Springing from his horse he embraced her, saying, ’Be of good cheer, sweet, it cannot be he. This man has another name.’
‘But did you see him?’ she asked.
’No, he was out at his ship for the night, and I hurried home to tell you, knowing your fears.’
’It were surer if you had seen him, husband. He may well have taken another name.’
‘I never thought of that, sweet,’ my father answered; ’but have no fear. Should it be he, and should he dare to set foot in the parish of Ditchingham, there are those who will know how to deal with him. But I am sure that it is not he.’
‘Thanks be to Jesu then!’ she said, and they began talking in a low voice.
Now, seeing that I was not wanted, I took my cudgel and started down the bridle-path towards the common footbridge, when suddenly my mother called me back.
‘Kiss me before you go, Thomas,’ she said. ’You must wonder what all this may mean. One day your father will tell you. It has to do with a shadow which has hung over my life for many years, but that is, I trust, gone for ever.’
‘If it be a man who flings it, he had best keep out of reach of this,’ I said, laughing, and shaking my thick stick.
‘It is a man,’ she answered, ’but one to be dealt with otherwise than by blows, Thomas, should you ever chance to meet him.’
’May be, mother, but might is the best argument at the last, for the most cunning have a life to lose.’
‘You are too ready to use your strength, son,’ she said, smiling and kissing me. ’Remember the old Spanish proverb: “He strikes hardest who strikes last."’
’And remember the other proverb, mother: “Strike before thou art stricken,"’ I answered, and went.
When I had gone some ten paces something prompted me to look back, I know not what. My mother was standing by the open door, her stately shape framed as it were in the flowers of a white creeping shrub that grew upon the wall of the old house. As was her custom, she wore a mantilla of white lace upon her head, the ends of which were wound beneath her chin, and the arrangement of it was such that at this distance for one moment it put me in mind of the wrappings which are placed about the dead. I started at the thought and looked at her face. She was watching me with sad and earnest eyes that seemed to be filled with the spirit of farewell.
I never saw her again till she was dead.
THE COMING OF THE SPANIARD
And now I must go back and speak of my own matters. As I have told, it was my father’s wish that I should be a physician, and since I came back from my schooling at Norwich, that was when I had entered on my sixteenth year, I had studied medicine under the doctor who practised his art in the neighbourhood of Bungay. He was a very learned man and an honest, Grimstone by name, and as I had some liking for the business I made good progress under him. Indeed I had learned almost all that he could teach me, and my father purposed to send me to London, there to push on my studies, so soon as I should attain my twentieth year, that is within some five months of the date of the coming of the Spaniard.