The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 6

“Look into your own heart and write!” said Herr Cant; and earth’s cuckoos echoed the cry. Look into the Rhine where it is deepest, and the Thames where it is thickest, and paint the bottom. Lower a bucket into a well of self-deception, and what comes up must be immortal truth, mustn’t it? Now, in the first place, no son of Adam ever reads his own heart at all, except by the habit acquired, and the light gained, from some years perusal of other hearts; and even then, with his acquired sagacity and reflected light, he can but spell and decipher his own heart, not read it fluently. Half way to Sevenbergen Gerard looked into his own heart, and asked it why he was going to Sevenbergen. His heart replied without a moment’s hesitation, “We are going out of curiosity to know why she jilted us, and to show her it has not broken our hearts, and that we are quite content with our honours and our benefice in prospectu, and don’t want her nor ally of her fickle sex.”

He soon found out Peter Brandt’s cottage; and there sat a girl in the doorway, plying her needle, and a stalwart figure leaned on a long bow and talked to her. Gerard felt an unaccountable pang at the sight of him. However, the man turned out to be past fifty years of age, an old soldier, whom Gerard remembered to have seen shoot at the butts with admirable force and skill. Another minute and the youth stood before them. Margaret looked up and dropped her work, and uttered a faint cry, and was white and red by turns. But these signs of emotion were swiftly dismissed, and she turned far more chill and indifferent than she would if she had not betrayed this agitation.

“What! is it you, Master Gerard? What on earth brings you here, I wonder?”

“I was passing by and saw you; so I thought I would give you good day, and ask after your father.”

“My father is well. He will be here anon.”

“Then I may as well stay till he comes.”

“As you will. Good Martin, step into the village and tell my father here is a friend of his.”

“And not of yours?”

“My father’s friends are mine.”

“That is doubtful. It was not like a friend to promise to wait for me, and then make off the moment my back was turned. Cruel Margaret you little know how I searched the town for you; how for want of you nothing was pleasant to me.”

“These are idle words; if you had desired my father’s company, or mine, you would have come back. There I had a bed laid for you, sir, at my cousin’s, and he would have made much of you, and, who knows, I might have made much of you too. I was in the humour that day. You will not catch me in the same mind again, neither you nor any young man, I warrant me.”

“Margaret, I came back the moment the Countess let me go; but you were not there.”

“Nay, you did not, or you had seen Hans Cloterman at our table; we left him to bring you on.”

“I saw no one there, but only a drunken man, that had just tumbled down.”

“At our table? How was he clad?”

“Nay, I took little heed: in sad-coloured garb.”

At this Margaret’s face gradually warmed; but presently, assuming incredulity and severity, she put many shrewd questions, all of which Gerard answered most loyally. Finally, the clouds cleared, and they guessed how the misunderstanding had come about. Then came a revulsion of tenderness, all the more powerful that they had done each other wrong; and then, more dangerous still, came mutual confessions. Neither had been happy since; neither ever would have been happy but for this fortunate meeting.

And Gerard found a MS. Vulgate lying open on the table, and pounced upon it like a hawk. MSS. were his delight; but before he could get to it two white hands quickly came flat upon the page, and a red face over them.

“Nay, take away your hands, Margaret, that I may see where you are reading, and I will read there too at home; so shall my soul meet yours in the sacred page. You will not? Nay, then I must kiss them away.” And he kissed them so often, that for very shame they were fain to withdraw, and, lo! the sacred book lay open at,

“An apple of gold in a network of silver.”

“There, now,” said she, “I had been hunting for it ever so long, and found it but even now — and to be caught!” and with a touch of inconsistency she pointed it out to Gerard with her white finger.

“Ay,” said he, “but to-day it is all hidden in that great cap.”

“It is a comely cap, I’m told by some.”

“Maybe; but what it hides is beautiful.”

“It is not: it is hideous.”

“Well, it was beautiful at Rotterdam.”

“Ay, everything was beautiful that day” (with a little sigh).

And now Peter came in, and welcomed Gerard cordially, and would have him to stay supper. And Margaret disappeared; and Gerard had a nice learned chat with Peter; and Margaret reappeared with her hair in her silver net, and shot a glance half arch, half coy, and glided about them, and spread supper, and beamed bright with gaiety and happiness. And in the cool evening Gerard coaxed her out, and she objected and came; and coaxed her on to the road to Tergou, and she declined, and came; and there they strolled up and down, hand in hand; and when he must go, they pledged each other never to quarrel or misunderstand one another again; and they sealed the promise with a long loving kiss, and Gerard went home on wings.

From that day Gerard spent most of his evenings with Margaret, and the attachment deepened and deepened on both sides, till the hours they spent together were the hours they lived; the rest they counted and underwent. And at the outset of this deep attachment all went smoothly. Obstacles there were, but they seemed distant and small to the eyes of hope, youth, and love. The feelings and passions of so many persons, that this attachment would thwart, gave no warning smoke to show their volcanic nature and power. The course of true love ran smoothly, placidly, until it had drawn these two young hearts into its current for ever.

And then —

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