The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 37

The culprits were condemned to stand pinioned in the marketplace for two hours, that should any persons recognize them or any of them as guilty of other crimes, they might depose to that effect at the trial.

They stood, however, the whole period, and no one advanced anything fresh against them. This was the less remarkable that they were night birds, vampires who preyed in the dark on weary travellers, mostly strangers.

But just as they were being taken down, a fearful scream was heard in the crowd, and a woman pointed at one of them, with eyes almost starting from their sockets: but ere she could speak she fainted away.

Then men and women crowded round her, partly to aid her, partly from curiosity. When she began to recover they fell to conjectures.

“’Twas at him she pointed.”

“Nay, ’twas at this one.”

“Nay, nay,” said another, “’twas at yon hangdog with the hair hung round his neck.”

All further conjectures were cut short. The poor creature no sooner recovered her senses than she flew at the landlord like a lioness. “My child! Man! man! Give me back my child.” And she seized the glossy golden hair that the officers had hung round his neck, and tore it from his neck, and covered it with kisses; then, her poor confused mind clearing, she saw even by this token that her lost girl was dead, and sank suddenly down shrieking and sobbing so over the poor hair, that the crowd rushed on the assassin with one savage growl. His life had ended then and speedily, for in those days all carried death at their girdles. But Denys drew his sword directly, and shouting “A moi, camarades!” kept the mob at bay. “Who lays a finger on him dies.” Other archers backed him, and with some difficulty they kept him uninjured, while Denys appealed to those who shouted for his blood.

“What sort of vengeance is this? would you be so mad as rob the wheel, and give the vermin an easy death?”

The mob was kept passive by the archers’ steel rather than by Denys’s words, and growled at intervals with flashing eyes. The municipal officers, seeing this, collected round, and with the archers made a guard, and prudently carried the accused back to gaol.

The mob hooted them and the prisoners indiscriminately. Denys saw the latter safely lodged, then made for “The White Hart,” where he expected to find Gerard.

On the way he saw two girls working at a first-floor window. He saluted them. They smiled. He entered into conversation. Their manners were easy, their complexion high.

He invited them to a repast at “The White Hart.” They objected. He acquiesced in their refusal. They consented. And in this charming society he forgot all about poor Gerard, who meantime was carried off to gaol; but on the way suddenly stopped, having now somewhat recovered his presence of mind, and demanded to know by whose authority he was arrested.

“By the vice-baillie’s,” said the constable.

“The vice-baillie? Alas! what have I, a stranger, done to offend a vice-baillie? For this charge of sorcery must be a blind. No sorcerer am I; but a poor true lad far from his home.”

This vague shift disgusted the officer. “Show him the capias, Jacques,” said he.

Jacques held out the writ in both hands about a yard and a half from Gerard’s eye; and at the same moment the large constable suddenly pinned him; both officers were on tenterhooks lest the prisoner should grab the document, to which they attached a superstitious importance.

But the poor prisoner had no such thought. Query whether he would have touched it with the tongs. He just craned out his neck and read it, and to his infinite surprise found the vice-bailiff who had signed the writ was the friendly alderman. He took courage and assured his captor there was some error. But finding he made no impression, demanded to be taken before the alderman.

“What say you to that, Jacques?”

“Impossible. We have no orders to take him before his worship. Read the writ!”

“Nay, but good kind fellows, what harm can it be? I will give you each an ecu.”

“Jacques, what say you to that?”

“Humph! I say we have no orders not to take him to his worship. Read the writ!”

“Then say we take him to prison round by his worship.”

It was agreed. They got the money; and bade Gerard observe they were doing him a favour. He saw they wanted a little gratitude as well as much silver. He tried to satisfy this cupidity, but it stuck in his throat. Feigning was not his forte.

He entered the alderman’s presence with his heart in his mouth, and begged with faltering voice to know what he had done to offend since he left that very room with Manon and Denys.

“Nought that I know of,” said the alderman.

On the writ being shown him, he told Gerard he had signed it at daybreak. “I get old, and my memory faileth me: a discussing of the girl I quite forgot your own offence: but I remember now. All is well. You are he I committed for sorcery. Stay! ere you go to gaol, you shall hear what your accuser says: run and fetch him, you.”

The man could not find the accuser all at once. So the alderman, getting impatient, told Gerard the main charge was that he had set a dead body a burning with diabolical fire, that flamed, but did not consume. “And if ’tis true, young man, I’m sorry for thee, for thou wilt assuredly burn with fire of good pine logs in the market-place of Neufchasteau.”

“Oh, sir, for pity’s sake let me have speech with his reverence the cure.”

The alderman advised Gerard against it. “The Church was harder upon sorcerers than was the corporation.”

“But, sir, I am innocent,” said Gerard, between snarling and whining.

“Oh, if you think you are innocent — officer, go with him to the cure; but see he ‘scape you not. Innocent, quotha?”

They found the cure in his doublet repairing a wheelbarrow. Gerard told him all, and appealed piteously to him. “Just for using a little phosphorus in self-defence against cut-throats they are going to hang.”

It was lucky for our magician that he had already told his tale in full to the cure, for thus that shrewd personage had hold of the stick at the right end. The corporation held it by the ferule. His reverence looked exceedingly grave and said, “I must question you privately on this untoward business.” He took him into a private room and bade the officer stand outside and guard the door, and be ready to come if called. The big constable stood outside the door, quaking, and expecting to see the room fly away and leave a stink of brimstone. Instantly they were alone the cure unlocked his countenance and was himself again.

“Show me the trick on’t,” said he, all curiosity.

“I cannot, sir, unless the room be darkened.”

The cure speedily closed out the light with a wooden shutter. “Now, then.”

“But on what shall I put it?” said Gerard. “Here is no dead face. ’Twas that made it look so dire.” The cure groped about the room. “Good; here is an image: ’tis my patron saint.”

“Heaven forbid! That were profanation.”

“Pshaw! ’twill rub off, will’t not?”

“Ay, but it goes against me to take such liberty with a saint,” objected the sorcerer.

“Fiddlestick!” said the divine.

“To be sure by putting it on his holiness will show your reverence it is no Satanic art.”

“Mayhap ’twas for that I did propose it.” said the cure subtly.

Thus encouraged, Gerard fired the eyes and nostrils of the image and made the cure jump. Then lighted up the hair in patches; and set the whole face shining like a glow-worm’s.

“By’r Lady,” shouted the cure, “’tis strange, and small my wonder that they took you for a magician, seeing a dead face thus fired. Now come thy ways with me!”

He put on his grey gown and great hat, and in a few minutes they found themselves in presence of the alderman. By his side, poisoning his mind, stood the accuser, a singular figure in red hose and red shoes, a black gown with blue bands, and a cocked hat.

After saluting the alderman, the cure turned to this personage and said good-humouredly, “So, Mangis, at thy work again, babbling away honest men’s lives! Come, your worship, this is the old tale! two of a trade can ne’er agree. Here is Mangis, who professes sorcery, and would sell himself to Satan to-night, but that Satan is not so weak as buy what he can have gratis, this Mangis, who would be a sorcerer, but is only a quacksalver, accuses of magic a true lad, who did but use in self-defence a secret of chemistry well-known to me and all churchmen.”

“But he is no churchman, to dabble in such mysteries,” objected the alderman.

“He is more churchman than layman, being convent bred, and in the lesser orders,” said the ready cure. “Therefore, sorcerer, withdraw thy plaint without more words!”

“That I will not, your reverence,” replied Mangis stoutly. “A sorcerer I am, but a white one, not a black one. I make no pact with Satan, but on the contrary still battle him with lawful and necessary arts, I ne’er profane the sacraments, as do the black sorcerers, nor turn myself into a cat and go sucking infants’ blood, nor e’en their breath, nor set dead men o’ fire. I but tell the peasants when their cattle and their hens are possessed, and at what time of the moon to plant rye, and what days in each month are lucky for wooing of women and selling of bullocks and so forth: above all, it is my art and my trade to detect the black magicians, as I did that whole tribe of them who were burnt at Dol but last year.”

“Ay, Mangis. And what is the upshot of that famous fire thy tongue did kindle?”

“Why, their ashes were cast to the wind.”

“Ay. But the true end of thy comedy is this. The parliament of Dijon hath since sifted the matter, and found they were no sorcerers, but good and peaceful citizens; and but last week did order masses to be said for their souls, and expiatory farces and mysteries to be played for them in seven towns of Burgundy; all which will not of those cinders make men and women again. Now ’tis our custom in this land, when we have slain the innocent by hearkening false knaves like thee, not to blame our credulous ears, but the false tongue that gulled them. Therefore bethink thee that, at a word from me to my lord bishop, thou wilt smell burning pine nearer than e’er knave smelt it and lived, and wilt travel on a smoky cloud to him whose heart thou bearest (for the word devil in the Latin it meaneth ‘false accuser’), and whose livery thou wearest.”

And the cure pointed at Mangis with his staff.

“That is true i’fegs,” said the alderman, “for red and black be the foul fiendys colours.”

By this time the white sorcerer’s cheek was as colourless as his dress was fiery. Indeed the contrast amounted to pictorial. He stammered out, “I respect Holy Church and her will; he shall fire the churchyard, and all in it, for me: I do withdraw the plaint.”

“Then withdraw thyself,” said the vice-bailiff.

The moment he was gone the cure took the conversational tone, and told the alderman courteously that the accused had received the chemical substance from Holy Church, and had restored it her, by giving it all to him.

“Then ’tis in good hands,” was the reply; “young man, you are free. Let me have your reverence’s prayers.”

“Doubt it not! Humph! Vice-baillie, the town owes me four silver franks, this three months and more.”

“They shall be paid, cure, ay, ere the week be out.”

On this good understanding Church and State parted. As soon as he was in the street Gerard caught the priest’s hand, and kissed it.

“Oh, sir! Oh, your reverence. You have saved me from the fiery stake. What can I say, what do? what?”

“Nought, foolish lad. Bounty rewards itself. Natheless — Humph? — I wish I had done’t without leasing. It ill becomes my function to utter falsehoods.”

“Falsehood, sir?” Gerard was mystified.

“Didst not hear me say thou hadst given me that same phosphorus? ’Twill cost me a fortnight’s penance, that light word.” The cure sighed, and his eye twinkled cunningly.

“Nay, nay,” cried Gerard eagerly. “Now Heaven forbid! That was no falsehood, father: well you knew the phosphorus was yours, is yours.” And he thrust the bottle into the cure’s hand. “But alas, ’tis too poor a gift: will you not take from my purse somewhat for Holy Church?” and now he held out his purse with glistening eyes.

“Nay,” said the other brusquely, and put his hands quickly behind him; “not a doit. Fie! fie! art pauper et exul. Come thou rather each day at noon and take thy diet with me; for my heart warms to thee;” and he went off very abruptly with his hands behind him.

They itched.

But they itched in vain.

Where there’s a heart there’s a Rubicon.

Gerard went hastily to the inn to relieve Denys of the anxiety so long and mysterious an absence must have caused him. He found him seated at his ease, playing dice with two young ladies whose manners were unreserved, and complexion high.

Gerard was hurt. “N’oubliez point la Jeanneton!” said he, colouring up.

“What of her?” said Denys, gaily rattling the dice.

“She said, ‘Le peu que sont les femmes.’”

“Oh, did she? And what say you to that, mesdemoiselles?”

“We say that none run women down, but such as are too old, or too ill-favoured, or too witless to please them.”

“Witless, quotha? Wise men have not folly enough to please them, nor madness enough to desire to please them,” said Gerard loftily; “but ’tis to my comrade I speak, not to you, you brazen toads, that make so free with a man at first sight.”

“Preach away, comrade. Fling a byword or two at our heads. Know, girls, that he is a very Solomon for bywords. Methinks he was brought up by hand on ’em.”

“Be thy friendship a byword!” retorted Gerard. “The friendship that melts to nought at sight of a farthingale.”

“Malheureux!” cried Denys, “I speak but pellets, and thou answerest daggers.”

“Would I could,” was the reply. “Adieu.”

“What a little savage!” said one of the girls.

Gerard opened the door and put in his head. “I have thought of a byword,” said he spitefully —

“Qui hante femmes et dez

Il mourra en pauvretez.

“There.” And having delivered this thunderbolt of antique wisdom, he slammed the door viciously ere any of them could retort.

And now, being somewhat exhausted by his anxieties, he went to the bar for a morsel of bread and a cup of wine. The landlord would sell nothing less than a pint bottle. Well then he would have a bottle; but when he came to compare the contents of the bottle with its size, great was the discrepancy: on this he examined the bottle keenly, and found that the glass was thin where the bottle tapered, but towards the bottom unnaturally thick. He pointed this out at once.

The landlord answered superciliously that he did not make bottles: and was nowise accountable for their shape.

“That we will see presently,” said Gerard. “I will take this thy pint to the vice-bailiff.”

“Nay, nay, for Heaven’s sake,” cried the landlord, changing his tone at once. “I love to content my customers. If by chance this pint be short, we will charge it and its fellow three sous insteads of two sous each.”

“So be it. But much I admire that you, the host of so fair an inn, should practise thus. The wine, too, smacketh strongly of spring water.”

“Young sir,” said the landlord, “we cut no travellers’ throats at this inn, as they do at most. However, you know all about that, ‘The White Hart’ is no lion, nor bear. Whatever masterful robbery is done here, is done upon the poor host. How then could he live at all if he dealt not a little crooked with the few who pay?”

Gerard objected to this system root and branch. Honest trade was small profits, quick returns; and neither to cheat nor be cheated.

The landlord sighed at this picture. “So might one keep an inn in heaven, but not in Burgundy. When foot soldiers going to the wars are quartered on me, how can I but lose by their custom? Two sous per day is their pay, and they eat two sous’ worth, and drink into the bargain. The pardoners are my good friends, but palmers and pilgrims, what think you I gain by them? marry, a loss. Minstrels and jongleurs draw custom and so claim to pay no score, except for liquor. By the secular monks I neither gain nor lose, but the black and grey friars have made vow of poverty, but not of famine; eat like wolves and give the poor host nought but their prayers; and mayhap not them: how can he tell? In my father’s day we had the weddings; but now the great gentry let their houses and their plates, their mugs and their spoons to any honest couple that want to wed, and thither the very mechanics go with their brides and bridal train. They come not to us: indeed we could not find seats and vessels for such a crowd as eat and drink and dance the week out at the homeliest wedding now. In my father’s day the great gentry sold wine by the barrel only; but now they have leave to cry it, and sell it by the galopin, in the very market-place. How can we vie with them? They grow it. We buy it of the grower. The coroner’s quests we have still, and these would bring goodly profit, but the meat is aye gone ere the mouths be full.”

“You should make better provision,” suggested his hearer.

“The law will not let us. We are forbidden to go into the market for the first hour. So, when we arrive, the burghers have bought all but the refuse. Besides, the law forbids us to buy more than three bushels of meal at a time: yet market day comes but once a week. As for the butchers, they will not kill for us unless we bribe them.”

“Courage!” said Gerard kindly, “the shoe pinches every trader somewhere.”

“Ay: but not as it pinches us. Our shoe is trode all o’ one side as well as pinches us lame. A savoir, if we pay not the merchants we buy meal, meat, and wine of, they can cast us into prison and keep us there till we pay or die. But we cannot cast into prison those who buy those very victuals of us. A traveller’s horse we may keep for his debt; but where, in Heaven’s name? In our own stable, eating his head off at our cost. Nay, we may keep the traveller himself; but where? In gaol? Nay, in our own good house, and there must we lodge and feed him gratis. And so fling good silver after bad? Merci; no: let him go with a wanion. Our honestest customers are the thieves. Would to Heaven there were more of them. They look not too close into the shape of the canakin, nor into the host’s reckoning: with them and with their purses ’tis lightly come, and lightly go. Also they spend freely, not knowing but each carouse may be their last. But the thief-takers, instead of profiting by this fair example, are for ever robbing the poor host. When noble or honest travellers descend at our door, come the Provost’s men pretending to suspect them, and demanding to search them and their papers. To save which offence the host must bleed wine and meat. Then come the excise to examine all your weights and measures. You must stop their mouths with meat and wine. Town excise. Royal excise. Parliament excise. A swarm of them, and all with a wolf in their stomachs and a sponge in their gullets. Monks, friars, pilgrims, palmers, soldiers, excisemen, provost-marshals and men, and mere bad debtors, how can ‘The White Hart’ butt against all these? Cutting no throats in self-defence as do your ‘Swans’ and ‘Roses’ and ‘Boar’s Heads’ and ‘Red Lions’ and ‘Eagles,’ your ‘Moons,’ ‘Stars,’ and ‘Moors,’ how can ‘The White Hart’ give a pint of wine for a pint? And everything risen so. Why, lad, not a pound of bread I sell but cost me three good copper deniers, twelve to the sou; and each pint of wine, bought by the tun, costs me four deniers; every sack of charcoal two sous, and gone in a day. A pair of partridges five sous. What think you of that? Heard one ever the like? five sous for two little beasts all bone and feather? A pair of pigeons, thirty deniers. ’Tis ruination!!! For we may not raise our pricen with the market. Oh, no, I tell thee the shoe is trode all o’ one side as well as pinches the water into our eyn. We may charge nought for mustard, pepper, salt, or firewood. Think you we get them for nought? Candle it is a sou the pound. Salt five sous the stone, pepper four sous the pound, mustard twenty deniers the pint; and raw meat, dwindleth it on the spit with no cost to me but loss of weight? Why, what think you I pay my cook? But you shall never guess. A HUNDRED SOUS A YEAR AS I AM A LIVING SINNER.

“And my waiter thirty sous, besides his perquisites. He is a hantle richer than I am. And then to be insulted as well as pillaged. Last Sunday I went to church. It is a place I trouble not often. Didn’t the cure lash the hotel-keepers? I grant you he hit all the trades, except the one that is a byword for looseness, and pride, and sloth, to wit, the clergy. But, mind you, he stripeit the other lay estates with a feather, but us hotel-keepers with a neat’s pizzle: godless for this, godless for that, and most godless of all for opening our doors during mass. Why, the law forces us to open at all hours to travellers from another town, stopping, halting, or passing: those be the words. They can fine us before the bailiff if we refuse them, mass or no mass; and say a townsman should creep in with the true travellers, are we to blame? They all vow they are tired wayfarers; and can I ken every face in a great town like this? So if we respect the law our poor souls are to suffer, and if we respect it not, our poor lank purses must bleed at two holes, fine and loss of custom.”

A man speaking of himself in general, is “a babbling brook;” of his wrongs, “a shining river.”

“Labitur et labetur in omne volubilis aevum.”

So luckily for my readers, though not for all concerned, this injured orator was arrested in mid career. Another man burst in upon his wrongs with all the advantage of a recent wrong; a wrong red hot. It was Denys cursing and swearing and crying that he was robbed.

“Did those hussies pass this way? who are they? where do they bide? They have ta’en my purse and fifteen golden pieces: raise the hue and cry! ah! traitresses! vipers! These inns are all guet-apens.”

“There now,” cried the landlord to Gerard.

Gerard implored him to be calm, and say how it had befallen.

“First one went out on some pretence: then after a while the other went to fetch her back, and neither returning, I clapped hand to purse and found it empty: the ungrateful creatures, I was letting them win it in a gallop: but loaded dice were not quick enough; they must claw it all in a lump.”

Gerard was for going at once to the alderman and setting the officers to find them.

“Not I,” said Denys. “I hate the law. No: as it came so let it go.”

Gerard would not give it up so.

At a hint from the landlord he forced Denys along with him to the provost-marshal. That dignitary shook his head. “We have no clue to occasional thieves, that work honestly at their needles, till some gull comes and tempts them with an easy booty, and then they pluck him.

“Come away,” cried Denys furiously. “I knew what use a bourgeois would be to me at a pinch:” and he marched off in a rage.

“They are clear of the town ere this,” said Gerard.

“Speak no more on’t if you prize my friendship. I have five pieces with the bailiff, and ten I left with Manon, luckily; or these traitresses had feathered their nest with my last plume. What dost gape for so? Nay, I do ill to vent my choler on thee: I’ll tell thee all. Art wiser than I. What saidst thou at the door? No matter. Well, then, I did offer marriage to that Manon.”

Gerard was dumfounded.

“What? You offered her what?”

“Marriage. Is that such a mighty strange thing to offer a wench?”

“’Tis a strange thing to offer to a strange girl in passing.”

“Nay, I am not such a sot as you opine. I saw the corn in all that chaff. I knew I could not get her by fair means, so I was fain to try foul. ‘Mademoiselle,’ said I, ‘marriage is not one of my habits, but struck by your qualities I make an exception; deign to bestow this hand on me.’”

“And she bestowed it on thine ear.’”

“Not so. On the contrary she — Art a disrespectful young monkey. Know that here, not being Holland or any other barbarous state, courtesy begets courtesy. Says she, a colouring like a rose, ‘Soldier, you are too late. He is not a patch on you for looks; but then — he has loved me a long time.’

“‘He? who?’

“‘T’other.’

“‘What other?’

“Why, he that was not too late.’ Oh, that is the way they all speak, the loves; the she-wolves. Their little minds go in leaps. Think you they marshal their words in order of battle? Their tongues are in too great a hurry. Says she, ‘I love him not; not to say love him; but he does me, and dearly; and for that reason I’d sooner die than cause him grief, I would.’”

“Now I believe she did love him.”

“Who doubts that? Why she said so, round about, as they always say these things, and with ‘nay’ for ‘ay.’

“Well one thing led to another, and at last, as she could not give me her hand, she gave me a piece of advice, and that was to leave part of my money with the young mistress. Then, when bad company had cleaned me out, I should have some to travel back with, said she. I said I would better her advice, and leave it with her. Her face got red. Says she, ‘Think what you do. Chambermaids have an ill name for honesty.’ ‘Oh, the devil is not so black as he is painted,’ said I. ‘I’ll risk it;’ and I left fifteen gold pieces with her.”

Gerard sighed. “I wish you may ever see them again. It is wondrous in what esteem you do hold this sex, to trust so to the first comer. For my part I know little about them; I never saw but one I could love as well as I love thee. But the ancients must surely know; and they held women cheap. ‘Levius quid femina,’ said they, which is but la Jeanneton’s tune in Latin, ‘Le peu que sont les femmes.’ Also do but see how the greybeards of our own day speak of them, being no longer blinded by desire: this alderman, to wit.”

“Oh, novice of novices,” cried Denys, “not to have seen why that old fool rails so on the poor things! One day, out of the millions of women he blackens, one did prefer some other man to him: for which solitary piece of bad taste, and ten to one ’twas good taste, he doth bespatter creation’s fairer half, thereby proving what? le peu que sont les hommes.”

“I see women have a shrewd champion in thee,” said Gerard, with a smile. But the next moment inquired gravely why he had not told him all this before.

Denys grinned. “Had the girl said ‘Ay,’ why then I had told thee straight. But ’tis a rule with us soldiers never to publish our defeats: ’tis much if after each check we claim not a victory.”

“Now that is true,” said Gerard. “Young as I am, I have seen this; that after every great battle the generals on both sides go to the nearest church, and sing each a Te Deum for the victory; methinks a Te Martem, or Te Bellonam, or Te Mercurium, Mercury being the god of lies, were more fitting.”

“Pas si bete,” said Denys approvingly. “Hast a good eye: canst see a steeple by daylight. So now tell me how thou hast fared in this town all day.”

“Come,” said Gerard, “’tis well thou hast asked me: for else I had never told thee.” He then related in full how he had been arrested, and by what a providential circumstance he had escaped long imprisonment or speedy conflagration.

His narrative produced an effect he little expected or desired.

“I am a traitor,” cried Denys. “I left thee in a strange place to fight thine own battles, while I shook the dice with those jades. Now take thou this sword and pass it through my body forthwith.”

“What for in Heaven’s name?” inquired Gerard.

“For an example,” roared Denys. “For a warning to all false loons that profess friendship, and disgrace it.”

“Oh, very well,” said Gerard. “Yes. Not a bad notion. Where will you have it?”

“Here, through my heart; that is, where other men have a heart, but I none, or a Satanic false one.”

Gerard made a motion to run him through, and flung his arms round his neck instead. “I know no way to thy heart but this, thou great silly thing.”

Denys uttered an exclamation, then hugged him warmly — and, quite overcome by this sudden turn of youthful affection and native grace, gulped out in a broken voice, “Railest on women — and art — like them — with thy pretty ways. Thy mother’s milk is in thee still. Satan would love thee, or — le bon Dieu would kick him out of hell for shaming it. Give me thy hand! Give me thy hand! May” (a tremendous oath) “if I let thee out of my sight till Italy.”

And so the staunch friends were more than reconciled after their short tiff.

The next day the thieves were tried. The pieces de conviction were reduced in number, to the great chagrin of the little clerk, by the interment of the bones. But there was still a pretty show. A thief’s hand struck off flagrante delicto; a murdered woman’s hair; the Abbot’s axe, and other tools of crime. The skulls, etc., were sworn to by the constables who had found them. Evidence was lax in that age and place. They all confessed but the landlord. And Manon was called to bring the crime home to him. Her evidence was conclusive. He made a vain attempt to shake her credibility by drawing from her that her own sweetheart had been one of the gang, and that she had held her tongue so long as he was alive. The public prosecutor came to the aid of his witness, and elicited that a knife had been held to her throat, and her own sweetheart sworn with solemn oaths to kill her should she betray them, and that this terrible threat, and not the mere fear of death, had glued her lips.

The other thieves were condemned to be hanged, and the landlord to be broken on the wheel. He uttered a piercing cry when his sentence was pronounced.

As for poor Manon, she became the subject of universal criticism. Nor did opinion any longer run dead in her favour; it divided into two broad currents. And strange to relate, the majority of her own sex took her part, and the males were but equally divided; which hardly happens once in a hundred years. Perhaps some lady will explain the phenomenon. As for me, I am a little shy of explaining things I don’t understand. It has become so common. Meantime, had she been a lover of notoriety, she would have been happy, for the town talked of nothing but her. The poor girl, however, had but one wish to escape the crowd that followed her, and hide her head somewhere where she could cry over her “pendard,” whom all these proceedings brought vividly back to her affectionate remembrance. Before he was hanged he had threatened her life; but she was not one of your fastidious girls, who love their male divinities any the less for beating them, kicking them, or killing them, but rather the better, provided these attentions are interspersed with occasional caresses; so it would have been odd indeed had she taken offence at a mere threat of that sort. He had never threatened her with a rival. She sobbed single-mindedly.

Meantime the inn was filled with thirsters for a sight of her, who feasted and drank, to pass away the time till she should deign to appear. When she had been sobbing some time, there was a tap at her door, and the landlord entered with a proposal. “Nay, weep not, good lass, your fortune it is made an you like. Say the word, and you are chambermaid of ‘The White Hart.’”

“Nay, nay,” said Manon with a fresh burst of grief. “Never more will I be a servant in an inn. I’ll go to my mother.”

The landlord consoled and coaxed her: and she became calmer, but none the less determined against his proposal.

The landlord left her. But ere long he returned and made her another proposal. Would she be his wife, and landlady of “The White Hart”?

“You do ill to mock me,” said she sorrowfully.

“Nay, sweetheart. I mock thee not. I am too old for sorry jests. Say you the word, and you are my partner for better for worse.”

She looked at him, and saw he was in earnest: on this she suddenly rained hard to the memory of “le pendard”: the tears came in a torrent, being the last; and she gave her hand to the landlord of “The White Hart,” and broke a gold crown with him in sign of plighted troth.

“We will keep it dark till the house is quiet,” said the landlord.

“Ay,” said she; “but meantime prithee give me linen to hem, or work to do; for the time hangs on me like lead.”

Her betrothed’s eye brightened at this housewifely request, and he brought her up two dozen flagons of various sizes to clean and polish.

She gathered complacency as she reflected that by a strange turn of fortune all this bright pewter was to be hers.

Meantime the landlord went downstairs, and falling in with our friends drew them aside into the bar.

He then addressed Denys with considerable solemnity. “We are old acquaintances, and you want not for sagacity: now advise me in a strait. My custom is somewhat declining: this girl Manon is the talk of the town; see how full the inn is to-night. She doth refuse to be my chambermaid. I have half a mind to marry her. What think you? shall I say the word?”

Denys in reply merely open his eyes wide with amazement.

The landlord turned to Gerard with a half-inquiring look,

“Nay, sir,” said Gerard; “I am too young to advise my seniors and betters.”

“No matter. Let us hear your thought.”

“Well, sir, it was said of a good wife by the ancients, ‘bene quae latuit, bene vixit,’ that is, she is the best wife that is least talked of: but here ‘male quae patuit’ were as near the mark. Therefore, an you bear the lass good-will, why not club purses with Denys and me and convey her safe home with a dowry? Then mayhap some rustical person in her own place may be brought to wife her.”

“Why so many words?” said Denys. “This old fox is not the ass he affects to be.”

“Oh! that is your advice, is it?” said the landlord testily. “Well then we shall soon know who is the fool, you or me, for I have spoken to her as it happens; and what is more, she has said Ay, and she is polishing the flagons at this moment.”

“Oho!” said Denys drily, “’twas an ambuscade. Well, in that case, my advice is, run for the notary, tie the noose, and let us three drink the bride’s health, till we see six sots a-tippling.”

“And shall. Ay, now you utter sense.”

In ten minutes a civil marriage was effected upstairs before a notary and his clerk and our two friends.

In ten minutes more the white hind, dead sick of seclusion, had taken her place within the bar, and was serving out liquids, and bustling, and her colour rising a little.

In six little minutes more she soundly rated a careless servant-girl for carrying a nipperkin of wine awry and spilling good liquor.

During the evening she received across the bar eight offers of marriage, some of them from respectable burghers. Now the landlord and our two friends had in perfect innocence ensconced themselves behind a screen, to drink at their ease the new couple’s health. The above comedy was thrown in for their entertainment by bounteous fate. They heard the proposals made one after another, and uninventive Manon’s invariable answer —“Serviteur; you are a day after the fair.” The landlord chuckled and looked good-natured superiority at both his late advisers, with their traditional notions that men shun a woman “quae patuit,” i.e. who has become the town talk.

But Denys scarce noticed the spouse’s triumph over him, he was so occupied with his own over Gerard. At each municipal tender of undying affection, he turned almost purple with the effort it cost him not to roar with glee; and driving his elbow into the deep-meditating and much-puzzled pupil of antiquity, whispered, “Le peu que sont les hommes.”

The next morning Gerard was eager to start, but Denys was under a vow to see the murderers of the golden-haired girl executed.

Gerard respected his vow, but avoided his example.

He went to bid the cure farewell instead, and sought and received his blessing. About noon the travellers got clear of the town. Just outside the south gate they passed the gallows; it had eight tenants: the skeleton of Manon’s late wept, and now being fast forgotten, lover, and the bodies of those who had so nearly taken our travellers’ lives. A hand was nailed to the beam. And hard by on a huge wheel was clawed the dead landlord, with every bone in his body broken to pieces.

Gerard averted his head and hurried by. Denys lingered, and crowed over his dead foes. “Times are changed, my lads, since we two sat shaking in the cold awaiting you seven to come and cut our throats.”

“Fie, Denys! Death squares all reckonings. Prithee pass on without another word, if you prize my respect a groat.”

To this earnest remonstrance Denys yielded. He even said thoughtfully, “You have been better brought up than I.”

About three in the afternoon they reached a little town with the people buzzing in knots. The wolves, starved by the cold, had entered, and eaten two grown-up persons overnight, in the main street: so some were blaming the eaten —“None but fools or knaves are about after nightfall;” others the law for not protecting the town, and others the corporation for not enforcing what laws there were.

“Bah! this is nothing to us,” said Denys, and was for resuming their march.

“Ay, but ’tis,” remonstrated Gerard.

“What, are we the pair they ate?”

“No, but we may be the next pair.”

“Ay, neighbour,” said an ancient man, “’tis the town’s fault for not obeying the ducal ordinance, which bids every shopkeeper light a lamp o’er his door at sunset, and burn it till sunrise.”

On this Denys asked him somewhat derisively, “What made him fancy rush dips would scare away empty wolves? Why, mutton fat is all their joy.”

“’Tis not the fat, vain man, but the light. All ill things hate light; especially wolves and the imps that lurk, I ween, under their fur. Example; Paris city stands in a wood like, and the wolves do howl around it all night: yet of late years wolves come but little in the streets. For why, in that burgh the watchmen do thunder at each door that is dark, and make the weary wight rise and light. ’Tis my son tells me. He is a great voyager, my son Nicholas.”

In further explanation he assured them that previously to that ordinance no city had been worse infested with wolves than Paris; a troop had boldly assaulted the town in 1420, and in 1438 they had eaten fourteen persons in a single month between Montmartre and the gate St. Antoine, and that not a winter month even, but September: and as for the dead, which nightly lay in the streets slain in midnight brawls, or assassinated, the wolves had used to devour them, and to grub up the fresh graves in the churchyards and tear out the bodies.

Here a thoughtful citizen suggested that probably the wolves had been bridled of late in Paris, not by candle-lights, but owing to the English having been driven out of the kingdom of France. “For those English be very wolves themselves for fierceness and greediness. What marvel then that under their rule our neighbours of France should be wolf-eaten?” This logic was too suited to the time and place not to be received with acclamation. But the old man stood his ground. “I grant ye those islanders are wolves; but two-legged ones, and little apt to favour their four-footed cousins. One greedy thing loveth it another? I trow not. By the same token, and this too I have from my boy Nicole, Sir Wolf dare not show his nose in London city; though ’tis smaller than Paris, and thick woods hard by the north wall, and therein great store of deer, and wild boars as rife as flies at midsummer.”

“Sir,” said Gerard, “you seem conversant with wild beasts, prithee advise my comrade here and me: we would not waste time on the road, an if we may go forward to the next town with reasonable safety.’

“Young man, I trow ’twere an idle risk. It lacks but an hour of dusk, and you must pass nigh a wood where lurk some thousands of these half-starved vermin, rank cowards single; but in great bands bold as lions. Wherefore I rede you sojourn here the night; and journey on betimes. By the dawn the vermin will be tired out with roaring and rampaging; and mayhap will have filled their lank bellies with flesh of my good neighbours here, the unteachable fools.”

Gerard hoped not; and asked could he recommend them to a good inn.

“Humph! there is the ‘Tete d’Or.’ My grandaughter keeps it. She is a mijauree, but not so knavish as most hotel-keepers, and her house indifferent clean.”

“Hey, for the ‘Tete d’Or,’” struck in Denys, decided by his ineradicable foible.

On the way to it, Gerard inquired of his companion what a “mijauree” was?

Denys laughed at his ignorance. “Not know what a mijauree is? why all the world knows that. It is neither more nor less than a mijauree.”

As they entered the “Tete d’Or,” they met a young lady richly dressed with a velvet chaperon on her head, which was confined by law to the nobility. They unbonneted and louted low, and she curtsied, but fixed her eye on vacancy the while, which had a curious rather than a genial effect. However, nobility was not so unassuming in those days as it is now. So they were little surprised. But the next minute supper was served, and lo! in came this princess and carved the goose.

“Holy St. Bavon,” cried Gerard. “’Twas the landlady all the while.”

A young woman, cursed with nice white teeth and lovely hands: for these beauties being misallied to homely features, had turned her head. She was a feeble carver, carving not for the sake of others but herself, i.e. to display her hands. When not carving she was eternally either taking a pin out of her head or her body, or else putting a pin into her head or her body. To display her teeth, she laughed indifferently at gay or grave and from ear to ear. And she “sat at ease” with her mouth ajar.

Now there is an animal in creation of no great general merit; but it has the eye of a hawk for affectation. It is called “a boy.” And Gerard was but a boy still in some things; swift to see, and to loath, affectation. So Denys sat casting sheep’s eyes, and Gerard daggers, at one comedian.

Presently, in the midst of her minauderies, she gave a loud shriek and bounded out of her chair like hare from form, and ran backwards out of the room uttering little screams, and holding her farthingale tight down to her ankles with both hands. And as she scuttled out of the door a mouse scuttled back to the wainscot in a state of equal, and perhaps more reasonable terror. The guests, who had risen in anxiety at the principal yell, now stood irresolute awhile, then sat down laughing. The tender Denys, to whom a woman’s cowardice, being a sexual trait, seemed to be a lovely and pleasant thing, said he would go comfort her and bring her back.

“Nay! nay! nay! for pity’s sake let her bide,” cried Gerard earnestly. “Oh, blessed mouse! sure some saint sent thee to our aid.”

Now at his right hand sat a sturdy middle-aged burgher, whose conduct up to date had been cynical. He had never budged nor even rested his knife at all this fracas. He now turned on Gerard and inquired haughtily whether he really thought that “grimaciere” was afraid of a mouse.

“Ay. She screamed hearty.”

“Where is the coquette that cannot scream to the life? These she tavern-keepers do still ape the nobles. Some princess or duchess hath lain here a night, that was honestly afeard of a mouse, having been brought up to it. And this ape hath seen her, and said, ‘I will start at a mouse, and make a coil,’ She has no more right to start at a mouse than to wear that fur on her bosom, and that velvet on her monkey’s head. I am of the town, young man, and have known the mijauree all her life, and I mind when she was no more afeard of a mouse than she is of a man.” He added that she was fast emptying the inn with these “singeries.” “All the world is so sick of her hands, that her very kinsfolk will not venture themselves anigh them.” He concluded with something like a sigh, “The ‘Tete d’Or’ was a thriving hostelry under my old chum her good father; but she is digging its grave tooth and nail.’

“Tooth and nail? good! a right merry conceit and a true,” said Gerard. But the right merry conceit was an inadvertence as pure as snow, and the stout burgher went to his grave and never knew what he had done: for just then attention was attracted by Denys returning pompously. He inspected the apartment minutely, and with a high official air: he also looked solemnly under the table; and during the whole inquisition a white hand was placed conspicuously on the edge of the open door, and a tremulous voice inquired behind it whether the horrid thing was quite gone.

“The enemy has retreated, bag and baggage,” said Denys: and handed in the trembling fair, who, sitting down, apologized to her guests for her foolish fears, with so much earnestness, grace, and seeming self-contempt, that, but for a sour grin on his neighbour’s face, Gerard would have been taken in as all the other strangers were. Dinner ended, the young landlady begged an Augustine friar at her right hand to say grace. He delivered a longish one. The moment he began, she clapped her white hands piously together, and held them up joined for mortals to admire; ’tis an excellent pose for taper white fingers: and cast her eyes upward towards heaven, and felt as thankful to it as a magpie does while cutting off with your thimble.

After supper the two friends went to the street-door and eyed the market-place. The mistress joined them, and pointed out the town-hall, the borough gaol, St. Catherine’s church, etc. This was courteous, to say the least. But the true cause soon revealed itself; the fair hand was poked right under their eyes every time an object was indicated; and Gerard eyed it like a basilisk, and longed for a bunch of nettles. The sun set, and the travellers, few in number, drew round the great roaring fire, and omitting to go on the spit, were frozen behind though roasted in front. For if the German stoves were oppressively hot, the French salles manger were bitterly cold, and above all stormy. In Germany men sat bareheaded round the stove, and took off their upper clothes, but in Burgundy they kept on their hats, and put on their warmest furs to sit round the great open chimney places, at which the external air rushed furiously from door and ill-fitting window. However, it seems their mediaeval backs were broad enough to bear it: for they made themselves not only comfortable but merry, and broke harmless jests over each other in turn. For instance, Denys’s new shoes, though not in direct communication, had this day exploded with twin-like sympathy and unanimity. “Where do you buy your shoon, soldier?” asked one.

Denys looked askant at Gerard, and not liking the theme, shook it off. “I gather ’em off the trees by the roadside,” said he surlily.

“Then you gathered these too ripe,” said the hostess, who was only a fool externally.

“Ay, rotten ripe,” observed another, inspecting them.

Gerard said nothing, but pointed the circular satire by pantomime. He slily put out both his feet, one after another, under Denys’s eye, with their German shoes, on which a hundred leagues of travel had produced no effect. They seemed hewn out of a rock.

At this, “I’ll twist the smooth varlet’s neck that sold me mine,” shouted Denys, in huge wrath, and confirmed the threat with singular oaths peculiar to the mediaeval military. The landlady put her fingers in her ears, thereby exhibiting the hand in a fresh attitude. “Tell me when he has done his orisons, somebody,” said she mincingly. And after that they fell to telling stories.

Gerard, when his turn came, told the adventure of Denys and Gerard at the inn in Domfront, and so well, that the hearers were rapt into sweet oblivion of the very existence of mijauree and hands. But this made her very uneasy, and she had recourse to her grand coup. This misdirected genius had for a twelvemonth past practised yawning, and could do it now at any moment so naturally as to set all creation gaping, could all creation have seen her. By this means she got in all her charms. For first she showed her teeth, then, out of good breeding, you know, closed her mouth with three taper fingers. So the moment Gerard’s story got too interesting and absorbing, she turned to and made yawns, and “croix sur la bouche.”

This was all very fine: but Gerard was an artist, and artists are chilled by gaping auditors. He bore up against the yawns a long time; but finding they came from a bottomless reservoir, lost both heart and temper, and suddenly rising in mid narrative, said, “But I weary our hostess, and I am tired myself: so good night!” whipped a candle off the dresser, whispered Denys, “I cannot stand her,” and marched to bed in a moment.

The mijauree coloured and bit her lips. She had not intended her byplay for Gerard’s eye: and she saw in a moment she had been rude, and silly, and publicly rebuked. She sat with cheek on fire, and a little natural water in her eyes, and looked ten times comelier and more womanly and interesting than she had done all day. The desertion of the best narrator broke up the party, and the unassuming Denys approached the meditative mijauree, and invited her in the most flattering terms to gamble with him. She started from her reverie, looked him down into the earth’s centre with chilling dignity, and consented, for she remembered all in a moment what a show of hands gambling admitted.

The soldier and the mijauree rattled the dice. In which sport she was so taken up with her hands, that she forgot to cheat, and Denys won an “ecu au soleil” of her. She fumbled slowly with her purse, partly because her sex do not burn to pay debts of honour, partly to admire the play of her little knuckles peeping between their soft white cushions. Denys proposed a compromise.

“Three silver franks I win of you, fair hostess. Give me now three kisses of this white hand, and we’ll e’en cry quits.”

“You are malapert,” said the lady, with a toss of her head; “besides, they are so dirty. See! they are like ink!” and to convince him she put them out to him and turned them up and down. They were no dirtier than cream fresh from the cob and she knew it: she was eternally washing and scenting them.

Denys read the objection like the observant warrior he was, seized them and mumbled them.

Finding him so appreciative of her charm, she said timidly, “Will you do me a kindness, good soldier?”

“A thousand, fair hostess, an you will.”

“Nay, I ask but one. ’Tis to tell thy comrade I was right sorry to lose his most thrilling story, and I hope he will tell me the rest to-morrow morning. Meantime I shall not sleep for thinking on’t. Wilt tell him that — to pleasure me?”

“Ay, I’ll tell the young savage. But he is not worthy of your condescension, sweet hostess. He would rather be aside a man than a woman any day.”

“So would — ahem. He is right: the young women of the day are not worthy of him, ’un tas des mijaurees’ He has a good, honest, and right comely face. Any way, I would not guest of mine should think me unmannerly, not for all the world. Wilt keep faith with me and tell him?”

“On this fair hand I swear it; and thus I seal the pledge.”

“There; no need to melt the wax, though. Now go to bed. And tell him ere you sleep.”

The perverse toad (I thank thee, Manon, for teaching me that word) was inclined to bestow her slight affections upon Gerard. Not that she was inflammable: far less so than many that passed for prudes in the town. But Gerard possessed a triple attraction that has ensnared coquettes in all ages. 1. He was very handsome. 2. He did not admire her the least. 3. He had given her a good slap in the face.

Denys woke Gerard and gave the message. Gerard was not enchanted “Dost wake a tired man to tell him that? Am I to be pestered with ‘mijaurees’ by night as well as day?”

“But I tell thee, novice, thou hast conquered her: trust to my experience: her voice sank to melodious whispers; and the cunning jade did in a manner bribe me to carry thee her challenge to Love’s lists! for so I read her message.”

Denys then, assuming the senior and the man of the world, told Gerard the time was come to show him how a soldier understood friendship and camaraderie. Italy was now out of the question. Fate had provided better; and the blind jade Fortune had smiled on merit for once. “The Head of Gold” had been a prosperous inn, would be again with a man at its head. A good general laid far-sighted plans; but was always ready to abandon them, should some brilliant advantage offer, and to reap the full harvest of the unforeseen: ’twas chiefly by this trait great leaders defeated little ones; for these latter could do nothing not cut and dried beforehand.

“Sorry friendship, that would marry me to a mijauree,” interposed Gerard, yawning.

“Comrade, be reasonable; ’tis not the friskiest sheep that falls down the cliff. All creatures must have their fling soon, or late; and why not a woman? What more frivolous than a kitten? what graver than a cat?”

“Hast a good eye for nature, Denys,” said Gerard, “that I proclaim.

“A better for thine interest, boy. Trust then to me; these little doves they are my study day and night; happy the man whose wife taketh her fling before wedlock, and who trippeth up the altar-steps instead of down ’em. Marriage it always changeth them for better or else for worse. Why, Gerard, she is honest when all is done; and he is no man, nor half a man, that cannot mould any honest lass like a bit of warm wax, and she aye aside him at bed and board. I tell thee in one month thou wilt make of this coquette the matron the most sober in the town, and of all its wives the one most docile and submissive. Why, she is half tamed already. Nine in ten meek and mild ones had gently hated thee like poison all their lives, for wounding of their hidden pride. But she for an affront proffers affection. By Joshua his bugle a generous lass, and void of petty malice. When thou wast gone she sat a-thinking and spoke not. A sure sign of love in one of her sex: for of all things else they speak ere they think. Also her voice did sink exceeding low in discoursing of thee, and murmured sweetly; another infallible sign. The bolt hath struck and rankles in her; oh, be joyful! Art silent? I see; ’tis settled. I shall go alone to Remiremont, alone and sad. But, pillage and poleaxes! what care I for that, since my dear comrade will stay here, landlord of the ‘Tete d’Or,’ and safe from all the storms of life? Wilt think of me, Gerard, now and then by thy warm fire, of me camped on some windy heath, or lying in wet trenches, or wounded on the field and far from comfort? Nay!” and this he said in a manner truly noble, “not comfortless or cold, or wet, or bleeding, ’twill still warm my heart to lie on my back and think that I have placed my dear friend and comrade true in the ‘Tete d’Or,’ far from a soldier’s ills.”

“I let you run on, dear Denys,” said Gerard softly, “because at each word you show me the treasure of a good heart. But now bethink thee, my troth is plighted there where my heart it clingeth. You so leal, would you make me disloyal?”

“Perdition seize me, but I forgot that,” said Denys.

“No more then, but hie thee to bed, good Denys. Next to Margaret I love thee best on earth, and value thy ‘coeur d’or’ far more than a dozen of these ‘Tetes d’Or.’ So prithee call me at the first blush of rosy-fingered morn, and let’s away ere the woman with the hands be stirring.”

They rose with the dawn, and broke their fast by the kitchen fire.

Denys inquired of the girl whether the mistress was about.

“Nay; but she hath risen from her bed: by the same token I am carrying her this to clean her withal;” and she filled a jug with boiling water, and took it upstairs.

“Behold,” said Gerard, “the very elements must be warmed to suit her skin; what had the saints said, which still chose the coldest pool? Away, ere she come down and catch us.”

They paid the score, and left the “Tete d’Or,” while its mistress was washing her hands.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/reade/charles/cloister-and-the-hearth/chapter37.html

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