The Cloister and the Hearth
Part 12 out of 18
"What is your name, good youth?"
"Gerard? body of Bacchus! is that the name of a human creature?"
"It is a Dutch name, signora. I was born at Tergou, in Holland."
"A harsh name, girls, for so well-favoured a youth; what say you?"
The maids assented warmly.
"What did I send for him for?" inquired the lady, with lofty
languor. "Ah, I remember. Be seated, Ser Gerardo, and write me a
letter to Ercole Orsini, my lover; at least he says so."
Gerard seated himself, took out paper and ink, and looked up to
the princess for instructions.
She, seated on a much higher chair, almost a throne, looked down
at him with eyes equally inquiring.
"I am ready, your excellence."
"I but await the words."
"And who, think you, is to provide them?"
"Who but your grace, whose letter it is to be?"
"Gramercy! what, you writers, find you not the words? What avails
your art without the words? I doubt you are an impostor, Gerardo."
"Nay, Signora, I am none. I might make shift to put your
highness's speech into grammar, as well as writing. But I cannot
interpret your silence. Therefore speak what is in your heart, and
I will empaper it before your eyes."
"But there is nothing in my heart. And sometimes I think I have
got no heart."
"What is in your mind, then?"
"But there is nothing in my mind; nor my head neither."
"Then why write at all?"
"Why, indeed? That is the first word of sense either you or I have
spoken, Gerardo. Pestilence seize him! why writeth he not first?
then I could say nay to this, and ay to that, withouten headache.
Also is it a lady's part to say the first word?"
"No, signora: the last."
"It is well spoken, Gerardo. Ha! ha! Shalt have a gold piece for
thy wit. Give me my purse!" And she paid him for the article on
the nail a la moyen age. Money never yet chilled zeal. Gerard,
after getting a gold piece so cheap, felt bound to pull her out of
her difficulty, if the wit of man might achieve it. "Signorina,"
said he, "these things are only hard because folk attempt too
much, are artificial and labour phrases. Do but figure to yourself
the signor you love-
"I love him not."
"Well, then, the signor you love not-seated at this table, and
dict to me just what you would say to him."
"Well, if he sat there, I should say, 'Go away.'"
Gerard, who was flourishing his pen by way of preparation, laid it
down with a groan.
"And when he was gone," said Floretta, "your highness would say,
"Like enough, wench. Now silence, all, and let me think. He
pestered me to write, and I promised; so mine honour is engaged.
What lie shall I tell the Gerardo to tell the fool?" and she
turned her head away from them and fell into deep thought, with
her noble chin resting on her white hand, half clenched.
She was so lovely and statuesque, and looked so inspired with
thoughts celestial, as she sat thus, impregnating herself with
mendacity, that Gerard forgot all, except art, and proceeded
eagerly to transfer that exquisite profile to paper.
He had very nearly finished when the fair statue turned brusquely
round and looked at him.
"Nay, Signora," said he, a little peevishly; "for Heaven's sake
change not your posture - 'twas perfect. See, you are nearly
All eyes were instantly on the work, and all tongues active.
"How like! and done in a minute: nay, methinks her highness's chin
is not quite so"
"Oh, a touch will make that right."
"What a pity 'tis not coloured. I'm all for colours. Hang black
and white! And her highness hath such a lovely skin. Take away her
skin, and half her beauty is lost."
"Peace. Can you colour, Ser Gerardo?"
"Ay, signorina. I am a poor hand at oils; there shines my friend
Pietro; but in this small way I can tint you to the life, if you
have time to waste on such vanity."
"Call you this vanity? And for time, it hangs on me like lead.
Send for your colours now - quick, this moment - for love of all
"Nay, signorina, I must prepare them. I could come at the same
"So be it. And you, Floretta, see that he be admitted at all
hours. Alack! Leave my head! leave my head!"
"Forgive me, Signora; I thought to prepare it at home to receive
the colours. But I will leave it. And now let us despatch the
"To the Signor Orsini."
"And shall I waste my time on such vanity as writing letters - and
to that empty creature, to whom I am as indifferent as the moon?
Nay, not indifferent, for I have just discovered my real
sentiments. I hate him and despise him. Girls, I here forbid you
once for all to mention that signor's name to me again; else I'll
whip you till the blood comes. You know how I can lay on when I'm
"We do. We do."
"Then provoke me not to it;" and her eye flashed daggers, and she
turned to Gerard all instantaneous honey. "Addio, il Gerardo." And
Gerard bowed himself out of this velvet tiger's den.
He came next day and coloured her; and next he was set to make a
portrait of her on a large scale; and then a full-length figure;
and he was obliged to set apart two hours in the afternoon, for
drawing and painting this princess, whose beauty and vanity were
prodigious, and candidates for a portrait of her numerous. Here
the thriving Gerard found a new and fruitful source of income.
Margaret seemed nearer and nearer.
It was Holy Thursday. No work this day. Fra Colonna and Gerard sat
in a window and saw the religious processions. Their number and
pious ardour thrilled Gerard with the devotion that now seemed to
animate the whole people, lately bent on earthly joys.
Presently the Pope came pacing majestically at the head of his
cardinals, in a red hat, white cloak, a capuchin of red velvet,
and riding a lovely white Neapolitan barb, caparisoned with red
velvet fringed and tasselled with gold; a hundred horsemen, armed
cap-a-pie, rode behind him with their lances erected, the butt-end
resting on the man's thigh. The cardinals went uncovered, all but
one, de Medicis, who rode close to the Pope and conversed with him
as with an equal. At every fifteen steps the Pope stopped a single
moment, and gave the people his blessing, then on again.
Gerard and the friar now came down, and threading some by-streets
reached the portico of one of the seven churches. It was hung with
black, and soon the Pope and cardinals, who had entered the church
by another door, issued forth, and stood with torches on the
steps, separated by barriers from the people; then a canon read a
Latin Bull, excommunicating several persons by name, especially
such princes as were keeping the Church out of any of her temporal
At this awful ceremony Gerard trembled, and so did the people. But
two of the cardinals spoiled the effect by laughing unreservedly
the whole time.
When this was ended, the black cloth was removed, and revealed a
gay panoply; and the Pope blessed the people, and ended by
throwing his torch among them: so did two cardinals. Instantly
there was a scramble for the torches: they were fought for, and
torn in pieces by the candidates, so devoutly that small fragments
were gained at the price of black eyes, bloody noses, and burnt
fingers; In which hurtling his holiness and suite withdrew in
And now there was a cry, and the crowd rushed to a square where
was a large, open stage: several priests were upon it praying.
They rose, and with great ceremony donned red gloves. Then one of
their number kneeled, and with signs of the lowest reverence drew
forth from a shrine a square frame, like that of a mirror, and
inside was as it were the impression of a face.
It was the Verum icon, or true impression of our Saviour's face,
taken at the very moment of His most mortal agony for us. Received
as it was without a grain of doubt, imagine how it moved every
The people threw themselves on their faces when the priest raised
it on high; and cries of pity were in every mouth, and tears in
almost every eye. After a while the people rose, and then the
priest went round the platform, showing it for a single moment to
the nearest; and at each sight loud cries of pity and devotion
Soon after this the friends fell in with a procession of
Flagellants, flogging their bare shoulders till the blood ran
streaming down; but without a sign of pain in their faces, and
many of them laughing and jesting as they lashed. The bystanders
out of pity offered them wine; they took it, but few drank it;
they generally used it to free the tails of the cat, which were
hard with clotted blood, and make the next stroke more effective.
Most of them were boys, and a young woman took pity on one fair
urchin. "Alas! dear child," said she, "why wound thy white skin
so?" "Basta," said he, laughing, "'tis for your sins I do it, not
"Hear you that?" said the friar. "Show me the whip that can whip
the vanity out of man's heart! The young monkey; how knoweth he
that stranger is a sinner more than he?"
"Father," said Gerard, "surely this is not to our Lord's mind. He
was so pitiful."
"Our Lord?" said the friar, crossing himself. "What has He to do
with this? This was a custom in Rome six hundred years before He
was born. The boys used to go through the streets, at the
Lupercalia flogging themselves. And the married women used to
shove in, and try and get a blow from the monkeys' scourges; for
these blows conferred fruitfulness in those days. A foolish trick
this flagellation; but interesting to the bystander; reminds him
of the grand old heathen. We are so prone to forget all we owe
Next they got into one of the seven churches, and saw the Pope
give the mass. The ceremony was imposing, but again - spoiled by
the inconsistent conduct of the cardinals and other prelates, who
sat about the altar with their hats on, chattering all through the
mass like a flock of geese.
The eucharist in both kinds was tasted by an official before the
Pope would venture on it; and this surprised Gerard beyond
measure. "Who is that base man? and what doth he there?"
"Oh, that is 'the Preguste,' and he tastes the eucharist by way of
precaution. This is the country for poison; and none fall oftener
by it than the poor Popes."
"Alas! so I have heard; but after the miraculous change of the
bread and wine to Christ His body and blood, poison cannot remain;
gone is the bread with all its properties and accidents; gone is
"So says Faith; but experience tells another tale. Scores have
died in Italy poisoned in the host."
"And I tell you, father, that were both bread and wine charged
with direst poison before his holiness had consecrated them, yet
after consecration I would take them both withouten fear."
"So would I, but for the fine arts."
"What mean you?"
"Marry, that I would be as ready to leave the world as thou, were
it not for those arts, which beautify existence here below, and
make it dear to men of sense and education. No; so long as the
Nine Muses strew my path with roses of learning and art, me may
Apollo inspire with wisdom and caution, that knowing the wiles of
my countrymen, I may eat poison neither at God's altar nor at a
friend's table, since, wherever I eat it or drink it, it will
assuredly cut short my mortal thread; and I am writing a book -
heart and soul in it - 'The Dream of Polifilo,' the man of many
arts. So name not poison to me till that is finished and copied."
And now the great bells of St. John Lateran's were rung with a
clash at short intervals, and the people hurried thither to see
the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul.
Gerard and the friar got a good place in the church, and there was
a great curtain, and after long and breathless expectation of the
people, this curtain was drawn by jerks, and at a height of about
thirty feet were two human heads with bearded faces, that seemed
alive. They were shown no longer than the time to say an Ave
Maria, and then the curtain drawn. But they were shown in this
fashion three times. St. Peter's complexion was pale, his face
oval, his beard grey and forked; his head crowned with a papal
mitre. St. Paul was dark skinned, with a thick, square beard; his
face also and head were more square and massive, and full of
Gerard was awe-struck. The friar approved after his fashion.
"This exhibition of the 'imagines,' or waxen effigies of heroes
and demigods, is a venerable custom, and inciteth the vulgar to
virtue by great and invisible examples.
"Waxen images~? What, are they not the apostles themselves,
embalmed, or the like?"
The friar moaned.
"They did not exist in the year 800. The great old Roman families
always produced at their funerals a series of these 'imagines,'
thereby tying past and present history together, and showing the
populace the features of far-famed worthies. I can conceive
nothing more thrilling or instructive. But then the effigies were
portraits made during life or at the hour of death. These of St.
Paul and St. Peter are moulded out of pure fancy."
"Ah! say not so, father."
"But the worst is, this humour of showing them up on a shelf, and
half in the dark, and by snatches, and with the poor mountebank
trick of a drawn curtain.
'Quodcunque ostendis mihi sic incredulus odi.'
Enough; the men of this day are not the men of old. Let us have
done with these new-fangled mummeries, and go among the Pope's
books; there we shall find the wisdom we shall vainly hunt in the
streets of modern Rome."
And this idea having once taken root, the good friar plunged and
tore through the crowd, and looked neither to the right hand nor
to the left, till he had escaped the glories of the holy week,
which had brought fifty thousand strangers to Rome; and had got
nice and quiet among the dead in the library of the Vatican.
Presently, going into Gerard's room, he found a hot dispute afoot
between him and Jacques Bonaventura. That spark had come in, all
steel from head to toe; doffed helmet, puffed, and railed most
scornfully on a ridiculous ceremony, at which he and his soldiers
had been compelled to attend the Pope; to wit the blessing of the
beasts of burden.
Gerard said it was not ridiculous; nothing a Pope did could be
The argument grew warm, and the friar stood grimly neuter, waiting
like the stork that ate the frog and the mouse at the close of
their combat, to grind them both between the jaws of antiquity;
when lo, the curtain was gently drawn, and there stood a venerable
old man in a purple skull cap, with a beard like white floss silk,
looking at them with a kind though feeble smile.
"Happy youth," said he, "that can heat itself over such matters.
They all fell on their knees. It was the Pope.
"Nay, rise, my children," said he, almost peevishly. "I came not
into this corner to be in state. How goes Plutarch?"
Gerard brought his work, and kneeling on one knee presented it to
his holiness, who had seated himself, the others standing.
His holiness inspected it with interest.
"'Tis excellently writ," said he.
Gerard's heart beat with delight.
"Ah! this Plutarch, he had a wondrous art, Francesco. How each
character standeth out alive on his page: how full of nature each,
yet how unlike his fellow!"
Jacques Bonaventura. "Give me the Signor Boccaccio."
His Holiness. "An excellent narrator, capitano, and writeth
exquisite Italian. But in spirit a thought too monotonous. Monks
and nuns were never all unchaste: one or two such stories were
right pleasant and diverting; but five score paint his time
falsely, and sadden the heart of such as love mankind. Moreover,
he hath no skill at characters. Now this Greek is supreme in that
great art: he carveth them with pen; and turning his page, see
into how real and great a world we enter of war, and policy, and
business, and love in its own place: for with him, as in the great
world, men are not all running after a wench. With this great open
field compare me not the narrow garden of Boccaccio, and his
little mill-round of dishonest pleasures."
"Your holiness, they say, hath not disdained to write a novel."
"My holiness hath done more foolish things than one, whereof it
repents too late. When I wrote novels I little thought to be head
of the Church."
"I search in vain for a copy of it to add to my poor library."
"It is well. Then the strict orders I gave four years ago to
destroy every copy in Italy have been well discharged. However,
for your comfort, on my being made Pope, some fool turned it into
French: so that you may read it, at the price of exile."
"Reduced to this strait we throw ourselves on your holiness's
generosity. Vouchsafe to give us your infallible judgment on it!"
"Gently, gently, good Francesco. A Pope's novels are not matters
of faith. I can but give you my sincere impression. Well then the
work in question had, as far as I can remember, all the vices of
Boccaccio, without his choice Italian."
Fra Colonna. "Your holiness is known for slighting Aeneas Silvius
as other men never slighted him. I did him injustice to make you
his judge. Perhaps your holiness will decide more justly between
these two boys-about blessing the beasts."
The Pope demurred. In speaking of Plutarch he had brightened up
for a moment, and his eye had even flashed; but his general manner
was as unlike what youthful females expect in a Pope as you can
conceive. I can only describe it in French. Le gentilhomme blase.
A highbred, and highly cultivated gentleman, who had done, and
said, and seen, and known everything, and whose body was nearly
worn out. But double languor seemed to seize him at the father's
"My poor Francesco," said he, "bethink thee that I have had a life
of controversy, and am sick on't; sick as death. Plutarch drew me
to this calm retreat; not divinity."
"Nay, but, your holiness, for moderating of strife between two hot
young bloods, ."
"And know you nature so ill, as to think either of these
high-mettled youths will reck what a poor old Pope saith?"
"oh! your holiness," broke in Gerard, blushing and gasping, "sure,
here is one who will treasure your words all his life as words
"In that case," said the Pope, "I am fairly caught. As Francesco
here would say -
I came to taste that eloquent heathen, dear to me e'en as to thee,
thou paynim monk; and I must talk divinity, or something next door
to it. But the youth hath a good and a winning face, and writeth
Greek like an angel. Well then, my children, to comprehend the
ways of the Church, we should still rise a little above the earth,
since the Church is between heaven and earth, and interprets
"The question is then, not how vulgar men feel, but how the common
Creator of man and beast doth feel, towards the lower animals.
This, if we are too proud to search for it in the lessons of the
Church, the next best thing is to go to the most ancient history
of men and animals."
"Nay, nay; in this matter Herodotus is but a mushroom. Finely were
we sped for ancient history, if we depended on your Greeks, who
did but write on the last leaf of that great book, Antiquity."
The friar groaned. Here was a Pope uttering heresy against his
"'Tis the Vulgate I speak of. A history that handles matters three
thousand years before him pedants call 'the Father of History.'"
Colonna. "Oh! the Vulgate? I cry your holiness mercy. How you
frightened me. I quite forgot the Vulgate."
"Forgot it? art sure thou ever readst it, Francesco mio?"
"Not quite, your holiness. 'Tis a pleasure I have long promised
myself, the first vacant moment. Hitherto these grand old heathen
have left me small time for recreation."
His Holiness. "First then you will find in Genesis that God,
having created the animals, drew a holy pleasure, undefinable by
us, from contemplating of their beauty. Was it wonderful? See
their myriad forms; their lovely hair and eyes, their grace, and
of some the power and majesty: the colour of others, brighter than
roses, or rubies. And when, for man's sin, not their own, they
were destroyed, yet were two of each kind spared.
"And when the ark and its trembling inmates tumbled solitary on
the world of water, then, saith the word, 'God remembered Noah,
and the cattle that were with him in the ark.'
"Thereafter God did write His rainbow in the sky as a bond that
earth should be flooded no more; and between whom the bond?
between God and man? nay, between God and man, and every living
creature of all flesh: or my memory fails me with age. In Exodus
God commanded that the cattle should share the sweet blessing of
the one day's rest. Moreover He 'forbade to muzzle the ox that
trod out the corn. 'Nay, let the poor overwrought soul snatch a
mouthful as he goes his toilsome round: the bulk of the grain
shall still be for man.' Ye will object perchance that St. Paul,
commenting this, saith rudely, 'Doth God care for oxen?' Verily,
had I been Peter, instead of the humblest of his successors, I had
answered him. 'Drop thy theatrical poets, Paul, and read the
Scriptures: then shalt thou know whether God careth only for men
and sparrows, or for all his creatures. O, Paul,' had I made bold
to say, 'think not to learn God by looking into Paul's heart, nor
any heart of man, but study that which he hath revealed concerning
"Thrice he forbade the Jews to boil the kid in his mother's milk;
not that this is cruelty, but want of thought and gentle
sentiments, and so paves the way for downright cruelty. A prophet
riding on an ass did meet an angel. Which of these two, Paulo
judice, had seen the heavenly spirit? marry, the prophet. But it
was not so. The man, his vision cloyed with sin, saw nought. The
poor despised creature saw all. Nor is this recorded as
miraculous. Poor proud things, we overrate ourselves. The angel
had slain the prophet and spared the ass, but for that creature's
clearer vision of essences divine. He said so, methinks. But in
sooth I read it many years agone. Why did God spare repentant
Nineveh? Because in that city were sixty thousand children,
besides much cattle.
"Profane history and vulgar experience add their mite of witness.
The cruel to animals end in cruelty to man; and strange and
violent deaths, marked with retribution's bloody finger, have in
all ages fallen from heaven on such as wantonly harm innocent
beasts. This I myself have seen. All this duly weighed, and seeing
that, despite this Francesco's friends, the Stoics, who in their
vanity say the creatures all subsist for man's comfort, there be
snakes and scorpions which kill 'Dominum terra' with a nip,
musquitoes which eat him piecemeal, and tigers and sharks which
crack him like an almond, we do well to be grateful to these true,
faithful, patient, four-footed friends, which, in lieu of
powdering us, put forth their strength to relieve our toils, and
do feed us like mothers from their gentle dugs.
"Methinks then the Church is never more divine than in this
benediction of our four-footed friends, which has revolted you
great theological authority, the captain of the Pope's guards;
since here she inculcates humility and gratitude, and rises
towards the level of the mind divine, and interprets God to man,
God the Creator, parent, and friend of man and beast.
"But all this, young gentles, you will please to receive, not as
delivered by the Pope ex cathedra, but uttered carelessly, in a
free hour, by an aged clergyman. On that score you will perhaps do
well to entertain it with some little consideration. For old age
must surely bring a man somewhat, in return for his digestion (his
'dura puerorum ilia,' eh, Francesco!), which it carries away.
Such was the purport of the Pope's discourse but the manner high
bred, languid, kindly, and free from all tone of dictation. He
seemed to be gently probing the matter in concert with his
hearers, not playing Sir Oracle. At the bottom of all which was
doubtless a slight touch of humbug, but the humbug that
embellishes life; and all sense of it was lost in the subtle
Italian grace of the thing.
"I seem to hear the oracle of Delphi," said Fra Colonna
"I call that good sense," shouted Jacques Bonaventura.
"Oh, captain, good sense!" said Gerard, with a deep and tender
The Pope smiled on Gerard. "Cavil not at words; that was an
unheard of concession from a rival theologian." He then asked for
all Gerard's work, and took it away in his hand. But before going,
he gently pulled Fra Colonna's ear, and asked him whether he
remembered when they were school-fellows together and robbed the
Virgin by the roadside of the money dropped into her box. You took
a flat stick and applied bird-lime to the top, and drew the money
out through the chink, you rogue," said his holiness severely.
"To every signor his own honour," replied Fra Colonna. "It was
your holiness's good wit invented the manoeuvre. I was but the
"It is well. Doubtless you know 'twas sacrilege."
"Of the first water; but I did it in such good company, it
troubles me not."
"Humph! I have not even that poor consolation. What did we spend
it in, dost mind?"
"Can your holiness ask? why, sugar-plums."
"What, all on't?"
"These are delightful reminiscences, my Francesco. Alas! I am
getting old. I shall not be here long. And I am sorry for it, for
thy sake. They will go and burn thee when I am gone. Art far more
a heretic than Huss, whom I saw burned with these eyes; and oh, he
died like a martyr."
"Ay, your holiness; but I believe in the Pope; and Huss did not."
"Fox! They will not burn thee; wood is too dear. Adieu, old
playmate; adieu, young gentlemen; an old man's blessing be on
That afternoon the Pope's secretary brought Gerard a little bag:
in it were several gold pieces.
He added them to his store.
Margaret seemed nearer and nearer.
For some time past, too, it appeared as if the fairies had
watched over him. Baskets of choice provisions and fruits
were brought to his door by porters, who knew not who had
employed them, or affected ignorance; and one day came a
jewel in a letter, but no words.
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
"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.
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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,
"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,
"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
"You fear the daggers of my kinsmen," said she, half sadly, half
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"I was nettled a moment at seeing so much ignorance and ill-nature
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
Gerard turned pale, and stood dumb-stricken. "God have mercy on us
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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 he brought a letter out of her capacious
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
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
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
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.
Gerard returned to consciousness and to despair.
On the second day he was raving with fever on the brain.
On a table hard by lay his rich auburn hair, long as a woman's.
The deadlier symptoms succeeded one another rapidly.
On the fifth day his leech retired and gave him up.
On the sunset of that same day he fell into a deep sleep.
Some said he would wake only to die.
But an old gossip, whose opinion carried weight (she had been a
professional nurse), declared that his youth might save him yet,
could he sleep twelve hours.
On this his old landlady cleared the room and watched him alone.
She vowed a wax candle to the Virgin for every hour he should
He slept twelve hours.
The good soul rejoiced, and thanked the Virgin on her knees,
He slept twenty-four hours.
His kind nurse began to doubt. At the thirtieth hour she sent for
the woman of art.
"Thirty hours! shall we wake him?"
The other inspected him closely for some time.
"His breath is even, his hand moist. I know there be learned
leeches would wake him, to look at his tongue, and be none the
wiser; but we that be women should have the sense to let bon
Nature alone. When did sleep ever harm the racked brain or the
When he had been forty-eight hours asleep, it got wind, and they
had much ado to keep the curious out. But they admitted only Fra
Colonna and his friend the gigantic Fra Jerome.
These two relieved the women, and sat silent; the former eyeing
his young friend with tears in his eyes, the latter with beads in
his hand looked as calmly on him as he had on the sea when Gerard
and he encountered it hand to hand.
At last, I think it was about the sixtieth hour of this strange
sleep, the landlady touched Fra Colonna with her elbow. He looked.
Gerard had opened his eyes as gently as if he had been but dozing.
He drew himself up a little in bed.
He put his hand to his head, and found his hair was gone.
He noticed his friend Colonna, and smiled with pleasure.
But in the middle of smiling his face stopped, and was convulsed
in a moment with anguish unspeakable, and he uttered a loud cry,
and turned his face to the wall.
His good landlady wept at this. She had known what it is to awake
Fra Jerome recited canticles, and prayers from his breviary.
Gerard rolled himself in the bed-clothes.
Fra Colonna went to him, and whimpering, reminded him that all was
not lost. The divine Muses were immortal. He must transfer his
affection to them; they would never betray him nor fail him like
creatures of clay. The good, simple father then hurried away; for
he was overcome by his emotion.
Fra Jerome remained behind. "Young man," said he, "the Muses exist
but in the brains of pagans and visionaries. The Church alone
gives repose to the heart on earth, and happiness to the soul
hereafter. Hath earth deceived thee, hath passion broken thy heart
after tearing it, the Church opens her arms: consecrate thy gifts
to her! The Church is peace of mind."
He spoke these words solemnly at the door, and was gone as soon as
they were uttered.
"The Church!" cried Gerard, rising furiously, and shaking his fist
after the friar. "Malediction on the Church! But for the Church I
should not lie broken here, and she lie cold, cold, cold, in
Holland. Oh, my Margaret! oh, my darling! my darling! And I must
run from thee the few months thou hadst to live. Cruel! cruel! The
monsters, they let her die. Death comes not without some signs.
These the blind selfish wretches saw not, or recked not; but I had
seen them, I that love her. Oh, had I been there, I had saved her,
I had saved her. Idiot! idiot! to leave her for a moment."
He wept bitterly a long time.
Then, suddenly bursting into rage again, he cried vehemently "The
Church! for whose sake I was driven from her; my malison be on the
Church! and the hypocrites that name it to my broken heart.
Accursed be the world! Ghysbrecht lives; Margaret dies. Thieves,
murderers, harlots, live for ever. Only angels die. Curse life!
curse death! and whosoever made them what they are!"
The friar did not hear these mad and wicked words; but only the
yell of rage with which they were flung after him.
It was as well. For, if he had heard them, he would have had his
late shipmate burned in the forum with as little hesitation as he
would have roasted a kid.
His old landlady who had accompanied Fra Colonna down the stair,
heard the raised voice, and returned in some anxiety.
She found Gerard putting on his clothes, and crying.
"What avails my lying here?" said he gloomily. "Can I find here
that which I seek?"
"Saints preserve us! Is he distraught again? What seek ye?"
"Oblivion, my little heart? Oh, but y'are young to talk so."
"Young or old, what else have I to live for?"
He put on his best clothes.
The good dame remonstrated. "My pretty Gerard, know that it is
Tuesday, not Sunday."
"Oh, Tuesday is it? I thought it had been Saturday."
"Nay, thou hast slept long. Thou never wearest thy brave clothes
on working days. Consider."
"What I did, when she lived, I did. Now I shall do whatever erst I
did not. The past is the past. There lies my hair, and with it my
way of life. I have served one Master as well as I could. You see
my reward. Now I'll serve another, and give him a fair trial too."
"Alas!" sighed the woman, turning pale, "what mean these dark
words? and what new master is this whose service thou wouldst
And with this horrible declaration on his lips the miserable
creature walked out with his cap and feather set jauntily on one
side, and feeble limbs, and a sinister face pale as ashes, and all
drawn down as if by age.
A dark cloud fell on a noble mind.
His pure and unrivalled love for Margaret had been his polar star.
It was quenched, and he drifted on the gloomy sea of no hope.
Nor was he a prey to despair alone, but to exasperation at all his
self-denial, fortitude, perils, virtue, wasted and worse than
wasted; for it kept burning and stinging him, that, had he stayed
lazily, selfishly at home, he should have saved his Margaret's
These two poisons, raging together in his young blood, maddened
and demoralized him. He rushed fiercely into pleasure. And in
those days, even more than now, pleasure was vice. Wine, women,
gambling, whatever could procure him an hour's excitement and a
moment's oblivion. He plunged into these things, as men tired of
life have rushed among the enemy's bullets.
The large sums he had put by for Margaret gave him ample means for
debauchery, and he was soon the leader of those loose companions
he had hitherto kept at a distance.
His heart deteriorated along with his morals.
He sulked with his old landlady for thrusting gentle advice and
warning on him; and finally removed to another part of the town,
to be clear of remonstrance and reminiscences. When he had carried
this game on some time, his hand became less steady, and he could
no longer write to satisfy himself. Moreover, his patience
declined as the habits of pleasure grew on him. So he gave up that
art, and took likenesses in colours.
But this he neglected whenever the idle rakes, his companions,
came for him.
And so he dived in foul waters, seeking that sorry oyster-shell,
It is not my business to paint at full length the scenes of coarse
vice in which this unhappy young man now played a part. But it is
my business to impress the broad truth, that he was a rake, a
debauchee, and a drunkard, and one of the wildest, loosest, and
wickedest young men in Rome.
They are no lovers of truth, nor of mankind, who conceal or slur
the wickedness of the good, and so by their want of candour rob
despondent sinners of hope.
Enough, the man was not born to do things by halves. And he was
not vicious by halves.
His humble female friends often gossiped about him. His old
landlady told Teresa he was going to the bad, and prayed her to
try and find out where he was.
Teresa told her husband Lodovico his sad story, and bade him look
about and see if he could discover the young man's present abode.
"Shouldst remember his face, Lodovico mio?"
"Teresa, a man in my way of life never forgets a face, least of
all a benefactor's. But thou knowest I seldom go abroad by
Teresa sighed. "And how long is it to be so, Lodovico?"
"Till some cavalier passes his sword through me. They will not let
a poor fellow like me take to any honest trade."
Pietro Vanucci was one of those who bear prosperity worse than
Having been ignominiously ejected for late hours by their old
landlady, and meeting Gerard in the street, he greeted him warmly,
and soon after took up his quarters in the same house.
He brought with him a lad called Andrea, who ground his colours,
and was his pupil, and also his model, being a youth of rare
beauty, and as sharp as a needle.
Pietro had not quite forgotten old times, and professed a warm
friendship for Gerard.
Gerard, in whom all warmth of sentiment seemed extinct, submitted
coldly to the other's friendship.
And a fine acquaintance it was. This Pietro was not only a
libertine, but half a misanthrope, and an open infidel.
And so they ran in couples, with mighty little in common. O, rare
One day, when Gerard had undermined his health, and taken the
bloom off his beauty, and run through most of his money, Vanucci
got up a gay party to mount the Tiber in a boat drawn by
buffaloes. Lorenzo de' Medici had imported these creatures into
Florence about three years before. But they were new in Rome, and
nothing would content this beggar on horseback, Vanucci, but being
drawn by the brutes up the Tiber.
Each libertine was to bring a lady and she must be handsome, or he
be fined. But the one that should contribute the loveliest was to
be crowned with laurel, and voted a public benefactor. Such was
their reading of "Vir bonus est quis?" They got a splendid galley,
and twelve buffaloes. And all the libertines and their female
accomplices assembled by degrees at the place of embarkation. But
They waited for him some time, at first patiently, then
Vanucci excused him. "I heard him say he had forgotten to provide
himself with a fardingale. Comrades, the good lad is hunting for a
beauty fit to take rank among these peerless dames. Consider the
difficulty, ladies, and be patient!"
At last Gerard was seen at some distance with a female in his
"She is long enough," said one of her sex, criticising her from
"Gemini! what steps she takes," said another. "Oh! it is wise to
hurry into good company," was Pietro's excuse.
But when the pair came up, satire was choked.
Gerard's companion was a peerless beauty; she extinguished the
boat-load, as stars the rising sun. Tall, but not too tall; and
straight as a dart, yet supple as a young panther. Her face a
perfect oval, her forehead white, her cheeks a rich olive with the
eloquent blood mantling below and her glorious eyes fringed with
long thick silken eyelashes, that seemed made to sweep up
sensitive hearts by the half dozen. Saucy red lips, and teeth of
the whitest ivory.
The women were visibly depressed by this wretched sight; the men
in ecstasies; they received her with loud shouts and waving of
caps, and one enthusiast even went down on his knees upon the
boat's gunwale, and hailed her of origin divine. But his chere
amie pulling his hair for it - and the goddess giving him a little
kick - cotemporaneously, he lay supine; and the peerless creature
frisked over his body without deigning him a look, and took her
seat at the prow. Pietro Vanucci sat in a sort of collapse,
glaring at her, and gaping with his mouth open like a dying
The drover spoke to the buffaloes, the ropes tightened, and they
moved up stream.
"What think ye of this new beef, mesdames?"
"We ne'er saw monsters so viley ill-favoured; with their nasty
horns that make one afeard, and, their foul nostrils cast up into
the air. Holes be they; not nostrils."
"Signorina, the beeves are a present from Florence the beautiful
Would ye look a gift beef i' the nose?"
"They are so dull," objected a lively lady. "I went up Tiber twice
as fast last time with but five mules and an ass."
"Nay, that is soon mended," cried a gallant, and jumping ashore he
drew his sword, and despite the remonstrances of the drivers, went
down the dozen buffaloes goading them.
They snorted and whisked their tails, and went no faster, at which
the boat-load laughed loud and long: finally he goaded a patriarch
bull, who turned instantly on the sword, sent his long horns clean
through the spark, and with a furious jerk of his prodigious neck
sent him flying over his head into the air. He described a bold
parabola and fell sitting, and unconsciously waving his glittering
blade, into the yellow Tiber. The laughing ladies screamed and
wrung their hands, all but Gerard's fair. She uttered something
very like an oath, and seizing the helm steered the boat out, and
the gallant came up sputtering, griped the gunwale, and was drawn
He glared round him confusedly. "I understand not that," said he,
a little peevishly; puzzled, and therefore, it would seem,
discontented. At which, finding he was by some strange accident
not slain, his doublet being perforated, instead of his body, they
began to laugh again louder than ever.
"What are ye cackling at?" remonstrated the spark, "I desire to
know how 'tis that one moment a gentleman is out yonder a pricking
of African beef, and the next moment - "
Gerard's lady. "Disporting in his native stream."
"Tell him not, a soul of ye," cried Vanucci. "Let him find out 's
Confound ye all. I might puzzle my brains till doomsday, I should
ne'er find it out. Also, where is my sword?
Gerard's lady. "Ask Tiber! Your best way, signor, will be to do it
over again; and, in a word, keep pricking of Afric's beef, till
your mind receives light. So shall you comprehend the matter by
degrees, as lawyers mount heaven, and buffaloes Tiber."
Here a chevalier remarked that the last speaker transcended the
sons of Adam as much in wit as she did the daughters of Eve in
At which, and indeed at all their compliments, the conduct of
Pietro Vanucci was peculiar. That signor had left off staring, and
gaping bewildered; and now sat coiled up snake-like, on each, his
mouth muffled, and two bright eyes fixed on the' lady, and
twinkling and scintillating most comically.
He did not appear to interest or amuse her in return. Her glorious
eyes and eyelashes swept him calmly at times, but scarce
distinguished him from the benches and things.
Presently the unanimity of the party suffered a momentary check.
Mortified by the attention the cavaliers paid to Gerard's
companion, the ladies began to pick her to pieces sotto voce, and
The lovely girl then showed that, if rich in beauty, she was poor
in feminine tact. Instead of revenging herself like a true woman
through the men, she permitted herself to overhear, and openly
retaliate on her detractors.
"There is not one of you that wears Nature's colours," said' she.
"Look here," and she pointed rudely in one's face. "This is the
beauty that is to be bought in every shop. Here is cerussa, here
is stibium, and here purpurissum. Oh, I know the articles bless
you, I use them every day - but not on my face, no thank you.
Here Vanucci's eyes twinkled themselves nearly out of sight.
"Why, your lips are coloured, and the very veins in your forehead:
not a charm but would come off with a wet towel. And look at your
great coarse black hair like a horse's tail, drugged and stained
to look like tow. And then your bodies are as false as your heads
and your cheeks, and your hearts I trow. Look at your padded
bosoms, and your wooden heeled chopines to raise your little
stunted limbs up and deceive the world. Skinny dwarfs ye are,
cushioned and stultified into great fat giants. Aha, mesdames,
well is it said of you, grande - di legni: grosse - di straci:
rosse - di bettito: bianche - di calcina."
This drew out a rejoinder. "Avaunt, vulgar toad, telling the men
everything. Your coarse, ruddy cheeks are your own, and your
little handful of African hair. But who is padded more? Why, you
are shaped like a fire-shovel."
"Ye lie, malapert."
"Oh, the well-educated young person! Where didst pick her up, Ser
"Hold thy peace, Marcia," said Gerard, awakened by the raised
trebles from a gloomy reverie. "Be not so insolent! The grave
shall close over thy beauty as it hath over fairer than thee."
"They began," said Marcia petulantly.
"Then be thou the first to leave off."
"At thy request, my friend." She then whispered Gerard, "It was
only to make you laugh; you are distraught, you are sad. Judge
whether I care for the quips of these little fools, or the
admiration of these big fools. Dear Signor Gerard, would I were
what they take me for? You should not be so sad."
Gerard sighed deeply; and shook his head. But touched by the
earnest young tones, caressed the jet black locks, much as one
strokes the head of an affectionate dog.
At this moment a galley drifting slowly down stream got entangled
for an instant in their ropes: for, the river turning suddenly,
they had shot out into the stream; and this galley came between
them and the bank. In it a lady of great beauty was seated under a
canopy with gallants and dependents standing behind her.
Gerard looked up at the interruption. It was the Princess Claelia.
He coloured and withdrew his hand from Marcia's head.
Marcia was all admiration. "Aha! ladies," said she, "here is a
rival an ye will. Those cheeks were coloured by Nature-like mine."
"Peace, child! peace!" said Gerard. "Make not too free with the
"Why, she heard me not. Oh, Ser Gerard, what a lovely creature!"
Two of the females had been for some time past putting their heads
together and casting glances at Marcia.
One of them now addressed her.
"Signorina, do you love almonds?"
The speaker had a lapful of them.
"Yes, I love them; when I can get them," said Marcia pettishly,
and eyeing the fruit with ill-concealed desire; "but yours is not
the hand to give me any, I trow."
"You are much mistook," said the other. "Here, catch!" And
suddenly threw a double handful into Marcia's lap.
Marcia brought her knees together by an irresistible instinct.
"Aha! you are caught, my lad," cried she of the nuts. "'Tis a man;
or a boy. A woman still parteth her knees to catch the nuts the
surer in her apron; but a man closeth his for fear they should all
between his hose. Confess, now, didst never wear fardingale ere
"Give me another handful, sweetheart, and I'll tell thee."
"There! I said he was too handsome for a woman."
"Ser Gerard, they have found me out," observed the Epicaene,
calmly cracking an almond.
The libertines vowed it was impossible, and all glared at the
goddess like a battery. But Vanucci struck in, and reminded the
gaping gazers of a recent controversy, in which they had, with a
unanimity not often found among dunces, laughed Gerard and him to
scorn, for saying that men were as beautiful as women in a true
"Where are ye now? This is my boy Andrea. And you have all been
down on your knees to him. Ha! ha! But oh, my little ladies, when
he lectured you and flung your stibium, your cerussa, and your
purpurissum back in your faces, 'tis then I was like to burst; a
grinds my colours. Ha! ha! he! he! he! ho!"
"The little impostor! Duck him!"
"What for, signors?" cried Andrea, in dismay, and lost his rich
But the females collected round him, and vowed nobody should harm
a hair of his head.
"The dear child! How well his pretty little saucy ways become
"Oh, what eyes and teeth!"
"And what eyebrows and hair!"
"And what lashes!"
"And what a nose!"
"The sweetest little ear in the world!"
"And what health! Touch but his cheek with a pin the blood should
"Who would be so cruel?"
"He is a rosebud washed in dew."
And they revenged themselves for their beaux' admiration of her by
lavishing all their tenderness on him.
But one there was who was still among these butterflies, but no
longer of them. The sight of the Princess Claelia had torn open
Scarce three months ago he had declined the love of that peerless
creature; a love illicit and insane; but at least refined.
How much lower had he fallen now.
How happy he must have been, when the blandishments of Claelia,
that might have melted an anchorite, could not tempt him from the
path of loyalty!
Now what was he? He had blushed at her seeing him in such company.
Yet it was his daily company.
He hung over the boat in moody silence.
And from that hour another phase of his misery began; and grew
Some wretched fools try to drown care in drink.
The fumes of intoxication vanish; the inevitable care remains, and
must be faced at last - with an aching head, disordered stomach,
and spirits artificially depressed
Gerard's conduct had been of a piece with these maniacs'. To
survive his terrible blow he needed all his forces; his virtue,
his health, his habits of labour, and the calm sleep that is
labour's satellite; above all, his piety.
Yet all these balms to wounded hearts he flung away and trusted to
Its brief fumes fled; the bereaved heart lay still heavy as lead
within his bosom; but now the dark vulture Remorse sat upon it
Broken health; means wasted; innocence fled; Margaret parted from
him by another gulf wider than the grave! The hot fit of despair
The cold fit of despair came on.
Then this miserable young man spurned his gay companions, and all
He wandered alone. He drank wine alone to stupefy himself; and
paralyze a moment the dark foes to man that preyed upon his soul.
He wandered alone amidst the temples of old Rome, and lay stony
eyed, woebegone, among their ruins, worse wrecked than they.
Last of all came the climax, to which solitude, that gloomy yet
fascinating foe of minds diseased, pushes the hopeless.
He wandered alone at night by dark streams, and eyed them, and
eyed them, with decreasing repugnance. There glided peace; perhaps
What else was left him?
These dark spells have been broken by kind words, by loving and
The humblest friend the afflicted one possesses may speak, or
look, or smile, a sunbeam between him and that worst madness
Gerard now brooded.
Where was Teresa? Where his hearty, kind old landlady?
They would see with their homely but swift intelligence; they
would see and save.
No; they knew not where he was, or whither he was gliding.
And is there no mortal eye upon the poor wretch, and the dark road
he is going?
Yes; one eye there is upon him; watching his every movement;
following him abroad; tracking him home.
And that eye is the eye of an enemy.
An enemy to the death.
In an apartment richly furnished, the floor covered with striped
and spotted skins of animals, a lady sat with her arms extended
before her, and her hands half clenched. The agitation of her face
corresponded with this attitude; she was pale and red by turns;
and her foot restless.
Presently the curtain was drawn by a domestic.
The lady's brow flushed.
The maid said, in an awe-struck whisper: "Altezza, the man is
The lady bade her admit him, and snatched up a little black mask
and put it on; and in a moment her colour was gone, and the
contrast between her black mask and her marble cheeks was strange
A man entered bowing and scraping. It was such a figure as crowds
seem made of; short hair, roundish head, plain, but decent
clothes; features neither comely not forbidding. Nothing to remark
in him but a singularly restless eye.
After a profusion of bows he stood opposite the lady, and awaited
"They have told you for what you are wanted?"
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