Not far on this road he came upon a little group. Two men in sober suits stood leaning lazily on each side of a horse, talking to one another. The rider, in a silk doublet and bright green jerkin and hose, both of English cloth, glossy as a mole, lay flat on his stomach in the afternoon sun, and looked an enormous lizard. His velvet cloak (flaming yellow) was carefully spread over the horse’s loins.
“Is aught amiss?” inquired Gerard.
“Not that I wot of,” replied one of the servants.
“But your master, he lies like a corpse. Are ye not ashamed to let him grovel on the ground?”
“Go to; the bare ground is the best cure for his disorder. If you get sober in bed, it gives you a headache; but you leap up from the hard ground like a lark in spring. Eh, Ulric?”
“He speaks sooth, young man,” said Ulric warmly.
“What, is the gentleman drunk?”
The servants burst into a hoarse laugh at the simplicity of Gerard’s question. But suddenly Ulric stopped, and eyeing him all over, said very gravely, “Who are you, and where born, that know not the Count is ever drunk at this hour?” And Gerard found himself a suspected character.
“I am a stranger,” said he, “but a true man, and one that loves knowledge; therefore ask I questions, and not for love of prying.”
“If you be a true man,” said Ulric shrewdly, “then give us trinkgeld for the knowledge we have given you.”
Gerard looked blank, but putting a good face on it, said, “Trinkgeld you shall have, such as my lean purse can spare, an if you will tell me why ye have ta’en his cloak from the man and laid it on the beast.”
Under the inspiring influence of coming trinkgeld, two solutions were instantly offered Gerard at once: the one was, that should the Count come to himself (which, being a seasoned toper, he was apt to do all in a minute), and find his horse standing sweating in the cold, while a cloak lay idle at hand, he would fall to cursing, and peradventure to laying on; the other, more pretentious, was, that a horse is a poor milksop, which, drinking nothing but water, has to be cockered up and warmed outside; but a master, being a creature ever filled with good beer, has a store of inward heat that warms him to the skin, and renders a cloak a mere shred of idle vanity.
Each of the speakers fell in love with his theory, and, to tell the truth, both had taken a hair or two of the dog that had bitten their master to the brain; so their voices presently rose so high, that the green sot began to growl instead of snoring. In their heat they did not notice this.
Ere long the argument took a turn that sooner or later was pretty sure to enliven a discussion in that age. Hans, holding the bridle with his right hand, gave Ulric a sound cuff with his left; Ulric returned it with interest, his right hand being free; and at it they went, ding dong, over the horse’s mane, pommelling one another, and jagging the poor beast, till he ran backward, and trode with iron heel upon a promontory of the green lord; he, like the toad stung by Ithuriel’s spear, started up howling, with one hand clapped to the smart and the other tugging at his hilt. The servants, amazed with terror, let the horse go; he galloped off whinnying, the men in pursuit of him crying out with fear, and the green noble after them, volleying curses, his naked sword in his hand, and his body rebounding from hedge to hedge in his headlong but zigzag career down the narrow lane.
“In which hurtling” Gerard turned his back on them all, and went calmly south, glad to have saved the four tin farthings he had got ready for trinkgeld, but far too heavy hearted even to smile at their drunken extravagance.
The sun was nearly setting, and Gerard, who had now for some time been hoping in vain to find an inn by the way, was very ill at ease. To make matters worse, black clouds gathered over the sky.
Gerard quickened his pace almost to a run.
It was in vain; down came the rain in torrents, drenched the bewildered traveller, and seemed to extinguish the very sun-for his rays, already fading, could not cope with this new assailant.
Gerard trudged on, dark, and wet, and in an unknown region. “Fool! to leave Margaret,” said he.
Presently the darkness thickened.
He was entering a great wood. Huge branches shot across the narrow road, and the benighted stranger groped his way in what seemed an interminable and inky cave with a rugged floor, on which he stumbled and stumbled as he went.
On, and on, and on, with shivering limbs and empty stomach, and fainting heart, till the wolves rose from their lairs and bayed all round the wood.
His hair bristled; but he grasped his cudgel, and prepared to sell his life dear.
There was no wind; and his excited ear heard light feet patter at times over the newly fallen leaves, and low branches rustle with creatures gliding swiftly past them.
Presently in the sea of ink there was a great fiery star close to the ground. He hailed it as he would his patron saint. “CANDLE! a CANDLE!” he shouted, and tried to run. But the dark and rugged way soon stopped that. The light was more distant than he had thought. But at last, in the very heart of the forest, he found a house, with lighted candles and loud voices inside it. He looked up to see if there was a signboard. There was none. “Not an inn after all!” said he sadly. “No matter; what Christian would turn a dog out into this wood to-night?” and with this he made for the door that led to the voices. He opened it slowly, and put his head in timidly. He drew it out abruptly, as if slapped in the face, and recoiled into the rain and darkness.
He had peeped into a large but low room, the middle of which was filled by a huge round stove, or clay oven, that reached to the ceiling; round this, wet clothes were drying-some on lines, and some more compendiously, on rustics. These latter habiliments, impregnated with the wet of the day, but the dirt of a life, and lined with what another foot traveller in these parts call “rammish clowns,” evolved rank vapours and compound odours inexpressible, in steaming clouds.
In one corner was a travelling family, a large one: thence flowed into the common stock the peculiar sickly smell of neglected brats. Garlic filled up the interstices of the air. And all this with closed window, and intense heat of the central furnace, and the breath of at least forty persons.
They had just supped.
Now Gerard, like most artists, had sensitive organs, and the potent effluvia struck dismay into him. But the rain lashed him outside, and the light and the fire tempted him in.
He could not force his way all at once through the palpable perfumes, but he returned to the light again and again, like the singed moth. At last he discovered that the various smells did not entirely mix, no fiend being there to stir them round. Odour of family predominated in two corners; stewed rustic reigned supreme in the centre; and garlic in the noisy group by the window. He found, too, by hasty analysis, that of these the garlic described the smallest aerial orbit, and the scent of reeking rustic darted farthest — a flavour as if ancient goats, or the fathers of all foxes, had been drawn through a river, and were here dried by Nebuchadnezzar.
So Gerard crept into a corner close to the door. But though the solidity of the main fetors isolated them somewhat, the heat and reeking vapours circulated, and made the walls drip; and the home-nurtured novice found something like a cold snake wind about his legs, and his head turn to a great lump of lead; and next, he felt like choking, sweetly slumbering, and dying, all in one.
He was within an ace of swooning, but recovered to a deep sense of disgust and discouragement; and settled to go back to Holland at peep of day. This resolution formed, he plucked up a little heart; and being faint with hunger, asked one of the men of garlic whether this was not an inn after all?
“Whence come you, who know not ‘The Star of the Forest’?” was the reply.
“I am a stranger; and in my country inns have aye a sign.”
“Droll country yours! What need of a sign to a public-house — a place that every soul knows?”
Gerard was too tired and faint for the labour of argument, so he turned the conversation, and asked where he could find the landlord?
At this fresh display of ignorance, the native’s contempt rose too high for words. He pointed to a middle-aged woman seated on the other side of the oven; and turning to his mates, let them know what an outlandish animal was in the room. Thereat the loud voices stopped, one by one, as the information penetrated the mass; and each eye turned, as on a pivot, following Gerard, and his every movement, silently and zoologically.
The landlady sat on a chair an inch or two higher than the rest, between two bundles. From the first, a huge heap of feathers and wings, she was taking the downy plumes, and pulling the others from the quills, and so filling bundle two littering the floor ankle-deep, and contributing to the general stock a stuffy little malaria, which might have played a distinguished part in a sweet room, but went for nothing here. Gerard asked her if he could have something to eat.
She opened her eyes with astonishment. “Supper is over this hour and more.
“But I had none of it, good dame.”
“Is that my fault? You were welcome to your share for me.”
“But I was benighted, and a stranger; and belated sore against my will.”
“What have I to do with that? All the world knows ‘The Star of the Forest’ sups from six till eight. Come before six, ye sup well; come before eight, ye sup as pleases Heaven; come after eight, ye get a clean bed, and a stirrup cup, or a horn of kine’s milk, at the dawning.”
Gerard looked blank. “May I go to bed, then, dame?” said he sulkily “for it is ill sitting up wet and fasting, and the byword saith, ‘He sups who sleeps.’”
“The beds are not come yet,” replied the landlady. “You will sleep when the rest do. Inns are not built for one.”
It was Gerard’s turn to be astonished. “The beds were not come! what, in Heaven’s name, did she mean?” But he was afraid to ask for every word he had spoken hitherto had amazed the assembly, and zoological eyes were upon him — he felt them. He leaned against the wall, and sighed audibly.
At this fresh zoological trait, a titter went round the watchful company.
“So this is Germany,” thought Gerard; “and Germany is a great country by Holland. Small nations for me.”
He consoled himself by reflecting it was to be his last, as well as his first, night in the land. His reverie was interrupted by an elbow driven into his ribs. He turned sharp on his assailant, who pointed across the room. Gerard looked, and a woman in the corner was beckoning him. He went towards her gingerly, being surprised and irresolute, so that to a spectator her beckoning finger seemed to be pulling him across the floor with a gut-line. When he had got up to her, “Hold the child,” said she, in a fine hearty voice; and in a moment she plumped the bairn into Gerard’s arms.
He stood transfixed, jelly of lead in his hands, and sudden horror in his elongated countenance.
At this ruefully expressive face, the lynx-eyed conclave laughed loud and long.
“Never heed them,” said the woman cheerfully; “they know no better; how should they, bred an’ born in a wood?” She was rummaging among her clothes with the two penetrating hands, one of which Gerard had set free. Presently she fished out a small tin plate and a dried pudding; and resuming her child with one arm, held them forth to Gerard with the other, keeping a thumb on the pudding to prevent it from slipping off.
“Put it in the stove,” said she; “you are too young to lie down fasting.”
Gerard thanked her warmly. But on his way to the stove, his eye fell on the landlady. “May I, dame?” said he beseechingly.
“Why not?” said she.
The question was evidently another surprise, though less startling than its predecessors.
Coming to the stove, Gerard found the oven door obstructed by “the rammish clowns.” They did not budge. He hesitated a moment. The landlady saw, calmly put down her work, and coming up, pulled a hircine man or two hither, and pushed a hircine man or two thither, with the impassive countenance of a housewife moving her furniture. “Turn about is fair play,” she said; “ye have been dry this ten minutes and better.”
Her experienced eye was not deceived; Gorgonii had done stewing, and begun baking. Debarred the stove, they trundled home, all but one, who stood like a table, where the landlady had moved him to, like a table. And Gerard baked his pudding; and getting to the stove, burst into steam.
The door opened, and in flew a bundle of straw.
It was hurled by a hind with a pitchfork. Another and another came flying after it, till the room was like a clean farmyard. These were then dispersed round the stove in layers, like the seats in an arena, and in a moment the company was all on its back.
The beds had come.
Gerard took out his pudding, and found it delicious. While he was relishing it, the woman who had given it him, and who was now abed, beckoned him again. He went to her bundle side. “She is waiting for you,” whispered the woman. Gerard returned to the stove, and gobbled. the rest of his sausage, casting uneasy glances at the landlady, seated silent as fate amid the prostrate multitude. The food bolted, he went to her, and said, “Thank you kindly, dame, for waiting for me.”
“You are welcome,” said she calmly, making neither much nor little of the favour; and with that began to gather up the feathers. But Gerard stopped her. “Nay, that is my task;” and he went down on his knees, and collected them with ardour. She watched him demurely.
“I wot not whence ye come,” said she, with a relic of distrust; adding, more cordially, “but ye have been well brought up; — y’ have had a good mother, I’ll go bail.”
At the door she committed the whole company to Heaven, in a formula, and disappeared. Gerard to his straw in the very corner-for the guests lay round the sacred stove by seniority, i.e. priority of arrival.
This punishment was a boon to Gerard, for thus he lay on the shore of odour and stifling heat, instead of in mid-ocean.
He was just dropping off, when he was awaked by a noise; and lo there was the hind remorselessly shaking and waking guest after guest, to ask him whether it was he who had picked up the mistress’s feathers.
“It was I,” cried Gerard.
“Oh, it was you, was it?” said the other, and came striding rapidly over the intermediate sleepers. “She bade me say, ‘One good turn deserves another,’ and so here’s your nightcap,” and he thrust a great oaken mug under Gerard’s nose.
“I thank her, and bless her; here goes — ugh!” and his gratitude ended in a wry face; for the beer was muddy, and had a strange, medicinal twang new to the Hollander.
“Trinke aus!” shouted the hind reproachfully.
“Enow is as good as a feast,” said the youth Jesuitically.
The hind cast a look of pity on this stranger who left liquor in his mug. “Ich brings euch,” said he, and drained it to the bottom.
And now Gerard turned his face to the wall and pulled up two handfuls of the nice clean straw, and bored in them with his finger, and so made a scabbard, and sheathed his nose in it. And soon they were all asleep; men, maids, wives, and children all lying higgledy-piggledy, and snoring in a dozen keys like an orchestra slowly tuning; and Gerard’s body lay on straw in Germany, and his spirit was away to Sevenbergen.
When he woke in the morning he found nearly all his fellow-passengers gone. One or two were waiting for dinner, nine o’clock; it was now six. He paid the landlady her demand, two pfenning, or about an English halfpenny, and he of the pitchfork demanded trinkgeld, and getting a trifle more than usual, and seeing Gerard eye a foaming milk-pail he had just brought from the cow, hoisted it up bodily to his lips. “Drink your fill, man,” said he, and on Gerard offering to pay for the delicious draught, told him in broad patois that a man might swallow a skinful of milk, or a breakfast of air, without putting hand to pouch. At the door Gerard found his benefactress of last night, and a huge-chested artisan, her husband.
Gerard thanked her, and in the spirit of the age offered her a creutzer for her pudding.
But she repulsed his hand quietly. “For what do you take me?” said she, colouring faintly; “we are travellers and strangers the same as you, and bound to feel for those in like plight.”
Then Gerard blushed in his turn and stammered excuses.
The hulking husband grinned superior to them both.
“Give the vixen a kiss for her pudding, and cry quits,” said he, with an air impartial, judge-like and Jove-like.
Gerard obeyed the lofty behest, and kissed the wife’s cheek. “A blessing go with you both, good people,” said he.
“And God speed you, young man!” replied the honest couple; and with that they parted, and never met again in this world.
The sun had just risen: the rain-drops on the leaves glittered like diamonds. The air was fresh and bracing, and Gerard steered south, and did not even remember his resolve of overnight.
Eight leagues he walked that day, and in the afternoon came upon a huge building with an enormous arched gateway and a postern by its side.
“A monastery!” cried he joyfully; “I go no further lest I fare worse.” He applied at the postern, and on stating whence he came and whither bound, was instantly admitted and directed to the guestchamber, a large and lofty room, where travellers were fed and lodged gratis by the charity of the monastic orders. Soon the bell tinkled for vespers, and Gerard entered the church of the convent, and from his place heard a service sung so exquisitely, it seemed the choir of heaven. But one thing was wanting, Margaret was not there to hear it with him, and this made him sigh bitterly in mid rapture. At supper, plain but wholesome and abundant food, and good beer, brewed in the convent, were set before him and his fellows, and at an early hour they were ushered into a large dormitory, and the number being moderate, had each a truckle bed, and for covering, sheepskins dressed with the fleece on; but previously to this a monk, struck by his youth and beauty, questioned him, and soon drew out his projects and his heart. When he was found to be convent bred, and going alone to Rome, he became a personage, and in the morning they showed him over the convent and made him stay and dine in the refectory. They also pricked him a route on a slip of parchment, and the prior gave him a silver guilden to help him on the road, and advised him to join the first honest company he should fall in with, “and not face alone the manifold perils of the way.”
“Perils?” said Gerard to himself.
That evening he came to a small straggling town where was one inn; it had no sign; but being now better versed in the customs of the country, he detected it at once by the coats of arms on its walls. These belonged to the distinguished visitors who had slept in it at different epochs since its foundation, and left these customary tokens of their patronage. At present it looked more like a mausoleum than a hotel. Nothing moved nor sounded either in it or about it. Gerard hammered on the great oak door: no answer. He hallooed: no reply. After a while he hallooed louder, and at last a little round window, or rather hole in the wall, opened, a man’s head protruded cautiously, like a tortoise’s from its shell, and eyed Gerard stolidly, but never uttered a syllable.
“Is this an inn?” asked Gerard, with a covert sneer.
The head seemed to fall into a brown study; eventually it nodded, but lazily.
“Can I have entertainment here?”
Again the head pondered and ended by nodding, but sullenly, and seemed a skull overburdened with catch-penny interrogatories.
“How am I to get within, an’t please you?”
At this the head popped in, as if the last question had shot it; and a hand popped out, pointed round the corner of the building, and slammed the window.
Gerard followed the indication, and after some research discovered that the fortification had one vulnerable part, a small low door on its flank. As for the main entrance, that was used to keep out thieves and customers, except once or twice in a year, when they entered together, i.e., when some duke or count arrived in pomp with his train of gaudy ruffians.
Gerard, having penetrated the outer fort, soon found his way to the stove (as the public room was called from the principal article in it), and sat down near the oven, in which were only a few live embers that diffused a mild and grateful heat.
After waiting patiently a long time, he asked a grim old fellow with a long white beard, who stalked solemnly in, and turned the hour-glass, and then was stalking out, when supper would be. The grisly Ganymede counted the guests on his fingers —“When I see thrice as many here as now.” Gerard groaned.
The grisly tyrant resented the rebellious sound. “Inns are not built for one,” said he; “if you can’t wait for the rest, look out for another lodging.”
At this the greybeard frowned.
After a while company trickled steadily in, till full eighty persons of various conditions were congregated, and to our novice the place became a chamber of horrors; for here the mothers got together and compared ringworms, and the men scraped the mud off their shoes with their knives, and left it on the floor, and combed their long hair out, inmates included, and made their toilet, consisting generally of a dry rub. Water, however, was brought in ewers. Gerard pounced on one of these, but at sight of the liquid contents lost his temper and said to the waiter, “Wash you first your water, and then a man may wash his hands withal.”
“An’ it likes you not, seek another inn!”
Gerard said nothing, but went quietly and courteously besought an old traveller to tell him how far it was to the next inn.
“About four leagues.”
Then Gerard appreciated the grim pleasantry of the unbending sire.
That worthy now returned with an armful of wood, and counting the travellers, put on a log for every six, by which act of raw justice the hotter the room the more heat he added. Poor Gerard noticed this little flaw in the ancient man’s logic, but carefully suppressed every symptom of intelligence, lest his feet should have to carry his brains four leagues farther that night.
When perspiration and suffocation were far advanced, they brought in the table-cloths; but oh, so brown, so dirty, and so coarse; they seemed like sacks that had been worn out in agriculture and come down to this, or like shreads from the mainsail of some worn-out ship. The Hollander, who had never seen such linen even in nightmare, uttered a faint cry.
“What is to do?” inquired a traveller. Gerard pointed ruefully to the dirty sackcloth. The other looked at it with lack lustre eye, and comprehended nought.
A Burgundian soldier with his arbalest at his back came peeping over Gerard’s shoulder, and seeing what was amiss, laughed so loud that the room rang again, then slapped him on the back and cried, “Courage! le diable est mort.”
Gerard stared: he doubted alike the good tidings and their relevancy; but the tones were so hearty and the arbalestrier’s face, notwithstanding a formidable beard, was so gay and genial, that he smiled, and after a pause said drily, “Il a bien faite avec l’eau et linge du pays on allait le noircir a ne se reconnaitre plus.”
“Tiens, tiens!” cried the soldier, “v’la qui parle le Francais peu s’en faut,” and he seated himself by Gerard, and in a moment was talking volubly of war, women, and pillage, interlarding his discourse with curious oaths, at which Gerard drew away from him more or less.
Presently in came the grisly servant, and counted them all on his fingers superciliously, like Abraham telling sheep; then went out again, and returned with a deal trencher and deal spoon to each.
Then there was an interval. Then he brought them a long mug apiece made of glass, and frowned. By-and-by he stalked gloomily in with a hunch of bread apiece, and exit with an injured air. Expectation thus raised, the guests sat for nearly an hour balancing the wooden spoons, and with their own knives whittling the bread. Eventually, when hope was extinct, patience worn out, and hunger exhausted, a huge vessel was brought in with pomp, the lid was removed, a cloud of steam rolled forth, and behold some thin broth with square pieces of bread floating. This, though not agreeable to the mind, served to distend the body. Slices of Strasbourg ham followed, and pieces of salt fish, both so highly salted that Gerard could hardly swallow a mouthful. Then came a kind of gruel, and when the repast had lasted an hour and more, some hashed meat highly peppered and the French and Dutch being now full to the brim with the above dainties, and the draughts of beer the salt and spiced meats had provoked, in came roasted kids, most excellent, and carp and trout fresh from the stream. Gerard made an effort and looked angrily at them, but “could no more,” as the poets say. The Burgundian swore by the liver and pike-staff of the good centurion, the natives had outwitted him. Then turning to Gerard, he said, “Courage, l’ami, le diable est mort,” as loudly as before, but not with the same tone of conviction. The canny natives had kept an internal corner for contingencies, and polished the kid’s very bones.
The feast ended with a dish of raw animalcula in a wicker cage. A cheese had been surrounded with little twigs and strings; then a hole made in it and a little sour wine poured in. This speedily bred a small but numerous vermin. When the cheese was so rotten with them that only the twigs and string kept it from tumbling to pieces and walking off quadrivious, it came to table. By a malicious caprice of fate, cage and menagerie were put down right under the Dutchman’s organ of self-torture. He recoiled with a loud ejaculation, and hung to the bench by the calves of his legs.
“What is the matter?” said a traveller disdainfully. “Does the good cheese scare ye? Then put it hither, in the name of all the saints!”
“Cheese!” cried Gerard, “I see none. These nauseous reptiles have made away with every bit of it.”
“Well,” replied another, “it is not gone far. By eating of the mites we eat the cheese to boot.”
“Nay, not so,” said Gerard. “These reptiles are made like us, and digest their food and turn it to foul flesh even as we do ours to sweet; as well might you think to chew grass by eating of grass-fed beeves, as to eat cheese by swallowing these uncleanly insects.”
Gerard raised his voice in uttering this, and the company received the paradox in dead silence, and with a distrustful air, like any other stranger, during which the Burgundian, who understood German but imperfectly, made Gerard Gallicize the discussion. He patted his interpreter on the back. “C’est bien, mon gars; plus fin que toi n’est pas bete,” and administered his formula of encouragement; and Gerard edged away from him; for next to ugly sights and ill odours, the poor wretch disliked profaneness.
Meantime, though shaken in argument, the raw reptiles were duly eaten and relished by the company, and served to provoke thirst, a principal aim of all the solids in that part of Germany. So now the company drank garausses all round, and their tongues were unloosed, and oh, the Babel! But above the fierce clamour rose at intervals, like some hero’s war-cry in battle, the trumpet-like voice of the Burgundian soldier shouting lustily, “Courage, camarades, le diable est mort!”
Entered grisly Ganymede holding in his hand a wooden dish with circles and semicircles marked on it in chalk. He put it down on the table and stood silent, sad, and sombre, as Charon by Styx waiting for his boat-load of souls. Then pouches and purses were rummaged, and each threw a coin into the dish. Gerard timidly observed that he had drunk next to no beer, and inquired how much less he was to pay than the others.
“What mean you?” said Ganymede roughly. “Whose fault is it you have not drunken? Are all to suffer because one chooses to be a milksop? You will pay no more than the rest, and no less.”
Gerard was abashed.
“Courage, petit, le diable est mort,” hiccoughed the soldier and flung Ganymede a coin.
“You are bad as he is,” said the old man peevishly; “you are paying too much;” and the tyrannical old Aristides returned him some coin out of the trencher with a most reproachful countenance. And now the man whom Gerard had confuted an hour and a half ago awoke from a brown study, in which he had been ever since, and came to him and said, “Yes, but the honey is none the worse for passing through the bees’ bellies.”
Gerard stared. The answer had been so long on the road he hadn’t an idea what it was an answer to. Seeing him dumfounded, the other concluded him confuted, and withdrew calmed.
The bedrooms were upstairs, dungeons with not a scrap of furniture except the bed, and a male servant settled inexorably who should sleep with whom. Neither money nor prayers would get a man a bed to himself here; custom forbade it sternly. You might as well have asked to monopolize a see-saw. They assigned to Gerard a man with a great black beard. He was an honest fellow enough, but not perfect; he would not go to bed, and would sit on the edge of it telling the wretched Gerard by force, and at length, the events of the day, and alternately laughing and crying at the same circumstances, which were not in the smallest degree pathetic or humorous, but only dead trivial. At last Gerard put his fingers in his ears, and lying down in his clothes, for the sheets were too dirty for him to undress, contrived to sleep. But in an hour or two he awoke cold, and found that his drunken companion had got all the feather bed; so mighty is instinct. They lay between two beds; the lower one hard and made of straw, the upper soft and filled with feathers light as down. Gerard pulled at it, but the experienced drunkard held it fast mechanically. Gerard tried to twitch it away by surprise, but instinct was too many for him. On this he got out of bed, and kneeling down on his bedfellow’s unguarded side, easily whipped the prize away and rolled with it under the bed, and there lay on one edge of it, and curled the rest round his shoulders. Before he slept he often heard something grumbling and growling above him, which was some little satisfaction. Thus instinct was outwitted, and victorious Reason lay chuckling on feathers, and not quite choked with dust.
At peep of day Gerard rose, flung the feather bed upon his snoring companion, and went in search of milk and air.
A cheerful voice hailed him in French: “What ho! you are up with the sun, comrade.”
“He rises betimes that lies in a dog’s lair,” answered Gerard crossly.
“Courage, l’ami! le diable est mort,” was the instant reply. The soldier then told him his name was Denys, and he was passing from Flushing in Zealand to the Duke’s French dominions; a change the more agreeable to him, as he should revisit his native place, and a host of pretty girls who had wept at his departure, and should hear French spoken again. “And who are you, and whither bound?”
“My name is Gerard, and I am going to Rome,” said the more reserved Hollander, and in a way that invited no further confidences.
“All the better; we will go together as far as Burgundy.”
“That is not my road.”
“All roads take to Rome.”
“Ay, but the shortest road thither is my way.”
“Well, then, it is I who must go out of my way a step for the sake of good company, for thy face likes me, and thou speakest French, or nearly.”
“There go two words to that bargain,” said Gerard coldly. “I steer by proverbs, too. They do put old heads on young men’s shoulders. ‘Bon loup mauvais compagnon, dit le brebis;’ and a soldier, they say, is near akin to a wolf.”
“They lie,” said Denys; “besides, if he is, ‘les loups ne se mangent pas entre eux.’”
“Aye but, sir soldier, I am not a wolf; and thou knowest, a bien petite occasion se saisit le loup du mouton.’”
“Let us drop wolves and sheep, being men; my meaning is, that a good soldier never pillages-a comrade. Come, young man, too much suspicion becomes not your years. They who travel should learn to read faces; methinks you might see lealty in mine sith I have seen it in yourn. Is it yon fat purse at your girdle you fear for?” (Gerard turned pale.) “Look hither!” and he undid his belt, and poured out of it a double handful of gold pieces, then returned them to their hiding-place. “There is a hostage for you,” said he; “carry you that, and let us be comrades,” and handed him his belt, gold and all.
Gerard stared. “If I am over prudent, you have not enow.” But he flushed and looked pleased at the other’s trust in him.
“Bah! I can read faces; and so must you, or you’ll never take your four bones safe to Rome.”
“Soldier, you would find me a dull companion, for my heart is very heavy,” said Gerard, yielding.
“I’ll cheer you, mon gars.”
“I think you would,” said Gerard sweetly; “and sore need have I of a kindly voice in mine ear this day.”
“Oh! no soul is sad alongside me. I lift up their poor little hearts with my consigne: ‘Courage, tout le monde, le diable est mort.’ Ha! ha!”
“So be it, then,” said Gerard. “But take back your belt, for I could never trust by halves. We will go together as far as Rhine, and God go with us both!”
“Amen!” said Denys, and lifted his cap. “En avant!”
The pair trudged manfully on, and Denys enlivened the weary way. He chattered about battles and sieges, and things which were new to Gerard; and he was one of those who make little incidents wherever they go. He passed nobody without addressing them. “They don’t understand it, but it wakes them up,” said he. But whenever they fell in with a monk or priest. He pulled a long face, and sought the reverend father’s blessing, and fearlessly poured out on him floods of German words in such order as not to produce a single German sentence — He doffed his cap to every woman, high or low, he caught sight of, and with eagle eye discerned her best feature, and complimented her on it in his native tongue, well adapted to such matters; and at each carrion crow or magpie, down came his crossbow, and he would go a furlong off the road to circumvent it; and indeed he did shoot one old crow with laudable neatness and despatch, and carried it to the nearest hen-roost, and there slipped in and set it upon a nest. “The good-wife will say, ‘Alack, here is Beelzebub ahatching of my eggs.’”
“No, you forget he is dead,” objected Gerard.
“So he is, so he is. But she doesn’t know that, not having the luck to be acquainted with me, who carry the good news from city to city, uplifting men’s hearts.”
Such was Denys in time of peace.
Our travellers towards nightfall reached a village; it was a very small one, but contained a place of entertainment. They searched for it, and found a small house with barn and stables. In the former was the everlasting stove, and the clothes drying round it on lines, and a traveller or two sitting morose. Gerard asked for supper.
“Supper? We have no time to cook for travellers; we only provide lodging, good lodging for man and beast. You can have some beer.”
“Madman, who, born in Holland, sought other lands!” snorted Gerard in Dutch. The landlady started.
“What gibberish is that?” asked she, and crossed herself with looks of superstitious alarm. “You can buy what you like in the village, and cook it in our oven; but, prithee, mutter no charms nor sorceries here, good man; don’t ye now, it do make my flesh creep so.”
They scoured the village for food, and ended by supping on roasted eggs and brown bread.
At a very early hour their chambermaid came for them. It was a rosy-cheeked old fellow with a lanthorn.
They followed him. He led them across a dirty farmyard, where they had much ado to pick their steps, and brought them into a cow-house. There, on each side of every cow, was laid a little clean straw, and a tied bundle of ditto for a pillow. The old man looked down on this his work with paternal pride. Not so Gerard. “What, do you set Christian men to lie among cattle?”
“Well, it is hard upon the poor beasts. They have scarce room to turn.”
“Oh! what, it is not hard on us, then?”
“Where is the hardship? I have lain among them all my life. Look at me! I am fourscore, and never had a headache in all my born days — all along of lying among the kye. Bless your silly head, kine’s breath is ten times sweeter to drink nor Christians’. You try it!” and he slammed the bedroom door.
“Denys, where are you?” whined Gerard.
“Here, on her other side.”
“What are you doing?”
“I know not; but as near as I can guess, I think I must be going to sleep. What are you at?
“I am saying my prayers.”
“Forget me not in them!”
“Is it likely? Denys, I shall soon have done: do not go to sleep, I want to talk.
“Despatch then! for I feel — augh like floating-in the sky on a warm cloud.”
“Augh! eh! hallo! is it time to get up?”
“Alack, no. There, I hurried my orisons to talk; and look at you, going to sleep! We shall be starved before morning, having no coverlets.”
“Well, you know what to do.”
“Not I, in sooth.”
“Cuddle the cow.”
“Burrow in the straw, then. You must be very new to the world, to grumble at this. How would you bear to lie on the field of battle on a frosty night, as I did t’other day, stark naked, with nothing to keep me warm but the carcass of a fellow I had been and helped kill?”
“Horrible! horrible! Tell me all about it! Oh, but this is sweet.”
“Well, we had a little battle in Brabant, and won a little victory, but it cost us dear; several arbalestriers turned their toes up, and I among them.”
“Killed, Denys? come now!”
“Dead as mutton. Stuck full of pike-holes till the blood ran out of me, like the good wine of Macon from the trodden grapes. It is right bounteous in me to pour the tale in minstrel phrase, for — augh — I am sleepy. Augh — now where was I?”
“Left dead on the field of battle, bleeding like a pig; that is to say, like grapes, or something; go on, prithee go on, ’tis a sin to sleep in the midst of a good story.”
“Granted. Well, some of those vagabonds, that strip the dead soldier on the field of glory, came and took every rag off me; they wrought me no further ill, because there was no need.”
“No; you were dead.”
“C’est convenu. This must have been at sundown; and with the night came a shrewd frost that barkened the blood on my wounds, and stopped all the rivulets that were running from my heart, and about midnight I awoke as from a trance.’
“And thought you were in heaven?” asked Gerard eagerly, being a youth inoculated with monkish tales.
“Too frost-bitten for that, mon gars; besides, I heard the wounded groaning on all sides, so I knew I was in the old place. I saw I could not live the night through without cover. I groped about shivering and shivering; at last one did suddenly leave groaning. ‘You are sped,’ said I, so made up to him, and true enough he was dead, but warm, you know. I took my lord in my arms, but was too weak to carry him, so rolled with him into a ditch hard by; and there my comrades found me in the morning properly stung with nettles, and hugging a dead Fleming for the bare life.”
Gerard shuddered. “And this is war; this is the chosen theme of poets and troubadours, and Reden Ryckers. Truly was it said by the men of old, dulce bellum inexpertis.”
“I say-oh, what stout hearts some men have!”
“N’est-ce pas, p’tit? So after that sort — thing — this sort thing is heaven. Soft — warm — good company, comradancow — cou’age — diable — m-ornk!”
And the glib tongue was still for some hours.
In the morning Gerard was wakened by a liquid hitting his eye, and it was Denys employing the cow’s udder as a squirt.
“Oh, fie!” cried Gerard, “to waste the good milk;” and he took a horn out of his wallet. “Fill this! but indeed I see not what right we have to meddle with her milk at all.”
“Make your mind easy! Last night la camarade was not nice; but what then, true friendship dispenses with ceremony. To-day we make as free with her.”
“Why, what did she do, poor thing?”
“Ate my pillow.”
“On waking I had to hunt for my head, and found it down in the stable gutter. She ate our pillow from us, we drink our pillow from her. A votre sante, madame; et sans rancune;” and the dog drank her milk to her own health.
“The ancient was right though,” said Gerard. “Never have I risen so refreshed since I left my native land. Henceforth let us shun great towns, and still lie in a convent or a cow-house; for I’d liever sleep on fresh straw, than on linen well washed six months agone; and the breath of kine it is sweeter than that of Christians, let alone the garlic, which men and women folk affect, but cowen abhor from, and so do I, St. Bavon be my witness!”
The soldier eyed him from head to foot: “Now but for that little tuft on your chin I should take you for a girl; and by the finger-nails of St. Luke, no ill-favoured one neither.”
These three towns proved types and repeated themselves with slight variations for many a weary league; but even when he could get neither a convent nor a cow-house, Gerard learned in time to steel himself to the inevitable, and to emulate his comrade, whom he looked on as almost superhuman for hardihood of body and spirit.
There was, however, a balance to all this veneration.
Denys, like his predecessor Achilles, had his weak part, his very weak part, thought Gerard.
His foible was “woman.”
Whatever he was saying or doing, he stopped short at sight of a farthingale, and his whole soul became occupied with that garment and its inmate till they had disappeared; and sometimes for a good while after.
He often put Gerard to the blush by talking his amazing German to such females as he caught standing or sitting indoors or out, at which they stared; and when he met a peasant girl on the road, he took off his cap to her and saluted her as if she was a queen; the invariable effect of which was, that she suddenly drew herself up quite stiff like a soldier on parade, and wore a forbidding countenance.
“They drive me to despair,” said Denys. “Is that a just return to a civil bonnetade? They are large, they are fair, but stupid as swans.”
“What breeding can you expect from women that wear no hose?” inquired Gerard; “and some of them no shoon? They seem to me reserved and modest, as becomes their sex, and sober, whereas the men are little better than beer-barrels. Would you have them brazen as well as hoseless?”
“A little affability adorns even beauty,” sighed Denys.
“Then let these alone, sith they are not to your taste,” retorted Gerard. “What, is there no sweet face in Burgundy that would pale to see you so wrapped up in strange women?”
“Half-a-dozen that would cry their eyes out.”
“But it is a long way to Burgundy.”
“Ay, to the foot, but not to the heart. I am there, sleeping and waking, and almost every minute of the day.”
“In Burgundy? Why, I thought you had never —”
“In Burgundy?” cried Gerard contemptuously. “No, in sweet Sevenbergen. Ah! well-a-day! well-a-day!”
Many such dialogues as this passed between the pair on the long and weary road, and neither could change the other.
One day about noon they reached a town of some pretensions, and Gerard was glad, for he wanted to buy a pair of shoes; his own were quite worn out. They soon found a shop that displayed a goodly array, and made up to it, and would have entered it, but the shopkeeper sat on the doorstep taking a nap, and was so fat as to block up the narrow doorway; the very light could hardly struggle past his “too, too solid flesh,” much less a carnal customer.
My fair readers, accustomed, when they go shopping, to be met half way with nods, and becks, and wreathed smiles, and waved into a seat, while almost at the same instant an eager shopman flings himself half across the counter in a semi-circle to learn their commands, can best appreciate this mediaeval Teuton, who kept a shop as a dog keeps a kennel, and sat at the exclusion of custom snoring like a pig.
Denys and Gerard stood and contemplated this curiosity; emblem, permit me to remark, of the lets and hindrances to commerce that characterized his epoch.
“Jump over him!”
“The door is too low.”
“March through him!”
“The man is too thick.”
“What is the coil?” inquired a mumbling voice from the interior; apprentice with his mouth full.
“We want to get into your shop?”
“What for, in Heaven’s name??!!!”
“Shoon, lazy bones!”
The ire of the apprentice began to rise at such an explanation. “And could ye find no hour out of all the twelve to come pestering us for shoon, but the one little, little hour my master takes his nap, and I sit down to my dinner, when all the rest of the world is full long ago?”
Denys heard, but could not follow the sense. “Waste no more time talking their German gibberish,” said he; “take out thy knife and tickle his fat ribs.”
“That I will not,” said Gerard.
“Then here goes; I’ll prong him with this.”
Gerard seized the mad fellow’s arm in dismay, for he had been long enough in the country to guess that the whole town would take part in any brawl with the native against a stranger. But Denys twisted away from him, and the cross-bow bolt in his hand was actually on the road to the sleeper’s ribs; but at that very moment two females crossed the road towards him; he saw the blissful vision, and instantly forgot what he was about, and awaited their approach with unreasonable joy.
Though companions, they were not equals, except in attractiveness to a Burgundian crossbow man; for one was very tall, the other short, and by one of those anomalies which society, however primitive, speedily establishes, the long one held up the little one’s tail. The tall one wore a plain linen coif on her head, a little grogram cloak over her shoulders, a grey kirtle, and a short farthingale or petticoat of bright red cloth, and feet and legs quite bare, though her arms were veiled in tight linen sleeves.
The other a kirtle broadly trimmed with fur, her arms in double sleeves, whereof the inner of yellow satin clung to the skin; the outer, all befurred, were open at the inside of the elbow, and so the arm passed through and left them dangling. Velvet head-dress, huge purse at girdle, gorgeous train, bare legs. And thus they came on, the citizen’s wife strutting, and the maid gliding after, holding her mistress’s train devoutly in both hands, and bending and winding her lithe body prettily enough to do it. Imagine (if not pressed for time) a bantam, with a guineahen stepping obsequious at its stately heel.
This pageant made straight for the shoemaker’s shop. Denys louted low; the worshipful lady nodded graciously, but rapidly, having business on hand, or rather on foot; for in a moment she poked the point of her little shoe into the sleeper, and worked it round in him like a gimlet, till with a long snarl he woke. The incarnate shutter rising and grumbling vaguely, the lady swept in and deigned him no further notice. He retreated to his neighbour’s shop, the tailor’s, and sitting on the step, protected it from the impertinence of morning calls. Neighbours should be neighbourly.
Denys and Gerard followed the dignity into the shop, where sat the apprentice at dinner; the maid stood outside with her insteps crossed, leaning against the wall, and tapping it with her nails.
“Those, yonder,” said the dignity briefly, pointing with an imperious little white hand to some yellow shoes gilded at the toe. While the apprentice stood stock still neutralized by his dinner and his duty, Denys sprang at the shoes, and brought them to her; she smiled, and calmly seating herself, protruded her foot, shod, but hoseless, and scented. Down went Denys on his knees, and drew off her shoe, and tried the new ones on the white skin devoutly. Finding she had a willing victim, she abused the opportunity, tried first one pair, then another, then the first again, and so on, balancing and hesitating for about half an hour, to Gerard’s disgust, and Denys’s weak delight. At last she was fitted, and handed two pair of yellow and one pair of red shoes out to her servant. Then was heard a sigh. It burst from the owner of the shop: he had risen from slumber, and was now hovering about, like a partridge near her brood in danger.
“There go all my coloured shoes,” said he, as they disappeared in the girl’s apron.
The lady departed: Gerard fitted himself with a stout pair, asked the price, paid it without a word, and gave his old ones to a beggar in the street, who blessed him in the marketplace, and threw them furiously down a well in the suburbs. The comrades left the shop, and in it two melancholy men, that looked, and even talked, as if they had been robbed wholesale.
“My shoon are sore worn,” said Denys, grinding his teeth; “but I’ll go barefoot till I reach France, ere I’ll leave my money with such churls as these.”
The Dutchman replied calmly, “They seem indifferent well sewn.”
As they drew near the Rhine, they passed through forest after forest, and now for the first time ugly words sounded in travellers’ mouths, seated around stoves. “Thieves!” “black gangs!” “cut-throats!” etc.
The very rustics were said to have a custom hereabouts of murdering the unwary traveller in these gloomy woods, whose dark and devious winding enabled those who were familiar with them to do deeds of rapine and blood undetected, or if detected, easily to baffle pursuit.
Certain it was, that every clown they met carried, whether for offence or defence, a most formidable weapon; a light axe, with a short pike at the head, and a long slender handle of ash or yew, well seasoned. These the natives could all throw with singular precision, so as to make the point strike an object at several yard’s distance, or could slay a bullock at hand with a stroke of the blade. Gerard bought one and practised with it. Denys quietly filed and ground his bolt sharp, whistling the whilst; and when they entered a gloomy wood, he would unsling his crossbow and carry it ready for action; but not so much like a traveller fearing an attack, as a sportsman watchful not to miss a snap shot.
One day, being in a forest a few leagues from Dusseldorf, as Gerard was walking like one in a dream, thinking of Margaret, and scarce seeing the road he trode, his companion laid a hand on his shoulder, and strung his crossbow with glittering eye. “Hush!” said he, in a low whisper that startled Gerard more than thunder. Gerard grasped his axe tight, and shook a little: he heard a rustling in the wood hard by, and at the same moment Denys sprang into the wood, and his crossbow went to his shoulder, even as he jumped. Twang! went the metal string; and after an instant’s suspense he roared, “Run forward, guard the road, he is hit! he is hit!”
Gerard darted forward, and as he ran a young bear burst out of the wood right upon him; finding itself intercepted, it went upon its hind legs with a snarl, and though not half grown, opened formidable jaws and long claws. Gerard, in a fury of excitement and agitation, flung himself on it, and delivered a tremendous blow on its nose with his axe, and the creature staggered; another, and it lay grovelling, with Gerard hacking it.
“Hallo! stop! you are mad to spoil the meat.”
“I took it for a robber,” said Gerard, panting. “I mean, I had made ready for a robber, so I could not hold my hand.”
“Ay, these chattering travellers have stuffed your head full of thieves and assassins; they have not got a real live robber in their whole nation. Nay, I’ll carry the beast; bear thou my crossbow.”
“We will carry it by turns, then,” said Gerard, “for ’tis a heavy load: poor thing, how its blood drips. Why did we slay it?”
“For supper and the reward the baillie of the next town shall give us.”
“And for that it must die, when it had but just begun to live; and perchance it hath a mother that will miss it sore this night, and loves it as ours love us; more than mine does me.”
“What, know you not that his mother was caught in a pitfall last month, and her skin is now at the tanner’s? and his father was stuck full of cloth-yard shafts t’other day, and died like Julius Caesar, with his hands folded on his bosom, and a dead dog in each of them?”
But Gerard would not view it jestingly. “Why, then,” said he, “we have killed one of God’s creatures that was all alone in the world-as I am this day, in this strange land.”
“You young milksop,” roared Denys, “these things must not be looked at so, or not another bow would be drawn nor quarrel fly in forest nor battlefield. Why, one of your kidney consorting with a troop of pikemen should turn them to a row of milk-pails; it is ended, to Rome thou goest not alone, for never wouldst thou reach the Alps in a whole skin. I take thee to Remiremont, my native place, and there I marry thee to my young sister, she is blooming as a peach. Thou shakest thy head? ah! I forgot; thou lovest elsewhere, and art a one woman man, a creature to me scarce conceivable. Well then I shall find thee, not a wife, nor a leman, but a friend; some honest Burgundian who shall go with thee as far as Lyons; and much I doubt that honest fellow will be myself, into whose liquor thou has dropped sundry powders to make me love thee; for erst I endured not doves in doublet and hose. From Lyons, I say, I can trust thee by ship to Italy, which being by all accounts the very stronghold of milksops, thou wilt there be safe: they will hear thy words, and make thee their duke in a twinkling.”
Gerard sighed. “In sooth I love not to think of this Dusseldorf, where we are to part company, good friend.”
They walked silently, each thinking of the separation at hand; the thought checked trifling conversation, and at these moments it is a relief to do something, however insignificant. Gerard asked Denys to lend him a bolt. “I have often shot with a long bow, but never with one of these!”
“Draw thy knife and cut this one out of the cub,” said Denys slily.
“Nay, Day, I want a clean one.”
Denys gave him three out of his quiver.
Gerard strung the bow, and levelled it at a bough that had fallen into the road at some distance. The power of the instrument surprised him; the short but thick steel bow jarred him to the very heel as it went off, and the swift steel shaft was invisible in its passage; only the dead leaves, with which November had carpeted the narrow road, flew about on the other side of the bough.
“Ye aimed a thought too high,” said Denys.
“What a deadly thing! no wonder it is driving out the longbow — to Martin’s much discontent.”
“Ay, lad,” said Denys triumphantly, “it gains ground every day, in spite of their laws and their proclamations to keep up the yewen bow, because forsooth their grandsires shot with it, knowing no better. You see, Gerard, war is not pastime. Men will shoot at their enemies with the hittingest arm and the killingest, not with the longest and missingest.”
“Then these new engines I hear of will put both bows down; for these with a pinch of black dust, and a leaden ball, and a child’s finger, shall slay you Mars and Goliath, and the Seven Champions.”
“Pooh! pooh!” said Denys warmly; “petrone nor harquebuss shall ever put down Sir Arbalest. Why, we can shoot ten times while they are putting their charcoal and their lead into their leathern smoke belchers, and then kindling their matches. All that is too fumbling for the field of battle; there a soldier’s weapon needs be aye ready, like his heart.”
Gerard did not answer, for his ear was attracted by a sound behind them. It was a peculiar sound, too, like something heavy, but not hard, rushing softly over the dead leaves. He turned round with some little curiosity. A colossal creature was coming down the road at about sixty paces’ distance.
He looked at it in a sort of calm stupor at first, but the next moment, he turned ashy pale.
“Denys!” he cried. “Oh, God! Denys!”
Denys whirled round.
It was a bear as big as a cart-horse.
It was tearing along with its huge head down, running on a hot scent.
The very moment he saw it Denys said in a sickening whisper —
Oh! the concentrated horror of that one word, whispered hoarsely, with dilating eyes! For in that syllable it all flashed upon them both like a sudden stroke of lightning in the dark — the bloody trail, the murdered cub, the mother upon them, and it. DEATH.
All this in a moment of time. The next, she saw them. Huge as she was, she seemed to double herself (it was her long hair bristling with rage): she raised her head big as a hull’s, her swine-shaped jaws opened wide at them, her eyes turned to blood and flame, and she rushed upon them, scattering the leaves about her like a whirlwind as she came.
“Shoot!” screamed Denys, but Gerard stood shaking from head to foot, useless.
“Shoot, man! ten thousand devils, shoot! too late! Tree! tree!” and he dropped the cub, pushed Gerard across the road, and flew to the first tree and climbed it, Gerard the same on his side; and as they fled, both men uttered inhuman howls like savage creatures grazed by death.
With all their speed one or other would have been torn to fragments at the foot of his tree; but the bear stopped a moment at the cub.
Without taking her bloodshot eyes off those she was hunting, she smelt it all round, and found, how, her Creator only knows, that it was dead, quite dead. She gave a yell such as neither of the hunted ones had ever heard, nor dreamed to be in nature, and flew after Denys. She reared and struck at him as he climbed. He was just out of reach.
Instantly she seized the tree, and with her huge teeth tore a great piece out of it with a crash. Then she reared again, dug her claws deep into the bark, and began to mount it slowly, but as surely as a monkey.
Denys’s evil star had led him to a dead tree, a mere shaft, and of no very great height. He climbed faster than his pursuer, and was soon at the top. He looked this way and that for some bough of another tree to spring to. There was none; and if he jumped down, he knew the bear would be upon him ere he could recover the fall, and make short work of him. Moreover, Denys was little used to turning his back on danger, and his blood was rising at being hunted. He turned to bay.
“My hour is come,” thought he. “Let me meet death like a man.” He kneeled down and grasped a small shoot to steady himself, drew his long knife, and clenching his teeth, prepared to jab the huge brute as soon as it should mount within reach.
Of this combat the result was not doubtful.
The monster’s head and neck were scarce vulnerable for bone and masses of hair. The man was going to sting the bear, and the bear to crack the man like a nut.
Gerard’s heart was better than his nerves. He saw his friend’s mortal danger, and passed at once from fear to blindish rage. He slipped down his tree in a moment, caught up the crossbow, which he had dropped in the road, and running furiously up, sent a bolt into the bear’s body with a loud shout. The bear gave a snarl of rage and pain, and turned its head irresolutely.
“Keep aloof!” cried Denys, “or you are a dead man.”
“I care not;” and in a moment he had another bolt ready and shot it fiercely into the bear, screaming, “Take that! take that!”
Denys poured a volley of oaths down at him. “Get away, idiot!”
He was right: the bear finding so formidable and noisy a foe behind her, slipped growling down the tree, rending deep furrows in it as she slipped. Gerard ran back to his tree and climbed it swiftly. But while his legs were dangling some eight feet from the ground, the bear came rearing and struck with her fore paw, and out flew a piece of bloody cloth from Gerard’s hose. He climbed, and climbed; and presently he heard as it were in the air a voice say, “Go out on the bough!” He looked, and there was a long massive branch before him shooting upwards at a slight angle: he threw his body across it, and by a series of convulsive efforts worked up it to the end.
Then he looked round panting.
The bear was mounting the tree on the other side. He heard her claws scrape, and saw her bulge on both sides of the massive tree. Her eye not being very quick, she reached the fork and passed it, mounting the main stem. Gerard drew breath more freely. The bear either heard him, or found by scent she was wrong: she paused; presently she caught sight of him. She eyed him steadily, then quietly descended to the fork.
Slowly and cautiously she stretched out a paw and tried the bough. It was a stiff oak branch, sound as iron. Instinct taught the creature this: it crawled carefully out on the bough, growling savagely as it came.
Gerard looked wildly down. He was forty feet from the ground. Death below. Death moving slow but sure on him in a still more horrible form. His hair bristled. The sweat poured from him. He sat helpless, fascinated, tongue-tied.
As the fearful monster crawled growling towards him, incongruous thoughts coursed through his mind. Margaret: the Vulgate, where it speaks of the rage of a she-bear robbed of her whelps — Rome — Eternity.
The bear crawled on. And now the stupor of death fell on the doomed man; he saw the open jaws and bloodshot eyes coming, but in a mist.
As in a mist he heard a twang; he glanced down; Denys, white and silent as death, was shooting up at the bear. The bear snarled at the twang. but crawled on. Again the crossbow twanged, and the bear snarled, and came nearer. Again the cross bow twanged; and the next moment the bear was close upon Gerard, where he sat, with hair standing stiff on end and eyes starting from their sockets, palsied. The bear opened her jaws like a grave, and hot blood spouted from them upon Gerard as from a pump. The bough rocked. The wounded monster was reeling; it clung, it stuck its sickles of claws deep into the wood; it toppled, its claws held firm, but its body rolled off, and the sudden shock to the branch shook Gerard forward on his stomach with his face upon one of the bear’s straining paws. At this, by a convulsive effort, she raised her head up, up, till he felt her hot fetid breath. Then huge teeth snapped together loudly close below him in the air, with a last effort of baffled hate. The ponderous carcass rent the claws out of the bough, then pounded the earth with a tremendous thump. There was a shout of triumph below, and the very next instant a cry of dismay, for Gerard had swooned, and without an attempt to save himself, rolled headlong from the perilous height.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54