The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 86


The cool church chequered with sunbeams and crowned with heavenly purple, soothed and charmed Father Clement, as it did Margaret; and more, it carried his mind direct to the Creator of all good and pure delights. Then his eye fell on the great aisle crammed with his country folk; a thousand snowy caps, filigreed with gold. Many a hundred leagues he had travelled; but seen nothing like them, except snow. In the morning he had thundered; but this sweet afternoon seemed out of tune with threats. His bowels yearned over that multitude; and he must tell them of God’s love: poor souls, they heard almost as little of it from the pulpit then a days as the heathen used. He told them the glad tidings of salvation. The people hung upon his gentle, earnest tongue.

He was not one of those preachers who keep gyrating in the pulpit like the weathercock on the steeple. He moved the hearts of others more than his own body. But on the other hand he did not entirely neglect those who were in bad places. And presently, warm with this theme, that none of all that multitude might miss the joyful tidings of Christ’s love, he turned him towards the south aisle.

And there, in a stream of sunshine from the window, was the radiant face of Margaret Brandt. He gazed at it without emotion. It just benumbed him, soul and body.

But soon the words died in his throat, and he trembled as he glared at it.

There, with her auburn hair bathed in sunbeams, and glittering like the gloriola of a saint, and her face glowing doubly, with its own beauty, and the sunshine it was set in-stood his dead love.

She was leaning very lightly against a white column. She was listening with tender, downcast lashes.

He had seen her listen so to him a hundred times.

There was no change in her. This was the blooming Margaret he had left: only a shade riper and more lovely.

He started at her with monstrous eyes and bloodless cheeks.

The people died out of his sight. He heard, as in a dream, a rustling and rising all over the church; but could not take his prodigy-stricken eyes off that face, all life, and bloom, and beauty, and that wondrous auburn hair glistening gloriously in the sun.

He gazed, thinking she must vanish.

She remained.

All in a moment she was looking at him, full.

Her own violet eyes!!

At this he was beside himself, and his lips parted to shriek out her name, when she turned her head swiftly, and soon after vanished, but not without one more glance, which, though rapid as lightning, encountered his, and left her couching and quivering with her mind in a whirl, and him panting and gripping the pulpit convulsively. For this glance of hers, though not recognition, was the startled inquiring, nameless, indescribable look that precedes recognition. He made a mighty effort, and muttered something nobody could understand: then feebly resumed his discourse; and stammered and babbled on a while, till by degrees forcing himself, now she was out of sight, to look on it as a vision from the other world, he rose into a state of unnatural excitement, and concluded in a style of eloquence that electrified the simple; for it bordered on rhapsody.

The sermon ended, he sat down on the pulpit stool, terribly shaken, But presently an idea very characteristic of the time took possession of him, He had sought her grave at Sevenbergen in vain. She had now been permitted to appear to him, and show him that she was buried here; probably hard by that very pillar, where her spirit had showed itself to him.

This idea once adopted soon settled on his mind with all the Certainty of a fact. And he felt he had only to speak to the sexton (whom to his great disgust he had seen working during the sermon), to learn the spot where she was laid.

The church was now quite empty. He came down from the pulpit and stepped through an aperture in the south wall on to the grass, and went up to the sexton. He knew him in a moment. But Jorian never suspected the poor lad, whose life he had saved, in this holy friar. The loss of his shapely beard had wonderfully altered the outline of his face. This had changed him even more than his tonsure, his short hair sprinkled with premature grey, and his cheeks thinned and paled by fasts and vigils.

“My son,” said Friar Clement softly, “if you keep any memory of those whom you lay in the earth, prithee tell me is any Christian buried inside the church, near one of the pillars?”

“Nay, father,” said Jorian, “here in the churchyard lie buried all that buried be. Why?”

“No matter, Prithee tell me then where lieth Margaret Brandt.”

“Margaret Brandt?” And Jorian stared stupidly at the speaker.

“She died about three years ago, and was buried here.”

“Oh, that is another matter,” said Jorian; “that was before my time; the vicar could tell you, likely; if so be she was a gentlewoman, or at the least rich enough to pay him his fee.”

“Alas, my son, she was poor (and paid a heavy penalty for it); but born of decent folk. Her father, Peter, was a learned physician; she came hither from Sevenbergen — to die.”

When Clement had uttered these words his head sunk upon his breast, and he seemed to have no power nor wish to question Jorian more. I doubt even if he knew where he was. He was lost in the past.

Jorian put down his spade, and standing upright in the grave, set his arms akimbo, and said sulkily, “Are you making a fool of me, holy sir, or has some wag been making a fool of you!” And having relieved his mind thus, he proceeded to dig again, with a certain vigour that showed his somewhat irritable temper was ruffled.

Clement gazed at him with a puzzled but gently reproachful eye, for the tone was rude, and the words unintelligible. Good-natured, though crusty, Jorian had not thrown up three spadefuls ere he became ashamed of it himself. “Why, what a base churl am I to speak thus to thee, holy father; and thou a standing there, looking at me like a lamb. Aha! I have it; ’tis Peter Brandt’s grave you would fain see, not Margaret’s. He does lie here; hard by the west door. There; I’ll show you.” And he laid down his spade, and put on his doublet and jerkin to go with the friar.

He did not know there was anybody sitting on Peter’s tomb. Still less that she was watching for this holy friar.

Pietro Vanucci and Andrea did not recognize him without his beard. The fact is, that the beard which has never known a razor grows in a very picturesque and characteristic form, and becomes a feature in the face; so that its removal may in some cases be an effectual disguise.

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