The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 67

It would indeed have been strange if with such barren data as they possessed, those men could have read the handwriting on the river’s bank.

For there on that spot an event had just occurred, which, take it altogether, was perhaps without a parallel in the history of mankind, and may remain so to the end of time.

But it shall be told in a very few words, partly by me, partly by an actor in the scene.

Gerard, then, after writing his brief adieu to Pietro and Andrea, had stolen down to the river at nightfall.

He had taken his measures with a dogged resolution not uncommon in those who are bent on self-destruction. He filled his pockets with all the silver and copper he possessed, that he might sink the surer; and so provided, hurried to a part of the stream that he had seen was little frequented.

There are some, especially women, who look about to make sure there is somebody at hand.

But this resolute wretch looked about him to make sure there was nobody.

And to his annoyance, he observed a single figure leaning against the corner of an alley. So he affected to stroll carelessly away; but returned to the spot.

Lo! the same figure emerged from a side street and loitered about.

“Can he be watching me? Can he know what I am here for?” thought Gerard. “Impossible.”

He went briskly off, walked along a street or two, made a detour and came back.

The man had vanished. But lo! on Gerard looking all round, to make sure, there he was a few yards behind, apparently fastening his shoe.

Gerard saw he was watched, and at this moment observed in the moonlight a steel gauntlet in his sentinel’s hand.

Then he knew it was an assassin.

Strange to say, it never occurred to him that his was the life aimed at. To be sure he was not aware he had an enemy in the world.

He turned and walked up to the bravo. “My good friend,” said he eagerly, “sell me thine arm! a single stroke! See, here is all I have;” and he forced his money into the bravo’s hands.

“Oh, prithee! prithee! do one good deed, and rid me of my hateful life!” and even while speaking he undid his doublet and bared his bosom.

The man stared in his face.

“Why do ye hesitate?” shrieked Gerard. “Have ye no bowels? Is it so much pains to lift your arm and fall it? Is it because I am poor, and can’t give ye gold? Useless wretch, canst only strike a man behind; not look one in the face. There, then, do but turn thy head and hold thy tongue!”

And with a snarl of contempt he ran from him, and flung himself into the water.

“Margaret!”

At the heavy plunge of his body in the stream the bravo seemed to recover from a stupor. He ran to the bank, and with a strange cry the assassin plunged in after the self-destroyer.

What followed will be related by the assassin.

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