The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 87

While Jorian was putting on his doublet and jerkin to go to Peter’s tomb, his tongue was not idle. “They used to call him a magician out Sevenbergen way. And they do say he gave ’em a touch of his trade at parting; told ’em he saw Margaret’s lad a-coming down Rhine in brave clothes and store o’ money, but his face scarred by foreign glaive, and not altogether so many arms and legs as a went away wi’. But, dear heart, nought came on’t. Margaret is still wearying for her lad; and Peter, he lies as quiet as his neighbours; not but what she hath put a stone slab over him, to keep him where he is: as you shall see.”

He put both hands on the edge of the grave, and was about to raise himself out of it, but the friar laid a trembling hand on his shoulder, and said in a strange whisper —

“How long since died Peter Brandt?”

“About two months, Why?”

“And his daughter buried him, say you?”

“Nay, I buried him, but she paid the fee and reared the stone.”

“Then — but he had just one daughter; Margaret?”

“No more leastways, that he owned to.”

“Then you think Margaret is — is alive?”

“Think? Why, I should be dead else. Riddle me that.”

“Alas, how can I? You love her!”

“No more than reason, being a married man, and father of four more sturdy knaves like myself. Nay, the answer is, she saved my life scarce six weeks agone. Now had she been dead she couldn’t ha’ kept me alive. Bless your heart, I couldn’t keep a thing on my stomach; nor doctors couldn’t make me. My Joan says, ”Tis time to buy thee a shroud.’ ‘I dare say, so ’tis,’ says I; but try and borrow one first.’ In comes my lady, this Margaret, which she died three years ago, by your way on’t, opens the windows, makes ’em shift me where I lay, and cures me in the twinkling of a bedpost; but wi’ what? there pinches the shoe; with the scurviest herb, and out of my own garden, too; with sweet feverfew. A herb, quotha, ’tis a weed; leastways it was a weed till it cured me, but now whene’er I pass my hunch I doff bonnet, and says I, ‘fly service t’ye.’ Why, how now, father, you look wondrous pale, and now you are red, and now you are white? Why, what is the matter? What, in Heaven’s name, is the matter?”

“The surprise — the joy — the wonder — the fear,” gasped Clement.

“Why, what is it to thee? Art thou of kin to Margaret Brandt?”

“Nay; but I knew one that loved her well, so well her death nigh killed him, body and soul. And yet thou sayest she lives. And I believe thee.”

Jorian stared, and after a considerable silence said very gravely, “Father, you have asked me many questions, and I have answered them truly; now for our Lady’s sake answer me but two. Did you in very sooth know one who loved this poor lass? Where?”

Clement was on the point of revealing himself, but he remembered Jerome’s letter, and shrank from being called by the name he had borne in the world.

“I knew him in Italy,” said he.

“If you knew him you can tell me his name,” said Jorian cautiously.

“His name was Gerard Eliassoen.”

“Oh, but this is strange. Stay, what made thee say Margaret Brandt was dead?”

“I was with Gerard when a letter came from Margaret Van Eyck. The letter told him she he loved was dead and buried. Let me sit down, for my strength fails me, Foul play! Foul play!”

“Father,” said Jorian, “I thank Heaven for sending thee to me, Ay, sit ye down; ye do look like a ghost; ye fast overmuch to be strong. My mind misgives me; methinks I hold the clue to this riddle, and if I do, there be two knaves in this town whose heads I would fain batter to pieces as I do this mould;” and he clenched his teeth and raised his long spade above his head, and brought it furiously down upon the heap several times. “Foul play? You never said a truer word i’ your life; and if you know where Gerard is now, lose no time, but show him the trap they have laid for him. Mine is but a dull head, but whiles the slow hound puzzles out the scent — go to, And I do think you and I ha’ got hold of two ends o’ one stick, and a main foul one.”

Jorian then, after some of those useless preliminaries men of his class always deal in, came to the point of the story. He had been employed by the burgomaster of Tergou to repair the floor of an upper room in his house, and when it was almost done, Coming suddenly to fetch away his tools, curiosity had been excited by some loud words below, and he had lain down on his stomach, and heard the burgomaster talking about a letter which Cornelis and Sybrandt were minded to convey into the place of one that a certain Hans Memling was taking to Gerard; “and it seems their will was good, but their stomach was small; so to give them courage the old man showed them a drawer full of silver, and if they did the trick they should each put a hand in, and have all the silver they could hold in’t. Well, father,” continued Jorian, “I thought not much on’t at the time, except for the bargain itself, that kept me awake mostly all night. Think on’t! Next morning at peep of day who should I see but my masters Cornelis and Sybrandt come out of their house each with a black eye. ‘Oho,’ says I, ‘what yon Hans hath put his mark on ye; well now I hope that is all you have got for your pains.’ Didn’t they make for the burgomaster’s house? I to my hiding-place.”

At this part of Jorian’s revelation the monk’s nostril dilated, and his restless eye showed the suspense he was in.

“Well, father,” continued Jorian, “the burgomaster brought them into that same room. He had a letter in his hand; but I am no scholar; however, I have got as many eyes in my head as the Pope hath, and I saw the drawer opened, and those two knaves put in each a hand and draw it out full. And, saints in glory, how they tried to hold more, and more, and more o’ yon stuff! And Sybrandt, he had daubed his hand in something sticky, I think ’twas glue, and he made shift to carry one or two pieces away a sticking to the back of his hand, he! he! he! ’Tis a sin to laugh. So you see luck was on the wrong side as usual; they had done the trick; but how they did it, that, methinks, will never be known till doomsday. Go to, they left their immortal jewels in yon drawer. Well, they got a handful of silver for them; the devil had the worst o’ yon bargain. There, father, that is off my mind; often I longed to tell it some one, but I durst not to the women; or Margaret would not have had a friend left in the world; for those two black-hearted villains are the favourites, ’Tis always so. Have not the old folk just taken a brave new shop for them in this very town, in the Hoog Straet? There may you see their sign, a gilt sheep and a lambkin; a brace of wolves sucking their dam would be nigher the mark. And there the whole family feast this day; oh, ’tis a fine world. What, not a word, holy father; you sit there like stone, and have not even a curse to bestow on them, the stony-hearted miscreants. What, was it not enough the poor lad was all alone in a strange land; must his own flesh and blood go and lie away the one blessing his enemies had left him? And then think of her pining and pining all these years, and sitting at the window looking adown the street for Gerard! and so constant, so tender, and true: my wife says she is sure no woman ever loved a man truer than she loves the lad those villains have parted from her; and the day never passes but she weeps salt tears for him. And when I think, that, but for those two greedy lying knaves, yon winsome lad, whose life I saved, might be by her side this day the happiest he in Holland; and the sweet lass, that saved my life, might be sitting with her cheek upon her sweetheart’s shoulder, the happiest she in Holland in place of the saddest; oh, I thirst for their blood, the nasty, sneaking, lying, cogging, cowardly, heartless, bowelless — how now?”

The monk started wildly up, livid with fury and despair, and rushed headlong from the place with both hands clenched and raised on high. So terrible was this inarticulate burst of fury, that Jorian’s puny ire died out at sight of it, and he stood looking dismayed after the human tempest he had launched.

While thus absorbed he felt his arm grasped by a small, tremulous hand.

It was Margaret Brandt.

He started; her coming there just then seemed so strange. She had waited long on Peter’s tombstone, but the friar did not come, So she went into the church to see if he was there still. She could not find him.

Presently, going up the south aisle, the gigantic shadow of a friar came rapidly along the floor and part of a pillar, and seemed to pass through her. She was near screaming; but in a moment remembered Jorian’s shadow had come in so from the churchyard; and tried to clamber out the nearest way. She did so, but with some difficulty; and by that time Clement was just disappearing down the street; yet, so expressive at times is the body as well as the face, she could see he was greatly agitated. Jorian and she looked at one another, and at the wild figure of the distant friar.

“Well?” said she to Jorian, trembling.

“Well,” said he, “you startled me. How come you here of all people?”

“Is this a time for idle chat? What said he to you? He has been speaking to you; deny it not.”

“Girl, as I stand here, he asked me whereabout you were buried in this churchyard.”

“Ah!”

“I told him, nowhere, thank Heaven: you were alive and saving other folk from the churchyard.”

“Well?”

“Well, the long and the short is, he knew thy Gerard in Italy; and a letter came saying you were dead; and it broke thy poor lad’s heart. Let me see; who was the letter written by? Oh, by the demoiselle van Eyck. That was his way of it. But I up and told him nay; ’twas neither demoiselle nor dame that penned yon lie, but Ghysbrecht Van Swieten, and those foul knaves, Cornelis and Sybrandt; these changed the true letter for one of their own; I told him as how I saw the whole villainy done through a chink; and now, if I have not been and told you!”

“Oh, cruel! cruel! But he lives. The fear of fears is gone. Thank God!”

“Ay, lass; and as for thine enemies, I have given them a dig. For yon friar is friendly to Gerard, and he is gone to Eli’s house, methinks. For I told him where to find Gerard’s enemies and thine, and wow but he will give them their lesson. If ever a man was mad with rage, its yon. He turned black and white, and parted like a stone from a sling. Girl, there was thunder in his eye and silence on his lips. Made me cold a did.”

“Oh, Jorian, what have you done?” cried Margaret. “Quick! quick! help me thither, for the power is gone all out of my body. You know him not as I do. Oh, if you had seen the blow he gave Ghysbrecht; and heard the frightful crash! Come, save him from worse mischief. The water is deep enow; but not bloody yet, come!”

Her accents were so full of agony that Jorian sprang out of the grave and came with her, huddling on his jerkin as he went.

But as they hurried along, he asked her what on earth she meant? “I talk of this friar, and you answer me of Gerard.”

“Man, see you not, this is Gerard!”

“This, Gerard? what mean ye?”

“I mean, yon friar is my boy’s father. I have waited for him long, Jorian. Well, he is come to me at last. And thank God for it. Oh, my poor child! Quicker, Jorian, quicker!”

“Why, thou art mad as he. Stay! By St. Bavon, yon was Gerard’s face; ’twas nought like it; yet somehow —’twas it. Come on! come on! let me see the end of this.”

“The end? How many of us will live to see that?”

They hurried along in breathless silence, till they reached Hoog Straet.

Then Jorian tried to reassure her. “You are making your own trouble,” said he; “who says he has gone thither? more likely to the convent to weep and pray, poor soul. Oh, cursed, cursed villains!”

“Did not you tell him where those villains bide?”

“Ay, that I did.”

“Then quicker, oh, Jorian, quicker. I see the house. Thank God and all the saints, I shall be in time to calm him. I know what I’ll say to him; Heaven forgive me! Poor Catherine; ’tis of her I think: she has been a mother to me.”

The shop was a corner house, with two doors; one in the main street, for customers, and a house-door round the corner.

Margaret and Jorian were now within twenty yards of the shop, when they heard a roar inside, like as of some wild animal, and the friar burst out, white and raging, and went tearing down the street.

Margaret screamed, and sank fainting on Jorian’s arm.

Jorian shouted after him, “Stay, madman, know thy friends.” But he was deaf, and went headlong, shaking his clenched fists high, high in the air.

“Help me in, good Jorian,” moaned Margaret, turning suddenly calm. “Let me know the worst; and die.”

He supported her trembling limbs into the house.

It seemed unnaturally still; not a sound.

Jorian’s own heart beat fast.

A door was before him, unlatched. He pushed it softly with his left hand, and Margaret and he stood on the threshold.

What they saw there you shall soon know.

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