The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 4

It was near four o’clock in the afternoon. Eli was in the shop. His eldest and youngest sons were abroad. Catherine and her little crippled daughter had long been anxious about Gerard, and now they were gone a little way down the road, to see if by good luck he might be visible in the distance; and Giles was alone in the sitting-room, which I will sketch, furniture and dwarf included.

The Hollanders were always an original and leading people. They claim to have invented printing (wooden type), oil-painting, liberty, banking, gardening, etc. Above all, years before my tale, they invented cleanliness. So, while the English gentry, in velvet jerkins and chicken-toed shoes, trode floors of stale rushes, foul receptacle of bones, decomposing morsels, spittle, dogs, eggs, and all abominations, this hosier’s sitting-room at Tergou was floored with Dutch tiles, so highly glazed and constantly washed, that you could eat off them. There was one large window; the cross stone-work in the centre of it was very massive, and stood in relief, looking like an actual cross to the inmates, and was eyed as such in their devotions. The panes were very small and lozenge-shaped, and soldered to one another with strips of lead: the like you may see to this day in our rural cottages. The chairs were rude and primitive, all but the arm-chair, whose back, at right angles with its seat, was so high that the sitter’s head stopped two feet short of the top. This chair was of oak, and carved at the summit. There was a copper pail, that went in at the waist, holding holy water, and a little hand-besom to sprinkle it far and wide; and a long, narrow, but massive oak table, and a dwarf sticking to its rim by his teeth, his eyes glaring, and his claws in the air like a pouncing vampire. Nature, it would seem, did not make Giles a dwarf out of malice prepense; she constructed a head and torso with her usual care; but just then her attention was distracted, and she left the rest to chance; the result was a human wedge, an inverted cone. He might justly have taken her to task in the terms of Horace,

“Amphora coepit

Institui; currente rota cur urceus exit?”

His centre was anything but his centre of gravity. Bisected, upper Giles would have outweighed three lower Giles. But this very disproportion enabled him to do feats that would have baffled Milo. His brawny arms had no weight to draw after them; so he could go up a vertical pole like a squirrel, and hang for hours from a bough by one hand like a cherry by its stalk. If he could have made a vacuum with his hands, as the lizard is said to do with its feet, he would have gone along a ceiling. Now, this pocket-athlete was insanely fond of gripping the dinner-table with both hands, and so swinging; and then — climax of delight! he would seize it with his teeth, and, taking off his hands, hold on like grim death by his huge ivories.

But all our joys, however elevating, suffer interruption. Little Kate caught Sampsonet in this posture, and stood aghast. She was her mother’s daughter, and her heart was with the furniture, not with the 12mo gymnast.

“Oh, Giles! how can you? Mother is at hand. It dents the table.”

“Go and tell her, little tale-bearer,” snarled Giles. “You are the one for making mischief.”

“Am I?” inquired Kate calmly; “that is news to me.”

“The biggest in Tergou,” growled Giles, fastening on again.

“Oh, indeed!” said Kate drily.

This piece of unwonted satire launched, and Giles not visibly blasted, she sat down quietly and cried.

Her mother came in almost at that moment, and Giles hurled himself under the table, and there glared.

“What is to do now?” said the dame sharply. Then turning her experienced eyes from Kate to Giles, and observing the position he had taken up, and a sheepish expression, she hinted at cuffing of ears.

“Nay, mother,” said the girl; “it was but a foolish word Giles spoke. I had not noticed it at another time; but I was tired and in care for Gerard, you know.”

“Let no one be in care for me,” said a faint voice at the door, and in tottered Gerard, pale, dusty, and worn out; and amidst uplifted hands and cries of delight, curiosity, and anxiety mingled, dropped exhausted into the nearest chair.

Beating Rotterdam, like a covert, for Margaret, and the long journey afterwards, had fairly knocked Gerard up. But elastic youth soon revived, and behold him the centre of an eager circle. First of all they must hear about the prizes. Then Gerard told them he had been admitted to see the competitors’ works, all laid out in an enormous hall before the judges pronounced.

“Oh, mother! oh, Kate! when I saw the goldsmiths’ work, I had liked to have fallen on the floor. I thought not all the goldsmiths on earth had so much gold, silver, jewels, and craft of design and facture. But, in sooth, all the arts are divine.”

Then, to please the females, he described to them the reliquaries, feretories, calices, crosiers, crosses, pyxes, monstrances, and other wonders ecclesiastical, and the goblets, hanaps, watches, Clocks, chains, brooches, &c., so that their mouths watered.

“But, Kate, when I came to the illuminated work from Ghent and Bruges, my heart sank. Mine was dirt by the side of it. For the first minute I could almost have cried; but I prayed for a better spirit, and presently I was able to enjoy them, and thank God for those lovely works, and for those skilful, patient craftsmen, whom I own my masters. Well, the coloured work was so beautiful I forgot all about the black and white. But next day, when all the other prizes had been given, they came to the writing, and whose name think you was called first?”

“Yours,” said Kate.

The others laughed her to scorn.

“You may well laugh,” said Gerard, “but for all that, Gerard Eliassoen of Tergou was the name the herald shouted. I stood stupid; they thrust me forward. Everything swam before my eyes. I found myself kneeling on a cushion at the feet of the Duke. He said something to me, but I was so fluttered I could not answer him. So then he put his hand to his side, and did not draw a glaive and cut off my dull head, but gave me a gold medal, and there it is.” There was a yell and almost a scramble. “And then he gave me fifteen great bright golden angels. I had seen one before, but I never handled one. Here they are.”

“Oh, Gerard! oh, Gerard!”

“There is one for you, our eldest; and one for you, Sybrandt, and for you, Little Mischief; and two for thee, Little Lily, because God hath afflicted thee; and one for myself, to buy colours and vellum; and nine for her that nursed us all, and risked the two crowns upon poor Gerard’s hand.”

The gold drew out their characters. Cornelis and Sybrandt clutched each his coin with one glare of greediness and another glare of envy at Kate, who had got two pieces. Giles seized his and rolled it along the floor and gambolled after it. Kate put down her crutches and sat down, and held out her little arms to Gerard with a heavenly gesture of love and tenderness; and the mother, fairly benumbed at first by the shower of gold that fell on her apron, now cried out, “Leave kissing him, Kate; he is my son, not yours. Ah. Gerard! my boy! I have not loved you as you deserved.”

Then Gerard threw himself on his knees beside her, and she flung her arms round him and wept for joy and pride upon his neck.

“Good lad! good lad!” cried the hosier, with some emotion. “I must go and tell the neighbours. Lend me the medal, Gerard; I’ll show it my good friend Peter Buyskens; he is ever regaling me with how his son Jorian won the tin mug a shooting at the butts.”

“Ay, do, my man; and show Peter Buyskens one of the angels. Tell him there are fourteen more where that came from. Mind you bring it me back!”

“Stay a minute, father; there is better news behind,” said Gerard, flushing with joy at the joy he caused.

“Better! better than this?”

Then Gerard told his interview with the Countess, and the house rang with joy.

“Now, God bless the good lady, and bless the dame Van Eyck! A benefice? our son! My cares are at an end. Eli, my good friend and master, now we two can die happy whenever our time comes. This dear boy will take our place, and none of these loved ones will want a home or a friend.”

From that hour Gerard was looked upon as the stay of the family. He was a son apart, but in another sense. He was always in the right, and nothing too good for him. Cornelis and Sybrandt became more and more jealous of him, and longed for the day he should go to his benefice; they would get rid of the favourite, and his reverence’s purse would be open to them. With these views he co-operated. The wound love had given him throbbed duller and duller. His success and the affection and admiration of his parents made him think more highly of himself, and resent with more spirit Margaret’s ingratitude and discourtesy. For all that, she had power to cool him towards the rest of her sex, and now for every reason he wished to be ordained priest as soon as he could pass the intermediate orders. He knew the Vulgate already better than most of the clergy, and studied the rubric and the dogmas of the Church with his friends the monks; and, the first time the bishop came that way, he applied to be admitted “exorcist,” the third step in holy orders. The bishop questioned him, and ordained him at once. He had to kneel, and, after a short prayer, the bishop delivered to him a little MS. full of exorcisms, and said: “Take this, Gerard, and have power to lay hands on the possessed, whether baptized or catechumens!” and he took it reverently, and went home invested by the Church with power to cast out demons.

Returning home from the church, he was met by little Kate on her crutches.

“Oh, Gerard! who, think you, hath sent to our house seeking you? — the burgomaster himself.”

“Ghysbrecht Van Swieten! What would he with me?”

“Nay, Gerard, I know not. But he seems urgent to see you. You are to go to his house on the instant.”

“Well, he is the burgomaster: I will go; but it likes me not. Kate, I have seen him cast such a look on me as no friend casts. No matter; such looks forewarn the wise. To be sure, he knows.”

“Knows what, Gerard?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Kate, I’ll go.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/reade/charles/cloister-and-the-hearth/chapter4.html

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