The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 61

The Princess Claelia ordered a full-length portrait of herself. Gerard advised her to employ his friend Pietro Vanucci.

But she declined. “’Twill be time to put a slight on the Gerardo, when his work discontents me.” Then Gerard, who knew he was an excellent draughtsman, but not so good a colourist, begged her to stand to him as a Roman statue. He showed her how closely he could mimic marble on paper. She consented at first; but demurred when this enthusiast explained to her that she must wear the tunic, toga, and sandals of the ancients.

“Why, I had as lieve be presented in my smock,” said she, with mediaeval frankness.

“Alack! signorina,” said Gerard, “you have surely never noted the ancient habit; so free, so ample, so simple, yet so noble; and most becoming your highness, to whom Heaven hath given the Roman features, and eke a shapely arm and hand, his in modern guise.”

“What, can you flatter, like the rest, Gerardo? Well, give me time to think on’t. Come o’ Saturday, and then I will say ay or nay.”

The respite thus gained was passed in making the tunic and toga, etc., and trying them on in her chamber, to see whether they suited her style of beauty well enough to compensate their being a thousand years out of date.

Gerard, hurrying along to this interview, was suddenly arrested, and rooted to earth at a shop window.

His quick eye had discerned in that window a copy of Lactantius lying open. “That is fairly writ, anyway,” thought he.

He eyed it a moment more with all his eyes.

It was not written at all. It was printed.

Gerard groaned.

“I am sped; mine enemy is at the door. The press is in Rome.”

He went into the shop, and affecting nonchalance, inquired how long the printing-press had been in Rome. The man said he believed there was no such thing in the city. “Oh, the Lactantius; that was printed on the top of the Apennines.”

“What, did the printing-press fall down there out o’ the moon?”

“Nay, messer,” said the trader, laughing; “it shot up there out of Germany. See the title-page!”

Gerard took the Lactantius eagerly, and saw the following —

Opera et impensis Sweynheim et Pannartz

Alumnorum Joannis Fust.

Impressum Subiacis. A.D. 1465.

“Will ye buy, messer? See how fair and even be the letters. Few are left can write like that; and scarce a quarter of the price.”

“I would fain have it,” said Gerard sadly, “but my heart will not let me. Know that I am a caligraph, and these disciples of Fust run after me round the world a-taking the bread out of my mouth. But I wish them no ill. Heaven forbid!” And he hurried from the shop.

“Dear Margaret,” said he to himself, “we must lose no time; we must make our hay while shines the sun. One month more and an avalanche of printer’s type shall roll down on Rome from those Apennines, and lay us waste that writers be.”

And he almost ran to the Princess Claelia.

He was ushered into an apartment new to him. It was not very large, but most luxurious; a fountain played in the centre, and the floor was covered with the skins of panthers, dressed with the hair, so that no footfall could be heard. The room was an ante-chamber to the princess’s boudoir, for on one side there was no door, but an ample curtain of gorgeous tapestry.

Here Gerard was left alone till he became quite uneasy, and doubted whether the maid had not shown him to the wrong place.

These doubts were agreeably dissipated.

A light step came swiftly behind the curtain; it parted in the middle, and there stood a figure the heathens might have worshipped. It was not quite Venus, nor quite Minerva; but between the two; nobler than Venus, more womanly than Jupiter’s daughter. Toga, tunic, sandals; nothing was modern. And as for beauty, that is of all times.

Gerard started up, and all the artist in him flushed with pleasure.

“Oh!” he cried innocently, and gazed in rapture.

This added the last charm to his model: a light blush tinted her cheeks, and her eyes brightened, and her mouth smiled with delicious complacency at this genuine tribute to her charms.

When they had looked at one another so some time, and she saw Gerard’s eloquence was confined to ejaculating and gazing, she spoke. “Well, Gerardo, thou seest I have made myself an antique monster for thee.”

“A monster? I doubt Fra Colonna would fall down and adore your highness, seeing you so habited.”

“Nay, I care not to be adored by an old man. I would liever be loved by a young one: of my own choosing.”

Gerard took out his pencils, arranged his canvas, which he had covered with stout paper, and set to work; and so absorbed was he that he had no mercy on his model. At last, after near an hour in one posture, “Gerardo,” said she faintly, “I can stand so no more, even for thee.”

“Sit down and rest awhile, Signora.”

“I thank thee,” said she; and sinking into a chair turned pale and sighed.

Gerard was alarmed, and saw also he had been inconsiderate. He took water from the fountain and was about to throw it in her face; but she put up a white hand deprecatingly: “Nay, hold it to my brow with thine hand: prithee, do not fling it at me!”

Gerard timidly and hesitating applied his wet hand to her brow.

“Ah!” she sighed, “that is reviving. Again.”

He applied it again. She thanked him, and asked him to ring a little hand-bell on the table. He did so, and a maid came, and was sent to Floretta with orders to bring a large fan.

Floretta speedily came with the fan.

She no sooner came near the princess, than that lady’s highbred nostrils suddenly expanded like a bloodhorse’s. “Wretch!” said she; and rising up with a sudden return to vigour, seized Floretta with her left hand, twisted it in her hair, and with the right hand boxed her ears severely three times.

Floretta screamed and blubbered; but obtained no mercy.

The antique toga left quite disengaged a bare arm, that now seemed as powerful as it was beautiful: it rose and fell like the piston of a modern steam-engine, and heavy slaps resounded one after another on Floretta’s shoulders; the last one drove her sobbing and screaming through the curtain, and there she was heard crying bitterly for some time after.

“Saints of heaven!” cried Gerard, “what is amiss? what has she done?”

“She knows right well. ’Tis not the first time. The nasty toad! I’ll learn her to come to me stinking of the musk-cat.”

“Alas! Signora, ’twas a small fault, methinks.”

“A small fault? Nay, ’twas a foul fault.” She added with an amazing sudden descent to humility and sweetness, “Are you wroth with me for beating her, Gerar-do?”

“Signora, it ill becomes me to school you; but methinks such as Heaven appoints to govern others should govern themselves.”

“That is true, Gerardo. How wise you are, to be so young.” She then called the other maid, and gave her a little purse. “Take that to Floretta, and tell her ‘the Gerardo’ hath interceded for her; and so I must needs forgive her. There, Gerardo.”

Gerard coloured all over at the compliment; but not knowing how to turn a phrase equal to the occasion, asked her if he should resume her picture.

“Not yet; beating that hussy hath somewhat breathed me. I’ll sit awhile, and you shall talk to me. I know you can talk, an it pleases you, as rarely as you draw.”

“That were easily done.

“Do it then, Gerardo.”

Gerard was taken aback.

“But, signora, I know not what to say. This is sudden.”

“Say your real mind. Say you wish you were anywhere but here.”

“Nay, signora, that would not be sooth. I wish one thing though.”

“Ay, and what is that?” said she gently.

“I wish I could have drawn you as you were beating that poor lass. You were awful, yet lovely. Oh, what a subject for a Pythoness!”

“Alas! he thinks but of his art. And why keep such a coil about my beauty, Gerardo? You are far fairer than I am. You are more like Apollo than I to Venus. Also, you have lovely hair and lovely eyes — but you know not what to do with them.”

“Ay, do I. To draw you, signora.”

“Ah, yes; you can see my features with them; but you cannot see what any Roman gallant had seen long ago in your place. Yet sure you must have noted how welcome you are to me, Gerardo?”

“I can see your highness is always passing kind to me; a poor stranger like me.”

“No, I am not, Gerardo. I have often been cold to you; rude sometimes; and you are so simple you see not the cause. Alas! I feared for my own heart. I feared to be your slave. I who have hitherto made slaves. Ah! Gerardo, I am unhappy. Ever since you came here I have lived upon your visits. The day you are to come I am bright. The other days I am listless, and wish them fled. You are not like the Roman gallants. You make me hate them. You are ten times braver to my eye; and you are wise and scholarly, and never flatter and lie. I scorn a man that lies. Gerar-do, teach me thy magic; teach me to make thee as happy by my side as I am still by thine.”

As she poured out these strange words, the princess’s mellow voice sunk almost to a whisper, and trembled with half-suppressed passion, and her white hand stole timidly yet earnestly down Gerard’s arm, till it rested like a soft bird upon his wrist, and as ready to fly away at a word.

Destitute of vanity and experience, wrapped up in his Margaret and his art, Gerard had not seen this revelation coming, though it had come by regular and visible gradations.

He blushed all over. His innocent admiration of the regal beauty that besieged him, did not for a moment displace the absent Margaret’s image. Yet it was regal beauty, and wooing with a grace and tenderness he had never even figured in imagination. How to check her without wounding her?

He blushed and trembled.

The siren saw, and encouraged him.

“Poor Gerardo,” she murmured, “fear not; none shall ever harm thee under my wing. Wilt not speak to me, Gerar-do mio?”

“Signora!” muttered Gerard deprecatingly.

At this moment his eye, lowered in his confusion, fell on the shapely white arm and delicate hand that curled round his elbow like a tender vine, and it flashed across him how he had just seen that lovely limb employed on Floretta.

He trembled and blushed.

“Alas!” said the princess, “I scare him. Am I then so very terrible? Is it my Roman robe? I’ll doff it, and habit me as when thou first camest to me. Mindest thou? ’Twas to write a letter to yon barren knight Ercole d’Orsini. Shall I tell thee? ’twas the sight of thee, and thy pretty ways, and thy wise words, made me hate him on the instant. I liked the fool well enough before; or wist I liked him. Tell me now how many times hast thou been here since then. Ah! thou knowest not; lovest me not, I doubt, as I love thee. Eighteen times, Gerardo. And each time dearer to me. The day thou comest not ’tis night, not day, to Claelia. Alas! I speak for both. Cruel boy, am I not worth a word? Hast every day a princess at thy feet? Nay, prithee, prithee, speak to me, Gerar-do.”

“Signora,” faltered Gerard, “what can I say, that were not better left unsaid? Oh, evil day that ever I came here.”

“Ah! say not so. ’Twas the brightest day ever shone on me or indeed on thee. I’ll make thee confess so much ere long, ungrateful one.”

“Your highness,” began Gerard, in a low, pleading voice.

“Call me Claelia, Gerar-do.”

“Signora, I am too young and too little wise to know how I ought to speak to you, so as not to seem blind nor yet ungrateful. But this I know, I were both naught and ungrateful, and the worst foe e’er you had, did I take advantage of this mad fancy. Sure some ill spirit hath had leave to afflict you withal. For ’tis all unnatural that a princess adorned with every grace should abase her affections on a churl.”

The princess withdrew her hand slowly from Gerard’s wrist.

Yet as it passed lightly over his arm it seemed to linger a moment at parting.

“You fear the daggers of my kinsmen,” said she, half sadly, half contemptuously.

“No more than I fear the bodkins of your women,” said Gerard haughtily. “But I fear God and the saints, and my own conscience.”

“The truth, Gerardo, the truth! Hypocrisy sits awkwardly on thee. Princesses, while they are young, are not despised for love of God, but of some other woman. Tell me whom thou lovest; and if she is worthy thee I will forgive thee.”

“No she in Italy, upon my soul.”

“Ah! there is one somewhere then. Where? where?”

“In Holland, my native country.”

“Ah! Marie de Bourgoyne is fair, they say. Yet she is but a child.”

“Princess, she I love is not noble. She is as I am. Nor is she so fair as thou. Yet is she fair; and linked to my heart for ever by her virtues, and by all the dangers and griefs we have borne together, and for one another. Forgive me; but I would not wrong my Margaret for all the highest dames in Italy.”

The slighted beauty started to her feet, and stood opposite him, as beautiful, but far more terrible than when she slapped Floretta, for then her cheeks were red, but now they were pale, and her eyes full of concentrated fury.

“This to my face, unmannered wretch,” she cried. “Was I born to be insulted, as well as scorned, by such as thou? Beware! We nobles brook no rivals. Bethink thee whether is better, the love of a Cesarini, or her hate: for after all I have said and done to thee, it must be love or hate between us, and to the death. Choose now!”

He looked up at her with wonder and awe, as she stood towering over him in her Roman toga, offering this strange alternative.

He seemed to have affronted a goddess of antiquity; he a poor puny mortal.

He sighed deeply, but spoke not.

Perhaps something in his deep and patient sigh touched a tender chord in that ungoverned creature; or perhaps the time had come for one passion to ebb and another to flow. The princess sank languidly into a seat, and the tears began to steal rapidly down her cheeks.

“Alas! alas!” said Gerard. “Weep not, sweet lady; your tears they do accuse me, and I am like to weep for company. My kind patron, be yourself; you will live to see how much better a friend I was to you than I seemed.”

“I see it now, Gerardo,” said the princess. “Friend is the word! the only word can ever pass between us twain. I was mad. Any other man had ta’en advantage of my folly. You must teach me to be your friend and nothing more.”

Gerard hailed this proposition with joy; and told her out of Cicero how godlike a thing was friendship, and how much better and rarer and more lasting than love: to prove to her he was capable of it, he even told her about Denys and himself.

She listened with her eyes half shut, watching his words to fathom his character, and learn his weak point.

At last, she addressed him calmly thus: “Leave me now, Gerardo, and come as usual to-morrow. You will find your lesson well bestowed.”

She held out her hand to him: he kissed it; and went away pondering deeply this strange interview, and wondering whether he had done prudently or not.

The next day he was received with marked distance, and the princess stood before him literally like a statue, and after a very short sitting, excused herself and dismissed him. Gerard felt the chilling difference; but said to himself, “She is wise.” So she was in her way.

The next day he found the princess waiting for him surrounded by young nobles flattering her to the skies. She and they treated him like a dog that could do one little trick they could not. The cavaliers in particular criticised his work with a mass of ignorance and insolence combined that made his cheeks burn.

The princess watched his face demurely with half-closed eyes at each sting the insects gave him; and when they had fled, had her doors closed against every one of them for their pains.

The next day Gerard found her alone: cold and silent. After standing to him so some time, she said, “You treated my company with less respect than became you.”

“Did I, Signora?”

“Did you? you fired up at the comments they did you the honour to make on your work.”

“Nay, I said nought,” observed Gerard.

“Oh, high looks speak as plain as high words. Your cheeks were red as blood.”

“I was nettled a moment at seeing so much ignorance and ill-nature together.”

“Now it is me, their hostess, you affront.”

“Forgive me, Signora, and acquit me of design. It would ill become me to affront the kindest patron and friend I have in Rome but one.”

“How humble we are all of a sudden. In sooth, Ser Gerardo, you are a capital feigner. You can insult or truckle at will.”

“Truckle? to whom?”

“To me, for one; to one, whom you affronted for a base-born girl like yourself; but whose patronage you claim all the same.”

Gerard rose, and put his hand to his heart. “These are biting words, signora. Have I really deserved them?”

“Oh, what are words to an adventurer like you? cold steel is all you fear?”

“I am no swashbuckler, yet I have met steel with steel and methinks I had rather face your kinsmen’s swords than your cruel tongue, lady. Why do you use me so?”

“Gerar-do, for no good reason, but because I am wayward, and shrewish, and curst, and because everybody admires me but you.”

“I admire you too, Signora. Your friends may flatter you more; but believe me they have not the eye to see half your charms. Their babble yesterday showed me that. None admire you more truly, or wish you better, than the poor artist, who might not be your lover, but hoped to be your friend; but no, I see that may not be between one so high as you, and one so low as I.”

“Ay! but it shall, Gerardo,” said the princess eagerly. “I will not be so curst. Tell me now where abides thy Margaret; and I will give thee a present for her; and on that you and I will be friends.”

“She is a daughter of a physician called Peter, and they bide at Sevenbergen; ah me, shall I e’er see it again?”

“’Tis well. Now go.” And she dismissed him somewhat abruptly.

Poor Gerard. He began to wade in deep waters when he encountered this Italian princess; callida et calida selis filia. He resolved to go no more when once he had finished her likeness. Indeed he now regretted having undertaken so long and laborious a task.

This resolution was shaken for a moment by his next reception, which was all gentleness and kindness.

After standing to him some time in her toga, she said she was fatigued, and wanted his assistance in another way: would he teach her to draw a little? He sat down beside her, and taught her to make easy lines. He found her wonderfully apt. He said so.

“I had a teacher before thee, Gerar-do. Ay, and one as handsome as thyself.” She then went to a drawer, and brought out several heads drawn with a complete ignorance of the art, but with great patience and natural talent. They were all heads of Gerard, and full of spirit; and really not unlike. One was his very image. “There,” said she. “Now thou seest who was my teacher.”

“Not I, signora.”

“What, know you not who teaches us women to do all things? ’Tis love, Gerar-do. Love made me draw because thou draweth, Gerar-do. Love prints thine image in my bosom. My fingers touch the pen, and love supplies the want of art, and lo thy beloved features lie upon the paper.”

Gerard opened his eyes with astonishment at this return to an interdicted topic. “Oh, Signora, you promised me to be friends and nothing more.”

She laughed in his face. “How simple you are: who believes a woman promising nonsense, impossibilities? Friendship, foolish boy, who ever built that temple on red ashes? Nay Gerardo,” she added gloomily, “between thee and me it must be love or hate.”

“Which you will, signora,” said Gerard firmly. “But for me I will neither love nor hate you; but with your permission I will leave you.” And he rose abruptly.

She rose too, pale as death, and said, “Ere thou leavest me so, know thy fate; outside that door are armed men who wait to slay thee at a word from me.”

“But you will not speak that word, signora.”

“That word I will speak. Nay, more, I shall noise it abroad it was for proffering brutal love to me thou wert slain; and I will send a special messenger to Sevenbergen: a cunning messenger, well taught his lesson. Thy Margaret shall know thee dead, and think thee faithless; now, go to thy grave; a dog’s. For a man thou art not.”

Gerard turned pale, and stood dumb-stricken. “God have mercy on us both.”

“Nay, have thou mercy on her, and on thyself. She will never know in Holland what thou dost in Rome; unless I be driven to tell her my tale. Come, yield thee, Gerar-do mio: what will it cost thee to say thou lovest me? I ask thee but to feign it handsomely. Thou art young: die not for the poor pleasure of denying a lady what-the shadow of a heart. Who will shed a tear for thee? I tell thee men will laugh, not weep over thy tombstone-ah!” She ended in a little scream, for Gerard threw himself in a moment at her feet, and poured out in one torrent of eloquence the story of his love and Margaret’s. How he had been imprisoned, hunted with bloodhounds for her, driven to exile for her; how she had shed her blood for him, and now pined at home. How he had walked through Europe environed by perils, torn by savage brutes, attacked by furious men with sword and axe and trap, robbed, shipwrecked for her.

The princess trembled, and tried to get away from him; but he held her robe, he clung to her, he made her hear his pitiful story and Margaret’s; he caught her hand, and clasped it between both his, and his tears fell fast on her hand, as he implored her to think on all the woes of the true lovers she would part; and what but remorse, swift and lasting, could come of so deep a love betrayed, and so false a love feigned, with mutual hatred lurking at the bottom.

In such moments none ever resisted Gerard.

The princess, after in vain trying to get away from him, for she felt his power over her, began to waver, and sigh, and her bosom to rise and fall tumultuously, and her fiery eyes to fill.

“You conquer me,” she sobbed. “You, or my better angel. Leave Rome!”

“I will, I will.”

“If you breathe a word of my folly, it will be your last.”

“Think not so poorly of me. You are my benefactress once more. Is it for me to slander you?”

“Go! I will send you the means. I know myself; if you cross my path again, I shall kill you. Addio; my heart is broken.”

She touched her bell. “Floretta,” said she, in a choked voice, “take him safe out of the house, through my chamber, and by the side postern.”

He turned at the door; she was leaning with one hand on a chair, crying, with averted head. Then he thought only of her kindness, and ran back and kissed her robe. She never moved.

Once clear of the house he darted home, thanking Heaven for his escape, soul and body.

“Landlady,” said he, “there is one would pick a quarrel with me. What is to be done?”

“Strike him first, and at vantage! Get behind him; and then draw.”

“Alas, I lack your Italian courage. To be serious, ’tis a noble.”

“Oh, holy saints, that is another matter. Change thy lodging awhile, and keep snug; and alter the fashion of thy habits.”

She then took him to her own niece, who let lodgings at some little distance, and installed him there.

He had little to do now, and no princess to draw, so he set himself resolutely to read that deed of Floris Brandt, from which he had hitherto been driven by the abominably bad writing. He mastered it, and saw at once that the loan on this land must have been paid over and over again by the rents, and that Ghysbrecht was keeping Peter Brandt out of his own.

“Fool! not to have read this before,” he cried. He hired a horse and rode down to the nearest port. A vessel was to sail for Amsterdam in four days.

He took a passage; and paid a small sum to secure it.

“The land is too full of cut-throats for me,” said he; “and ’tis lovely fair weather for the sea. Our Dutch skippers are not shipwrecked like these bungling Italians.”

When he returned home there sat his old landlady with her eyes sparkling.

“You are in luck, my young master,” said she. “All the fish run to your net this day methinks. See what a lackey hath brought to our house! This bill and this bag.”

Gerard broke the seals, and found it full of silver crowns. The letter contained a mere slip of paper with this line, cut out of some MS.:—“La lingua non ha osso, ma fa rompere il dosso.”

“Fear me not!” said Gerard aloud. “I’ll keep mine between my teeth.”

“What is that?”

“Oh, nothing. Am I not happy, dame? I am going back to my sweetheart with money in one pocket, and land in the other.” And he fell to dancing round her.

“Well,” said she, “I trow nothing could make you happier.”

“Nothing, except to be there.”

“Well, that is a pity, for I thought to make you a little happier with a letter from Holland.”

“A letter? for me? where? how? who brought it? — Oh, dame!”

“A stranger; a painter, with a reddish face and an outlandish name; Anselmin, I trow.”

“Hans Memling! a friend of mine. God bless him!”

“Ay, that is it: Anselmin. He could scarce speak a word, but a had the wit to name thee; and a puts the letter down, and a nods and smiles, and I nods and smiles, and gives him a pint o’ wine, and it went down him like a spoonful.”

“That is Hans, honest Hans. Oh, dame, I am in luck to-day; but I deserve it. For, I care not if I tell you, I have just overcome a great temptation for dear Margaret’s sake.”

“Who is she?”

“Nay, I’d have my tongue cut out sooner than betray her, but oh, it was a temptation. Gratitude pushing me wrong, Beauty almost divine pulling me wrong: curses, reproaches, and hardest of all to resist, gentle tears from eyes used to command. Sure some saint helped me Anthony belike. But my reward is come.”

“Ay, is it, lad; and no farther off than my pocket. Come out, Gerard’s reward,” and she brought a letter out of her capacious pocket.

Gerard threw his arm round her neck and hugged her.

“My best friend,” said he, “my second mother, I’ll read it to you.

“Ay, do, do.”

“Alas! it is not from Margaret. This is not her hand.” And he turned it about.

“Alack; but maybe her bill is within. The lasses are aye for gliding in their bills under cover of another hand.”

“True. Whose hand is this? sure I have seen it. I trow ’tis my dear friend the demoiselle Van Eyck. Oh, then Margaret’s bill will be inside.” He tore it open. “Nay, ’tis all in one writing. ‘Gerard, my well beloved son’ (she never called me that before that I mind), ‘this letter brings thee heavy news from one would liever send thee joyful tidings. Know that Margaret Brandt died in these arms on Thursday sennight last.’ (What does the doting old woman mean by that?) ‘The last word on her lips was “Gerard:” she said, “Tell him I prayed for him at my last hour; and bid him pray for me.” She died very comfortable, and I saw her laid in the earth, for her father was useless, as you shall know. So no more at present from her that is with sorrowing heart thy loving friend and servant,

“MARGARET VAN EYCK.’”

“Ay, that is her signature sure enough. Now what d’ye think of that, dame?” cried Gerard, with a grating laugh. “There is a pretty letter to send to a poor fellow so far from home. But it is Reicht Heynes I blame for humouring the old woman and letting her do it; as for the old woman herself, she dotes, she has lost her head, she is fourscore. Oh, my heart, I’m choking. For all that she ought to be locked up, or her hands tied. Say this had come to a fool; say I was idiot enough to believe this; know ye what I should do? run to the top of the highest church tower in Rome and fling myself off it, cursing Heaven. Woman! woman! what are you doing?” And he seized her rudely by the shoulder. “What are ye weeping for?” he cried, in a voice all unlike his own, and loud and hoarse as a raven. “Would ye scald me to death with your tears? She believes it. She believes it. Ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! — Then there is no God.”

The poor woman sighed and rocked herself.

“And must be the one to bring it thee all smiling and smirking? I could kill myself for’t. Death spares none,” she sobbed. “Death spares none.”

Gerard staggered against the window sill. “But He is master of death,” he groaned. “Or they have taught me a lie. I begin to fear there is no God, and the saints are but dead bones, and hell is master of the world. My pretty Margaret; my sweet, my loving Margaret. The best daughter! the truest lover! the pride of Holland! the darling of the world! It is a lie. Where is this caitiff Hans? I’ll hunt him round the town. I’ll cram his murdering falsehood down his throat.”

And he seized his hat and ran furiously about the streets for hours.

Towards sunset he came back white as a ghost. He had not found Memling; but his poor mind had had time to realise the woman’s simple words, that Death spares none.

He crept into the house bent, and feeble as an old man, and refused all food. Nor would he speak, but sat, white, with great staring eyes, muttering at intervals, “There is no God.” Alarmed both on his account and on her own (for he looked a desperate maniac), his landlady ran for her aunt.

The good dame came, and the two women, braver together, sat one on each side of him, and tried to soothe him with kind and consoling voices. But he heeded them no more than the chairs they sat on. Then the younger held a crucifix out before him, to aid her. “Maria, mother of heaven, comfort him,” they sighed. But he sat glaring, deaf to all external sounds.

Presently, without any warning, he jumped up, struck the crucifix rudely out of his way with a curse, and made a headlong dash at the door. The poor women shrieked. But ere he reached the door, something seemed to them to draw him up straight by his hair, and twirl him round like a top. He whirled twice round with arms extended; then fell like a dead log upon the floor, with blood trickling from his nostrils and ears.

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