The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 41

Denys, placed in the middle of his companions, lest he should be so mad as attempt escape was carried off in an agony of grief and remorse. For his sake Gerard had abandoned the German route to Rome; and what was his reward? left all alone in the centre of Burgundy. This was the thought which maddened Denys most, and made him now rave at heaven and earth, now fall into a gloomy silence so savage and sinister that it was deemed prudent to disarm him. They caught up their leader just outside the town, and the whole cavalcade drew up and baited at the “Tete d’Or.”

The young landlady, though much occupied with the count, and still more with the bastard, caught sight of Denys, and asked him somewhat anxiously what had become of his young companion?

Denys, with a burst of grief, told her all, and prayed her to send after Gerard. “Now he is parted from me, he will maybe listen to my rede,” said he; “poor wretch, he loves not solitude.”

The landlady gave a toss of her head. “I trow I have been somewhat over-kind already,” said she, and turned rather red.

“You will not?”

“Not I.”

“Then,”— and he poured a volley of curses and abuse upon her.

She turned her back upon him, and went off whimpering, and Saying she was not used to be cursed at; and ordered her hind to saddle two mules.

Denys went north with his troop, mute and drooping over his saddle, and quite unknown to him, that veracious young lady made an equestrian toilet in only forty minutes, she being really in a hurry, and spurred away with her servant in the opposite direction.

At dark, after a long march, the bastard and his men reached “The White Hart;” their arrival caused a prodigious bustle, and it was some time before Manon discovered her old friend among so many. When she did, she showed it only by heightened colour. She did not claim the acquaintance. The poor soul was already beginning to scorn.

“The base degrees by which she did ascend.”

Denys saw but could not smile. The inn reminded him too much of Gerard.

Ere the night closed the wind changed. She looked into the room and beckoned him with her finger. He rose sulkily, and his guards with him.

“Nay, I would speak a word to thee in private.”

She drew him to a corner of the room, and there asked him under her breath would he do her a kindness.

He answered out loud, “No, he would not; he was not in the vein to do kindnesses to man or woman. If he did a kindness it should be to a dog; and not that if he could help it.”

“Alas, good archer, I did you one eftsoons, you and your pretty comrade,” said Manon humbly.

“You did, dame, you did; well then, for his sake — what is’t to do?”

“Thou knowest my story. I had been unfortunate. Now I am worshipful. But a woman did cast him in my teeth this day. And so ’twill be ever while he hangs there. I would have him ta’en down; well-a-day!”

“With all my heart.”

“And none dare I ask but thee. Wilt do’t?”

“Not I, even were I not a prisoner.”

On this stern refusal the tender Manon sighed, and clasped her palms together despondently. Denys told her she need not fret. There were soldiers of a lower stamp who would not make two bites of such a cherry. It was a mere matter of money; if she could find two angels, he would find two soldiers to do the dirty work of “The White Hart.”

This was not very palatable. However, reflecting that soldiers were birds of passage, drinking here to-night, knocked on the head there to-morrow, she said softly, “Send them out to me. But prithee, tell them that ’tis for one that is my friend; let them not think ’tis for me; I should sink into the earth; times are changed.”

Denys found warriors glad to win an angel apiece so easily. He sent them out, and instantly dismissing the subject with contempt, sat brooding on his lost friend.

Manon and the warriors soon came to a general understanding. But what were they to do with the body when taken down? She murmured, “The river is nigh the — the place.”

“Fling him in, eh?”

“Nay, nay; be not so cruel! Could ye not put him — gently — and — with somewhat weighty?”

She must have been thinking on the subject in detail; for she was not one to whom ideas came quickly.

All was speedily agreed, except the time of payment. The mail-clad itched for it, and sought it in advance. Manon demurred to that.

What, did she doubt their word? then let her come along with them, or watch them at a distance.

“Me?” said Manon with horror. “I would liever die than see it done.”

“Which yet you would have done.”

“Ay, for sore is my need. Times are changed.”

She had already forgotten her precept to Denys.

An hour later the disagreeable relic of caterpillar existence ceased to canker the worshipful matron’s public life, and the grim eyes of the past to cast malignant glances down into a white hind’s clover field.

Total. She made the landlord an average wife, and a prime house-dog, and outlived everybody.

Her troops, when they returned from executing with mediaeval naivete the precept, “Off wi’ the auld love,” received a shock. They found the market-place black with groups; it had been empty an hour ago. Conscience smote them. This came of meddling with the dead. However, the bolder of the two, encouraged by the darkness, stole forward alone, and slily mingled with a group: he soon returned to his companion, saying, in a tone of reproach not strictly reasonable,

“Ye born fool, it is only a miracle.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59