IT was near four o’clock in the afternoon. Gerard was in the shop. His eldest and youngest sons were abroad. Catherine and her little crippled daughter had long been anxious about Gerard, and now they were gone a little way down the road, to see if by good luck he might be visible in the distance; and Giles was alone in the sitting-room, which I will sketch, furniture and dwarf included.
The Hollanders were always an original and leading people. At different epochs they invented printing (wooden type), oil-painting, liberty, banking, gardening, &c.; above all, years before my tale, they invented cleanliness. So, while the English gentry, in velvet jerkins and chicken-toed shoes, trode floors of stale rushes foul receptacle of bones, decomposing morsels, spittle, dogs’ eggs, and all abominations, this hosier’s sitting-room at Tergou was floored with Dutch tiles, so highly glazed and constantly washed, that you could eat off them.
There was one large window; the cross stone-work in the centre of it was very massive, and stood in relief, looking like an actual cross to the inmates, and was eyed as such in their devotions. The panes were very small and lozenge-shaped, and soldered to one another with strips of lead: the like you may see to this day in some of our rural cottages. The chairs were rude and primitive, all but the arm-chair, whose back, at right angles with its seat, was so high that the sitter’s head stopped two feet short of the top.
This chair was of oak, and carved at the summit. There was a copper pail, that went in at the waist, holding holy water; and a little hand-besom to sprinkle it far and wide; and a long, narrow, but massive oak table, with a dwarf sticking to the rim by his teeth, his eyes glaring, and his claws in the air like a pouncing vampire.
Nature, it would seem, did not make Giles a dwarf out of malice prepense: she constructed a head and torso with her usual care, but just then her attention was distracted, and she left the rest to chance; the result was a human wedge, an inverted cone. Hemight with justice have taken her to task in the terms of Horace:
amphora coepit Institui; currente rota cur urceus exit?
His centre was anything but his centre of gravity. Bisected, upper Giles would have outweighed three lower Giles’s. But this very disproportion enabled him to do feats that would have baffled Milo. His brawny arms had no weight to draw after them; so he could go up a vertical pole like a squirrel, and hand for hours from a bough by one hand like a cherry by its stalk.
If he could have made a vacuum with his hands, as the lizard is said to do with its feet, he would have gone along a ceiling. Now, this pocket athlete was insanely fond of griping the dinner-table with both hands, and so swinging an hour at a time; and then – climax of delight! – he would seize it with his teeth, and taking off his hands, hold on like grim death by his huge ivories.
But all our joys, however, elevating, suffer interruption. Little Kate caught Sampsonet in this posture, and stood aghast. She was her mother’s daughter, and her heart beat with the furniture, not with the 12 mo. gymnast.
“Oh, Giles! how can you? Mother would be vexed. It dents the table.”
“Go and tell her, little tale-bearer,” snarled giles. “You are the one for making mischief.”
“Am I?” inquired Kate, calmly; “that is news to me.”
“The biggest in Tergou,” growled Giles, fastening on again.
At this Kate sat quietly down and cried. Her mother came in almost at that moment, and Giles hurled himself under the table, and there glared.
“What is to do now?” said the dame, sharply. Then turning her experienced eyes on Giles, and observing the position he had taken up, and a sheepish expression, she hinted at cuffing of ears.
“Nay, mother,” said the girl; “it was but a foolish word Giles spoke. I had not noticed it at another time; but I was tired and in care for Gerard, you know.”
“Let no one be in care for me,” said a faint voice at the door, and in tottered Gerard, pale, dusty, and worn out; and, amidst uplifted hands and cries of delight, curiosity and anxiety mingled, dropped almost fainting into the nearest chair.
Beating Rotterdam, like a covert, for Margaret, and the long journey afterwards, had fairly knocked Gerard up. But elastic youth soon revived, and behold him the centre of an eager circle. First of all they must hear about the prizes. Then Gerard told them he had been admitted to see the competitors’ works all laid out in an enormous hall — before the judges pronounced: “Oh, mother! oh,Kate! when I saw the goldsmiths’ work, I had like to have fallen on the floor. I thought not all the goldsmiths on earth had so much gold, silver, jewels, and craft of design and facture. But, in sooth, all the arts are divine.”
Then, to please the females, he described to them the reliquaries, feretories, calices, crosiers, crosses, pyxes, monstrances, and other wonders ecclesiastical, and the goblets, hanaps, watches, clocks, chains, brooches, &c., so that their mouths watered.
“But, Kate, when I came to the illuminated work from Ghent and Bruges, my heart sank. Mine was dirt by the side of it. For the first minute I could almost have cried; but I prayed for a better spirit, and presently I was able to enjoy them, and thank God for those lovely works, and for those skilful, patient craftsmen, that I own my masters. Well, the colored work was so beautiful I forgot all about the black and white. But, next day, when all the other prizes had been given, they came to the writing, and whose name think you was called first?”
“Yours,” said Kate.
The others laughed her to scorn.
“You may laugh,” said Gerard, “but for all that Gerard Gerardzoon of Tergou was the name the herald shouted. I stood stupid; they thrust me forward. Everything swam before my eyes. I don’t know how I found myself kneeling on a cushion at the feet of the duke. He said something to me, but I was so fluttered I could not answer him. So then he put his hand to his side and did not draw a glaive and cut off my dull head, but gave me a gold medal, and there it is.”
There was a yell and almost a scramble.
“And then he gave me fifteen great bright golden angels. I had seen one before, but I never handled one. Here they are.”
“Oh, Gerard! oh, Gerard! ”
“There is one for you, our eldest; and one for you, Sybrandt, and for you, Little Mischief; and two for you, Little Lily, because God has afflicted you; and one for myself to buy colours and vellum; and nine for her that nursed us all, and risked the two crowns upon poor Gerard’s hand.”
The gold drew out their several characters. Cornelis and Sybrandt clutched each his coin with one glare of greediness and another glare of envy at Kate, who had got two pieces. Giles seized his and rolled it along the floor and gambolled after it. But Kate put down her crutches and sat down, and held out her little arms to Gerard with a heavenly gesture of love and tenderness, and the mother, fairly benumbed at first by the shower of gold that fell on her apron, now cried out, “Leave kissing him, Kate, he is my son, not yours. Ah, Gerard, my child! I have not loved you as you deserved.”
Then Gerard threw himself on his knees beside her, and she flung her arms round him and wept for joy and pride, upon his neck.
“Good lad! good lad! ” cried the hosier, with some emotion. “I must go and tell the neighbours. Lend me the medal, Gerard, I’ll show it my good friend, Peter Buyskens ; he is always regaling me with how his son Jorian won the tin mug a-shooting at the Butts.”
“Ay, do my man; and show Peter Buyskens one of the angels. Tell him there are fourteen more, where that came from. Mind you bring it me back !”
“Stay a minute, father, there is better news behind,” said Gerard, flushing with joy at the joy he caused.
“Better! Better than this?”
Then Gerard told his interview with the countess, and the house rang with joy.
“Now, God bless the good lady, and bless the Dame Van Eyck! a benefice, our son! My cares are at an end. Gerard, my good friend and master, now we two can die happy whenever our time comes. This dear boy will take our place, and none of these loved ones will want a home or a friend.”
From that hour Gerard was looked upon as the stay of the family. He was a son apart, but in another sense. He was always in the right and nothing too good for him. Cornelis and Sybrandt became more and more jealous of him, and longed for the day he should go to his benefice: they would get rid of the favourite, and his reverence’s purse would be open to them. With these views he co-operated.
The wound love had given him throbbed duller and duller. His success and the affection and admiration of his parents, made him think more highly of himself, and resent with more spirit Margaret’s ingratitude and discourtesy. For all that, she had power to cool him towards the rest of her sex, and now for every reason he wished to be ordained priest as soon as he could pass the intermediate orders. He knew the Vulgate already better than most of the clergy, and he studied the rubric and the dogmas of the church with his friends the monks; and, the first time the bishop came that way, he applied to be admitted “exorcist,” the third step in holy orders.
The bishop questioned him, and ordained him at once. He had to kneel, and, after a short prayer, the bishop delivered to him a little MS. full of exorcisms, and said: “Take this, Gerard, and have power to lay hands on the possessed, whether baptised or catechumens!” and he took it reverently, and went home invested by the church with power to cast out demons. Returning home from the church, he was met by little Kate on her crutches.
“Oh, Gerard! who, think you, has been at our house seeking you? — the Burgomaster himself.”
Gerard started, and changed colour.
“Ghysbrecht Van Swieten? What would he with me ?”
“Nay, Gerard, I know not. But he was urgent to see you. You are to go to his house on the instant.”
“Well, he is the Burgomaster: I must go: but it likes me not. Kate, I have seen him cast such a look on me as no friend casts. No matter; such looks forewarn the wise. Besides,he knows—”
“Knows what, Gerard?”
“Kate, I’ll go.”
And he went to Ghysbrecht Van Swieten’s house.
Ghysbrecht Van Swieten was an artful man.He opened on the novice with something quite wide of the mark he was really aiming at. “The town records,” said he, “are crabbedly written,and the ink rusty with age.” He offered Gerard the honour of transcribing them fair. Gerard inquired what he was to be paid. Ghysbrecht offered a sum that would have just purchased the pens, ink, and parchment.
“But, Burgomaster, my labour? Here is a year’s work.”
“Your labour! Call you marking parchment labour? Little sweat goes to that, I trow.”
“’Tis labour, and skilled labour to boot: and that is better paid in all crafts than rude labour, sweat or no sweat. Besides, there’s my time.”
“Your time? Why what is time to you, at two-and-twenty?” Then fixing his eyes keenly on Gerard, to mark the effect of his words, he said: “Say, rather, you are idle grown. You are in love. Your body is with those chanting monks, but your heart is with Peter Brandt and his red-haired girl.”
“I know no Peter Brandt.”
This denial confirmed Ghysbrecht’s suspicion that the caster out of demons was playing a deep game.
“Ye lie!” he shouted. “Did I not find you at her elbow, on the road to Rotterdam?”
“Ah. And you were seen at Sevenbergen but t’other day.”
“Ay; and at Peter’s house.”
“Ay, at Sevenbergen.”
Now, this was what in modern days is called a draw. It was a guess, put boldly forth as fact, to elicit by the young man’s answer whether he had been there lately or not. The result of the artifice surprised the crafty one. Gerard started up in a strange state of nervous excitement.
“Burgomaster,” said he, with trembling voice, “I have not been at Sevenbergen this three years, and I know not the name of those you saw me with, nor where they dwelt; but, as my time is precious, though you value it not, give you good day.”
And he darted out, with his eyes sparkling. Ghysbrecht started up in huge ire; but he sank
into his chair again.
“He fears me not. He knows something, if not all.”
Then he called hastily to his trusty servant, and almost dragged him to a window.
“See you yon man?” he cried. “Haste! Follow him! But let him not see you. He is young, but old in craft. Keep him in sight all day. Let me know whither he goes, and what he does.”
It was night when the servant returned.
“Well! well!” cried Van Swieten, eagerly.
“Master, the young man went from you to Sevenbergen.”
“To the house of Peter the Magician.”
“LooK into your own heart and write! ” said Herr Cant; and earth’s cuckoos echoed the cry. Look into the Rhine where it is deepest, and the Thames where it is thickest, and paint the bottom. Lower a bucket into a well of self deception, and what comes up must be immortal truth, mustn’t it?
Now, in the first place no son of Adam ever reads his own heart at all, except by the habit acquired and the light gained from some years’ perusal of other hearts; and even then, with his acquired sagacity and reflected light, he can but spell and decipher his own heart, not read it fluently.
Gerard was so young and green that he needed no philosopherling [sic] to lead him into shallow water. Half way to Sevenbergen he looked into his own heart, and asked it why he was going to Sevenbergen. His heart replied without a moment’s hesitation. We are going out of mere curiosity, to know why she jilted us, and to show her it has not broken our hearts, and that we are quite content with our honours and our benefice in prospectu, and don’t want her or any of her fickle sex.
He soon found out Peter Brandt’s cottage; and there sat a girl in the doorway, plying her needle, and a stalwart figure leaned on a long bow and talked to her. Gerard felt an unaccountable pang at the sight of him. However, the man turned out to be past fifty years of age, an old soldier, whom Gerard remembered to have seen shoot at the butts with admirable force and skill.
Another minute and the youth stood before them. Margaret looked up and dropped her
work, and uttered a faint cry, and was white and red by turns. But these signs of emotion were swiftly dismissed, and she turned far more chill and indifferent than she would if she had not betrayed this agitation.
“What! is it you, Master Gerard? What brings you here, I wonder.”
“I was passing by and saw you; so I thought I would give you good day, and ask after your father.”
“My father is well. He will be here anon.”
“Then I may as well stay till he comes.”
“As you will. Good Martin, step into the village and tell my father here is a friend of his.”
“And not of yours?”
“My father’s friends are mine.”
“That is doubtful. It was not like a friend to promise to wait for me, and then make off the moment my back was turned. Cruel Margaret! you little know how I searched the town for you — how for want of you nothing was pleasant to me.”
“These are idle words; if you had desired my father’s company, or mine, you would have come back. There I had a bed laid for you, sir, at my cousin’s, and he would have made much of you, and, who knows, I might have made much of you too. I was in the humour that day. You will not catch me in the same mind again, neither you nor any young man, I warrant me.”
“Margaret, I came back the moment the countess let me go; but you were not there.”
“Nay, you did not, or you had seen Hans Cloterman at our table; we left him to bring you on.”
“I saw no one there, but only a drunken man that had just tumbled down.”
“At our table? How was he clad?”
“Nay, I took little heed: in sad coloured garb.”
At this Margaret’s face gradually lighted with a mixture of archness and happiness; then assuming incredulity and severity, she put many shrewd questions, all of which Gerard answered most loyally.
Finally, the clouds cleared, and they guessed how the misunderstanding had come about. Then came a revulsion of tenderness, all the more powerful that they had done each other wrong; and then, more dangerous still, came mutual confessions. Neither had been happy since; neither ever would have been happy but for this fortunate meeting.
And Gerard found a MS.* Vulgate lying open on the table, and pounced upon it like a hawk. MSS. were his delight; but before he could get to it two white hands quickly came flat upon the page, and a red face confronted him.
“Nay, take away your hands, Margaret, that I may see where you are reading, and I will read there too at home; so shall my soul meet yours in the sacred page. You will not? Nay, then, I must kiss them away.”
And he kissed them so often, that for very shame they were fain to withdraw, and, lo! the sacred book proved to be open at
An apple of gold in a net-work of silver.
“There, now,” said she, “I had been hunting for it ever so long, and found it but even now — and to be caught!” and with a touch of inconsistency she pointed it out to Gerard with her white finger.
“Ay,” said he, “but to-day it is all hidden in that great cap.”
“It is a comely cap, I’m told by some.”
“May be: but what it hides is beautiful.”
“It is not: it is hideous.”
“Well, it was beautiful at Rotterdam.”
“Ay, everything was beautiful that day.”
And now Peter came in, and welcomed Gerard cordially, and would have him to stay supper. And Margaret disappeared; and Gerard had a nice learned chat with Peter; and Margaret reappeared with her hair in her silver net, and shot a glance half arch half coy, and she glided about them, and spread supper, and beamed bright with gaiety and happiness.
And in the cool evening Gerard coaxed her out, and coaxed her on to the road to Tergou, and there they strolled up and down, hand in hand; and when he must go they pledged each other never to quarrel or misunderstand one another again; and they sealed the promise with a long loving kiss, and Gerard went home on wings.
From that day Gerard spent most of his evenings with Margaret, and the attachment deepened and deepened on both sides till the hours they spent together were the hours they lived; the rest they counted and underwent.
And at the outset of this deep attachment all went smoothly; obstacles there were, but they seemed distant and small to the eyes of hope, youth, and love.
The feelings and passions of so many persons, that this attachment would thwart, gave no warning smoke to show their volcanic nature and power. The course of true love ran smoothly, placidly, until it had drawn these two young hearts into its current forever, and then…
(To be continued.)
MS = manuscript