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The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade

Part 16 out of 18

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"'Ay, madam,' said I; 'he was my brother.'

"'Your brother?' said she, and did eye me like all over, (What
dost smile at?")

"So I told her all that passed between her and Gerard, and how she
was for giving him a bishopric; but the good countess said,
'Gently, Marie! he is too young; and with that they did both
promise him a living: 'Yet,' said I, 'he hath been a priest a long
while, and no living. Hence my bile.'

"'Alas!' said she, "tis not by my good will; for all this thou
hast said is sooth, and more. I do remember my dear mother said to
me, "See thou to it if I be not here."' So then she cried out,
'Ay, dear mother, no word of thine shall ever fall to the ground.'

"I, seeing her so ripe, said quickly, 'Madam, the Vicar of Gouda
died last week.' (For when ye seek favours of the great, behoves
ye know the very thing ye aim at.)

"'Then thy brother is vicar of Gouda,' quo' she, 'so sure as I am
heiress of Burgundy and the Netherlands. Nay, thank me not, good
Giles,' quo' she, 'but my good mother. And I do thank thee for
giving of me somewhat to do for her memory. And doesn't she fall a
weeping for her mother? And doesn't that set me off a-snivelling
for my good brother that I love so dear, and to think that a poor
little elf like me could yet speak in the ear of princes, and make
my beautiful brother vicar of Gouda; eh, lass, it is a bonny
place, and a bonny manse, and hawthorn in every bush at
spring-tide, and dog-roses and eglantine in every summer hedge. I
know what the poor fool affects, leave that to me."

The dwarf began his narrative strutting to and fro before
Margaret, but he ended it in her arms; for she could not contain
herself, but caught him, and embraced him warmly. "Oh, Giles," she
said, blushing, and kissing him, "I cannot keep my hands off thee,
thy body it is so little, and thy heart so great. Thou art his
true friend. Bless thee! bless thee! bless thee! Now we shall see
him again. We have not set eyes on him since that terrible day."

"Gramercy, but that is strange," said Giles. "Maybe he is ashamed
of having cursed those two vagabones, being our own flesh and
blood, worse luck,"

"Think you that is why he hides?" said Margaret eagerly;

"Ay, if he is hiding at all. However, I'll cry him by bellman.

"Nay, that might much offend him."

"What care I? Is Gouda to go vicarless and the manse in nettles?"

And to Margaret's secret satisfaction, Giles had the new vicar
cried in Rotterdam and the neighbouring towns. He easily persuaded
Margaret that in a day or two Gerard would be sure to hear, and
come to his benefice. She went to look at his manse, and thought
how comfortable it might be made for him, and how dearly she
should love to do it.

But the days rolled on, and Gerard came neither to Rotterdam nor
Gouda. Giles was mortified, Margaret indignant, and very wretched.
She said to herself, "Thinking me dead, he comes home, and now,
because I am alive, he goes back to Italy, for that is where he
has gone."

Joan advised her to consult the hermit of Gouda.

"Why, sure he is dead by this time."

"Yon one, belike. But the cave is never long void; Gouda ne'er
wants a hermit."

But Margaret declined to go again to Gouda on such an errand,
"What can he know, shut up in a cave? less than I, belike. Gerard
hath gone back t' Italy. He hates me for not being dead."

Presently a Tergovian came in with a word from Catherine that
Ghysbrecht Van Swieten had seen Gerard later than any one else. On
this Margaret determined to go and see the house and goods that
had been left her, and take Reicht Heynes home to Rotterdam. And
as may be supposed, her steps took her first to Ghysbrecht's
house. She found him in his garden, seated in a chair with wheels.
He greeted her with a feeble voice, but cordially; and when she
asked him whether it was true he had seen Gerard since the fifth
of August, he replied, "Gerard no more, but Friar Clement. Ay, I
saw him; and blessed be the day he entered my house."

He then related in his own words his interview with Clement.

He told her, moreover, that the friar had afterwards acknowledged
he came to Tergou with the missing deed in his bosom on purpose to
make him disgorge her land; but that finding him disposed towards
penitence, he had gone to work the other way.

"Was not this a saint; who came to right thee, but must needs save
his enemy's soul in the doing it?"

To her question, whether he had recognized him, he said, "I ne'er
suspected such a thing. 'Twas only when he had been three days
with me that he revealed himself, Listen while I speak my shame
and his praise.

"I said to him, 'The land is gone home, and my stomach feels
lighter; but there is another fault that clingeth to me still;'
then told I him of the letter I had writ at request of his
brethren, I whose place it was to check them. Said I, 'Yon letter
was writ to part two lovers, and the devil aiding, it hath done
the foul work. Land and houses I can give back, but yon mischief
is done for ever.' 'Nay,' quoth he, 'not for ever, but for life.
Repent it then while thou livest.' 'I shall,' said I, 'but how can
God forgive it? I would not,' said I, 'were I He.'

'Yet will He certainly forgive it,' quoth he; 'for He is ten times
more forgiving than I am, and I forgive thee.' I stared at him;
and then he said softly, but quavering like, 'Ghysbrecht, look at
me closer. I am Gerard, the son of Eli.' And I looked, and looked,
and at last, lo! it was Gerard. Verily I had fallen at his feet
with shame and contrition, but he would not suffer me. 'That
became not mine years and his, for a particular fault. I say not I
forgive thee without a struggle,' said he, 'not being a saint. But
these three days thou hast spent in penitence, I have worn under
thy roof in prayer; and I do forgive thee.' Those were his very
words."

Margaret's tears began to flow, for it was in a broken and
contrite voice the old man told her this unexpected trait in her
Gerard. He continued, "And even with that he bade me farewell.

"'My work here is done now,' said he. I had not the heart to stay
him; for let him forgive me ever so, the sight of me must be
wormwood to him. He left me in peace, and may a dying man's
blessing wait on him, go where he will. Oh, girl, when I think of
his wrongs, and thine, and how he hath avenged himself by saving
this stained soul of mine, my heart is broken with remorse, and
these old eyes shed tears by night and day."

"Ghysbrecht," said Margaret, weeping, "since he hath forgiven
thee, I forgive thee too: what is done, is done; and thou hast let
me know this day that which I had walked the world to hear. But
oh, burgomaster, thou art an understanding man, now help a poor
woman, which hath forgiven thee her misery.'

She then told him all that had befallen, "And," said she, "they
will not keep the living for him for ever. He bids fair to lose
that, as well as break all our hearts."

"Call my servant," cried the burgomaster, with sudden vigour.

He sent him for a table and writing materials, and dictated
letters to the burgomasters in all the principal towns in Holland,
and one to a Prussian authority, his friend. His clerk and
Margaret wrote them, and he signed them. "There," said he, "the
matter shall be despatched throughout Holland by trusty couriers,
and as far as Basle in Switzerland; and fear not, but we will soon
have the vicar of Gouda to his village."

She went home animated with fresh hopes, and accusing herself of
ingratitude to Gerard. "I value my wealth now," said she.

She also made a resolution never to blame his conduct till she
should hear from his own lips his reason.

Not long after her return from Tergou a fresh disaster befell.
Catherine, I must premise, had secret interviews with the black
sheep, the very day after they were expelled; and Cornelis
followed her to Tergou, and lived there on secret contributions,
but Sybrandt chose to remain in Rotterdam. Ere Catherine left, she
asked Margaret to lend her two gold angels. "For," said she, "all
mine are spent." Margaret was delighted to lend them or give them;
but the words were scarce out of her mouth ere she caught a look
of regret and distress on Kate's face, and she saw directly
whither her money was going. She gave Catherine the money, and
went and shut herself up with her boy. Now this money was to last
Sybrandt till his mother could make some good excuse for visiting
Rotterdam again, and then she would bring the idle dog some of her
own industrious savings.

But Sybrandt, having gold in his pocket, thought it inexhaustible:
and being now under no shadow of restraint, led the life of a
complete sot; until one afternoon, in a drunken frolic, he climbed
on the roof of the stable at the inn he was carousing in, and
proceeded to walk along it, a feat he had performed many times
when sober. But now his unsteady brain made his legs unsteady, and
he rolled down the roof and fell with a loud thwack on to an
horizontal paling, where he hung a moment in a semicircle; then
toppled over and lay silent on the ground, amidst roars of
laughter from his boon companions. When they came to pick him up
he could not stand; but fell down giggling at each attempt.

On this they went staggering and roaring down the street with him,
and carried him at great risk of another fall to the shop in the
Hoog Straet. For he had babbled his own shame all over the place.

As soon as he saw Margaret he hiccupped out, "Here is the doctor
that cures all hurts, a bonny lass." He also bade her observe he
bore her no malice, for he was paying her a visit sore against his
will. "Wherefore, prithee send away these drunkards, and let you
and me have t'other glass, to drown all unkindness."

All this time Margaret was pale and red by turns at sight of her
enemy and at his insolence; but one of the men whispered what had
happened, and a streaky something in Sybrandt's face arrested her
attention.

"And he cannot stand up, say you?"

"A couldn't just now. Try, comrade! Be a man now!"

"I am a better man than thou," roared Sybrandt. "I'll stand up and
fight ye all for a crown."

He started to his feet, and instantly rolled into his attendant's
arms with a piteous groan. He then began to curse his boon
companions, and declare they had stolen away his legs. "He could
feel nothing below the waist."

"Alas, poor wretch," said Margaret. She turned very gravely to the
men, and said, "Leave him here. And if you have brought him to
this, go on your knees, for you have spoiled him for life. He will
never walk again; his back is broken."

The drunken man caught these words, and the foolish look of
intoxication fled, and a glare of anguish took its place. "The
curse," he groaned; "the curse!"

Margaret and Reicht Heynes carried him carefully, and laid him on
the softest bed.

"I must do as he would do," whispered Margaret. "He was kind to
Ghysbrecht."

Her opinion was verified, Sybrandt's spine was fatally injured;
and he lay groaning and helpless, fed and tended by her he had so
deeply injured.

The news was sent to Tergou, and Catherine came over.

It was a terrible blow to her. Moreover, she accused herself as
the cause. "Oh, false wife; oh, weak mother," she cried, "I am
rightly punished for my treason to my poor Eli,"

She sat for hours at a time by his bedside rocking herself in
silence, and was never quite herself again; and the first grey
hairs began to come in her poor head from that hour.

As for Sybrandt, all his cry was now for Gerard, He used to whine
to Margaret like a suffering hound, "Oh, sweet Margaret, oh, bonny
Margaret, for our Lady's sake find Gerard, and bid him take his
curse off me. Thou art gentle, thou art good; thou wilt entreat
for me, and he will refuse thee nought."

Catherine shared his belief that Gerard could cure him, and joined
her entreaties to his, Margaret hardly needed this. The
burgomaster and his agents having failed, she employed her own,
and spent money like water. And among these agents poor Luke
enrolled himself. She met him one day looking very thin, and spoke
to him compassionately. On this he began to blubber, and say he
was more miserable than ever; he would like to be good friends
again upon almost any terms.

"Dear heart," said Margaret sorrowfully, why can you not say to
yourself, now I am her little brother, and she is my old, married
sister, worn down with care? Say so, and I will indulge thee, and
pet thee, and make thee happier than a prince."

"Well, I will," said Luke savagely, "sooner than keep away from
you altogether. But above all give me something to do. Perchance I
may have better luck this time."

"Get me my marriage lines," said Margaret, turning sad and gloomy
in a moment.

"That is as much as to say, get me him! for where they are, he
is."

"Not so. He may refuse to come nigh me; but certes he will not
deny a poor woman, who loved him once, her lines of betrothal. How
can she go without them into any honest man's house?"

"I'll get them you if they are in Holland," said Luke.

"They are as like to be in Rome," replied Margaret.

"Let us begin with Holland," observed Luke prudently.

The slave of love was furnished with money by his soft tyrant, and
wandered hither and thither, Coopering, and carpentering, and
looking for Gerard. "I can't be worse if I find the vagabone,"
said he, "and I may be a hantle better."

The months rolled on, and Sybrandt improved in spirit, but not in
body; he was Margaret's pensioner for life; and a long-expected
sorrow fell upon poor Catherine, and left her still more bowed
down; and she lost her fine hearty bustling way, and never went
about the house singing now; and her nerves were shaken, and she
lived in dread of some terrible misfortune falling on Cornelis.
The curse was laid on him as well as Sybrandt. She prayed Eli, if
she had been a faithful partner all these years, to take Cornelis
into his house again, and let her live awhile at Rotterdam.

"I have good daughters here," said she; "but Margaret is so
tender, and thoughtful, and the little Gerard, he is my joy; he
grows liker his father every day, and his prattle cheers my heavy
heart; and I do love children."

And Eli, sturdy but kindly, consented sorrowfully.

And the people of Gouda petitioned the duke for a vicar, a real
vicar. "Ours cometh never nigh us," said they, "this six months
past; our children they die unchristened, and our folk unburied,
except by some chance comer." Giles' influence baffled this just
complaint once; but a second petition was prepared, and he gave
Margaret little hope that the present position could be maintained
a single day.

So then Margaret went sorrowfully to the pretty manse to see it
for the last time, ere it should pass for ever into stranger's
hands.

"I think he would have been happy here," she said, and turned
heart-sick away.

On their return, Reicht Heynes proposed to her to go and consult
the hermit.

"What," said Margaret, "Joan has been at you. She is the one for
hermits. I'll go, if 'tis but to show thee they know no more than
we do." And they went to the cave.

It was an excavation partly natural, partly artificial, in a bank
of rock overgrown by brambles. There was a rough stone door on
hinges, and a little window high up, and two apertures, through
one of which the people announced their gifts to the hermit, and
put questions of all sorts to him; and when he chose to answer,
his voice came dissonant and monstrous out at another small
aperture.

On the face of the rock this line was cut -
Felix qui in Domino nixus ab orbe fugit.

Margaret observed to her companion that this was new since she was
here last.

"Ay," said Reicht, "like enough;" and looked up at it with awe.
Writing even on paper she thought no trifle; but on rock! She
whispered, "Tis a far holier hermit than the last; he used to come
in the town now and then, but this one ne'er shows his face to
mortal man."

"And that is holiness?"

"Ay, sure."

"Then what a saint a dormouse must be?"

"Out, fie, mistress. Would ye even a beast to a man?"

"Come, Reicht," said Margaret, "my poor father taught me overmuch,
So I will e'en sit here, and look at the manse once more. Go thou
forward and question thy solitary, and tell me whether ye get
nought oOr nonsense out of him, for 'twill be one."

As Reicht drew near the cave a number of birds flew out of it.,
She gave a little scream, and pointed to the cave to show Margaret
they had come thence, On this Margaret felt sure there was no
human being in the cave, and gave the matter no further attention,
She fell into a deep reverie while looking at the little manse.

She was startled from it by Reicht's hand upon her shoulder, and a
faint voice saying, "Let us go home."

"You got no answer at all, Reicht," said Margaret calmly.

"No, Margaret," said Reicht despondently. And they returned home.

Perhaps after all Margaret had nourished some faint secret hope in
her heart, though her reason had rejected it, for she certainly
went home more dejectedly.

Just as they entered Rotterdam, Reicht said, "Stay! Oh, Margaret,
I am ill at deceit; but 'tis death to utter ill news to thee; I
love thee so dear."

"Speak out, sweetheart," said Margaret. "I have gone through so
much, I am almost past feeling any fresh trouble."

"Margaret, the hermit did speak to me."

"What, a hermit there? among all those birds."

"Ay; and doth not that show him a holy man?"

"I' God's name, what said he to thee, Reicht?"

"Alas! Margaret, I told him thy story, and I prayed him for our
Lady's sake tell me where thy Gerard is, And I waited long for an
answer, and presently a voice came like a trumpet: 'Pray for the
soul of Gerard the son of Eli!"

"Ah!"

"Oh, woe is me that I have this to tell thee, sweet Margaret!
bethink thee thou hast thy boy to live for yet."

"Let me get home," said Margaret faintly.

Passing down the Brede Kirk Straet they saw Joan at the door.
Reicht said to her, "Eh, woman, she has been to your hermit, and
heard no good news."

"Come in," said Joan, eager for a gossip.

Margaret would not go in; but she sat down disconsolate on the
lowest step but one of the little external staircase that led into
Joan's house, and let the other two gossip their fill at the top
of it.

"Oh," said Joan, what yon hermit says is sure to be sooth, He is
that holy, I am told, that the very birds consort with him."

"What does that prove?" said Margaret deprecatingly. "I have seen
my Gerard tame the birds in winter till they would eat from his
hand."

A look of pity at this parallel passed between the other two, but
they were both too fond of her to say what they thought.

Joan proceeded to relate all the marvellous tales she had heard of
this hermit's sanctity; how he never came out but at night, and
prayed among the wolves, and they never molested him; and now he
bade the people not bring him so much food to pamper his body, but
to bring him candles.

"The candles are to burn before his saint," whispered Reicht
solemnly.

"Ay, lass; and to read his holy books wi'. A neighbour o' mine saw
his hand come out, and the birds sat thereon and pecked crumbs.
She went for to kiss it, but the holy man whippit it away in a
trice. They can't abide a woman to touch 'en, or even look at 'em,
saints can't."

"What like was his hand, wife? Did you ask her?"

"What is my tongue for, else? Why, dear heart, all one as yourn;
by the same token a had a thumb and four fingers."

"Look ye there now."

"But a deal whiter nor yourn and mine."

"Ay, ay."

"And main skinny."

"Alas."

"What could ye expect? Why, a live upon air, and prayer, and
candles."

"Ah, well," continued Joan; "poor thing, I whiles think 'tis best
for her to know the worst. And now she hath gotten a voice from
heaven, Or almost as good, and behoves her pray for his soul. One
thing, she is not so poor now as she was; and never fell riches to
a better hand; and she is only come into her own for that matter,
so she can pay the priest to say masses for him, and that is a
great comfort.'

In the midst of their gossip, Margaret, in whose ears it was all
buzzing, though she seemed lost in thought, got softly up, and
crept away with her eyes on the ground, and her brows bent.

"She hath forgotten I am with her," said Reicht Heynes ruefully.

She had her gossip out with Joan, and then went home.

She found Margaret seated cutting out a pelisse of grey cloth, and
a cape to match. Little Gerard was standing at her side, inside
her left arm, eyeing the work, and making it more difficult by
wriggling about, and fingering the arm with which she held the
cloth steady, to all which she submitted with imperturbable
patience and complacency, Fancy a male workman so entangled,
impeded, worried!

"Ot's that, mammy?"

"A pelisse, my pet."

"Ot's a p'lisse?"

"A great frock. And this is the cape to't."

"Ot's it for?"

"To keep his body from the cold; and the cape is for his
shoulders, or to go over his head like the country folk. 'Tis for
a hermit."

"Ot's a 'ermit?"

"A holy man that lives in a cave all by himself."

"In de dark?"

"Ay, whiles."

"Oh."

In the morning Reicht was sent to the hermit with the pelisse, and
a pound of thick candles.

As she was going out of the door Margaret said to her, "Said you
whose son Gerard was?"

"Nay, not I."

"Think, girl! How could he call him Gerard, son of Eli, if you had
not told him?"

Reicht persisted she had never mentioned him but as plain Gerard.
But Margaret told her flatly she did not believe her; at which
Reicht was affronted, and went out with a little toss of the head.
However, she determined to question the hermit again, and did not
doubt he would be more liberal in his communication when he saw
his nice new pelisse and the candles.

She had not been gone long when Giles came in with ill news.

The living of Gouda would be kept vacant no longer.

Margaret was greatly distressed at this.

"Oh, Giles," said she, "ask for another month. They will give thee
another month, maybe."

He returned in an hour to tell her he could not get a month.

"They have given me a week," said he. "And what is a week?"

"Drowning bodies catch at strawen," was her reply. " A week? a
little week?"

Reicht came back from her errand out of spirits. Her oracle had
declined all further communication. So at least its obstinate
silence might fairly be interpreted.

The next day Margaret put Reicht in charge of the shop, and
disappeared all day. So the next day, and so the next. Nor would
she tell any one where she had been. Perhaps she was ashamed. The
fact is, she spent all those days on one little spot of ground.
When they thought her dreaming, she was applying to every word
that fell from Joan and Reicht the whole powers of a far acuter
mind than either of them possessed.

She went to work on a scale that never occurred to either of them.
She was determined to see the hermit, and question him face to
face, not through a wall. She found that by making a circuit she
could get above the cave, and look down without being seen by the
solitary. But when she came to do it, she found an impenetrable
mass of brambles. After tearing her clothes, and her hands and
feet, so that she was soon covered with blood, the resolute,
patient girl took out her scissors and steadily snipped and cut
till she made a narrow path through the enemy. But so slow was the
work that she had to leave it half done. The next day she had her
scissors fresh ground, and brought a sharp knife as well, and
gently, silently, cut her way to the roof of the cave. There she
made an ambush of some of the cut brambles, so that the passers-by
might not see her, and couched with watchful eye till the hermit
should come out. She heard him move underneath her. But he never
left his cell. She began to think it was true that he only came
out at night.

The next day she came early and brought a jerkin she was making
for little Gerard, and there she sat all day, working, and
watching with dogged patience.

At four o'clock the birds began to feed; and a great many of the
smaller kinds came fluttering round the cave, and one or two went
in. But most of them, taking a preliminary seat on the bushes,
suddenly discovered Margaret, and went off with an agitated flirt
of their little wings. And although they sailed about in the air,
they would not enter the cave. Presently, to encourage them, the
hermit, all unconscious of the cause of their tremors, put out a
thin white hand with a few crumbs in it, Margaret laid down her
work softly, and gliding her body forward like a snake, looked
down at it from above; it was but a few feet from her. It was as
the woman described it, a thin, white hand.

Presently the other hand came out with a piece of bread, and the
two hands together broke it and scattered the crumbs.

But that other hand had hardly been out two seconds ere the violet
eyes that were watching above dilated; and the gentle bosom
heaved, and the whole frame quivered like a leaf in the wind.

What her swift eye had seen I leave the reader to guess. She
suppressed the scream that rose to her lips, but the effort cost
her dear. Soon the left hand of the hermit began to swim
indistinctly before her gloating eyes; and with a deep sigh her
head drooped, and she lay like a broken lily.

She was in a deep swoon, to which perhaps her long fast to-day and
the agitation and sleeplessness of many preceding days
contributed.

And there lay beauty, intelligence, and constancy, pale and
silent, And little that hermit guessed who was so near him. The
little birds hopped on her now, and one nearly entangled his
little feet in her rich auburn hair.

She came back to her troubles. The sun was set. She was very cold,
She cried a little, but I think it was partly from the remains of
physical weakness. And then she went home, praying God and the
saints to enlighten her and teach her what to do for the best.

When she got home she was pale and hysterical, and would say
nothing in answer to all their questions but her favourite word,
"We are wading in deep waters,"

The night seemed to have done wonders for her.

She came to Catherine, who was sitting sighing by the fireside,
and kissed her, and said -

"Mother, what would you like best in the world?"

"Eh, dear," replied Catherine despondently, "I know nought that
would make me smile now; I have parted from too many that were
dear to me. Gerard lost again as soon as found; Kate in heaven;
and Sybrandt down for life."

"Poor mother! Mother dear, Gouda manse is to be furnished, and
cleaned, and made ready all in a hurry, See, here be ten gold
angels. Make them go far, good mother; for I have ta'en over many
already from my boy for a set of useless loons that were aye going
to find him for me."

Catherine and Reicht stared at her a moment in silence, and then
out burst a flood of questions, to none of which would she give a
reply. "Nay," said she, "I have lain on my bed and thought, and
thought, and thought whiles you were all sleeping; and methinks I
have got the clue to all, I love you, dear mother; but I'll trust
no woman's tongue. If I fail this time, I'll have none to blame
but Margaret Brandt."

A resolute woman is a very resolute thing. And there was a deep,
dogged determination in Margaret's voice and brow that at once
convinced Catherine it would be idle to put any more questions at
that time, She and Reicht lost themselves in conjectures; and
Catherine whispered Reicht, "Bide quiet; then 'twill leak out;" a
shrewd piece of advice, founded on general observation.

Within an hour Catherine was on the road to Gouda in a cart, with
two stout girls to help her, and quite a siege artillery of mops,
and pails, and brushes, She came back with heightened colour, and
something of the old sparkle in her eye, and kissed Margaret with
a silent warmth that spoke volumes, and at five in the morning was
off again to Gouda.

That night as Reicht was in her first sleep a hand gently pressed
her shoulder, and she awoke, and was going to scream, "Whisht,"
said Margaret, and put her finger to her lips.

She then whispered, "Rise softly, don thy habits, and come with
me!"

When she came down, Margaret begged her to loose Dragon and bring
him along. Now Dragon was a great mastiff, who had guarded
Margaret Van Eyck and Reicht, two lone women, for some years, and
was devotedly attached to the latter.

Margaret and Reicht went out, with Dragon walking majestically
behind them. They came back long after midnight, and retired to
rest.

Catherine never knew.

Margaret read her friends: she saw the sturdy, faithful Frisian
could hold her tongue, and Catherine could not. Yet I am not sure
she would have trusted even Reicht had her nerve equalled her
spirit; but with all her daring and resolution, she was a tender,
timid woman, a little afraid of the dark, very afraid of being
alone in it, and desperately afraid of wolves. Now Dragon could
kill a wolf in a brace of shakes; but then Dragon would not go
with her, but only with Reicht; so altogether she made one
confidante.

The next night they made another moonlight reconnaissance, and as
I think, with some result. For not the next night (it rained that
night and extinguished their courage), but the next after they
took with them a companion, the last in the world Reicht Heynes
would have thought of; yet she gave her warm approval as soon as
she was told he was to go with them.

Imagine how these stealthy assailants trembled and panted when the
moment of action came; imagine, if you can, the tumult in
Margaret's breast, the thrilling hopes, chasing, and chased by
sickening fears; the strange and perhaps unparalleled mixture of
tender familiarity and distant awe with which a lovely and
high-spirited, but tender, adoring woman, wife in the eye of the
Law, and no wife in the eye of the Church, trembling, blushing,
paling, glowing, shivering, stole at night, noiseless as the dew,
upon the hermit of Gouda.

And the stars above seemed never so bright and calm.

CHAPTER XCII

Yes, the hermit of Gouda was the vicar of Gouda, and knew it not,
so absolute was his seclusion.

My reader is aware that the moment the frenzy of his passion
passed, he was seized with remorse for having been betrayed into
it. But perhaps only those who have risen as high in religious
spirit as he had, and suddenly fallen, can realize the terror at
himself that took possession of him. He felt like one whom
self-confidence had betrayed to the very edge of a precipice.

"Ah, good Jerome," he cried, "how much better you knew me than I
knew myself! How bitter yet wholesome was your admonition!"

Accustomed to search his own heart, he saw at once that the true
cause of his fury was Margaret. "I love her then better than God,"
said he despairingly; "better than the Church, From such a love
what can spring to me, or to her?" He shuddered at the thought.
"Let the strong battle temptation; 'tis for the weak to flee. And
who is weaker than I have shown myself? What is my penitence, my
religion? A pack of cards built by degrees into a fair-seeming
structure; and lo! one breath of earthly love, and it lies in the
dust, I must begin again, and on a surer foundation." He resolved
to leave Holland at once, and spend years of his life in some
distant convent before returning to it. By that time the
temptations of earthly passion would be doubly baffled; and older
and a better monk, he should be more master of his earthly
affections, and Margaret, seeing herself abandoned, would marry,
and love another, The very anguish this last thought cost him
showed the self-searcher and self-denier that he was on the path
of religious duty.

But in leaving her for his immortal good and hers, he was not to
neglect her temporal weal. Indeed, the sweet thought, he could
make her comfortable for life, and rich in this world's goods,
which she was not bound to despise, sustained him in the bitter
struggle it cost him to turn his back on her without one kind word
or look, "Oh, what will she think of me?" he groaned. "Shall I not
seem to her of all creatures the most heartless, inhuman? but so
best; ay, better she should hate me, miserable that I am, Heaven
is merciful, and giveth my broken heart this comfort; I can make
that villain restore her own, and she shall never lose another
true lover by poverty. Another? Ah me! ah me! God and the saints
to mine aid!"

How he fared on this errand has been related. But first, as you
may perhaps remember, he went at night to shrive the hermit of
Gouda. He found him dying, and never left him till he had closed
his eyes and buried him beneath the floor of the little oratory
attached to his cell. It was the peaceful end of a stormy life.
The hermit had been a soldier, and even now carried a steel
corselet next his skin, saying he was now Christ's soldier as he
had been Satan's. When Clement had shriven him and prayed by him,
he, in his turn, sought counsel of one who was dying in so pious a
frame, The hermit advised him to be his successor in this peaceful
retreat. "His had been a hard fight against the world, the flesh,
and the devil, and he had never thoroughly baffled them till he
retired into the citadel of Solitude.

These words and the hermit's pious and peaceful death, which
speedily followed, and set as it were the seal of immortal truth
on them, made a deep impression upon Clement. Nor in his case had
they any prejudice to combat; the solitary recluse was still
profoundly revered in the Church, whether immured as an anchorite
or anchoress in some cave or cell belonging to a monastery, or
hidden in the more savage but laxer seclusion of the independent
hermitage. And Clement knew more about the hermits of the Church
than most divines at his time of life; he had read much thereon at
the monastery near Tergou, had devoured their lives with wonder
and delight in the manuscripts of the Vatican, and conversed
earnestly about them with the mendicant friars of several nations.
Before Printing these friars were the great circulators of those
local annals and biographies which accumulated in the convents of
every land. Then his teacher, Jerome, had been three years an
anchorite on the heights of Camaldoli, where for more than four
centuries the Thebaid had been revived; and Jerome, cold and curt
on most religious themes, was warm with enthusiasm on this one. He
had pored over the annals of St. John Baptist's abbey, round about
which the hermit's caves were scattered, and told him the names of
many a noble, and many a famous warrior who had ended his days
there a hermit, and of many a bishop and archbishop who had passed
from the see to the hermitage, or from the hermitage to the see.
Among the former the Archbishop of Ravenna; among the latter Pope
Victor the Ninth. He told him too, with grim delight, of their
multifarious austerities, and how each hermit set himself to find
where he was weakest, and attacked himself without mercy or
remission till there, even there, he was strongest. And how seven
times in the twenty-four hours, in thunder, rain, or snow, by
daylight, twilight, moonlight, or torchlight, the solitaries
flocked from distant points, over rugged precipitous ways, to
worship in the convent church; at matins, at prime, tierce, sexte,
nones, vespers, and compline. He even, under eager questioning,
described to him the persons of famous anchorites he had sung the
Psalter and prayed with there; the only intercourse their vows
allowed, except with special permission. Moncata, Duke of Moncata
and Cardova, and Hidalgo of Spain, who in the flower of his youth
had retired thither from the pomps, vanities, and pleasures of the
world; Father John Baptist of Novara, who had led armies to
battle, but was now a private soldier of Christ; Cornelius,
Samuel, and Sylvanus. This last, when the great Duchess de' Medici
obtained the Pope's leave, hitherto refused, to visit Camaldoli,
went down and met her at the first wooden cross, and there,
surrounded as she was with courtiers and flatterers, remonstrated
with her, and persuaded her, and warned her, not to profane that
holy mountain, where no woman for so many centuries had placed her
foot; and she,awed by the place and the man, retreated with all
her captains, soldiers, courtiers, and pages from that one hoary
hermit. At Basle Clement found fresh materials, especially with
respect to German and English anchorites; and he had even prepared
a "Catena Eremitarum" from the year of our Lord 250, when Paul of
Thebes commenced his ninety years of solitude, down to the year
1470. He called them Angelorum amici et animalium, i.e.
FRIENDS OF ANGELS AND ANIMALS.

Thus, though in those days he never thought to be a recluse, the
road was paved, so to speak; and when the dying hermit of Gouda
blessed the citadel of Solitude, where he had fought the good
fight and won it, and invited him to take up the breast-plate of
faith that now fell off his own shrunken body, Clement said within
himself: "Heaven itself led my foot hither to this end." It struck
him, too, as no small coincidence that his patron, St. Bavon, was
a hermit, and an austere one, a cuirassier of the solitary cell.

As soon as he was reconciled to Ghysbrecht Van Swieten, he went
eagerly to his abode, praying Heaven it might not have been
already occupied in these three days. The fear was not vain; these
famous dens never wanted a human tenant long. He found the rude
stone door ajar; then he made sure he was too late; he opened the
door and went softly in. No; the cell was vacant, and there were
the hermit's great ivory crucifix, his pens, ink, seeds, and,
memento mori, a skull; his cilice of hair, and another of
bristles; his well-worn sheepskin pelisse and hood; his hammer,
chisel, and psaltery, etc. Men and women had passed that way, but
none had ventured to intrude, far less to steal. Faith and
simplicity had guarded that keyless door more securely than the
houses of the laity were defended by their gates like a modern
gaol, and think iron bars at every window, and the gentry by moat,
bastion, chevaux de frise, and portcullis.

As soon as Clement was fairly in the cell there was a loud flap,
and a flutter, and down came a great brown owl from a corner, and
whirled out of the window, driving the air cold on Clement's face,
He started and shuddered.

Was this seeming owl something diabolical? trying to deter him
from his soul's good? On second thoughts, might it not be some
good spirit the hermit had employed to keep the cell for him,
perhaps the hermit himself? Finally he concluded that it was just
an owl, and that he would try and make friends with it.

He kneeled down and inaugurated his new life with prayer.

Clement had not only an earthly passion to quell, the power of
which made him tremble for his eternal weal, but he had a penance
to do for having given way to ire, his besetting sin, and cursed
his own brothers.

He looked round this roomy cell furnished with so many comforts,
and compared it with the pictures in his mind of the hideous
place, eremus in eremo, a desert in a desert, where holy Jerome,
hermit, and the Plutarch of hermits, had wrestled with sickness,
temptation, and despair four mortal years; and with the
inaccessible and thorny niche, a hole in a precipice, where the
boy hermit Benedict buried himself, and lived three years on the
pittance the good monk Romanus could spare him from his scanty
commons, and subdivided that mouthful with his friend, a raven;
and the hollow tree of his patron St. Bavon; and the earthly
purgatory at Fribourg, where lived a nameless saint in a horrid
cavern, his eyes chilled with perpetual gloom, and his ears
stunned with an eternal waterfall; and the pillar on which St.
Simeon Stylita existed forty-five years; and the destina, or stone
box, of St. Dunstan, where, like Hilarion in his bulrush hive,
sepulchro potius quam domu, he could scarce sit, stand, or lie;
and the living tombs, sealed with lead, of Thais, and Christina,
and other recluses; and the damp dungeon of St. Alred. These and
scores more of the dismal dens in which true hermits had worn out
their wasted bodies on the rock, and the rock under their sleeping
bodies, and their praying knees, all came into his mind, and he
said to himself, "This sweet retreat is for safety of the soul;
but what for penance Jesu aid me against faults to come; and for
the fault I rue, face of man I will not see for a twelvemonth and
a day." He had famous precedents in his eye even for this last and
unusual severity. In fact the original hermit of this very cell
was clearly under the same vow. Hence the two apertures, through
which he was spoken to, and replied.

Adopting, in other respects, the uniform rule of hermits and
anchorites, he divided his day into the seven offices, ignoring
the petty accidents of light and dark, creations both of Him to
whom he prayed so unceasingly. He learned the psalter by heart,
and in all the intervals of devotion, not occupied by broken
slumbers, he worked hard with his hands. No article of the
hermit's rule was more strict or more ancient than this. And here
his self-imposed penance embarrassed him, for what work could he
do, without being seen, that should benefit his neighbours? for
the hermit was to labour for himself in those cases only where his
subsistence depended on it. Now Clement's modest needs were amply
supplied by the villagers.

On moonlight nights he would steal out like a thief, and dig some
poor man's garden on the outskirts of the village. He made baskets
and dropped them slily at humble doors.

And since he could do nothing for the bodies of those who passed
by his cell in daytime, he went out in the dead of the night with
his hammer and his chisel, and carved moral and religious
sentences all down the road upon the sandstone rocks. "Who knows?"
said he, "often a chance shaft strikes home.

Oh, sore heart, comfort thou the poor and bereaved with holy words
of solace in their native tongue; for he said "well, 'tis "clavis
ad corda plebis." Also he remembered the learned Colonna had told
him of the written mountains in the east, where kings had
inscribed their victories, "What," said Clement, "are they so
wise, those Eastern monarchs, to engrave their war-like glory upon
the rock, making a blood bubble endure so long as earth; and shall
I leave the rocks about me silent on the King of Glory, at whose
word they were, and at whose breath they shall be dust? Nay, but
these stones shall speak to weary wayfarers of eternal peace, and
of the Lamb, whose frail and afflicted yet happy servant worketh
them among."

Now at this time the inspired words that have consoled the poor
and the afflicted for so many ages were not yet printed in Dutch,
so that these sentences of gold from the holy evangelists came
like fresh oracles from heaven, or like the dew on parched
flowers; and the poor hermit's written rocks softened a heart Or
two, and sent the heavy laden singing on their way[1].

These holy oracles that seemed to spring up around him like magic;
his prudent answers through his window to such as sought ghostly
counsel; and above all, his invisibility, soon gained him a
prodigious reputation, This was not diminished by the medical
advice they now and then extorted from him sore against his will,
by tears and entreaties; for if the patients got well they gave
the holy hermit the credit, and if not they laid all the blame on
the devil. I think he killed nobody, for his remedies were
womanish and weak." Sage and wormwood, sion, hyssop, borage,
spikenard, dog's-tongue, our Lady's mantle, feverfew, and Faith,
and all in small quantities except the last.

Then his abstinence, sure sign of a saint. The eggs and milk they
brought him at first he refused with horror. Know ye not the
hermit's rule is bread, or herbs, and water? Eggs, they are birds
in disguise; for when the bird dieth, then the egg rotteth. As for
milk, it is little better than white blood. And when they brought
him too much bread he refused it. Then they used to press it on
him. "Nay, holy father; give the overplus to the poor."

"You who go among the poor can do that better. Is bread a thing to
fling haphazard from an hermit's window?" And to those who
persisted after this: "To live on charity, yet play Sir Bountiful,
is to lie with the right hand. Giving another's to the poor, I
should beguile them of their thanks, and cheat thee the true
giver. Thus do thieves, whose boast it is they bleed the rich into
the lap of the poor. Occasio avaritiae nomen pauperum."

When nothing else would convince the good souls, this piece of
Latin always brought them round. So would a line of Virgil's
Aeneid.

This great reputation of sanctity was all external. Inside the
cell was a man who held the hermit of Gouda as cheap as dirt.

"Ah!" said he, "I cannot deceive myself; I cannot deceive God's
animals. See the little birds, how coy they be; I feed and feed
them, and long for their friendship, yet will they never come
within, nor take my hand, by lighting on't. For why? No Paul, no
Benedict, no Hugh of Lincoln, no Columba, no Guthlac bides in this
cell. Hunted doe flieth not hither, for here is no Fructuosus, nor
Aventine, nor Albert of Suabia; nor e'en a pretty squirrel cometh
from the wood hard by for the acorns I have hoarded; for here
abideth no Columban. The very owl that was here hath fled. They
are not to be deceived; I have a Pope's word for that; Heaven rest
his soul."

Clement had one advantage over her whose image in his heart he was
bent on destroying.

He had suffered and survived the pang of bereavement, and the mind
cannot quite repeat such anguish. Then he had built up a habit of
looking on her as dead. After that strange scene in the church and
churchyard of St. Laurens, that habit might be compared to a
structure riven by a thunderbolt. It was shattered, but stones
enough stood to found a similar habit on; to look on her as dead
to him.

And by severe subdivision of his time and thoughts, by unceasing
prayers and manual labour, he did in about three months succeed in
benumbing the earthly half of his heart.

But lo! within a day or two of this first symptom of mental peace
returning slowly, there descended upon his mind a horrible
despondency.

Words cannot utter it, for words never yet painted a likeness of
despair. Voices seemed to whisper in his ear, "Kill thyself! kill!
kill! kill!"

And he longed to obey the voices, for life was intolerable.

He wrestled with his dark enemy with prayers and tears; he prayed
God but to vary his temptation. "Oh let mine enemy have power to
scourge me with red-hot whips, to tear me leagues and leagues over
rugged places by the hair of my head, as he has served many a holy
hermit, that yet baffled him at last; to fly on me like a raging
lion; to gnaw me with a serpent's fangs; any pain, any terror, but
this horrible gloom of the soul that shuts me from all light of
Thee and of the saints."

And now a freezing thought crossed him. What if the triumphs of
the powers of darkness over Christian souls in desert places had
been suppressed, and only their defeats recorded, or at least in
full; for dark hints were scattered about antiquity that now first
began to grin at him with terrible meaning.

"THEY WANDERED IN THE DESERT AND PERISHED BY SERPENTS," said an
ancient father of hermits that went into solitude, "and were seen
no more." And another at a more recent epoch wrote: Vertuntur ad
melancholiam: "they turn to gloomy madness." These two statements,
were they not one? for the ancient fathers never spoke with regret
of the death of the body. No, the hermits so lost were perished
souls, and the serpents were diabolical [2] thoughts, the natural
brood of solitude.

St. Jerome went into the desert with three companions; one fled in
the first year, two died; how? The single one that lasted was a
gigantic soul with an iron body.

The cotemporary who related this made no comment, expressed no
wonder, What, then, if here was a glimpse of the true proportion
in every age, and many souls had always been lost in solitude for
one gigantic mind and iron body that survived this terrible
ordeal.

The darkened recluse now cast his despairing eyes over antiquity
to see what weapons the Christian arsenal contained that might
befriend him. The greatest of all was prayer. Alas! it was a part
of his malady to be unable to pray with true fervour. The very
system of mechanical supplication he had for months carried out so
severely by rule had rather checked than fostered his power of
originating true prayer.

He prayed louder than ever, but the heart hung back cold and
gloomy, and let the words go up alone.

"Poor wingless prayers," he cried, "you will not get half-way to
heaven."

A fiend of this complexion had been driven out of King Saul by
music.

Clement took up the hermit's psaltery, and with much trouble
mended the strings and tuned it.

No, he could not play it. His soul was so out of tune. The sounds
jarred on it, and made him almost mad.

"Ah, wretched me!" he cried; "Saul had a saint to play to him. He
was not alone with the spirits of darkness; but here is no sweet
bard of Israel to play to me; I, lonely, with crushed heart, on
which a black fiend sitteth mountain high, must make the music to
uplift that heart to heaven; it may not be." And he grovelled on
the earth weeping and tearing his hair.

VERTEBATUR AD MELANCHOLIAM.

[1] It requires nowadays a strong effort of the imagination to
realize the effect on poor people who had never seen them before
of such sentences as this
"Blessed are the poor" etc."

[2] The primitive writer was so interpreted by others besides
Clement; and in particular by Peter of Blois, a divine of the
twelfth century, whose comment is noteworthy, as he himself was a
forty-year hermit.

CHAPTER XCIII

One day as he lay there sighing and groaning, prayerless,
tuneless, hopeless, a thought flashed into his mind. What he had
done for the poor and the wayfarer, he would do for himself. He
would fill his den of despair with the name of God and the magic
words of holy writ, and the pious, prayerful consolations of the
Church.

Then, like Christian at Apollyon's feet, he reached his hand
suddenly out and caught, not his sword, for he had none, but
peaceful labour's humbler weapon, his chisel, and worked with it
as if his soul depended on his arm.

They say that Michael Angelo in the next generation used to carve
statues, not like our timid sculptors, by modelling the work in
clay, and then setting a mechanic to chisel it, but would seize
the block, conceive the image, and at once, with mallet and steel,
make the marble chips fly like mad about him, and the mass sprout
into form. Even so Clement drew no lines to guide his hand. He
went to his memory for the gracious words, and then dashed at his
work and eagerly graved them in the soft stone, between working
and fighting.

He begged his visitors for candle ends, and rancid oil.

"Anything is good enough for me," he said, "if 'twill but burn."
So at night the cave glowed afar off like a blacksmith's forge,
through the window and the gaping chinks of the rude stone door,
and the rustics beholding crossed themselves and suspected
deviltries, and within the holy talismans, one after another, came
upon the walls, and the sparks and the chips flew day and night,
night and day, as the soldier of Solitude and of the Church plied,
with sighs and groans, his bloodless weapon, between working and
fighting.

Kyrie Eleison,

Christe Eleison.

[1]

Sursum Corda.[2]

Deus Refugium nostrum et virtus.[3]

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi miserere mihi.[4]

Sancta Trinitas unus Deus, miserere nobis.[5]

Ab infestationibus Daemonum, a ventura ira, a damnatione perpetua.
Libera nos Domine.[6]

Deus, qui miro ordine Angelorum ministeria, etc, (the whole
collect).[7]

Quem quaerimus adjutorem nisi te Domine qui pro peccatis nostris
juste irascaris? [8]

Sancte Deus, Sancte fortis, Sancte et misericors Salvator, amarae
morti ne tradas nos.

And underneath the great crucifix, which was fastened to the wall,
he graved this from Augustine:

O anima Christiana, respice vulnera patientis, sanguinem
morientis, pretium redemptionis. Haec quanta sint cogitate, et in
statera mentis vestrae appendite, ut totus vobis figatur in corde,
qui pro vobis totus fixus est in cruce. Nam si passio Christi ad
memoriam revocetur, nihil est tam durum quod non aequo animo
toleretur.

Which may be thus rendered: O Christian soul, look on the wounds
of the suffering One, the blood of the dying One, the price paid
for our redemption! These things, oh, think how great they be, and
weigh them in the balance of thy mind: that He may be wholly
nailed to thy heart, who for thee was all nailed unto the cross.
For do but call to mind the sufferings of Christ, and there is
nought on earth too hard to endure with composure.

Soothed a little, a very little, by the sweet and pious words he
was raising all round him, and weighed down with watching and
working night and day, Clement one morning sank prostrate with
fatigue, and a deep sleep overpowered him for many hours. Awaking
quietly, he heard a little cheep; he opened his eyes, and lo! upon
his breviary, which was on a low stool near his feet, ruffling all
his feathers with a single pull, and smoothing them as suddenly,
and cocking his bill this way and that with a vast display of
cunning purely imaginary, perched a robin redbreast.

Clement held his breath.

He half closed his eyes lest they should frighten the airy guest.

Down came robin on the floor.

When there he went through his pantomime of astuteness; and then,
pim, pim, pim, with three stiff little hops, like a ball of
worsted on vertical wires, he was on the hermit's bare foot. On
this eminence he swelled and contracted again, with ebb and flow
of feathers; but Clement lost this, for he quite closed his eyes
and scarce drew his breath in fear of frightening and losing his
visitor. He was content to feel the minute claw on his foot. He
could but just feel it, and that by help of knowing it was there.

Presently a little flirt with two little wings, and the feathered
busybody was on the breviary again.

Then Clement determined to try and feed this pretty little fidget
without frightening it away. But it was very difficult.

He had a piece of bread within reach, but how get at it? I think
he was five minutes creeping his hand up to that bread, and when
there he must not move his arm.

He slily got a crumb between a finger and thumb and shot it as
boys do marbles, keeping the hand quite still.

Cockrobin saw it fall near him, and did sagacity, but moved not.

When another followed, and then another, he popped down and caught
up one of the crumbs, but not quite understanding this mystery
fled with it, for more security, to an eminence; to wit, the
hermit's knee.

And so the game proceeded till a much larger fragment than usual
rolled along.

Here was a prize. Cockrobin pounced on it, bore it aloft, and fled
so swiftly into the world with it, the cave resounded with the
buffeted air.

"Now, bless thee, sweet bird," sighed the stricken solitary; "thy
wings are music, and thou a feathered ray camedst to light my
darkened soul."

And from that to his orisons, and then to his tools with a little
bit of courage, and this was his day's work:
Veni, Creator Spiritus,
Mentes tuorem visita,
Imple superna gratia
Quae tu creasti pectora

Accende lumen sensibus,
Mentes tuorum visita,
Infirma nostri corporis,
Virtute firmans perpeti.

And so the days rolled on; and the weather got colder, and
Clement's heart got warmer, and despondency was rolling away; and
by-and-by, somehow or another, it was gone. He had outlived it.

It had come like a cloud, and it went like one.

And presently all was reversed; his cell seemed illuminated with
joy. His work pleased him; his prayers were full of unction; his
psalms of praise. Hosts of little birds followed their crimson
leader, and flying from snow, and a parish full of Cains, made
friends one after another with Abel; fast friends. And one keen
frosty night as he sang the praises of God to his tuneful
psaltery, and his hollow cave rang forth the holy psalmody upon
the night, as if that cave itself was Tubal's surrounding shell,
or David's harp, he heard a clear whine, not unmelodious; it
became louder and less in tune. He peeped through the chinks of
his rude door, and there sat a great red wolf moaning melodiously
with his nose high in the air.

Clement was rejoiced. "My sins are going," he cried, "and the
creatures of God are owning me, one after another." And in a burst
of enthusiasm he struck up the laud:

"Praise Him all ye creatures of His!

"Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord."

And all the time he sang the wolf bayed at intervals.

But above all he seemed now to be drawing nearer to that celestial
intercourse which was the sign and the bliss of the true hermit;
for he had dreams about the saints and angels, so vivid, they were
more like visions. He saw bright figures clad in woven snow. They
bent on him eyes lovelier than those of the antelope's he had seen
at Rome, and fanned him with broad wings hued like the rainbow,
and their gentle voices bade him speed upon his course.

He had not long enjoyed this felicity when his dreams began to
take another and a strange complexion. He wandered with Fra
Colonna over the relics of antique nations, and the friar was lame
and had a staff, and this staff he waved over the mighty ruins,
and were they Egyptian, Greek, or Roman, straightway the temples
and palaces, whose wrecks they were, rose again like an
exhalation, and were thronged with the famous dead. Songsters that
might have eclipsed both Apollo and his rival poured forth their
lays; women, god-like in form, and draped like Minerva, swam round
the marble courts in voluptuous but easy and graceful dances. Here
sculptors carved away amidst admiring pupils, and forms of
supernatural beauty grew out of Parian marble in a quarter of an
hour; and grave philosophers conversed on high and subtle matters,
with youth listening reverently; it was a long time ago. And still
beneath all this wonderful panorama a sort of suspicion or
expectation lurked in the dreamer's mind. "This is a prologue, a
flourish, there is something behind; something that means me no
good, something mysterious, awful."

And one night that the wizard Colonna had transcended himself, he
pointed with his stick, and there was a swallowing up of many
great ancient cities, and the pair stood on a vast sandy plain
with a huge crimson sun sinking to rest, There were great
palm-trees; and there were bulrush hives, scarce a man's height,
dotted all about to the sandy horizon, and the crimson sun.

"These are the anchorites of the Theban desert," said Colonna
calmly; "followers not of Christ and His apostles, and the great
fathers, but of the Greek pupils of the Egyptian pupils of the
Brachmans and Gymnosophists."

And Clement thought that he burned to go and embrace the holy men
and tell them his troubles, and seek their advice. But he was tied
by the feet somehow, and could not move, and the crimson sun sank,
and it got dusk, and the hives scarce visible, And Colonna's
figure became shadowy and shapeless, but his eyes glowed ten times
brighter; and this thing all eyes spoke and said: "Nay, let them
be, a pack of fools I see how dismal it all is." Then with a
sudden sprightliness, "But I hear one of them has a manuscript of
Petronius, on papyrus; I go to buy it; farewell for ever, for
ever, for ever."

And it was pitch dark, and a light came at Clement's back like a
gentle stroke, a glorious roseate light. It warmed as well as
brightened. It loosened his feet from the ground; he turned round,
and there, her face irradiated with sunshine, and her hair
glittering like the gloriola of a saint, was Margaret Brandt.

She blushed and smiled and cast a look of ineffable tenderness on
him, "Gerard," she murmured, "be whose thou wilt by day, but at
night be mine!"

Even as she spoke, the agitation of seeing her so suddenly
awakened him, and he found himself lying trembling from head to
foot.

That radiant figure and mellow voice seemed to have struck his
nightly keynote.

Awake he could pray, and praise, and worship God; he was master of
his thoughts. But if he closed his eyes in sleep, Margaret, or
Satan in her shape, beset him, a seeming angel of light. He might
dream of a thousand different things, wide as the poles asunder,
ere he woke the imperial figure was sure to come and extinguish
all the rest in a moment, stellas exortus uti aetherius sol; for
she came glowing with two beauties never before united, an angel's
radiance and a woman's blushes.

Angels cannot blush. So he knew it was a fiend.

He was alarmed, but not so much surprised as at the demon's last
artifice. From Anthony to Nicholas of the Rock scarce hermit that
had not been thus beset; sometimes with gay voluptuous visions,
sometimes with lovely phantoms, warm, tangible, and womanly
without, demons within, nor always baffled even by the saints.
Witness that "angel form with a devil's heart" that came hanging
its lovely head, like a bruised flower, to St. Macarius, with a
feigned tale, and wept, and wept, and wept, and beguiled him first
of his tears and then of half his virtue.

But with the examples of Satanic power and craft had come down
copious records of the hermits' triumphs and the weapons by which
they had conquered.

Domandum est Corpus; the body must be tamed; this had been their
watchword for twelve hundred years. It was a tremendous war-cry;
for they called the earthly affections, as well as appetites,
body, and crushed the whole heart through the suffering and
mortified flesh.

Clement then said to himself that the great enemy of man had
retired but to spring with more effect, and had allowed him a few
days of true purity and joy only to put him off his guard against
the soft blandishments he was pouring over the soul that had
survived the buffeting of his black wings. He applied himself to
tame the body, he shortened his sleep, lengthened his prayers, and
increased his severe temperance to abstinence. Hitherto, following
the ordinary rule, he had eaten only at sunset. Now he ate but
once in forty-eight hours, drinking a little water every day.

On this the visions became more distinct.

Then he flew to a famous antidote, to "the grand febrifuge" of
anchorites - cold water.

He found the deepest part of the stream that ran by his cell; it
rose not far off at a holy well; and clearing the bottom of the
large stones, made a hole where he could stand in water to the
chin, and fortified by so many examples, he sprang from his rude
bed upon the next diabolical assault, and entered the icy water.

It made him gasp and almost shriek with the cold. It froze his
marrow. "I shall die," he cried, "I shall die; but better this
than fire eternal."

And the next day he was so stiff in all his joints he could not
move, and he seemed one great ache. And even in sleep he felt that
his very bones were like so many raging teeth, till the phantom he
dreaded came and gave one pitying smile, and all the pain was
gone.

Then, feeling that to go into the icy water again, enfeebled by
fasts as he was, might perhaps carry the guilt of suicide, he
scourged himself till the blood ran, and so lay down smarting. And
when exhaustion began to blunt the smart down to a throb, that
moment the present was away, and the past came smiling back. He
sat with Margaret at the duke's feast, the minstrels played
divinely, and the purple fountains gushed. Youth and love reigned
in each heart, and perfumed the very air.

Then the scene shifted, and they stood at the altar together man
and wife. And no interruption this time, and they wandered hand in
hand, and told each other their horrible dreams. As for him, "he
had dreamed she was dead, and he was a monk; and really the dream
had been so vivid and so full of particulars that only his
eyesight could even now convince him it was only a dream, and they
were really one."

And this new keynote once struck, every tune ran upon it. Awake he
was Clement the hermit, risen from unearthly visions of the night,
as dangerous as they were sweet; asleep he was Gerard Eliassoen,
the happy husband of the loveliest and best, and truest girl in
Holland: all the happier that he had been for some time the sport
of hideous dreams, in which he had lost her.

His constant fasts, coupled with other austerities, and the deep
mental anxiety of a man fighting with a supernatural foe, had now
reduced him nearly to a skeleton; but still on those aching bones
hung flesh unsubdued, and quivering with an earthly passion; so,
however, he thought; "or why had ill spirits such power over him?"
His opinion was confirmed, when one day he detected himself
sinking to sleep actually with a feeling of complacency, because
now Margaret would come and he should feel no more pain, and the
unreal would be real, and the real unreal, for an hour.

On this he rose hastily with a cry of dismay, and stripping to the
skin climbed up to the brambles above his cave, and flung himself
on them, and rolled on them writhing with the pain: then he came
into his den a mass of gore, and lay moaning for hours; till, out
of sheer exhaustion, he fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

He awoke to bodily pain, and mental exultation; he had broken the
fatal spell. Yes, it was broken; another and another day passed,
and her image molested him no more. But he caught himself sighing
at his victory.

The birds got tamer and tamer, they perched upon his hand. Two of
them let him gild their little claws. Eating but once in two days
he had more to give them.

His tranquility was not to last long.

A woman's voice came in from the outside, told him his own story
in a very few words, and asked him to tell her where Gerard was to
be found.

He was so astounded he could only say, with an instinct of
self-defence, "Pray for the soul of Gerard the son of Eli!"
meaning that he was dead to the world. And he sat wondering.

When the woman was gone, he determined, after an inward battle, to
risk being seen, and he peeped after her to see who it could be;
but he took so many precautions, and she ran so quickly back to
her friend, that the road was clear.

"Satan!" said he directly.

And that night back came his visions of earthly love and happiness
so vividly, he could count every auburn hair in Margaret's head,
and see the pupils of her eyes.

Then he began to despair, and said, "I must leave this country;
here I am bound fast in memory's chain;" and began to dread his
cell. He said, "A breath from hell hath infected it, and robbed
even these holy words of their virtue." And unconsciously
imitating St. Jerome, a victim of earthly hallucinations, as
overpowering, and coarser, he took his warmest covering out into
the wood hard by, and there flung down under a tree that torn and
wrinkled leather bag of bones, which a little ago might have
served a sculptor for Apollo.

Whether the fever of his imagination intermitted, as a master mind
of our day has shown that all things intermit[9] or that this
really broke some subtle link, I know not, but his sleep was
dreamless.

He awoke nearly frozen, but warm with joy within.

"I shall yet be a true hermit, Dei gratia," said he.

The next day some good soul left on his little platform a new
lambs-wool pelisse and cape, warm, soft, and ample.

He had a moment's misgiving on account of its delicious softness
and warmth; but that passed. It was the right skin[10], and a mark
that Heaven approved his present course.

It restored warmth to his bones after he came in from his short
rest.

And now, at one moment he saw victory before him if he could but
live to it; at another, he said to himself, "'Tis but another
lull; be on thy guard, Clement."

And this thought agitated his nerves and kept him in continual
awe.

He was like a soldier within the enemy's lines.

One night, a beautiful clear frosty night, he came back to his
cell, after a short rest. The stars were wonderful. Heaven seemed
a thousand times larger as well as brighter than earth, and to
look with a thousand eyes instead of one.

"Oh, wonderful," he cried, "that there should be men who do crimes
by night; and others scarce less mad, who live for this little
world, and not for that great and glorious one, which nightly, to
all eyes not blinded by custom, reveals its glowing glories. Thank
God I am a hermit."

And in this mood he came to his cell door.

He paused at it; it was closed.

"Why, methought I left it open," said he, "The wind. There is not
a breath of wind. What means this?"

He stood with his hand upon the rugged door. He looked through one
of the great chinks, for it was much smaller in places than the
aperture it pretended to close, and saw his little oil wick
burning just where he had left it.

"How is it with me," he sighed, when I start and tremble at
nothing? Either I did shut it, or the fiend hath shut it after me
to disturb my happy soul. Retro Sathanas!"

And he entered his cave rapidly, and began with somewhat nervous
expedition to light one of his largest tapers. While he was
lighting it, there was a soft sigh in the cave.

He started and dropped the candle just as it was lighting, and it
went out.

He stooped for it hurriedly and lighted it, listening intently.

When it was lighted he shaded it with his hand from behind, and
threw the faint light all round the cell.

In the farthest corner the outline of the wall seemed broken.

He took a step towards the place with his heart beating.

The candle at the same time getting brighter, he saw it was the
figure of a woman.

Another step with his knees knocking together.

IT WAS MARGARET BRANDT.

[1] Beat down Satan under our feet.

[2] Up, hearts!

[3] O God our refuge and strength.

[4] O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have
mercy upon me!

[5] O Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy upon us.

[6] From the assaults of demons - from the wrath to come - from
everlasting damnation, deliver us, O Lord!

[7] See the English collect, St., Michael and all Angels.

[8] Of whom may we seek succour but of Thee, O Lord, who for our
sins art justly displeased (and that torrent of prayer, the
following verse).

[9] Dr. Dickson, author of Fallacies of the Faculty, etc.

[10] It is related of a mediaeval hermit, that being offered a
garment made of cats' skins, he rejected it, saying, "I have
heard of a lamb of God but I never heard of a cat of God."

CHAPTER XCIV

HER attitude was one to excite pity rather than terror, in eyes
not blinded by a preconceived notion. Her bosom was fluttering
like a bird, and the red and white coming and going in her cheeks,
and she had her hand against the wall by the instinct of timid
things, she trembled so; and the marvellous mixed gaze of love,
and pious awe, and pity, and tender memories, those purple eyes
cast on the emaciated and glaring hermit, was an event in nature.

"Aha!" he cried. "Thou art come at last in flesh and blood; come
to me as thou camest to holy Anthony. But I am ware of thee. I
thought thy wiles were not exhausted. I am armed." With this he
snatched up his small crucifix and held it out at her, astonished,
and the candle in the other hand, both crucifix and candle shaking
violently. "Exorcizo te."

"Ah, no!" cried she piteously; and put out two pretty deprecating
palms. "Alas! work me no ill! It is Margaret."

"Liar!" shouted the hermit. "Margaret was fair, but not so
supernatural fair as thou. Thou didst shrink at that sacred name,
thou subtle hypocrite. In Nomine Dei exorcizo vos."

"Ah, Jesu!" gasped Margaret, in extremity of terror, "curse me
not! I will go home. I thought I might come. For very manhood
be-Latin me not! Oh, Gerard, is it thus you and I meet after all,
after all?"

And she cowered almost to her knees and sobbed with superstitious
fear and wounded affection.

Impregnated as he was with Satanophobia he might perhaps have
doubted still whether this distressed creature, all woman and
nature, was not all art and fiend. But her spontaneous appeal to
that sacred name dissolved his chimera; and let him see with his
eyes, and hear with his ears.

He uttered a cry of self-reproach, and tried to raise her but what
with fasts, what with the overpowering emotion of a long solitude
so broken, he could not. "What," he gasped, shaking over her, "and
is it thou? And have I met thee with hard words? Alas!" And they
were both choked with emotion and could not speak for a while.

"I heed it not much," said Margaret bravely, struggling with her
tears; "you took me for another: for a devil; oh! oh! oh! oh! oh!"

"Forgive me, sweet soul!" And as soon as he could speak more than
a word at a time, he said, "I have been much beset by the evil one
since I came here."

Margaret looked round with a shudder. "Like enow. Then oh take my
hand, and let me lead thee from this foul place."

He gazed at her with astonishment.

"What, desert my cell; and go into the world again? Is it for that
thou hast come to me?" said he sadly and reproachfully.

"Ay, Gerard, I am come to take thee to thy pretty vicarage: art
vicar of Gouda, thanks to Heaven and thy good brother Giles; and
mother and I have made it so neat for thee, Gerard. 'Tis well enow
in winter I promise thee. But bide a bit till the hawthorn bloom,
and anon thy walls put on their kirtle of brave roses, and sweet
woodbine, Have we forgotten thee, and the foolish things thou
lovest? And, dear Gerard, thy mother is waiting; and 'tis late for
her to be out of her bed: prithee, prithee, come! And the moment
we are out of this foul hole I'll show thee a treasure thou hast
gotten, and knowest nought on't, or sure hadst never fled from us
so. Alas! what is to do? What have I ignorantly said, to be
regarded thus?"

For he had drawn himself all up into a heap, and was looking at
her with a strange gaze of fear and suspicion blended.

"Unhappy girl," said he solemnly, yet deeply agitated, "would you
have me risk my soul and yours for a miserable vicarage and the
flowers that grow on it? But this is not thy doing: the bowelless
fiend sends thee, poor simple girl, to me with this bait. But oh,
cunning fiend, I will unmask thee even to this thine instrument,
and she shall see thee, and abhor thee as I do, Margaret, my lost
love, why am I here? Because I love thee."

"Oh! no, Gerard, you love me not. or you would not have hidden
from me; there was no need."

"Let there be no deceit between us twain, that have loved so true;
and after this night, shall meet no more on earth."

"Now God forbid!" said she.

"I love thee, and thou hast not forgotten me, or thou hadst
married ere this, and hadst not been the one to find me, buried
here from sight of man. I am a priest, a monk: what but folly or
sin can come of you and me living neighbours, and feeding a
passion innocent once, but now (so Heaven wills it) impious and
unholy? No, though my heart break I must be firm. 'Tis I that am
the man, 'tis I that am the priest. You and I must meet no more,
till I am schooled by solitude, and thou art wedded to another."

"I consent to my doom but not to thine. I would ten times liever
die; yet I will marry, ay, wed misery itself sooner than let thee
lie in this foul dismal place, with yon sweet manse awaiting for
thee." Clement groaned; at each word she spoke out stood clearer
and clearer two things - his duty, and the agony it must cost.

"My beloved," said he, with a strange mixture of tenderness and
dogged resolution, "I bless thee for giving me one more sight of
thy sweet face, and may God forgive thee, and bless thee, for
destroying in a minute the holy peace it hath taken six months of
solitude to build. No matter. A year of penance will, Dei gratia,
restore me to my calm. My poor Margaret, I seem cruel: yet I am
kind: 'tis best we part; ay, this moment."

"Part, Gerard? Never: we have seen what comes of parting. Part?
Why, you have not heard half my story; no, nor the tithe, 'Tis not
for thy mere comfort I take thee to Gouda manse. Hear me!"

"I may not. Thy very voice is a temptation with its music,
memory's delight."

"But I say you shall hear me, Gerard, for forth this place I go
not unheard."

"Then must we part by other means," said Clement sadly.

"Alack! what other means? Wouldst put me to thine own door, being
the stronger?"

"Nay, Margaret, well thou knowest I would suffer many deaths
rather than put force on thee; thy sweet body is dearer to me than
my own; but a million times dearer to me are our immortal souls,
both thine and mine. I have withstood this direst temptation of
all long enow. Now I must fly it: farewell! farewell!"

He made to the door, and had actually opened it and got half out,
when she darted after and caught him by the arm.

"Nay, then another must speak for me. I thought to reward thee for
yielding to me; but unkind that thou art, I need his help I find;
turn then this way one moment."

"Nay, nay."

"But I say ay! And then turn thy back on us an thou canst." She
somewhat relaxed her grasp, thinking he would never deny her so
small a favour. But at this he saw his opportunity and seized it.

"Fly, Clement, fly!" he almost shrieked; and his religious
enthusiasm giving him for a moment his old strength, he burst
wildly away from her, and after a few steps bounded over the
little stream and ran beside it, but finding he was not followed
stopped, and looked back.

She was lying on her face, with her hands spread out.

Yes, without meaning it, he had thrown her down and hurt her.

When he saw that, he groaned and turned back a step; but suddenly,
by another impulse flung himself into the icy water instead.

"There, kill my body!" he cried, "but save my soul!"

Whilst he stood there, up to his throat in liquid ice, so to
speak, Margaret uttered one long, piteous moan, and rose to her
knees.

He saw her as plain almost as in midday. Saw her pale face and her
eyes glistening; and then in the still night he heard these words:

"Oh, God! Thou that knowest all, Thou seest how I am used. Forgive
me then! For I will not live another day." With this she suddenly
started to her feet, and flew like some wild creature, wounded to
death, close by his miserable hiding-place, shrieking: "CRUEL! -
CRUEL! - CRUEL! - CRUEL!"

What manifold anguish may burst from a human heart in a single
syllable. There were wounded love, and wounded pride, and despair,
and coming madness all in that piteous cry. Clement heard, and it
froze his heart with terror and remorse, worse than the icy water
chilled the marrow of his bones.

He felt he had driven her from him for ever, and in the midst of
his dismal triumph, the greatest he had won, there came an almost
incontrollable impulse to curse the Church, to curse religion
itself, for exacting such savage cruelty from mortal man. At last
he crawled half dead out of the water, and staggered to his den.
"I am safe here," he groaned; "she will never come near me again;
unmanly, ungrateful wretch that I am." And he flung his emaciated,
frozen body down on the floor, not without a secret hope that it
might never rise thence alive.

But presently he saw by the hour-glass that it was past midnight.

On this, he rose slowly and took off his wet things, and moaning
all the time at the pain he had caused her he loved, put on the
old hermit's cilice of bristles, and over that his breastplate. He
had never worn either of these before, doubting himself worthy to
don the arms of that tried soldier. But now he must give himself
every aid; the bristles might distract his earthly remorse by
bodily pain, and there might be holy virtue in the breastplate.
Then he kneeled down and prayed God humbly to release him that
very night from the burden of the flesh. Then he lighted all his
candles, and recited his psalter doggedly; each word seemed to
come like a lump of lead from a leaden heart, and to fall leaden
to the ground; and in this mechanical office every now and then he
moaned with all his soul. In the midst of which he suddenly
observed a little bundle in the corner he had not seen before in
the feebler light, and at one end of it something like gold spun
into silk.

He went to see what it could be; and he had no sooner viewed it
closer, than he threw up his hands with rapture. "It is a seraph,"
he whispered, "a lovely seraph. Heaven hath witnessed my bitter
trial, and approves my cruelty; and this flower of the skies is
sent to cheer me, fainting under my burden."

He fell on his knees, and gazed with ecstasy on its golden hair,
and its tender skin, and cheeks like a peach.

"Let me feast my sad eyes on thee ere thou leavest me for thine
ever-blessed abode, and my cell darkens again at thy parting, as
it did at hers."

With all this, the hermit disturbed the lovely visitor. He opened
wide two eyes, the colour of heaven; and seeing a strange figure
kneeling over him, he cried piteously, "MUMMA! MUM-MA!" And the
tears began to run down his little cheeks.

Perhaps, after all, Clement, who for more than six months had not
looked on the human face divine, estimated childish beauty more
justly than we can; and in truth, this fair northern child, with
its long golden hair, was far more angelic than any of our
imagined angels. But now the spell was broken.

Yet not unhappily. Clement it may be remembered, was fond of
children, and true monastic life fosters this sentiment. The
innocent distress on the cherubic face, the tears that ran so
smoothly from those transparent violets, his eyes, and his pretty,
dismal cry for his only friend, his mother, went through the
hermit's heart. He employed all his gentleness and all his art to
soothe him; and as the little soul was wonderfully intelligent for
his age, presently succeeded so far that he ceased to cry out, and
wonder took the place of fear; while, in silence, broken only in
little gulps, he scanned, with great tearful eyes, this strange
figure that looked so wild, but spoke so kindly, and wore armour,
yet did not kill little boys, but coaxed them. Clement was equally
perplexed to know how this little human flower came to lie
sparkling and blooming in his gloomy cave. But he remembered he
had left the door wide open, and he was driven to conclude that,
owing to this negligence, some unfortunate creature of high or low
degree had seized this opportunity to get rid of her child for
ever.[1]. At this his bowels yearned so over the poor deserted
cherub, that the tears of pure tenderness stood in his eyes, and
still, beneath the crime of the mother, he saw the divine
goodness, which had so directed her heartlessness as to comfort
His servant's breaking heart.

"Now bless thee, bless thee, bless thee, sweet innocent, I would
not change thee for e'en a cherub in heaven."

"At's pooty," replied the infant, ignoring contemptuously, after
the manner of infants, all remarks that did not interest him.

"What is pretty here, my love, besides thee?"

"Ookum-gars,[2] said the boy, pointing to the hermit's
breastplate.

"Quot liberi, tot sententiunculae!" Hector's child screamed at his
father's glittering casque and nodding crest; and here was a
mediaeval babe charmed with a polished cuirass, and his griefs
assuaged.

"There are prettier things here than that," said Clement, "there
are little birds; lovest thou birds?"

"Nay. Ay. En um ittle, ery ittle? Not ike torks. Hate torks um
bigger an baby."

He then confided, in very broken language, that the storks with
their great flapping wings. scared him, and were a great trouble
and worry to him, darkening his existence more or less.

"Ay, but my birds are very little, and good, and oh, so pretty!"

"Den I ikes 'm," said the child authoritatively, "I ont my mammy."

"Alas, sweet dove! I doubt I shall have to fill her place as best
I may. Hast thou no daddy as well as mammy, sweet one?"

Now not only was this conversation from first to last, the
relative ages, situations, and all circumstances of the parties
considered, as strange a one as ever took place between two mortal
creatures, but at or within a second or two of the hermit's last
question, to turn the strange into the marvellous, came an unseen
witness, to whom every word that passed carried ten times the
force it did to either of the speakers.

Since, therefore, it is with her eyes you must now see, and hear
with her ears, I go back a step for her.

Margaret, when she ran past Gerard, was almost mad. She was in
that state of mind in which affectionate mothers have been known
to kill their children, sometimes along with themselves, sometimes
alone, which last is certainly maniacal, She ran to Reicht Heynes
pale and trembling, and clasped her round the neck, "Oh, Reicht!
oh, Reicht!" and could say no more.

Reicht kissed her, and began to whimper; and would you believe it,
the great mastiff uttered one long whine: even his glimmer of
sense taught him grief was afoot.

"Oh, Reicht!" moaned the despised beauty, as soon as she could
utter a word for choking, "see how he has served me!" and she
showed her hands, that were bleeding with falling on the stony
ground. "He threw me down, he was so eager to fly from me, He took
me for a devil; he said I came to tempt him. Am I the woman to
tempt a man? you know me, Reicht."

"Nay, in sooth, sweet Mistress Margaret, the last i' the world."

"And he would not look at my child. I'll fling myself and him into
the Rotter this night."

"Oh, fie! fie! eh, my sweet woman, speak not so. Is any man that
breathes worth your child's life?"

"My child! where is he? Why, Reicht, I have left him behind. Oh,
shame! is it possible I can love him to that degree as to forget
my child? Ah! I am rightly served for it."

And she sat down, and faithful Reicht beside her, and they sobbed
in one another's arms.

After a while Margaret left off sobbing. and said doggedly, "let
us go home."

"Ay, but the bairn?"

"Oh! he is well where he is. My heart is turned against my very
child, He cares nought for him; wouldn't see him, nor hear speak
of him; and I took him there so proud, and made his hair so nice,
I did, and put his new frock and cowl on him. Nay, turn about:
it's his child as well as mine; let him keep it awhile: mayhap
that will learn him to think more of its mother and his own."

"High words off an empty stomach," said Reicht.

"Time will show. Come you home."

They departed, and Time did show quicker than he levels abbeys,
for at the second step Margaret stopped, and could neither go one
way nor the other, but stood stock still.

"Reicht," said she piteously, "what else have I on earth? I
cannot."

"Whoever said you could? Think you I paid attention? Words are
woman's breath. Come back for him without more ado; 'tis time we
were in our beds, much more he."

Reicht led the way, and Margaret followed readily enough in that
direction; but as they drew near the cell, she stopped again.

"Reicht, go you and ask him, will he give me back my boy; for I
could not bear the sight of him"

"Alas! mistress, this do seem a sorry ending after all that hath
been betwixt you twain. Bethink thee now, doth thine heart whisper
no excuse for him? dost verily hate him for whom thou hast waited
so long? Oh, weary world!"

"Hate him, Reicht? I would not harm a hair of his head for all
that is in nature; but look on him I cannot; I have taken a horror
of him. Oh! when I think of all I have suffered for him, and what
I came here this night to do for him, and brought my own darling
to kiss him and call him father. Ah, Luke, my poor chap, my wound
showeth me thine. I have thought too little of thy pangs, whose
true affection I despised; and now my own is despised, Reicht, if
the poor lad was here now, he would have a good chance."

"Well, he is not far off," said Reicht Heynes; but somehow she did
not say it with alacrity.

"Speak not to me of any man," said Margaret bitterly; "I hate them
all."

"For the sake of one?"

"Flout me not, but prithee go forward, and get me what is my own,
my sole joy in the world. Thou knowest I am on thorns till I have
him to my bosom again."

Reicht went forward; Margaret sat by the roadside and covered her
face with her apron, and rocked herself after the manner of her
country, for her soul was full of bitterness and grief. So severe,
indeed, was the internal conflict, that she did not hear Reicht
running back to her, and started violently when the young woman
laid a hand upon her shoulder.

"Mistress Margaret!" said Reicht quietly, "take a fool's advice
that loves ye. Go softly to yon cave, wi' all the ears and eyes
your mother ever gave you."

"Why? Reicht?" stammered Margaret.

"I thought the cave was afire, 'twas so light inside; and there
were voices."

"Voices?"

"Ay, not one, but twain, and all unlike - a man's and a little
child's talking as pleasant as you and me. I am no great hand at a
keyhole for my part, 'tis paltry work; but if so be voices were a
talking in yon cave, and them that owned those voices were so near

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