guard me from such feeble opposites as thou! and above all from their weak arms — thou diabolical young hypocrite.”

The river took many turns, and this sometimes brought the wind on their side instead of right astern. Then they all moved to the weather side to prevent the boat heeling over too much all but a child of about five years old, the grandson of the boatman, and his darling; this urchin had slipped on board at the moment of starting, and being too light to affect the boat’s trim, was above, or rather below, the laws of navigation.

They sailed merrily on, little conscious that they were pursued by a whole posse of constables armed with the bailiff’s writ, and that their pursuers were coming up with them; for if the wind was strong, so was the current.

And now Gerard suddenly remembered that this was a very good way to Rome, but not to Burgundy. “Oh, Denys,” said he, with an almost alarmed look, “this is not your road.”

“I know it,” said Denys quietly; “but what can I do? I cannot leave thee till the fever leaves thee; and it is on thee still, for thou art both red and white by turns; I have watched thee. I must e’en go on to Cologne, I doubt, and then strike across.”

“Thank Heaven,” said Gerard joyfully. He added eagerly, with a little touch of self-deception, “’Twere a sin to be so near Cologne and not see it. Oh, man, it is a vast and ancient city such as I have often dreamed of, but ne’er had the good luck to see. Me miserable, by what hard fortune do I come to it now? Well then, Denys,” continued the young man less warmly, “it is old enough to have been founded by a Roman lady in the first century of grace, and sacked by Attila the barbarous, and afterwards sore defaced by the Norman Lothaire. And it has a church for every week in the year forbye chapels and churches innumerable of convents and nunneries, and above all, the stupendous minster yet unfinished, and therein, but in their own chapel, lie the three kings that brought gifts to our Lord, Melchior gold, and Gaspar frankincense, and Balthazar the black king, he brought myrrh; and over their bones stands the shrine the wonder of the world; it is of ever-shining brass brighter than gold, studded with images fairly wrought, and inlaid with exquisite devices, and brave with colours; and two broad stripes run to and fro, of jewels so great, so rare, each might adorn a crown or ransom its wearer at need; and upon it stand the three kings curiously counterfeited, two in solid silver, richly gilt; these be bareheaded; but he of Aethiop ebony, and beareth a golden crown; and in the midst our blessed Lady, in virgin silver, with Christ in her arms; and at the corners, in golden branches, four goodly waxen tapers do burn night and day. Holy eyes have watched and renewed that light unceasingly for ages, and holy eyes shall watch them in saecula. I tell thee, Denys, the oldest song, the oldest Flemish or German legend, found them burning, and they shall light the earth to its grave. And there is St. Ursel’s church, a British saint’s, where lie her bones and all the other virgins her fellows; eleven thousand were they who died for the faith, being put to the sword by barbarous Moors, on the twenty-third day of October, two hundred and thirty-eight. Their bones are piled in the vaults, and many of their skulls are in the church. St. Ursel’s is in a thin golden case, and stands on the high altar, but shown to humble Christians only on solemn days.”

“Eleven thousand virgins!” cried Denys. “What babies German men must have been in days of yore. Well, would all their bones might turn flesh again, and their skulls sweet faces, as we pass through the gates. ’Tis odds but some of them are wearied of their estate by this time.”

“Tush, Denys!” said Gerard; “why wilt thou, being good, still make thyself seem evil? If thy wishing-cap be on, pray that we may meet the meanest she of all those wise virgins in the next world, and to that end let us reverence their holy dust in this one. And then there is the church of the Maccabees, and the cauldron in which they and their mother Solomona were boiled by a wicked king for refusing to eat swine’s flesh.”

“Oh, peremptory king! and pig-headed Maccabees! I had eaten bacon with my pork liever than change places at the fire with my meat.”

“What scurvy words are these? it was their faith.”

“Nay, bridle thy choler, and tell me, are there nought but churches in this thy so vaunted city? for I affect rather Sir Knight than Sir Priest.”

“Ay, marry, there is an university near a hundred years old; and there is a market-place, no fairer in the world, and at the four sides of it houses great as palaces; and there is a stupendous senate-house all covered with images, and at the head of them stands one of stout Herman Gryn, a soldier like thyself, lad.”

“Ay. Tell me of him! what feat of arms earned him his niche?”

“A rare one. He slew a lion in fair combat, with nought but his cloak and a short sword. He thrust the cloak in the brute’s mouth, and cut his spine in twain, and there is the man’s effigy and eke the lion’s to prove it. The like was never done but by three more, I ween; Samson was one, and Lysimachus of Macedon another, and Benaiah, a captain of David’s host.”

“Marry! three tall fellows. I would like well to sup with them all to-night.”

“So would not I,” said Gerard drily.

“But tell me,” said Denys, with some surprise, “when wast thou in Cologne?”

“Never but in the spirit. I prattle with the good monks by the way, and they tell me all the notable things both old and new.

“Ay, ay, have not I seen your nose under their very cowls? But when I speak of matters that are out of sight, my words they are small, and the thing it was big; now thy words be as big or bigger than the things; art a good limner with thy tongue; I have said it; and for a saint, as ready with hand, or steel, or bolster — as any poor sinner living; and so, shall I tell thee which of all these things thou hast described draws me to Cologne?”

“Ay, Denys.”

“Thou, and thou only; no dead saint, but my living friend and comrade true; ’tis thou alone draws Denys of Burgundy to Cologne?”

Gerard hung his head.

At this juncture one of the younger boatmen suddenly inquired what was amiss with “little turnip-face?”

His young nephew thus described had just come aft grave as a judge, and burst out crying in the midst without more ado. On this phenomenon, so sharply defined, he was subjected to many interrogatories, some coaxingly uttered, some not. Had he hurt himself? had he over-ate himself? was he frightened? was he cold? was he sick? was he an idiot?

To all and each he uttered the same reply, which English writers render thus, oh! oh! oh! and French writers thus, hi! hi! hi! So fixed are Fiction’s phonetics.

“Who can tell what ails the peevish brat?” snarled the young boatman impatiently. “Rather look this way and tell me whom be these after!” The old man and his other son looked, and saw four men walking along the east bank of the river; at the sight they left rowing awhile, and gathered mysteriously in the stern, whispering and casting glances alternately at their passengers and the pedestrians.

The sequel may show they would have employed speculation better in trying to fathom the turnip-face mystery; I beg pardon of my age: I mean the deep mind of dauntless infancy.

“If ’tis as I doubt,” whispered one of the young men, “why not give them a squeak for their lives; let us make for the west bank.”

The old man objected stoutly. “What,” said he, “run our heads into trouble for strangers! are ye mad? Nay, let us rather cross to the east side; still side with the strong arm! that is my rede. What say you, Werter?”

“I say, please yourselves.”

What age and youth could not decide upon, a puff of wind settled most impartially. Came a squall, and the little vessel heeled over; the men jumped to windward to trim her; but to their horror they saw in the very boat from stem to stern a ditch of water rushing to leeward, and the next moment they saw nothing, but felt the Rhine, the cold and rushing Rhine.

“Turnip-face” had drawn the plug.

The officers unwound the cords from their waists.

Gerard could swim like a duck; but the best swimmer, canted out of a boat capsized, must sink ere he can swim. The dark water bubbled loudly over his head, and then he came up almost blind and deaf for a moment; the next, he saw the black boat bottom uppermost, and figures clinging to it; he shook his head like a water-dog, and made for it by a sort of unthinking imitation; but ere he reached it he heard a voice behind him cry not loud but with deep manly distress, “Adieu, comrade, adieu!”

He looked, and there was poor Denys sinking, sinking, weighed down by his wretched arbalest. His face was pale, and his eyes staring wide, and turned despairingly on his dear friend. Gerard uttered a wild cry of love and terror, and made for him, cleaving the water madly; but the next moment Denys was under water.

The next, Gerard was after him.

The officers knotted a rope and threw the end in.

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