The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 51

The reader already knows how much these two had to tell one another. It was a sweet yet bitter day for Margaret, since it brought her a true friend, and ill news; for now first she learned that Gerard was all alone in that strange land. She could not think with Denys that he would come home; indeed he would have arrived before this.

Denys was a balm. He called her his she-comrade, and was always cheering her up with his formula and hilarities, and she petted him and made much of him, and feebly hectored it over him as well as over Martin, and would not let him eat a single meal out of her house, and forbade him to use naughty words. “It spoils you, Denys. Good lack, to hear such ugly words come forth so comely a head: forbear, or I shall be angry: so be civil.” Whereupon Denys was upon his good behaviour, and ludicrous the struggle between his native politeness and his acquired ruffianism. And as it never rains but it pours, other persons now solicited Margaret’s friendship. She had written to Margaret Van Eyck a humble letter telling her she knew she was no longer the favourite she had been, and would keep her distance; but could not forget her benefactress’s past kindness. She then told her briefly how many ways she had battled for a living, and in conclusion, begged earnestly that her residence might not be betrayed, “least of all to his people. I do hate them, they drove him from me. And even when he was gone, their hearts turned not to me as they would an if they had repented their cruelty to him.”

The Van Eyck was perplexed. At last she made a confidante of Reicht. The secret ran through Reicht, as through a cylinder, to Catherine.

“Ay, and is she turned that bitter against us?” said that good woman. “She stole our son from us, and now she hates us for not running into her arms. Natheless it is a blessing she is alive and no farther away than Rotterdam.”

The English princess, now Countess Charolois, made a stately progress through the northern states of the duchy, accompanied by her stepdaughter the young heiress of Burgundy, Marie de Bourgogne. Then the old duke, the most magnificent prince in Europe, put out his splendour. Troops of dazzling knights, and bevies of fair ladies gorgeously attired, attended the two princesses; and minstrels, jongleurs, or story-tellers, bards, musicians, actors, tumblers followed in the train; and there was fencing, dancing, and joy in every town they shone on. Richart invited all his people to meet him at Rotterdam and view the pageant.

They had been in Rotterdam some days, when Denys met Catherine accidentally in the street, and after a warm greeting on both sides, bade her rejoice, for he had found the she-comrade, and crowed; but Catherine cooled him by showing him how much earlier he would have found her by staying quietly at Tergou, than by vagabondizing it all over Holland. “And being found, what the better are we? her heart is set dead against us now.”

“Oh, let that flea stick; come you with me to her house.”

No, she would not go where she was sure of an ill welcome. “Them that come unbidden sit unseated.” No, let Denys be mediator, and bring the parties to a good understanding. He undertook the office at once, and with great pomp and confidence. He trotted off to Margaret and said, “She-comrade, I met this day a friend of thine.”

“Thou didst look into the Rotter then, and see thyself.”

“Nay, ’twas a female, and one that seeks thy regard; ’twas Catherine, Gerard’s mother.”

“Oh, was it?” said Margaret; “then you may tell her she comes too late. There was a time I longed and longed for her; but she held aloof in my hour of most need, so now we will be as we ha’ been.”

Denys tried to shake this resolution. He coaxed her, but she was bitter and sullen, and not to be coaxed. Then he scolded her well; then, at that she went into hysterics.

He was frightened at this result of his eloquence, and being off his guard, allowed himself to be entrapped into a solemn promise never to recur to the subject. He went back to Catherine crestfallen, and told her. She fired up and told the family how his overtures had been received. Then they fired up; it became a feud and burned fiercer every day. Little Kate alone made some excuses for Margaret.

The very next day another visitor came to Margaret, and found the military enslaved and degraded, Martin up to his elbows in soapsuds, and Denys ironing very clumsily, and Margaret plaiting ruffs, but with a mistress’s eye on her raw levies. To these there entered an old man, venerable at first sight, but on nearer view keen and wizened.

“Ah,” cried Margaret. Then swiftly turned her back on him and hid her face with invincible repugnance. “Oh, that man! that man!”

“Nay, fear me not,” said Ghysbrecht; “I come on a friend’s errand. I bring ye a letter from foreign parts.”

“Mock me not, old man,” and she turned slowly round.

“Nay, see;” and he held out an enormous letter.

Margaret darted on it, and held it with trembling hands and glistening eyes. It was Gerard’s handwriting.

“Oh, thank you, sir, bless you for this, I forgive you all the ill you ever wrought me.”

And she pressed the letter to her bosom with one hand, and glided swiftly from the room with it.

As she did not come back, Ghysbrecht went away, but not without a scowl at Martha. Margaret was hours alone with her letter.

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