The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 68

A woman has her own troubles, as a man has his. And we male writers seldom do more than indicate the griefs of the other sex. The intelligence of the female reader must come to our aid, and fill up our cold outlines. So have I indicated, rather than described, what Margaret Brandt went through up to that eventful day, when she entered Eli’s house an enemy, read her sweetheart’s letter, and remained a friend.

And now a woman’s greatest trial drew near, and Gerard far away.

She availed herself but little of Eli’s sudden favour; for this reserve she had always a plausible reason ready; and never hinted at the true one, which was this; there were two men in that house at sight of whom she shuddered with instinctive antipathy and dread. She had read wickedness and hatred in their faces, and mysterious signals of secret intelligence. She preferred to receive Catherine and her daughter at home. The former went to see her every day, and was wrapped up in the expected event.

Catherine was one of those females whose office is to multiply, and rear the multiplied: who, when at last they consent to leave off pelting one out of every room in the house with babies, hover about the fair scourges that are still in full swing, and do so cluck, they seem to multiply by proxy. It was in this spirit she entreated Eli to let her stay at Rotterdam, while he went back to Tergou.

“The poor lass hath not a soul about her, that knows anything about anything. What avail a pair o’ soldiers? Why, that sort o’ cattle should be putten out o’ doors the first, at such an a time.”

Need I say that this was a great comfort to Margaret.

Poor soul, she was full of anxiety as the time drew near.

She should die; and Gerard away.

But things balance themselves. Her poverty, and her father’s helplessness, which had cost her such a struggle, stood her in good stead now.

Adversity’s iron hand had forced her to battle the lassitude that overpowers the rich of her sex, and to be for ever on her feet, working. She kept this up to the last by Catherine’s advice.

And so it was, that one fine evening, just at sunset, she lay weak as water, but safe; with a little face by her side, and the heaven of maternity opening on her.

“Why dost weep, sweetheart? All of a sudden?”

“He is not here to see it.”

“Ah, well, lass, he will be here ere ’tis weaned. Meantime God hath been as good to thee as to e’er a woman born; and do but bethink thee it might have been a girl; didn’t my very own Kate threaten me with one; and here we have got the bonniest boy in Holland, and a rare heavy one, the saints be praised for’t.”

“Ay, mother, I am but a sorry, ungrateful wretch to weep. If only Gerard were here to see it. ’Tis strange; I bore him well enow to be away from me in my sorrow; but oh, it does seem so hard he should not share my joy. Prithee, prithee, come to me, Gerard! dear, dear Gerard!” And she stretched out her feeble arms.

Catherine hustled about, but avoided Margaret’s eyes; for she could not restrain her own tears at hearing her own absent child thus earnestly addressed.

Presently, turning round, she found Margaret looking at her with a singular expression. “Heard you nought?”

“No, my lamb. What?”

“I did cry on Gerard, but now.”

“Ay, ay, sure I heard that.”

“Well, he answered me.”

“Tush, girl: say not that.”

“Mother, as sure as I lie here, with his boy by my side, his voice came back to me, ‘Margaret!’ So. Yet methought ’twas not his happy voice. But that might be the distance. All voices go off sad like at a distance. Why art not happy, sweetheart? and I so happy this night? Mother, I seem never to have felt a pain or known a care.” And her sweet eyes turned and gloated on the little face in silence.

That very night Gerard flung himself into the Tiber. And that very hour she heard him speak her name, he cried aloud in death’s jaws and despair’s.

“Margaret!”

Account for it those who can. I cannot.

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