Margaret went back to Rotterdam long ere Gerard awoke, and actually left her boy behind her. She sent the faithful, sturdy Reicht off to Gouda directly with a vicar’s grey frock and large felt hat, and with minute instructions how to govern her new master.
Then she went to Jorian Ketel; for she said to herself, “he is the closest I ever met, so he is the man for me,” and in concert with him she did two mortal sly things; yet not, in my opinion, virulent, though she thought they were; but if I am asked what were these deeds without a name, the answer is, that as she, who was, ‘but a woman,’ kept them secret till her dying day, I, who am a man —“Verbum non amplius addam.”
She kept away from Gouda parsonage.
Things that pass little noticed in the heat of argument sometimes rankle afterwards; and when she came to go over all that had passed, she was offended at Gerard thinking she could ever forget the priest in the some time lover, “For what did he take me?” said she. And this raised a great shyness which really she would not otherwise have felt, being downright innocent, And pride sided with modesty, and whispered, “Go no more to Gouda parsonage.”
She left little Gerard there to complete the conquest her maternal heart ascribed to him, not to her own eloquence and sagacity, and to anchor his father for ever to humanity.
But this generous stroke of policy cost her heart dear. She had never yet been parted from her boy an hour, and she felt sadly strange as well as desolate without him. After the first day it became intolerable; and what does the poor soul do, but creep at dark up to Gouda parsonage, and lurk about the premises like a thief till she saw Reicht Heynes in the kitchen alone, Then she tapped softly at the window and said, “Reicht, for pity’s sake bring him out to me unbeknown.” With Margaret the person who occupied her thoughts at the time ceased to have a name, and sank to a pronoun.
Reicht soon found an excuse for taking little Gerard out, and there was a scene of mutual rapture, followed by mutual tears when mother and boy parted again.
And it was arranged that Reicht should take him half way to Rotterdam every day, at a set hour, and Margaret meet them. And at these meetings, after the raptures, and after mother and child had gambolled together like a young cat and her first kitten, the boy would sometimes amuse himself alone at their feet, and the two women generally seized this opportunity to talk very seriously about Luke Peterson, This began thus:
“Reicht,” said Margaret, “I as good as promised him to marry Luke Peterson. ‘Say you the word,’ quoth I, ‘and I’ll wed him.’”
“Prithee, why poor Luke?”
“To be bandied about so, atwixt yea and nay.”
“Why, Reicht, you have not ever been so simple as to cast an eye of affection on the boy, that you take his part?”
“Me?” said Reicht, with a toss of the head.
“Oh, I ask your pardon. Well, then, you can do me a good turn.”
“Whisht! whisper! that little darling is listening to every word, and eyes like saucers.”
On this both their heads would have gone under one cap.
Two women plotting against one boy? Oh, you great cowardly serpents!
But when these stolen meetings had gone on for about five days Margaret began to feel the injustice of it, and to be irritated as well as unhappy.
And she was crying about it when a cart came to her door, and in it, clean as a new penny, his beard close shaved, his hands white as snow, and a little colour in his pale face, sat the Vicar of Gouda in the grey frock and large felt hat she had sent him.
She ran upstairs directly, and washed away all traces of her tears, and put on a cap, which being just taken out of the drawer was cleaner, theoretically, than the one she had on, and came down to him.
He seized both her hands and kissed them, and a tear fell upon them. She turned her head away at that to hide her own which started.
“My sweet Margaret,” he cried, “why is this? Why hold you aloof from your own good deed? we have been waiting for you every day, and no Margaret.”
“You said things.”
“What! when I was a hermit, and a donkey.”
“Ay! no matter, you said things. And you had no reason.”
“Forget all I said there. Who hearkens the ravings of a maniac? for I see now that in a few months more I should have been a gibbering idiot; yet no mortal could have persuaded me away but you. Oh what an outlay of wit and goodness was yours! But it is not here I can thank and bless you as I ought. No, it is in the home you have given me, among the sheep whose shepherd you have made me; already I love them dearly; there it is I must thank ‘the truest friend ever man had.’ So now I say to you as erst you said to me, come to Gouda manse.”
“Humph! we will see about that.”
“Why, Margaret, think you I had ever kept the dear child so long, but that I made sure you would be back to him from day to day? Oh he curls round my very heartstrings, but what is my title to him compared to thine? Confess now, thou hast had hard thoughts of me for this.”
“Nay, nay, not I. Ah! thou art thyself again; wast ever thoughtful of others. I have half a mind to go to Gouda manse, for your saying that.”
“Come then, with half thy mind, ’tis worth the whole of other folk’s.”
“Well, I dare say I will; but there is no such mighty hurry,” said she coolly (she was literally burning to go). “Tell me first how you agree with your folk.”
“Why, already my poor have taken root in my heart.”
“I thought as much.”
“And there are such good creatures among them; simple and rough, and superstitious, but wonderfully good.”
“Oh I leave you alone for seeing a grain of good among a bushel of ill.”
“Whisht! whisht! And Margaret, two of them have been ill friends for four years, and came to the manse each to get on my blind side. But give the glory to God I got on their bright side, and made them friends, and laugh at themselves for their folly.”
“But are you in very deed their vicar? answer me that.”
“Certes; have I not been to the bishop and taken the oath, and rung the church bell, and touched the altar, the missal, and the holy cup before the church-wardens? And they have handed me the parish seal; see, here it is. Nay, ’tis a real vicar inviting a true friend to Gouda manse.”
“Then my mind is at ease. Tell me oceans more.”
“Well, sweet one, nearest to me of all my parish is a poor cripple that my guardian angel and his (her name thou knowest even by this turning of thy head away) hath placed beneath my roof. Sybrandt and I are that we never were till now, brothers. ‘Twould gladden thee, yet sadden thee to hear how we kissed and forgave one another. He is full of thy praises, and wholly in a pious mind; he says he is happier since his trouble than e’er he was in the days of his strength. Oh! out of my house he ne’er shall go to any place but heaven.”
“Tell me somewhat that happened thyself, poor soul! All this is good, but yet no tidings to me. Do I not know thee of old?”
“Well, let me see. At first I was much dazzled by the sun-light, and could not go abroad (owl!), but that is passed; and good Reicht Heynes — humph!”
“What of her?”
“This to thine ear only, for she is a diamond. Her voice goes through me like a knife, and all voices seem loud but thine, which is so mellow sweet. Stay, now I’ll fit ye with tidings; I spake yesterday with an old man that conceits he is ill-tempered, and sweats to pass for such with others, but oh! so threadbare, and the best good heart beneath.”
“Why, ’tis a parish of angels,” said Margaret ironically.
“Then why dost thou keep out on’t?” retorted Gerard. “Well, he was telling me there was no parish in Holland where the devil hath such power as at Gouda; and among his instances, says he, ‘We had a hermit, the holiest in Holland; but being Gouda, the devil came for him this week, and took him, bag and baggage; not a ha’porth of him left but a goodish piece of his skin, just for all the world like a hedgehog’s, and a piece o’ old iron furbished up.’”
“Ay, but,” continued Gerard, “the strange thing is, the cave has verily fallen in; and had I been so perverse as resist thee, it had assuredly buried me dead there where I had buried myself alive. Therefore in this I see the finger of Providence, condemning my late, approving my present, way of life. What sayest thou?”
“Nay, can I pierce the like mysteries? I am but a woman.”
“Somewhat more, methinks. This very tale proves thee my guardian angel, and all else avouches it, so come to Gouda manse.”
“Well, go you on, I’ll follow.”
“Nay, in the cart with me.”
“Can I tell why and wherefore, being a woman? All I know is I seem — to feel — to wish — to come alone.”
“So be it then. I leave thee the cart, being, as thou sayest, a woman, and I’ll go a-foot, being a man again, with the joyful tidings of thy coming.”
When Margaret reached the manse the first thing she saw was the two Gerards together, the son performing his capriccios on the plot, and the father slouching on a chair, in his great hat, with pencil and paper, trying very patiently to sketch him.
After a warm welcome he showed her his attempts. “But in vain I strive to fix him,” said he, “for he is incarnate quick silver, Yet do but note his changes, infinite, but none ungracious; all is supple and easy; and how he melteth from one posture to another,” He added presently, “Woe to illuminators I looking on thee, sir baby, I see what awkward, lopsided, ungainly toads I and my fellows painted missals with, and called them cherubs and seraphs,” Finally he threw the paper away in despair, and Margaret conveyed it secretly into her bosom.
At night when they sat round the peat fire he bade them observe how beautiful the brass candlesticks and other glittering metals were in the glow from the hearth. Catherine’s eyes sparkled at this observation, “And oh the sheets I lie in here,” said he, “often my conscience pricketh me, and saith, ‘Who art thou to lie in lint like web of snow?’ Dives was ne’er so flaxed as I. And to think that there are folk in the world that have all the beautiful things which I have here yet not content. Let them pass six months in a hermit’s cell, seeing no face of man, then will they find how lovely and pleasant this wicked world is, and eke that men and women are God’s fairest creatures. Margaret was always fair, but never to my eye so bright as now.” Margaret shook her head incredulously, Gerard continued, “My mother was ever good and kind, but I noted not her exceeding comeliness till now.”
“Nor I neither,” said Catherine; “a score years ago I might pass in a crowd, but not now.”
Gerard declared to her that each age had its beauty. “See this mild grey eye,” said he, “that hath looked motherly love upon so many of us, all that love hath left its shadow, and that shadow is a beauty which defieth Time. See this delicate lip, these pure white teeth. See this well-shaped brow, where comliness Just passeth into reverence. Art beautiful in my eyes, mother dear.”
“And that is enough for me, my darling, ’Tis time you were in bed, child. Ye have to preach the morn.”
And Reicht Heynes and Catherine interchanged a look which said, “We two have an amiable maniac to superintend; calls everything beautiful.”
The next day was Sunday, and they heard him preach in his own church. It was crammed with persons, who came curious, but remained devout. Never was his wonderful gift displayed more powerfully; he was himself deeply moved by the first sight of all his people, and his bowels yearned over this flock he had so long neglected. In a single sermon, which lasted two hours and seemed to last but twenty minutes, he declared the whole scripture: he terrified the impenitent and thoughtless, confirmed the wavering, consoled the bereaved and the afflicted, uplifted the heart of the poor, and when he ended, left the multitude standing rapt, and unwilling to believe the divine music of his voice and soul had ceased.
Need I say that two poor women in a corner sat entranced, with streaming eyes.
“Wherever gat he it all?” whispered Catherine, with her apron to her eyes. “By our Lady not from me.”
As soon as they were by themselves Margaret threw her arms round Catherine’s neck and kissed her.
“Mother, mother, I am not quite a happy woman, but oh I am a proud one.”
And she vowed on her knees never by word or deed to let her love come between this young saint and Heaven.
Reader, did you ever stand by the seashore after a storm, when the wind happens to have gone down suddenly? The waves cannot cease with their cause; indeed, they seem at first to the ear to lash the sounding shore more fiercely than while the wind blew. Still we are conscious that inevitable calm has begun, and is now but rocking them to sleep. So it was with those true and tempest-tossed lovers from that eventful night when they went hand in hand beneath the stars from Gouda hermitage to Gouda manse.
At times a loud wave would every now and then come roaring, but it was only memory’s echo of the tempest that had swept their lives; the storm itself was over, and the boiling waters began from that moment to go down, down, down, gently, but inevitably.
This image is to supply the place of interminable details that would be tedious and tame. What best merits attention at present is the general situation, and the strange complication of feeling that arose from it. History itself, though a far more daring story-teller than romance, presents few things so strange18 as the footing on which Gerard and Margaret now lived for many years. United by present affection, past familiarity, and a marriage irregular but legal; separated by Holy Church and by their own consciences, which sided unreservedly with Holy Church; separated by the Church, but united by a living pledge of affection, lawful in every sense at its date.
And living but a few miles from one another, and she calling his mother “mother,” For some years she always took her boy to Gouda on Sunday, returning home at dark, Go when she would, it was always fete at Gouda manse, and she was received like a little queen. Catherine in these days was nearly always with her, and Eli very often, Tergou had so little to tempt them compared with Rotterdam; and at last they left it altogether, and set up in the capital.
And thus the years glided; so barren now of striking incidents, so void of great hopes, and free from great fears, and so like one another, that without the help of dates I could scarcely indicate the progress of time.
However, early next year, 1471, the Duchess of Burgundy, with the open dissent, but secret connivance of the Duke, raised forces to enable her dethroned brother, Edward the Fourth of England, to invade that kingdom; our old friend Denys thus enlisted, and passing through Rotterdam to the ships, heard on his way that Gerard was a priest, and Margaret alone. On this he told Margaret that marriage was not a habit of his, but that as his comrade had put it out of his own power to keep troth, he felt bound to offer to keep it for him; “for a comrade’s honour is dear to us as our own,” said he.
She stared, then smiled, “I choose rather to be still thy she-comrade,” said she; “closer acquainted, we might not agree so well,” And in her character of she-comrade she equipped him with a new sword of Antwerp make, and a double handful of silver. “I give thee no gold,” said she, “for ’tis thrown away as quick as silver, and harder to win back. Heaven send thee safe out of all thy perils; there be famous fair women yonder to beguile thee, with their faces, as well as men to hash thee with their axes.”
He was hurried on board at La Vere, and never saw Gerard at that time.
In 1473 Sybrandt began to fail. His pitiable existence had been sweetened by his brother’s inventive tenderness and his own contented spirit, which, his antecedents considered, was truly remarkable, As for Gerard, the day never passed that he did not devote two hours to him; reading or singing to him, praying with him, and drawing him about in a soft carriage Margaret and he had made between them. When the poor soul found his end near, he begged Margaret might be sent for. She came at once, and almost with his last breath he sought once more that forgiveness she had long ago accorded. She remained by him till the last; and he died, blessing and blessed, in the arms of the two true lovers he had parted for life. Tantum religio scit suadere boni.
1474 there was a wedding in Margaret’s house, Luke Peterson and Reicht Heynes.
This may seem less strange if I give the purport of the dialogue interrupted some time back.
Margaret went on to say, “Then in that case you can easily make him fancy you, and for my sake you must, for my conscience it pricketh me, and I must needs fit him with a wife, the best I know.” Margaret then instructed Reicht to be always kind and good-humoured to Luke; and she would be a model of peevishness to him, “But be not thou so simple as run me down,” said she, “Leave that to me. Make thou excuses for me; I will make myself black enow.”
Reicht received these instructions like an order to sweep a room, and obeyed them punctually.
When they had subjected poor Luke to this double artillery for a couple of years, he got to look upon Margaret as his fog and wind, and Reicht as his sunshine; and his affections transferred themselves, he scarce knew how or when.
On the wedding day Reicht embraced Margaret, and thanked her almost with tears. “He was always my fancy,” said she, “from the first hour I clapped eyes on him.”
“Heyday, you never told me that. What, Reicht, are you as sly as the rest?”
“Nay, nay,” said Reicht eagerly; “but I never thought you would really part with him to me. In my country the mistress looks to be served before the maid.”
Margaret settled them in her shop, and gave them half the profits.
1476 and 7 were years of great trouble to Gerard, whose conscience compelled him to oppose the Pope. His Holiness, siding with the Grey Friars in their determination to swamp every palpable distinction between the Virgin Mary and her Son, bribed the Christian world into his crotchet by proffering pardon of all sins to such as would add to the Ave Mary this clause: “and blessed be thy Mother Anna, from whom, without blot of sin, proceeded thy virgin flesh.”
Gerard, in common with many of the northern clergy, held this sentence to be flat heresy. He not only refused to utter it in his church, but warned his parishioners against using it in private; and he refused to celebrate the new feast the Pope invented at the same time, viz., “the feast of the miraculous conception of the Virgin.”
But this drew upon him the bitter enmity of the Franciscans, and they were strong enough to put him into more than one serious difficulty, and inflict many a little mortification on him. In emergencies he consulted Margaret, and she always did one of two things, either she said, “I do not see my way,” and refused to guess; or else she gave him advice that proved wonderfully sagacious. He had genius, but she had marvellous tact.
And where affection came in and annihilated the woman’s judgment, he stepped in his turn to her aid. Thus though she knew she was spoiling little Gerard, and Catherine was ruining him for life, she would not part with him, but kept him at home, and his abilities uncultivated. And there was a shrewd boy of nine years, instead of learning to work and obey, playing about and learning selfishness from their infinite unselfishness, and tyrannizing with a rod of iron over two women, both of them sagacious and spirited, but reduced by their fondness for him to the exact level of idiots.
Gerard saw this with pain, and interfered with mild but firm remonstrance; and after a considerable struggle prevailed, and got little Gerard sent to the best school in Europe, kept by one Haaghe at Deventer: this was in 1477. Many tears were shed, but the great progress the boy made at that famous school reconciled Margaret in some degree, and the fidelity of Reicht Heynes, now her partner in business, enabled her to spend weeks at a time hovering over her boy at Deventer.
And so the years glided; and these two persons, subjected to as strong and constant a temptation as can well be conceived, were each other’s guardian angels, and not each other’s tempters.
To be sure the well-greased morality of the next century, which taught that solemn vows to God are sacred in proportion as they are reasonable, had at that time entered no single mind; and the alternative to these two minds was self-denial or sacrilege.
It was a strange thing to hear them talk with unrestrained tenderness to one another of their boy, and an icy barrier between themselves all the time.
Eight years had now passed thus, and Gerard, fairly compared with men in general, was happy.
But Margaret was not.
The habitual expression of her face was a sweet pensiveness, but sometimes she was irritable and a little petulant. She even snapped Gerard now and then. And when she went to see him, if a monk was with him she would turn her back and go home. She hated the monks for having parted Gerard and her, and she inoculated her boy with a contempt for them which lasted him till his dying day.
Gerard bore with her like an angel. He knew her heart of gold, and hoped this ill gust would blow over.
He himself being now the right man in the right place this many years, loving his parishioners, and beloved by them, and occupied from morn till night in good works, recovered the natural cheerfulness of his disposition. To tell the truth, a part of his jocoseness was a blind; he was the greatest peace-maker, except Mr. Harmony in the play, that ever was born. He reconciled more enemies in ten years than his predecessors had done in three hundred; and one of his manoeuvres in the peacemaking art was to make the quarrellers laugh at the cause of quarrel. So did he undermine the demon of discord. But independently of that, he really loved a harmless joke. He was a wonderful tamer of animals, squirrels, bares, fawns, etc. So half in jest a parishioner who had a mule supposed to be possessed with a devil gave it him and said, “Tame this vagabone, parson, if ye can.” Well, in about six months, Heaven knows how, he not only tamed Jack, but won his affections to such a degree, that Jack would come running to his whistle like a dog.
One day, having taken shelter from a shower on the stone settle outside a certain public-house, he heard a toper inside, a stranger, boasting he could take more at a draught than any man in Gouda. He instantly marched in and said, “What, lads, do none of ye take him up for the honour of Gouda? Shall it be said that there came hither one from another parish a greater sot than any of us? Nay, then, I your parson do take him up. Go to, I’ll find thee a parishioner shall drink more at a draught than thou.”
A bet was made; Gerard whistled; in clattered Jack — for he was taught to come into a room with the utmost composure — and put his nose into his backer’s hand.
“A pair of buckets!” shouted Gerard, “and let us see which of these two sons of asses can drink most at a draught.”
On another occasion two farmers had a dispute whose hay was the best. Failing to convince each other, they said, “We’ll ask parson;” for by this time he was their referee in every mortal thing.
“How lucky you thought of me!” said Gerard, “Why, I have got one staying with me who is the best judge of hay in Holland. Bring me a double handful apiece.”
So when they came, he had them into the parlour, and put each bundle on a chair. Then he whistled, and in walked Jack.
“Lord a mercy!” said one of the farmers.
“Jack,” said the parson, in the tone of conversation, “just tell us which is the best hay of these two.”
Jack sniffed them both, and made his choice directly, proving his sincerity by eating every morsel. The farmers slapped their thighs, and scratched their heads. “To think of we not thinking o’ that,” And they each sent Jack a truss.
So Gerard got to be called the merry parson of Gouda. But Margaret, who like most loving women had no more sense of humour than a turtle-dove, took this very ill. “What!” said she to herself, “is there nothing sore at the bottom of his heart that he can go about playing the zany?” She could understand pious resignation and content, but not mirth, in true lovers parted. And whilst her woman’s nature was perturbed by this gust (and women seem more subject to gusts than men) came that terrible animal, a busybody, to work upon her. Catherine saw she was not happy, and said to her, “Your boy is gone from you. I would not live alone all my days if I were you.”
“He is more alone than I,” sighed Margaret.
“Oh, a man is a man, but a woman is a woman. You must not think all of him and none of yourself. Near is your kirtle, but nearer is your smock. Besides, he is a priest, and can do no better. But you are not a priest. He has got his parish, and his heart is in that. Bethink thee! Time flies; overstay not thy market. Wouldst not like to have three or four more little darlings about thy knee now they have robbed thee of poor little Gerard, and sent him to yon nasty school?” And so she worked upon a mind already irritated.
Margaret had many suitors ready to marry her at a word or even a look, and among them two merchants of the better class, Van Schelt and Oostwagen. “Take one of those two,” said Catherine.
“Well, I will ask Gerard if I may,” said Margaret one day, with a flood of tears; “for I cannot go on the way I am.”
“Why, you would never be so simple as ask him?”
“Think you I would be so wicked as marry without his leave?”
Accordingly she actually went to Gouda, and after hanging her head, and blushing, and crying, and saying she was miserable, told him his mother wished her to marry one of those two; and if he approved of her marrying at all, would he use his wisdom, and tell her which he thought would be the kindest to the little Gerard of those two; for herself, she did not care what became of her.
Gerard felt as if she had put a soft hand into his body and torn his heart out with it. But the priest with a mighty effort mastered the man. In a voice scarcely audible he declined this responsibility. “I am not a saint or a prophet,” said he; “I might advise thee ill. I shall read the marriage service for thee,” faltered he; “it is my right. No other would pray for thee as I should. But thou must choose for thyself; and oh! let me see thee happy. This four months past thou hast not been happy.”
“A discontented mind is never happy,” said Margaret.
She left him, and he fell on his knees, and prayed for help from above.
Margaret went home pale and agitated. “Mother,” said she, “never mention it to me again, or we shall quarrel.”
“He forbade you? Well, more shame for him, that is all.”
“He forbid me? He did not condescend so far. He was as noble as I was paltry. He would not choose for me for fear of choosing me an ill husband. But he would read the service for my groom and me; that was his right. Oh, mother, what a heartless creature I was!”
“Well, I thought not he had that much sense.”
“Ah, you go by the poor soul’s words, but I rate words as air when the face speaketh to mine eye. I saw the priest and the true lover a-fighting in his dear face, and his cheek pale with the strife, and oh! his poor lip trembled as he said the stout-hearted words — Oh! oh! oh! oh! oh! oh! oh!” And Margaret burst into a violent passion of tears.
Catherine groaned. “There, give it up without more ado,” said she. “You two are chained together for life; and if God is merciful, that won’t be for long; for what are you neither maid, wife, nor widow.”
“Give it up?” said Margaret; “that was done long ago. All I think of now is comforting him; for now I have been and made him unhappy too, wretch and monster that I am.”
So the next day they both went to Gouda. And Gerard, who had been praying for resignation all this time, received her with peculiar tenderness as a treasure he was to lose; but she was agitated and eager to let him see without words that she would never marry, and she fawned on him like a little dog to be forgiven. And as she was going away she murmured, “Forgive! and forget! I am but a woman.”
He misunderstood her, and said, “All I bargain for is, let me see thee content; for pity’s sake, let me not see thee unhappy as I have this while.”
“My darling, you never shall again,” said Margaret, with streaming eyes, and kissed his hand.
He misunderstood this too at first; but when month after month passed, and he heard no more of her marriage, and she came to Gouda comparatively cheerful, and was even civil to Father Ambrose, a mild benevolent monk from the Dominican convent hard by — then he understood her; and one day he invited her to walk alone with him in the sacred paddock; and before I relate what passed between them, I must give its history.
When Gerard had been four or five days at the manse, looking out of window he uttered an exclamation of joy. “Mother, Margaret, here is one of my birds: another, another: four, six, nine. A miracle! a miracle!”
“Why, how can you tell your birds from their fellows?” said Catherine.
“I know every feather in their wings. And see; there is the little darling whose claw I gilt, bless it!”
And presently his rapture took a serious turn, and he saw Heaven’s approbation in this conduct of the birds as he did in the fall of the cave. This wonderfully kept alive his friendship for animals; and he enclosed a paddock, and drove all the sons of Cain from it with threats of excommunication, “On this little spot of earth we’ll have no murder,” said he. He tamed leverets and partridges, and little birds, and hares, and roe-deer. He found a squirrel with a broken leg; he set it with infinite difficulty and patience; and during the cure showed it repositories of acorns, nuts, chestnuts, etc. And this squirrel got well and went off, but visited him in hard weather, and brought a mate, and next year little squirrels were found to have imbibed their parents’ sentiments, and of all these animals each generation was tamer than the last. This set the good parson thinking, and gave him the true clue to the great successes of mediaeval hermits in taming wild animals.
He kept the key of this paddock, and never let any man but himself enter it; nor would he even let little Gerard go there without him or Margaret. “Children are all little Cains,” said he. In this oasis, then, he spoke to Margaret, and said, “Dear Margaret, I have thought more than ever of thee of late, and have asked myself why I am content, and thou unhappy.”
“Because thou art better, wiser, holier than I; that is all,” said Margaret promptly.
“Our lives tell another tale,” said Gerard thoughtfully. “I know thy goodness and thy wisdom too well to reason thus perversely. Also I know that I love thee as dear as thou, I think, lovest me. Yet am I happier than thou. Why is this so?”
“Dear Gerard, I am as happy as a woman can hope to be this side of the grave.”
“Not so happy as I. Now for the reason. First, then, I am a priest, and this, the one great trial and disappointment God giveth me along with so many joys, why, I share it with a multitude. For alas! I am not the only priest by thousands that must never hope for entire earthly happiness. Here, then, thy lot is harder than mine.”
“But Gerard, I have my child to love. Thou canst not fill thy heart with him as his mother can, So you may set this against you.”
“And I have ta’en him from thee; it was cruel; but he would have broken thy heart one day if I had not. Well then, sweet one, I come to where the shoe pincheth, methinks. I have my parish, and it keeps my heart in a glow from morn till night. There is scarce an emotion that my folk stir not up in me many times a day. Often their sorrows make me weep, sometimes their perversity kindles a little wrath, and their absurdity makes me laugh, and sometimes their flashes of unexpected goodness do set me all of a glow, and I could hug ’em. Meantime thou, poor soul, sittest with heart —
“Of lead, Gerard; of very lead.”
“See now how unkind thy lot compared with mine, Now how if thou couldst be persuaded to warm thyself at the fire that warmeth me.”
“Ah, if I could?”
“Hast but to will it. Come among my folk. Take in thine hand the alms I set aside, and give it with kind words; hear their sorrows: they shall show you life is full of troubles, and as thou sayest truly, no man or woman without their thorn this side the grave. Indoors I have a map of Gouda parish. Not to o’erburden thee at first, I will put twenty housen under thee with their folk. What sayest thou? but for thy wisdom I had died a dirty maniac,’ and ne’er seen Gouda manse, nor pious peace. Wilt profit in turn by what little wisdom I have to soften her lot to whom I do owe all?”
Margaret assented warmly, and a happy thing it was for the little district assigned to her; it was as if an angel had descended on them. Her fingers were never tired of knitting or cutting for them, her heart of sympathizing with them. And that heart expanded and waved its drooping wings; and the glow of good and gentle deed began to spread over it; and she was rewarded in another way by being brought into more contact with Gerard, and also with his spirit. All this time malicious tongues had not been idle. “If there is nought between them more than meets the eye, why doth she not marry?” etc. And I am sorry to say our old friend Joan Ketel was one of these coarse sceptics. And now one winter evening she got on a hot scent. She saw Margaret and Gerard talking earnestly together on the Boulevard. She whipped behind a tree. “Now I’ll hear something,” said she; and so she did. It was winter; there had been one of those tremendous floods followed by a sharp frost, and Gerard in despair as to where he should lodge forty or fifty houseless folk out of the piercing cold. And now it was, “Oh, dear, dear Margaret, what shall I do? The manse is full of them, and a sharp frost coming on this night.”
Margaret reflected, and Joan listened.
“You must lodge them in the church,” said Margaret quietly.
“In the church? Profanation.”
“No; charity profanes nothing, not even a church; soils nought, not even a church. To-day is but Tuesday. Go save their lives, for a bitter night is coming. Take thy stove into the church, and there house them. We will dispose of them here and there ere the lord’s day.”
“And I could not think of that; bless thee, sweet Margaret, thy mind is stronger than mine, and readier.”
“Nay, nay, a woman looks but a little way, therefore she sees clear. I’ll come over myself to-morrow.”
And on this they parted with mutual blessings.
Joan glided home remorseful.
And after that she used to check all surmises to their discredit. “Beware,” she would say, “lest some angel should blister thy tongue. Gerard and Margaret paramours? I tell ye they are two saints which meet in secret to plot charity to the poor.”
In the summer of 1481 Gerard determined to provide against similar disasters recurring to his poor. Accordingly he made a great hole in his income, and bled his friends (zealous parsons always do that) to build a large Xenodochium to receive the victims of flood or fire. Giles and all his friends were kind, but all was not enough; when lo! the Dominican monks of Gouda to whom his parlour and heart had been open for years, came out nobly, and put down a handsome sum to aid the charitable vicar.
“The dear good souls,” said Margaret; “who would have thought it?”
“Any one who knows them,” said Gerard, “Who more charitable than monks?”
“Go to! They do but give the laity back a pig of their own sow.”
“And what more do I? What more doth the duke?”
Then the ambitious vicar must build almshouses for decayed true men in their old age close to the manse, that he might keep and feed them, as well as lodge them. And his money being gone, he asked Margaret for a few thousand bricks and just took off his coat and turned builder; and as he had a good head, and the strength of a Hercules, with the zeal of an artist, up rose a couple of almshouses parson built.
And at this work Margaret would sometimes bring him his dinner, and add a good bottle of Rhenish. And once seeing him run up a plank with a wheelbarrow full of bricks which really most bricklayers would have gone staggering under, she said, “Times are changed since I had to carry little Gerard for thee.”
“Ay, dear one, thanks to thee.”
When the first home was finished, the question was who they should put into it; and being fastidious over it like a new toy, there was much hesitation. But an old friend arrived in time to settle this question.
As Gerard was passing a public-house in Rotterdam one day, he heard a well-known voice, He looked up, and there was Denys of Burgundy, but sadly changed; his beard stained with grey, and his clothes worn and ragged; he had a cuirass still, and gauntlets, but a staff instead of an arbalest, To the company he appeared to be bragging and boasting, but in reality he was giving a true relation of Edward the Fourth’s invasion of an armed kingdom with 2000 men, and his march through the country with armies capable of swallowing him looking on, his battles at Tewkesbury and Barnet, and reoccupation of his capital and kingdom in three months after landing at the Humber with a mixed handful of Dutch, English, and Burgundians.
In this, the greatest feat of arms the century had seen, Denys had shone; and whilst sneering at the warlike pretensions of Charles the Bold, a duke with an itch but no talent for fighting, and proclaiming the English king the first captain of the age, did not forget to exalt himself.
Gerard listened with eyes glittering affection and fun. “And now,” said Denys, “after all these feats, patted on the back by the gallant young Prince of Gloucester, and smiled on by the great captain himself, here I am lamed for life; by what? by the kick of a horse, and this night I know not where I shall lay my tired bones. I had a comrade once in these parts that would not have let me lie far from him; but he turned priest and deserted his sweetheart, so ’tis not likely he would remember his comrade. And ten years play sad havoc with our hearts, and limbs, and all.” Poor Denys sighed, and Gerard’s bowels yearned over him.
“What words are these?” he said, with a great gulp in his throat. “Who grudges a brave soldier supper and bed? Come home with me!”
“Much obliged, but I am no lover of priests.”
“Nor I of soldiers; but what is supper and bed between two true men?”
“Not much to you, but something to me. I will come.”
“In one hour,” said Gerard, and went in high spirits to Margaret, and told her the treat in store, and she must come and share it. She must drive his mother in his little carriage up to the manse with all speed, and make ready an excellent supper. Then he himself borrowed a cart, and drove Denys up rather slowly, to give the women time.
On the road Denys found out this priest was a kind soul, so told him his trouble, and confessed his heart was pretty near broken. “The great use our stout hearts, and arms, and lives till we are worn out, and then fling us away like broken tools.” He sighed deeply, and it cost Gerard a great struggle not to hug him then and there, and tell him. But he wanted to do it all like a story book. Who has not had this fancy once in his life? Why Joseph had it; all the better for us.
They landed at the little house. It was as clean as a penny, the hearth blazing, and supper set.
Denys brightened up. “Is this your house, reverend sir?”
“Well, ’tis my work, and with these hands, but ’tis your house.”
“Ah, no such luck,” said Denys, with a sigh.
“But I say ay,” shouted Gerard. “And what is more I—” (gulp) “say —” (gulp) “COURAGE, CAMARADE, LE DIABLE EST MORT!”
Denys started, and almost staggered. “Why, what?” he stammered, “w-wh-who art thou, that bringest me back the merry words and merry days of my youth?” and he was greatly agitated.
“My poor Denys, I am one whose face is changed, but nought else; to my heart, dear, trusty comrade, to my heart,” And he opened his arms, with the tears in his eyes. But Denys came close to him, and peered in his face, and devoured every feature; and when he was sure it was really Gerard, he uttered a cry so vehement it brought the women running from the house, and fell upon Gerard’s neck, and kissed him again and again, and sank on his knees, and laughed and sobbed with joy so terribly, that Gerard mourned his folly in doing dramas. But the women with their gentle soothing ways soon composed the brave fellow, and he sat smiling, and holding Margaret’s hand and Gerard’s, And they all supped together, and went to their beds with hearts warm as a toast; and the broken soldier was at peace, and in his own house, and under his comrade’s wing.
His natural gaiety returned, and he resumed his consigne after eight years’ disuse, and hobbled about the place enlivening it; but offended the parish mortally by calling the adored vicar comrade, and nothing but comrade.
When they made a fuss about this to Gerard, he just looked in their faces and said, “What does it matter? Break him of swearing, and you shall have my thanks.”
This year Margaret went to a lawyer to make her will, for without this, she was told, her boy might have trouble some day to get his own, not being born in lawful wedlock. The lawyer, however, in conversation, expressed a different opinion.
“This is the babble of churchmen,” said he, “Yours is a perfect marriage, though an irregular one.”
He then informed her that throughout Europe, excepting only the southern part of Britain, there were three irregular marriages, the highest of which was hers, viz., a betrothal before witnesses, “This,” said he, “if not followed by matrimonial intercourse, is a marriage complete in form, but incomplete in substance. A person so betrothed can forbid any other banns to all eternity. It has, however, been set aside where a party so betrothed contrived to get married regularly, and children were born thereafter. But such a decision was for the sake of the offspring, and of doubtful justice. However, in your case the birth of your child closes that door, and your marriage is complete both in form and substance. Your course, therefore, is to sue for your conjugal rights; it will be the prettiest case of the century. The law is all on our side, the Church all on theirs. If you come to that, the old Batavian law, which compelled the clergy to marry, hath fallen into disuse, but was never formally repealed.”
Margaret was quite puzzled. “What are you driving at, sir? Who am I to go to law with?”
“Who is the defendant? Why, the vicar of Gouda.”
“Alas, poor soul! And for what shall I law him?”
“Why, to make him take you into his house, and share bed and board with you, to be sure.”
Margaret turned red as fire, “Gramercy for your rede,” said she, “What, is yon a woman’s part? Constrain a man to be hers by force? That is men’s way of wooing, not ours. Say I were so ill a woman as ye think me, I should set myself to beguile him, not to law him;” and she departed, crimson with shame and indignation.
“There is an impracticable fool for you,” said the man of art.
Margaret had her will drawn elsewhere, and made her boy safe from poverty, marriage or no marriage.
These are the principal incidents that in ten whole years befell two peaceful lives, which in a much shorter period had been so thronged with adventures and emotions.
Their general tenor was now peace, piety, the mild content that lasts, not the fierce bliss ever on tiptoe to depart, and above all, Christian charity.
On this sacred ground these two true lovers met with an uniformity and a kindness of sentiment which went far to soothe the wound in their own hearts, To pity the same bereaved; to hunt in couples all the ills in Gouda, and contrive and scheme together to remedy all that were remediable; to use the rare insight into troubled hearts which their own troubles had given them, and use it to make others happier than themselves — this was their daily practice. And in this blessed cause their passions for one another cooled a little, but their affection increased.
From this time Margaret entered heart and soul into Gerard’s pious charities, that affection purged itself of all mortal dross. And as it had now long out-lived scandal and misapprehension, one would have thought that so bright an example of pure self-denying affection was to remain long before the world, to show men how nearly religious faith, even when not quite reasonable, and religious charity, which is always reasonable, could raise two true lovers’ hearts to the loving hearts of the angels of heaven. But the great Disposer of events ordered otherwise.
Little Gerard rejoiced both his parents’ hearts by the extraordinary progress he made at Alexander Haaghe’s famous school at Deventer.
The last time Margaret returned from visiting him, she came to Gerard flushed with pride. “Oh, Gerard, he will be a great man one day, thanks to thy wisdom in taking him from us silly women. A great scholar, one Zinthius, came to see the school and judge the scholars, and didn’t our Gerard stand up, and not a line in Horace or Terence could Zinthius cite but the boy would follow him with the rest. ‘Why, ’tis a prodigy,’ says that great scholar; and there was his poor mother stood by and heard it. And he took our Gerard in his arms, and kissed him; and what think you he said?”
“Nay, I know not.”
“‘Holland will hear of thee one day; and not Holland only, but all the world,’ Why what a sad brow!”
“Sweet one, I am as glad as thou, yet am I uneasy to hear the child is wise before his time, I love him dear; but he is thine idol, and Heaven doth often break our idols.”
“Make thy mind easy,” said Margaret. “Heaven will never rob me of my child. What I was to suffer in this world I have suffered, For if any ill happened my child or thee, I should not live a week. The Lord He knows this, and He will leave me my boy.”
A month had elapsed after this; but Margaret’s words were yet ringing in his ears, when, going on his daily round of visits to his poor, he was told quite incidentally, and as mere gossip, that the plague was at Deventer, carried thither by two sailors from Hamburgh.
His heart turned cold within him. News did not gallop in those days. The fatal disease must have been there a long time before the tidings would reach Gouda. He sent a line by a messenger to Margaret, telling her that he was gone to fetch little Gerard to stay at the manse a little while, and would she see a bed prepared, for he should be back next day. And so he hoped she would not hear a word of the danger till it was all happily over. He borrowed a good horse, and scarce drew rein till he reached Deventer, quite late in the afternoon. He went at once to the school. The boy had been taken away.
As he left the school he caught sight of Margaret’s face at the window of a neighbouring house she always lodged at when she came to Deventer.
He ran hastily to scold her and pack both her and the boy out of the place.
To his surprise the servant told him with some hesitation that Margaret had been there, but was gone.
“Gone, woman?” said Gerard indignantly, “art not ashamed to say so? Why, I saw her but now at the window.”
“Oh, if you saw her —”
A sweet voice above said, “Stay him not, let him enter.” It was Margaret.
Gerard ran up the stairs to her, and went to take her hand, She drew back hastily.
He looked astounded.
“I am displeased,” she said coldly. “What makes you here? Know you not the plague is in the town?”
“Ay, dear Margaret; and came straightway to take our boy away.”
“What, had he no mother?”
“How you speak to me! I hoped you knew not.”
“What, think you I leave my boy unwatched? I pay a trusty woman that notes every change in his cheek when I am not here, and lets me know, I am his mother.”
“Where is he?”
“In Rotterdam, I hope, ere this.”
“Thank Heaven! And why are you not there?”
“I am not fit for the journey; never heed me; go you home on the instant; I’ll follow. For shame of you to come here risking your precious life.”
“It is not so precious as thine,” said Gerard. “But let that pass; we will go home together, and on the instant.”
“Nay, I have some matters to do in the town. Go thou at once, and I will follow forthwith.”
“Leave thee alone in a plague-stricken town? To whom speak you, dear Margaret?”
“Nay, then, we shall quarrel, Gerard.”
“Methinks I see Margaret and Gerard quarrelling! Why, it takes two to quarrel, and we are but one.”
With this Gerard smiled on her sweetly. But there was no kind responsive glance. She looked cold, gloomy, and troubled.
He sighed, and sat patiently down opposite her with his face all puzzled and saddened. He said nothing, for he felt sure she would explain her capricious conduct, or it would explain itself.
Presently she rose hastily, and tried to reach her bedroom, but on the way she staggered and put out her hand. He ran to her with a cry of alarm. She swooned in his arms. He laid her gently on the ground, and beat her cold hands, and ran to her bedroom, and fetched water, and sprinkled her pale face. His own was scarce less pale, for in a basin he had seen water stained with blood; it alarmed him, he knew not why. She was a long time ere she revived, and when she did she found Gerard holding her hand, and bending over her with a look of infinite concern and tenderness. She seemed at first as if she responded to it, but the next moment her eyes dilated, and she cried —“Ah, wretch, leave my hand; how dare you touch me?”
“Heaven help her!” said Gerard. “She is not herself.”
“You will not leave me, then, Gerard?” said she faintly. “Alas! why do I ask? Would I leave thee if thou wert — At least touch me not, and then I will let thee bide, and see the last of poor Margaret. She ne’er spoke harsh to thee before, sweetheart, and she never will again.”
“Alas! what mean these dark words, these wild and troubled looks?” said Gerard, clasping his hands.
“My poor Gerard,” said Margaret, “forgive me that I spoke so to thee. I am but a woman, and would have spared thee a sight will make thee weep.” She burst into tears. “Ah, me!” she cried, weeping, “that I cannot keep grief from thee; there is a great sorrow before my darling, and this time I shall not be able to come and dry his eyes.”
“Let it come, Margaret, so it touch not thee,” said Gerard, trembling.
“Dearest,” said Margaret solemnly, “call now religion to thine aid and mine. I must have died before thee one day, or else outlived thee and so died of grief.”
“Died? thou die? I will never let thee die. Where is thy pain? What is thy trouble?”
“The plague,” she said calmly. Gerard uttered a cry of horror, and started to his feet; she read his thought. “Useless,” said she quietly. “My nose hath bled; none ever yet survived to whom that came along with the plague. Bring no fools hither to babble over the body they cannot save. I am but a woman; I love not to be stared at; let none see me die but thee.”
And even with this a convulsion seized her, and she remained sensible but speechless a long time.
And now for the first time Gerard began to realize the frightful truth, and he ran wildly to and fro, and cried to Heaven for help, as drowning men cry to their fellow-creatures. She raised herself on her arm, and set herself to quiet him.
She told him she had known the torture of hopes and fears, and was resolved to spare him that agony. “I let my mind dwell too much on the danger,” said she, “and so opened my brain to it, through which door when this subtle venom enters it makes short work. I shall not be spotted or loathsome, my poor darling; God is good, and spares thee that; but in twelve hours I shall be a dead woman. Ah, look not so, but be a man; be a priest! Waste not one precious minute over my body! it is doomed; but comfort my parting soul.”
Gerard, sick and cold at heart, kneeled down, and prayed for help from Heaven to do his duty.
When he rose from his knees his face was pale and old, but deadly calm and patient. He went softly and brought her bed into the room, and laid her gently down and supported her head with pillows. Then he prayed by her side the prayers for the dying, and she said Amen to each prayer. Then for some hours she wandered, but when the fell disease had quite made sure of its prey, her mind cleared, and she begged Gerard to shrive her. “For oh, my conscience it is laden,” she said sadly.
“Confess thy sins to me, my daughter: let there be no reserve.”
“My father,” said she sadly, “I have one great sin on my breast this many years. E’en now that death is at my heart I can scarce own it. But the Lord is debonair; if thou wilt pray to Him, perchance He may forgive me.”
“Confess it first, my daughter.”
“I deceived thee. This many years I have deceived thee.”
Here tears interrupted her speech.
“Courage, my daughter, courage,” said Gerard kindly, overpowering the lover in the priest.
She hid her face in her hands, and with many sighs told him it was she who had broken down the hermit’s cave with the help of Jorian Ketel, “I, shallow, did it but to hinder thy return thither; but when thou sawest therein the finger of God, I played the traitress, and said, ‘While he thinks so, he will ne’er leave Gouda manse;’ and I held my tongue. Oh, false heart.”
“Courage, my daughter; thou dost exaggerate a trivial fault.”
“Ah, but ’tis not all, The birds.”
“They followed thee not to Gouda by miracle, but by my treason. I said, he will ne’er be quite happy without his birds that visited him in his cell; and I was jealous of them, and cried, and said, these foul little things, they are my child’s rivals. And I bought loaves of bread, and Jorian and me we put crumbs at the cave door, and thence went sprinkling them all the way to the manse, and there a heap. And my wiles succeeded, and they came, and thou wast glad, and I was pleased to see thee glad; and when thou sawest in my guile the finger of Heaven, wicked, deceitful, I did hold my tongue. But die deceiving thee? ah, no, I could not. Forgive me if thou canst; I was but a woman; I knew no better at the time. ’Twas writ in my bosom with a very sunbeam. ”Tis good for him to bide at Gouda manse.’”
“Forgive thee, sweet innocent?” sobbed Gerard; “what have I to forgive? Thou hadst a foolish froward child to guide to his own weal, and didst all this for the best, I thank thee and bless thee. But as thy confessor, all deceit is ill in Heaven’s pure eyes. Therefore thou hast done well to confess and report it; and even on thy confession and penitence the Church through me absolves thee. Pass to thy graver faults.”
“My graver faults? Alas! alas! Why, what have I done to compare? I am not an ill woman, not a very ill one. If He can forgive me deceiving thee, He can well forgive me all the rest ever I did.”
Being gently pressed, she said she was to blame not to have done more good in the world. “I have just begun to do a little,” she said, “and now I must go. But I repine not, since ’tis Heaven’s will, only I am so afeard thou wilt miss me.” And at this she could not restrain her tears, though she tried hard.
Gerard struggled with his as well as he could; and knowing her life of piety, purity, and charity, and seeing that she could not in her present state realise any sin but her having deceived him, gave her full absolution, Then he put the crucifix in her hand, and while he consecrated the oil, bade her fix her mind neither on her merits nor her demerits, but on Him who died for her on the tree.
She obeyed him with a look of confiding love and submission.
And he touched her eyes with the consecrated oil, and prayed aloud beside her.
Soon after she dosed.
He watched beside her, more dead than alive himself.
When the day broke she awoke, and seemed to acquire some energy. She begged him to look in her box for her marriage lines and for a picture, and bring them both to her. He did so. She then entreated him by all they had suffered for each other, to ease her mind by making a solemn vow to execute her dying requests.
He vowed to obey them to the letter.
“Then, Gerard, let no creature come here to lay me out. I could not bear to be stared at; my very corpse would blush. Also I would not be made a monster of for the worms to sneer at as well as feed on. Also my very clothes are tainted, and shall to earth with me. I am a physician’s daughter; and ill becomes me kill folk, being dead, which did so little good to men in the days of health; wherefore lap me in lead, the way I am, and bury me deep! yet not so deep but what one day thou mayst find the way, and lay thy bones by mine.
“Whiles I lived I went to Gouda but once or twice a week. It cost me not to go each day. Let me gain this by dying, to be always at dear Gouda, in the green kirkyard.
“Also they do say the spirit hovers where the body lies; I would have my spirit hover near thee, and the kirkyard is not far from the manse. I am so afeard some ill will happen thee, Margaret being gone.
“And see, with mine own hands I place my marriage lines in my bosom. Let no living hand move them, on pain of thy curse and mine. Then when the angel comes for me at the last day, he shall say, this is an honest woman, she hath her marriage lines (for you know I am your lawful wife, though Holy Church hath come between us), and he will set me where the honest women be. I will not sit among ill women, no, not in heaven for their mind is not my mind, nor their soul my soul. I have stood, unbeknown, at my window, and heard their talk.”
For some time she was unable to say any more, but made signs to him that she had not done.
At last she recovered her breath, and bade him look at the picture.
It was the portrait he had made of her when they were young together, and little thought to part so soon. He held it in his hands and looked at it, but could scarce see it. He had left it in fragments, but now it was whole.
“They cut it to pieces, Gerard; but see, Love mocked at their knives.
“I implore thee with my dying breath, let this picture hang ever in thine eye.
“I have heard that such as die of the plague, unspotted, yet after death spots have been known to come out; and oh, I could not bear thy last memory of me to be so. Therefore, as soon as the breath is out of my body, cover my face with this handkerchief, and look at me no more till we meet again, ’twill not be so very long. O promise.”
“I promise,” said Gerard, sobbing.
“But look on this picture instead. Forgive me; I am but a woman. I could not bear my face to lie a foul thing in thy memory. Nay, I must have thee still think me as fair as I was true. Hast called me an angel once or twice; but be just! did I not still tell thee I was no angel, but only a poor simple woman, that whiles saw clearer than thou because she looked but a little way, and that loves thee dearly, and never loved but thee, and now with her dying breath prays thee indulge her in this, thou that art a man.”
“I will, I will. Each word, each wish, is sacred.”
“Bless thee! Bless thee! So then the eyes that now can scarce see thee, they are so troubled by the pest, and the lips that shall not touch thee to taint thee, will still be before thee as they were when we were young and thou didst love me.”
“When I did love thee, Margaret! Oh, never loved I thee as now.”
“Hast not told me so of late.”
“Alas! hath love no voice but words? I was a priest; I had charge of thy soul; the sweet offices of a pure love were lawful; words of love imprudent at the least. But now the good fight is won, ah me! Oh my love, if thou hast lived doubting of thy Gerard’s heart, die not so; for never was woman loved so tenderly as thou this ten years past.”
“Calm thyself, dear one,” said the dying woman, with a heavenly smile. “I know it; only being but a woman, I could not die happy till I had heard thee say so. Ah! I have pined ten years for those sweet words. Hast said them, and this is the happiest hour of my life. I had to die to get them; well, I grudge not the price.”
From this moment a gentle complacency rested on her fading features. But she did not speak.
Then Gerard, who had loved her soul so many years, feared lest she should expire with a mind too fixed on earthly affection.
“Oh my daughter,” he cried, “my dear daughter, if indeed thou lovest me as I love thee, give me not the pain of seeing thee die with thy pious soul fixed on mortal things.
“Dearest lamb of all my fold, for whose soul I must answer, oh think not now of mortal love, but of His who died for thee on the tree. Oh, let thy last look be heavenwards, thy last word a word of prayer.”
She turned a look of gratitude and obedience on him. “What saint?” she murmured: meaning doubtless, “what saint should she invoke as an intercessor.”
“He to whom the saints themselves do pray.”
She turned on him one more sweet look of love and submission, and put her pretty hands together in a prayer like a child.
This blessed word was her last. She lay with her eyes heavenwards, and her hands put together.
Gerard prayed fervently for her passing spirit. And when he had prayed a long time with his head averted, not to see her last breath, all seemed unnaturally still. He turned his head fearfully. It was so.
She was gone.
Nothing left him now but the earthly shell of as constant, pure, and loving a spirit as eve’ adorned the earth.
18 Let me not be understood to apply this to the bare outline of the relation. Many bishops and priests, and not a few popes, had wives and children as laymen; and entering orders were parted from the wives and not from the children. But in the case before the reader are the additional features of a strong surviving attachment on both sides, and of neighbourhood, besides that here the man had been led into holy orders by a false statement of the woman’s death. On a summary of all the essential features, the situation was, to the best of my belief, unique.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59