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The Golden Grasshopper: A story of the days of Sir Thomas Gresham

William Henry Giles Kingston

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  The Golden Grasshopper; a story of the days of Sir Thomas Gresham, byW.H.G. Kingston.


  This book was originally published in 1870, under the title of "TheRoyal Merchant". As there were sundry things that needed changing, thebook was edited and re-issued under the title of "The GoldenGrasshopper". Kingston, the author, was in the last few months of hislife while this was being done, so the work was done by some of hisvarious ghosts, but with Kingston's approval.

  The tale is told through the eyes of a Dutch boy, Ernst Verner, whoseparents had been put to death in Holland for their Protestant faith.

  It was a difficult time in England, for, between the Protestantsovereigns, Edward the Sixth, and Elizabeth, there were a few yearsunder the Catholic Queen, Mary, during which very many people were putto death for their Protestantism. Most people did their best to pay lipservice to whoever was the current ruler, while keeping their ownbeliefs to themselves.

  The boy, Ernst has a recommendation to the great Sir Thomas Gresham, amerchant so important at the time that many of his initiatives persistto this day. He is sent to Saint Paul's School, which still exists,though not now in the centre of the City of London.

  He makes friends with another boy, A'Dale. From here on the storybecomes very convoluted, either because the boys are trying to do thingsthey have been ordered to do by Sir Thomas, or because they are beingpursued by a Romish priest, who had taken a major dislike to them asthey were not paying due attention while he was saying Mass at SaintPaul's Cathedral. We realise what a major barrier the English Channelwas in those days, with the short distance sometimes taking but a fewhours, and at other times several days, perhaps even with loss of life.





  In the year of Grace 1551, Antwerp was not only the chief city of theNetherlands, but the commercial capital of the world. Its publicbuildings were also celebrated for the elaborate carving of theirexteriors, for their richly-furnished interiors, and for their generalarchitectural beauty.

  In one of the principal streets of that city there stood a handsomehouse, the property of that wealthy and highly-esteemed merchant--JasperSchetz. In a private room, the walls richly adorned with carving andtapestry, sat at a dark oak writing table a gentleman in a black velvetsuit, having a black cap of the same material on his head. On ahigh-backed chair near him hung his cloak and rapier, while at his sidehe had a short dagger, with a jewelled hilt, ready for use. He wasstill young, but his features were grave, and his brow full of thought.His figure was tall and slight, though perhaps somewhat too stiff to begraceful. He was evidently a person of note, one more accustomed toguide men by his counsels, perhaps, than to command them in the field--rather a financier or diplomatist than a military commander. Anotherperson was in the room, standing at a high desk at a little distance.He was a somewhat older man than the former, shorter in figure, and morestrongly built. His countenance also exhibited a considerable amount ofintelligence, as well as firmness and decision of character.

  "Write to their lordships, Master Clough, that I have secured a loanfrom Lazarus Tucker of 10,000 pounds for six months, with interest atthe rate of 14 per cent, per annum. Acknowledge that the rate issomewhat high, but the loan could not be procured for less. Say I havepaid over to our good friends Schetz Brothers the sum of 1,000 pounds,according to the command of the King, as an acknowledgment to them forthe last loan which they obtained for his Majesty."

  The gentleman first described continued dictating to the latter, hissecretary, for some time, much in the same style. He then branched offinto other subjects, and gave a sketch of the political events which hadlately occurred in the Netherlands, then ruled by the Emperor Charlesthe Fifth of Germany and King of Spain, his sister Queen Mary of Hungaryacting as Regent for him. He continued: "Protestant principles havemade great progress, even though the fatal Inquisition flourishes in thecountry more actively than heretofore. The Emperor has just drawn up anew set of instructions for the guidance of the Inquisitors. These menare empowered to inquire, proceed against, and chastise all they callheretics, or persons suspected even of heresy, and their protectors. Itis dreadful to think of the power placed in their hands. Alreadythousands of the inhabitants of the Netherlands have been burned, ordrowned, or hung, or killed on the rack; those who can taking to flight,till many parts are well-nigh depopulated. Nothing can be more dreadfulthan the system of torture employed. The accused person is carried offto prison, often without knowing the crime he is accused of, or hisaccusers. He is tortured to make him confess. The torture takes placeat midnight in some gloomy dungeon, dimly-lighted by torches. Thevictim, whether man, woman, or tender virgin, is stripped naked, andstretched upon a wooden bench. Water, weights, fires, pulleys, screws,all the apparatus by which the sinews can be strained without cracking,the bones bruised without breaking, and the body racked without givingup the ghost, is now put into operation. If the victim, to escapefurther torture, confesses, he is at once carried off to execution; ifnot, he is restored to prison to recover somewhat from the effects ofthe torture, when he is again brought back to suffer, in the hopes ofextorting a confession. However, I have already spun out my letter totoo great a length, and I must bring it to a conclusion. Your lordshipswill see how differently situated the Netherlands are at the presenttime to our happy England, under the rule of our gentle sovereign, KingEdward."

  Master Clough having added some further remarks, closed the letter, andsealed it carefully with the signet ring of his employer, the WorshipfulMaster Thomas Gresham (the device on which was a grasshopper).

  Thomas Gresham at that time held the honourable post of Royal agent atAntwerp. The letter being carefully done up with other papers in a silkcovering, Richard Clough took it out of the room, and delivered it intothe hands of a special messenger who was to convey it to England. Hesoon returned, saying that a lady earnestly craved an audience.

  "I know her not," he added, "but she will in no wise receive a refusal.She is a matron of comely appearance, though her cheeks are pale, andher eyes betoken grief and anxiety. She is accompanied, too, by a youngboy, who appears to be her son, and stands holding her hand, tremblingas if lately put in great bodily fear."

  "Let her come up by all means, Master Clough," answered the merchant;"if we can assist her in her distress, we are bound to do so. The LadyAnne will, I doubt not, if she finds her worthy, be interested in hercase."

  "I will obey you, sir," said Richard Clough, hurrying out. In a shorttime he returned with a lady, who although not young, yet retained manytraces of beauty. She led by the hand a boy apparently about nine yearsof age, who, as Master Clough had remarked, looked completelyterrorstricken. The merchant rose, and with becoming courtesy placed achair for the lady opposite to where he sat.

  "Pray, madam, tell me how I can assist you," he said, "for I see at oncethat you are in distress."

  "Indeed, indeed, I am, sir," she answered. "I come to pray a great boonof you. I am your countrywoman, though married to a Netherlander. Myhusband, Karl Van Verner, may not be unknown to you, as he is a wealthyand highly honoured burgher of Antwerp. My maiden name was Bertram, andmy family, as well as that of my husband, have long been attached to theProtestant faith. We had till lately worshipped God in
private,according to the way we considered most acceptable to Him, notintruding, however, our opinions on our neighbours, but, alas! myhusband's wealth was coveted by those in power. Some secret enemyinformed against us, and only this morning the officers of theInquisition suddenly entered our house. We had just assembled formorning prayer. As my young boy beheld them seize his father, he criedout with terror, at the same time attempting to drag him out of theirhands. I could not help at first giving way to my grief and terror. Invain my husband expostulated with them, and promised to accompany themquietly if they would set him at liberty. He contrived, however, towhisper to me, to place our boy in safety, and to endeavour to escapemyself. In spite of my tears and entreaties, my beloved husband wasthen dragged off by the officers of the Inquisition, and I hastened awayto obey his directions. My husband's fate is, I fear, too certainlysealed. The Bible was found in his hands. He had long been known to bea consistent Protestant. What may be my fate, I know not, but my desireand hope are to share his. Again, I ask you, sir, will you, in theabundance of your compassion and charity, take charge of this boy--soon,I verily believe, to be an orphan? Ernst is his Christian name. Hewill, in return, I feel sure, serve you well, and prove true andfaithful."

  The merchant cast an eye of compassion on the boy. The mother saw thelook, and trusted that she had gained an advantage.

  "Oh! take him, sir, take him! I implore you!" she exclaimed, claspingher hands. "Should he be deprived of his father and me, as I feel surehe soon will be, though his life may be spared, he may be brought up bythe priests in the fearful errors of the Romish faith. I appeal to youas a Protestant. Oh! save him from such a fate! I know no one else whois able to protect him, but you can do so fully and completely. I askyou not to bestow wealth on him. I will make over all we possess toyou, if I have the power. Let him only labour for you, and be broughtup in the Reformed faith."

  While the lady was speaking, the merchant had been considering how fargranting her request might imperil his own position, where his businessled him into constant intercourse with numerous Roman Catholics, andsometimes even with the very ministers of the Emperor. Still his heartleaned towards the side of compassion. His features gradually relaxedas his feelings softened towards the distressed lady and her child.

  "Whatever the risk, I will befriend your boy, madam," he said. "Comehere, Ernst; your mother wishes you to trust to me. Lady, I wouldgladly afford you also any assistance in my power," he continued,interrupted, however, by Madame Verner, who poured out before him herfeelings of gratitude.

  "I am resolved to share the lot of my husband," she answered. "While helives I will not desert him."

  "You are a noble lady, and I would not interfere with your purpose,"said the merchant; "but consider that you will not be, able to aid yourhusband, and you may only sacrifice your own life."

  "That I am prepared to do," said the lady, rising. "May God reward you,as you protect my child!"

  She pressed the boy to her bosom, again uttered an expression ofgratitude to the merchant, and, not daring to trust herself with anotherlook at her child, hastened from the room. I was that little boy, ErnstVerner. It was the last time I heard the voice of my beloved mother. Isaw her, yes, once, but oh! my heart sickens even now as I bring thefearful vision to my sight.