The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 48

Catherine was in dismay when she reflected that Gerard must reach home in another month at farthest, more likely in a week; and how should she tell him she had not even kept an eye upon his betrothed? Then there was the uncertainty as to the girl’s fate; and this uncertainty sometimes took a sickening form.

“Oh, Kate,” she groaned, “if she should have gone and made herself away!”

“Mother, she would never be so wicked.”

“Ah, my lass, you know not what hasty fools young lasses be, that have no mothers to keep ’em straight. They will fling themselves into the water for a man that the next man they meet would ha’ cured ’em of in a week. I have known ’em to jump in like brass one moment and scream for help in the next. Couldn’t know their own minds ye see even about such a trifle as yon. And then there’s times when their bodies ail like no other living creatures ever I could hear of, and that strings up their feelings so, the patience, that belongs to them at other times beyond all living souls barring an ass, seems all to jump out of ’em at one turn, and into the water they go. Therefore, I say that men are monsters.”


“Monsters, and no less, to go making such heaps o’ canals just to tempt the poor women in. They know we shall not cut our throats, hating the sight of blood and rating our skins a hantle higher nor our lives; and as for hanging, while she is a fixing of the nail and a making of the noose she has time t’ alter her mind. But a jump into a canal is no more than into bed; and the water it does all the lave, will ye, nill ye. Why, look at me, the mother o’ nine, wasn’t I agog to make a hole in our canal for the nonce?”

“Nay, mother, I’ll never believe it of you.”

“Ye may, though. ’Twas in the first year of our keeping house together. Eli hadn’t found out my weak stitches then, nor I his; so we made a rent, pulling contrariwise; had a quarrel. So then I ran crying, to tell some gabbling fool like myself what I had no business to tell out o’ doors except to the saints, and there was one of our precious canals in the way; do they take us for teal? Oh, how tempting it did look! Says I to myself, ‘Sith he has let me go out of his door quarrelled, he shall see me drowned next, and then he will change his key. He will blubber a good one, and I shall look down from heaven’ (I forgot I should be in t’other part), ‘and see him take on, and oh, but that will be sweet!’ and I was all a tiptoe and going in, only just then I thought I wouldn’t. I had got a new gown a making, for one thing, and hard upon finished. So I went home instead, and what was Eli’s first word, ‘Let yon flea stick i’ the wall, my lass,’ says he. ‘Not a word of all I said t’ anger thee was sooth, but this, “I love thee.”’ These were his very words; I minded ’em, being the first quarrel. So I flung my arms about his neck and sobbed a bit, and thought o’ the canal; and he was no colder to me than I to him, being a man and a young one; and so then that was better than lying in the water; and spoiling my wedding kirtle and my fine new shoon, old John Bush made ’em, that was uncle to him keeps the shop now. And what was my grief to hers?”

Little Kate hoped that Margaret loved her father too much to think of leaving him so at his age. “He is father and mother and all to her, you know.”

“Nay, Kate, they do forget all these things in a moment o’ despair when the very sky seems black above them. I place more faith in him that is unborn, than on him that is ripe for the grave, to keep her out o’ mischief. For certes it do go sore against us to die when there’s a little innocent a pulling at our hearts to let ’un live, and feeding at our very veins.”

“Well, then, keep up a good heart, mother.” She added, that very likely all these fears were exaggerated. She ended by solemnly entreating her mother at all events not to persist in naming the sex of Margaret’s infant. It was so unlucky, all the gossips told her; “dear heart, as if there were not as many girls born as boys.”

This reflection, though not unreasonable, was met with clamour.

“Have you the cruelty to threaten me with a girl!!? I want no more girls, while I have you. What use would a lass be to me? Can I set her on my knee and see my Gerard again as I can a boy? I tell thee ’tis all settled.

“How may that be?”

“In my mind. And if I am to be disappointed i’ the end, ‘tisn’t for you to disappoint me beforehand, telling me it is not to be a child, but only a girl.”

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