The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 58

Gerard walked silently beside Teresa, wondering in his own mind, after the manner of artists, what she was going to do with him; instead of asking her. So at last she told him of her own accord. A friend had informed her of a working goldsmith’s wife who wanted a writer. “Her shop is hard by; you will not have far to go.”

Accordingly they soon arrived at the goldsmith’s wife.

“Madama,” said Teresa, “Leonora tells me you want a writer: I have brought you a beautiful one; he saved my child at sea. Prithee look on him with favour.”

The goldsmith’s wife complied in one sense. She fixed her eyes on Gerard’s comely face, and could hardly take them off again. But her reply was unsatisfactory. “Nay, I have no use for a writer. Ah! I mind now, it is my gossip, Claelia, the sausage-maker, wants one; she told me, and I told Leonora.”

Teresa made a courteous speech and withdrew.

Claelia lived at some distance, and when they reached her house she was out. Teresa said calmly, “I will await her return,” and sat so still, and dignified, and statuesque, that Gerard was beginning furtively to draw her, when Claelia returned.

“Madama, I hear from the goldsmith’s wife, the excellent Olympia, that you need a writer” (here she took Gerard by the hand and led him forward); “I have brought you a beautiful one; he saved my child from the cruel waves. For our Lady’s sake look with favour on him.”

“My good dame, my fair Ser,” said Claelia, “I have no use for a writer; but now you remind me, it was my friend Appia Claudia asked me for one but the other day. She is a tailor, lives in the Via Lepida.”

Teresa retired calmly.

“Madama,” said Gerard, “this is likely to be a tedious business for you.”

Teresa opened her eyes.

“What was ever done without a little patience?” She added mildly, “We will knock at every door at Rome but you shall have justice.”

“But, madama, I think we are dogged. I noticed a man that follows us, sometimes afar, sometimes close.”

“I have seen it,” said Teresa coldly; but her cheek coloured faintly. “It is my poor Lodovico.”

She stopped and turned, and beckoned with her finger.

A figure approached them somewhat unwillingly.

When he came up, she gazed him full in the face, and he looked sheepish.

“Lodovico mio,” said she, “know this young Ser, of whom I have so often spoken to thee. Know him and love him, for he it was who saved thy wife and child.”

At these last words Lodovico, who had been bowing and grinning artificially, suddenly changed to an expression of heartfelt gratitude, and embraced Gerard warmly.

Yet somehow there was something in the man’s original manner, and his having followed his wife by stealth, that made Gerard uncomfortable under this caress. However, he said, “We shall have your company, Ser Lodovico?”

“No, signor,” replied Lodovico, “I go not on that side Tiber.”

“Addio, then,” said Teresa significantly.

“When shall you return home, Teresa mia?”

“When I have done mine errand, Lodovico.”

They pursued their way in silence. Teresa now wore a sad and almost gloomy air.

To be brief, Appia Claudia was merciful, and did not send them over Tiber again, but only a hundred yards down the street to Lucretia, who kept the glove shop; she it was wanted a writer; but what for, Appia Claudia could not conceive. Lucretia was a merry little dame, who received them heartily enough, and told them she wanted no writer, kept all her accounts in her head. “It was for my confessor, Father Colonna; he is mad after them.”

“I have heard of his excellency,” said Teresa.

“Who has not?”

“But, good dame, he is a friar; he has made vow of poverty. I cannot let the young man write and not be paid. He saved my child at sea.

“Did he now?” And Lucretia cast an approving look on Gerard. “Well, make your mind easy; a Colonna never wants for money. The good father has only to say the word, and the princes of his race will pour a thousand crowns into his lap. And such a confessor, dame! the best in Rome. His head is leagues and leagues away all the while; he never heeds what you are saying. Why, I think no more of confessing my sins to him than of telling them to that wall. Once, to try him, I confessed, along with the rest, as how I had killed my lodger’s little girl and baked her in a pie. Well, when my voice left off confessing, he started out of his dream, and says he, a mustering up a gloom, ‘My erring sister, say three Paternosters and three Ave Marias kneeling, and eat no butter nor eggs next Wednesday, and pax vobiscum!’ and off a went with his hands behind him, looking as if there was no such thing as me in the world.”

Teresa waited patiently, then calmly brought this discursive lady back to the point: “Would she be so kind as go with this good youth to the friar and speak for him?”

“Alack! how can I leave my shop? And what need? His door is aye open to writers, and painters, and scholars, and all such cattle. Why, one day he would not receive the Duke d’Urbino, because a learned Greek was closeted with him, and the friar’s head and his so close together over a dusty parchment just come in from Greece, as you could put one cowl over the pair. His wench Onesta told me. She mostly looks in here for a chat when she goes an errand.”

“This is the man for thee, my friend,” said Teresa.

“All you have to do,” continued Lucretia, “is to go to his lodgings (my boy shall show them you), and tell Onesta you come from me, and you are a writer, and she will take you up to him. If you put a piece of silver in the wench’s hand, ’twill do you no harm: that stands to reason.”

“I have silver,” said Teresa warmly.

“But stay,” said Lucretia, “mind one thing. What the young man saith he can do, that he must be able to do, or let him shun the good friar like poison. He is a very wild beast against all bunglers. Why, ’twas but t’other day, one brought him an ill-carved crucifix. Says he, ‘Is this how you present “Salvator Mundi?” who died for you in mortal agony; and you go and grudge him careful work. This slovenly gimcrack, a crucifix? But that it is a crucifix of some sort, and I am a holy man, I’d dust your jacket with your crucifix,’ says he. Onesta heard every word through the key-hole; so mind.”

“Have no fears, madama,” said Teresa loftily. “I will answer for his ability; he saved my child.”

Gerard was not subtle enough to appreciate this conclusion; and was so far from sharing Teresa’s confidence that he begged a respite. He would rather not go to the friar to-day: would not to-morrow do as well?

“Here is a coward for ye,” said Lucretia.

“No, he is not a coward,” said Teresa, firing up; “he is modest.”

“I am afraid of this high-born, fastidious friar,” said Gerard, “Consider he has seen the handiwork of all the writers in Italy, dear dame Teresa; if you would but let me prepare a better piece of work than yet I have done, and then to-morrow I will face him with it.”

“I consent,” said Teresa.

They walked home together.

Not far from his own lodging was a shop that sold vellum. There was a beautiful white skin in the window. Gerard looked at it wistfully; but he knew he could not pay for it; so he went on rather hastily. However, he soon made up his mind where to get vellum, and parting with Teresa at his own door, ran hastily upstairs, and took the bond he had brought all the way from Sevenbergen, and laid it with a sigh on the table. He then prepared with his chemicals to erase the old writing; but as this was his last chance of reading it, he now overcame his deadly repugnance to bad writing, and proceeded to decipher the deed in spite of its detestable contractions. It appeared by this deed that Ghysbrecht Van Swieten was to advance some money to Floris Brandt on a piece of land, and was to repay himself out of the rent.

On this Gerard felt it would be imprudent and improper to destroy the deed. On the contrary, he vowed to decipher every word, at his leisure. He went downstairs, determined to buy a small piece of vellum with his half of the card-money.

At the bottom of the stairs he found the landlady and Teresa talking. At sight of him the former cried, “Here he is. You are caught, donna mia. See what she has bought you?” And whipped out from under her apron the very skin of vellum Gerard had longed for.

“Why, dame! why, donna Teresa!” And he was speechless with pleasure and astonishment.

“Dear donna Teresa, there is not a skin in all Rome like it. However came you to hit on this one? ’Tis glamour.”

“Alas, dear boy, did not thine eye rest on it with desire? and didst thou not sigh in turning away from it? And was it for Teresa to let thee want the thing after that?”

“What sagacity! what goodness, madama! Oh, dame, I never thought I should possess this. What did you pay for it?”

“I forget. Addio, Fiammina. Addio, Ser Gerard. Be happy, be prosperous, as you are good.” And the Roman matron glided away while Gerard was hesitating, and thinking how to offer to pay so stately a creature for her purchase.

The next day in the afternoon he went to Lucretia, and her boy took him to Fra Colonna’s lodgings. He announced his business, and feed Onesta, and she took him up to the friar. Gerard entered with a beating heart. The room, a large one, was strewed and heaped with objects of art, antiquity, and learning, lying about in rich profusion, and confusion. Manuscripts, pictures, carvings in wood and ivory, musical instruments; and in this glorious chaos sat the friar, poring intently over an Arabian manuscript.

He looked up a little peevishly at the interruption. Onesta whispered in his ear.

“Very well,” said he. “Let him be seated. Stay; young man, show me how you write?” And he threw Gerard a piece of paper, and pointed to an inkhorn.

“So please you, reverend father,” said Gerard, “my hand it trembleth too much at this moment; but last night I wrote a vellum page of Greek, and the Latin version by its side, to show the various character.”

“Show it me?”

Gerard brought the work to him in fear and trembling; then stood heart-sick, awaiting his verdict.

When it came it staggered him. For the verdict was, a Dominican falling on his neck.

The next day an event took place in Holland, the effect of which on Gerard’s destiny, no mortal at the time, nor even my intelligent reader now, could, I think, foresee.

Marched up to Eli’s door a pageant brave to the eye of sense, and to the vulgar judgment noble, but to the philosophic, pitiable more or less.

It looked one animal, a centaur; but on severe analysis proved two. The human half were sadly bedizened with those two metals, to clothe his carcass with which and line his pouch, man has now and then disposed of his soul: still the horse was the vainer brute of the two; he was far worse beflounced, bebonneted, and bemantled, than any fair lady regnante crinolina. For the man, under the colour of a warming-pan, retained Nature’s outline. But it was subaudi equum! Scarce a pennyweight of honest horse-flesh to be seen. Our crinoline spares the noble parts of women, and makes but the baser parts gigantic (why this preference?); but this poor animal from stem to stern was swamped in finery. His ears were hid in great sheaths of white linen tipped with silver and blue. His body swaddled in stiff gorgeous cloths descending to the ground, except just in front, where they left him room to mince. His tail, though dear to memory, no doubt, was lost to sight, being tucked in heaven knows how. Only his eyes shone out like goggles, through two holes pierced in the wall of haberdashery, and his little front hoofs peeped in and out like rats.

Yet did this compound, gorgeous and irrational, represent power; absolute power: it came straight from a tournament at the Duke’s court, which being on a progress, lay last night at a neighbouring town — to execute the behests of royalty.

“What ho!” cried the upper half, and on Eli emerging, with his wife behind him, saluted them. “Peace be with you, good people. Rejoice! I am come for your dwarf.”

Eli looked amazed, and said nothing. But Catherine screamed over his shoulder, “You have mistook your road, good man; here abides no dwarf.”

“Nay, wife, he means our Giles, who is somewhat small of stature: why gainsay what gainsayed may not be?”

“Ay!” cried the pageant, “that is he, and discourseth like the big taber.

“His breast is sound for that matter,” said Catherine sharply.

“And prompt with his fists though at long odds.”

“Else how would the poor thing keep his head in such a world as this?”

“’Tis well said, dame. Art as ready with thy weapon as he; art his mother, likely. So bring him forth, and that presently. See, they lead a stunted mule for him. The Duke hath need of him, sore need; we are clean out o’ dwarven, and tiger-cats, which may not be, whiles earth them yieldeth. Our last hop o’ my thumb tumbled down the well t’other day.”

“And think you I’ll let my darling go to such an ill-guided house as you, where the reckless trollops of servants close not the well mouth, but leave it open to trap innocents, like wolven?”

The representative of autocracy lost patience at this unwonted opposition, and with stern look and voice bade her bethink her whether it was the better of the two; “to have your abortion at court fed like a bishop and put on like a prince, or to have all your heads stricken off and borne on poles, with the bellman crying, ‘Behold the heads of hardy rebels, which having by good luck a misbegotten son, did traitorously grudge him to the Duke, who is the true father of all his folk, little or mickle?’

“Nay,” said Eli sadly, “miscall us not. We be true folk, and neither rebels nor traitors. But ’tis sudden, and the poor lad is our true flesh and blood, and hath of late given proof of more sense than heretofore.”

“Avails not threatening our lives,” whimpered Catherine; “we grudge him not to the Duke; but in sooth he cannot go; his linen is all in holes. So there is an end.”

But the male mind resisted this crusher.

“Think you the Duke will not find linen, and cloth of gold to boot? None so brave, none so affected, at court, as our monsters, big or wee.”

How long the dispute might have lasted, before the iron arguments of despotism achieved the inevitable victory, I know not; but it was cut short by a party whom neither disputant had deigned to consult.

The bone of contention walked out of the house, and sided with monarchy.

“If my folk are mad, I am not,” he roared. “I’ll go with you and on the instant.”

At this Catherine set up a piteous cry. She saw another of her brood escaping from under her wing into some unknown element. Giles was not quite insensible to her distress, so simple yet so eloquent. He said, “Nay, take not on, mother! Why, ’tis a godsend. And I am sick of this, ever since Gerard left it.”

“Ah, cruel Giles! Should ye not rather say she is bereaved of Gerard: the more need of you to stay aside her and comfort her.”

“Oh! I am not going to Rome. Not such a fool. I shall never be farther than Rotterdam; and I’ll often come and see you; and if I like not the place, who shall keep me there? Not all the dukes in Christendom.”

“Good sense lies in little bulk,” said the emissary approvingly. “Therefore, Master Giles, buss the old folk, and thank them for misbegetting of thee; and ho! you — bring hither his mule.”

One of his retinue brought up the dwarf mule. Giles refused it with scorn. And on being asked the reason, said it was not just.

“What! would ye throw all into one scale! Put muckle to muckle, and little to wee! Besides, I hate and scorn small things. I’ll go on the highest horse here, or not at all.”

The pursuivant eyed him attentively a moment. He then adopted a courteous manner. “I shall study your will in all things reasonable. (Dismount, Eric, yours is the highest horse.) And if you would halt in the town an hour or so, while you bid them farewell, say but the word, and your pleasure shall be my delight.”

Giles reflected.

“Master,” said he, “if we wait a month, ’twill be still the same: my mother is a good soul, but her body is bigger than her spirit. We shall not part without a tear or two, and the quicker ’tis done the fewer; so bring yon horse to me.”

Catherine threw her apron over her face and sobbed. The high horse was brought, and Giles was for swarming up his tail, like a rope; but one of the servants cried out hastily, “Forbear, for he kicketh.” “I’ll kick him,” said Giles. “Bring him close beneath this window, and I’ll learn you all how to mount a horse which kicketh, and will not be clomb by the tail, the staircase of a horse.” And he dashed into the house, and almost immediately reappeared at an upper window, with a rope in his hand. He fastened an end somehow, and holding the other, descended as swift and smooth as an oiled thunderbolt in a groove, and lighted astride his high horse as unperceived by that animal as a fly settling on him.

The official lifted his hands to heaven in mawkish admiration. “I have gotten a pearl,” thought he, “and wow but this will be a good day’s work for me.”

“Come, father, come, mother, buss me, and bless me, and off I go.”

Eli gave him his blessing, and bade him be honest and true, and a credit to his folk. Catherine could not speak, but clung to him with many sobs and embraces; and even through the mist of tears her eye detected in a moment the little rent in his sleeve he had made getting out of window, and she whipped out her needle and mended it then and there, and her tears fell on his arm the while, unheeded — except by those unfleshly eyes, with which they say the very air is thronged.

And so the dwarf mounted the high horse, and rode away complacent with the old hand laying the court butter on his back with a trowel.

Little recked Perpusillus of two poor silly females that sat by the bereaved hearth, rocking themselves, and weeping, and discussing all his virtues, and how his mind had opened lately, and blind as two beetles to his faults, who rode away from them, jocund and bold.

Ingentes animos angusto pectore versans.

Arrived at court he speedily became a great favourite.

One strange propensity of his electrified the palace; but on account of his small size, and for variety’s sake, and as a monster, he was indulged on it. In a word, he was let speak the truth.

It is an unpopular thing.

He made it an intolerable one.

Bawled it.

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