And from that to his orisons, and then to his tools with a little bit of courage, and this was his day's work:
Veni, Creator Spiritus, Mentes tuorem visita, Imple superna gratia Quae tu creasti pectora
Accende lumen sensibus, Mentes tuorum visita, Infirma nostri corporis, Virtute firmans perpeti.
And so the days rolled on; and the weather got colder, and Clement's heart got warmer, and despondency was rolling away; and by-and-by, somehow or another, it was gone. He had outlived it.
It had come like a cloud, and it went like one.
And presently all was reversed; his cell seemed illuminated with joy. His work pleased him; his prayers were full of unction; his psalms of praise. Hosts of little birds followed their crimson leader, and flying from snow, and a parish full of Cains, made friends one after another with Abel; fast friends. And one keen frosty night as he sang the praises of God to his tuneful psaltery, and his hollow cave rang forth the holy psalmody upon the night, as if that cave itself was Tubal's surrounding shell, or David's harp, he heard a clear whine, not unmelodious; it became louder and less in tune. He peeped through the chinks of his rude door, and there sat a great red wolf moaning melodiously with his nose high in the air.
Clement was rejoiced. "My sins are going," he cried, "and the creatures of God are owning me, one after another." And in a burst of enthusiasm he struck up the laud:
"Praise Him all ye creatures of His!
"Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord."
And all the time he sang the wolf bayed at intervals.
But above all he seemed now to be drawing nearer to that celestial intercourse which was the sign and the bliss of the true hermit; for he had dreams about the saints and angels, so vivid, they were more like visions. He saw bright figures clad in woven snow. They bent on him eyes lovelier than those of the antelope's he had seen at Rome, and fanned him with broad wings hued like the rainbow, and their gentle voices bade him speed upon his course.
He had not long enjoyed this felicity when his dreams began to take another and a strange complexion. He wandered with Fra Colonna over the relics of antique nations, and the friar was lame and had a staff, and this staff he waved over the mighty ruins, and were they Egyptian, Greek, or Roman, straightway the temples and palaces, whose wrecks they were, rose again like an exhalation, and were thronged with the famous dead. Songsters that might have eclipsed both Apollo and his rival poured forth their lays; women, god-like in form, and draped like Minerva, swam round the marble courts in voluptuous but easy and graceful dances. Here sculptors carved away amidst admiring pupils, and forms of supernatural beauty grew out of Parian marble in a quarter of an hour; and grave philosophers conversed on high and subtle matters, with youth listening reverently; it was a long time ago. And still beneath all this wonderful panorama a sort of suspicion or expectation lurked in the dreamer's mind. "This is a prologue, a flourish, there is something behind; something that means me no good, something mysterious, awful."
And one night that the wizard Colonna had transcended himself, he pointed with his stick, and there was a swallowing up of many great ancient cities, and the pair stood on a vast sandy plain with a huge crimson sun sinking to rest, There were great palm-trees; and there were bulrush hives, scarce a man's height, dotted all about to the sandy horizon, and the crimson sun.
"These are the anchorites of the Theban desert," said Colonna calmly; "followers not of Christ and His apostles, and the great fathers, but of the Greek pupils of the Egyptian pupils of the Brachmans and Gymnosophists."
And Clement thought that he burned to go and embrace the holy men and tell them his troubles, and seek their advice. But he was tied by the feet somehow, and could not move, and the crimson sun sank, and it got dusk, and the hives scarce visible, And Colonna's figure became shadowy and shapeless, but his eyes glowed ten times brighter; and this thing all eyes spoke and said: "Nay, let them be, a pack of fools I see how dismal it all is." Then with a sudden sprightliness, "But I hear one of them has a manuscript of Petronius, on papyrus; I go to buy it; farewell for ever, for ever, for ever."
And it was pitch dark, and a light came at Clement's back like a gentle stroke, a glorious roseate light. It warmed as well as brightened. It loosened his feet from the ground; he turned round, and there, her face irradiated with sunshine, and her hair glittering like the gloriola of a saint, was Margaret Brandt.
She blushed and smiled and cast a look of ineffable tenderness on him, "Gerard," she murmured, "be whose thou wilt by day, but at night be mine!"
Even as she spoke, the agitation of seeing her so suddenly awakened him, and he found himself lying trembling from head to foot.
That radiant figure and mellow voice seemed to have struck his nightly keynote.
Awake he could pray, and praise, and worship God; he was master of his thoughts. But if he closed his eyes in sleep, Margaret, or Satan in her shape, beset him, a seeming angel of light. He might dream of a thousand different things, wide as the poles asunder, ere he woke the imperial figure was sure to come and extinguish all the rest in a moment, stellas exortus uti aetherius sol; for she came glowing with two beauties never before united, an angel's radiance and a woman's blushes.
Angels cannot blush. So he knew it was a fiend.
He was alarmed, but not so much surprised as at the demon's last artifice. From Anthony to Nicholas of the Rock scarce hermit that had not been thus beset; sometimes with gay voluptuous visions, sometimes with lovely phantoms, warm, tangible, and womanly without, demons within, nor always baffled even by the saints. Witness that "angel form with a devil's heart" that came hanging its lovely head, like a bruised flower, to St. Macarius, with a feigned tale, and wept, and wept, and wept, and beguiled him first of his tears and then of half his virtue.
But with the examples of Satanic power and craft had come down copious records of the hermits' triumphs and the weapons by which they had conquered.
Domandum est Corpus; the body must be tamed; this had been their watchword for twelve hundred years. It was a tremendous war-cry; for they called the earthly affections, as well as appetites, body, and crushed the whole heart through the suffering and mortified flesh.
Clement then said to himself that the great enemy of man had retired but to spring with more effect, and had allowed him a few days of true purity and joy only to put him off his guard against the soft blandishments he was pouring over the soul that had survived the buffeting of his black wings. He applied himself to tame the body, he shortened his sleep, lengthened his prayers, and increased his severe temperance to abstinence. Hitherto, following the ordinary rule, he had eaten only at sunset. Now he ate but once in forty-eight hours, drinking a little water every day.
On this the visions became more distinct.
Then he flew to a famous antidote, to "the grand febrifuge" of anchorites—cold water.
He found the deepest part of the stream that ran by his cell; it rose not far off at a holy well; and clearing the bottom of the large stones, made a hole where he could stand in water to the chin, and fortified by so many examples, he sprang from his rude bed upon the next diabolical assault, and entered the icy water.
It made him gasp and almost shriek with the cold. It froze his marrow. "I shall die," he cried, "I shall die; but better this than fire eternal."
And the next day he was so stiff in all his joints he could not move, and he seemed one great ache. And even in sleep he felt that his very bones were like so many raging teeth, till the phantom he dreaded came and gave one pitying smile, and all the pain was gone.
Then, feeling that to go into the icy water again, enfeebled by fasts as he was, might perhaps carry the guilt of suicide, he scourged himself till the blood ran, and so lay down smarting. And when exhaustion began to blunt the smart down to a throb, that moment the present was away, and the past came smiling back. He sat with Margaret at the duke's feast, the minstrels played divinely, and the purple fountains gushed. Youth and love reigned in each heart, and perfumed the very air.
Then the scene shifted, and they stood at the altar together man and wife. And no interruption this time, and they wandered hand in hand, and told each other their horrible dreams. As for him, "he had dreamed she was dead, and he was a monk; and really the dream had been so vivid and so full of particulars that only his eyesight could even now convince him it was only a dream, and they were really one."
And this new keynote once struck, every tune ran upon it. Awake he was Clement the hermit, risen from unearthly visions of the night, as dangerous as they were sweet; asleep he was Gerard Eliassoen, the happy husband of the loveliest and best, and truest girl in Holland: all the happier that he had been for some time the sport of hideous dreams, in which he had lost her.
His constant fasts, coupled with other austerities, and the deep mental anxiety of a man fighting with a supernatural foe, had now reduced him nearly to a skeleton; but still on those aching bones hung flesh unsubdued, and quivering with an earthly passion; so, however, he thought; "or why had ill spirits such power over him?" His opinion was confirmed, when one day he detected himself sinking to sleep actually with a feeling of complacency, because now Margaret would come and he should feel no more pain, and the unreal would be real, and the real unreal, for an hour.
On this he rose hastily with a cry of dismay, and stripping to the skin climbed up to the brambles above his cave, and flung himself on them, and rolled on them writhing with the pain: then he came into his den a mass of gore, and lay moaning for hours; till, out of sheer exhaustion, he fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
He awoke to bodily pain, and mental exultation; he had broken the fatal spell. Yes, it was broken; another and another day passed, and her image molested him no more. But he caught himself sighing at his victory.
The birds got tamer and tamer, they perched upon his hand. Two of them let him gild their little claws. Eating but once in two days he had more to give them.
His tranquility was not to last long.
A woman's voice came in from the outside, told him his own story in a very few words, and asked him to tell her where Gerard was to be found.
He was so astounded he could only say, with an instinct of self-defence, "Pray for the soul of Gerard the son of Eli!" meaning that he was dead to the world. And he sat wondering.
When the woman was gone, he determined, after an inward battle, to risk being seen, and he peeped after her to see who it could be; but he took so many precautions, and she ran so quickly back to her friend, that the road was clear.
"Satan!" said he directly.
And that night back came his visions of earthly love and happiness so vividly, he could count every auburn hair in Margaret's head, and see the pupils of her eyes.
Then he began to despair, and said, "I must leave this country; here I am bound fast in memory's chain;" and began to dread his cell. He said, "A breath from hell hath infected it, and robbed even these holy words of their virtue." And unconsciously imitating St. Jerome, a victim of earthly hallucinations, as overpowering, and coarser, he took his warmest covering out into the wood hard by, and there flung down under a tree that torn and wrinkled leather bag of bones, which a little ago might have served a sculptor for Apollo.
Whether the fever of his imagination intermitted, as a master mind of our day has shown that all things intermit(9) or that this really broke some subtle link, I know not, but his sleep was dreamless.
He awoke nearly frozen, but warm with joy within.
"I shall yet be a true hermit, Dei gratia," said he.
The next day some good soul left on his little platform a new lambs-wool pelisse and cape, warm, soft, and ample.
He had a moment's misgiving on account of its delicious softness and warmth; but that passed. It was the right skin(10), and a mark that Heaven approved his present course.
It restored warmth to his bones after he came in from his short rest.
And now, at one moment he saw victory before him if he could but live to it; at another, he said to himself, "'Tis but another lull; be on thy guard, Clement."
And this thought agitated his nerves and kept him in continual awe.
He was like a soldier within the enemy's lines.
One night, a beautiful clear frosty night, he came back to his cell, after a short rest. The stars were wonderful. Heaven seemed a thousand times larger as well as brighter than earth, and to look with a thousand eyes instead of one.
"Oh, wonderful," he cried, "that there should be men who do crimes by night; and others scarce less mad, who live for this little world, and not for that great and glorious one, which nightly, to all eyes not blinded by custom, reveals its glowing glories. Thank God I am a hermit."
And in this mood he came to his cell door.
He paused at it; it was closed.
"Why, methought I left it open," said he, "The wind. There is not a breath of wind. What means this?"
He stood with his hand upon the rugged door. He looked through one of the great chinks, for it was much smaller in places than the aperture it pretended to close, and saw his little oil wick burning just where he had left it.
"How is it with me," he sighed, "when I start and tremble at nothing? Either I did shut it, or the fiend hath shut it after me to disturb my happy soul. Retro Sathanas!"
And he entered his cave rapidly, and began with somewhat nervous expedition to light one of his largest tapers. While he was lighting it, there was a soft sigh in the cave.
He started and dropped the candle just as it was lighting, and it went out.
He stooped for it hurriedly and lighted it, listening intently.
When it was lighted he shaded it with his hand from behind, and threw the faint light all round the cell.
In the farthest corner the outline of the wall seemed broken.
He took a step towards the place with his heart beating.
The candle at the same time getting brighter, he saw it was the figure of a woman.
Another step with his knees knocking together.
IT WAS MARGARET BRANDT.
(1) Beat down Satan under our feet.
(2) Up, hearts!
(3) O God our refuge and strength.
(4) O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me!
(5) O Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy upon us.
(6) From the assaults of demons—from the wrath to come— from everlasting damnation, deliver us, O Lord!
(7) See the English collect, St., Michael and all Angels.
(8) Of whom may we seek succour but of Thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased (and that torrent of prayer, the following verse).
(9) Dr. Dickson, author of Fallacies of the Faculty, etc.
(10) It is related of a mediaeval hermit, that being offered a garment made of cats' skins, he rejected it, saying, "I have heard of a lamb of God but I never heard of a cat of God."
HER attitude was one to excite pity rather than terror, in eyes not blinded by a preconceived notion. Her bosom was fluttering like a bird, and the red and white coming and going in her cheeks, and she had her hand against the wall by the instinct of timid things, she trembled so; and the marvellous mixed gaze of love, and pious awe, and pity, and tender memories, those purple eyes cast on the emaciated and glaring hermit, was an event in nature.
"Aha!" he cried. "Thou art come at last in flesh and blood; come to me as thou camest to holy Anthony. But I am ware of thee. I thought thy wiles were not exhausted. I am armed." With this he snatched up his small crucifix and held it out at her, astonished, and the candle in the other hand, both crucifix and candle shaking violently. "Exorcizo te."
"Ah, no!" cried she piteously; and put out two pretty deprecating palms. "Alas! work me no ill! It is Margaret."
"Liar!" shouted the hermit. "Margaret was fair, but not so supernatural fair as thou. Thou didst shrink at that sacred name, thou subtle hypocrite. In Nomine Dei exorcizo vos."
"Ah, Jesu!" gasped Margaret, in extremity of terror, "curse me not! I will go home. I thought I might come. For very manhood be-Latin me not! Oh, Gerard, is it thus you and I meet after all, after all?"
And she cowered almost to her knees and sobbed with superstitious fear and wounded affection.
Impregnated as he was with Satanophobia he might perhaps have doubted still whether this distressed creature, all woman and nature, was not all art and fiend. But her spontaneous appeal to that sacred name dissolved his chimera; and let him see with his eyes, and hear with his ears.
He uttered a cry of self-reproach, and tried to raise her but what with fasts, what with the overpowering emotion of a long solitude so broken, he could not. "What," he gasped, shaking over her, "and is it thou? And have I met thee with hard words? Alas!" And they were both choked with emotion and could not speak for a while.
"I heed it not much," said Margaret bravely, struggling with her tears; "you took me for another: for a devil; oh! oh! oh! oh! oh!"
"Forgive me, sweet soul!" And as soon as he could speak more than a word at a time, he said, "I have been much beset by the evil one since I came here."
Margaret looked round with a shudder. "Like enow. Then oh take my hand, and let me lead thee from this foul place."
He gazed at her with astonishment.
"What, desert my cell; and go into the world again? Is it for that thou hast come to me?" said he sadly and reproachfully.
"Ay, Gerard, I am come to take thee to thy pretty vicarage: art vicar of Gouda, thanks to Heaven and thy good brother Giles; and mother and I have made it so neat for thee, Gerard. 'Tis well enow in winter I promise thee. But bide a bit till the hawthorn bloom, and anon thy walls put on their kirtle of brave roses, and sweet woodbine, Have we forgotten thee, and the foolish things thou lovest? And, dear Gerard, thy mother is waiting; and 'tis late for her to be out of her bed: prithee, prithee, come! And the moment we are out of this foul hole I'll show thee a treasure thou hast gotten, and knowest nought on't, or sure hadst never fled from us so. Alas! what is to do? What have I ignorantly said, to be regarded thus?"
For he had drawn himself all up into a heap, and was looking at her with a strange gaze of fear and suspicion blended.
"Unhappy girl," said he solemnly, yet deeply agitated, "would you have me risk my soul and yours for a miserable vicarage and the flowers that grow on it? But this is not thy doing: the bowelless fiend sends thee, poor simple girl, to me with this bait. But oh, cunning fiend, I will unmask thee even to this thine instrument, and she shall see thee, and abhor thee as I do, Margaret, my lost love, why am I here? Because I love thee."
"Oh! no, Gerard, you love me not or you would not have hidden from me; there was no need."
"Let there be no deceit between us twain, that have loved so true; and after this night, shall meet no more on earth."
"Now God forbid!" said she.
"I love thee, and thou hast not forgotten me, or thou hadst married ere this, and hadst not been the one to find me, buried here from sight of man. I am a priest, a monk: what but folly or sin can come of you and me living neighbours, and feeding a passion innocent once, but now (so Heaven wills it) impious and unholy? No, though my heart break I must be firm. 'Tis I that am the man, 'tis I that am the priest. You and I must meet no more, till I am schooled by solitude, and thou art wedded to another."
"I consent to my doom but not to thine. I would ten times liever die; yet I will marry, ay, wed misery itself sooner than let thee lie in this foul dismal place, with yon sweet manse awaiting for thee." Clement groaned; at each word she spoke out stood clearer and clearer two things—his duty, and the agony it must cost.
"My beloved," said he, with a strange mixture of tenderness and dogged resolution, "I bless thee for giving me one more sight of thy sweet face, and may God forgive thee, and bless thee, for destroying in a minute the holy peace it hath taken six months of solitude to build. No matter. A year of penance will, Dei gratia, restore me to my calm. My poor Margaret, I seem cruel: yet I am kind: 'tis best we part; ay, this moment."
"Part, Gerard? Never: we have seen what comes of parting. Part? Why, you have not heard half my story; no, nor the tithe, 'Tis not for thy mere comfort I take thee to Gouda manse. Hear me!"
"I may not. Thy very voice is a temptation with its music, memory's delight."
"But I say you shall hear me, Gerard, for forth this place I go not unheard."
"Then must we part by other means," said Clement sadly.
"Alack! what other means? Wouldst put me to thine own door, being the stronger?"
"Nay, Margaret, well thou knowest I would suffer many deaths rather than put force on thee; thy sweet body is dearer to me than my own; but a million times dearer to me are our immortal souls, both thine and mine. I have withstood this direst temptation of all long enow. Now I must fly it: farewell! farewell!"
He made to the door, and had actually opened it and got half out, when she darted after and caught him by the arm.
"Nay, then another must speak for me. I thought to reward thee for yielding to me; but unkind that thou art, I need his help I find; turn then this way one moment."
"But I say ay! And then turn thy back on us an thou canst." She somewhat relaxed her grasp, thinking he would never deny her so small a favour. But at this he saw his opportunity and seized it.
"Fly, Clement, fly!" he almost shrieked; and his religious enthusiasm giving him for a moment his old strength, he burst wildly away from her, and after a few steps bounded over the little stream and ran beside it, but finding he was not followed stopped, and looked back.
She was lying on her face, with her hands spread out.
Yes, without meaning it, he had thrown her down and hurt her.
When he saw that, he groaned and turned back a step; but suddenly, by another impulse flung himself into the icy water instead.
"There, kill my body!" he cried, "but save my soul!"
Whilst he stood there, up to his throat in liquid ice, so to speak, Margaret uttered one long, piteous moan, and rose to her knees.
He saw her as plain almost as in midday. Saw her pale face and her eyes glistening; and then in the still night he heard these words:
"Oh, God! Thou that knowest all, Thou seest how I am used. Forgive me then! For I will not live another day." With this she suddenly started to her feet, and flew like some wild creature, wounded to death, close by his miserable hiding-place, shrieking:
What manifold anguish may burst from a human heart in a single syllable. There were wounded love, and wounded pride, and despair, and coming madness all in that piteous cry. Clement heard, and it froze his heart with terror and remorse, worse than the icy water chilled the marrow of his bones.
He felt he had driven her from him for ever, and in the midst of his dismal triumph, the greatest he had won, there came an almost incontrollable impulse to curse the Church, to curse religion itself, for exacting such savage cruelty from mortal man. At last he crawled half dead out of the water, and staggered to his den. "I am safe here," he groaned; "she will never come near me again; unmanly, ungrateful wretch that I am." And he flung his emaciated, frozen body down on the floor, not without a secret hope that it might never rise thence alive.
But presently he saw by the hour-glass that it was past midnight.
On this, he rose slowly and took off his wet things, and moaning all the time at the pain he had caused her he loved, put on the old hermit's cilice of bristles, and over that his breastplate. He had never worn either of these before, doubting himself worthy to don the arms of that tried soldier. But now he must give himself every aid; the bristles might distract his earthly remorse by bodily pain, and there might be holy virtue in the breastplate. Then he kneeled down and prayed God humbly to release him that very night from the burden of the flesh. Then he lighted all his candles, and recited his psalter doggedly; each word seemed to come like a lump of lead from a leaden heart, and to fall leaden to the ground; and in this mechanical office every now and then he moaned with all his soul. In the midst of which he suddenly observed a little bundle in the corner he had not seen before in the feebler light, and at one end of it something like gold spun into silk.
He went to see what it could be; and he had no sooner viewed it closer, than he threw up his hands with rapture. "It is a seraph," he whispered, "a lovely seraph. Heaven hath witnessed my bitter trial, and approves my cruelty; and this flower of the skies is sent to cheer me, fainting under my burden."
He fell on his knees, and gazed with ecstasy on its golden hair, and its tender skin, and cheeks like a peach.
"Let me feast my sad eyes on thee ere thou leavest me for thine ever-blessed abode, and my cell darkens again at thy parting, as it did at hers."
With all this, the hermit disturbed the lovely visitor. He opened wide two eyes, the colour of heaven; and seeing a strange figure kneeling over him, he cried piteously, "MUMMA! MUM-MA!" And the tears began to run down his little cheeks.
Perhaps, after all, Clement, who for more than six months had not looked on the human face divine, estimated childish beauty more justly than we can; and in truth, this fair northern child, with its long golden hair, was far more angelic than any of our imagined angels. But now the spell was broken.
Yet not unhappily. Clement it may be remembered, was fond of children, and true monastic life fosters this sentiment. The innocent distress on the cherubic face, the tears that ran so smoothly from those transparent violets, his eyes, and his pretty, dismal cry for his only friend, his mother, went through the hermit's heart. He employed all his gentleness and all his art to soothe him; and as the little soul was wonderfully intelligent for his age, presently succeeded so far that he ceased to cry out, and wonder took the place of fear; while, in silence, broken only in little gulps, he scanned, with great tearful eyes, this strange figure that looked so wild, but spoke so kindly, and wore armour, yet did not kill little boys, but coaxed them. Clement was equally perplexed to know how this little human flower came to lie sparkling and blooming in his gloomy cave. But he remembered he had left the door wide open, and he was driven to conclude that, owing to this negligence, some unfortunate creature of high or low degree had seized this opportunity to get rid of her child for ever.(1). At this his bowels yearned so over the poor deserted cherub, that the tears of pure tenderness stood in his eyes, and still, beneath the crime of the mother, he saw the divine goodness, which had so directed her heartlessness as to comfort His servant's breaking heart.
"Now bless thee, bless thee, bless thee, sweet innocent, I would not change thee for e'en a cherub in heaven."
"At's pooty," replied the infant, ignoring contemptuously, after the manner of infants, all remarks that did not interest him.
"What is pretty here, my love, besides thee?"
"Ookum-gars,(2) said the boy, pointing to the hermit's breastplate.
"Quot liberi, tot sententiunculae!" Hector's child screamed at his father's glittering casque and nodding crest; and here was a mediaeval babe charmed with a polished cuirass, and his griefs assuaged.
"There are prettier things here than that," said Clement, "there are little birds; lovest thou birds?"
"Nay. Ay. En um ittle, ery ittle? Not ike torks. Hate torks um bigger an baby."
He then confided, in very broken language, that the storks with their great flapping wings scared him, and were a great trouble and worry to him, darkening his existence more or less.
"Ay, but my birds are very little, and good, and oh, so pretty!"
"Den I ikes 'm," said the child authoritatively, "I ont my mammy."
"Alas, sweet dove! I doubt I shall have to fill her place as best I may. Hast thou no daddy as well as mammy, sweet one?"
Now not only was this conversation from first to last, the relative ages, situations, and all circumstances of the parties considered, as strange a one as ever took place between two mortal creatures, but at or within a second or two of the hermit's last question, to turn the strange into the marvellous, came an unseen witness, to whom every word that passed carried ten times the force it did to either of the speakers.
Since, therefore, it is with her eyes you must now see, and hear with her ears, I go back a step for her.
Margaret, when she ran past Gerard, was almost mad. She was in that state of mind in which affectionate mothers have been known to kill their children, sometimes along with themselves, sometimes alone, which last is certainly maniacal, She ran to Reicht Heynes pale and trembling, and clasped her round the neck, "Oh, Reicht! oh, Reicht!" and could say no more.
Reicht kissed her, and began to whimper; and would you believe it, the great mastiff uttered one long whine: even his glimmer of sense taught him grief was afoot.
"Oh, Reicht!" moaned the despised beauty, as soon as she could utter a word for choking, "see how he has served me!" and she showed her hands, that were bleeding with falling on the stony ground. "He threw me down, he was so eager to fly from me, He took me for a devil; he said I came to tempt him. Am I the woman to tempt a man? you know me, Reicht."
"Nay, in sooth, sweet Mistress Margaret, the last i' the world."
"And he would not look at my child. I'll fling myself and him into the Rotter this night."
"Oh, fie! fie! eh, my sweet woman, speak not so. Is any man that breathes worth your child's life?"
"My child! where is he? Why, Reicht, I have left him behind. Oh, shame! is it possible I can love him to that degree as to forget my child? Ah! I am rightly served for it."
And she sat down, and faithful Reicht beside her, and they sobbed in one another's arms.
After a while Margaret left off sobbing and said doggedly, "let us go home."
"Ay, but the bairn?"
"Oh! he is well where he is. My heart is turned against my very child, He cares nought for him; wouldn't see him, nor hear speak of him; and I took him there so proud, and made his hair so nice, I did, and put his new frock and cowl on him. Nay, turn about: it's his child as well as mine; let him keep it awhile: mayhap that will learn him to think more of its mother and his own."
"High words off an empty stomach," said Reicht.
"Time will show. Come you home."
They departed, and Time did show quicker than he levels abbeys, for at the second step Margaret stopped, and could neither go one way nor the other, but stood stock still.
"Reicht," said she piteously, "what else have I on earth? I cannot."
"Whoever said you could? Think you I paid attention? Words are woman's breath. Come back for him without more ado; 'tis time we were in our beds, much more he."
Reicht led the way, and Margaret followed readily enough in that direction; but as they drew near the cell, she stopped again.
"Reicht, go you and ask him, will he give me back my boy; for I could not bear the sight of him."
"Alas! mistress, this do seem a sorry ending after all that hath been betwixt you twain. Bethink thee now, doth thine heart whisper no excuse for him? dost verily hate him for whom thou hast waited so long? Oh, weary world!"
"Hate him, Reicht? I would not harm a hair of his head for all that is in nature; but look on him I cannot; I have taken a horror of him. Oh! when I think of all I have suffered for him, and what I came here this night to do for him, and brought my own darling to kiss him and call him father. Ah, Luke, my poor chap, my wound showeth me thine. I have thought too little of thy pangs, whose true affection I despised; and now my own is despised, Reicht, if the poor lad was here now, he would have a good chance."
"Well, he is not far off," said Reicht Heynes; but somehow she did not say it with alacrity.
"Speak not to me of any man," said Margaret bitterly; "I hate them all."
"For the sake of one?"
"Flout me not, but prithee go forward, and get me what is my own, my sole joy in the world. Thou knowest I am on thorns till I have him to my bosom again."
Reicht went forward; Margaret sat by the roadside and covered her face with her apron, and rocked herself after the manner of her country, for her soul was full of bitterness and grief. So severe, indeed, was the internal conflict, that she did not hear Reicht running back to her, and started violently when the young woman laid a hand upon her shoulder.
"Mistress Margaret!" said Reicht quietly, "take a fool's advice that loves ye. Go softly to yon cave, wi' all the ears and eyes your mother ever gave you."
"Why? Reicht?" stammered Margaret.
"I thought the cave was afire, 'twas so light inside; and there were voices."
"Ay, not one, but twain, and all unlike—a man's and a little child's talking as pleasant as you and me. I am no great hand at a keyhole for my part, 'tis paltry work; but if so be voices were a talking in yon cave, and them that owned those voices were so near to me as those are to thee, I'd go on all fours like a fox, and I'd crawl on my belly like a serpent, ere I'd lose one word that passes atwixt those twain."
"Whisht, Reicht! Bless thee! Bide thou here. Buss me! Pray for me!"
And almost ere the agitated words had left her lips, Margaret was flying towards the hermitage as noiselessly as a lapwing.
Arrived near it, she crouched, and there was something truly serpentine in the gliding, flexible, noiseless movements by which she reached the very door, and there she found a chink, and listened. And often it cost her a struggle not to burst in upon them; but warned by defeat, she was cautious, and resolute, let well alone, And after a while, slowly and noiselessly she reared her head, like a snake its crest, to where she saw the broadest chink of all, and looked with all her eyes and soul, as well as listened.
The little boy then being asked whether he had no daddy, at first shook his head, and would say nothing; but being pressed he suddenly seemed to remember something, and said he, "Dad-da ill man; run away and left poor mum-ma."
She who heard this winced. It was as new to her as to Clement. Some interfering foolish woman had gone and said this to the boy, and now out it came in Gerard's very face. His answer surprised her; he burst out, "The villain! the monster! he must be born without bowels to desert thee, sweet one, Ah! he little knows the joy he has turned his back on. Well, my little dove, I must be father and mother to thee, since the one runs away, and t'other abandons thee to my care. Now to-morrow I shall ask the good people that bring me my food to fetch some nice eggs and milk for thee as well; for bread is good enough for poor old good-for-nothing me, but not for thee. And I shall teach thee to read."
"I can yead, I can yead."
"Ay, verily, so young? all the better; we will read good books together, and I shall show thee the way to heaven. Heaven is a beautiful place, a thousand times fairer and better than earth, and there be little cherubs like thyself, in white, glad to welcome thee and love thee. Wouldst like to go to heaven one day?"
"Ay, along wi'-my-mammy."
"What, not without her then?"
"Nay. I ont my mammy. Where is my mammy?"
(Oh! what it cost poor Margaret not to burst in and clasp him to her heart!)
"Well, fret not, sweetheart, mayhap she will come when thou art asleep. Wilt thou be good now and sleep?"
"I not eepy. Ikes to talk."
"Well, talk we then; tell me thy pretty name."
"Baby." And he opened his eyes with amazement at this great hulking creature's ignorance.
"Hast none other?"
"What shall I do to pleasure thee, baby? Shall I tell thee a story?"
"I ikes tories," said the boy, clapping his hands.
"Or sing thee a song?"
"I ikes tongs," and he became excited.
"Choose then, a song or a story."
"Ting I a tong. Nay, tell I a tory. Nay, ting I a tong. Nay—And the corners of his little mouth turned down and he had half a mind to weep because he could not have both, and could not tell which to forego. Suddenly his little face cleared: "Ting I a tory," said he.
"Sing thee a story, baby? Well, after all, why not? And wilt thou sit o' my knee and hear it?"
"Then I must e'en doff this breastplate, 'Tis too hard for thy soft cheek. So. And now I must doff this bristly cilice; they would prick thy tender skin, perhaps make it bleed, as they have me, I see. So. And now I put on my best pelisse, in honour of thy worshipful visit. See how soft and warm it is; bless the good soul that sent it; and now I sit me down; so. And I take thee on my left knee, and put my arm under thy little head; so, And then the psaltery, and play a little tune; so, not too loud."
"I ikes dat."
"I am right glad on't. Now list the story."
He chanted a child's story in a sort of recitative, singing a little moral refrain now and then. The boy listened with rapture.
"I ikes oo," said he, "Ot is oo? is oo a man?"
"Ay, little heart, and a great sinner to boot."
"I ikes great tingers. Ting one other tory."
Story No. 2 was Chanted.
"I ubbs oo," cried the child impetuously, "Ot caft(3) is oo?"
"I am a hermit, love."
"I ubbs vermins. Ting other one."
But during this final performance, Nature suddenly held out her leaden sceptre over the youthful eyelids. "I is not eepy," whined he very faintly, and succumbed.
Clement laid down his psaltery softly and began to rock his new treasure in his arms, and to crone over him a little lullaby well known in Tergou, with which his own mother had often sent him off.
And the child sank into a profound sleep upon his arm. And he stopped croning and gazed on him with infinite tenderness, yet sadness; for at that moment he could not help thinking what might have been but for a piece of paper with a lie in it.
He sighed deeply.
The next moment the moonlight burst into his cell, and with it, and in it, and almost as swift as it, Margaret Brandt was down at his knee with a timorous hand upon his shoulder.
"GERARD, YOU DO NOT REJECT US, YOU CANNOT."
(1) More than one hermit had received a present of this kind.
(2) Query, "looking glass."
(3) Craft. He means trade or profession.
The startled hermit glared from his nurseling to Margaret, and from her to him, in amazement, equalled only by his agitation at her so unexpected return. The child lay asleep on his left arm, and she was at his right knee; no longer the pale, scared, panting girl he had overpowered so easily an hour or two ago, but an imperial beauty, with blushing cheeks and sparkling eyes, and lips sweetly parted in triumph, and her whole face radiant with a look he could not quite read; for he had never yet seen it on her: maternal pride.
He stared and stared from the child to her, in throbbing amazement.
"Us?" he gasped at last. And still his wonder-stricken eyes turned to and fro.
Margaret was surprised in her turn, It was an age of impressions not facts, "What!" she cried, "doth not a father know his own child? and a man of God, too? Fie, Gerard, to pretend! nay, thou art too wise, too good, not to have—why, I watched thee; and e'en now look at you twain! 'Tis thine own flesh and blood thou holdest to thine heart."
Clement trembled, "What words are these," he stammered, "this angel mine?"
"Whose else? since he is mine."
Clement turned on the sleeping child, with a look beyond the power of the pen to describe, and trembled all over, as his eyes seemed to absorb the little love.
Margaret's eyes followed his. "He is not a bit like me," said she proudly; "but oh, at whiles he is thy very image in little; and see this golden hair. Thine was the very colour at his age; ask mother else. And see this mole on his little finger; now look at thine own; there! 'Twas thy mother let me weet thou wast marked so before him; and oh, Gerard, 'twas this our child found thee for me; for by that little mark on thy finger I knew thee for his father, when I watched above thy window and saw thee feed the birds." Here she seized the child's hand, and kissed it eagerly, and got half of it into her mouth, Heaven knows how, "Ah! bless thee, thou didst find thy poor daddy for her, and now thou hast made us friends again after our little quarrel; the first, the last. Wast very cruel to me but now, my poor Gerard, and I forgive thee; for loving of thy child."
"Ah! ah! ah! ah! ah!" sobbed Clement, choking. And lowered by fasts, and unnerved by solitude, the once strong man was hysterical, and nearly fainting.
Margaret was alarmed, but having experience, her pity was greater than her fear. "Nay, take not on so," she murmured soothingly, and put a gentle hand upon his brow. "Be brave! So, so. Dear heart, thou art not the first man that hath gone abroad and come back richer by a lovely little self than he went forth. Being a man of God, take courage, and say He sends thee this to comfort thee for what thou hast lost in me; and that is not so very much, my lamb; for sure the better part of love shall ne'er cool here to thee; though it may in thine, and ought, being a priest, and parson of Gouda."
"I? priest of Gouda? Never!" murmured Clement in a faint voice; "I am a friar of St. Dominic: yet speak on, sweet music, tell me all that has happened thee, before we are parted again."
Now some would on this have exclaimed against parting at all, and raised the true question in dispute. But such women as Margaret do not repeat their mistakes. It is very hard to defeat them twice, where their hearts are set on a thing.
She assented, and turned her back on Gouda manse as a thing not to be recurred to; and she told him her tale, dwelling above all on the kindness to her of his parents; and while she related her troubles, his hand stole to hers, and often she felt him wince and tremble with ire, and often press her hand, sympathizing with her in every vein.
"Oh, piteous tale of a true heart battling alone against such bitter odds," said he.
"It all seems small, when I see thee here again, and nursing my boy. We have had a warning, Gerard. True friends like you and me are rare, and they are mad to part, ere death divideth them."
"And that is true," said Clement, off his guard.
And then she would have him tell her what he had suffered for her, and he begged her to excuse him, and she consented; but by questions quietly revoked her consent and elicited it all; and many a sigh she heaved for him, and more than once she hid her face in her hands with terror at his perils, though past. And to console him for all he had gone through, she kneeled down and put her arms under the little boy, and lifted him gently up. "Kiss him softly," she whispered. "Again, again kiss thy fill if thou canst; he is sound. 'Tis all I can do to comfort thee till thou art out of this foul den and in thy sweet manse yonder."
Clement shook his head.
"Well," said she, "let that pass. Know that I have been sore affronted for want of my lines."
"Who hath dared affront thee?"
"No matter, those that will do it again if thou hast lost them, which the saints forbid."
"I lose them? nay, there they lie, close to thy hand."
"Where, where, oh, where?"
Clement hung his head. "Look in the Vulgate. Heaven forgive me: I thought thou wert dead, and a saint in heaven."
She looked, and on the blank leaves of the poor soul's Vulgate she found her marriage lines.
"Thank God!" she cried, "thank God! Oh, bless thee, Gerard, bless thee! Why, what is here, Gerard?"
On the other leaves were pinned every scrap of paper she had ever sent him, and their two names she had once written together in sport, and the lock of her hair she had given him, and half a silver coin she had broken with him, and a straw she had sucked her soup with the first day he ever saw her.
When Margaret saw these proofs of love and signs of a gentle heart bereaved, even her exultation at getting back her marriage lines was overpowered by gushing tenderness. She almost staggered, and her hand went to her bosom, and she leaned her brow against the stone cell and wept so silently that he did not see she was weeping; indeed she would not let him, for she felt that to befriend him now she must be the stronger; and emotion weakens.
"Gerard," said she, "I know you are wise and good. You must have a reason for what you are doing, let it seem ever so unreasonable. Talk we like old friends. Why are you buried alive?"
"Margaret, to escape temptation. My impious ire against those two had its root in the heart; that heart then I must deaden, and, Dei gratia, I shall. Shall I, a servant of Christ and of the Church, court temptation? Shall I pray daily to be led out on't, and walk into it with open eyes?"
"That is good sense anyway," said Margaret, with a consummate affectation of candour.
"'Tis unanswerable," said Clement, with a sigh.
"We shall see. Tell me, have you escaped temptation here? Why I ask is, when I am alone, my thoughts are far more wild and foolish than in company. Nay, speak sooth; come!"
"I must needs own I have been worse tempted here with evil imaginations than in the world."
"Ay, but so were Anthony and Jerome, Macarius and Hilarion, Benedict, Bernard, and all the saints. 'Twill wear off."
"How do you know?"
"I feel sure it will."
"Guessing against knowledge. Here 'tis men folk are sillier than us that be but women. Wise in their own conceits, they will not let themselves see; their stomachs are too high to be taught by their eyes. A woman, if she went into a hole in a bank to escape temptation, and there found it, would just lift her farthingale and out on't, and not e'en know how wise she was, till she watched a man in like plight."
"Nay, I grant humility and a teachable spirit are the roads to wisdom; but when all is said, here I wrestle but with imagination. At Gouda she I love as no priest or monk must love any but the angels, she will tempt a weak soul, unwilling, yet not loth to be tempted."
"Ay, that is another matter; I should tempt thee then? to what, i' God's name?"
"Who knows? The flesh is weak."
"Speak for yourself, my lad. Why, you are thinking of some other Margaret, not Margaret a Peter. Was ever my mind turned to folly and frailty? Stay, is it because you were my husband once, as these lines avouch? Think you the road to folly is beaten for you more than another? Oh! how shallow are the wise, and how little able are you to read me, who can read you so well from top to toe, Come, learn thine A B C. Were a stranger to proffer me unchaste love, I should shrink a bit, no doubt, and feel sore, but I should defend myself without making a coil; for men, I know, are so, the best of them sometimes. But if you, that have been my husband, and are my child's father, were to offer to humble me so in mine own eyes, and thine, and his, either I should spit in thy face, Gerard, or, as I am not a downright vulgar woman, I should snatch the first weapon at hand and strike thee dead."
And Margaret's eyes flashed fire, and her nostrils expanded, that it was glorious to see; and no one that did see her could doubt her sincerity.
"I had not the sense to see that," said Gerard quietly. And he pondered.
Margaret eyed him in silence, and soon recovered her composure.
"Let not you and I dispute," said she gently; "speak we of other things. Ask me of thy folk."
"Well, and warms to thee and me. Poor soul, a drew glaive on those twain that day, but Jorian Ketel and I we mastered him, and he drove them forth his house for ever."
"That may not be; he must take them back."
"That he will never do for us. You know the man; he is dour as iron; yet would he do it for one word from one that will not speak it."
"The vicar of Gouda, The old man will be at the manse to-morrow, I hear."
"How you come back to that."
"Forgive me: I am but a woman. It is us for nagging; shouldst keep me from it wi' questioning of me."
"My sister Kate?"
"What, hath ill befallen e'en that sweet lily? Out and alas!"
"Be calm, sweetheart, no harm hath her befallen. Oh, nay, nay, far fro' that." Then Margaret forced herself to be composed, and in a low, sweet, gentle voice she murmured to him thus:
"My poor Gerard, Kate hath left her trouble behind her. For the manner on't, 'twas like the rest. Ah, such as she saw never thirty, nor ever shall while earth shall last. She smiled in pain too. A well, then, thus 'twas: she was took wi' a languor and a loss of all her pains."
"A loss of her pains? I understand you not."
"Ay, you are not experienced; indeed, e'en thy mother almost blinded herself and said, ''Tis maybe a change for the better.' But Joan Ketel, which is an understanding woman, she looked at her and said, 'Down sun, down wind!' And the gossips sided and said, 'Be brave, you that are her mother, for she is half way to the saints.' And thy mother wept sore, but Kate would not let her; and one very ancient woman, she said to thy mother, 'She will die as easy as she lived hard.' And she lay painless best part of three days, a sipping of heaven afore-hand, And, my dear, when she was just parting, she asked for 'Gerard's little boy,' and I brought him and set him on the bed, and the little thing behaved as peaceably as he does now. But by this time she was past speaking; but she pointed to a drawer, and her mother knew what to look for: it was two gold angels thou hadst given her years ago. Poor soul! she had kept then, till thou shouldst come home. And she nodded towards the little boy, and looked anxious; but we understood her, and put the pieces in his two hands, and when his little fingers closed on them, she smiled content. And so she gave her little earthly treasures to her favourite's child—for you were her favourite—and her immortal jewel to God, and passed so sweetly we none of us knew justly when she left us. Well-a-day, well-a-day!"
"She hath not left her like on earth," he sobbed. "Oh, how the affections of earth curl softly round my heart! I cannot help it; God made them after all. Speak on, sweet Margaret at thy voice the past rolls its tides back upon me; the loves and the hopes of youth come fair and gliding into my dark cell, and darker bosom, on waves of memory and music."
"Gerard, I am loth to grieve you, but Kate cried a little when she first took ill at you not being there to close her eyes."
"You were within a league, but hid your face from her."
"There, forgive me for nagging; I am but a woman; you would not have been so cruel to your own flesh and blood knowingly, would you?"
"Well, then, know that thy brother Sybrandt lies in my charge with a broken back, fruit of thy curse."
"Mea culpa! mea culpa!"
"He is very penitent; be yourself and forgive him this night."
"I have forgiven him long ago."
"Think you he can believe that from any mouth but yours? Come! he is but about two butts' length hence."
"So near? Why, where?"
"At Gouda manse. I took him there yestreen. For I know you, the curse was scarce cold on your lips when you repented it" (Gerard nodded assent), "and I said to myself, Gerard will thank me for taking Sybrandt to die under his roof; he will not beat his breast and cry mea culpa, yet grudge three footsteps to quiet a withered brother on his last bed. He may have a bee in his bonnet, but he is not a hypocrite, a thing all pious words and uncharitable deeds."
Gerard literally staggered where he sat at this tremendous thrust.
"Forgive me for nagging," said she. "Thy mother too is waiting for thee. Is it well done to keep her on thorns so long She will not sleep this night, Bethink thee, Gerard, she is all to thee that I am to this sweet child. Ah, I think so much more of mothers since I had my little Gerard. She suffered for thee, and nursed thee, and tended thee from boy to man. Priest monk, hermit, call thyself what thou wilt, to her thou art but one thing; her child."
"Where is she?" murmured Gerard, in a quavering voice.
"At Gouda manse, wearing the night in prayer and care."
Then Margaret saw the time was come for that appeal to his reason she had purposely reserved till persuasion should have paved the way for conviction. So the smith first softens the iron by fire, and then brings down the sledge hammer.
She showed him, but in her own good straightforward Dutch, that his present life was only a higher kind of selfishness, spiritual egotism; whereas a priest had no more right to care only for his own soul than only for his own body. That was not his path to heaven. "But," said she, "whoever yet lost his soul by saving the souls of others! the Almighty loves him who thinks of others; and when He shall see thee caring for the souls of the folk the duke hath put into thine hand, He will care ten times more for thy soul than He does now."
Gerard was struck by this remark. "Art shrewd in dispute," said he.
"Far from it," was the reply, "only my eyes are not bandaged with conceit.(1) So long as Satan walks the whole earth, tempting men, and so long as the sons of Belial do never lock themselves in caves, but run like ants to and fro corrupting others, the good man that skulks apart plays the devil's game, or at least gives him the odds: thou a soldier of Christ? ask thy Comrade Denys, who is but a soldier of the duke, ask him if ever he skulked in a hole and shunned the battle because forsooth in battle is danger as well as glory and duty. For thy sole excuse is fear; thou makest no secret on't, Go to, no duke nor king hath such cowardly soldiers as Christ hath. What was that you said in the church at Rotterdam about the man in the parable that buried his talent in the earth, and so offended the giver? Thy wonderful gift for preaching, is it not a talent, and a gift from thy Creator?"
"Certes; such as it is."
"And hast thou laid it out? or buried it? To whom hast thou preached these seven months? to bats and owls? Hast buried it in one hole with thyself and thy once good wits?
"The Dominicans are the friars preachers. 'Tis for preaching they were founded, so thou art false to Dominic as well as to his Master.
"Do you remember, Gerard, when we were young together, which now are old before our time, as we walked handed in the fields, did you but see a sheep cast, ay, three fields off, you would leave your sweetheart (by her good will) and run and lift the sheep for charity? Well, then, at Gouda is not one sheep in evil plight, but a whole flock; some cast, some strayed, some sick, some tainted, some a being devoured, and all for the want of a shepherd. Where is their shepherd? lurking in a den like a wolf, a den in his own parish; out fie! out fie!
"I scented thee out, in part, by thy kindness to the little birds. Take note, you Gerard Eliassoen must love something, 'tis in your blood; you were born to't. Shunning man, you do but seek earthly affection a peg lower than man."
Gerard interrupted her. "The birds are God's creatures, His innocent creatures, and I do well to love them, being God's creatures."
"What, are they creatures of the same God that we are, that he is who lies upon thy knee?"
"You know they are."
"Then what pretence for shunning us and being kind to them? Sith man is one of the animals, why pick him out to shun? Is't because he is of animals the paragon? What, you court the young of birds, and abandon your own young? Birds need but bodily food, and having wings, deserve scant pity if they cannot fly and find it. But that sweet dove upon thy knee, he needeth not carnal only, but spiritual food. He is thine as well as mine; and I have done my share. He will soon be too much for me, and I look to Gouda's parson to teach him true piety and useful lore. Is he not of more value than many sparrows?"
Gerard started and stammered an affirmation. For she waited for his reply.
"You wonder," continued she, "to hear me quote holy writ so glib. I have pored over it this four years, and why? Not because God wrote it, but because I saw it often in thy hands ere thou didst leave me. Heaven forgive me, I am but a woman. What thinkest thou of this sentence? 'Let your work so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven!' What is a saint in a sink better than 'a light under a bushel!'
"Therefore, since the sheep committed to thy charge bleat for thee and cry, 'Oh desert us no longer, but come to Gouda manse;' since I, who know thee ten times better than thou knowest thyself, do pledge my soul it is for thy soul's weal to go to Gouda manse—since duty to thy child, too long abandoned, calls thee to Gouda manse—since thy sovereign, whom holy writ again bids thee honour, sends thee to Gouda manse—since the Pope, whom the Church teaches thee to revere hath absolved thee of thy monkish vows, and orders thee to Gouda manse—"
"Since thy grey-haired mother watches for thee in dole and care, and turneth oft the hour-glass and sigheth sore that thou comest so slow to her at Gouda manse—since thy brother, withered by thy curse, awaits thy forgiveness and thy prayers for his soul, now lingering in his body, at Gouda manse—take thou in thine arms the sweet bird wi' crest of gold that nestles to thy bosom, and give me thy hand; thy sweetheart erst and wife, and now thy friend, the truest friend to thee this night that ere man had, and come with me to Gouda manse!"
"IT IS THE VOICE OF AN ANGEL!" cried Clement loudly.
"Then hearken it, and come forth to Gouda manse!"
The battle was won.
Margaret lingered behind, cast her eye rapidly round the furniture, and selected the Vulgate and the psaltery. The rest she sighed at, and let it lie. The breastplate and the cilice of bristles she took and dashed with feeble ferocity on the floor.
Then seeing Gerard watch her with surprise from the outside, she coloured and said, "I am but a woman: 'little' will still be 'spiteful.'"
"Why encumber thyself with those? They are safe."
"Oh, she had a reason."
And with this they took the road to Gouda parsonage, The moon and stars were so bright, it seemed almost as light as day.
Suddenly Gerard stopped. "My poor little birds!"
"What of them?"
"They will miss their food. I feed them every day."
"The child hath a piece of bread in his cowl, Take that, and feed them now against the morn."
"I will. Nay, I will not, He is as innocent, and nearer to me and to thee."
Margaret drew a long breath, "'Tis well, Hadst taken it, I might have hated thee; I am but a woman."
When they had gone about a quarter of a mile, Gerard sighed.
"Margaret," said he, "I must e'en rest; he is too heavy for me."
"Then give him me, and take thou these. Alas! alas! I mind when thou wouldst have run with the child on one shoulder, and the mother on t'other."
And Margaret carried the boy.
"I trow," said Gerard, looking down, "overmuch fasting is not good for a man."
"A many die of it each year, winter time," replied Margaret.
Gerard pondered these simple words, and eyed her askant, carrying the child with perfect ease. When they had gone nearly a mile he said with considerable surprise, "You thought it was but two butts' length."
"Why, you said so."
"That is another matter." She then turned on him the face of a Madonna. "I lied," said she sweetly. "And to save your soul and body, I'd maybe tell a worse lie than that, at need. I am but a woman, Ah, well, it is but two butts' length from here at any rate."
"Without a lie?"
"Humph! Three, without a lie."
And sure enough, in a few minutes they came up to the manse.
A candle was burning in the vicar's parlour. "She is waking still," whispered Margaret.
"Beautiful! beautiful!" said Clement, and stopped to look at it.
"What, in Heaven's name?"
"That little candle, seen through the window at night. Look an it be not like some fair star of size prodigious: it delighteth the eyes, and warmeth the heart of those outside."
"Come, and I'll show thee something better," said Margaret, and led him on tiptoe to the window.
They looked in, and there was Catherine kneeling on the hassock, with her "hours" before her.
"Folk can pray out of a cave," whispered Margaret. "Ay and hit heaven with their prayers; for 'tis for a sight of thee she prayeth, and thou art here. Now, Gerard, be prepared; she is not the woman you knew her; her children's troubles have greatly broken the brisk, light-hearted soul. And I see she has been weeping e'en now; she will have given thee up, being so late."
"Let me get to her," said Clement hastily, trembling all over.
"That door! I will bide here."
When Gerard was gone to the door, Margaret, fearing the sudden surprise, gave one sharp tap at the window and cried, "Mother!" in a loud, expressive voice that Catherine read at once. She clasped her hands together and had half risen from her kneeling posture when the door burst open and Clement flung himself wildly on his knees at her knees, with his arms out to embrace her. She uttered a cry such as only a mother could, "Ah! my darling, my darling!" and clung sobbing round his neck. And true it was, she saw neither a hermit, a priest, nor a monk, but just her child, lost, and despaired of, and in her arms, And after a little while Margaret came in, with wet eyes and cheeks, and a holy calm of affection settled by degrees on these sore troubled ones. And they sat all three together, hand in hand, murmuring sweet and loving converse; and he who sat in the middle drank right and left their true affection and their humble but genuine wisdom, and was forced to eat a good nourishing meal, and at daybreak was packed off to a snowy bed, and by and by awoke, as from a hideous dream, friar and hermit no more, Clement no more, but Gerard Eliassoen, parson of Gouda.
(1) I think she means prejudice.
Margaret went back to Rotterdam long ere Gerard awoke, and actually left her boy behind her. She sent the faithful, sturdy Reicht off to Gouda directly with a vicar's grey frock and large felt hat, and with minute instructions how to govern her new master.
Then she went to Jorian Ketel; for she said to herself, "he is the closest I ever met, so he is the man for me," and in concert with him she did two mortal sly things; yet not, in my opinion, virulent, though she thought they were; but if I am asked what were these deeds without a name, the answer is, that as she, who was, 'but a woman,' kept them secret till her dying day, I, who am a man—"Verbum non amplius addam."
She kept away from Gouda parsonage.
Things that pass little noticed in the heat of argument sometimes rankle afterwards; and when she came to go over all that had passed, she was offended at Gerard thinking she could ever forget the priest in the some time lover, "For what did he take me?" said she. And this raised a great shyness which really she would not otherwise have felt, being downright innocent, And pride sided with modesty, and whispered, "Go no more to Gouda parsonage."
She left little Gerard there to complete the conquest her maternal heart ascribed to him, not to her own eloquence and sagacity, and to anchor his father for ever to humanity.
But this generous stroke of policy cost her heart dear. She had never yet been parted from her boy an hour, and she felt sadly strange as well as desolate without him. After the first day it became intolerable; and what does the poor soul do, but creep at dark up to Gouda parsonage, and lurk about the premises like a thief till she saw Reicht Heynes in the kitchen alone, Then she tapped softly at the window and said, "Reicht, for pity's sake bring him out to me unbeknown." With Margaret the person who occupied her thoughts at the time ceased to have a name, and sank to a pronoun.
Reicht soon found an excuse for taking little Gerard out, and there was a scene of mutual rapture, followed by mutual tears when mother and boy parted again.
And it was arranged that Reicht should take him half way to Rotterdam every day, at a set hour, and Margaret meet them. And at these meetings, after the raptures, and after mother and child had gambolled together like a young cat and her first kitten, the boy would sometimes amuse himself alone at their feet, and the two women generally seized this opportunity to talk very seriously about Luke Peterson, This began thus:
"Reicht," said Margaret, "I as good as promised him to marry Luke Peterson. 'Say you the word,' quoth I, 'and I'll wed him.'"
"Prithee, why poor Luke?"
"To be bandied about so, atwixt yea and nay."
"Why, Reicht, you have not ever been so simple as to cast an eye of affection on the boy, that you take his part?"
"Me?" said Reicht, with a toss of the head.
"Oh, I ask your pardon. Well, then, you can do me a good turn."
"Whisht! whisper! that little darling is listening to every word, and eyes like saucers."
On this both their heads would have gone under one cap.
Two women plotting against one boy? Oh, you great cowardly serpents!
But when these stolen meetings had gone on for about five days Margaret began to feel the injustice of it, and to be irritated as well as unhappy.
And she was crying about it when a cart came to her door, and in it, clean as a new penny, his beard close shaved, his hands white as snow, and a little colour in his pale face, sat the Vicar of Gouda in the grey frock and large felt hat she had sent him.
She ran upstairs directly, and washed away all traces of her tears, and put on a cap, which being just taken out of the drawer was cleaner, theoretically, than the one she had on, and came down to him.
He seized both her hands and kissed them, and a tear fell upon them. She turned her head away at that to hide her own which started.
"My sweet Margaret," he cried, "why is this? Why hold you aloof from your own good deed? we have been waiting for you every day, and no Margaret."
"You said things."
"What! when I was a hermit, and a donkey."
"Ay! no matter, you said things. And you had no reason."
"Forget all I said there. Who hearkens the ravings of a maniac? for I see now that in a few months more I should have been a gibbering idiot; yet no mortal could have persuaded me away but you. Oh what an outlay of wit and goodness was yours! But it is not here I can thank and bless you as I ought. No, it is in the home you have given me, among the sheep whose shepherd you have made me; already I love them dearly; there it is I must thank 'the truest friend ever man had.' So now I say to you as erst you said to me, come to Gouda manse."
"Humph! we will see about that."
"Why, Margaret, think you I had ever kept the dear child so long, but that I made sure you would be back to him from day to day? Oh he curls round my very heartstrings, but what is my title to him compared to thine? Confess now, thou hast had hard thoughts of me for this."
"Nay, nay, not I. Ah! thou art thyself again; wast ever thoughtful of others. I have half a mind to go to Gouda manse, for your saying that."
"Come then, with half thy mind, 'tis worth the whole of other folk's."
"Well, I dare say I will; but there is no such mighty hurry," said she coolly (she was literally burning to go). "Tell me first how you agree with your folk."
"Why, already my poor have taken root in my heart."
"I thought as much."
"And there are such good creatures among them; simple and rough, and superstitious, but wonderfully good."
"Oh I leave you alone for seeing a grain of good among a bushel of ill."
"Whisht! whisht! And Margaret, two of them have been ill friends for four years, and came to the manse each to get on my blind side. But give the glory to God I got on their bright side, and made them friends, and laugh at themselves for their folly."
"But are you in very deed their vicar? answer me that."
"Certes; have I not been to the bishop and taken the oath, and rung the church bell, and touched the altar, the missal, and the holy cup before the church-wardens? And they have handed me the parish seal; see, here it is. Nay, 'tis a real vicar inviting a true friend to Gouda manse."
"Then my mind is at ease. Tell me oceans more."
"Well, sweet one, nearest to me of all my parish is a poor cripple that my guardian angel and his (her name thou knowest even by this turning of thy head away) hath placed beneath my roof. Sybrandt and I are that we never were till now, brothers. 'Twould gladden thee, yet sadden thee to hear how we kissed and forgave one another. He is full of thy praises, and wholly in a pious mind; he says he is happier since his trouble than e'er he was in the days of his strength. Oh! out of my house he ne'er shall go to any place but heaven."
"Tell me somewhat that happened thyself, poor soul! All this is good, but yet no tidings to me. Do I not know thee of old?"
"Well, let me see. At first I was much dazzled by the sun-light, and could not go abroad (owl!), but that is passed; and good Reicht Heynes—humph!"
"What of her?"
"This to thine ear only, for she is a diamond. Her voice goes through me like a knife, and all voices seem loud but thine, which is so mellow sweet. Stay, now I'll fit ye with tidings; I spake yesterday with an old man that conceits he is ill-tempered, and sweats to pass for such with others, but oh! so threadbare, and the best good heart beneath."
"Why, 'tis a parish of angels," said Margaret ironically.
"Then why dost thou keep out on't?" retorted Gerard. "Well, he was telling me there was no parish in Holland where the devil hath such power as at Gouda; and among his instances, says he, 'We had a hermit, the holiest in Holland; but being Gouda, the devil came for him this week, and took him, bag and baggage; not a ha'porth of him left but a goodish piece of his skin, just for all the world like a hedgehog's, and a piece o' old iron furbished up.'"
"Ay, but," continued Gerard, "the strange thing is, the cave has verily fallen in; and had I been so perverse as resist thee, it had assuredly buried me dead there where I had buried myself alive. Therefore in this I see the finger of Providence, condemning my late, approving my present, way of life. What sayest thou?"
"Nay, can I pierce the like mysteries? I am but a woman."
"Somewhat more, methinks. This very tale proves thee my guardian angel, and all else avouches it, so come to Gouda manse."
"Well, go you on, I'll follow."
"Nay, in the cart with me."
"Can I tell why and wherefore, being a woman? All I know is I seem—to feel—to wish—to come alone."
"So be it then. I leave thee the cart, being, as thou sayest, a woman, and I'll go a-foot, being a man again, with the joyful tidings of thy coming."
When Margaret reached the manse the first thing she saw was the two Gerards together, the son performing his capriccios on the plot, and the father slouching on a chair, in his great hat, with pencil and paper, trying very patiently to sketch him.
After a warm welcome he showed her his attempts. "But in vain I strive to fix him," said he, "for he is incarnate quick silver, Yet do but note his changes, infinite, but none ungracious; all is supple and easy; and how he melteth from one posture to another," He added presently, "Woe to illuminators I looking on thee, sir baby, I see what awkward, lopsided, ungainly toads I and my fellows painted missals with, and called them cherubs and seraphs," Finally he threw the paper away in despair, and Margaret conveyed it secretly into her bosom.
At night when they sat round the peat fire he bade them observe how beautiful the brass candlesticks and other glittering metals were in the glow from the hearth. Catherine's eyes sparkled at this observation, "And oh the sheets I lie in here," said he, "often my conscience pricketh me, and saith, 'Who art thou to lie in lint like web of snow?' Dives was ne'er so flaxed as I. And to think that there are folk in the world that have all the beautiful things which I have here yet not content. Let them pass six months in a hermit's cell, seeing no face of man, then will they find how lovely and pleasant this wicked world is, and eke that men and women are God's fairest creatures. Margaret was always fair, but never to my eye so bright as now." Margaret shook her head incredulously, Gerard continued, "My mother was ever good and kind, but I noted not her exceeding comeliness till now."
"Nor I neither," said Catherine; "a score years ago I might pass in a crowd, but not now."
Gerard declared to her that each age had its beauty. "See this mild grey eye," said he, "that hath looked motherly love upon so many of us, all that love hath left its shadow, and that shadow is a beauty which defieth Time. See this delicate lip, these pure white teeth. See this well-shaped brow, where comliness Just passeth into reverence. Art beautiful in my eyes, mother dear."
"And that is enough for me, my darling, 'Tis time you were in bed, child. Ye have to preach the morn."
And Reicht Heynes and Catherine interchanged a look which said, "We two have an amiable maniac to superintend; calls everything beautiful."
The next day was Sunday, and they heard him preach in his own church. It was crammed with persons, who came curious, but remained devout. Never was his wonderful gift displayed more powerfully; he was himself deeply moved by the first sight of all his people, and his bowels yearned over this flock he had so long neglected. In a single sermon, which lasted two hours and seemed to last but twenty minutes, he declared the whole scripture: he terrified the impenitent and thoughtless, confirmed the wavering, consoled the bereaved and the afflicted, uplifted the heart of the poor, and when he ended, left the multitude standing rapt, and unwilling to believe the divine music of his voice and soul had ceased.
Need I say that two poor women in a corner sat entranced, with streaming eyes.
"Wherever gat he it all?" whispered Catherine, with her apron to her eyes. "By our Lady not from me."
As soon as they were by themselves Margaret threw her arms round Catherine's neck and kissed her.
"Mother, mother, I am not quite a happy woman, but oh I am a proud one."
And she vowed on her knees never by word or deed to let her love come between this young saint and Heaven.
Reader, did you ever stand by the seashore after a storm, when the wind happens to have gone down suddenly? The waves cannot cease with their cause; indeed, they seem at first to the ear to lash the sounding shore more fiercely than while the wind blew. Still we are conscious that inevitable calm has begun, and is now but rocking them to sleep. So it was with those true and tempest-tossed lovers from that eventful night when they went hand in hand beneath the stars from Gouda hermitage to Gouda manse.
At times a loud wave would every now and then come roaring, but it was only memory's echo of the tempest that had swept their lives; the storm itself was over, and the boiling waters began from that moment to go down, down, down, gently, but inevitably.
This image is to supply the place of interminable details that would be tedious and tame. What best merits attention at present is the general situation, and the strange complication of feeling that arose from it. History itself, though a far more daring story-teller than romance, presents few things so strange(1) as the footing on which Gerard and Margaret now lived for many years. United by present affection, past familiarity, and a marriage irregular but legal; separated by Holy Church and by their own consciences, which sided unreservedly with Holy Church; separated by the Church, but united by a living pledge of affection, lawful in every sense at its date.
And living but a few miles from one another, and she calling his mother "mother," For some years she always took her boy to Gouda on Sunday, returning home at dark, Go when she would, it was always fete at Gouda manse, and she was received like a little queen. Catherine in these days was nearly always with her, and Eli very often, Tergou had so little to tempt them compared with Rotterdam; and at last they left it altogether, and set up in the capital.
And thus the years glided; so barren now of striking incidents, so void of great hopes, and free from great fears, and so like one another, that without the help of dates I could scarcely indicate the progress of time.
However, early next year, 1471, the Duchess of Burgundy, with the open dissent, but secret connivance of the Duke, raised forces to enable her dethroned brother, Edward the Fourth of England, to invade that kingdom; our old friend Denys thus enlisted, and passing through Rotterdam to the ships, heard on his way that Gerard was a priest, and Margaret alone. On this he told Margaret that marriage was not a habit of his, but that as his comrade had put it out of his own power to keep troth, he felt bound to offer to keep it for him; "for a comrade's honour is dear to us as our own," said he.
She stared, then smiled, "I choose rather to be still thy she-comrade," said she; "closer acquainted, we might not agree so well," And in her character of she-comrade she equipped him with a new sword of Antwerp make, and a double handful of silver. "I give thee no gold," said she, "for 'tis thrown away as quick as silver, and harder to win back. Heaven send thee safe out of all thy perils; there be famous fair women yonder to beguile thee, with their faces, as well as men to hash thee with their axes."
He was hurried on board at La Vere, and never saw Gerard at that time.
In 1473 Sybrandt began to fail. His pitiable existence had been sweetened by his brother's inventive tenderness and his own contented spirit, which, his antecedents considered, was truly remarkable, As for Gerard, the day never passed that he did not devote two hours to him; reading or singing to him, praying with him, and drawing him about in a soft carriage Margaret and he had made between them. When the poor soul found his end near, he begged Margaret might be sent for. She came at once, and almost with his last breath he sought once more that forgiveness she had long ago accorded. She remained by him till the last; and he died, blessing and blessed, in the arms of the two true lovers he had parted for life. Tantum religio scit suadere boni.
1474 there was a wedding in Margaret's house, Luke Peterson and Reicht Heynes.
This may seem less strange if I give the purport of the dialogue interrupted some time back.
Margaret went on to say, "Then in that case you can easily make him fancy you, and for my sake you must, for my conscience it pricketh me, and I must needs fit him with a wife, the best I know." Margaret then instructed Reicht to be always kind and good-humoured to Luke; and she would be a model of peevishness to him, "But be not thou so simple as run me down," said she, "Leave that to me. Make thou excuses for me; I will make myself black enow."
Reicht received these instructions like an order to sweep a room, and obeyed them punctually.
When they had subjected poor Luke to this double artillery for a couple of years, he got to look upon Margaret as his fog and wind, and Reicht as his sunshine; and his affections transferred themselves, he scarce knew how or when.
On the wedding day Reicht embraced Margaret, and thanked her almost with tears. "He was always my fancy," said she, "from the first hour I clapped eyes on him."
"Heyday, you never told me that. What, Reicht, are you as sly as the rest?"
"Nay, nay," said Reicht eagerly; "but I never thought you would really part with him to me. In my country the mistress looks to be served before the maid."
Margaret settled them in her shop, and gave them half the profits.
1476 and 7 were years of great trouble to Gerard, whose conscience compelled him to oppose the Pope. His Holiness, siding with the Grey Friars in their determination to swamp every palpable distinction between the Virgin Mary and her Son, bribed the Christian world into his crotchet by proffering pardon of all sins to such as would add to the Ave Mary this clause: "and blessed be thy Mother Anna, from whom, without blot of sin, proceeded thy virgin flesh."
Gerard, in common with many of the northern clergy, held this sentence to be flat heresy. He not only refused to utter it in his church, but warned his parishioners against using it in private; and he refused to celebrate the new feast the Pope invented at the same time, viz., "the feast of the miraculous conception of the Virgin."
But this drew upon him the bitter enmity of the Franciscans, and they were strong enough to put him into more than one serious difficulty, and inflict many a little mortification on him. In emergencies he consulted Margaret, and she always did one of two things, either she said, "I do not see my way," and refused to guess; or else she gave him advice that proved wonderfully sagacious. He had genius, but she had marvellous tact.
And where affection came in and annihilated the woman's judgment, he stepped in his turn to her aid. Thus though she knew she was spoiling little Gerard, and Catherine was ruining him for life, she would not part with him, but kept him at home, and his abilities uncultivated. And there was a shrewd boy of nine years, instead of learning to work and obey, playing about and learning selfishness from their infinite unselfishness, and tyrannizing with a rod of iron over two women, both of them sagacious and spirited, but reduced by their fondness for him to the exact level of idiots.
Gerard saw this with pain, and interfered with mild but firm remonstrance; and after a considerable struggle prevailed, and got little Gerard sent to the best school in Europe, kept by one Haaghe at Deventer: this was in 1477. Many tears were shed, but the great progress the boy made at that famous school reconciled Margaret in some degree, and the fidelity of Reicht Heynes, now her partner in business, enabled her to spend weeks at a time hovering over her boy at Deventer.
And so the years glided; and these two persons, subjected to as strong and constant a temptation as can well be conceived, were each other's guardian angels, and not each other's tempters.
To be sure the well-greased morality of the next century, which taught that solemn vows to God are sacred in proportion as they are reasonable, had at that time entered no single mind; and the alternative to these two minds was self-denial or sacrilege.
It was a strange thing to hear them talk with unrestrained tenderness to one another of their boy, and an icy barrier between themselves all the time.
Eight years had now passed thus, and Gerard, fairly compared with men in general, was happy.
But Margaret was not.
The habitual expression of her face was a sweet pensiveness, but sometimes she was irritable and a little petulant. She even snapped Gerard now and then. And when she went to see him, if a monk was with him she would turn her back and go home. She hated the monks for having parted Gerard and her, and she inoculated her boy with a contempt for them which lasted him till his dying day.
Gerard bore with her like an angel. He knew her heart of gold, and hoped this ill gust would blow over.
He himself being now the right man in the right place this many years, loving his parishioners, and beloved by them, and occupied from morn till night in good works, recovered the natural cheerfulness of his disposition. To tell the truth, a part of his jocoseness was a blind; he was the greatest peace-maker, except Mr. Harmony in the play, that ever was born. He reconciled more enemies in ten years than his predecessors had done in three hundred; and one of his manoeuvres in the peacemaking art was to make the quarrellers laugh at the cause of quarrel. So did he undermine the demon of discord. But independently of that, he really loved a harmless joke. He was a wonderful tamer of animals, squirrels, bares, fawns, etc. So half in jest a parishioner who had a mule supposed to be possessed with a devil gave it him and said, "Tame this vagabone, parson, if ye can." Well, in about six months, Heaven knows how, he not only tamed Jack, but won his affections to such a degree, that Jack would come running to his whistle like a dog.
One day, having taken shelter from a shower on the stone settle outside a certain public-house, he heard a toper inside, a stranger, boasting he could take more at a draught than any man in Gouda. He instantly marched in and said, "What, lads, do none of ye take him up for the honour of Gouda? Shall it be said that there came hither one from another parish a greater sot than any of us? Nay, then, I your parson do take him up. Go to, I'll find thee a parishioner shall drink more at a draught than thou."
A bet was made; Gerard whistled; in clattered Jack—for he was taught to come into a room with the utmost composure—and put his nose into his backer's hand.
"A pair of buckets!" shouted Gerard, "and let us see which of these two sons of asses can drink most at a draught."
On another occasion two farmers had a dispute whose hay was the best. Failing to convince each other, they said, "We'll ask parson;" for by this time he was their referee in every mortal thing.
"How lucky you thought of me!" said Gerard, "Why, I have got one staying with me who is the best judge of hay in Holland. Bring me a double handful apiece."
So when they came, he had them into the parlour, and put each bundle on a chair. Then he whistled, and in walked Jack.
"Lord a mercy!" said one of the farmers.
"Jack," said the parson, in the tone of conversation, "just tell us which is the best hay of these two."
Jack sniffed them both, and made his choice directly, proving his sincerity by eating every morsel. The farmers slapped their thighs, and scratched their heads. "To think of we not thinking o' that," And they each sent Jack a truss.
So Gerard got to be called the merry parson of Gouda. But Margaret, who like most loving women had no more sense of humour than a turtle-dove, took this very ill. "What!" said she to herself, "is there nothing sore at the bottom of his heart that he can go about playing the zany?" She could understand pious resignation and content, but not mirth, in true lovers parted. And whilst her woman's nature was perturbed by this gust (and women seem more subject to gusts than men) came that terrible animal, a busybody, to work upon her. Catherine saw she was not happy, and said to her, "Your boy is gone from you. I would not live alone all my days if I were you."
"He is more alone than I," sighed Margaret.
"Oh, a man is a man, but a woman is a woman. You must not think all of him and none of yourself. Near is your kirtle, but nearer is your smock. Besides, he is a priest, and can do no better. But you are not a priest. He has got his parish, and his heart is in that. Bethink thee! Time flies; overstay not thy market. Wouldst not like to have three or four more little darlings about thy knee now they have robbed thee of poor little Gerard, and sent him to yon nasty school?" And so she worked upon a mind already irritated.
Margaret had many suitors ready to marry her at a word or even a look, and among them two merchants of the better class, Van Schelt and Oostwagen. "Take one of those two," said Catherine.
"Well, I will ask Gerard if I may," said Margaret one day, with a flood of tears; "for I cannot go on the way I am."
"Why, you would never be so simple as ask him?"
"Think you I would be so wicked as marry without his leave?"
Accordingly she actually went to Gouda, and after hanging her head, and blushing, and crying, and saying she was miserable, told him his mother wished her to marry one of those two; and if he approved of her marrying at all, would he use his wisdom, and tell her which he thought would be the kindest to the little Gerard of those two; for herself, she did not care what became of her.
Gerard felt as if she had put a soft hand into his body and torn his heart out with it. But the priest with a mighty effort mastered the man. In a voice scarcely audible he declined this responsibility. "I am not a saint or a prophet," said he; "I might advise thee ill. I shall read the marriage service for thee," faltered he; "it is my right. No other would pray for thee as I should. But thou must choose for thyself; and oh! let me see thee happy. This four months past thou hast not been happy."
"A discontented mind is never happy," said Margaret.
She left him, and he fell on his knees, and prayed for help from above.
Margaret went home pale and agitated. "Mother," said she, "never mention it to me again, or we shall quarrel."
"He forbade you? Well, more shame for him, that is all."
"He forbid me? He did not condescend so far. He was as noble as I was paltry. He would not choose for me for fear of choosing me an ill husband. But he would read the service for my groom and me; that was his right. Oh, mother, what a heartless creature I was!"