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The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade

Part 18 out of 18

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"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

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

"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

"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.

[1] 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.


A priest is never more thoroughly a priest than in the chamber of
death, Gerard did the last offices of the Church for the departed,
just as he should have done them for his smallest parishioner. He
did this mechanically, then sat down stupefied by the sudden and
tremendous blow, and not yet realizing the pangs of bereavement.
Then in a transport of religious enthusiasm he kneeled and thanked
Heaven for her Christian end.

And then all his thought was to take her away from strangers, and
lay her in his own churchyard. That very evening a covered cart
with one horse started for Gouda, and in it was a coffin, and a
broken-hearted man lying with his arms and chin resting on it.

The mourner's short-lived energy had exhausted itself in the
necessary preparations, and now he lay crushed, clinging to the
cold lead that held her.

The man of whom the cart was hired walked by the horse's head and
did not speak to him, and when he baited the horse spoke but in a
whisper respecting that mute agony. But when he stopped for the
night, he and the landlord made a well-meaning attempt to get the
mourner away to take some rest and food. But Gerard repulsed them,
and when they persisted, almost snarled at them, like a faithful
dog, and clung to the cold lead all night. So then they drew a
cloak over him, and left him in peace.

And at noon the sorrowful cart came up to the manse, and there
were full a score of parishioners collected with one little paltry
trouble or another. They had missed the parson already. And when
they saw what it was, and saw their healer so stricken down, they
raised a loud wail of grief, and it roused him from his lethargy
of woe, and he saw where he was, and their faces, and tried to
speak to them, "Oh, my children! my children!" he cried; but
choked with anguish, could say no more.

Yet the next day, spite of all remonstrances, he buried her
himself, and read the service with a voice that only trembled now
and then, Many tears fell upon her grave. And when the service
ended he stayed there standing like a statue, and the people left
the churchyard out of respect.

He stood like one in a dream till the sexton, who was, as most men
are, a fool, began to fill in the grave without giving him due

But at the sound of earth falling on her Gerard uttered a piercing

The sexton forbore.

Gerard staggered and put his hand to his breast. The sexton
supported him, and called for help.

Jorian Ketel, who lingered near mourning his benefactress, ran
into the churchyard, and the two supported Gerard into the manse.

"Ah, Jorian! good Jorian!" said he, "something snapped within me;
I felt it, and I heard it; here, Jorian, here;" and he put his
hand to his breast.


A fortnight after this a pale bowed figure entered the Dominican
convent in the suburbs of Gouda, and sought speech with Brother
Ambrose, who governed the convent as deputy, the prior having
lately died, and his successor, though appointed, not having

The sick man was Gerard, come to end life as he began it.

He entered as a novice, on probation; but the truth was, he was a
failing man, and knew it, and came there to die in peace, near
kind and gentle Ambrose, his friend, and the other monks to whom
his house and heart had always been open.

His manse was more than he could bear; it was too full of
reminiscences of her.

Ambrose, who knew his value, and his sorrow, was not without a
kindly hope of curing him, and restoring him to his parish. With
this view he put him in a comfortable cell over the gateway, and
forbade him to fast or practice any austerities.

But in a few days the new prior arrived, and proved a very Tartar.
At first he was absorbed in curing abuses, and tightening the
general discipline; but one day hearing the vicar of Gouda had
entered the convent as a novice, he said, "'Tis well; let him
first give up his vicarage then, or go; I'll no fat parsons in my
house." The prior then sent for Gerard, and he went to him; and
the moment they saw one another they both started,




Jerome was as morose as ever in his general character, but he had
somewhat softened towards Gerard. All the time he was in England
he had missed him more then he thought possible, and since then
had often wondered what had become of him. What he heard in Gouda
raised his feeble brother in his good opinion; above all, that he
had withstood the Pope and the Minorites on "the infernal heresy
of the immaculate conception," as he called it. But when one of
his young monks told him with tears in his eyes the Cause of
Gerard's illness, all his contempt revived. "Dying for a woman?"

He determined to avert this scandal; he visited Clement twice a
day in his cell, and tried all his old influence and all his
eloquence to induce him to shake off this unspiritual despondency,
and not rob the church of his piety and his eloquence at so
critical a period.

Gerard heard him, approved his reasoning, admired his strength,
confessed his own weakness, and continued visibly to wear away to
the land of the leal. One day Jerome told him he had heard his
story, and heard it with pride. "But now," said he, "you spoil it
all, Clement; for this is the triumph of earthly passion. Better
have yielded to it and repented, than resist it while she lived,
and succumb under it now, body and soul."

"Dear Jerome," said Clement, so sweetly as to rob his remonstrance
of the tone of remonstrance, "here, I think, you do me some
injustice. Passion there is none; but a deep affection, for which
I will not blush here, since I shall not blush for it in heaven.
Bethink thee, Jerome, the poor dog that dies of grief on his
master's grave, is he guilty of passion? Neither am I. Passion had
saved my life, and lost my soul, She was my good angel; she
sustained me in my duty and charity; her face encouraged me in the
pulpit; her lips soothed me under ingratitude. She intertwined
herself with all that was good in my life; and after leaning on
her so long, I could not go on alone. And, dear Jerome, believe me
I am no rebel against Heaven. It is God's will to release me. When
they threw the earth upon her poor coffin, something snapped
within my bosom here that mended may not be. I heard it, and I
felt it. And from that time, Jerome, no food that I put in my
mouth had any savour. With my eyes bandaged now I could not tell
thee which was bread, and which was flesh, by eating of it."

"Holy saints!"

"And again, from that same hour my deep dejection left me, and I
smiled again. I often smile - why? I read it thus: He in whose
hands are the issues of life and death gave me that minute the
great summons; 'twas some cord of life snapped in me. He is very
pitiful. I should have lived unhappy; but He said, 'No; enough is
done, enough is suffered; poor feeble, loving servant, thy
shortcomings are forgiven, thy sorrows touch thine end; come thou
to thy rest!' I come, Lord, I come!"

Jerome groaned. "The Church had ever her holy but feeble
servants," he said. "Now would I give ten years of my life to save
thine. But I see it may not be. Die in peace."

And so it was that in a few days more Gerard lay a-dying in a
frame of mind so holy and happy, that more than one aged saint was
there to garner his dying words. In the evening he had seen Giles,
and begged him not to let poor Jack starve; and to see that little
Gerard's trustees did their duty, and to kiss his parents for him,
and to send Denys to his friends in Burgundy: "Poor thing, he will
feel so strange here without his comrade." And after that he had
an interview with Jerome alone. What passed between them was never
distinctly known; but it must have been something remarkable, for
Jerome went from the door with his hands crossed on his breast,
his high head lowered, and sighing as he went.

The two monks that watched with him till matins related that all
through the night he broke out from time to time in pious
ejaculations, and praises, and thanksgivings; only once they said
he wandered, and thought he saw her walking in green meadows with
other spirits clad in white, and beckoning him; and they all
smiled and beckoned him. And both these monks said (but it might
have been fancy) that just before dawn there came three light taps
against the wall, one after another, very slow; and the dying man
heard them, and said,

"I come, love, I come."

This much is certain, that Gerard did utter these words, and
prepare for his departure, having uttered them. He sent for all
the monks who at that hour were keeping vigil. They came, and
hovered like gentle spirits round him with holy words. Some prayed
in silence for him with their faces touching the ground, others
tenderly supported his head. But when one of them said something
about his life of self-denial and charity, he stopped him, and
addressing them all said, "My dear brethren, take note that he who
here dies so happy holds not these new-fangled doctrines of man's
merit. Oh, what a miserable hour were this to me an if I did! Nay,
but I hold, with the Apostles, and their pupils in the Church, the
ancient fathers, that we are justified not by our own wisdom, or
piety, or the works we have done in holiness of heart, but by

Then there was silence, and the monks looked at one another

"Please you sweep the floor," said the dying Christian, in a voice
to which all its clearance and force seemed supernaturally

They instantly obeyed, not without a sentiment of awe and

"Make me a great cross with wood ashes."

They strewed the ashes in form of a great Cross upon the floor.

"Now lay me down on it, for so will I die."

And they took him gently from his bed, and laid him on the cross
of wood ashes.

"Shall we spread out thine arms, dear brother?"

"Now God forbid! Am I worthy of that?"

He lay silent, but with his eyes raised in ecstasy.

Presently he spoke half to them, half to himself, "Oh," he said,
with a subdued but concentrated rapture, "I feel it buoyant. It
lifts me floating in the sky whence my merits had sunk me like

Day broke; and displayed his face cast upward in silent rapture,
and his hands together; like Margaret's.

And just about the hour she died he spoke his last word in this


And even with that word - he fell asleep.

They laid him out for his last resting-place.

Under his linen they found a horse-hair shirt.

"Ah!" cried the young monks, "behold a saint!"

Under the hair cloth they found a long thick tress of auburn hair.

They started, and were horrified; and a babel of voices arose,
some condemning, some excusing.

In the midst of which Jerome came in, and hearing the dispute,
turned to an ardent young monk called Basil, who was crying
scandal the loudest, "Basil," said he, "is she alive or dead that
owned this hair?"

"How may I know, father?"

"Then for aught you know it may be the relic of a saint?"

"Certes it may be," said Basil sceptically.

"You have then broken our rule, which saith, 'Put ill construction
on no act done by a brother which can be construed innocently.'
Who are you to judge such a man as this was? go to your cell, and
stir not out for a week by way of penance."

He then carried off the lock of hair.

And when the coffin was to be closed, he cleared the cell: and put
the tress upon the dead man's bosom. "There, Clement," said he to
the dead face. And set himself a penance for doing it; and nailed
the coffin up himself.

The next day Gerard was buried in Gouda churchyard. The monks
followed him in procession from the convent. Jerome, who was
evidently carrying out the wishes of the deceased, read the
service. The grave was a deep one, and at the bottom of it was a
lead coffin. Poor Gerard's, light as a feather (so wasted was he),
was lowered, and placed by the side of it.

After the service Jerome said a few words to the crowd of
parishioners that had come to take the last look at their best
friend. When he spoke of the virtues of the departed loud wailing
and weeping burst forth, and tears fell upon the coffin like rain.

The monks went home. Jerome collected them in the refectory and
spoke to them thus: "We have this day laid a saint in the earth.
The convent will keep his trentals, but will feast, not fast; for
our good brother is freed from the burden of the flesh; his
labours are over, and he has entered into his joyful rest. I alone
shall fast, and do penance; for to my shame I say it, I was unjust
to him, and knew not his worth till it was too late. And you,
young monks, be not curious to inquire whether a lock he bore on
his bosom was a token of pure affection or the relic of a saint;
but remember the heart he wore beneath: most of all, fix your eyes
upon his life and conversation, and follow them an ye may: for he
was a holy man."

Thus after life's fitful fever these true lovers were at peace.

The grave, kinder to them than the Church, united them for ever;
and now a man of another age and nation, touched with their fate,
has laboured to build their tombstone, and rescue them from long
and unmerited oblivion.

He asks for them your sympathy, but not your pity.

No, put this story to a wholesome use.

Fiction must often give false views of life and death. Here as it
happens, curbed by history, she gives you true ones. Let the
barrier that kept these true lovers apart prepare you for this,
that here on earth there will nearly always be some obstacle or
other to your perfect happiness; to their early death apply your
Reason and your Faith, by way of exercise and preparation. For if
you cannot bear to be told that these died young, who had they
lived a hundred years would still be dead, how shall you bear to
see the gentle, the loving, and the true glide from your own bosom
to the grave, and fly from your house to heaven?

Yet this is in store for you. In every age the Master of life and
death, who is kinder as well as wiser than we are, has
transplanted to heaven, young, earth's sweetest flowers.

I ask your sympathy, then, for their rare constancy and pure
affection, and their cruel separation by a vile heresy[2] in the
bosom of the Church; but not your pity for their early but happy

'Beati sunt qui in Domino moriuntur.

[1] He was citing from Clement of Rome -
sophias, y eusebeias y ergwn wn kateirgasametha en
osioteeti karthias, alla dia tys pistews>.
- Epist.ad Corinth, i. 32.

[2] Celibacy of the clergy, an invention truly fiendish.


In compliance with a Custom I despise, but have not the spirit to
resist, I linger on the stage to pick up the smaller fragments of
humanity I have scattered about; i.e. some of them, for the
wayside characters have no claim on me; they have served their
turn if they have persuaded the reader that Gerard travelled from
Holland to Rome through human beings, and not through a population
of dolls.

Eli and Catherine lived to a great age: lived so long, that both
Gerard and Margaret grew to be dim memories. Giles also was
longaevous; he went to the court of Bavaria, and was alive there
at ninety, but had somehow turned into bones and leather, trumpet

Cornelis, free from all rivals, and forgiven long ago by his
mother, who clung to him more and more now all her brood was
scattered, waited and waited and waited for his parents' decease.
But Catherine's shrewd word came true; ere she and her mate wore
out, this worthy rusted away. At sixty-five he lay dying of old
age in his mother's arms, a hale woman of eighty-six. He had lain
unconscious a while, but came to himself in articulo mortis, and
seeing her near him, told her how he would transform the shop and
premises as soon as they should be his. "Yes, my darling," said
the poor old woman soothingly, and in another minute he was clay,
and that clay was followed to the grave by all the feet whose
shoes he had waited for.

Denys, broken-hearted at his comrade's death, was glad to return
to Burgundy, and there a small pension the court allowed him kept
him until unexpectedly he inherited a considerable sum from a
relation. He was known in his native place for many years as a
crusty old soldier, who could tell good stories of war when he
chose, and a bitter railer against women.

Jerome, disgusted with northern laxity, retired to Italy, and
having high connections became at seventy a mitred abbot. He put
on the screw of discipline; his monks revered and hated him. He
ruled with iron rod ten years. And one night he died, alone; for
he had not found the way to a single heart. The Vulgate was on his
pillow, and the crucifix in his hand, and on his lips something
more like a smile than was ever seen there while he lived; so
that, methinks, at that awful hour he was not quite alone.
Requiescat in pace. The Master he served has many servants, and
they have many minds, and now and then a faithful one will be a
surly one, as it is in these our mortal mansions.

The yellow-haired laddie, Gerard Gerardson, belongs not to Fiction
but to History. She has recorded his birth in other terms than
mine. Over the tailor's house in the Brede Kirk Straet she has


and she has written half-a-dozen lives of him. But there is
something left for her yet to do. She has no more comprehended
magnum Erasmum, than any other pigmy comprehends a giant, or
partisan a judge.

First scholar and divine of his epoch, he was also the heaven-born
dramatist of his century. Some of the best scenes in this new book
are from his mediaeval pen, and illumine the pages where they
come; for the words of a genius so high as his are not born to
die: their immediate work upon mankind fulfilled, they may seem to
lie torpid; but at each fresh shower of intelligence Time pours
upon their students, they prove their immortal race: they revive,
they spring from the dust of great libraries; they bud, they
flower, they fruit, they seed, from generation to generation, and
from age to age.

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