The Cloister and the Hearth
Part 6 out of 18
"And you weep so for that?"
"Needs I must, bel gars. My mammy will massacre me. Do they not
already" (with a fresh burst of woe) "c-c-call me J-J-Jean-net-on
C-c-casse tout? It wanted but this; that I should break my poor
pot. Helas! fallait-il donc, mere de Dieu?"
"Courage, little love," said Gerard; "'tis not thy heart lies
broken; money will soon mend pots. See now, here is a piece of
silver, and there, scarce a stone's throw off, is a potter; take
the bit of silver to him, and buy another pot, and the copper the
potter will give thee keep that to play with thy comrades"
The little mind took in all this, and smiles began to struggle
with the tears: but spasms are like waves, they cannot go down the
very moment the wind of trouble is lulled. So Denys thought well
to bring up his reserve of consolation "Courage, ma mie, le diable
est mort!" cried that inventive warrior gaily. Gerard shrugged his
shoulders at such a way of cheering a little girl.
"What a fine thing
Is a lute with one string,"
The little girl's face broke into warm sunshine.
"Oh, the good news! oh, the good news!" she sang out with such
heartfelt joy, it went off into a honeyed whine; even as our gay
old tunes have a pathos underneath "So then," said she, they will
no longer be able to threaten us little girls with him, making our
lives a burden!" And she bounded off "to tell Nanette," she said.
There is a theory that everything has its counterpart; if true,
Denys it would seem had found the mind his consigne fitted.
While he was roaring with laughter at its unexpected success and
Gerard's amazement, a little hand pulled his jerkin and a little
face peeped round his waist. Curiosity was now the dominant
passion in that small but vivid countenance.
"Est-ce toi qui l'a tue, beau soldat?"
"Oui, ma mie," said Denys, as gruffly as ever he could, rightly
deeming this would smack of supernatural puissance to owners of
bell-like trebles. "C'est moi. Ca vaut une petite embrassade
"Je crois ben. Aie! aie!"
Ca pique! ca pique!"
"Quel dommage! je vais la couper."
"Nein, ce n'est rien; et pisque t'as tue ce mechant. T'es
fierement beau, tout d' meme, toi; t'es lien miex que ma grande
"Will you not kiss me, too, ma mie?" said Gerard.
"Je ne demande par miex. Tiens, tiens, tiens! c'est doulce
celle-ci. Ah! que j'aimons les hommes! Des fames, ca ne m'aurait
jamais donne l'arjan, blanc, plutot ca m'aurait ri au nez. C'est
si peu de chose, les fames. Serviteur, beaulx sires! Bon voiage;
et n'oubliez point la Jeanneton!"
"Adieu, petit coeur," said Gerard, and on they marched; but
presently looking back they saw the contemner of women in the
middle of the road, making them a reverence, and blowing them
kisses with little May morning face.
"Come on," cried Gerard lustily. "I shall win to Rome yet. Holy
St. Bavon, what a sunbeam of innocence hath shot across our
bloodthirsty road! Forget thee, little Jeanneton? not likely,
amidst all this slobbering, and gibbeting, and decanting. Come on,
thou laggard! forward!"
"Dost call this marching?" remonstrated Denys; "why, we shall walk
o'er Christmas Day and never see it."
At the next town they came to, suddenly an arbalestrier ran out of
a tavern after them, and in a moment his beard and Denys's were
like two brushes stuck together. It was a comrade. He insisted on
their coming into the tavern with him, and breaking a bottle of
wine. In course of conversation, he told Denys there was an
insurrection in the Duke's Flemish provinces, and soldiers were
ordered thither from all parts of Burgundy. "Indeed, I marvelled
to see thy face turned this way.
"I go to embrace my folk that I have not seen these three years.
Ye can quell a bit of a rising without me I trow."
Suddenly Denys gave a start. "Dost hear Gerard? this comrade is
bound for Holland."
"What then? ah, a letter! a letter to Margaret! but will he be so
good, so kind?"
The soldier with a torrent of blasphemy informed him he would not
only take it, but go a league or two out of his way to do it.
In an instant out came inkhorn and paper from Gerard's wallet; and
he wrote a long letter to Margaret, and told her briefly what I
fear I have spun too tediously; dwelt most on the bear, and the
plunge in the Rhine, and the character of Denys, whom he painted
to the life. And with many endearing expressions bade her to be of
good cheer; some trouble and peril there had been, but all that
was over now, and his only grief left was, that he could not hope
to have a word from her hand till he should reach Rome. He ended
with comforting her again as hard as he could. And so absorbed was
he in his love and his work, that he did not see all the people in
the room were standing peeping, to watch the nimble and true
finger execute such rare penmanship.
Denys, proud of his friend's skill, let him alone, till presently
the writer's face worked, and soon the scalding tears began to run
down his young cheeks, one after another, on the paper where he
was then writing comfort, comfort. Then Denys rudely repulsed the
curious, and asked his comrade with a faltering voice whether he
had the heart to let so sweet a love-letter miscarry? The other
swore by the face of St. Luke he would lose the forefinger of his
right hand sooner.
Seeing him so ready, Gerard charged him also with a short, cold
letter to his parents; and in it he drew hastily with his pen two
hands grasping each other, to signify farewell. By-the-by, one
drop of bitterness found its way into his letter to Margaret. But
of that anon.
Gerard now offered money to the soldier. He hesitated, but
declined it. "No, no! art comrade of my comrade; and may" (etc.)
"but thy love for the wench touches me. I'll break another bottle
at thy charge an thou wilt, and so cry quits."
"Well said, comrade," cried Denys. "Hadst taken money, I had
invited thee to walk in the courtyard and cross swords with me."
"Whereupon I had cut thy comb for thee," retorted the other.
"Hadst done thy endeavour, drole, I doubt not."
They drank the new bottle, shook hands, adhered to custom, and
parted on opposite routes.
This delay, however, somewhat put out Denys's calculations, and
evening surprised them ere they reached a little town he was
making for, where was a famous hotel. However, they fell in with a
roadside auberge, and Denys, seeing a buxom girl at the door,
said, "This seems a decent inn," and led the way into the kitchen.
They ordered supper, to which no objection was raised, only the
landlord requested them to pay for it beforehand. It was not an
uncommon proposal in any part of the world. Still it was not
universal, and Denys was nettled, and dashed his hand somewhat
ostentatiously into his purse and pulled out a gold angel. "Count
me the change, and speedily," said he. "You tavern-keepers are
more likely to rob me than I you."
While the supper was preparing, Denys disappeared, and was
eventually found by Gerard in the yard, helping Manon, his plump
but not bright decoy duck, to draw water, and pouring extravagant
compliments into her dullish ear. Gerard grunted and returned to
table, but Denys did not come in for a good quarter of an hour.
"Uphill work at the end of a march," said he, shrugging his
"What matters that to you!" said Gerard drily. "The mad dog bites
all the world."
"Exaggerator. You know I bite but the fairer half. Well, here
comes supper; that is better worth biting."
During supper the girl kept constantly coming in and out, and
looking point-blank at them, especially at Denys; and at last in
leaning over him to remove a dish, dropped a word in his ear; and
he replied with a nod.
As soon as supper was cleared away, Denys rose and strolled to the
door, telling Gerard the sullen fair had relented, and given him a
little rendezvous in the stable-yard.
Gerard suggested that the calf-pen would have been a more
appropriate locality. "I shall go to bed, then," said he, a little
crossly. "Where is the landlord? out at this time of night? no
matter. I know our room. Shall you be long, pray?"
"Not I. I grudge leaving the fire and thee. But what can I do?
There are two sorts of invitations a Burgundian never declines."
Denys found a figure seated by the well. It was Manon; but instead
of receiving him as he thought he had a right to expect, coming by
invitation, all she did was to sob. He asked her what ailed her?
She sobbed. Could he do anything for her? She sobbed.
The good-natured Denys, driven to his wits' end, which was no
great distance, proffered the custom of the country by way of
consolation. She repulsed him roughly. "Is it a time for fooling?"
said she, and sobbed.
"You seem to think so," said Denys, waxing wroth. But the next
moment he added tenderly, "and I, who could never bear to see
beauty in distress."
"It is not for myself."
"Who then? your sweetheart?"
"Oh, que nenni. My sweetheart is not on earth now: and to think I
have not an ecu to buy masses for his soul;" and in this shallow
nature the grief seemed now to be all turned in another direction.
"Come, come," said Denys, "shalt have money to buy masses for thy
dead lad; I swear it. Meantime tell me why you weep."
"For me? Art mad?"
"No; I am not mad. 'Tis you that were mad to open your purse
The mystery seemed to thicken, and Denys, wearied of stirring up
the mud by questions, held his peace to see if it would not clear
of itself. Then the girl, finding herself no longer questioned,
seemed to go through some internal combat. At last she said,
doggedly and aloud, "I will. The Virgin give me courage? What
matters it if they kill me, since he is dead? Soldier, the
landlord is out."
"Oh, is he?"
"What, do landlords leave their taverns at this time of night?
also see what a tempest! We are sheltered here, but t'other side
it blows a hurricane."
Denys said nothing.
"He is gone to fetch the band."
"The band! what band?"
"Those who will cut your throat and take your gold. Wretched man;
to go and shake gold in an innkeeper's face!"
The blow came so unexpectedly it staggered even Denys, accustomed
as he was to sudden perils. He muttered a single word, but in it a
"Gerard! What is that? Oh, 'tis thy comrade's name, poor lad. Get
him out quick ere they come; and fly to the next town."
"They will kill me."
"That shall they not. Fly with us."
"'Twill avail me nought: one of the band will be sent to kill me.
They are sworn to slay all who betray them."
"I'll take thee to my native place full thirty leagues from hence,
and put thee under my own mother's wing, ere they shall hurt a
hair o' thy head. But first Gerard. Stay thou here whilst I fetch
As he was darting off, the girl seized him convulsively, and with
all the iron strength excitement lends to women. "Stay me not! for
pity's sake," he cried; "'tis life or death."
"Sh! - sh!" whispered the girl, shutting his mouth hard with her
hand, and putting her pale lips close to him, and her eyes, that
seemed to turn backwards, straining towards some indistinct sound.
He heard footsteps, many footsteps, and no voices. She whispered
in his ear, "They are come." And trembled like a leaf.
Denys felt it was so. Travellers in that number would never have
come in dead silence.
The feet were now at the very door.
"How many?" said he, in a hollow whisper.
"Hush!" and she put her mouth to his very ear. And who, that had
seen this man and woman in that attitude, would have guessed what
freezing hearts were theirs, and what terrible whispers passed
"Sword and dagger: and the giant with his axe. They call him the
"And my comrade?"
"Nothing can save him. Better lose one life than two. Fly!"
Denys's blood froze at this cynical advice. "Poor creature, you
know not a soldier's heart."
He put his head in his hands a moment, and a hundred thoughts of
dangers baffled whirled through his brain.
"Listen, girl! There is one chance for our lives, if thou wilt but
be true to us. Run to the town; to the nearest tavern, and tell
the first soldier there, that a soldier here is sore beset, but
armed, and his life to be saved if they will but run. Then to the
bailiff. But first to the soldiers. Nay, not a word, but buss me,
good lass, and fly! men's lives hang on thy heels."
She kilted up her gown to run. He came round to the road with her,
saw her cross the road cringing with fear, then glide away, then
turn into an erect shadow, then melt away in the storm.
And now he must get to Gerard. But how? He had to run the gauntlet
of the whole band. He asked himself, what was the worst thing they
could do? for he had learned in war that an enemy does, not what
you hope he will do, but what you hope he will not do. "Attack me
as I enter the kitchen! Then I must not give them time."
Just as he drew near to the latch, a terrible thought crossed him.
"Suppose they had already dealt with Gerard. Why, then," thought
he, "nought is left but to kill, and be killed;" and he strung his
bow, and walked rapidly into the kitchen. There were seven hideous
faces seated round the fire, and the landlord pouring them out
neat brandy, blood's forerunner in every age.
"What? company!" cried Denys gaily; "one minute, my lads, and I'll
be with you;" and he snatched up a lighted candle off the table,
opened the door that led to the staircase, and went up it
hallooing. "What, Gerard! whither hast thou skulked to?" There was
no answer. He hallooed louder, "Gerard, where art thou?"
After a moment, in which Denys lived an hour of agony, a peevish,
half-inarticulate noise issued from the room at the head of the
little stairs. Denys burst in, and there was Gerard asleep.
"Thank God!" he said, in a choking voice, then began to sing loud,
untuneful ditties. Gerard put his fingers into his ears; but
presently he saw in Denys's face a horror that contrasted
strangely with this sudden merriment.
"What ails thee?" said he, sitting up and staring.
"Hush!" said Denys, and his hand spoke even more plainly than his
lips. "Listen to me."
Denys then pointing significantly to the door, to show Gerard
sharp ears were listening hard by, continued his song aloud but
under cover of it threw in short muttered syllables.
"(Our lives are in peril.)
"Put off time." Then aloud -
"Well, now, wilt have t'other bottle? - Say nay."
"No, not I."
"But I tell thee, there are half-a-dozen jolly fellows. Tired."
"Ay, but I am too wearied," said Gerard. "Go thou."
"Nay, nay!" Then he went to the door and called out cheerfully
"Landlord, the young milksop will not rise. Give those honest
fellows t'other bottle. I will pay for't in the morning."
He heard a brutal and fierce chuckle.
Having thus by observation made sure the kitchen door was shut,
and the miscreants were not actually listening, he examined the
chamber door closely: then quietly shut it, but did not bolt it;
and went and inspected the window.
It was too small to get out of, and yet a thick bar of iron had
been let in the stone to make it smaller; and just as he made this
chilling discovery, the outer door of the house was bolted with a
Denys groaned. "The beasts are in the shambles."
But would the thieves attack them while they were awake? Probably
Not to throw away this their best chance, the poor souls now made
a series of desperate efforts to converse, as if discussing
ordinary matters; and by this means Gerard learned all that had
passed, and that the girl was gone for aid.
"Pray Heaven she may not lose heart by the way," said Denys,
And Denys begged Gerard's forgiveness for bringing him out of his
way for this.
Gerard forgave him.
"I would fear them less, Gerard, but for one they call the Abbot.
I picked him out at once. Taller than you, bigger than us both put
together. Fights with an axe. Gerard, a man to lead a herd of deer
to battle. I shall kill that man to-night, or he will kill me. I
think somehow 'tis he will kill me."
"Saints forbid! Shoot him at the door! What avails his strength
against your weapon?"
"I shall pick him out; but if it comes to hand fighting, run
swiftly under his guard, or you are a dead man. I tell thee
neither of us may stand a blow of that axe: thou never sawest such
a body of a man."
Gerard was for bolting the door; but Denys with a sign showed him
that half the door-post turned outward on a hinge, and the great
bolt was little more than a blind. "I have forborne to bolt it,"
said he, "that they may think us the less suspicious."
Near an hour rolled away thus. It seemed an age. Yet it was but a
little hour, and the town was a league distant. And some of the
voices in the kitchen became angry and impatient.
"They will not wait much longer," said Denys, "and we have no
chance at all unless we surprise them."
"I will do whate'er you bid," said Gerard meekly.
There was a cupboard on the same side as the door; but between it
and the window. It reached nearly to the ground, but not quite.
Denys opened the cupboard door and placed Gerard on a chair behind
it. "If they run for the bed, strike at the napes of their necks!
a sword cut there always kills or disables." He then arranged the
bolsters and their shoes in the bed so as to deceive a person
peeping from a distance, and drew the short curtains at the head.
Meantime Gerard was on his knees. Denys looked round and saw him.
"Ah!" said Denys, "above all, pray them to forgive me for bringing
you into this guet-apens!
And now they grasped hands and looked in one another's eyes oh,
such a look! Denys's hand was cold, and Gerard's warm.
They took their posts.
Denys blew out the candle..
"We must keep silence now.
But in the terrible tension of their nerves and very souls they
found they could hear a whisper fainter than any man could catch
at all outside that door. They could hear each other's hearts
thump at times.
"Good news!" breathed Denys, listening at the door. "They are
"Pray that it may be the Abbot."
"If he comes alone I can make sure of him."
"I fear I shall go mad, if they do not come soon."
"Shall I feign sleep? Shall I snore?"
"Do then and God have mercy on us!"
Denys snored at intervals.
There was a scuffling of feet heard in the kitchen, and then all
Denys snored again. Then took up his position behind the door.
But he, or they, who had drawn the lot, seemed determined to run
no foolish risks. Nothing was attempted in a hurry.
When they were almost starved with cold, and waiting for the
attack, the door on the stairs opened softly and closed again.
There was another harrowing silence.
Then a single light footstep on the stair; and nothing more.
Then a light crept under the door and nothing more.
Presently there was a gentle scratching, not half so loud as a
mouse's, and the false door-post opened by degrees, and left a
perpendicular space, through which the light streamed in. The
door, had it been bolted, would now have hung by the bare tip of
the bolt, which went into the real door-post, but as it was, it
swung gently open of itself. It opened inwards, so Denys did not
raise his crossbow from the ground, but merely grasped his dagger.
The candle was held up, and shaded from behind by a man's hand.
He was inspecting the beds from the threshold, satisfied that his
victims were both in bed.
The man glided into the apartment. But at the first step something
in the position of the cupboard and chair made him uneasy. He
ventured no further, but put the candle on the floor and stooped
to peer under the chair; but as he stooped. an iron hand grasped
his shoulder, and a dagger was driven so fiercely through his neck
that the point came out at his gullet. There was a terrible
hiccough, but no cry; and half-a-dozen silent strokes followed in
swift succession, each a death-blow, and the assassin was laid
noiselessly on the floor.
Denys closed the door, bolted it gently, drew the post to, and
even while he was going whispered Gerard to bring a chair. It was
"Help me set him up."
"Frighten them! Gain time."
Even while saying this, Denys had whipped a piece of string round
the dead man's neck, and tied him to the chair, and there the
ghastly figure sat fronting the door.
"Denys, I can do better. Saints forgive me!"
"What? Be quick then, we have not many moments."
And Denys got his crossbow ready, and tearing off his straw
mattress, reared it before him and prepared to shoot the moment
the door should open, for he had no hope any more would come
singly, when they found the first did not return.
While thus employed, Gerard was busy about the seated corpse, and
to his amazement Denys saw a luminous glow spreading rapidly over
the white face.
Gerard blew out the candle; and on this the corpse's face shone
still more like a glowworm's head.
Denys shook in his shoes, and his teeth chattered.
"What, in Heaven's name, is this?" he whispered.
"Hush! 'tis but phosphorus, but 'twill serve."
"Away! they will surprise thee."
In fact, uneasy mutterings were heard below, and at last a deep
voice said, "What makes him so long? is the drole rifling them?"
It was their comrade they suspected then, not the enemy. Soon a
step came softly but rapidly up the stairs: the door was gently
When this resisted, which was clearly not expected, the sham post
was very cautiously moved, and an eye no doubt peeped through the
aperture: for there was a howl of dismay, and the man was heard to
stumble back and burst into the kitchen, here a Babel of voices
rose directly on his return.
Gerard ran to the dead thief and began to work on him again.
"Back, madman!" whispered Denys.
"Nay, nay. I know these ignorant brutes; they will not venture
here awhile. I can make him ten times more fearful."
"At least close that opening! Let them not see you at your
Gerard closed the sham post, and in half a minute his brush gave
the dead head a sight to strike any man with dismay. He put his
art to a strange use, and one unparalleled perhaps in the history
of mankind. He illuminated his dead enemy's face to frighten his
living foe: the staring eyeballs he made globes of fire; the teeth
he left white, for so they were more terrible by the contrast; but
the palate and tongue he tipped with fire, and made one lurid
cavern of the red depths the chapfallen jaw revealed: and on the
brow he wrote in burning letters "La Mort." And, while he was
doing it, the stout Denys was quaking, and fearing the vengeance
of Heaven; for one mans courage is not another's; and the band of
miscreants below were quarrelling and disputing loudly, and now
The steps that led down to the kitchen were fifteen, but they were
nearly perpendicular: there was therefore in point of fact no
distance between the besiegers and besieged, and the latter now
caught almost every word. At last one was heard to cry out, "I
tell ye the devil has got him and branded him with hellfire. I am
more like to leave this cursed house than go again into a room
that is full of fiends."
"Art drunk? or mad? or a coward?" said another.
"Call me a coward, I'll give thee my dagger's point, and send thee
where Pierre sits o' fire for ever.
"Come, no quarrelling when work is afoot," roared a tremendous
diapason, "or I'll brain ye both with my fist, and send ye where
we shall all go soon or late."
"The Abbot," whispered Denys gravely.
He felt the voice he had just heard could belong to no man but the
colossus he had seen in passing through the kitchen. It made the
place vibrate. The quarrelling continued some time, and then there
was a dead silence.
"Look out, Gerard."
"Ay. What will they do next?"
"We shall soon know."
"Shall I wait for you, or cut down the first that opens the door?"
"Wait for me, lest we strike the same and waste a blow. Alas! we
cannot afford that."
Sudden came into the room a thing that made them start and their
And what was it? A moonbeam.
Even so can this machine, the body, by the soul's action, be
strung up to start and quiver. The sudden ray shot keen and pure
into that shamble.
Its calm, cold, silvery soul traversed the apartment in a stream
of no great volume, for the window was narrow.
After the first tremor Gerard whispered, "Courage, Denys! God's
eye is on us even here." And he fell upon his knees with his face
turned towards the window.
Ay it was like a holy eye opening suddenly on human crime and
human passions. Many a scene of blood and crime that pure cold eye
had rested on; but on few more ghastly than this, where two men,
with a lighted corpse between them, waited panting, to kill and be
killed. Nor did the moonlight deaden that horrible corpse-light.
If anything it added to its ghastliness: for the body sat at the
edge of the moonbeam, which cut sharp across the shoulder and the
ear, and seemed blue and ghastly and unnatural by the side of that
lurid glow in which the face and eyes and teeth shone horribly.
But Denys dared not look that way.
The moon drew a broad stripe of light across the door, and on that
his eyes were glued. Presently he whispered, "Gerard!"
Gerard looked and raised his sword.
Acutely as they had listened, they had heard of late no sound on
the stair. Yet therein the door-post, at the edge of the stream of
moonlight, were the tips of the fingers of a hand.
The nails glistened.
Presently they began to crawl and crawl down towards the bolt, but
with infinite slowness and caution. In so doing they crept into
the moonlight. The actual motion was imperceptible, but slowly,
slowly, the fingers came out whiter and whiter; but the hand
between the main knuckles and the wrist remained dark.
Denys slowly raised his crossbow.
He levelled it. He took a long steady aim.
Gerard palpitated. At last the crossbow twanged. The hand was
instantly nailed, with a stern jar, to the quivering door-post.
There was a scream of anguish. "Cut," whispered Denys eagerly, and
Gerard's uplifted sword descended and severed the wrist with two
swift blows. A body sank down moaning outside.
The hand remained inside, immovable, with blood trickling from it
down the wall. The fierce bolt, slightly barbed, had gone through
it and deep into the real door-post.
"Two," said Denys, with terrible cynicism.
He strung his crossbow, and kneeled behind his cover again.
"The next will be the Abbot."
The wounded man moved, and presently crawled down to his
companions on the stairs, and the kitchen door was shut.
There nothing was heard now but low muttering. The last incident
had revealed the mortal character of the weapons used by the
"I begin to think the Abbot's stomach is not so great as his
body," said Denys.
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when the following events
happened all in a couple of seconds. The kitchen door was opened
roughly, a heavy but active man darted up the stairs without any
manner of disguise, and a single ponderous blow sent the door not
only off its hinges, but right across the room on to Denys's
fortification, which it struck so rudely as nearly to lay him
flat. And in the doorway stood a colossus with a glittering axe.
He saw the dead man with the moon's blue light on half his face,
and the red light on the other half and inside his chapfallen
jaws: he stared, his arms fell, his knees knocked together, and he
crouched with terror.
"LA MORT!" he cried, in tones of terror, and turned and fled. In
which act Denys started up and shot him through both jaws. He
sprang with one bound into the kitchen, and there leaned on his
axe, spitting blood and teeth and curses.
Denys strung his bow and put his hand into his breast.
He drew it out dismayed.
"My last bolt is gone," he groaned.
"But we have our swords, and you have slain the giant."
"No, Gerard," said Denys gravely, "I have not. And the worst is I
have wounded him. Fool! to shoot at a retreating lion. He had
never faced thy handiwork again, but for my meddling."
"Ha! to your guard! I hear them open the door."
Then Denys, depressed by the one error he had committed in all
this fearful night, felt convinced his last hour had come. He drew
his sword, but like one doomed. But what is this? a red light
flickers on the ceiling. Gerard flew to the window and looked out.
There were men with torches, and breastplates gleaming red. "We
are saved! Armed men!" And he dashed his sword through the window
shouting, "Quick! quick! we are sore pressed."
"Back!" yelled Denys; "they come! strike none but him!"
That very moment the Abbot and two men with naked weapons rushed
into the room. Even as they came, the outer door was hammered
fiercely, and the Abbot's comrades hearing it, and seeing the
torchlight, turned and fled. Not so the terrible Abbot: wild with
rage and pain, he spurned his dead comrade, chair and all, across
the room, then, as the men faced him on each side with kindling
eyeballs, he waved his tremendous axe like a feather right and
left, and cleared a space, then lifted it to hew them both in
His antagonists were inferior in strength, but not in swiftness
and daring, and above all they had settled how to attack him. The
moment he reared his axe, they flew at him like cats, and both
together. If he struck a full blow with his weapon he would most
likely kill one, but the other would certainly kill him: he saw
this, and intelligent as well as powerful, he thrust the handle
fiercely in Denys's face, and, turning, jobbed with the steel at
Gerard. Denys went staggering back covered with blood. Gerard had
rushed in like lightning, and, just as the axe turned to descend
on him, drove his sword so fiercely through the giant's body, that
the very hilt sounded on his ribs like the blow of a pugilist, and
Denys, staggering back to help his friend, saw a steel point come
out of the Abbot behind.
The stricken giant bellowed like a bull, dropped his axe, and
clutching Gerard's throat tremendously, shook him like a child.
Then Denys with a fierce snarl drove his sword into the giant's
back. "Stand firm now!" and he pushed the cold steel through and
through the giant and out at his breast.
Thus horribly spitted on both sides, the Abbot gave a violent
shudder, and his heels hammered the ground convulsively. His lips,
fast turning blue, opened wide and deep, and he cried, "LA
MORT!-LA MORT!-LA MORT!!" the first time in a roar of despair, and
then twice in a horror-stricken whisper, never to be forgotten.
Just then the street door was forced.
Suddenly the Abbot's arms whirled like windmills, and his huge
body wrenched wildly and carried them to the doorway, twisting
their wrists and nearly throwing them off their legs.
"He'll win clear yet," cried Denys: "out steel! and in again!"
They tore out their smoking swords, but ere they could stab again,
the Abbot leaped full five feet high, and fell with a tremendous
crash against the door below, carrying it away with him like a
sheet of paper, and through the aperture the glare of torches
burst on the awe-struck faces above, half blinding them.
The thieves at the first alarm had made for the back door, but
driven thence by a strong guard ran back to the kitchen, just in
time to see the lock forced out of the socket, and half-a-dozen
mailed archers burst in upon them. On these in pure despair they
drew their swords.
But ere a blow was struck on either side, the staircase door
behind them was battered into their midst with one ponderous blow,
and with it the Abbot's body came flying, hurled as they thought
by no mortal hand, and rolled on the floor spouting blood from
back and bosom in two furious jets, and quivered, but breathed no
The thieves smitten with dismay fell on their knees directly,
and the archers bound them, while, above, the rescued ones
still stood like statues rooted to the spot, their dripping swords
extended in the red torchlight, expecting their indomitable
enemy to leap back on them as wonderfully as he had gone.
"Where be the true men?"
"Here be we. God bless you all! God bless you!"
There was a rush to the stairs, and half-a-dozen hard but friendly
hands were held out and grasped them warmly.
"Y'have saved our lives, lads," cried Denys, "y'have saved our
lives this night."
A wild sight met the eyes of the rescued pair. The room flaring
with torches, the glittering breastplates of the archers, their
bronzed faces, the white cheeks of the bound thieves, and the
bleeding giant, whose dead body these hard men left lying there in
its own gore.
Gerard went round the archers and took them each by the hand with
glistening eyes, and on this they all kissed him; and this time he
kissed them in return. Then he said to one handsome archer of his
own age, "Prithee, good soldier, have an eye to me. A strange
drowsiness overcomes me. Let no one cut my throat while I sleep -
for pity's sake."
The archer promised with a laugh; for he thought Gerard was
jesting: and the latter went off into a deep sleep almost
Denys was surprised at this: but did not interfere; for it suited
his immediate purpose. A couple of archers were inspecting the
Abbot's body, turning it half over with their feet, and inquiring,
"Which of the two had flung this enormous rogue down from an upper
storey like that; they would fain have the trick of his arm.
Denys at first pished and pshawed, but dared not play the
braggart, for he said to himself, "That young vagabond will break
in and say 'twas the finger of Heaven, and no mortal arm, or some
such stuff, and make me look like a fool." But now, seeing Gerard
unconscious, he suddenly gave this required information.
"Well, then, you see, comrades, I had run my sword through this
one up to the hilt, and one or two more of 'em came buzzing about
me; so it behoved me have my sword or die: so I just put my foot
against his stomach, gave a tug with my hand and a spring with my
foot, and sent him flying to kingdom come! He died in the air, and
his carrion rolled in amongst you without ceremony: made you jump,
I warrant me. But pikestaves and pillage! what avails prattling
of, these trifles once they are gone by? buvons, camarades,
The archers remarked that it was easy to say "buvons" where no
liquor was, but not so easy to do it.
"Nay, I'll soon find you liquor. My nose hath a natural alacrity
at scenting out the wine. You follow me: and I my nose: bring a
torch!" And they left the room, and finding a short flight of
stone steps, descended them and entered a large, low, damp cellar.
It smelt close and dank: and the walls were encrusted here and
there with what seemed cobwebs; but proved to be saltpetre that
had oozed out of the damp stones and crystallized.
"Oh! the fine mouldy smell," said Denys; "in such places still
lurks the good wine; advance thy torch. Diable! what is that in
the corner? A pile of rags? No: 'tis a man."
They gathered round with the torch, and lo! a figure crouched on a
heap in the corner, pale as ashes and shivering.
"Why, it is the landlord," said Denys.
"Get up, thou craven heart!" shouted one of the archers.
"Why, man, the thieves are bound, and we are dry that bound them.
Up! and show us thy wine; for no bottles see here."
"What, be the rascals bound?" stammered the pale landlord; "good
news. W-w-wine? that will I, honest sirs."
And he rose with unsure joints and offered to lead the way to the
wine cellar. But Denys interposed. "You are all in the dark,
comrades. He is in league with the thieves."
"Alack, good soldier, me in league with the accursed robbers! Is
"The girl said so anyway."
"The girl! What girl? Ah! Curse her, traitress!"
"Well," interposed the other archer; "the girl is not here, but
gone on to the bailiff. So let the burghers settle whether this
craven be guilty or no: for we caught him not in the act: and let
him draw us our wine."
"One moment," said Denys shrewdly. "Why cursed he the girl? If he
be a true man, he should bless her as we do."
"Alas, sir!" said the landlord, "I have but my good name to live
by, and I cursed her to you, because you said she had belied me."
"Humph! I trow thou art a thief, and where is the thief that
cannot lie with a smooth face? Therefore hold him, comrades: a
prisoner can draw wine an if his hands be not bound."
The landlord offered no objection; but on the contrary said he
would with pleasure show them where his little stock of wine was,
but hoped they would pay for what they should drink, for his rent
was due this two months.
The archers smiled grimly at his simplicity, as they thought it;
one of them laid a hand quietly but firmly on his shoulder, the
other led on with the torch.
They had reached the threshold when Denys cried "Halt!"
"Here be bottles in this corner; advance thy light."
The torch-bearer went towards him. He had just taken off his
scabbard and was probing the heap the landlord had just been
"Nay, nay," cried the landlord, "the wine is in the next cellar.
There is nothing there."
"Nothing is mighty hard, then," said Denys, and drew out something
with his hand from the heap.
It proved to be only a bone.
Denys threw it on the floor: it rattled.
"There is nought there but the bones of the house," said the
"Just now 'twas nothing. Now that we have found something 'tis
nothing but bones. Here's another. Humph? look at this one,
comrade; and you come too and look at it, and bring you smooth
The archer with the torch, whose name was Philippe, held the bone
to the light and turned it round and round.
"Well?" said Denys.
"Well, if this was a field of battle, I should say 'twas the
shankbone of a man; no more, no less. But 'tisn't a battlefield,
nor a churchyard; 'tis an inn."
"True, mate; but yon knave's ashy face is as good a light to me as
a field of battle. I read the bone by it, Bring yon face nearer, I
say. When the chine is amissing, and the house dog can't look at
you without his tail creeping between his legs, who was the thief?
Good brothers mine, my mind it doth misgive me. The deeper I
thrust the more there be. Mayhap if these bones could tell their
tale they would make true men's flesh creep that heard it."
"Alas! young man, what hideous fancies are these! The bones are
bones of beeves, and sheep, and kids, and not, as you think, of
men and women. Holy saints preserve us!"
"Hold thy peace! thy words are air. Thou hast not got burghers by
the ear, that know not a veal knuckle from their grandsire's ribs;
but soldiers-men that have gone to look for their dear comrades,
and found their bones picked as clean by the crows as these I
doubt have been by thee and thy mates. Men and women, saidst thou?
And prithee, when spake I a word of women's bones? Wouldst make a
child suspect thee. Field of battle, comrade! Was not this house a
field of battle half an hour agone? Drag him close to me, let me
read his face: now then, what is this, thou knave?" and he thrust
a small object suddenly in his face.
"Alas! I know not."
"Well, I would not swear neither: but it is too like the thumb
bone of a man's hand; mates, my flesh it creeps. Churchyard! how
know I this is not one?"
And he now drew his sword out of the scabbard and began to rake
the heap of earth and broken crockery and bones out on the floor.
The landlord assured him he but wasted his time. "We poor
innkeepers are sinners," said he; "we give short measure and
baptize the wine: we are fain to do these things; the laws are so
unjust to us; but we are not assassins. How could we afford to
kill our customers? May Heaven's lightning strike me dead if there
be any bones there but such as have been used for meat. 'Tis the
kitchen wench flings them here: I swear by God's holy mother, by
holy Paul, by holy Dominic, and Denys my patron saint - ah!"
Denys held out a bone under his eye in dead silence. It was a bone
no man, however ignorant, however lying, could confound with those
of sheep or oxen. The sight of it shut the lying lips, and palsied
the heartless heart.
The landlord's hair rose visibly on his head like spikes, and his
knees gave way as if his limbs had been struck from under him. But
the archers dragged him fiercely up, and kept him erect under the
torch, staring fascinated at the dead skull which, white as the
living cheek opposed, but no whiter, glared back again at its
murderer, whose pale lip now opened and opened, but could utter no
"Ah!" said Denys solemnly, and trembling now with rage, "look on
the sockets out of which thou hast picked the eyes, and let them
blast thine eyes, that crows shall pick out ere this week shall
end. Now, hold thou that while I search on. Hold it, I say, or
here I rob the gallows - " and he threatened the quaking wretch
with his naked sword, till with a groan he took the skull and held
it, almost fainting.
Oh! that every murderer, and contriver of murder, could see him,
sick, and staggering with terror, and with his hair on end,
holding the cold skull, and feeling that his own head would soon
be like it. And soon the heap was scattered, and alas! not one nor
two, but many skulls were brought to light, the culprit moaning at
Suddenly Denys uttered a strange cry of distress to come from so
bold and hard a man; and held up to the torch a mass of human
hair. It was long, glossy, and golden. A woman's beautiful hair.
At the sight of it the archers instinctively shook the craven
wretch in their hands: and he whined.
"I have a little sister with hair just so fair and shining as
this," gulped Denys. "Jesu! if it should be hers! There quick,
take my sword and dagger, and keep them from my hand, lest I
strike him dead and wrong the gibbet. And thou, poor innocent
victim, on whose head this most lovely hair did grow, hear me
swear this, on bended knee, never to leave this man till I see him
broken to pieces on the wheel even for thy sake."
He rose from his knee. "Ay, had he as many lives as here be hairs,
I'd have them all, by God," and he put the hair into his bosom.
Then in a sudden fury seized the landlord fiercely by the neck,
and forced him to his knees; and foot on head ground his face
savagely among the bones of his victims, where they lay thickest;
and the assassin first yelled, then whined and whimpered, just as
a dog first yells, then whines, when his nose is so forced into
some leveret or other innocent he has killed.
"Now lend me thy bowstring, Philippe!" He passed it through the
eyes of a skull alternately, and hung the ghastly relic of
mortality and crime round the man's neck; then pulled him up and
kicked him industriously into the kitchen, where one of the
aldermen of the burgh had arrived with constables, and was even
now taking an archer's deposition.
The grave burgher was much startled at sight of the landlord
driven in bleeding from a dozen scratches inflicted by the bones
of his own victims, and carrying his horrible collar. But Denys
came panting after, and in a few fiery words soon made all clear.
"Bind him like the rest," said the alderman sternly. "I count him
the blackest of them all."
While his hands were being bound, the poor wretch begged piteously
that "the skull might be taken from him."
"Humph!" said the alderman. "Certes I had not ordered such a thing
to be put on mortal man. Yet being there, I will not lift voice
nor finger to doff it. Methinks it fits thee truly, thou bloody
dog. 'Tis thy ensign, and hangs well above a heart so foul as
He then inquired of Denys if he thought they had secured the whole
gang, or but a part.
"Your worship," said Denys, "there are but seven of them, and this
landlord. One we slew upstairs, one we trundled down dead, the
rest are bound before you."
"Good! go fetch the dead one from upstairs, and lay him beside him
I caused to be removed."
Here a voice like a guinea-fowl's broke peevishly in. "Now, now,
now, where is the hand? that is what I want to see." The speaker
was a little pettifogging clerk.
"You will find it above, nailed to the door-post by a crossbow
"Good!" said the clerk. He whispered his master, "What a goodly
show will the 'pieces de conviction' make!" and with this he wrote
them down, enumerating them in separate squeaks as he penned them.
Skulls - Bones - A woman's hair - A thief's hands 1 axe -2
carcasses - 1 crossbow bolt. This done, he itched to search the
cellar himself: there might be other invaluable morsels of
evidence, an ear, or even an earring. The alderman assenting, he
caught up a torch and was hurrying thither, when an accident
stopped him, and indeed carried him a step or two in the opposite
The constables had gone up the stair in single file.
But the head constable no sooner saw the phosphorescent corpse
seated by the bedside, than he stood stupefied; and next he began
to shake like one in an ague, and, terror gaining on him more and
more, he uttered a sort of howl and recoiled swiftly. Forgetting
the steps in his recoil, he tumbled over backward on his nearest
companion; but he, shaken by the shout of dismay, and catching a
glimpse of something horrid, was already staggering back, and in
no condition to sustain the head constable, who, like most head
constables, was a ponderous man. The two carried away the third,
and the three the fourth, and they streamed into the kitchen, and
settled on the floor, overlapping each other like a sequence laid
out on a card-table. The clerk coming hastily with his torch ran
an involuntary tilt against the fourth man, who, sharing the
momentum of the mass, knocked him instantly on his back, the ace
of that fair quint; and there he lay kicking and waving his torch,
apparently in triumph, but really in convulsion, sense and wind
being driven out together by the concussion.
"What is to do now, in Heaven's name?" cried the alderman,
starting up with considerable alarm. But Denys explained, and
offered to accompany his worship. "So be it," said the latter. His
men picked themselves ruefully up, and the alderman put himself at
their head and examined the premises above and below. As for the
prisoners, their interrogatory was postponed till they could be
confronted with the servant.
Before dawn, the thieves, alive and dead, and all the relics and
evidences of crime and retribution, were swept away into the law's
net, and the inn was silent and almost deserted. There remained
but one constable, and Denys and Gerard, the latter still sleeping
Gerard awoke, and found Denys watching him with some anxiety.
"It is you for sleeping! Why, 'tis high noon."
"It was a blessed sleep," said Gerard; "methinks Heaven sent it
me. It hath put as it were a veil between me and that awful night.
To think that you and I sit here alive and well. How terrible a
dream I seem to have had!"
"Ay, lad, that is the wise way to look at these things when once
they are past, why, they are dreams, shadows. Break thy fast, and
then thou wilt think no more on't. Moreover, I promised to bring
thee on to the town by noon, and take thee to his worship."
Gerard then sopped some rye bread in red wine and ate it to break
his fast: then went with Denys over the scene of combat, and came
back shuddering, and finally took the road with his friend, and
kept peering through the hedges, and expecting sudden attacks
unreasonably, till they reached the little town. Denys took him to
"The White Hart".
"No fear of cut-throats here," said he. "I know the landlord this
many a year. He is a burgess, and looks to be bailiff. 'Tis here I
was making for yestreen. But we lost time, and night o'ertook us -
"And you saw a woman at the door, and would be wiser than a
Jeanneton; she told us they were nought."
"Why, what saved our lives if not a woman? Ay, and risked her own
to do it."
"That is true, Denys; and though women are nothing to me, I long
to thank this poor girl, and reward her, ay, though I share every
doit in my purse with her. Do not you?"
"Where shall we find her?"
"Mayhap the alderman will tell us. We must go to him first."
The alderman received them with a most singular and inexplicable
expression of countenance. However, after a moment's reflection,
he wore a grim smile, and finally proceeded to put interrogatories
to Gerard, and took down the answers. This done, he told them that
they must stay in the town till the thieves were tried, and be at
hand to give evidence, on peril of fine and imprisonment. They
looked very blank at this.
"However," said he, "'twill not be long, the culprits having been
taken red-handed." He added, "And you know, in any case you could
not leave the place this week."
Denys stared at this remark, and Gerard smiled at what he thought
the simplicity of the old gentleman in dreaming that a provincial
town of Burgundy had attraction to detain him from Rome and
He now went to that which was nearest both their hearts.
"Your worship," said he, "we cannot find our benefactress in the
"Nay, but who is your benefactress?"
"Who? why the good girl that came to you by night and saved our
lives at peril of her own. Oh sir, our hearts burn within us to
thank and bless her; where is she?"
"In prison, sir; good lack, for what misdeed?"
"Well, she is a witness, and may be a necessary one."
"Why, Messire Bailiff," put in Denys, "you lay not all your
witnesses by the heels I trow."
The alderman, pleased at being called bailiff, became
communicative. "In a case of blood we detain all testimony that is
like to give us leg bail, and so defeat justice, and that is why
we still keep the women folk. For a man at odd times hides a week
in one mind, but a woman, if she do her duty to the realm o'
Friday, she shall undo it afore Sunday, or try. Could you see yon
wench now, you should find her a-blubbering at having betrayed
five males to the gallows. Had they been females, we might have
trusted to a subpoena. For they despise one another. And there
they show some sense. But now I think on't, there were other
reasons for laying this one by the heels. Hand me those
depositions, young sir." And he put on his glasses. "Ay! she was
implicated; she was one of the band."
A loud disclaimer burst from Denys and Gerard at once.
"No need to deave me," said the alderman. "Here 'tis in black and
white. 'Jean Hardy (that is one of the thieves), being questioned,
confessed that - humph? Ay, here 'tis. 'And that the girl Manon
was the decoy, and her sweetheart was Georges Vipont, one of the
band; and hanged last month: and that she had been deject ever
since, and had openly blamed the band for his death, saying if
they had not been rank cowards, he had never been taken, and it is
his opinion she did but betray them out of very spite, and -
"His opinion," cried Gerard indignantly; "what signifies the
opinion of a cut-throat, burning to be revenged on her who has
delivered him to justice? And an you go to that, what avails his
testimony? Is a thief never a liar? Is he not aye a liar? and here
a motive to lie? Revenge, why, 'tis the strongest of all the
passions. And oh, sir, what madness to question a detected felon
and listen to him lying away an honest life - as if he were a true
man swearing in open day, with his true hand on the Gospel laid!"
"Young man," said the alderman, "restrain thy heat in presence of
authority! I find by your tone you are a stranger. Know then that
in this land we question all the world. We are not so weak as to
hope to get at the truth by shutting either our left ear or our
"And so you would listen to Satan belying the saints!"
"Ta! ta! The law meddles but with men and women, and these cannot
utter a story all lies, let them try ever so. Wherefore we shut
not the barn-door (as the saying is) against any man's grain. Only
having taken it in, we do winnow and sift it. And who told you I
had swallowed the thief's story whole like fair water? Not so. I
did but credit so much on't as was borne out by better proof."
"Better proof?" and Gerard looked blank. "Why, who but the thieves
would breathe a word against her?"
"Herself, sir? what, did you question her too?"
"I tell you we question all the world. Here is her deposition; can
you read? - Read it yourself, then."
Gerard looked at Denys and read him Manon's deposition.
"I am a native of Epinal. I left my native place two years ago
because I was unfortunate: I could not like the man they bade me.
So my father beat me. I ran away from my father. I went to
service. I left service because the mistress was jealous of me.
The reason that she gave for turning me off was, because I was
saucy. Last year I stood in the marketplace to be hired with other
girls. The landlord of 'The Fair Star' hired me. I was eleven
months with him. A young man courted me. I loved him. I found out
that travellers came and never went away again. I told my lover.
He bade me hold my peace. He threatened me. I found my lover was
one of a band of thieves. When travellers were to be robbed, the
landlord went out and told the band to come. Then I wept and
prayed for the travellers' souls. I never told. A month ago my
"The soldier put me in mind of my lover. He was bearded like him I
had lost. I cannot tell whether I should have interfered, if he
had had no beard. I am sorry I told now."
The paper almost dropped from Gerard's hands. Now for the first
time he saw that Manon's life was in mortal danger. He knew the
dogged law, and the dogged men that executed it. He threw himself
suddenly on his knees at the alderman's feet. "Oh, sir! think of
the difference between those cruel men and this poor weak woman!
Could you have the heart to send her to the same death with them;
could you have the heart to condemn us to look on and see her
slaughtered, who, but that she risked her life for ours, had not
now been in jeopardy? Alas, sir! show me and my comrade some pity,
if you have none for her, poor soul. Denys and I be true men, and
you will rend our hearts if you kill that poor simple girl. What
can we do? What is left for us to do then but cut our throats at
her gallows' foot?"
The alderman was tough, but mortal; the prayers and agitation of
Gerard first astounded, then touched him. He showed it in a
curious way. He became peevish and fretful. "There, get up, do,"
said he. "I doubt whether anybody would say as many words for me.
What ho, Daniel! go fetch the town clerk." And on that functionary
entering from an adjoining room, 'Here is a foolish lad fretting
about yon girl. Can we stretch a point? say we admit her to bear
witness, and question her favourably."
The town clerk was one of your "impossibility" men.
"Nay, sir, we cannot do that: she was not concerned in this
business. Had she been accessory, we might have offered her a
pardon to bear witness."
Gerard burst in, "But she did better. Instead of being accessory,
she stayed the crime; and she proffered herself as witness by
running hither with the tale."
"Tush, young man, 'tis a matter of law." The alderman and the
clerk then had a long discussion, the one maintaining, the other
denying, that she stood as fair in law as if she had been
accessory to the attempt on our travellers' lives. And this was
lucky for Manon: for the alderman, irritated by the clerk
reiterating that he could not do this, and could not that, and
could not do t'other, said "he would show him he could do anything
he chose," And he had Manon out, and upon the landlord of "The
White Hart" being her bondsman, and Denys depositing five gold
pieces with him, and the girl promising, not without some coaxing
from Denys, to attend as a witness, he liberated her, but eased
his conscience by telling her in his own terms his reason for this
"The town had to buy a new rope for everybody hanged, and present
it to the bourreau, or compound with him in money: and she was not
in his opinion worth this municipal expense, whereas decided
characters like her late confederates, were." And so Denys and
Gerard carried her off, Gerard dancing round her for joy, Denys
keeping up her heart by assuring her of the demise of a
troublesome personage, and she weeping inauspiciously. However, on
the road to "The White Hart" the public found her out, and having
heard the whole story from the archers, who naturally told it
warmly in her favour, followed her hurrahing and encouraging her,
till finding herself backed by numbers she plucked up heart. The
landlord too saw at a glance that her presence in the inn would
draw custom, and received her politely, and assigned her an upper
chamber: here she buried herself, and being alone rained tears
Poor little mind, it was like a ripple, up and down, down and up,
up and down. Bidding the landlord be very kind to her, and keep
her a prisoner without letting her feel it, the friends went out:
and lo! as they stepped into the street they saw two processions
coming towards them from opposite sides. One was a large one,
attended with noise and howls and those indescribable cries by
which rude natures reveal at odd times that relationship to the
beasts of the field and forest, which at other times we succeed in
hiding. The other, very thinly attended by a few nuns and friars,
came slow and silent.
The prisoners going to exposure in the market-place. The gathered
bones of the victims coming to the churchyard.
And the two met in the narrow street nearly at the inn door, and
could not pass each other for a long time, and the bier, that bore
the relics of mortality, got wedged against the cart that carried
the men who had made those bones what they were, and in a few
hours must die for it themselves. The mob had not the quick
intelligence to be at once struck with this stern meeting: but at
last a woman cried, "Look at your work, ye dogs!" and the crowd
took it like wildfire, and there was a horrible yell, and the
culprits groaned and tried to hide their heads upon their bosoms,
but could not, their hands being tied. And there they stood,
images of pale hollow-eyed despair, and oh how they looked on the
bier, and envied those whom they had sent before them on the dark
road they were going upon themselves! And the two men who were the
cause of both processions stood and looked gravely on, and even
Manon, hearing the disturbance, crept to the window, and, hiding
her face, peeped trembling through her fingers, as women will.
This strange meeting parted Denys and Gerard. The former yielded
to curiosity and revenge, the latter doffed his bonnet, and
piously followed the poor remains of those whose fate had so
nearly been his own. For some time he was the one lay mourner: but
when they had reached the suburbs, a long way from the greater
attraction that was filling the market-place, more than one
artisan threw down his tools, and more than one shopman left his
shop, and touched with pity or a sense of our common humanity, and
perhaps decided somewhat by the example of Gerard, followed the
bones bareheaded, and saw them deposited with the prayers of the
Church in hallowed ground.
After the funeral rites Gerard stepped respectfully up to the
cure, and offered to buy a mass for their souls.
Gerard, son of Catherine, always looked at two sides of a penny:
and he tried to purchase this mass a trifle under the usual terms,
on account of the pitiable circumstances. But the good cure gently
but adroitly parried his ingenuity, and blandly screwed him up to
the market price.
In the course of the business they discovered a similarity of
sentiments. Piety and worldly prudence are not very rare
companions: still it is unusual to carry both so far as these two
men did. Their collision in the prayer market led to mutual
esteem, as when knight encountered knight worthy of his steel.
moreover the good cure loved a bit of gossip, and finding his
customer was one of those who had fought the thieves at Domfront,
would have him into his parlour and hear the whole from his own
lips. And his heart warmed to Gerard, and he said "God was good to
thee. I thank Him for't with all my soul. Thou art a good lad." He
added drily, "Shouldst have told me this tale in the churchyard. I
doubt, I had given thee the mass for love. However," said he (the
thermometer suddenly falling), "'tis ill luck to go back upon a
bargain. But I'll broach a bottle of my old Medoc for thee: and
few be the guests I would do that for." The cure went to his
cupboard, and while he groped for the choice bottle, he muttered
to himself, "At their old tricks again!"
"Plait-il?" said Gerard.
"I said nought. Ay, here 'tis."
"Nay, your reverence. You surely spoke: you said, 'At their old
"Said I so in sooth?" and his reverence smiled. He then proceeded
to broach the wine, and filled a cup for each. Then he put a log
of wood on the fire, for stoves were none in Burgundy. "And so I
said 'At their old tricks!' did I? Come, sip the good wine, and,
whilst it lasts, story for story, I care not if I tell you a
Gerard's eyes sparkled.
"Thou lovest a story?"
"As my life."
"Nay, but raise not thine expectations too high, neither. 'Tis but
a foolish trifle compared with thine adventures."
THE CURE'S TALE.
"Once upon a time, then, in the kingdom of France, and in the
duchy of Burgundy, and not a day's journey from the town where now
we sit a-sipping of old Medoc, there lived a cure. I say he lived;
but barely. The parish was small, the parishioners greedy; and
never gave their cure a doit more than he could compel. The nearer
they brought him to a disembodied spirit by meagre diet, the
holier should be his prayers in their behalf. I know not if this
was their creed, but their practice gave it colour.
"At last he pickled a rod for them.
"One day the richest farmer in the place had twins to baptize. The
cure was had to the christening dinner as usual; but ere he would
baptize the children, he demanded, not the christening fees only,
but the burial fees. 'Saints defend us, parson, cried the mother;
'talk not of burying! I did never see children liker to live.'
'Nor I,' said the cure, 'the praise be to God. Natheless, they are
sure to die, being sons of Adam, as well as of thee, dame. But die
when they will, 'twill cost them nothing, the burial fees being
paid and entered in this book.' 'For all that 'twill cost them
something,' quoth the miller, the greatest wag in the place, and
as big a knave as any; for which was the biggest God knoweth, but
no mortal man, not even the hangman. 'Miller, I tell thee nay,'
quo' the cure. 'Parson, I tell you ay,' quo' the miller. ''Twill
cost them their lives.' At which millstone conceit was a great
laugh; and in the general mirth the fees were paid and the
"But when the next parishioner's child, and the next after, and
all, had to pay each his burial fee, or lose his place in heaven,
discontent did secretly rankle in the parish. Well, one fine day
they met in secret, and sent a churchwarden with a complaint to
the bishop, and a thunderbolt fell on the poor cure. Came to him
at dinner-time a summons to the episcopal palace, to bring the
parish books and answer certain charges. Then the cure guessed
where the shoe pinched. He left his food on the board, for small
his appetite now, and took the parish books and went quaking.
"The bishop entertained him with a frown, and exposed the plaint.
'Monseigneur,' said the cure right humbly, 'doth the parish allege
many things against me, or this one only?' 'In sooth, but this
one,' said the bishop, and softened a little. 'First, monseigneur,
I acknowledge the fact.' ''Tis well,' quoth the bishop; 'that
saves time and trouble. Now to your excuse, if excuse there be.'
'Monseigneur, I have been cure of that parish seven years, and
fifty children have I baptized, and buried not five. At first I
used to say, "Heaven be praised, the air of this village is main
healthy;" but on searching the register book I found 'twas always
so, and on probing the matter, it came out that of those born at
Domfront, all, but here and there one, did go and get hanged at
Aix. But this was to defraud not their cure only, but the entire
Church of her dues, since "pendards" pay no funeral fees, being
buried in air. Thereupon, knowing by sad experience their greed,
and how they grudge the Church every sou, I laid a trap to keep
them from hanging; for, greed against greed, there be of them that
will die in their beds like true men ere the Church shall gain
those funeral fees for nought.' Then the bishop laughed till the
tears ran down, and questioned the churchwarden, and he was fain
to confess that too many of the parish did come to that unlucky
end at Aix. 'Then,' said the bishop, 'I do approve the act, for
myself and my successors; and so be it ever, till they mend their
manners and die in their beds.' And the next day came the
ringleaders crestfallen to the cure, and said, 'Parson, ye were
even good to us, barring this untoward matter: prithee let there
be no ill blood anent so trivial a thing.' And the cure said, 'My
children, I were unworthy to be your pastor could I not forgive a
wrong; go in peace, and get me as many children as may be, that by
the double fees the cure you love may miss starvation.'
"And the bishop often told the story, and it kept his memory of
the cure alive, and at last he shifted him to a decent parish,
where he can offer a glass of old Medoc to such as are worthy of
it. Their name it is not legion."
A light broke in upon Gerard, his countenance showed it.
"Ay!" said his host, "I am that cure: so now thou canst guess why
I said 'At their old tricks.' My life on't they have wheedled my
successor into remitting those funeral fees. You are well out of
that parish. And so am I."
The cure's little niece burst in, "Uncle, the weighing - la! a
stranger!" And burst out.
The cure rose directly, but would not part with Gerard.
"Wet thy beard once more, and come with me."
In the church porch they found the sexton with a huge pair of
scales, and weights of all sizes. Several humble persons were
standing by, and soon a woman stepped forward with a sickly child
and said, "Be it heavy be it light, I vow, in rye meal of the
best, whate'er this child shall weigh, and the same will duly pay
to Holy Church, an if he shall cast his trouble. Pray, good
people, for this child, and for me his mother hither come in dole
The child was weighed, and yelled as if the scale had been the
"Courage! dame," cried Gerard. "This is a good sign. There is
plenty of life here to battle its trouble."
"Now, blest be the tongue that tells me so," said the poor woman.
She hushed her ponderling against her bosom, and stood aloof
watching, whilst another woman brought her child to scale.
But presently a loud, dictatorial voice was heard, "Way there,
make way for the seigneur!"
The small folk parted on both sides like waves ploughed by a
lordly galley, and in marched in gorgeous attire, his cap adorned
by a feather with a topaz at its root, his jerkin richly furred,
satin doublet, red hose, shoes like skates, diamond-hilted sword
in velvet scabbard, and hawk on his wrist, "the lord of the
manor.' He flung himself into the scales as if he was lord of the
zodiac as well as the manor: whereat the hawk balanced and
flapped; but stuck: then winked.
While the sexton heaved in the great weights, the cure told
Gerard, "My lord had been sick unto death, and vowed his weight in
bread and cheese to the poor, the Church taking her tenth."
"Permit me, my lord; if your lordship continues to press your
lordship's staff on the other scale, you will disturb the
His lordship grinned and removed his staff, and leaned on it. The
cure politely but firmly objected to that too.
"Mille diables! what am I to do with it, then?" cried the other.
"Deign to hold it out so, my lord, wide of both scales."
When my lord did this, and so fell into the trap he had laid for
Holy Church, the good cure whispered to Gerard. "Cretensis incidit
in Cretensem!" which I take to mean, "Diamond cut diamond." He
then said with an obsequious air, "If that your lordship grudges
Heaven full weight, you might set the hawk on your lacquey, and so
save a pound."
"Gramercy for thy rede, cure," cried the great man, reproachfully.
"Shall I for one sorry pound grudge my poor fowl the benefit of
Holy Church? I'd as lieve the devil should have me and all my
house as her, any day i' the year."
"Sweet is affection," whispered the cure.
"Between a bird and a brute," whispered Gerard.
"Tush!" and the cure looked terrified.
The seigneur's weight was booked, and Heaven I trust and believe
did not weigh his gratitude in the balance of the sanctuary. For
my unlearned reader is not to suppose there was anything the least
eccentric in the man, or his gratitude to the Giver of health and
all good gifts. Men look forward to death, and back upon past
sickness with different eyes. Item, when men drive a bargain, they
strive to get the sunny side of it; it matters not one straw
whether it is with man or Heaven they are bargaining. In this
respect we are the same now, at bottom, as we were four hundred
years ago: only in those days we did it a grain or two more
naively, and that naivete shone out more palpably, because, in
that rude age, body prevailing over mind, all sentiments took
material forms. Man repented with scourges, prayed by bead, bribed
the saints with wax tapers, put fish into the body to sanctify the
soul, sojourned in cold water for empire over the emotions, and
thanked God for returning health in 1 cwt. 2 stone 7 lb 3 oz. 1
dwt. of bread and cheese.
Whilst I have been preaching, who preach so rarely and so ill, the
good cure has been soliciting the lord of the manor to step into
the church, and give order what shall be done with his
"Ods bodikins! what, have you dug him up?"
"Nay, my lord, he never was buried."
"What, the old dict was true after all?"
"So true that the workmen this very day found a skeleton erect in
the pillar they are repairing. I had sent to my lord at once, but
I knew he would be here."
"It is he! 'Tis he!" said his descendant, quickening his pace.
"Let us go see the old boy. This youth is a stranger, I think."
"Know then that my great-great-grandfather held his head high. and
being on the point of death, revolted against lying under the
aisle with his forbears for mean folk to pass over. So, as the
tradition goes, he swore his son (my great-grandfather), to bury
him erect in one of the pillars of the church" (here they entered
the porch). "'For,' quoth he, 'NO BASE MAN SHALL PASS OVER MY
STOMACH.' Peste!" and even while speaking, his lordship parried
adroitly with his stick a skull that came hopping at him, bowled
by a boy in the middle of the aisle, who took to his heels yelling
with fear the moment he saw what he had done. His lordship hurled
the skull furiously after him as he ran, at which the cure gave a
shout of dismay and put forth his arm to hinder him, but was too
The cure groaned aloud. And as if this had evoked spirits of
mischief, up started a whole pack of children from some ambuscade,
and unseen, but heard loud enough, clattered out of the church
like a covey rising in a thick wood.
"Oh! these pernicious brats," cried the cure. "The workmen cannot
go to their nonemete but the church is rife with them. Pray Heaven
they have not found his late lordship; nay, I mind, I hid his
lordship under a workmen's jerkin, and - saints defend us! the
jerkin has been moved."
The poor cure's worst misgivings were realized: the rising
generation of the plebians had played the mischief with the
haughty old noble. "The little ones had jockeyed for the bones
oh," and pocketed such of them as seemed adapted for certain
primitive games then in vogue amongst them.
"I'll excommunicate them," roared the curate, "and all their
"Never heed," said the scapegrace lord: and stroked his hawk;
"there is enough of him to swear by. Put him back! put him back!"
"Surely, my lord, 'tis your will his bones be laid in hallowed
earth, and masses said for his poor prideful soul?"
The noble stroked his hawk.
"Are ye there, Master Cure?" said he. "Nay, the business is too
old: he is out of purgatory by this time, up or down. I shall not
draw my purse-strings for him. Every dog his day. Adieu, Messires,
adieu, ancestor;" and he sauntered off whistling to his hawk and
His reverence looked ruefully after him.
"Cretensis incidit in Cretensem," said he sorrowfully. "I thought
I had him safe for a dozen masses. Yet I blame him not, but that
young ne'er-do-weel which did trundle his ancestor's skull at us:
for who could venerate his great-great-grandsire and play football
with his head? Well it behoves us to be better Christians than he
is." So they gathered the bones reverently, and the cure locked
them up, and forbade the workmen, who now entered the church, to
close up the pillar, till he should recover by threats of the
Church's wrath every atom of my lord. And he showed Gerard a
famous shrine in the church. Before it were the usual gifts of
tapers, etc. There was also a wax image of a falcon, most
curiously moulded and coloured to the life, eyes and all. Gerard's
eye fell at once on this, and he expressed the liveliest
admiration. The cure assented. Then Gerard asked, "Could the saint
have loved hawking?"
The cure laughed at his simplicity. "Nay, 'tis but a statuary
hawk. When they have a bird of gentle breed they cannot train,
they make his image, and send it to this shrine with a present,
and pray the saint to work upon the stubborn mind of the original,
and make it ductile as wax: that is the notion, and methinks a
reasonable one, too."
Gerard assented. "But alack, reverend sir, were I a saint,
methinks I should side with the innocent dove, rather than with
the cruel hawk that rends her."
"By St. Denys you are right," said the cure. "But, que
voulez-vous? the saints are debonair, and have been flesh
themselves, and know man's frailty and absurdity. 'Tis the Bishop
of Avignon sent this one."
"What! do bishops hawk in this country?"
"One and all. Every noble person hawks, and lives with hawk on
wrist. Why, my lord abbot hard by, and his lordship that has just
parted from us, had a two years' feud as to where they should put
their hawks down on that very altar there. Each claimed the right
hand of the altar for his bird."
"Nay! nay! thou knowest we make them doff both glove and hawk to
take the blessed eucharist. Their jewelled gloves will they give
to a servant or simple Christian to hold: but their beloved hawks
they will put down on no place less than the altar."
Gerard inquired how the battle of the hawks ended.
"Why, the abbot he yielded, as the Church yields to laymen. He
searched ancient books, and found that the left hand was the more
honourable, being in truth the right hand, since the altar is
east, but looks westward. So he gave my lord the soi-disant right
hand, and contented himself with the real right hand, and even so
may the Church still outwit the lay nobles and their arrogance,
saving your presence."
"Nay, sir, I honour the Church. I am convent bred, and owe all I
have and am to Holy Church."
"Ah, that accounts for my sudden liking to thee. Art a gracious
youth. Come and see me whenever thou wilt."
Gerard took this as a hint that he might go now. It jumped with
his own wish, for he was curious to hear what Denys had seen and
done all this time. He made his reverence and walked out of the
church; but was no sooner clear of it than he set off to run with
all his might: and tearing round a corner, ran into a large
stomach, whose owner clutched him, to keep himself steady under
the shock; but did not release his hold on regaining his
"Let go, man," said Gerard.
"Not so. You are my prisoner."
"What for, in Heaven's name?"
"What for? Why, sorcery."
The culprits were condemned to stand pinioned in the marketplace
for two hours, that should any persons recognize them or any of
them as guilty of other crimes, they might depose to that effect
at the trial.
They stood, however, the whole period, and no one advanced
anything fresh against them. This was the less remarkable that
they were night birds, vampires who preyed in the dark on weary
travellers, mostly strangers.
But just as they were being taken down, a fearful scream was heard
in the crowd, and a woman pointed at one of them, with eyes almost
starting from their sockets: but ere she could speak she fainted
Then men and women crowded round her, partly to aid her, partly
from curiosity. When she began to recover they fell to
"'Twas at him she pointed."
"Nay, 'twas at this one."
"Nay, nay," said another, "'twas at yon hangdog with the hair hung
round his neck."
All further conjectures were cut short. The poor creature no
sooner recovered her senses than she flew at the landlord like a
lioness. "My child! Man! man! Give me back my child." And she
seized the glossy golden hair that the officers had hung round his
neck, and tore it from his neck, and covered it with kisses; then,
her poor confused mind clearing, she saw even by this token that
her lost girl was dead, and sank suddenly down shrieking and
sobbing so over the poor hair, that the crowd rushed on the
assassin with one savage growl. His life had ended then and
speedily, for in those days all carried death at their girdles.
But Denys drew his sword directly, and shouting "A moi,
camarades!" kept the mob at bay. "Who lays a finger on him dies."
Other archers backed him, and with some difficulty they kept him
uninjured, while Denys appealed to those who shouted for his
"What sort of vengeance is this? would you be so mad as rob the
wheel, and give the vermin an easy death?"
The mob was kept passive by the archers' steel rather than by
Denys's words, and growled at intervals with flashing eyes. The
municipal officers, seeing this, collected round, and with the
archers made a guard, and prudently carried the accused back to
The mob hooted them and the prisoners indiscriminately. Denys saw
the latter safely lodged, then made for "The White Hart," where he
expected to find Gerard.
On the way he saw two girls working at a first-floor window. He
saluted them. They smiled. He entered into conversation. Their
manners were easy, their complexion high.
He invited them to a repast at "The White Hart." They objected. He
acquiesced in their refusal. They consented. And in this charming
society he forgot all about poor Gerard, who meantime was carried
off to gaol; but on the way suddenly stopped, having now somewhat
recovered his presence of mind, and demanded to know by whose
authority he was arrested.
"By the vice-baillie's," said the constable.
"The vice-baillie? Alas! what have I, a stranger, done to offend a
vice-baillie? For this charge of sorcery must be a blind. No
sorcerer am I; but a poor true lad far from his home,"
This vague shift disgusted the officer. "Show him the capias,
Jacques," said he.
Jacques held out the writ in both hands about a yard and a half
from Gerard's eye; and at the same moment the large constable
suddenly pinned him; both officers were on tenterhooks lest the
prisoner should grab the document, to which they attached a
But the poor prisoner had no such thought. Query whether he would
have touched it with the tongs. He just craned out his neck and
read it, and to his infinite surprise found the vice-bailiff who
had signed the writ was the friendly alderman. He took courage and
assured his captor there was some error. But finding he made no
impression, demanded to be taken before the alderman.
"What say you to that, Jacques?"
"Impossible. We have no orders to take him before his worship.
Read the writ!"
"Nay, but good kind fellows, what harm can it be? I will give you
each an ecu."
"Jacques, what say you to that?"
"Humph! I say we have no orders not to take him to his worship.
Read the writ!"
"Then say we take him to prison round by his worship."
It was agreed. They got the money; and bade Gerard observe they
were doing him a favour. He saw they wanted a little gratitude as
well as much silver. He tried to satisfy this cupidity, but it
stuck in his throat. Feigning was not his forte.
He entered the alderman's presence with his heart in his mouth,
and begged with faltering voice to know what he had done to offend
since he left that very room with Manon and Denys.
"Nought that I know of," said the alderman.
On the writ being shown him, he told Gerard he had signed it at
daybreak. "I get old, and my memory faileth me: a discussing of
the girl I quite forgot your own offence: but I remember now. All
is well. You are he I committed for sorcery. Stay! ere you go to
gaol, you shall hear what your accuser says: run and fetch him,
The man could not find the accuser all at once. So the alderman,
getting impatient, told Gerard the main charge was that he had set
a dead body a burning with diabolical fire, that flamed, but did
not consume. "And if 'tis true, young man, I'm sorry for thee, for
thou wilt assuredly burn with fire of good pine logs in the
market-place of Neufchasteau."
"Oh, sir, for pity's sake let me have speech with his reverence
The alderman advised Gerard against it. "The Church was harder
upon sorcerers than was the corporation."
"But, sir, I am innocent," said Gerard, between snarling and
"Oh, if you think you are innocent - officer, go with him to the
cure; but see he 'scape you not. Innocent, quotha?"
They found the cure in his doublet repairing a wheelbarrow. Gerard
told him all, and appealed piteously to him. "Just for using a
little phosphorus in selfdefence against cut-throats they are
going to hang."
It was lucky for our magician that he had already told his tale in
full to the cure, for thus that shrewd personage had hold of the
stick at the right end. The corporation held it by the ferule. His
reverence looked exceedingly grave and said, "I must question you
privately on this untoward business." He took him into a private
room and bade the officer stand outside and guard the door, and be
ready to come if called. The big constable stood outside the door,
quaking, and expecting to see the room fly away and leave a stink
of brimstone. Instantly they were alone the cure unlocked his
countenance and was himself again.
"Show me the trick on't," said he, all curiosity.
"I cannot, sir, unless the room be darkened."
The cure speedily closed out the light with a wooden shutter.
"But on what shall I put it?" said Gerard. "Here is no dead face.
'Twas that made it look so dire." The cure groped about the room.
"Good; here is an image: 'tis my patron saint."
"Heaven forbid! That were profanation."
"Pshaw! 'twill rub off, will't not?"
"Ay, but it goes against me to take such liberty with a saint,"
objected the sorcerer.
"Fiddlestick!" said the divine.
"To be sure by putting it on his holiness will show your reverence
it is no Satanic art."
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