The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 75

Clement sighed. He began to doubt whether he had taken the wisest course with a creature so passionate.

But young as he was, he had already learned many lessons of ecclesiastical wisdom. For one thing he had been taught to pause, ie., in certain difficulties, neither to do nor to say anything, until the matter should clear itself a little.

He therefore held his peace and prayed for wisdom.

All he did was gently to withdraw his foot.

But his penitent flung her arms round it with a piteous cry, and held it convulsively, and wept over it.

And now the agony of shame, as well as penitence, she was in, showed itself by the bright red that crept over her very throat, as she lay quivering at his feet.

“My daughter,” said Clement gently, “take courage. Torment thyself no more about this Gerard, who is not. As for me, I am Brother Clement, whom Heaven hath sent to thee this day to comfort thee, and help thee save thy soul. Thou last made me thy confessor, I claim, then, thine obedience.”

“Oh, yes,” sobbed the penitent.

“Leave this pilgrimage, and instant return to Rome. Penitence abroad is little worth. There where we live lie the temptations we must defeat, or perish; not fly in search of others more showy, but less lethal. Easy to wash the feet of strangers, masked ourselves, Hard to be merely meek and charitable with those about us.”

“I’ll never, never lay finger on her again.”

“Nay, I speak not of servants only, but of dependents, kinsmen, friends. This be thy penance; the last thing at night, and the first thing after matins, call to mind thy sin, and God His goodness; and so be humble and gentle to the faults of those around thee. The world it courts the rich; but seek thou the poor: not beggars; these for the most are neither honest nor truly poor. But rather find out those who blush to seek thee, yet need thee sore. Giving to them shalt lend to Heaven. Marry a good son of the Church.”

“Me? I will never marry.”

“Thou wilt marry within the year. I do entreat and command thee to marry one that feareth God. For thou art very clay. Mated ill thou shalt be naught. But wedding a worthy husband thou mayest, Dei gratia, live a pious princess; ay, and die a saint.”

“I?”

“Thou.”

He then desired her to rise and go about the good work he had set her.

She rose to her knees, and removing her mask, cast an eloquent look upon him, then lowered her eyes meekly.

“I will obey you as I would an angel. How happy I am, yet unhappy; for oh, my heart tells me I shall never look on you again. I will not go till I have dried your feet.”

“It needs not. I have excused thee this bootless penance.”

“’Tis no penance to me. Ah! you do not forgive me, if you will not let me dry your poor feet.”

“So be it then,” said Clement resignedly; and thought to himself, “Levius quid foemina.”

But these weak creatures, that gravitate towards the small, as heavenly bodies towards the great, have yet their own flashes of angelic intelligence.

When the princess had dried the friar’s feet, she looked at him with tears in her beautiful eyes, and murmured with singular tenderness and goodness —

“I will have masses said for her soul. May I?” she added timidly.

This brought a faint blush into the monk’s cheek, and moistened his cold blue eye. It came so suddenly from one he was just rating so low.

“It is a gracious thought,” he said. “Do as thou wilt: often such acts fall back on the doer like blessed dew. I am thy confessor, not hers; thine is the soul I must now do my all to save, or woe be to my own. My daughter, my dear daughter, I see good and ill angels fighting for thy soul this day, ay, this moment; oh, fight thou on thine own side. Dost thou remember all I bade thee?”

“Remember!” said the princess. “Sweet saint, each syllable of thine is graved in my heart.”

“But one word more, then. Pray much to Christ, and little to his saints.”

“I will.”

“And that is the best word I have light to say to thee. So part we on it. Thou to the place becomes thee best, thy father’s house, I to my holy mother’s work.”

“Adieu,” faltered the princess. “Adieu, thou that I have loved too well, hated too ill, known and revered too late; forgiving angel, adieu — for ever.”

The monk caught her words, though but faltered in a sigh.

“For ever?” he cried aloud, with sudden ardour. “Christians live ‘for ever,’ and love ‘for ever,’ but they never part ‘for ever. They part, as part the earth and sun, to meet more brightly in a little while. You and I part here for life. And what is our life? One line in the great story of the Church, whose son and daughter we are; one handful in the sand of time, one drop in the ocean of ‘For ever.’ Adieu — for the little moment called ‘a life!’ We part in trouble, we shall meet in peace: we part creatures of clay, we shall meet immortal spirits: we part in a world of sin and sorrow, we shall meet where all is purity and love divine; where no ill passions are, but Christ is, and His saints around Him clad in white. There, in the turning of an hour-glass, in the breaking of a bubble, in the passing of a cloud, she, and thou, and I, shall meet again; and sit at the feet of angels and archangels, apostles and saints, and beam like them with joy unspeakable, in the light of the shadow of God upon His throne, FOR EVER— AND EVER— AND EVER.”

And so they parted. The monk erect, his eyes turned heavenwards and glowing with the sacred fire of zeal; the princess slowly retiring and turning more than once to cast a lingering glance of awe and tender regret on that inspired figure.

She went home subdued, and purified. Clement, in due course, reached Basle, and entered on his duties, teaching in the University, and preaching in the town and neighbourhood. He led a life that can be comprised in two words; deep study, and mortification. My reader has already a peep into his soul. At Basle he advanced in holy zeal and knowledge.

The brethren of his order began to see in him a descendant of the saints and martyrs.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/reade/charles/cloister-and-the-hearth/chapter75.html

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