The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 84

THE HEARTH

The next day, Sunday, after mass, was a bustling day at Catherine’s house in the Hoog Straet. The shop was now quite ready, and Cornelis and Sybrandt were to open it next day; their names were above the door; also their sign, a white lamb sucking a gilt sheep. Eli had come, and brought them some more goods from his store to give them a good start. The hearts of the parents glowed at what they were doing, and the pair themselves walked in the garden together, and agreed they were sick of their old life, and it was more pleasant to make money than waste it; they vowed to stick to business like wax. Their mother’s quick and ever watchful ear overheard this resolution through an open window, and she told Eli, The family supper was to include Margaret and her boy, and be a kind of inaugural feast, at which good trade advice was to flow from the elders, and good wine to be drunk to the success of the converts to Commerce from Agriculture in its unremunerative form — wild oats. So Margaret had come over to help her mother-in-law, and also to shake off her own deep languor; and both their faces were as red as the fire. Presently in came Joan with a salad from Jorian’s garden.

“He cut it for you, Margaret; you are all his chat; I shall be jealous. I told him you were to feast to-day. But oh, lass, what a sermon in the new kerk! Preaching? I never heard it till this day.”

“Would I had been there then,” said Margaret; “for I am dried up for want of dew from heaven.”

“Why, he preacheth again this afternoon. But mayhap you are wanted here.”

“Not she,” said Catherine. “Come, away ye go, if y’are minded.”

“Indeed,” said Margaret, “methinks I should not be such a damper at table if I could come to ‘t warm from a good sermon.”

“Then you must be brisk,” observed Joan. “See the folk are wending that way, and as I live, there goes the holy friar. Oh, bless us and save us, Margaret; the hermit! We forgot.” And this active woman bounded out of the house, and ran across the road, and stopped the friar. She returned as quickly. “There, I was bent on seeing him nigh hand.”

“What said he to thee?”

“Says he, ‘My daughter, I will go to him ere sunset, God willing.’ The sweetest voice. But oh, my mistresses, what thin cheeks for a young man, and great eyes, not far from your colour, Margaret.”

“I have a great mind to go hear him,” said Margaret. “But my cap is not very clean, and they will all be there in their snow-white mutches.”

“There, take my handkerchief out of the basket,” said Catherine; “you cannot have the child, I want him for my poor Kate. It is one of her ill days.”

Margaret replied by taking the boy upstairs. She found Kate in bed.

“How art thou, sweetheart? Nay, I need not ask. Thou art in sore pain; thou smilest so, See,’ I have brought thee one thou lovest.”

“Two, by my way of counting,” said Kate, with an angelic smile. She had a spasm at that moment would have made some of us roar like bulls.

“What, in your lap?” said Margaret, answering a gesture of the suffering girl. “Nay, he is too heavy, and thou in such pain.”

“I love him too dear to feel his weight,” was the reply.

Margaret took this opportunity, and made her toilet. “I am for the kerk,” said she, “to hear a beautiful preacher.” Kate sighed. “And a minute ago, Kate, I was all agog to go; that is the way with me this month past; up and down, up and down, like the waves of the Zuyder Zee. I’d as lieve stay aside thee; say the word!”

“Nay,” said Kate, “prithee go; and bring me back every word. Well-a-day that I cannot go myself.” And the tears stood in the patient’s eyes. This decided Margaret, and she kissed Kate, looked under her lashes at the boy, and heaved a little sigh. “I trow I must not,” said she. “I never could kiss him a little; and my father was dead against waking a child by day or night When ’tis thy pleasure to wake, speak thy aunt Kate the two new words thou hast gotten.” And she went out, looking lovingly over her shoulder, and shut the door inaudibly.

“Joan, you will lend me a hand, and peel these?” said Catherine.

“That I will, dame.” And the cooking proceeded with silent vigour.

“Now, Joan, them which help me cook and serve the meat, they help me eat it; that’s a rule.”

“There’s worse laws in Holland than that. Your will is my pleasure, mistress; for my Luke hath got his supper i’ the air. He is digging to-day by good luck.” (Margaret came down.)

“Eh, woman, yon is an ugly trade. There she has just washed her face and gi’en her hair a turn, and now who is like her? Rotterdam, that for you!” and Catherine snapped her fingers at the capital. “Give us a buss, hussy! Now mind, Eli won’t wait supper for the duke. Wherefore, loiter not after your kerk is over.”

Joan and she both followed her to the door, and stood at it watching her a good way down the street. For among homely housewives going out o’ doors is half an incident. Catherine commented on the launch: “There, Joan, it is almost to me as if I had just started my own daughter for kerk, and stood a looking after: the which I’ve done it manys and manys the times. Joan, lass, she won’t hear a word against our Gerard; and he be alive, he has used her cruel; that is why my bowels yearn for the poor wench. I’m older and wiser than she; and so I’ll wed her to yon simple Luke, and there an end. What’s one grandchild?”

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