The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 83

THE HEARTH

Waiting an earnest letter seldom leaves the mind in statu quo.

Margaret, in hers, vented her energy and her faith in her dying father’s vision, or illusion; and when this was done, and Luke gone, she wondered at her credulity, and her conscience pricked her about Luke; and Catherine came and scolded her, and she paid the price of false hopes, and elevation of spirits, by falling into deeper despondency. She was found in this state by a staunch friend she had lately made, Joan Ketel. This good woman came in radiant with an idea.

“Margaret, I know the cure for thine ill: the hermit of Gouda a wondrous holy man, Why, he can tell what is coming, when he is in the mood.”

“Ay, I have heard of him,” said Margaret hopelessly. Joan with some difficulty persuaded her to walk out as far as Gouda, and consult the hermit. They took some butter and eggs in a basket, and went to his cave.

What had made the pair such fast friends? Jorian some six weeks ago fell ill of a bowel disease; it began with raging pain; and when this went off, leaving him weak, an awkward symptom succeeded; nothing, either liquid or solid, would stay in his stomach a minute. The doctor said: “He must die if this goes on many hours; therefore boil thou now a chicken with a golden angel in the water, and let him sup that!” Alas! Gilt chicken broth shared the fate of the humbler viands, its predecessors. Then the cure steeped the thumb of St. Sergius in beef broth. Same result. Then Joan ran weeping to Margaret to borrow some linen to make his shroud. “Let me see him,” said Margaret. She came in and felt his pulse. “Ah!” said she, “I doubt they have not gone to the root. Open the window! Art stifling him; now change all his linen.

“Alack, woman, what for? Why foul more linen for a dying man?” objected the mediaeval wife.

“Do as thou art bid,” said Margaret dully, and left the room.

Joan somehow found herself doing as she was bid. Margaret returned with her apron full of a flowering herb. She made a decoction, and took it to the bedside; and before giving it to the patient, took a spoonful herself, and smacked her lips hypocritically. “That is fair,” said he, with a feeble attempt at humour. “Why, ’tis sweet, and now ’tis bitter.” She engaged him in conversation as soon as he had taken it. This bitter-sweet stayed by him. Seeing which she built on it as cards are built: mixed a very little schiedam in the third spoonful, and a little beaten yoke of egg in the seventh. And so with the patience of her sex she coaxed his body out of Death’s grasp; and finally, Nature, being patted on the back, instead of kicked under the bed, set Jorian Ketel on his legs again. But the doctress made them both swear never to tell a soul her guilty deed. “They would put me in prison, away from my child.”

The simple that saved Jorian was called sweet feverfew. She gathered it in his own garden. Her eagle eye had seen it growing out of the window.

Margaret and Joan, then, reached the hermit’s cave, and placed their present on the little platform. Margaret then applied her mouth to the aperture, made for that purpose, and said: “Holy hermit, we bring thee butter and eggs of the best; and I, a poor deserted girl, wife, yet no wife, and mother of the sweetest babe, come to pray thee tell me whether he is quick or dead, true to his vows or false.”

A faint voice issued from the cave: “Trouble me not with the things of earth, but send me a holy friar, I am dying.”

“Alas!” cried Margaret. “Is it e’en so, poor soul? Then let us in to help thee.”

“Saints forbid! Thine is a woman’s voice. Send me a holy friar.”

They went back as they came. Joan could not help saying, “Are women imps o’ darkness then, that they must not come anigh a dying bed?”

But Margaret was too deeply dejected to say anything. Joan applied rough consolation. But she was not listened to till she said: “And Jorian will speak out ere long; he is just on the boil, He is very grateful to thee, believe it.”

“Seeing is believing,” replied Margaret, with quiet bitterness.

“Not but what he thinks you might have saved him with something more out o’ the common than yon. ‘A man of my inches to be cured wi’ feverfew,’ says he. ‘Why, if there is a sorry herb,’ says he. ‘Why, I was thinking o’ pulling all mine up, says he. I up and told him remedies were none the better for being far-fetched; you and feverfew cured him, when the grand medicines came up faster than they went down. So says I, ‘You may go down on your four bones to feverfew.’ But indeed, he is grateful at bottom; you are all his thought and all his chat. But he sees Gerard’s folk coming around ye, and good friends, and he said only last night —”

“Well?”

“He made me vow not to tell ye.”

“Prithee, tell me.”

“Well, he said: ‘An’ if I tell what little I know, it won’t bring him back, and it will set them all by the ears. I wish I had more headpiece,’ said he; ‘I am sore perplexed. But least said is soonest mended.’ Yon is his favourite word; he comes back to’t from a mile off.”

Margaret shook her head. “Ay, we are wading in deep waters, my poor babe and me.”

It was Saturday night and no Luke.

“Poor Luke!” said Margaret. “It was very good of him to go on such an errand.”

“He is one out of a hundred,” replied Catherine warmly.

“Mother, do you think he would be kind to little Gerard?”

“I am sure he would. So do you be kinder to him when he comes back! Will ye now?”

“Ay.”

THE CLOISTER

Brother Clement, directed by the nuns, avoided a bend in the river, and striding lustily forward, reached a station some miles nearer the coast than that where Luke lay in wait for Gerard Eliassoen. And the next morning he started early, and was in Rotterdam at noon. He made at once for the port, not to keep Jerome waiting.

He observed several monks of his order on the quay; he went to them; but Jerome was not amongst them. He asked one of them whether Jerome had arrived? “Surely, brother, was the reply.

“Prithee, where is he?”

“Where? Why, there!” said the monk, pointing to a ship in full sail. And Clement now noticed that all the monks were looking seaward.

“What, gone without me! Oh, Jerome! Jerome!” cried he, in a voice of anguish. Several of the friars turned round and stared.

“You must be brother Clement,” said one of them at length; and on this they kissed him and greeted him with brotherly warmth, and gave him a letter Jerome had charged them with for him. It was a hasty scrawl. The writer told him coldly a ship was about to sail for England, and he was loth to lose time. He (Clement) might follow if he pleased, but he would do much better to stay behind, and preach to his own country folk. “Give the glory to God, brother; you have a wonderful power over Dutch hearts; but you are no match for those haughty islanders: you are too tender.

“Know thou that on the way I met one, who asked me for thee under the name thou didst bear in the world. Be on thy guard! Let not the world catch thee again by any silken net, And remember, Solitude, Fasting, and Prayer are the sword, spear, and shield of the soul. Farewell.”

Clement was deeply shocked and mortified at this contemptuous desertion, and this cold-blooded missive.

He promised the good monks to sleep at the convent, and to preach wherever the prior should appoint for Jerome had raised him to the skies as a preacher, and then withdrew abruptly, for he was cut to the quick, and wanted to be alone. He asked himself, was there some incurable fault in him, repulsive to so true a son of Dominic? Or was Jerome himself devoid of that Christian Love which St. Paul had placed above Faith itself? Shipwrecked with him, and saved on the same fragment of the wreck: his pupil, his penitent, his son in the Church, and now for four hundred miles his fellow-traveller in Christ; and to be shaken off like dirt, the first opportunity, with harsh and cold disdain. “Why worldly hearts are no colder nor less trusty than this,” said he. “The only one that ever really loved me lies in a grave hard by. Fly me, fly to England, man born without a heart; I will go and pray over a grave at Sevenbergen.”

Three hours later he passed Peter’s cottage. A troop of noisy children were playing about the door, and the house had been repaired, and a new outhouse added. He turned his head hastily away, not to disturb a picture his memory treasured; and went to the churchyard.

He sought among the tombstones for Margaret’s. He could not find it. He could not believe they had grudged her a tombstone, so searched the churchyard all over again.

“Oh poverty! stern poverty! Poor soul, thou wert like me no one was left that loved thee, when Gerard was gone.”

He went into the church, and after kissing the steps, prayed long and earnestly for the soul of her whose resting-place he could not find.

Coming out of the church he saw a very old man looking over the little churchyard gate. He went towards him, and asked him did he live in the place.

“Four score and twelve years, man and boy. And I come here every day of late, holy father, to take a peep. This is where I look to bide ere long.”

“My son, can you tell me where Margaret lies?”

“Margaret? There’s a many Margarets here.”

“Margaret Brandt. She was daughter to a learned physician.”

“As if I didn’t know that,” said the old man pettishly. “But she doesn’t lie here. Bless you, they left this a longful while ago. Gone in a moment, and the house empty. What, is she dead? Margaret a Peter dead? Now only think on’t. Like enow; like enow, They great towns do terribly disagree wi’ country folk.”

“What great towns, my son?”

“Well, ’twas Rotterdam they went to from here, so I heard tell; or was it Amsterdam? Nay, I trow ’twas Rotterdam? And gone there to die!”

Clement sighed.

“’Twas not in her face now, that I saw. And I can mostly tell, Alack, there was a blooming young flower to be cut off so soon, and all old weed like me left standing still. Well, well, she was a May rose yon; dear heart, what a winsome smile she had, and —”

“God bless thee, my son,” said Clement; “farewell!” and he hurried away.

He reached the convent at sunset, and watched and prayed in the chapel for Jerome and Margaret till it was long past midnight, and his soul had recovered its cold calm.

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