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The Cloister and the Hearth
by Charles Reade
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"Well, I thought not he had that much sense."

"Ah, you go by the poor soul's words, but I rate words as air when the face speaketh to mine eye. I saw the priest and the true lover a-fighting in his dear face, and his cheek pale with the strife, and oh! his poor lip trembled as he said the stout-hearted words—Oh! oh! oh! oh! oh! oh! oh!" And Margaret burst into a violent passion of tears.

Catherine groaned. "There, give it up without more ado," said she. "You two are chained together for life; and if God is merciful, that won't be for long; for what are you neither maid, wife, nor widow."

"Give it up?" said Margaret; "that was done long ago. All I think of now is comforting him; for now I have been and made him unhappy too, wretch and monster that I am."

So the next day they both went to Gouda. And Gerard, who had been praying for resignation all this time, received her with peculiar tenderness as a treasure he was to lose; but she was agitated and eager to let him see without words that she would never marry, and she fawned on him like a little dog to be forgiven. And as she was going away she murmured, "Forgive! and forget! I am but a woman."

He misunderstood her, and said, "All I bargain for is, let me see thee content; for pity's sake, let me not see thee unhappy as I have this while."

"My darling, you never shall again," said Margaret, with streaming eyes, and kissed his hand.

He misunderstood this too at first; but when month after month passed, and he heard no more of her marriage, and she came to Gouda comparatively cheerful, and was even civil to Father Ambrose, a mild benevolent monk from the Dominican convent hard by—then he understood her; and one day he invited her to walk alone with him in the sacred paddock; and before I relate what passed between them, I must give its history.

When Gerard had been four or five days at the manse, looking out of window he uttered an exclamation of joy. "Mother, Margaret, here is one of my birds: another, another: four, six, nine. A miracle! a miracle!"

"Why, how can you tell your birds from their fellows?" said Catherine.

"I know every feather in their wings. And see; there is the little darling whose claw I gilt, bless it!"

And presently his rapture took a serious turn, and he saw Heaven's approbation in this conduct of the birds as he did in the fall of the cave. This wonderfully kept alive his friendship for animals; and he enclosed a paddock, and drove all the sons of Cain from it with threats of excommunication, "On this little spot of earth we'll have no murder," said he. He tamed leverets and partridges, and little birds, and hares, and roe-deer. He found a squirrel with a broken leg; he set it with infinite difficulty and patience; and during the cure showed it repositories of acorns, nuts, chestnuts, etc. And this squirrel got well and went off, but visited him in hard weather, and brought a mate, and next year little squirrels were found to have imbibed their parents' sentiments, and of all these animals each generation was tamer than the last. This set the good parson thinking, and gave him the true clue to the great successes of mediaeval hermits in taming wild animals.

He kept the key of this paddock, and never let any man but himself enter it; nor would he even let little Gerard go there without him or Margaret. "Children are all little Cains," said he. In this oasis, then, he spoke to Margaret, and said, "Dear Margaret, I have thought more than ever of thee of late, and have asked myself why I am content, and thou unhappy."

"Because thou art better, wiser, holier than I; that is all," said Margaret promptly.

"Our lives tell another tale," said Gerard thoughtfully. "I know thy goodness and thy wisdom too well to reason thus perversely. Also I know that I love thee as dear as thou, I think, lovest me. Yet am I happier than thou. Why is this so?"

"Dear Gerard, I am as happy as a woman can hope to be this side of the grave."

"Not so happy as I. Now for the reason. First, then, I am a priest, and this, the one great trial and disappointment God giveth me along with so many joys, why, I share it with a multitude. For alas! I am not the only priest by thousands that must never hope for entire earthly happiness. Here, then, thy lot is harder than mine."

"But Gerard, I have my child to love. Thou canst not fill thy heart with him as his mother can, So you may set this against you."

"And I have ta'en him from thee; it was cruel; but he would have broken thy heart one day if I had not. Well then, sweet one, I come to where the shoe pincheth, methinks. I have my parish, and it keeps my heart in a glow from morn till night. There is scarce an emotion that my folk stir not up in me many times a day. Often their sorrows make me weep, sometimes their perversity kindles a little wrath, and their absurdity makes me laugh, and sometimes their flashes of unexpected goodness do set me all of a glow, and I could hug 'em. Meantime thou, poor soul, sittest with heart—

"Of lead, Gerard; of very lead."

"See now how unkind thy lot compared with mine, Now how if thou couldst be persuaded to warm thyself at the fire that warmeth me."

"Ah, if I could?"

"Hast but to will it. Come among my folk. Take in thine hand the alms I set aside, and give it with kind words; hear their sorrows: they shall show you life is full of troubles, and as thou sayest truly, no man or woman without their thorn this side the grave. Indoors I have a map of Gouda parish. Not to o'erburden thee at first, I will put twenty housen under thee with their folk. What sayest thou? but for thy wisdom I had died a dirty maniac,' and ne'er seen Gouda manse, nor pious peace. Wilt profit in turn by what little wisdom I have to soften her lot to whom I do owe all?"

Margaret assented warmly, and a happy thing it was for the little district assigned to her; it was as if an angel had descended on them. Her fingers were never tired of knitting or cutting for them, her heart of sympathizing with them. And that heart expanded and waved its drooping wings; and the glow of good and gentle deed began to spread over it; and she was rewarded in another way by being brought into more contact with Gerard, and also with his spirit. All this time malicious tongues had not been idle. "If there is nought between them more than meets the eye, why doth she not marry?" etc. And I am sorry to say our old friend Joan Ketel was one of these coarse sceptics. And now one winter evening she got on a hot scent. She saw Margaret and Gerard talking earnestly together on the Boulevard. She whipped behind a tree. "Now I'll hear something," said she; and so she did. It was winter; there had been one of those tremendous floods followed by a sharp frost, and Gerard in despair as to where he should lodge forty or fifty houseless folk out of the piercing cold. And now it was, "Oh, dear, dear Margaret, what shall I do? The manse is full of them, and a sharp frost coming on this night."

Margaret reflected, and Joan listened.

"You must lodge them in the church," said Margaret quietly.

"In the church? Profanation."

"No; charity profanes nothing, not even a church; soils nought, not even a church. To-day is but Tuesday. Go save their lives, for a bitter night is coming. Take thy stove into the church, and there house them. We will dispose of them here and there ere the lord's day."

"And I could not think of that; bless thee, sweet Margaret, thy mind is stronger than mine, and readier."

"Nay, nay, a woman looks but a little way, therefore she sees clear. I'll come over myself to-morrow."

And on this they parted with mutual blessings.

Joan glided home remorseful.

And after that she used to check all surmises to their discredit. "Beware," she would say, "lest some angel should blister thy tongue. Gerard and Margaret paramours? I tell ye they are two saints which meet in secret to plot charity to the poor."

In the summer of 1481 Gerard determined to provide against similar disasters recurring to his poor. Accordingly he made a great hole in his income, and bled his friends (zealous parsons always do that) to build a large Xenodochium to receive the victims of flood or fire. Giles and all his friends were kind, but all was not enough; when lo! the Dominican monks of Gouda to whom his parlour and heart had been open for years, came out nobly, and put down a handsome sum to aid the charitable vicar.

"The dear good souls," said Margaret; "who would have thought it?"

"Any one who knows them," said Gerard, "Who more charitable than monks?"

"Go to! They do but give the laity back a pig of their own sow."

"And what more do I? What more doth the duke?"

Then the ambitious vicar must build almshouses for decayed true men in their old age close to the manse, that he might keep and feed them, as well as lodge them. And his money being gone, he asked Margaret for a few thousand bricks and just took off his coat and turned builder; and as he had a good head, and the strength of a Hercules, with the zeal of an artist, up rose a couple of almshouses parson built.

And at this work Margaret would sometimes bring him his dinner, and add a good bottle of Rhenish. And once seeing him run up a plank with a wheelbarrow full of bricks which really most bricklayers would have gone staggering under, she said, "Times are changed since I had to carry little Gerard for thee."

"Ay, dear one, thanks to thee."

When the first home was finished, the question was who they should put into it; and being fastidious over it like a new toy, there was much hesitation. But an old friend arrived in time to settle this question.

As Gerard was passing a public-house in Rotterdam one day, he heard a well-known voice, He looked up, and there was Denys of Burgundy, but sadly changed; his beard stained with grey, and his clothes worn and ragged; he had a cuirass still, and gauntlets, but a staff instead of an arbalest, To the company he appeared to be bragging and boasting, but in reality he was giving a true relation of Edward the Fourth's invasion of an armed kingdom with 2000 men, and his march through the country with armies capable of swallowing him looking on, his battles at Tewkesbury and Barnet, and reoccupation of his capital and kingdom in three months after landing at the Humber with a mixed handful of Dutch, English, and Burgundians.

In this, the greatest feat of arms the century had seen, Denys had shone; and whilst sneering at the warlike pretensions of Charles the Bold, a duke with an itch but no talent for fighting, and proclaiming the English king the first captain of the age, did not forget to exalt himself.

Gerard listened with eyes glittering affection and fun. "And now," said Denys, "after all these feats, patted on the back by the gallant young Prince of Gloucester, and smiled on by the great captain himself, here I am lamed for life; by what? by the kick of a horse, and this night I know not where I shall lay my tired bones. I had a comrade once in these parts that would not have let me lie far from him; but he turned priest and deserted his sweetheart, so 'tis not likely he would remember his comrade. And ten years play sad havoc with our hearts, and limbs, and all." Poor Denys sighed, and Gerard's bowels yearned over him.

"What words are these?" he said, with a great gulp in his throat. "Who grudges a brave soldier supper and bed? Come home with me!"

"Much obliged, but I am no lover of priests."

"Nor I of soldiers; but what is supper and bed between two true men?"

"Not much to you, but something to me. I will come."

"In one hour," said Gerard, and went in high spirits to Margaret, and told her the treat in store, and she must come and share it. She must drive his mother in his little carriage up to the manse with all speed, and make ready an excellent supper. Then he himself borrowed a cart, and drove Denys up rather slowly, to give the women time.

On the road Denys found out this priest was a kind soul, so told him his trouble, and confessed his heart was pretty near broken. "The great use our stout hearts, and arms, and lives till we are worn out, and then fling us away like broken tools." He sighed deeply, and it cost Gerard a great struggle not to hug him then and there, and tell him. But he wanted to do it all like a story book. Who has not had this fancy once in his life? Why Joseph had it; all the better for us.

They landed at the little house. It was as clean as a penny, the hearth blazing, and supper set.

Denys brightened up. "Is this your house, reverend sir?"

"Well, 'tis my work, and with these hands, but 'tis your house."

"Ah, no such luck," said Denys, with a sigh.

"But I say ay," shouted Gerard. "And what is more I—" (gulp) "say—" (gulp) "COURAGE, CAMARADE, LE DIABLE EST MORT!"

Denys started, and almost staggered. "Why, what?" he stammered, "w-wh-who art thou, that bringest me back the merry words and merry days of my youth?" and he was greatly agitated.

"My poor Denys, I am one whose face is changed, but nought else; to my heart, dear, trusty comrade, to my heart," And he opened his arms, with the tears in his eyes. But Denys came close to him, and peered in his face, and devoured every feature; and when he was sure it was really Gerard, he uttered a cry so vehement it brought the women running from the house, and fell upon Gerard's neck, and kissed him again and again, and sank on his knees, and laughed and sobbed with joy so terribly, that Gerard mourned his folly in doing dramas. But the women with their gentle soothing ways soon composed the brave fellow, and he sat smiling, and holding Margaret's hand and Gerard's, And they all supped together, and went to their beds with hearts warm as a toast; and the broken soldier was at peace, and in his own house, and under his comrade's wing.

His natural gaiety returned, and he resumed his consigne after eight years' disuse, and hobbled about the place enlivening it; but offended the parish mortally by calling the adored vicar comrade, and nothing but comrade.

When they made a fuss about this to Gerard, he just looked in their faces and said, "What does it matter? Break him of swearing, and you shall have my thanks."

This year Margaret went to a lawyer to make her will, for without this, she was told, her boy might have trouble some day to get his own, not being born in lawful wedlock. The lawyer, however, in conversation, expressed a different opinion.

"This is the babble of churchmen," said he, "Yours is a perfect marriage, though an irregular one."

He then informed her that throughout Europe, excepting only the southern part of Britain, there were three irregular marriages, the highest of which was hers, viz., a betrothal before witnesses, "This," said he, "if not followed by matrimonial intercourse, is a marriage complete in form, but incomplete in substance. A person so betrothed can forbid any other banns to all eternity. It has, however, been set aside where a party so betrothed contrived to get married regularly, and children were born thereafter. But such a decision was for the sake of the offspring, and of doubtful justice. However, in your case the birth of your child closes that door, and your marriage is complete both in form and substance. Your course, therefore, is to sue for your conjugal rights; it will be the prettiest case of the century. The law is all on our side, the Church all on theirs. If you come to that, the old Batavian law, which compelled the clergy to marry, hath fallen into disuse, but was never formally repealed."

Margaret was quite puzzled. "What are you driving at, sir? Who am I to go to law with?"

"Who is the defendant? Why, the vicar of Gouda."

"Alas, poor soul! And for what shall I law him?"

"Why, to make him take you into his house, and share bed and board with you, to be sure."

Margaret turned red as fire, "Gramercy for your rede," said she, "What, is yon a woman's part? Constrain a man to be hers by force? That is men's way of wooing, not ours. Say I were so ill a woman as ye think me, I should set myself to beguile him, not to law him;" and she departed, crimson with shame and indignation.

"There is an impracticable fool for you," said the man of art.

Margaret had her will drawn elsewhere, and made her boy safe from poverty, marriage or no marriage.

These are the principal incidents that in ten whole years befell two peaceful lives, which in a much shorter period had been so thronged with adventures and emotions.

Their general tenor was now peace, piety, the mild content that lasts, not the fierce bliss ever on tiptoe to depart, and above all, Christian charity.

On this sacred ground these two true lovers met with an uniformity and a kindness of sentiment which went far to soothe the wound in their own hearts, To pity the same bereaved; to hunt in couples all the ills in Gouda, and contrive and scheme together to remedy all that were remediable; to use the rare insight into troubled hearts which their own troubles had given them, and use it to make others happier than themselves—this was their daily practice. And in this blessed cause their passions for one another cooled a little, but their affection increased.

From this time Margaret entered heart and soul into Gerard's pious charities, that affection purged itself of all mortal dross. And as it had now long out-lived scandal and misapprehension, one would have thought that so bright an example of pure self-denying affection was to remain long before the world, to show men how nearly religious faith, even when not quite reasonable, and religious charity, which is always reasonable, could raise two true lovers' hearts to the loving hearts of the angels of heaven. But the great Disposer of events ordered otherwise.

Little Gerard rejoiced both his parents' hearts by the extraordinary progress he made at Alexander Haaghe's famous school at Deventer.

The last time Margaret returned from visiting him, she came to Gerard flushed with pride. "Oh, Gerard, he will be a great man one day, thanks to thy wisdom in taking him from us silly women. A great scholar, one Zinthius, came to see the school and judge the scholars, and didn't our Gerard stand up, and not a line in Horace or Terence could Zinthius cite but the boy would follow him with the rest. 'Why, 'tis a prodigy,' says that great scholar; and there was his poor mother stood by and heard it. And he took our Gerard in his arms, and kissed him; and what think you he said?"

"Nay, I know not."

"'Holland will hear of thee one day; and not Holland only, but all the world,' Why what a sad brow!"

"Sweet one, I am as glad as thou, yet am I uneasy to hear the child is wise before his time, I love him dear; but he is thine idol, and Heaven doth often break our idols."

"Make thy mind easy," said Margaret. "Heaven will never rob me of my child. What I was to suffer in this world I have suffered, For if any ill happened my child or thee, I should not live a week. The Lord He knows this, and He will leave me my boy."

A month had elapsed after this; but Margaret's words were yet ringing in his ears, when, going on his daily round of visits to his poor, he was told quite incidentally, and as mere gossip, that the plague was at Deventer, carried thither by two sailors from Hamburgh.

His heart turned cold within him. News did not gallop in those days. The fatal disease must have been there a long time before the tidings would reach Gouda. He sent a line by a messenger to Margaret, telling her that he was gone to fetch little Gerard to stay at the manse a little while, and would she see a bed prepared, for he should be back next day. And so he hoped she would not hear a word of the danger till it was all happily over. He borrowed a good horse, and scarce drew rein till he reached Deventer, quite late in the afternoon. He went at once to the school. The boy had been taken away.

As he left the school he caught sight of Margaret's face at the window of a neighbouring house she always lodged at when she came to Deventer.

He ran hastily to scold her and pack both her and the boy out of the place.

To his surprise the servant told him with some hesitation that Margaret had been there, but was gone.

"Gone, woman?" said Gerard indignantly, "art not ashamed to say so? Why, I saw her but now at the window."

"Oh, if you saw her—"

A sweet voice above said, "Stay him not, let him enter." It was Margaret.

Gerard ran up the stairs to her, and went to take her hand, She drew back hastily.

He looked astounded.

"I am displeased," she said coldly. "What makes you here? Know you not the plague is in the town?"

"Ay, dear Margaret; and came straightway to take our boy away."

"What, had he no mother?"

"How you speak to me! I hoped you knew not."

"What, think you I leave my boy unwatched? I pay a trusty woman that notes every change in his cheek when I am not here, and lets me know, I am his mother."

"Where is he?"

"In Rotterdam, I hope, ere this."

"Thank Heaven! And why are you not there?"

"I am not fit for the journey; never heed me; go you home on the instant; I'll follow. For shame of you to come here risking your precious life."

"It is not so precious as thine," said Gerard. "But let that pass; we will go home together, and on the instant."

"Nay, I have some matters to do in the town. Go thou at once, and I will follow forthwith."

"Leave thee alone in a plague-stricken town? To whom speak you, dear Margaret?"

"Nay, then, we shall quarrel, Gerard."

"Methinks I see Margaret and Gerard quarrelling! Why, it takes two to quarrel, and we are but one."

With this Gerard smiled on her sweetly. But there was no kind responsive glance. She looked cold, gloomy, and troubled.

He sighed, and sat patiently down opposite her with his face all puzzled and saddened. He said nothing, for he felt sure she would explain her capricious conduct, or it would explain itself.

Presently she rose hastily, and tried to reach her bedroom, but on the way she staggered and put out her hand. He ran to her with a cry of alarm. She swooned in his arms. He laid her gently on the ground, and beat her cold hands, and ran to her bedroom, and fetched water, and sprinkled her pale face. His own was scarce less pale, for in a basin he had seen water stained with blood; it alarmed him, he knew not why. She was a long time ere she revived, and when she did she found Gerard holding her hand, and bending over her with a look of infinite concern and tenderness. She seemed at first as if she responded to it, but the next moment her eyes dilated, and she cried—"Ah, wretch, leave my hand; how dare you touch me?"

"Heaven help her!" said Gerard. "She is not herself."

"You will not leave me, then, Gerard?" said she faintly. "Alas! why do I ask? Would I leave thee if thou wert—At least touch me not, and then I will let thee bide, and see the last of poor Margaret. She ne'er spoke harsh to thee before, sweetheart, and she never will again."

"Alas! what mean these dark words, these wild and troubled looks?" said Gerard, clasping his hands.

"My poor Gerard," said Margaret, "forgive me that I spoke so to thee. I am but a woman, and would have spared thee a sight will make thee weep." She burst into tears. "Ah, me!" she cried, weeping, "that I cannot keep grief from thee; there is a great sorrow before my darling, and this time I shall not be able to come and dry his eyes."

"Let it come, Margaret, so it touch not thee," said Gerard, trembling.

"Dearest," said Margaret solemnly, "call now religion to thine aid and mine. I must have died before thee one day, or else outlived thee and so died of grief."

"Died? thou die? I will never let thee die. Where is thy pain? What is thy trouble?"

"The plague," she said calmly. Gerard uttered a cry of horror, and started to his feet; she read his thought. "Useless," said she quietly. "My nose hath bled; none ever yet survived to whom that came along with the plague. Bring no fools hither to babble over the body they cannot save. I am but a woman; I love not to be stared at; let none see me die but thee."

And even with this a convulsion seized her, and she remained sensible but speechless a long time.

And now for the first time Gerard began to realize the frightful truth, and he ran wildly to and fro, and cried to Heaven for help, as drowning men cry to their fellow-creatures. She raised herself on her arm, and set herself to quiet him.

She told him she had known the torture of hopes and fears, and was resolved to spare him that agony. "I let my mind dwell too much on the danger," said she, "and so opened my brain to it, through which door when this subtle venom enters it makes short work. I shall not be spotted or loathsome, my poor darling; God is good, and spares thee that; but in twelve hours I shall be a dead woman. Ah, look not so, but be a man; be a priest! Waste not one precious minute over my body! it is doomed; but comfort my parting soul."

Gerard, sick and cold at heart, kneeled down, and prayed for help from Heaven to do his duty.

When he rose from his knees his face was pale and old, but deadly calm and patient. He went softly and brought her bed into the room, and laid her gently down and supported her head with pillows. Then he prayed by her side the prayers for the dying, and she said Amen to each prayer. Then for some hours she wandered, but when the fell disease had quite made sure of its prey, her mind cleared, and she begged Gerard to shrive her. "For oh, my conscience it is laden," she said sadly.

"Confess thy sins to me, my daughter: let there be no reserve."

"My father," said she sadly, "I have one great sin on my breast this many years. E'en now that death is at my heart I can scarce own it. But the Lord is debonair; if thou wilt pray to Him, perchance He may forgive me."

"Confess it first, my daughter."

"I—alas!"

"Confess it!"

"I deceived thee. This many years I have deceived thee."

Here tears interrupted her speech.

"Courage, my daughter, courage," said Gerard kindly, overpowering the lover in the priest.

She hid her face in her hands, and with many sighs told him it was she who had broken down the hermit's cave with the help of Jorian Ketel, "I, shallow, did it but to hinder thy return thither; but when thou sawest therein the finger of God, I played the traitress, and said, 'While he thinks so, he will ne'er leave Gouda manse;' and I held my tongue. Oh, false heart."

"Courage, my daughter; thou dost exaggerate a trivial fault."

"Ah, but 'tis not all, The birds."

"Well?"

"They followed thee not to Gouda by miracle, but by my treason. I said, he will ne'er be quite happy without his birds that visited him in his cell; and I was jealous of them, and cried, and said, these foul little things, they are my child's rivals. And I bought loaves of bread, and Jorian and me we put crumbs at the cave door, and thence went sprinkling them all the way to the manse, and there a heap. And my wiles succeeded, and they came, and thou wast glad, and I was pleased to see thee glad; and when thou sawest in my guile the finger of Heaven, wicked, deceitful, I did hold my tongue. But die deceiving thee? ah, no, I could not. Forgive me if thou canst; I was but a woman; I knew no better at the time. 'Twas writ in my bosom with a very sunbeam. ''Tis good for him to bide at Gouda manse.'"

"Forgive thee, sweet innocent?" sobbed Gerard; "what have I to forgive? Thou hadst a foolish froward child to guide to his own weal, and didst all this for the best, I thank thee and bless thee. But as thy confessor, all deceit is ill in Heaven's pure eyes. Therefore thou hast done well to confess and report it; and even on thy confession and penitence the Church through me absolves thee. Pass to thy graver faults."

"My graver faults? Alas! alas! Why, what have I done to compare? I am not an ill woman, not a very ill one. If He can forgive me deceiving thee, He can well forgive me all the rest ever I did."

Being gently pressed, she said she was to blame not to have done more good in the world. "I have just begun to do a little," she said, "and now I must go. But I repine not, since 'tis Heaven's will, only I am so afeard thou wilt miss me." And at this she could not restrain her tears, though she tried hard.

Gerard struggled with his as well as he could; and knowing her life of piety, purity, and charity, and seeing that she could not in her present state realise any sin but her having deceived him, gave her full absolution, Then he put the crucifix in her hand, and while he consecrated the oil, bade her fix her mind neither on her merits nor her demerits, but on Him who died for her on the tree.

She obeyed him with a look of confiding love and submission.

And he touched her eyes with the consecrated oil, and prayed aloud beside her.

Soon after she dosed.

He watched beside her, more dead than alive himself.

When the day broke she awoke, and seemed to acquire some energy. She begged him to look in her box for her marriage lines and for a picture, and bring them both to her. He did so. She then entreated him by all they had suffered for each other, to ease her mind by making a solemn vow to execute her dying requests.

He vowed to obey them to the letter.

"Then, Gerard, let no creature come here to lay me out. I could not bear to be stared at; my very corpse would blush. Also I would not be made a monster of for the worms to sneer at as well as feed on. Also my very clothes are tainted, and shall to earth with me. I am a physician's daughter; and ill becomes me kill folk, being dead, which did so little good to men in the days of health; wherefore lap me in lead, the way I am, and bury me deep! yet not so deep but what one day thou mayst find the way, and lay thy bones by mine.

"Whiles I lived I went to Gouda but once or twice a week. It cost me not to go each day. Let me gain this by dying, to be always at dear Gouda, in the green kirkyard.

"Also they do say the spirit hovers where the body lies; I would have my spirit hover near thee, and the kirkyard is not far from the manse. I am so afeard some ill will happen thee, Margaret being gone.

"And see, with mine own hands I place my marriage lines in my bosom. Let no living hand move them, on pain of thy curse and mine. Then when the angel comes for me at the last day, he shall say, this is an honest woman, she hath her marriage lines (for you know I am your lawful wife, though Holy Church hath come between us), and he will set me where the honest women be. I will not sit among ill women, no, not in heaven for their mind is not my mind, nor their soul my soul. I have stood, unbeknown, at my window, and heard their talk."

For some time she was unable to say any more, but made signs to him that she had not done.

At last she recovered her breath, and bade him look at the picture.

It was the portrait he had made of her when they were young together, and little thought to part so soon. He held it in his hands and looked at it, but could scarce see it. He had left it in fragments, but now it was whole.

"They cut it to pieces, Gerard; but see, Love mocked at their knives.

"I implore thee with my dying breath, let this picture hang ever in thine eye.

"I have heard that such as die of the plague, unspotted, yet after death spots have been known to come out; and oh, I could not bear thy last memory of me to be so. Therefore, as soon as the breath is out of my body, cover my face with this handkerchief, and look at me no more till we meet again, 'twill not be so very long. O promise."

"I promise," said Gerard, sobbing.

"But look on this picture instead. Forgive me; I am but a woman. I could not bear my face to lie a foul thing in thy memory. Nay, I must have thee still think me as fair as I was true. Hast called me an angel once or twice; but be just! did I not still tell thee I was no angel, but only a poor simple woman, that whiles saw clearer than thou because she looked but a little way, and that loves thee dearly, and never loved but thee, and now with her dying breath prays thee indulge her in this, thou that art a man."

"I will, I will. Each word, each wish, is sacred."

"Bless thee! Bless thee! So then the eyes that now can scarce see thee, they are so troubled by the pest, and the lips that shall not touch thee to taint thee, will still be before thee as they were when we were young and thou didst love me."

"When I did love thee, Margaret! Oh, never loved I thee as now."

"Hast not told me so of late."

"Alas! hath love no voice but words? I was a priest; I had charge of thy soul; the sweet offices of a pure love were lawful; words of love imprudent at the least. But now the good fight is won, ah me! Oh my love, if thou hast lived doubting of thy Gerard's heart, die not so; for never was woman loved so tenderly as thou this ten years past."

"Calm thyself, dear one," said the dying woman, with a heavenly smile. "I know it; only being but a woman, I could not die happy till I had heard thee say so. Ah! I have pined ten years for those sweet words. Hast said them, and this is the happiest hour of my life. I had to die to get them; well, I grudge not the price."

From this moment a gentle complacency rested on her fading features. But she did not speak.

Then Gerard, who had loved her soul so many years, feared lest she should expire with a mind too fixed on earthly affection.

"Oh my daughter," he cried, "my dear daughter, if indeed thou lovest me as I love thee, give me not the pain of seeing thee die with thy pious soul fixed on mortal things.

"Dearest lamb of all my fold, for whose soul I must answer, oh think not now of mortal love, but of His who died for thee on the tree. Oh, let thy last look be heavenwards, thy last word a word of prayer."

She turned a look of gratitude and obedience on him. "What saint?" she murmured: meaning doubtless, "what saint should she invoke as an intercessor."

"He to whom the saints themselves do pray."

She turned on him one more sweet look of love and submission, and put her pretty hands together in a prayer like a child.

"Jesu!"

This blessed word was her last. She lay with her eyes heavenwards, and her hands put together.

Gerard prayed fervently for her passing spirit. And when he had prayed a long time with his head averted, not to see her last breath, all seemed unnaturally still. He turned his head fearfully. It was so.

She was gone.

Nothing left him now but the earthly shell of as constant, pure, and loving a spirit as eve' adorned the earth.

(1) Let me not be understood to apply this to the bare outline of the relation. Many bishops and priests, and not a few popes, had wives and children as laymen; and entering orders were parted from the wives and not from the children. But in the case before the reader are the additional features of a strong surviving attachment on both sides, and of neighbourhood, besides that here the man had been led into holy orders by a false statement of the woman's death. On a summary of all the essential features, the situation was, to the best of my belief, unique.

CHAPTER XCVII

A priest is never more thoroughly a priest than in the chamber of death, Gerard did the last offices of the Church for the departed, just as he should have done them for his smallest parishioner. He did this mechanically, then sat down stupefied by the sudden and tremendous blow, and not yet realizing the pangs of bereavement. Then in a transport of religious enthusiasm he kneeled and thanked Heaven for her Christian end.

And then all his thought was to take her away from strangers, and lay her in his own churchyard. That very evening a covered cart with one horse started for Gouda, and in it was a coffin, and a broken-hearted man lying with his arms and chin resting on it.

The mourner's short-lived energy had exhausted itself in the necessary preparations, and now he lay crushed, clinging to the cold lead that held her.

The man of whom the cart was hired walked by the horse's head and did not speak to him, and when he baited the horse spoke but in a whisper respecting that mute agony. But when he stopped for the night, he and the landlord made a well-meaning attempt to get the mourner away to take some rest and food. But Gerard repulsed them, and when they persisted, almost snarled at them, like a faithful dog, and clung to the cold lead all night. So then they drew a cloak over him, and left him in peace.

And at noon the sorrowful cart came up to the manse, and there were full a score of parishioners collected with one little paltry trouble or another. They had missed the parson already. And when they saw what it was, and saw their healer so stricken down, they raised a loud wail of grief, and it roused him from his lethargy of woe, and he saw where he was, and their faces, and tried to speak to them, "Oh, my children! my children!" he cried; but choked with anguish, could say no more.

Yet the next day, spite of all remonstrances, he buried her himself, and read the service with a voice that only trembled now and then, Many tears fell upon her grave. And when the service ended he stayed there standing like a statue, and the people left the churchyard out of respect.

He stood like one in a dream till the sexton, who was, as most men are, a fool, began to fill in the grave without giving him due warning.

But at the sound of earth falling on her Gerard uttered a piercing scream.

The sexton forbore.

Gerard staggered and put his hand to his breast. The sexton supported him, and called for help.

Jorian Ketel, who lingered near mourning his benefactress, ran into the churchyard, and the two supported Gerard into the manse.

"Ah, Jorian! good Jorian!" said he, "something snapped within me; I felt it, and I heard it; here, Jorian, here;" and he put his hand to his breast.



CHAPTER XCVIII

A fortnight after this a pale bowed figure entered the Dominican convent in the suburbs of Gouda, and sought speech with Brother Ambrose, who governed the convent as deputy, the prior having lately died, and his successor, though appointed, not having arrived.

The sick man was Gerard, come to end life as he began it.

He entered as a novice, on probation; but the truth was, he was a failing man, and knew it, and came there to die in peace, near kind and gentle Ambrose, his friend, and the other monks to whom his house and heart had always been open.

His manse was more than he could bear; it was too full of reminiscences of her.

Ambrose, who knew his value, and his sorrow, was not without a kindly hope of curing him, and restoring him to his parish. With this view he put him in a comfortable cell over the gateway, and forbade him to fast or practice any austerities.

But in a few days the new prior arrived, and proved a very Tartar. At first he was absorbed in curing abuses, and tightening the general discipline; but one day hearing the vicar of Gouda had entered the convent as a novice, he said, "'Tis well; let him first give up his vicarage then, or go; I'll no fat parsons in my house." The prior then sent for Gerard, and he went to him; and the moment they saw one another they both started.

"Clement!"

"Jerome!"



CHAPTER XCIX

Jerome was as morose as ever in his general character, but he had somewhat softened towards Gerard. All the time he was in England he had missed him more then he thought possible, and since then had often wondered what had become of him. What he heard in Gouda raised his feeble brother in his good opinion; above all, that he had withstood the Pope and the Minorites on "the infernal heresy of the immaculate conception," as he called it. But when one of his young monks told him with tears in his eyes the Cause of Gerard's illness, all his contempt revived. "Dying for a woman?"

He determined to avert this scandal; he visited Clement twice a day in his cell, and tried all his old influence and all his eloquence to induce him to shake off this unspiritual despondency, and not rob the church of his piety and his eloquence at so critical a period.

Gerard heard him, approved his reasoning, admired his strength, confessed his own weakness, and continued visibly to wear away to the land of the leal. One day Jerome told him he had heard his story, and heard it with pride. "But now," said he, "you spoil it all, Clement; for this is the triumph of earthly passion. Better have yielded to it and repented, than resist it while she lived, and succumb under it now, body and soul."

"Dear Jerome," said Clement, so sweetly as to rob his remonstrance of the tone of remonstrance, "here, I think, you do me some injustice. Passion there is none; but a deep affection, for which I will not blush here, since I shall not blush for it in heaven. Bethink thee, Jerome, the poor dog that dies of grief on his master's grave, is he guilty of passion? Neither am I. Passion had saved my life, and lost my soul, She was my good angel; she sustained me in my duty and charity; her face encouraged me in the pulpit; her lips soothed me under ingratitude. She intertwined herself with all that was good in my life; and after leaning on her so long, I could not go on alone. And, dear Jerome, believe me I am no rebel against Heaven. It is God's will to release me. When they threw the earth upon her poor coffin, something snapped within my bosom here that mended may not be. I heard it, and I felt it. And from that time, Jerome, no food that I put in my mouth had any savour. With my eyes bandaged now I could not tell thee which was bread, and which was flesh, by eating of it."

"Holy saints!"

"And again, from that same hour my deep dejection left me, and I smiled again. I often smile—why? I read it thus: He in whose hands are the issues of life and death gave me that minute the great summons; 'twas some cord of life snapped in me. He is very pitiful. I should have lived unhappy; but He said, 'No; enough is done, enough is suffered; poor feeble, loving servant, thy shortcomings are forgiven, thy sorrows touch thine end; come thou to thy rest!' I come, Lord, I come!"

Jerome groaned. "The Church had ever her holy but feeble servants," he said. "Now would I give ten years of my life to save thine. But I see it may not be. Die in peace."

And so it was that in a few days more Gerard lay a-dying in a frame of mind so holy and happy, that more than one aged saint was there to garner his dying words. In the evening he had seen Giles, and begged him not to let poor Jack starve; and to see that little Gerard's trustees did their duty, and to kiss his parents for him, and to send Denys to his friends in Burgundy: "Poor thing, he will feel so strange here without his comrade." And after that he had an interview with Jerome alone. What passed between them was never distinctly known; but it must have been something remarkable, for Jerome went from the door with his hands crossed on his breast, his high head lowered, and sighing as he went.

The two monks that watched with him till matins related that all through the night he broke out from time to time in pious ejaculations, and praises, and thanksgivings; only once they said he wandered, and thought he saw her walking in green meadows with other spirits clad in white, and beckoning him; and they all smiled and beckoned him. And both these monks said (but it might have been fancy) that just before dawn there came three light taps against the wall, one after another, very slow; and the dying man heard them, and said.

"I come, love, I come."

This much is certain, that Gerard did utter these words, and prepare for his departure, having uttered them. He sent for all the monks who at that hour were keeping vigil. They came, and hovered like gentle spirits round him with holy words. Some prayed in silence for him with their faces touching the ground, others tenderly supported his head. But when one of them said something about his life of self-denial and charity, he stopped him, and addressing them all said, "My dear brethren, take note that he who here dies so happy holds not these new-fangled doctrines of man's merit. Oh, what a miserable hour were this to me an if I did! Nay, but I hold, with the Apostles, and their pupils in the Church, the ancient fathers, that we are justified not by our own wisdom, or piety, or the works we have done in holiness of heart, but by faith.'"(1)

Then there was silence, and the monks looked at one another significantly.

"Please you sweep the floor," said the dying Christian, in a voice to which all its clearance and force seemed supernaturally restored.

They instantly obeyed, not without a sentiment of awe and curiosity.

"Make me a great cross with wood ashes."

They strewed the ashes in form of a great Cross upon the floor.

"Now lay me down on it, for so will I die."

And they took him gently from his bed, and laid him on the cross of wood ashes.

"Shall we spread out thine arms, dear brother?"

"Now God forbid! Am I worthy of that?"

He lay silent, but with his eyes raised in ecstasy.

Presently he spoke half to them, half to himself, "Oh," he said, with a subdued but concentrated rapture, "I feel it buoyant. It lifts me floating in the sky whence my merits had sunk me like lead."

Day broke; and displayed his face cast upward in silent rapture, and his hands together; like Margaret's.

And just about the hour she died he spoke his last word in this world.

"Jesu!"

And even with that word—he fell asleep.

They laid him out for his last resting-place.

Under his linen they found a horse-hair shirt.

"Ah!" cried the young monks, "behold a saint!"

Under the hair cloth they found a long thick tress of auburn hair.

They started, and were horrified; and a babel of voices arose, some condemning, some excusing.

In the midst of which Jerome came in, and hearing the dispute, turned to an ardent young monk called Basil, who was crying scandal the loudest, "Basil," said he, "is she alive or dead that owned this hair?"

"How may I know, father?"

"Then for aught you know it may be the relic of a saint?"

"Certes it may be," said Basil sceptically.

"You have then broken our rule, which saith, 'Put ill construction on no act done by a brother which can be construed innocently.' Who are you to judge such a man as this was? go to your cell, and stir not out for a week by way of penance."

He then carried off the lock of hair.

And when the coffin was to be closed, he cleared the cell: and put the tress upon the dead man's bosom. "There, Clement," said he to the dead face. And set himself a penance for doing it; and nailed the coffin up himself.

The next day Gerard was buried in Gouda churchyard. The monks followed him in procession from the convent. Jerome, who was evidently carrying out the wishes of the deceased, read the service. The grave was a deep one, and at the bottom of it was a lead coffin. Poor Gerard's, light as a feather (so wasted was he), was lowered, and placed by the side of it.

After the service Jerome said a few words to the crowd of parishioners that had come to take the last look at their best friend. When he spoke of the virtues of the departed loud wailing and weeping burst forth, and tears fell upon the coffin like rain.

The monks went home. Jerome collected them in the refectory and spoke to them thus: "We have this day laid a saint in the earth. The convent will keep his trentals, but will feast, not fast; for our good brother is freed from the burden of the flesh; his labours are over, and he has entered into his joyful rest. I alone shall fast, and do penance; for to my shame I say it, I was unjust to him, and knew not his worth till it was too late. And you, young monks, be not curious to inquire whether a lock he bore on his bosom was a token of pure affection or the relic of a saint; but remember the heart he wore beneath: most of all, fix your eyes upon his life and conversation, and follow them an ye may: for he was a holy man."

Thus after life's fitful fever these true lovers were at peace.

The grave, kinder to them than the Church, united them for ever; and now a man of another age and nation, touched with their fate, has laboured to build their tombstone, and rescue them from long and unmerited oblivion.

He asks for them your sympathy, but not your pity.

No, put this story to a wholesome use.

Fiction must often give false views of life and death. Here as it happens, curbed by history, she gives you true ones. Let the barrier that kept these true lovers apart prepare you for this, that here on earth there will nearly always be some obstacle or other to your perfect happiness; to their early death apply your Reason and your Faith, by way of exercise and preparation. For if you cannot bear to be told that these died young, who had they lived a hundred years would still be dead, how shall you bear to see the gentle, the loving, and the true glide from your own bosom to the grave, and fly from your house to heaven?

Yet this is in store for you. In every age the Master of life and death, who is kinder as well as wiser than we are, has transplanted to heaven, young, earth's sweetest flowers.

I ask your sympathy, then, for their rare constancy and pure affection, and their cruel separation by a vile heresy(2) in the bosom of the Church; but not your pity for their early but happy end.

'Beati sunt qui in Domino moriuntur.

(1) He was citing from Clement of Rome—

{ou di eautwn dikaioumetha oude dia tys ymeteras sophias, y eusebeias y ergwn wn kateirgasametha en osioteeti karthias, alla dia tys pistews}. —Epist.ad Corinth, i. 32.

(2) Celibacy of the clergy, an invention truly fiendish.



CHAPTER C

In compliance with a Custom I despise, but have not the spirit to resist, I linger on the stage to pick up the smaller fragments of humanity I have scattered about; i.e. some of them, for the wayside characters have no claim on me; they have served their turn if they have persuaded the reader that Gerard travelled from Holland to Rome through human beings, and not through a population of dolls.

Eli and Catherine lived to a great age: lived so long, that both Gerard and Margaret grew to be dim memories. Giles also was longaevous; he went to the court of Bavaria, and was alive there at ninety, but had somehow turned into bones and leather, trumpet toned.

Cornelis, free from all rivals, and forgiven long ago by his mother, who clung to him more and more now all her brood was scattered, waited and waited and waited for his parents' decease. But Catherine's shrewd word came true; ere she and her mate wore out, this worthy rusted away. At sixty-five he lay dying of old age in his mother's arms, a hale woman of eighty-six. He had lain unconscious a while, but came to himself in articulo mortis, and seeing her near him, told her how he would transform the shop and premises as soon as they should be his. "Yes, my darling," said the poor old woman soothingly, and in another minute he was clay, and that clay was followed to the grave by all the feet whose shoes he had waited for.

Denys, broken-hearted at his comrade's death, was glad to return to Burgundy, and there a small pension the court allowed him kept him until unexpectedly he inherited a considerable sum from a relation. He was known in his native place for many years as a crusty old soldier, who could tell good stories of war when he chose, and a bitter railer against women.

Jerome, disgusted with northern laxity, retired to Italy, and having high connections became at seventy a mitred abbot. He put on the screw of discipline; his monks revered and hated him. He ruled with iron rod ten years. And one night he died, alone; for he had not found the way to a single heart. The Vulgate was on his pillow, and the crucifix in his hand, and on his lips something more like a smile than was ever seen there while he lived; so that, methinks, at that awful hour he was not quite alone. Requiescat in pace. The Master he served has many servants, and they have many minds, and now and then a faithful one will be a surly one, as it is in these our mortal mansions.

The yellow-haired laddie, Gerard Gerardson, belongs not to Fiction but to History. She has recorded his birth in other terms than mine. Over the tailor's house in the Brede Kirk Straet she has inscribed:

"HAEC EST PARVA DOMUS NATUS QUA MAGNUS ERASMUS,"

and she has written half-a-dozen lives of him. But there is something left for her yet to do. She has no more comprehended magnum Erasmum, than any other pigmy comprehends a giant, or partisan a judge.

First scholar and divine of his epoch, he was also the heaven-born dramatist of his century. Some of the best scenes in this new book are from his mediaeval pen, and illumine the pages where they come; for the words of a genius so high as his are not born to die: their immediate work upon mankind fulfilled, they may seem to lie torpid; but at each fresh shower of intelligence Time pours upon their students, they prove their immortal race: they revive, they spring from the dust of great libraries; they bud, they flower, they fruit, they seed, from generation to generation, and from age to age.

THE END

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