The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 97

A priest is never more thoroughly a priest than in the chamber of death, Gerard did the last offices of the Church for the departed, just as he should have done them for his smallest parishioner. He did this mechanically, then sat down stupefied by the sudden and tremendous blow, and not yet realizing the pangs of bereavement. Then in a transport of religious enthusiasm he kneeled and thanked Heaven for her Christian end.

And then all his thought was to take her away from strangers, and lay her in his own churchyard. That very evening a covered cart with one horse started for Gouda, and in it was a coffin, and a broken-hearted man lying with his arms and chin resting on it.

The mourner’s short-lived energy had exhausted itself in the necessary preparations, and now he lay crushed, clinging to the cold lead that held her.

The man of whom the cart was hired walked by the horse’s head and did not speak to him, and when he baited the horse spoke but in a whisper respecting that mute agony. But when he stopped for the night, he and the landlord made a well-meaning attempt to get the mourner away to take some rest and food. But Gerard repulsed them, and when they persisted, almost snarled at them, like a faithful dog, and clung to the cold lead all night. So then they drew a cloak over him, and left him in peace.

And at noon the sorrowful cart came up to the manse, and there were full a score of parishioners collected with one little paltry trouble or another. They had missed the parson already. And when they saw what it was, and saw their healer so stricken down, they raised a loud wail of grief, and it roused him from his lethargy of woe, and he saw where he was, and their faces, and tried to speak to them, “Oh, my children! my children!” he cried; but choked with anguish, could say no more.

Yet the next day, spite of all remonstrances, he buried her himself, and read the service with a voice that only trembled now and then, Many tears fell upon her grave. And when the service ended he stayed there standing like a statue, and the people left the churchyard out of respect.

He stood like one in a dream till the sexton, who was, as most men are, a fool, began to fill in the grave without giving him due warning.

But at the sound of earth falling on her Gerard uttered a piercing scream.

The sexton forbore.

Gerard staggered and put his hand to his breast. The sexton supported him, and called for help.

Jorian Ketel, who lingered near mourning his benefactress, ran into the churchyard, and the two supported Gerard into the manse.

“Ah, Jorian! good Jorian!” said he, “something snapped within me; I felt it, and I heard it; here, Jorian, here;” and he put his hand to his breast.

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