The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 54

When she recovered, her head was on Catherine’s arm, and the honest half of the family she had invaded like a foe stood round her uttering rough homely words of encouragement, especially Giles, who roared at her that she was not to take on like that. “Gerard was alive and well, or he could not have writ this letter, the biggest mankind had seen as yet, and,” as he thought, “the beautifullest, and most moving, and smallest writ.”

“Ay, good Master Giles,” sighed Margaret feebly, “he was alive. But how know I what hath since befallen him? Oh, why left he Holland to go among strangers fierce as lions? And why did I not drive him from me sooner than part him from his own flesh and blood? Forgive me, you that are his mother!”

And she gently removed Catherine’s arm, and made a feeble attempt to slide off the chair on to her knees, which, after a brief struggle with superior force, ended in her finding herself on Catherine’s bosom. Then Margaret held out the letter to Eli, and said faintly but sweetly, “I will trust it from my hand now. In sooth, I am little fit to read any more-and-and — loth to leave my comfort;” and she wreathed her other arm round Catherine’s neck.

“Read thou, Richart,” said Eli: “thine eyes be younger than mine.”

Richart took the letter. “Well,” said he, “such writing saw I never. A writeth with a needle’s point; and clear to boot. Why is he not in my counting-house at Amsterdam instead of vagabonding it out yonder!”

“When I came to myself I was seated in the litter, and my good merchant holding of my hand. I babbled I know not what, and then shuddered awhile in silence. He put a horn of wine to my lips.”

Catherine. “Bless him! bless him!”

Eli. “Whisht!”

“And I told him what had befallen. He would see my leg. It was sprained sore, and swelled at the ankle; and all my points were broken, as I could scarce keep up my hose, and I said, ‘Sir, I shall be but a burden to you, I doubt, and can make you no harmony now; my poor psaltery it is broken;’ and I did grieve over my broken music, companion of so many weary leagues. But he patted me on the cheek, and bade me not fret; also he did put up my leg on a pillow, and tended me like a kind father.

“January 19. — I sit all day in the litter, for we are pushing forward with haste, and at night the good, kind merchant sendeth me to bed, and will not let me work. Strange! whene’er I fall in with men like fiends, then the next moment God still sendeth me some good man or woman, lest I should turn away from human kind. Oh, Margaret! how strangely mixed they be, and how old I am by what I was three months agone. And lo! if good Master Fugger hath not been and bought me a psaltery.”

Catherine. “Eli, my man, an yon merchant comes our way let us buy a hundred ells of cloth of him, and not higgle.”

Eli. “That will I, take your oath on’t!”

While Richart prepared to read, Kate looked at her mother, and with a faint blush drew out the piece of work from under her apron, and sewed with head depressed a little more than necessary. On this her mother drew a piece of work out of her pocket, and sewed too, while Richart read. Both the specimens these sweet surreptitious creatures now first exposed to observation were babies’ caps, and more than half finished, which told a tale. Horror! they were like little monks’ cowls in shape and delicacy.

“January 20. — Laid up in the litter, and as good as blind, but halting to bait, Lombardy plains burst on me. Oh, Margaret! a land flowing with milk and honey; all sloping plains, goodly rivers, jocund meadows, delectable orchards, and blooming gardens; and though winter, looks warmer than poor beloved Holland at midsummer, and makes the wanderer’s face to shine, and his heart to leap for joy to see earth so kind and smiling. Here be vines, cedars, olives, and cattle plenty, but three goats to a sheep. The draught oxen wear white linen on their necks, and standing by dark green olive-trees each one is a picture; and the folk, especially women, wear delicate strawen hats with flowers and leaves fairly imitated in silk, with silver mixed. This day we crossed a river prettily in a chained ferry-boat. On either bank was a windlass, and a single man by turning of it drew our whole company to his shore, whereat I did admire, being a stranger. Passed over with us some country folk. And an old woman looking at a young wench, she did hide her face with her hand, and held her crucifix out like knight his sword in tourney dreading the evil eye.

“January 25. — Safe at Venice. A place whose strange and passing beauty is well known to thee by report of our mariners. Dost mind too how Peter would oft fill our ears withal, we handed beneath the table, and he still discoursing of this sea-enthroned and peerless city, in shape a bow, and its great canal and palaces on piles, and its watery ways plied by scores of gilded boats; and that market-place of nations, orbis, non urbis, forum, St. Mark, his place? And his statue with the peerless jewels in his eyes, and the lion at his gate? But I, lying at my window in pain, may see none of these beauties as yet, but only a street, fairly paved, which is dull, and houses with oiled paper and linen, in lieu of glass, which is rude; and the passers-by, their habits and their gestures, wherein they are superfluous. Therefore, not to miss my daily comfort of whispering to thee, I will e’en turn mine eyes inward, and bind my sheaves of wisdom reaped by travel. For I love thee so, that no treasure pleases me not shared with thee; and what treasure so good and enduring as knowledge? This then have I, Sir Footsore, learned, that each nation hath its proper wisdom, and its proper folly; and methinks, could a great king, or duke, tramp like me, and see with his own eyes, he might pick the flowers, and eschew the weeds of nations, and go home and set his own folk on Wisdom’s hill. The Germans in the north were churlish, but frank and honest; in the south, kindly and honest too. Their general blot is drunkenness, the which they carry even to mislike and contempt of sober men. They say commonly, ‘Kanstu niecht sauffen und fressen so kanstu kienem hern wol dienen.’ In England, the vulgar sort drink as deep, but the worshipful hold excess in this a reproach, and drink a health or two for courtesy, not gluttony, and still sugar the wine. In their cups the Germans use little mirth or discourse, but ply the business sadly, crying ‘Seyte frolich!’ The best of their drunken sport is ‘Kurlemurlehuff,’ a way of drinking with touching deftly of the glass, the beard, the table, in due turn, intermixed with whistlings and snappings of the finger so curiously ordered as ’tis a labour of Hercules, but to the beholder right pleasant and mirthful. Their topers, by advice of German leeches, sleep with pebbles in their mouths. For, as of a boiling pot the lid must be set ajar, so with these fleshy wine-pots, to vent the heat of their inward parts: spite of which many die suddenly from drink; but ’tis a matter of religion to slur it, and gloze it, and charge some innocent disease therewith. Yet ’tis more a custom than very nature, for their women come among the tipplers, and do but stand a moment, and as it were, kiss the wine-cup; and are indeed most temperate in eating and drinking, and of all women, modest and virtuous, and true spouses and friends to their mates; far before our Holland lasses, that being maids, put the question to the men, and being wived, do lord it over them. Why, there is a wife in Tergou, not far from our door. One came to the house and sought her man. Says she, ‘You’ll not find him: he asked my leave to go abroad this afternoon, and I did give it him.’”

Catherine. “’Tis sooth! ’tis sooth! ’Twas Beck Hulse, Jonah’s wife. This comes of a woman wedding a boy.”

“In the south where wine is, the gentry drink themselves bare; but not in the north: for with beer a noble shall sooner burst his body than melt his lands. They are quarrelsome, but ’tis the liquor, not the mind; for they are none revengeful. And when they have made a bad bargain drunk, they stand to it sober. They keep their windows bright; and judge a man by his clothes. Whatever fruit or grain or herb grows by the roadside, gather and eat. The owner seeing you shall say, ‘Art welcome, honest man.’ But an ye pluck a wayside grape, your very life is in jeopardy. ’Tis eating of that Heaven gave to be drunken. The French are much fairer spoken, and not nigh so true-hearted. Sweet words cost them nought. They call it payer en blanche.”

Denys. “Les coquins! ha! ha!”

“Natheless, courtesy is in their hearts, ay, in their very blood. They say commonly, ‘Give yourself the trouble of sitting down.’ And such straws of speech show how blows the wind. Also at a public show, if you would leave your seat, yet not lose it, tie but your napkin round the bench, and no French man or woman will sit here; but rather keep the place for you.”

Catherine. “Gramercy! that is manners. France for me!”

Denys rose and placed his hand gracefully to his breastplate.

“Natheless, they say things in sport which are not courteous, but shocking. ‘Le diable t’emporte!’ ‘Allez au diable!’ and so forth. But I trow they mean not such dreadful wishes: custom belike. Moderate in drinking, and mix water with their wine, and sing and dance over their cups, and are then enchanting company. They are curious not to drink in another man’s cup. In war the English gain the better of them in the field; but the French are their masters in attack and defence of cities; witness Orleans, where they besieged their besiegers and hashed them sore with their double and treble culverines; and many other sieges in this our century. More than all nations they flatter their women, and despise them. No. She may be their sovereign ruler. Also they often hang their female malefactors, instead of drowning them decently, as other nations use. The furniture in their inns is walnut, in Germany only deal. French windows are ill. The lower half is of wood, and opens; the upper half is of glass, but fixed; so that the servant cannot come at it to clean it. The German windows are all glass, and movable, and shine far and near like diamonds. In France many mean houses are not glazed at all. Once I saw a Frenchman pass a church without unbonneting. This I ne’er witnessed in Holland, Germany, or Italy. At many inns they show the traveller his sheets, to give him assurance they are clean, and warm them at the fire before him; a laudable custom. They receive him kindly and like a guest; they mostly cheat him, and whiles cut his throat. They plead in excuse hard and tyrannous laws. And true it is their law thrusteth its nose into every platter, and its finger into every pie. In France worshipful men wear their hats and their furs indoors, and go abroad lighter clad. In Germany they don hat and furred cloak to go abroad; but sit bareheaded and light clad round the stove.

“The French intermix not the men and women folk in assemblies, as we Hollanders use. Round their preachers the women sit on their heels in rows, and the men stand behind them. Their harvests are rye, and flax, and wine. Three mules shall you see to one horse, and whole flocks of sheep as black as coal.

“In Germany the snails be red. I lie not. The French buy minstrelsy, but breed jests, and make their own mirth. The Germans foster their set fools, with ear-caps, which move them to laughter by simulating madness; a calamity that asks pity, not laughter. In this particular I deem that lighter nation wiser than the graver German. What sayest thou? Alas! canst not answer me now.

“In Germany the petty laws are wondrous wise and just. Those against criminals, bloody. In France bloodier still; and executed a trifle more cruelly there. Here the wheel is common, and the fiery stake; and under this king they drown men by the score in Paris river, Seine yclept. But the English are as peremptory in hanging and drowning for a light fault; so travellers report. Finally, a true-hearted Frenchman, when ye chance on one, is a man as near perfect as earth affords; and such a man is my Denys, spite of his foul mouth.”

Denys. “My foul mouth! Is that so writ, Master Richart?”

Richart. “Ay, in sooth; see else.”

Denys (inspecting the letter gravely). “I read not the letter so.”

Richart. “How then?”

Denys. “Humph! ahem why just the contrary.” He added: “’Tis kittle work perusing of these black scratches men are agreed to take for words. And I trow ’tis still by guess you clerks do go, worthy sir. My foul mouth! This is the first time e’er I heard on’t. Eh, mesdames?”

But the females did not seize the opportunity he gave them, and burst into a loud and general disclaimer. Margaret blushed and said nothing; the other two bent silently over their work with something very like a sly smile. Denys inspected their countenances long and carefully. And the perusal was so satisfactory, that he turned with a tone of injured, but patient innocence, and bade Richart read on.

“The Italians are a polished and subtle people. They judge a man, not by his habits, but his speech and gesture. Here Sir Chough may by no means pass for falcon gentle, as did I in Germany, pranked in my noble servant’s feathers. Wisest of all nations in their singular temperance of food and drink. Most foolish of all to search strangers coming into their borders, and stay them from bringing much money in. They should rather invite it, and like other nations, let the traveller from taking of it out. Also here in Venice the dames turn their black hair yellow by the sun and art, to be wiser than Him who made them. Ye enter no Italian town without a bill of health, though now is no plague in Europe. This peevishness is for extortion’s sake. The innkeepers cringe and fawn, and cheat, and in country places murder you. Yet will they give you clean sheets by paying therefor. Delicate in eating, and abhor from putting their hand in the plate; sooner they will apply a crust or what not. They do even tell of a cardinal at Rome, which armeth his guest’s left hand with a little bifurcal dagger to hold the meat, while his knife cutteth it. But methinks this, too, is to be wiser than Him, who made the hand so supple and prehensile.”

Eli. “I am of your mind, my lad.”

“They are sore troubled with the itch. And ointment for it, unguento per la rogna, is cried at every corner of Venice. From this my window I saw an urchin sell it to three several dames in silken trains, and to two velvet knights.”

Catherine. “Italy, my lass, I rede ye wash your body i’ the tub o’ Sundays; and then ye can put your hand i’ the plate o’ Thursday withouten offence.”

“Their bread is lovely white. Their meats they spoil with sprinkling cheese over them; O, perversity! Their salt is black; without a lie. In commerce these Venetians are masters of the earth and sea; and govern their territories wisely. Only one flaw I find; the same I once heard a learned friar cast up against Plato his republic: to wit, that here women are encouraged to venal frailty, and do pay a tax to the State, which, not content with silk and spice, and other rich and honest freights, good store, must trade in sin. Twenty thousand of these Jezebels there be in Venice and Candia, and about, pampered and honoured for bringing strangers to the city, and many live in princely palaces of their own. But herein methinks the politic signors of Venice forget what King David saith, ‘Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’ Also, in religion, they hang their cloth according to the wind, siding now with the Pope, now with the Turk; but aye with the god of traders, mammon hight. Shall flower so cankered bloom to the world’s end? But since I speak of flowers, this none may deny them, that they are most cunning in making roses and gilliflowers to blow unseasonably. In summer they nip certain of the budding roses and water them not. Then in winter they dig round these discouraged plants, and put in cloves; and so with great art rear sweet-scented roses, and bring them to market in January. And did first learn this art of a cow. Buds she grazed in summer, and they sprouted at yule. Women have sat in the doctors’ chairs at their colleges. But she that sat in St. Peter’s was a German. Italy too, for artful fountains and figures that move by water and enact life. And next for fountains is Augsburg, where they harness the foul knave Smoke to good Sir Spit, and he turneth stout Master Roast. But lest any one place should vaunt, two towns there be in Europe, which, scorning giddy fountains, bring water tame in pipes to every burgher’s door, and he filleth his vessels with but turning of a cock. One is London, so watered this many a year by pipes of a league from Paddington, a neighbouring city; and the other is the fair town of Lubeck. Also the fierce English are reported to me wise in that they will not share their land and flocks with wolves; but have fairly driven those marauders into their mountains. But neither in France, nor Germany, nor Italy, is a wayfarer’s life safe from the vagabones after sundown. I can hear of no glazed house in all Venice; but only oiled linen and paper; and behind these barbarian eyelets, a wooden jalosy. Their name for a cowardly assassin is ‘a brave man,’ and for an harlot, ‘a courteous person,’ which is as much as to say that a woman’s worst vice, and a man’s worst vice, are virtues. But I pray God for little Holland that there an assassin may be yclept an assassin, and an harlot an harlot, till domesday; and then gloze foul faults with silken names who can!”

Eli (with a sigh). “He should have been a priest, saving your presence, my poor lass.”

“January 26. — Sweetheart, I must be brief, and tell thee but a part of that I have seen, for this day my journal ends. To-night it sails for thee, and I, unhappy, not with it, but to-morrow, in another ship, to Rome.

“Dear Margaret, I took a hand litter, and was carried to St. Mark his church. Outside it, towards the market-place, is a noble gallery, and above it four famous horses, cut in brass by the ancient Romans, and seem all moving, and at the very next step must needs leap down on the beholder. About the church are six hundred pillars of marble, porphyry, and ophites. Inside is a treasure greater than either, at St. Denys, or Loretto, or Toledo. Here a jewelled pitcher given the seigniory by a Persian king, also the ducal cap blazing with jewels, and on its crown a diamond and a chrysolite, each as big as an almond; two golden crowns and twelve golden stomachers studded with jewels, from Constantinople; item, a monstrous sapphire; item, a great diamond given by a French king; item, a prodigious carbuncle; item, three unicorns’ horns. But what are these compared with the sacred relics?

“Dear Margaret, I stood and saw the brazen chest that holds the body of St. Mark the Evangelist. I saw with these eyes and handled his ring, and his gospel written with his own hand, and all my travels seemed light; for who am I that I should see such things? Dear Margaret, his sacred body was first brought from Alexandria, by merchants in 810, and then not prized as now; for between 829, when this church was builded, and 1094, the very place where it lay was forgotten. Then holy priests fasted and prayed many days seeking for light, and lo! the Evangelist’s body brake at midnight through the marble and stood before them. They fell to the earth; but in the morning found the crevice the sacred body had burst through, and peering through it saw him lie. Then they took and laid him in his chest beneath the altar, and carefully put back the stone with its miraculous crevice, which crevice I saw, and shall gape for a monument while the world lasts. After that they showed me the Virgin’s chair, it is of stone; also her picture, painted by St. Luke, very dark, and the features now scarce visible. This picture, in time of drought, they carry in procession, and brings the rain. I wish I had not seen it. Item, two pieces of marble spotted with John the Baptist’s blood; item, a piece of the true cross, and of the pillar to which Christ was tied; item, the rock struck by Moses, and wet to this hour; also a stone Christ sat on, preaching at Tyre; but some say it is the one the patriarch Jacob laid his head on, and I hold with them, by reason our Lord never preached at Tyre. Going hence, they showed me the state nursery for the children of those aphrodisian dames, their favourites. Here in the outer wall was a broad niche, and if they bring them so little as they can squeeze them through it alive, the bairn falls into a net inside, and the state takes charge of it, but if too big, their mothers must even take them home again, with whom abiding ’tis like to be mali corvi mali ovum. Coming out of the church we met them carrying in a corpse, with the feet and face bare. This I then first learned is Venetian custom, and sure no other town will ever rob them of it, nor of this that follows. On a great porphyry slab in the piazza were three ghastly heads rotting and tainting the air, and in their hot summers like to take vengeance with breeding of a plague. These were traitors to the state, and a heavy price — two thousand ducats — being put on each head, their friends had slain them and brought all three to the slab, and so sold blood of others and their own faith. No state buys heads so many, nor pays half so high a price for that sorry merchandise. But what I most admired was to see over against the Duke’s palace a fair gallows in alabaster, reared express to bring him, and no other, for the least treason to the state; and there it stands in his eye whispering him memento mori. I pondered, and owned these signors my masters, who will let no man, not even their sovereign, be above the common weal. Hard by, on a wall, the workmen were just finishing, by order of the seigniory, the stone effigy of a tragical and enormous act enacted last year, yet on the wall looks innocent. Here two gentle folks whisper together, and there other twain, their swords by their side. Four brethren were they, which did on either side conspire to poison the other two, and so halve their land in lieu of quartering it; and at a mutual banquet these twain drugged the wine, and those twain envenomed a marchpane, to such good purpose that the same afternoon lay four ‘brave men’ around one table grovelling in mortal agony, and cursing of one another and themselves, and so concluded miserably, and the land, for which they had lost their immortal souls, went into another family. And why not? it could not go into a worse.

“But O, sovereign wisdom of bywords! how true they put the finger on each nation’s, or particular’s, fault.

“Quand Italie sera sans poison

Et France sans trahison

Et l’Angleterre sans guerre,

Lors sera le monde sans terre.”

Richart explained this to Catherine, then proceeded: “And after this they took me to the quay, and presently I espied among the masts one garlanded with amaranth flowers. ‘Take me thither,’ said I, and I let my guide know the custom of our Dutch skippers to hoist flowers to the masthead when they are courting a maid. Oft had I scoffed at this saying, ‘So then his wooing is the earth’s concern. But now, so far from the Rotter, that bunch at a masthead made my heart leap with assurance of a countryman. They carried me, and oh, Margaret! on the stern of that Dutch boy, was written in muckle letters,

RICHART ELIASSOEN, AMSTERDAM.

‘Put me down,’ I said; ‘for our Lady’s sake put me down.’ I sat on the bank and looked, scarce believing my eyes, and looked, and presently fell to crying, till I could see the words no more. Ah me, how they went to my heart, those bare letters in a foreign land. Dear Richart! good, kind brother Richart! often I have sat on his knee and rid on his back. Kisses many he has given me, unkind word from him had I never. And there was his name on his own ship, and his face and all his grave, but good and gentle ways, came back to me, and I sobbed vehemently, and cried aloud, ‘Why, why is not brother Richart here, and not his name only?’ I spake in Dutch, for my heart was too full to hold their foreign tongues, and

Eli. “Well, Richart, go on, lad, prithee go on. Is this a place to halt at?”

Richart. “Father, with my duty to you, it is easy to say go on, but think ye I am not flesh and blood? The poor boy’s — simple grief and brotherly love coming — so sudden-on me, they go through my heart and — I cannot go on; sink me if I can even see the words, ’tis writ so fine.”

Denys. “Courage, good Master Richart! Take your time. Here are more eyne wet than yours. Ah, little comrade! would God thou wert here, and I at Venice for thee.”

Richart. “Poor little curly-headed lad, what had he done that we have driven him so far?”

“That is what I would fain know,” said Catherine drily, then fell to weeping and rocking herself, with her apron over her head.

“Kind dame, good friends,” said Margaret trembling, “let me tell you how the letter ends. The skipper hearing our Gerard speak his grief in Dutch, accosted him, and spake comfortably to him; and after a while our Gerard found breath to say he was worthy Master Richart’s brother. Thereat was the good skipper all agog to serve him.”

Richart. “So! so! skipper! Master Richart aforesaid will be at thy wedding and bring’s purse to boot.”

Margaret. “Sir, he told Gerard of his consort that was to sail that very night for Rotterdam; and dear Gerard had to go home and finish his letter and bring it to the ship. And the rest, it is but his poor dear words of love to me, the which, an’t please you, I think shame to hear them read aloud, and ends with the lines I sent to Mistress Kate, and they would sound so harsh now and ungrateful.”

The pleading tone, as much as the words, prevailed, and Richart said he would read no more aloud, but run his eye over it for his own brotherly satisfaction. She blushed and looked uneasy, but made no reply.

“Eli,” said Catherine, still sobbing a little, “tell me, for our Lady’s sake, how our poor boy is to live at that nasty Rome. He is gone there to write, but here he his own words to prove writing avails nought: a had died o’ hunger by the way but for paint-brush and psaltery. Well a-day!”

“Well,” said Eli, “he has got brush and music still. Besides, so many men so many minds. Writing, though it had no sale in other parts, may be merchandise at Rome.”

“Father,” said little Kate, “have I your good leave to put in my word ‘twixt mother and you?”

“And welcome, little heart.”

“Then, seems to me, painting and music, close at hand, be stronger than writing, but being distant, nought to compare; for see what glamour written paper hath done here but now. Our Gerard, writing at Venice, hath verily put his hand into this room at Rotterdam, and turned all our hearts. Ay, dear dear Gerard, methinks thy spirit hath rid hither on these thy paper wings; and oh! dear father, why not do as we should do were he here in the body?”

“Kate,” said Eli, “fear not; Richart and I will give him glamour for glamour. We will write him a letter, and send it to Rome by a sure hand with money, and bid him home on the instant.”

Cornelis and Sybrandt exchanged a gloomy look.

“Ah, good father! And meantime?”

“Well, meantime?”

“Dear father, dear mother, what can we do to pleasure the absent, but be kind to his poor lass; and her own trouble afore her?”

“’Tis well!” said Eli; “but I am older than thou.” Then he turned gravely to Margaret: “Wilt answer me a question, my pretty mistress?”

“If I may, sir,” faltered Margaret.

“What are these marriage lines Gerard speaks of in the letter?”

“Our marriage lines, sir. His and mine. Know you not that we are betrothed?”

“Before witnesses?”

“Ay, sure. My poor father and Martin Wittenhaagen.”

“This is the first I ever heard of it. How came they in his hands? They should be in yours.”

“Alas, sir, the more is my grief; but I ne’er doubted him; and he said it was a comfort to him to have them in his bosom.”

“Y’are a very foolish lass.”

“Indeed I was, sir. But trouble teaches the simple.”

“’Tis a good answer. Well, foolish or no, y’are honest. I had shown ye more respect at first, but I thought y’had been his leman, and that is the truth.”

“God forbid, sir! Denys, methinks ’tis time for us to go. Give me my letter, sir!”

“Bide ye! bide ye! be not so hot for a word! Natheless, wife, methinks her red cheek becomes her.”

“Better than it did you to give it her, my man.”

“Softly, wife, softly. I am not counted an unjust man though I be somewhat slow.”

Here Richart broke in. “Why, mistress, did ye shed your blood for our Gerard?”

“Not I, sir. But maybe I would.”

“Nay, nay. But he says you did. Speak sooth now!”

“Alas! I know not what ye mean. I rede ye believe not all that my poor lad says of me. Love makes him blind.”

“Traitress!” cried Denys. “Let not her throw dust in thine eyes, Master Richart. Old Martin tells me ye need not make signals to me, she-comrade; I am as blind as love — Martin tells me she cut her arm, and let her blood flow, and smeared her heels when Gerard was hunted by the bloodhounds, to turn the scent from her lad.”

“Well, and if I did, ’twas my own, and spilled for the good of my own,” said Margaret defiantly. But Catherine suddenly clasping her, she began to cry at having found a bosom to cry on, of one who would have also shed her blood for Gerard in danger.

Eli rose from his chair. “Wife,” said he solemnly, “you will set another chair at our table for every meal: also another plate and knife. They will be for Margaret and Peter. She will come when she likes, and stay away when she pleases. None may take her place at my left hand. Such as can welcome her are welcome to me. Such as cannot, I force them not to abide with me. The world is wide and free. Within my walls I am master, and my son’s betrothed is welcome.”

Catherine bustled out to prepare supper. Eli and Richart sat down and concocted a letter to bring Gerard home. Richart promised it should go by sea to Rome that very week. Sybrandt and Cornelis exchanged a gloomy wink, and stole out. Margaret, seeing Giles deep in meditation, for the dwarf’s intelligence had taken giant strides, asked him to bring her the letter. “You have heard but half, good master Giles,” said she. “Shall I read you the rest?”

“I shall be much beholden to you,” shouted the sonorous atom.

She gave him her stool: curiosity bowed his pride to sit on it; and Margaret murmured the first part of the letter into his ear very low, not to disturb Eli and Richart. And to do this, she leaned forward and put her lovely face cheek by jowl with Giles’s hideous one: a strange contrast, and worth a painter’s while to try and represent. And in this attitude Catherine found her, and all the mother warmed towards her, and she exchanged an eloquent glance with little Kate.

The latter smiled, and sewed, with drooping lashes.

“Get him home on the instant,” roared Giles. “I’ll make a man of him.”

“Hear the boy!” said Catherine, half comically, half proudly.

“We hear him,” said Richart; “a mostly makes himself heard when a do speak.”

Sybrandt. “Which will get to him first?”

Cornelis (gloomily). “Who can tell?”

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