Page images

The stranger shook his head mournfully. “Thy parlour,” he replied, “and thy kitchen, might entice a saint from his road to Paradise; but for me, I am too weary for the one, and too sick for the other. A bed-chamber, good friend, and the aid of a leech, if there be one within any reasonable distance, would glad me more than aught else thy diligence can provide.”

Honest Jerome started at the deep and sepulchral tone in which the words were uttered. He gazed upon his abstemious lodger with no very satisfied feelings. The stranger was a stout, well-proportioned man, of middle age, handsomely, even splendidly attired, and bearing in his ruddy cheek and bright eye no traces of indisposition. If thou wouldst do by my counsel,” he replied, after a pause, “thou wouldst find a spiced cup excellent medicine for all the ailing thou ailest: but thy pleasure shall be done. My niece, Margaretta, shall light thee to thy chamber; and, for a leech, marry—there is one now sipping with me the liquor thy frowardness scorns. A man more learned in the mysteries of his art, never weighed out his drachms and scruples by the bed of a dying Pope. Fare-thee-well, Sir: I will drink to thy better health, and thy livelier appetite."

The stranger took up from the table a small bag of crimson velvet, which, as he dismounted from his steed, he had carefully removed from a pocket in the saddle. With a firm step he followed little Margaretta to the chamber which was prepared for him. He might have

travelled all the way to Burgos without finding a merrier lip or a brighter pair of eyes.

Margaretta came down the narrow staircase much faster than she had gone up. “Sick, quotha!” said she, as she handed the lamp to the man of medicine, who was preparing for his visit; —“now the foul fiend cure his sickness, say I.And she was closeted for the next half hour with Jacinta the cook-maid ; but Jacinta was the discreetest of confidantes, and nothing transpired.

The bald dispenser of drugs advanced silently and on tiptoe to the bedside of his patient. He felt the pulse, its beats were perfectly regular: he examined the tongue, it was of an admirably healthy hue: he passed his hand over the brow, it was dry and cool..“ Did he suffer any


“ None,” said the stranger.
Had he received any wound?”
None,” said the stranger.

" By Santiago," quoth the learned Doctor Bartolo, I am wasting time whịch might be better bestowed, in listening to our host's jest and swallowing his elixir vitæ. My patient is as well as I am!”

“ He is dying;” said the stranger. “I pray of thy kindness, good Doctor Bartolo, that thou wilt send hither some sage professor of the law; to whom I may commit such testamentary disposition of my worldly affairs, as may prevent the arising of any disputes among my kindred touching my sublunary wealth, when my spirit shall have left this, its fleshly tabernacle. Go to, man! Thou hast seen the bursting of a bubble on the surface of a calm lake. Couldst thou have observed, the moment ere it vanished, the slightest inequality on its surface? I tell thee, I am dying. Is not this the eve of the day hallowed by the suffering of the blessed martyr Crispin ? Why, then, I tell thee I am dying. I would see a notary; and, when I shall have said my say to him, I would speak with a priest. It is already eleven of the clock; and at midnight”

The stranger shewed no inclination to complete the sentence; so that the physician retired from his post in no small astonishment, and informed his friend Master Tomaso, that his services were required by an obstinate fellow, who might probably make bequests without property, since he was dying without disease.

Good master notary,” said the stranger, “write, I pray thee, that I, being of sane mind and sound body, but nevertheless, within but a short distance of the unrest which my misdeeds have earned for me, bequeath my whole worldly estates, my just debts being first paid, to the monks of the monastery of St. Francis, which stands a bowshot from this place ; to be employed by them in the performance of charitable works, and in the celebration of masses for a sinner's soul. And for the collecting of this, my sole bequest, the pious men will have little trouble; for the wealth with which Fortune hath

blessed me is all in this crimson bag,'---and he drew it from his pillow as he spoke.—“ I will be buried in the vestments I now wear; and for my horse, I will have nothing set down concerning him. He who can rein him, may ride him.”

The notary completed his task in as brief a space as his employer had occupied in giving his directions. The stranger added his signature to the document; and the paper was duly attested and sealed up. “Now,” said the invalid, “I have but one more duty to perform. I have a long journey to travel this night, and I would fain relieve my heart of some portion of the heavy burthen which for long, long years it has borne. Alas! at such an hour, the purest spirit may well need the strengthening presence of a spiritual guide ; but for me, who have been”

The notary listened anxiously; but what more the stranger might have purposed to say, was checked by a heavy sigh. Yet was there a smile upon his lips, or a contortion which resembled one. The notary escaped with precipitation : and the monk took his place beside the couch of the unaccountable sufferer.

In the parlour of the Black Hound, while the sick man was occupied in his devotions, stories were told and conjectures hazarded, which made the lips of the speakers quiver and the cheeks of the listeners turn pale. Mine host swore that the eyes of his guest glared with an expression which never dwelt in the eyes of mortal man.

Margaretta declared that he had come out of the rain with garments as dry as if he had been sitting in the oven ; and the stable boy vowed that his grey horse was a more incurably vicious quadruped than ever was foaled by earthly mare. The notary observed, that it was certainly a suspicious circumstance that he had disposed of his worldly goods in favour of the church ; and the doctor averred, that if he should die with so healthy a pulse, he could not be aught else but the devil. Then they began to relate how often, within their own and their father's memory, the author of evil had walked visibly upon earth; how he had lived for fifty years at the Court of Naples, in a hat and doublet, and how he had been seen by hundreds in the streets of Constantinople, in a robe and turban; how he had come with Martin Luther to the Diet at Worms, and had fought side by side with the constable Bourbon at the storming of Rome. Whilst they thus talked, the holy man returned. He trembled from head to foot as he entered the room, and big drops of perspiration trickled from his brow. “A mad penitent!” he said, “and a wild confession. And now he prays ye, my friends, that ye will all do him so much grace as to visit him in his pains; for something he hath yet to communicate, from which we may all, he deems, be benefited.”

Fear is a soul-subduing spectre; but I have never yet seen a fair battle between him and curiosity, in which curiosity did not beat him out of the field. All the

« PreviousContinue »