The Cloister and the Hearth
Part 3 out of 18
Gerard and Margaret went gaily to Sevenbergen in the first flush
of recovered liberty and successful adventure. But these soon
yielded to sadder thoughts. Gerard was an escaped prisoner, and
liable to be retaken and perhaps punished; and therefore he and
Margaret would have to part for a time. Moreover, he had conceived
a hatred to his native place. Margaret wished him to leave the
country for a while, but at the thought of his going to Italy her
heart fainted. Gerard, on the contrary. was reconciled to leaving
Margaret only by his desire to visit Italy, and his strong
conviction that there he should earn money and reputation, and
remove every obstacle to their marriage. He had already told her
all that the demoiselle Van Eyck had said to him. He repeated it,
and reminded Margaret that the gold pieces were only given him to
go to Italy with. The journey was clearly for Gerard's interest.
He was a craftsman and an artist, lost in this boorish place. In
Italy they would know how to value him. On this ground above all
the unselfish girl gave her consent; but many tender tears came
with it, and at that Gerard, young and loving as herself, cried
bitterly with her, and often they asked one another what they had
done, that so many different persons should be their enemies, and
combine, as it seemed, to part them.
They sat hand in hand till midnight, now deploring their hard
fate, now drawing bright and hopeful pictures of the future, in
the midst of which Margaret's tears would suddenly flow, and then
poor Gerard's eloquence would die away in a sigh.
The morning found them resigned to part, but neither had the
courage to say when; and much I doubt whether the hour of parting
ever would have struck.
But about three in the afternoon, Giles, who had made a circuit of
many miles to avoid suspicion, rode up to the door. They both ran
out to him, eager with curiosity.
"Brother Gerard," cried he, in his tremendous tones, "Kate bids
you run for your life. They charge you with theft; you have given
them a handle. Think not to explain. Hope not for justice in
Tergou. The parchments you took, they are but a blind. She hath
seen your death in the men's eyes; a price is on your head. Fly!
For Margaret's sake and all who love you, loiter not life away,
It was a thunder-clap, and left two white faces looking at one
another, and at the terrible messenger.
Then Giles, who had hitherto but uttered by rote what Catherine
bade him, put in a word of his own.
"All the constables were at our house after you, and so was Dirk
Brower. Kate is wise, Gerard. Best give ear to her rede, and fly!"
"Oh, yes, Gerard," cried Margaret wildly. "Fly on the instant. Ah!
those parchments; my mind misgave me: why did I let you take
"Margaret, they are but a blind: Giles says so. No matter: the old
caitiff shall never see them again; I will not go till I have
hidden his treasure where he shall never find it." Gerard then,
after thanking Giles warmly, bade him farewell, and told him to go
back and tell Kate he was gone. "For I shall be gone ere you reach
home," said he. He then shouted for Martin; and told him what had
happened. and begged him to go a little way towards Tergou, and
watch the road.
"Ay!" said Martin, "and if I see Dirk Brower or any of his men, I
will shoot an arrow into the oak-tree that is in our garden; and
on that you must run into the forest hard by, and meet me at the
weird hunter's spring. Then I will guide you through the wood."
Surprise thus provided against, Gerard breathed again. He went
with Margaret, and while she watched the oak-tree tremblingly,
fearing every moment to see an arrow strike among the branches,
Gerard dug a deep hole to bury the parchments in.
He threw them in, one by one. They were nearly all charters and
records of the burgh; but one appeared to be a private deed
between Floris Brandt, father of Peter, and Ghysbrecht.
"Why, this is as much yours as his," said Gerard. "I will read
"Oh, not now, Gerard, not now," cried Margaret. "Every moment you
lose fills me with fear; and see, large drops of rain are
beginning to fall, and the clouds lower."
Gerard yielded to this remonstrance; but he put the deed into his
bosom, and threw the earth in over the others, and stamped it
down. While thus employed there came a flash of lightning followed
by a peal of distant thunder, and the rain came down heavily.
Margaret and Gerard ran into the house, whither they were speedily
followed by Martin.
"The road is clear," said he, "and a heavy storm coming on."
His words proved true. The thunder came nearer and nearer till it
crashed overhead: the flashes followed one another close, like the
strokes of a whip, and the rain fell in torrents. Margaret hid her
face not to see the lightning. On this, Gerard put up the rough
shutter and lighted a candle. The lovers consulted together, and
Gerard blessed the storm that gave him a few hours more with
Margaret. The sun set unperceived, and still the thunder pealed,
and the lightning flashed, and the rain poured. Supper was set;
but Gerard and Margaret could not eat: the thought that this was
the last time they should sup together choked them. The storm
lulled a little. Peter retired to rest. But Gerard was to go at
peep of day, and neither he nor Margaret could afford to lose an
hour in sleep. Martin sat a while, too; for he was fitting a new
string to his bow, a matter in which he was very nice.
The lovers murmured their sorrows and their love beside him.
Suddenly the old man held up his hand to them to be silent.
They were quiet and listened, and heard nothing. But the next
moment a footstep crackled faintly upon the autumn leaves that lay
strewn in the garden at the back door of the house. To those who
had nothing to fear such a step would have said nothing; but to
those who had enemies it was terrible. For it was a foot trying to
Martin fitted an arrow to his string and hastily blew out the
candle. At this moment, to their horror, they heard more than one
footstep approach the other door of the cottage, not quite so
noiselessly as the other, but very stealthily - and then a dead
Their blood froze in their veins.
Oh, Kate, oh, Kate! You said fly on the instant." And Margaret
moaned and wrung her hands in anguish and terror and wild remorse
for having kept Gerard.
"Hush, girl!" said Martin, in a stern whisper.
A heavy knock fell on the door.
And on the hearts within.
As if this had been a concerted signal, the back door was struck
as rudely the next instant. They were hemmed in. But at these
alarming sounds Margaret seemed to recover some share of
self-possession. She whispered, "Say he was here, but is gone."
And with this she seized Gerard and almost dragged him up the rude
steps that led to her father's sleeping-room. Her own lay next
The blows on the door were repeated.
"Who knocks at this hour?"
"Open, and you will see!"
"I open not to thieves - honest men are all abed now."
"Open to the law, Martin Wittenhaagen, or you shall rue it."
"Why, that is Dirk Brower's voice, I trow. What make you so far
"Open, and you will know."
Martin drew the bolt very slowly, and in rushed Dierich and four
more. They let in their companion who was at the back door.
"Now, Martin, where is Gerard Eliassoen?"
"Gerard Eliassoen? Why, he was here but now!"
"Was here?" Dierich's countenance fell. "And where is he now?"
"They say he has gone to Italy. Why, what is to do?"
"No matter. When did he go? Tell me not that he went in such a
storm as this!"
"Here is a coil about Gerard Eliassoen," said Martin
contemptuously. Then he lighted the candle, and seating himself
coolly by the fire, proceeded to whip some fine silk round his
bow-string at the place where the nick of the arrow frets it.
"I'll tell you," said he carelessly. "Know you his brother Giles?
- a little misbegotten imp, all head and arms? Well, he came
tearing over here on a mule, and bawled out something, I was too
far off to hear the creature's words, but only its noise. Any way,
he started Gerard. For as soon as he was gone, there was such
crying and kissing, and then Gerard went away. They do tell me he
has gone to Italy - mayhap you know where that is, for I don't."
Dierich's countenance fell lower and lower at this account. There
was no flaw in it, A cunninger man than Martin would perhaps have
told a lie too many and raised suspicion. But Martin did his task
well. He only told the one falsehood he was bade to tell, and of
his own head invented nothing.
"Mates," said Dierich, "I doubt he speaks sooth. I told the
burgomaster how 'twould be. He met the dwarf galloping Peter
Buyskens's mule from Sevenbergen. 'They have sent that imp to
Gerard,' says he, "'so, then, Gerard is at Sevenbergen.' 'Ah,
master!' says I, ''tis too late now. We should have thought of
Sevenbergen before, instead of wasting our time hunting all the
odd corners of Tergou for those cursed parchments that we shall
never find till we find the man that took 'em. If he was at
Sevenbergen,' quoth I, 'and they sent the dwarf to him, it must
have been to warn him we are after him. He is leagues away by
now,' quoth I. Confound that chalk-faced girl! she has outwitted
us bearded men; and so I told the burgomaster, but he would not
hear reason. A wet jerkin apiece, that is all we shall get, mates,
by this job."
Martin grinned coolly in Dierich's face.
"However," added the latter, "to content the burgomaster, we will
search the house."
Martin turned grave directly.
This change of countenance did not escape Dierich. He reflected a
"Watch outside two of you, one on each side of the house, that no
one jump from the upper windows. The rest come with me."
And he took the candle and mounted the stairs, followed by three
of his comrades.
Martin was left alone.
The stout soldier hung his head. All had gone so well at first;
and now this fatal turn! Suddenly it occurred to him that all was
not yet lost. Gerard must be either in Peter's room or Margaret's;
they were not so very high from the ground. Gerard would leap out.
Dierich had left a man below; but what then? For half a minute
Gerard and he would be two to one, and in that brief space, what
might not be done?
Martin then held the back door ajar and watched. The light shone
in Peter's room. "Curse the fool!" said he, "is he going to let
them take him like a girl?"
The light now passed into Margaret's bedroom. Still no window was
opened. Had Gerard intended to escape that way, he would not have
waited till the men were in the room. Martin saw that at once, and
left the door, and came to the foot-stair and listened.
He began to think Gerard must have escaped by the window while all
the men were in the house. The longer the silence continued, the
stronger grew this conviction. But it was suddenly and rudely
Faint cries issued from the inner bedroom - Margaret's.
"They have taken him," groaned Martin; "they have got him."
It now flashed across Martin's mind that if they took Gerard away,
his life was not worth a button; and that, if evil befell him,
Margaret's heart would break. He cast his eyes wildly round like
some savage beast seeking an escape, and in a twinkling formed a
resolution terribly characteristic of those iron times and of a
soldier driven to bay. He stepped to each door in turn, and
imitating Dierich Brower's voice, said sharply, "Watch the
window!" He then quietly closed and bolted both doors. He then
took up his bow and six arrows; one he fitted to his string, the
others he put into his quiver. His knife he placed upon a chair
behind him, the hilt towards him; and there he waited at the foot
of the stair with the calm determination to slay those four men,
or be slain by them. Two, he knew, he could dispose of by his
arrows, ere they could get near him, and Gerard and he must take
their chance hand-to-hand with the remaining pair. Besides, he had
seen men panic-stricken by a sudden attack of this sort. Should
Brower and his men hesitate but an instant before closing with
him, he should shoot three instead of two, and then the odds would
be on the right side.
He had not long to wait. The heavy steps sounded in Margaret's
room, and came nearer and nearer.
The light also approached, and voices.
Martin's heart, stout as it was, beat hard, to hear men coming
thus to their death, and perhaps to his; more likely so than not:
for four is long odds in a battlefield of ten feet square. and
Gerard might be bound perhaps, and powerless to help. But this
man, whom we have seen shake in his shoes at a Giles-o'-lanthorn,
never wavered in this awful moment of real danger, but stood
there, his body all braced for combat, and his eye glowing,
equally ready to take life and lose it. Desperate game! to win
which was exile instant and for life, and to lose it was to die
that moment upon that floor he stood on.
Dierich Brower and his men found Peter in his first sleep. They
opened his cupboards, they ran their knives into an alligator he
had nailed to his wall; they looked under his bed: it was a large
room, and apparently full of hiding-places, but they found no
Then they went on to Margaret's room, and the very sight of it was
discouraging - it was small and bare, and not a cupboard in it;
there was, however, a large fireplace and chimney. Dierich's eye
fell on these directly. Here they found the beauty of Sevenbergen
sleeping on an old chest not a foot high, and no attempt made to
cover it; but the sheets were snowy white, and so was Margaret's
own linen. And there she lay, looking like a lily fallen into a
Presently she awoke, and sat up in the bed, like one amazed; then,
seeing the men, began to scream faintly, and pray for mercy.
She made Dierich Brower ashamed of his errand.
"Here is a to-do," said he, a little confused. "We are not going
to hurt you, my pretty maid. Lie you still, and shut your eyes,
and think of your wedding-night, while I look up this chimney to
see if Master Gerard is there."
"Gerard! in my room?"
"Why not? They say that you and he - "
"Cruel! you know they have driven him away from me - driven him
from his native place. This is a blind. You are thieves; you are
wicked men; you are not men of Sevenbergen, or you would know
Margaret Brandt better than to look for her lover in this room of
all others in the world. Oh, brave! Four great hulking men to
come, armed to the teeth, to insult one poor honest girl! The
women that live in your own houses must be naught, or you would
respect them too much to insult a girl of good character."
"There! come away, before we hear worse," said Dierich hastily.
"He is not in the chimney. Plaster will mend what a cudgel breaks;
but a woman's tongue is a double-edged dagger, and a girl is a
woman with her mother's milk still in her." And he beat a hasty
retreat. "I told the burgomaster how 'twould be."
Where is the woman that cannot act a part? Where is she who will
not do it, and do it well, to save the man she loves? Nature on
these great occasions comes to the aid of the simplest of the sex,
and teaches her to throw dust in Solomon's eyes. The men had no
sooner retired than Margaret stepped out of bed, and opened the
long chest on which she had been lying down in her skirt and
petticoat and stockings, and nightdress over all; and put the lid,
bed-clothes and all, against the wall: then glided to the door and
listened. The footsteps died away through her father's room and
down the stairs.
Now in that chest there was a peculiarity that it was almost
impossible for a stranger to detect. A part of the boarding of the
room had been broken, and Gerard being applied to to make it look
neater, and being short of materials, had ingeniously sawed away a
space sufficient just to admit Margaret's soi-disant bed, and with
the materials thus acquired he had repaired the whole room. As for
the bed or chest, it really rested on the rafters a foot below the
boards. Consequently it was full two feet deep, though it looked
All was quiet. Margaret kneeled and gave thanks to Heaven. Then
she glided from the door and leaned over the chest, and whispered
Gerard did not reply.
She then whispered a little louder, "Gerard, all is safe, thank
Heaven! You may rise; but oh! be cautious!"
Gerard made no reply.
She laid her hand upon his shoulder - "Gerard!"
"Oh, what is this?" she cried, and her hands ran wildly over his
face and his bosom. She took him by the shoulders; she shook him;
she lifted him; but he escaped from her trembling hands, and fell
back, not like a man, but like a body. A great dread fell on her.
The lid had been down. She had lain upon it. The men had been some
time in the room. With all the strength of frenzy she tore him out
of the chest. She bore him in her arms to the window. She dashed
the window open. The sweet air came in. She laid him in it and in
the moonlight. His face was the colour of ashes; his body was all
limp and motionless. She felt his heart. Horror! it was as still
as the rest! Horror of horrors! she had stifled him with her own
The mind cannot all at once believe so great and sudden and
strange a calamity. Gerard, who had got alive into that chest
scarce five minutes ago, how could he be dead?
She called him by all the endearing names that heart could think
or tongue could frame. She kissed him and fondled him and coaxed
him and implored him to speak to her.
No answer to words of love, such as she had never uttered to him
before, nor thought she could utter. Then the poor creature,
trembling all over, began to say over that ashy face little
foolish things that were at once terrible and pitiable.
"Oh, Gerard! I am very sorry you are dead. I am very sorry I have
killed you. Forgive me for not letting the men take you; it would
have been better than this. Oh, Gerard! I am very, very sorry for
what I have done." Then she began suddenly to rave.
"No! no! such things can't be, or there is no God. It is
monstrous. How can my Gerard be dead? How can I have killed my
Gerard? I love him. Oh, God! you know how I love him. He does not.
I never told him. If he knew my heart, he would speak to me, he
would not be so deaf to his poor Margaret. It is all a trick to
make me cry out and betray him; but no! I love him too well for
that. I'll choke first." And she seized her own throat, to check
her wild desire to scream in her terror and anguish.
"If he would but say one word. Oh, Gerard! don't die without a
word. Have mercy on me and scold me, but speak to me: if you are
angry with me, scold me! curse me! I deserve it: the idiot that
killed the man she loved better than herself. Ah I am a murderess.
The worst in all the world. Help! help! I have murdered him. Ah!
ah! ah! ah! ah!"
She tore her hair, and uttered shriek after shriek, so wild, so
piercing, they fell like a knell upon the ears of Dierich Brower
and his men. All started to their feet and looked at one another.
Martin Wittenhaagen, standing at the foot of the stairs with his
arrow drawn nearly to the head and his knife behind him, was
struck with amazement to see the men come back without Gerard: he
lowered his bow and looked open-mouthed at them. They, for their
part, were equally puzzled at the attitude they had caught him in.
"Why, mates, was the old fellow making ready to shoot at us?"
"Stuff!" said Martin, recovering his stolid composure; "I was but
trying my new string. There! I'll unstring my bow, if you think
"Humph!" said Dierich suspiciously, "there is something more in
you than I understand: put a log on, and let us dry our hides a
bit ere we go."
A blazing fire was soon made, and the men gathered round it, and
their clothes and long hair were soon smoking from the cheerful
blaze. Then it was that the shrieks were heard in Margaret's room.
They all started up, and one of them seized the candle and ran up
the steps that led to the bedrooms.
Martin rose hastily too, and being confused by these sudden
screams, and apprehending danger from the man's curiosity, tried
to prevent him from going there.
At this Dierich threw his arms round him from behind, and called
on the others to keep him. The man that had the candle got clear
away, and all the rest fell upon Martin, and after a long and
fierce struggle, in the course of which they were more than once
all rolling on the floor, with Martin in the middle, they
succeeded in mastering the old Samson, and binding him hand and
foot with a rope they had brought for Gerard.
Martin groaned aloud. He saw the man had made his way to
Margaret's room during the struggle, and here was he powerless.
"Ay, grind your teeth, you old rogue," said Dierich, panting with
the struggle. "You shan't use them."
"It is my belief, mates, that our lives were scarce safe while
this old fellow's bones were free."
"He makes me think this Gerard is not far off," put in another.
"No such luck," replied Dierich. "Hallo, mates. Jorian Ketel is a
long time in that girl's bedroom. Best go and see after him, some
The rude laugh caused by this remark had hardly subsided, when
hasty footsteps were heard running along over head.
"Oh, here he comes, at last. Well, Jorian, what is to do now up
Jorian Ketel went straight to Margaret's room, and there, to his
infinite surprise, he found the man he had been in search of, pale
and motionless, his head in Margaret's lap, and she kneeling over
him, mute now, and stricken to stone. Her eyes were dilated yet
glazed, and she neither saw the light nor heard the man, nor cared
for anything on earth, but the white face in her lap.
Jorian stood awe-struck, the candle shaking in his hand.
"Why, where was he, then, all the time?"
Margaret heeded him not. Jorian went to the empty chest and
inspected it. He began to comprehend. The girl's dumb and frozen
despair moved him.
"This is a sorry sight," said he; "it is a black night's work: all
for a few skins! Better have gone with us than so. She is past
answering me, poor wench. Stop! let us try whether - "
He took down a little round mirror, no bigger than his hand, and
put it to Gerard's mouth and nostrils, and held it there. When he
withdrew it, it was dull.
"THERE IS LIFE IN HIM!" said Jorian Ketel to himself.
Margaret caught the words instantly, though only muttered, and it
was if a statue should start into life and passion. She rose and
flung her arms round Jorian's neck.
"Oh, bless the tongue that tells me so!" and she clasped the great
rough fellow again and again, eagerly, almost fiercely.
"There, there! let us lay him warm, said Jorian; and in a moment
he raised Gerard and laid him on the bed-clothes. Then he took out
a flask he carried, and filled his hand twice with Schiedamze, and
flung it sharply each time in Gerard's face. The pungent liquor
co-operated with his recovery - he gave a faint sigh. Oh, never
was sound so joyful to human ear! She flew towards him, but then
stopped, quivering for fear she should hurt him. She had lost all
confidence in herself.
"That is right - let him alone," said Jorian; "don't go cuddling
him as you did me, or you'll drive his breath back again. Let him
alone: he is sure to come to. 'Tisn't like as if he was an old
Gerard sighed deeply, and a faint streak of colour stole to his
lips. Jorian made for the door. He had hardly reached it, when he
found his legs seized from behind.
It was Margaret! She curled round his knees like a serpent, and
kissed his hand, and fawned on him. "You won't tell? You have
saved his life; you have not the heart to thrust him back into his
grave, to undo your own good work?"
"No, no! It is not the first time I have done you two a good turn;
'twas I told you in the church whither we had to take him.
Besides, what is Dierich Brower to me? I'll see him hanged ere
I'll tell him. But I wish you'd tell me where the parchments are!
There are a hundred crowns offered for them. That would be a good
windfall for my Joan and the children, you know."
"Ah! they shall have those hundred crowns.
"What! are the things in the house?" asked Jorian eagerly.
"No; but I know where they are; and by God and St. Bavon I swear
you shall have them to-morrow. Come to me for them when you will,
but come alone."
"I were made else. What! share the hundred crowns with Dirk
Brower? And now may my bones rot in my skin if I let a soul know
the poor boy is here."
He then ran off, lest by staying longer he should excite
suspicion, and have them all after him. And Margaret knelt,
quivering from head to foot, and prayed beside Gerard and for
"What is to do?" replied Jorian to Dierich Brower's query; "why,
we have scared the girl out of her wits. She was in a kind of
"We had better all go and doctor her, then."
"Oh, yes! and frighten her into the churchyard. Her father is a
doctor, and I have roused him, and set him to bring her round. Let
us see the fire, will ye?"
His off-hand way disarmed all suspicion. And soon after the party
agreed that the kitchen of the "Three Kings" was much warmer than
Peter's house, and they departed, having first untied Martin.
"Take note, mate, that I was right, and the burgomaster wrong,"
said Dierich Brower at the door; "I said we should be too late to
catch him, and we were too late."
Thus Gerard, in one terrible night, grazed the prison and the
And how did he get clear at last? Not by his cunningly contrived
hiding-place, nor by Margaret's ready wit; but by a good impulse
in one of his captors, by the bit of humanity left in a somewhat
reckless fellow's heart, aided by his desire of gain. So mixed and
seemingly incongruous are human motives, so shortsighted our
They whose moderate natures or gentle fates keep them, in life's
passage, from the fierce extremes of joy and anguish our nature is
capable of, are perhaps the best, and certainly the happiest of
mankind. But to such readers I should try in vain to convey what
bliss unspeakable settled now upon these persecuted lovers, Even
to those who have joyed greatly and greatly suffered, my feeble
art can present but a pale reflection of Margaret's and Gerard's
To sit and see a beloved face come back from the grave to the
world, to health and beauty, by swift gradations; to see the roses
return to the loved cheek, love's glance to the loved eye, and his
words to the loved mouth - this was Margaret's - a joy to balance
years of sorrow. It was Gerard's to awake from a trance, and find
his head pillowed on Margaret's arm; to hear the woman he adored
murmur new words of eloquent love, and shower tears and tender
kisses and caresses on him. He never knew, till this sweet moment,
how ardently, how tenderly, she loved him. He thanked his enemies.
They wreathed their arms sweetly round each other, and trouble and
danger seemed a world, an age behind them. They called each other
husband and wife. Were they not solemnly betrothed? And had they
not stood before the altar together? Was not the blessing of Holy
Church upon their union? - her curse on all who would part them?
But as no woman's nerves can bear with impunity so terrible a
strain. presently Margaret turned faint, and sank on Gerard's
shoulder, smiling feebly, but quite, quite unstrung. Then Gerard
was anxious, and would seek assistance. But she held him with a
gentle grasp, and implored him not to leave her for a moment.
"While I can lay my hand on you, I feel you are safe, not else.
Foolish Gerard! nothing ails me. I am weak, dearest, but happy,
oh! so happy!"
Then it was Gerard's turn to support that dear head, with its
great waves of hair flowing loose over him, and nurse her, and
soothe her, quivering on his bosom, with soft encouraging words
and murmurs of love, and gentle caresses. Sweetest of all her
charms is a woman's weakness to a manly heart.
Poor things! they were happy. To-morrow they must part. But that
was nothing to them now. They had seen Death, and all other
troubles seemed light as air. While there is life there is hope;
while there is hope there is joy. Separation for a year or two,
what was it to them, who were so young, and had caught a glimpse
of the grave? The future was bright, the present was Heaven: so
passed the blissful hours.
Alas! their innocence ran other risks besides the prison and the
grave. They were in most danger from their own hearts and their
inexperience, now that visible danger there was none.
Ghysbrecht Van Swieten could not sleep all night for anxiety. He
was afraid of thunder and lightning, or he would have made one of
the party that searched Peter's house. As soon as the storm ceased
altogether, he crept downstairs, saddled his mule, and rode to the
"Three Kings" at Sevenbergen. There he found his men sleeping,
some on the chairs, some on the tables, some on the floor. He
roused them furiously, and heard the story of their unsuccessful
search, interlarded with praises of their zeal.
"Fool! to let you go without me," cried the burgomaster. "My life
on't he was there all the time. Looked ye under the girl's bed?"
"No; there was no room for a man there."
"How know ye that, if ye looked not?" snarled Ghysbrecht. "Ye
should have looked under her bed, and in it too, and sounded all
the panels with your knives. Come, now, get up, and I shall show
ye how to search."
Dierich Brower got up and shook himself. "If you find him, call me
a horse and no man.
In a few minutes Peter's house was again surrounded.
The fiery old man left his mule in the hands of Jorian Ketel, and,
with Dierich Brower and the others, entered the house.
The house was empty.
Not a creature to be seen, not even Peter. They went upstairs, and
then suddenly one of the men gave a shout, and pointed through
Peter's window, which was open. The others looked, and there, at
some little distance, walking quietly across the fields with
Margaret and Martin, was the man they sought. Ghysbrecht, with an
exulting yell, descended the stairs and flung himself on his mule;
and he and his men set off in hot pursuit.
Gerard warned by recent peril, rose before daybreak and waked
Martin. The old soldier was astonished. He thought Gerard had
escaped by the window last night. Being consulted as to the best
way for him to leave the country and elude pursuit, he said there
was but one road safe. "I must guide you through the great forest
to a bridle-road I know of. This will take you speedily to a
hostelry, where they will lend you a swift horse; and then a day's
gallop will take you out of Holland. But let us start ere the folk
here quit their beds."
Peter's house was but a furlong and a half from the forest. They
started, Martin with his bow and three arrows, for it was
Thursday; Gerard with nothing but a stout oak staff Peter gave him
for the journey.
Margaret pinned up her kirtle and farthingale, for the road was
wet. Peter went as far as his garden hedge with them, and then
with more emotion than he often bestowed on passing events, gave
the young man his blessing.
The sun was peeping above the horizon as they crossed the stony
field and made for the wood. They had crossed about half, when
Margaret, who kept nervously looking back every now and then,
uttered a cry, and, following her instinct, began to run towards
the wood, screaming with terror all the way.
Ghysbrecht and his men were in hot pursuit.
Resistance would have been madness. Martin and Gerard followed
Margaret's example. The pursuers gained slightly on them; but
Martin kept shouting, "Only win the wood! only win the wood!"
They had too good a start for the men on foot, and their hearts
bounded with hope at Martin's words, for the great trees seemed
now to stretch their branches like friendly arms towards them, and
their leaves like a screen.
But an unforeseen danger attacked them. The fiery old burgomaster
flung himself on his mule, and, spurring him to a gallop, he
headed not his own men only, but the fugitives. His object was to
cut them off. The old man came galloping in a semicircle, and got
on the edge of the wood, right in front of Gerard; the others
might escape for aught he cared.
Margaret shrieked, and tried to protect Gerard by clasping him;
but he shook her off without ceremony.
Ghysbrecht in his ardour forgot that hunted animals turn on the
hunter; and that two men can hate, and two can long to kill the
thing they hate.
Instead of attempting to dodge him, as the burgomaster made sure
he would, Gerard flew right at him, with a savage, exulting cry,
and struck at him with all his heart, and soul and strength. The
oak staff came down on Ghysbrecht's face with a frightful crash,
and laid him under his mule's tail beating the devil's tattoo with
his heels, his face streaming, and his collar spattered with
The next moment the three were in the wood. The yell of dismay and
vengeance that burst from Ghysbrecht's men at that terrible blow
which felled their leader, told the fugitives that it was now a
race for life or death.
"Why run?" cried Gerard, panting. "You have your bow, and I have
this," and he shook his bloody staff.
"Boy!" roared Martin; "the GALLOWS! Follow me," and he fled into
the wood. Soon they heard a cry like a pack of hounds opening on
sight of the game. The men were in the wood, and saw them flitting
amongst the trees. Margaret moaned and panted as she ran; and
Gerard clenched his teeth and grasped his staff. The next minute
they came to a stiff hazel coppice. Martin dashed into it, and
shouldered the young wood aside as if it were standing corn.
Ere they had gone fifty yards in it they came to four blind paths.
Martin took one. "Bend low," said he. And, half creeping, they
glided along. Presently their path was again intersected with
other little tortuous paths. They took one of them. It seemed to
lead back; but it soon took a turn, and, after a while, brought
them to a thick pine grove, where the walking was good and hard.
There were no paths here; and the young fir-trees were so thick,
you could not see three yards before your nose.
When they had gone some way in this, Martin sat down; and, having
learned in war to lose all impression of danger with the danger
itself, took a piece of bread and a slice of ham out of his
wallet, and began quietly to eat his breakfast.
The young ones looked at him with dismay. He replied to their
"All Sevenbergen could not find you now; you will lose your purse,
Gerard, long before you get to Italy; is that the way to carry a
Gerard looked, and there was a large triangular purse, entangled
by its chains to the buckle and strap of his wallet.
"This is none of mine," said he. "What is in it, I wonder?" and he
tried to detach it; but in passing through the coppice it had
become inextricably entangled in his strap and buckle. "It seems
loath to leave me," said Gerard, and he had to cut it loose with
his knife. The purse, on examination, proved to be well provided
with silver coins of all sizes, but its bloated appearance was
greatly owing to a number of pieces of brown paper folded and
doubled. A light burst on Gerard. "Why, it must be that old
thief's; and see! stuffed with paper to deceive the world!"
The wonder was how the burgomaster's purse came on Gerard.
They hit at last upon the right solution. The purse must have been
at Ghysbrecht's saddle-bow, and Gerard rushing at his enemy, had
unconsciously torn it away, thus felling his enemy and robbing
him, with a single gesture.
Gerard was delighted at this feat, but Margaret was uneasy.
"Throw it away, Gerard, or let Martin take it back. Already they
call you a thief. I cannot bear it."
"Throw it away! give it him back? not a stiver! This is spoil
lawfully won in battle from an enemy. Is it not, Martin?"
"Why, of course. Send him back the brown paper, and you will; but
the purse or the coin - that were a sin."
"Oh, Gerard!" said Margaret, "you are going to a distant land. We
need the goodwill of Heaven. How can we hope for that if we take
what is not ours?"
But Gerard saw it in a different light.
"It is Heaven that gives it me by a miracle, and I shall cherish
it accordingly," said this pious youth. "Thus the favoured people
spoiled the Egyptians, and were blessed."
"Take your own way," said Margaret humbly; "you are wiser than I
am. You are my husband," added she, in a low murmuring voice; is
it for me to gainsay you?"
These humble words from Margaret, who, till that day, had held the
whip-hand, rather surprised Martin for the moment. They recurred
to him some time afterwards, and then they surprised him less.
Gerard kissed her tenderly in return for her wife-like docility.
and they pursued their journey hand in hand, Martin leading the
way, into the depths of the huge forest. The farther they went,
the more absolutely secure from pursuit they felt. Indeed, the
townspeople never ventured so far as this into the trackless part
of the forest.
Impetuous natures repent quickly. Gerard was no sooner out of all
danger than his conscience began to prick him.
"Martin, would I had not struck quite so hard."
"Whom? Oh! let that pass, he is cheap served."
"Martin, I saw his grey hairs as my stick fell on him. I doubt
they will not from my sight this while."
Martin grunted with contempt. "Who spares a badger for his grey
hairs? The greyer your enemy is, the older; and the older the
craftier and the craftier the better for a little killing."
"Killing? killing, Martin? Speak not of killing!" and Gerard shook
"I am much mistook if you have not," said Martin cheerfully.
"Now Heaven forbid!"
"The old vagabond's skull cracked like a walnut. Aha!"
"Heaven and the saints forbid it!"
"He rolled off his mule like a stone shot out of a cart. Said I to
myself, 'There is one wiped out,'" and the iron old soldier
Gerard fell on his knees and began to pray for his enemy's life.
At this Martin lost his patience. "Here's mummery. What! you that
set up for learning, know you not that a wise man never strikes
his enemy but to kill him? And what is all this coil about killing
of old men? If it had been a young one, now. with the joys of life
waiting for him, wine, women, and pillage! But an old fellow at
the edge of the grave, why not shove him in? Go he must, to-day or
to-morrow; and what better place for greybeards? Now, if ever I
should be so mischancy as to last so long as Ghysbrecht did, and
have to go on a mule's legs instead of Martin Wittenhaagen's, and
a back like this (striking the wood of his bow), instead of this
(striking the string), I'll thank and bless any young fellow who
will knock me on the head, as you have done that old shopkeeper;
malison on his memory.
"Oh, culpa mea! culpa mea!" cried Gerard, and smote upon his
"Look there!" cried Martin to Margaret scornfully, "he is a priest
at heart still - and when he is not in ire, St. Paul, what a
"Tush, Martin!" cried Margaret reproachfully: then she wreathed
her arms round Gerard, and comforted him with the double magic of
a woman's sense and a woman's voice.
"Sweetheart!" murmured she, "you forget: you went not a step out
of the way to harm him, who hunted you to your death. You fled
from him. He it was who spurred on you. Then did you strike; but
in self-defence and a single blow, and with that which was in your
hand. Malice had drawn knife, or struck again and again. How often
have men been smitten with staves not one but many blows, yet no
lives lost! If then your enemy has fallen, it is through his own
malice, not yours, and by the will of God."
"Bless you, Margaret; bless you for thinking so!"
"Yes; but, beloved one, if you have had the misfortune to kill
that wicked man, the more need is there that you fly with haste
from Holland. Oh, let us on."
"Nay, Margaret," said Gerard. "I fear not man's vengeance, thanks
to Martin here and this thick wood: only Him I fear whose eye
pierces the forest and reads the heart of man. If I but struck in
self-defence, 'tis well; but if in hate, He may bid the avenger of
blood follow me to Italy - to Italy? ay, to earth's remotest
"Hush!" said Martin peevishly. "I can't hear for your chat."
"What is it?"
"Do you hear nothing, Margaret; my ears are getting old."
Margaret listened, and presently she heard a tuneful sound, like a
single stroke upon a deep ringing bell. She described it so to
"Nay, I heard it," said he.
"And so did I," said Gerard; "it was beautiful. Ah! there it is
again. How sweetly it blends with the air. It is a long way off.
It is before us, is it not?"
"No, no! the echoes of this wood confound the ear of a stranger.
It comes from the pine grove."
"What! the one we passed?"
"Why, Martin, is this anything? You look pale."
"Wonderful!" said Martin, with a sickly sneer. "He asks me is it
anything? Come, on, on! at any rate, let us reach a better place
"A better place - for what?"
"To stand at bay, Gerard," said Martin gravely; "and die like
soldiers, killing three for one."
"What's that sound?"
"IT IS THE AVENGER OF BLOOD."
"Oh, Martin, save him! Oh, Heaven be merciful What new mysterious
peril is this?"
"GIRL, IT'S A BLOODHOUND."
The courage, like the talent, of common men, runs in a narrow
groove. Take them but an inch out of that, and they are done.
Martin's courage was perfect as far as it went. He had met and
baffled many dangers in the course of his rude life, and these
familiar dangers he could face with Spartan fortitude, almost with
indifference; but he had never been hunted by a bloodhound, nor
had he ever seen that brute's unerring instinct baffled by human
cunning. Here then a sense of the supernatural combined with
novelty to ungenteel his heart. After going a few steps, he leaned
on his bow, and energy and hope oozed out of him. Gerard, to whom
the danger appeared slight in proportion as it was distant, urged
him to flight.
"What avails it?" said Martin sadly; "if we get clear of the wood
we shall die cheap; here, hard by, I know a place where we may die
"Alas! good Martin," cried Gerard, "despair not so quickly; there
must be some way to escape."
"Oh, Martin!" cried Margaret, "what if we were to part company?
Gerard's life alone is forfeit. Is there no way to draw the
pursuit on us twain and let him go safe?"
"Girl, you know not the bloodhound's nature. He is not on this
man's track or that; he is on the track of blood. My life on't
they have taken him to where Ghysbrecht fell, and from the dead
man's blood to the man that shed it that cursed hound will lead
them, though Gerard should run through an army or swim the Meuse."
And again he leaned upon his bow, and his head sank.
The hound's mellow voice rang through the wood.
A cry more tunable
Was never halloed to, nor cheered with horn,
In Crete, in Sparta, or in Thessaly.
Strange that things beautiful should be terrible and deadly' The
eye of the boa-constrictor, while fascinating its prey, is lovely.
No royal crown holds such a jewel; it is a ruby with the emerald's
green light playing ever upon it. Yet the deer that sees it loses
all power of motion, and trembles, and awaits his death and even
so, to compare hearing with sight, this sweet and mellow sound
seemed to fascinate Martin Wittenhaagen. He stood uncertain,
bewildered, and unnerved. Gerard was little better now. Martin's
last words had daunted him, He had struck an old man and shed his
blood, and, by means of that very blood, blood's four-footed
avenger was on his track. Was not the finger of Heaven in this?
Whilst the men were thus benumbed, the woman's brain was all
activity. The man she loved was in danger.
"Lend me your knife," said she to Martin. He gave it her.
"But 'twill be little use in your hands," said he.
Then Margaret did a sly thing. She stepped behind Gerard, and
furtively drew the knife across her arm, and made it bleed freely;
then stooping, smeared her hose and shoes; and still as the blood
trickled she smeared them; but so adroitly that neither Gerard nor
Martin saw. Then she seized the soldier's arm.
"Come, be a man!" she said, "and let this end. Take us to some
thick place, where numbers will not avail our foes."
"I am going," said Martin sulkily. "Hurry avails not; we cannot
shun the hound, and the place is hard by;" then turning to the
left, he led the way, as men go to execution.
He soon brought them to a thick hazel coppice, like the one that
had favoured their escape in the morning.
"There," said he, "this is but a furlong broad, but it will serve
"What are we to do?"
"Get through this, and wait on the other side; then as they come
straggling through, shoot three, knock two on the head, and the
rest will kill us."
"Is that all you can think of?" said Gerard.
"That is all."
"Then, Martin Wittenhaagen, I take the lead, for you have lost
your head. Come, can you obey so young a man as I am?"
"Oh, yes, Martin," cried Margaret, "do not gainsay Gerard! He is
wiser than his years."
Martin yielded a sullen assent.
"Do then as you see me do," said Gerard; and drawing his huge
knife, he cut at every step a hazel shoot or two close by the
ground, and turning round twisted them breast-high behind him
among the standing shoots. Martin did the same, but with a dogged
hopeless air. When they had thus painfully travelled through the
greater part of the coppice, the bloodhound's deep bay came nearer
and nearer, less and less musical, louder and sterner.
Martin went down on his stomach and listened.
"I hear a horse's feet."
"No," said Gerard; "I doubt it is a mule's. That cursed Ghysbrecht
is still alive: none other would follow me up so bitterly."
"Never strike your enemy but to slay him," said Martin gloomily.
"I'll hit harder this time, if Heaven gives me the chance," said
At last they worked through the coppice, and there was an open
wood. The trees were large, but far apart, and no escape possible
And now with the hound's bay mingled a score of voices hooping and
"The whole village is out after us," said Martin.
"I care not," said Gerard. "Listen, Martin. I have made the track
smooth to the dog, but rough to the men, that we may deal with
them apart. Thus the hound will gain on the men, and as soon as he
comes out of the coppice we must kill him,"
"The hound? There are more than one."
"I hear but one."
"Ay! but one speaks, the others run mute; but let the leading
hound lose the scent, then another shall give tongue. There will
be two dogs, at least, or devils in dog's hides."
"Then we must kill two instead of one. The moment they are dead,
into the coppice again, and go right back."
"That is a good thought, Gerard," said Martin, plucking up heart.
"Hush! the men are in the wood."
Gerard now gave his orders in a whisper.
"Stand you with your bow by the side of the coppice - there, in
the ditch. I will go but a few yards to yon oak-tree, and hide
behind it; the dogs will follow me, and, as they come out, shoot
as many as you can, the rest will I brain as they come round the
Martin's eye flashed. They took up their places.
The hooping and hallooing came closer and closer, and soon even
the rustling of the young wood was heard, and every now and then
the unerring bloodhound gave a single bay.
It was terrible! the branches rustling nearer and nearer, and the
inevitable struggle for life and death coming on minute by minute,
and that death-knell leading it. A trembling hand was laid on
Gerard's shoulder. It made him start violently, strung up as he
"Martin says if we are forced to part company, make for that high
ash-tree we came in by."
"Yes! yes! yes! but go back for Heaven's sake! don't come here,
all out in the open!"
She ran back towards Martin; but, ere she could get to him,
suddenly a huge dog burst out of the coppice, and stood erect a
moment. Margaret cowered with fear, but he never noticed her.
Scent was to him what sight is to us. He lowered his nose an
instant, and the next moment, with an awful yell, sprang straight
at Gerard's tree and rolled head-over-heels dead as a stone,
literally spitted with an arrow from the bow that twanged beside
the coppice in Martin's hand. That same moment out came another
hound and smelt his dead comrade. Gerald rushed out at him; but
ere he could use his cudgel, a streak of white lightning seemed to
strike the hound, and he grovelled in the dust, wounded
desperately, but not killed, and howling piteously.
Gerard had not time to despatch him: the coppice rustled too near:
it seemed alive. Pointing wildly to Martin to go back, Gerard ran
a few yards to the right, then crept cautiously into the thick
coppice just as three men burst out. These had headed their
comrades considerably: the rest were following at various
distances. Gerard crawled back almost on all-fours. Instinct
taught Martin and Margaret to do the same upon their line of
retreat. Thus, within the distance of a few yards, the pursuers
and pursued were passing one another upon opposite tracks.
A loud cry announced the discovery of the dead and the wounded
hound. Then followed a babble of voices, still swelling as fresh
pursuers reached the spot. The hunters, as usual on a surprise,
were wasting time, and the hunted ones were making the most of it.
"I hear no more hounds," whispered Martin to Margaret, and he was
It was Margaret's turn to tremble and despair.
"Oh, why did we part with Gerard? They will kill my Gerard, and I
not near him."
"Nay, nay! the head to catch him is not on their shoulders. You
bade him meet us at the ash-tree?"
"And so I did. Bless you, Martin, for thinking of that. To the
"Ay! but with less noise."
They were now nearly at the edge of the coppice, when suddenly
they heard hooping and hallooing behind them. The men had
satisfied themselves the fugitives were in the coppice, and were
"No matter," whispered Martin to his trembling companion. "We
shall have time to win clear and slip back out of sight by hard
He stooped suddenly; for just as he was going to burst out of the
brushwood, his eye caught a figure keeping sentinel. It was
Ghysbrecht Van Swieten seated on his mule; a bloody bandage was
across his nose, the bridge of which was broken; but over this his
eyes peered keenly, and it was plain by their expression he had
heard the fugitives rustle, and was looking out for them. Martin
muttered a terrible oath, and cautiously strung his bow, then with
equal caution fitted his last arrow to the string. Margaret put
her hands to her face, but said nothing. She saw this man must die
or Gerard. After the first impulse she peered through her fingers,
her heart panting to her throat.
The bow was raised, and the deadly arrow steadily drawn to its
head, when at that moment an active figure leaped on Ghysbrecht
from behind so swiftly, it was like a hawk swooping on a pigeon. A
kerchief went over the burgomaster, in a turn of the hand his head
was muffled in it, and he was whirled from his seat and fell
heavily upon the ground, where he lay groaning with terror; and
Gerard jumped down after him.
"Hist, Martin! Martin!"
Martin and Margaret came out, the former openmouthed crying, "Now
fly! fly! while they are all in the thicket; we are saved."
At this crisis, when safety seemed at hand, as fate would have it,
Margaret, who had borne up so bravely till now, began to succumb,
partly from loss of blood.
"Oh, my beloved, fly!" she gasped. "Leave me, for I am faint."
"No! no!" cried Gerard. "Death together, or safety. Ah! the mule!
mount her, you, and I'll run by your side."
In a moment Martin was on Ghysbrecht's mule, and Gerard raised the
fainting girl in his arms and placed her on the saddle, and
relieved Martin of his bow.
"Help! treason! murder! murder!" shrieked Ghysbrecht, suddenly
rising on his hams.
"Silence, cur," roared Gerard, and trode him down again by the
throat as men crush an adder.
"Now, have you got her firm? Then fly! for our lives! for our
But even as the mule, urged suddenly by Martin's heel, scattered
the flints with his hind hoofs ere he got into a canter, and even
as Gerard withdrew his foot from Ghysbrecht's throat to run,
Dierich Brower and his five men, who had come back for orders, and
heard the burgomaster's cries, burst roaring out of the coppice on
Speech is the familiar vent of human thoughts; but there are
emotions so simple and overpowering, that they rush out not in
words, but eloquent sounds. At such moments man seems to lose his
characteristics, and to be merely one of the higher animals; for
these, when greatly agitated, ejaculate, though they cannot speak.
There was something terrible and truly animal, both in the roar of
triumph with which the pursuers burst out of the thicket on our
fugitives, and the sharp cry of terror with which these latter
darted away. The pursuers hands clutched the empty air, scarce two
feet behind them, as they fled for life. Confused for a moment,
like lions that miss their spring, Dierich and his men let Gerard
and the mule put ten yards between them. Then they flew after with
uplifted weapons. They were sure of catching them; for this was
not the first time the parties had measured speed. In the open
ground they had gained visibly on the three this morning, and now,
at last, it was a fair race again, to be settled by speed alone. A
hundred yards were covered in no time. Yet still there remained
these ten yards between the pursuers and the pursued.
This increase of speed since the morning puzzled Dierich Brower.
The reason was this. When three run in company. the pace is that
of the slowest of the three. From Peter's house to the edge of the
forest Gerard ran Margaret's pace; but now he ran his own; for the
mule was fleet, and could have left them all far behind. Moreover,
youth and chaste living began to tell. Daylight grew imperceptibly
between the hunted ones and the hunters. Then Dierich made a
desperate effort, and gained two yards; but in a few seconds
Gerard had stolen them quietly back. The pursuers began to curse.
Martin heard, and his face lighted up. "Courage, Gerard! courage,
brave lad! they are straggling."
It was so. Dierich was now headed by one of his men, and another
dropped into the rear altogether.
They came to a rising ground, not sharp, but long; and here youth,
and grit, and sober living told more than ever.
Ere he reached the top, Dierich's forty years weighed him down
like forty bullets. "Our cake is dough," he gasped. "Take him
dead, if you can't alive;" and he left running, and followed at a
foot's pace. Jorian Ketel tailed off next; and then another, and
so, one by one, Gerard ran them all to a standstill, except one
who kept on stanch as a bloodhound, though losing ground every
minute. His name, if I am not mistaken, was Eric Wouverman.
Followed by him, they came to a rise in the wood, shorter, but
much steeper than the last.
"Hand on mane!" cried Martin.
Gerard obeyed, and the mule helped him up the hill faster even
than he was running before.
At the sight of this manoeuvre, Dierich's man lost heart, and,
being now full eighty yards behind Gerard, and rather more than
that in advance of his nearest comrade, he pulled up short, and,
in obedience to Dierich's order, took down his crossbow, levelled
it deliberately, and just as the trio were sinking out of sight
over the crest of the hill, sent the bolt whizzing among them.
There was a cry of dismay; and, next moment, as if a thunder-bolt
had fallen on them, they were all lying on the ground, mule and
The effect was so sudden and magical, that the shooter himself was
stupefied for an instant. Then he hailed his companions to join
him in effecting the capture, and himself set off up the hill;
but, ere he had got half way, up rose the figure of Martin
Wittenhaagen with a bent bow in his hand. Eric Wouverman no sooner
saw him in this attitude, than he darted behind a tree, and made
himself as small as possible. Martin's skill with that weapon was
well known, and the slain dog was a keen reminder of it.
Wouverman peered round the bark cautiously: there was the arrow's
point still aimed at him. He saw it shine. He dared not move from
When he had been at peep-ho some minutes, his companions came up
in great force.
Then, with a scornful laugh, Martin vanished, and presently was
heard to ride off on the mule.
All the men ran up together. The high ground commanded a view of a
narrow but almost interminable glade.
They saw Gerard and Margaret running along at a prodigious
distance; they looked like gnats; and Martin galloping after them
ventre a terre.
The hunters were outwitted as well as outrun. A few words will
explain Martin's conduct. We arrive at causes by noting
coincidences; yet, now and then, coincidences are deceitful. As we
have all seen a hare tumble over a briar just as the gun went off,
and so raise expectations, then dash them to earth by scudding
away untouched, so the burgomaster's mule put her foot in a
rabbit-hole at or about the time the crossbow bolt whizzed
innocuous over her head: she fell and threw both her riders.
Gerard caught Margaret, but was carried down by her weight and
impetus; and, behold, the soil was strewed with dramatis personae.
The docile mule was up again directly, and stood trembling. Martin
was next, and looking round saw there was but one in pursuit; on
this he made the young lovers fly on foot, while he checked the
enemy as I have recorded.
He now galloped after his companions, and when after a long race
he caught them, he instantly put Gerard and Margaret on the mule,
and ran by their side till his breath failed, then took his turn
to ride, and so in rotation. Thus the runner was always fresh, and
long ere they relaxed their speed all sound and trace of them was
hopelessly lost to Dierich and his men. These latter went
crestfallen back to look after their chief and their winged
Life and liberty, while safe, are little thought of: for why? they
are matters of course. Endangered, they are rated at their real
value. In this, too, they are like sunshine, whose beauty men
notice not at noon when it is greatest, but towards evening, when
it lies in flakes of topaz under shady elms. Yet it is feebler
then; but gloom lies beside it, and contrast reveals its fire.
Thus Gerard and Margaret, though they started at every leaf that
rustled louder than its fellows, glowed all over with joy and
thankfulness as they glided among the friendly trees in safety and
deep tranquil silence, baying dogs and brutal voices yet ringing
in their mind's ears.
But presently Gerard found stains of blood on Margaret's ankles.
"Martin! Martin! help! they have wounded her: the crossbow!"
"No, no!" said Margaret, smiling to reassure him; "I am not
wounded, nor hurt at all."
"But what is it, then, in Heaven's name?" cried Gerard, in great
"Scold me not, then!" and Margaret blushed.
"Did I ever scold you?"
"No, dear Gerard. Well, then, Martin said it was blood those cruel
dogs followed; so I thought if I could but have a little blood on
my shoon, the dogs would follow me instead, and let my Gerard wend
free. So I scratched my arm with Martin's knife - forgive me!
Whose else could I take? Yours, Gerard? Ah, no. You forgive me?"
said she beseechingly, and lovingly and fawningly, all in one.
"Let me see this scratch first," said Gerard, choking with
emotion. "There, I thought so. A scratch? I call it a cut - a
deep, terrible, cruel cut.'
Gerard shuddered at sight of it.
"She might have done it with her bodkin," said the soldier.
"Milksop! that sickens at sight of a scratch and a little blood."
"No, no. I could look on a sea of blood, but not on hers. Oh,
Margaret! how could you be so cruel?"
Margaret smiled with love ineffable. "Foolish Gerard," murmured
she, "to make so much of nothing." And she flung the guilty arm
round his neck. "As if I would not give all the blood in my heart
for you, let alone a few drops from my arm." And with this, under
the sense of his recent danger, she wept on his neck for pity and
love; and he wept with her.
"And I must part from her," he sobbed; "we two that love so dear
-one must be in Holland, one in Italy. Ah me! ah me! ah me!"
At this Margaret wept afresh, but patiently and silently. Instinct
is never off its guard, and with her unselfishness was an
instinct. To utter her present thoughts would be to add to
Gerard's misery at parting, so she wept in silence.
Suddenly they emerged upon a beaten path, and Martin stopped.
"This is the bridle-road I spoke of," said he hanging his head;
"and there away lies the hostelry."
Margaret and Gerard cast a scared look at one another.
"Come a step with me, Martin," whispered Gerard. When he had drawn
him aside, he said to him in a broken voice, "Good Martin, watch
over her for me! She is my wife; yet I leave her. See Martin! here
is gold - it was for my journey; it is no use my asking her to
take it - she would not; but you will for her, will you not? Oh,
Heaven! and is this all I can do for her? Money? But poverty is a
curse. You will not let her want for anything, dear Martin? The
burgomaster's silver is enough for me."
"Thou art a good lad, Gerard. Neither want nor harm shall come to
her. I care more for her little finger than for all the world; and
were she nought to me, even for thy sake would I be a father to
her. Go with a stout heart, and God be with thee going and
coming." And the rough soldier wrung Gerard's hand, and turned his
head away, with unwonted feeling.
After a moment's silence he was for going back to Margaret, but
Gerard stopped him. "No, good Martin; prithee, stay here behind
this thicket, and turn your head away from us, while I-oh, Martin!
By this means Gerard escaped a witness of his anguish at leaving
her he loved, and Martin escaped a piteous sight. He did not see
the poor young things kneel and renew before Heaven those holy
vows cruel men had interrupted. He did not see them cling together
like one, and then try to part, and fail, and return to one
another, and cling again, like drowning, despairing creatures. But
he heard Gerard sob, and sob, and Margaret moan.
At last there was a hoarse cry, and feet pattered on the hard
He started up, and there was Gerard running wildly, with both
hands clasped above his head, in prayer, and Margaret tottering
back towards him with palms extended piteously, as if for help,
and ashy cheek and eyes fixed on vacancy.
He caught her in his arms, and spoke words of comfort to her; but
her mind could not take them in; only at the sound of his voice
she moaned and held him tight, and trembled violently.
He got her on the mule, and put his arm around her, and so,
supporting her frame, which, from being strong like a boy, had now
turned all relaxed and powerless, he took her slowly and sadly
She did not shed one tear, nor speak one word.
At the edge of the wood he took her off the mule, and bade her go
across to her father's house. She did as she was bid.
Martin to Rotterdam. Sevenbergen was too hot for him.
Gerard, severed from her he loved, went like one in a dream. He
hired a horse and a guide at the little hostelry, and rode swiftly
towards the German frontier. But all was mechanical; his senses
felt blunted; trees and houses and men moved by him like objects
seen through a veil. His companions spoke to him twice, but he did
not answer. Only once he cried out savagely, "Shall we never be
out of this hateful country?"
After many hours' riding they came to the brow of a steep hill; a
small brook ran at the bottom.
"Halt!" cried the guide, and pointed across the valley. "Here is
"On t'other side of the bourn. No need to ride down the hill, I
Gerard dismounted without a word, and took the burgomaster's purse
from his girdle: while he opened it, "You will soon be out of this
hateful country," said his guide, half sulkily; "mayhap the one
you are going to will like you no better; any way, though it be a
church you have robbed, they cannot take you, once across that
These words at another time would have earned the speaker an
admonition or a cuff. They fell on Gerard now like idle air. He
paid the lad in silence, and descended the hill alone. The brook
was silvery; it ran murmuring over little pebbles, that glittered,
varnished by the clear water; he sat down and looked stupidly at
them. Then he drank of the brook; then he laved his hot feet and
hands in it; it was very cold: it waked him. He rose, and taking a
run, leaped across it into Germany. Even as he touched the strange
land he turned suddenly and looked back. "Farewell, ungrateful
country!" he cried. "But for her it would cost me nought to leave
you for ever, and all my kith and kin, and - the mother that bore
me, and - my playmates, and my little native town. Farewell,
fatherland - welcome the wide world! omne so-lum for-ti p
p-at-r-a." And with these brave words in his mouth he drooped
suddenly with arms and legs all weak, and sat down and sobbed
bitterly upon the foreign soil.
When the young exile had sat a while bowed down, he rose and
dashed the tears from his eyes like a man; and not casting a
single glance more behind him, to weaken his heart, stepped out
into the wide world.
His love and heavy sorrow left no room in him for vulgar
misgivings. Compared with rending himself from Margaret, it seemed
a small thing to go on foot to Italy in that rude age.
All nations meet in a convent. So, thanks to his good friends the
monks, and his own thirst of knowledge, he could speak most of the
languages needed on that long road. He said to himself, "I will
soon be at Rome; the sooner the better now."
After walking a good league, he came to a place where four
ways met. Being country roads, and serpentine, they had puzzled
many an inexperienced neighbour passing from village to village.
Gerard took out a little dial Peter had given him, and set it in
the autumn sun, and by this compass steered unhesitatingly
for Rome inexperienced as a young swallow flying south; but
unlike the swallow, wandering south alone.
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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 farm- yard. 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
"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
"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
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
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