The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 45

The little party at the hosier’s house sat at table discussing the recent event, when their mother returned, and casting a piercing glance all round the little circle, laid the letter flat on the table. She repeated every word of it by memory, following the lines with her finger, to cheat herself and bearers into the notion that she could read the words, or nearly. Then, suddenly lifting her head, she cast another keen look on Cornelis and Sybrandt: their eyes fell.

On this the storm that had long been brewing burst on their heads.

Catherine seemed to swell like an angry hen ruffling her feathers, and out of her mouth came a Rhone and Saone of wisdom and twaddle, of great and mean invective, such as no male that ever was born could utter in one current; and not many women.

The following is a fair though a small sample of her words: only they were uttered all in one breath.

“I have long had my doubts that you blew the flame betwixt Gerard and your father, and set that old rogue, Ghysbrecht, on. And now, here are Gerard’s own written words to prove it. You have driven your own flesh and blood into a far land, and robbed the mother that bore you of her darling, the pride of her eye, the joy of her heart. But you are all of a piece from end to end. When you were all boys together, my others were a comfort; but you were a curse: mischievous and sly; and took a woman half a day to keep your clothes whole: for why? work wears cloth, but play cuts it. With the beard comes prudence; but none came to you: still the last to go to bed, and the last to leave it; and why? because honesty goes to bed early, and industry rises betimes; where there are two lie-a-beds in a house there are a pair of ne’er-do-weels. Often I’ve sat and looked at your ways, and wondered where ye came from: ye don’t take after your father, and ye are no more like me than a wasp is to an ant; sure ye were changed in the cradle, or the cuckoo dropped ye on my floor: for ye have not our hands, nor our hearts: of all my blood, none but you ever jeered them that God afflicted; but often when my back was turned I’ve heard you mock at Giles, because he is not as big as some; and at my lily Kate, because she is not so strong as a Flanders mare. After that rob a church an you will! for you can be no worse in His eyes that made both Kate and Giles, and in mine that suffered for them, poor darlings, as I did for you, you paltry, unfeeling, treasonable curs! No, I will not hush, my daughter, they have filled the cup too full. It takes a deal to turn a mother’s heart against the sons she has nursed upon her knees; and many is the time I have winked and wouldn’t see too much, and bitten my tongue, lest their father should know them as I do; he would have put them to the door that moment. But now they have filled the cup too full. And where got ye all this money? For this last month you have been rolling in it. You never wrought for it. I wish I may never hear from other mouths how ye got it. It is since that night you were out so late, and your head came back so swelled, Cornelis. Sloth and greed are ill-mated, my masters. Lovers of money must sweat or steal. Well, if you robbed any poor soul of it, it was some woman, I’ll go bail; for a man would drive you with his naked hand. No matter, it is good for one thing. It has shown me how you will guide our gear if ever it comes to be yourn. I have watched you, my lads, this while. You have spent a groat to-day between you. And I spend scarce a groat a week, and keep you all, good and bad. No I give up waiting for the shoes that will maybe walk behind your coffin; for this shop and this house shall never be yourn. Gerard is our heir; poor Gerard, whom you have banished and done your best to kill; after that never call me mother again! But you have made him tenfold dearer to me. My poor lost boy! I shall soon see him again shall hold him in my arms, and set him on my knees. Ay, you may stare! You are too crafty, and yet not crafty enow. You cut the stalk away; but you left the seed — the seed that shall outgrow you, and outlive you. Margaret Brandt is quick, and it is Gerard’s, and what is Gerard’s is mine; and I have prayed the saints it may be a boy; and it will — it must. Kate, when I found it was so, my bowels yearned over her child unborn as if it had been my own. He is our heir. He will outlive us. You will not; for a bad heart in a carcass is like the worm in the nut, soon brings the body to dust. So, Kate, take down Gerard’s bib and tucker that are in the drawer you wot of, and one of these days we will carry them to Sevenbergen. We will borrow Peter Buyskens’ cart, and go comfort Gerard’s wife under her burden. She is his wife. Who is Ghysbrecht Van Swieten? Can he come between a couple and the altar, and sunder those that God and the priest make one? She is my daughter, and I am as proud of her as I am of you, Kate, almost; and as for you, keep out of my way awhile, for you are like the black dog in my eyes.”

Cornelis and Sybrandt took the hint and slunk out, aching with remorse, and impenitence, and hate. They avoided her eye as much as ever they could; and for many days she never spoke a word, good, bad, or indifferent, to either of them. Liberaverat animum suum.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59