The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 100

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.

This web edition published by:

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/reade/charles/cloister-and-the-hearth/chapter100.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33