The Cloister and the Hearth
Part 17 out of 18
to me as those are to thee, I'd go on all fours like a fox, and
I'd crawl on my belly like a serpent, ere I'd lose one word that
passes atwixt those twain."
"Whisht, Reicht! Bless thee! Bide thou here. Buss me! Pray for
And almost ere the agitated words had left her lips, Margaret was
flying towards the hermitage as noiselessly as a lapwing.
Arrived near it, she crouched, and there was something truly
serpentine in the gliding, flexible, noiseless movements by which
she reached the very door, and there she found a chink, and
listened. And often it cost her a struggle not to burst in upon
them; but warned by defeat, she was cautious, and resolute, let
well alone, And after a while, slowly and noiselessly she reared
her head, like a snake its crest, to where she saw the broadest
chink of all, and looked with all her eyes and soul, as well as
The little boy then being asked whether he had no daddy, at first
shook his head, and would say nothing; but being pressed he
suddenly seemed to remember something, and said he, "Dad-da ill
man; run away and left poor mum-ma."
She who heard this winced. It was as new to her as to Clement.
Some interfering foolish woman had gone and said this to the boy,
and now out it came in Gerard's very face. His answer surprised
her; he burst out, "The villain! the monster! he must be born
without bowels to desert thee, sweet one, Ah! he little knows the
joy he has turned his back on. Well, my little dove, I must be
father and mother to thee, since the one runs away, and t'other
abandons thee to my care. Now to-morrow I shall ask the good
people that bring me my food to fetch some nice eggs and milk for
thee as well; for bread is good enough for poor old
good-for-nothing me, but not for thee. And I shall teach thee to
"I can yead, I can yead."
"Ay, verily, so young? all the better; we will read good books
together, and I shall show thee the way to heaven. Heaven is a
beautiful place, a thousand times fairer and better than earth,
and there be little cherubs like thyself, in white, glad to
welcome thee and love thee. Wouldst like to go to heaven one day?"
"Ay, along wi'-my-mammy."
"What, not without her then?"
"Nay. I ont my mammy. Where is my mammy?"
(Oh! what it cost poor Margaret not to burst in and clasp him to
"Well, fret not, sweetheart, mayhap she will come when thou art
asleep. Wilt thou be good now and sleep?"
"I not eepy. Ikes to talk."
"Well, talk we then; tell me thy pretty name."
"Baby." And he opened his eyes with amazement at this great
hulking creature's ignorance.
"Hast none other?"
"What shall I do to pleasure thee, baby? Shall I tell thee a
"I ikes tories," said the boy, clapping his hands.
"Or sing thee a song?"
"I ikes tongs," and he became excited.
"Choose then, a song or a story."
"Ting I a tong. Nay, tell I a tory. Nay, ting I a tong. Nay - And
the corners of his little mouth turned down and he had half a mind
to weep because he could not have both, and could not tell which
to forego. Suddenly his little face cleared: "Ting I a tory," said
"Sing thee a story, baby? Well, after all, why not? And wilt thou
sit o' my knee and hear it?"
"Then I must e'en doff this breastplate, 'Tis too hard for thy
soft cheek. So. And now I must doff this bristly cilice; they
would prick thy tender skin, perhaps make it bleed, as they have
me, I see. So. And now I put on my best pelisse, in honour of thy
worshipful visit. See how soft and warm it is; bless the good soul
that sent it; and now I sit me down; so. And I take thee on my
left knee, and put my arm under thy little head; so, And then the
psaltery, and play a little tune; so, not too loud,"
"I ikes dat."
"I am right glad on't. Now list the story."
He chanted a child's story in a sort of recitative, singing a
little moral refrain now and then. The boy listened with rapture.
"I ikes oo," said he, "Ot is oo? is oo a man?"
"Ay, little heart, and a great sinner to boot."
"I ikes great tingers. Ting one other tory."
Story No. 2 was Chanted.
"I ubbs oo," cried the child impetuously, "Ot caft is oo?"
"I am a hermit, love."
"I ubbs vermins. Ting other one."
But during this final performance, Nature suddenly held out her
leaden sceptre over the youthful eyelids. "I is not eepy," whined
he very faintly, and succumbed.
Clement laid down his psaltery softly and began to rock his new
treasure in his arms, and to crone over him a little lullaby well
known in Tergou, with which his own mother had often sent him off.
And the child sank into a profound sleep upon his arm. And he
stopped croning and gazed on him with infinite tenderness, yet
sadness; for at that moment he could not help thinking what might
have been but for a piece of paper with a lie in it.
He sighed deeply.
The next moment the moonlight burst into his cell, and with it,
and in it, and almost as swift as it, Margaret Brandt was down at
his knee with a timorous hand upon his shoulder.
"GERARD, YOU DO NOT REJECT US, YOU CANNOT."
 More than one hermit had received a present of this kind.
 Query, "looking glass."
 Craft. He means trade or profession.
The startled hermit glared from his nurseling to Margaret, and
from her to him, in amazement, equalled only by his agitation at
her so unexpected return. The child lay asleep on his left arm,
and she was at his right knee; no longer the pale, scared, panting
girl he had overpowered so easily an hour or two ago, but an
imperial beauty, with blushing cheeks and sparkling eyes, and lips
sweetly parted in triumph, and her whole face radiant with a look
he could not quite read; for he had never yet seen it on her:
He stared and stared from the child to her, in throbbing
"Us?" he gasped at last. And still his wonder-stricken eyes turned
to and fro.
Margaret was surprised in her turn, It was an age of impressions
not facts, "What!" she cried, "doth not a father know his own
child? and a man of God, too? Fie, Gerard, to pretend! nay, thou
art too wise, too good, not to have - why, I watched thee; and
e'en now look at you twain! 'Tis thine own flesh and blood thou
holdest to thine heart."
Clement trembled, "What words are these," he stammered, "this
"Whose else? since he is mine."
Clement turned on the sleeping child, with a look beyond the power
of the pen to describe, and trembled all over, as his eyes seemed
to absorb the little love.
Margaret's eyes followed his. "He is not a bit like me," said she
proudly; "but oh, at whiles he is thy very image in little; and
see this golden hair. Thine was the very colour at his age; ask
mother else. And see this mole on his little finger; now look at
thine own; there! 'Twas thy mother let me weet thou wast marked so
before him; and oh, Gerard, 'twas this our child found thee for
me; for by that little mark on thy finger I knew thee for his
father, when I watched above thy window and saw thee feed the
birds." Here she seized the child's hand, and kissed it eagerly,
and got half of it into her mouth, Heaven knows how, "Ah! bless
thee, thou didst find thy poor daddy for her, and now thou hast
made us friends again after our little quarrel; the first, the
last. Wast very cruel to me but now, my poor Gerard, and I forgive
thee; for loving of thy child."
"Ah! ah! ah! ah! ah!" sobbed Clement, choking. And lowered by
fasts, and unnerved by solitude, the once strong man was
hysterical, and nearly fainting.
Margaret was alarmed, but having experience, her pity was greater
than her fear. "Nay, take not on so," she murmured soothingly, and
put a gentle hand upon his brow. "Be brave! So, so. Dear heart,
thou art not the first man that hath gone abroad and come back
richer by a lovely little self than he went forth. Being a man of
God, take courage, and say He sends thee this to comfort thee for
what thou hast lost in me; and that is not so very much, my lamb;
for sure the better part of love shall ne'er cool here to thee;
though it may in thine, and ought, being a priest, and parson of
"I? priest of Gouda? Never!" murmured Clement in a faint voice; "I
am a friar of St. Dominic: yet speak on, sweet music, tell me all
that has happened thee, before we are parted again."
Now some would on this have exclaimed against parting at all, and
raised the true question in dispute. But such women as Margaret do
not repeat their mistakes. It is very hard to defeat them twice,
where their hearts are set on a thing.
She assented, and turned her back on Gouda manse as a thing not to
be recurred to; and she told him her tale, dwelling above all on
the kindness to her of his parents; and while she related her
troubles, his hand stole to hers, and often she felt him wince and
tremble with ire, and often press her hand, sympathizing with her
in every vein.
"Oh, piteous tale of a true heart battling alone against such
bitter odds," said he.
"It all seems small, when I see thee here again, and nursing my
boy. We have had a warning, Gerard. True friends like you and me
are rare, and they are mad to part, ere death divideth them."
"And that is true," said Clement, off his guard.
And then she would have him tell her what he had suffered for her,
and he begged her to excuse him, and she consented; but by
questions quietly revoked her consent and elicited it all; and
many a sigh she heaved for him, and more than once she hid her
face in her hands with terror at his perils, though past. And to
console him for all he had gone through, she kneeled down and put
her arms under the little boy, and lifted him gently up. "Kiss him
softly," she whispered. "Again, again kiss thy fill if thou canst;
he is sound. 'Tis all I can do to comfort thee till thou art out
of this foul den and in thy sweet manse yonder."
Clement shook his head.
"Well," said she, "let that pass. Know that I have been sore
affronted for want of my lines."
"Who hath dared affront thee?"
"No matter, those that will do it again if thou hast lost them,
which the saints forbid."
"I lose them? nay, there they lie, close to thy hand."
"Where, where, oh, where?"
Clement hung his head. "Look in the Vulgate. Heaven forgive me: I
thought thou wert dead, and a saint in heaven."
She looked, and on the blank leaves of the poor soul's Vulgate she
found her marriage lines.
"Thank God!" she cried, "thank God! Oh, bless thee, Gerard, bless
thee! Why, what is here, Gerard?"
On the other leaves were pinned every scrap of paper she had ever
sent him, and their two names she had once written together in
sport, and the lock of her hair she had given him, and half a
silver coin she had broken with him, and a straw she had sucked
her soup with the first day he ever saw her.
When Margaret saw these proofs of love and signs of a gentle heart
bereaved, even her exultation at getting back her marriage lines
was overpowered by gushing tenderness. She almost staggered, and
her hand went to her bosom, and she leaned her brow against the
stone cell and wept so silently that he did not see she was
weeping; indeed she would not let him, for she felt that to
befriend him now she must be the stronger; and emotion weakens.
"Gerard," said she, "I know you are wise and good. You must have a
reason for what you are doing, let it seem ever so unreasonable.
Talk we like old friends. Why are you buried alive?"
"Margaret, to escape temptation. My impious ire against those two
had its root in the heart; that heart then I must deaden, and, Dei
gratia, I shall. Shall I, a servant of Christ and of the Church,
court temptation? Shall I pray daily to be led out on't, and walk
into it with open eyes?"
"That is good sense anyway," said Margaret, with a consummate
affectation of candour.
"'Tis unanswerable," said Clement, with a sigh.
"We shall see. Tell me, have you escaped temptation here? Why I
ask is, when I am alone, my thoughts are far more wild and foolish
than in company. Nay, speak sooth; come!"
"I must needs own I have been worse tempted here with evil
imaginations than in the world."
"Ay, but so were Anthony and Jerome, Macarius and Hilarion,
Benedict, Bernard, and all the saints. 'Twill wear off."
"How do you know?"
"I feel sure it will."
"Guessing against knowledge. Here 'tis men folk are sillier than
us that be but women. Wise in their own conceits, they will not
let themselves see; their stomachs are too high to be taught by
their eyes. A woman, if she went into a hole in a bank to escape
temptation, and there found it, would just lift her farthingale
and out on't, and not e'en know how wise she was, till she watched
a man in like plight."
"Nay, I grant humility and a teachable spirit are the roads to
wisdom; but when all is said, here I wrestle but with imagination.
At Gouda she I love as no priest or monk must love any but the
angels, she will tempt a weak soul, unwilling, yet not loth to be
"Ay, that is another matter; I should tempt thee then? to what, i'
"Who knows? The flesh is weak."
"Speak for yourself, my lad. Why, you are thinking of some other
Margaret, not Margaret a Peter. Was ever my mind turned to folly
and frailty? Stay, is it because you were my husband once, as
these lines avouch? Think you the road to folly is beaten for you
more than another? Oh! how shallow are the wise, and how little
able are you to read me, who can read you so well from top to toe,
Come, learn thine A B C. Were a stranger to proffer me unchaste
love, I should shrink a bit, no doubt, and feel sore, but I should
defend myself without making a coil; for men, I know, are so, the
best of them sometimes. But if you, that have been my husband, and
are my child's father, were to offer to humble me so in mine own
eyes, and thine, and his, either I should spit in thy face,
Gerard, or, as I am not a downright vulgar woman, I should snatch
the first weapon at hand and strike thee dead."
And Margaret's eyes flashed fire, and her nostrils expanded, that
it was glorious to see; and no one that did see her could doubt
"I had not the sense to see that," said Gerard quietly. And he
Margaret eyed him in silence, and soon recovered her composure.
"Let not you and I dispute," said she gently; "speak we of other
things. Ask me of thy folk."
"Well, and warms to thee and me. Poor soul, a drew glaive on those
twain that day, but Jorian Ketel and I we mastered him, and he
drove them forth his house for ever."
"That may not be; he must take them back."
"That he will never do for us. You know the man; he is dour as
iron; yet would he do it for one word from one that will not speak
"The vicar of Gouda, The old man will be at the manse to-morrow, I
"How you come back to that."
"Forgive me: I am but a woman. It is us for nagging; shouldst keep
me from it wi' questioning of me."
"My sister Kate?"
"What, hath ill befallen e'en that sweet lily? Out and alas!"
"Be calm, sweetheart, no harm hath her befallen. Oh, nay, nay, far
fro' that." Then Margaret forced herself to be composed, and in a
low, sweet, gentle voice she murmured to him thus:
"My poor Gerard, Kate hath left her trouble behind her. For the
manner on't, 'twas like the rest. Ah, such as she saw never
thirty, nor ever shall while earth shall last. She smiled in pain
too. A well, then, thus 'twas: she was took wi' a languor and a
loss of all her pains."
"A loss of her pains? I understand you not."
"Ay, you are not experienced; indeed, e'en thy mother almost
blinded herself and said, ''Tis maybe a change for the better.'
But Joan Ketel, which is an understanding woman, she looked at her
and said, 'Down sun, down wind!' And the gossips sided and said,
'Be brave, you that are her mother, for she is half way to the
saints.' And thy mother wept sore, but Kate would not let her; and
one very ancient woman, she said to thy mother, 'She will die as
easy as she lived hard.' And she lay painless best part of three
days, a sipping of heaven afore- hand, And, my dear, when she was
just parting, she asked for 'Gerard's little boy,' and I brought
him and set him on the bed, and the little thing behaved as
peaceably as he does now. But by this time she was past speaking;
but she pointed to a drawer, and her mother knew what to look for:
it was two gold angels thou hadst given her years ago. Poor soul!
she had kept then, till thou shouldst come home. And she nodded
towards the little boy, and looked anxious; but we understood her,
and put the pieces in his two hands, and when his little fingers
closed on them, she smiled content. And so she gave her little
earthly treasures to her favourite's child - for you were her
favourite - and her immortal jewel to God, and passed so sweetly
we none of us knew justly when she left us. Well-a-day,
"She hath not left her like on earth," he sobbed. "Oh, how the
affections of earth curl softly round my heart! I cannot help it;
God made them after all. Speak on, sweet Margaret at thy voice the
past rolls its tides back upon me; the loves and the hopes of
youth come fair and gliding into my dark cell, and darker bosom,
on waves of memory and music."
"Gerard, I am loth to grieve you, but Kate cried a little when she
first took ill at you not being there to close her eyes."
"You were within a league, but hid your face from her."
"There, forgive me for nagging; I am but a woman; you would not
have been so cruel to your own flesh and blood knowingly, would
"Well, then, know that thy brother Sybrandt lies in my charge with
a broken back, fruit of thy curse."
"Mea culpa! mea culpa!"
"He is very penitent; be yourself and forgive him this night."
"I have forgiven him long ago."
"Think you he can believe that from any mouth but yours? Come! he
is but about two butts' length hence."
"So near? Why, where?"
"At Gouda manse. I took him there yestreen. For I know you, the
curse was scarce cold on your lips when you repented it" (Gerard
nodded assent), "and I said to myself, Gerard will thank me for
taking Sybrandt to die under his roof; he will not beat his breast
and cry mea culpa, yet grudge three footsteps to quiet a withered
brother on his last bed. He may have a bee in his bonnet, but he
is not a hypocrite, a thing all pious words and uncharitable
Gerard literally staggered where he sat at this tremendous thrust.
"Forgive me for nagging," said she. "Thy mother too is waiting for
thee. Is it well done to keep her on thorns so long She will not
sleep this night, Bethink thee, Gerard, she is all to thee that I
am to this sweet child. Ah, I think so much more of mothers since
I had my little Gerard. She suffered for thee, and nursed thee,
and tended thee from boy to man. Priest monk, hermit, call thyself
what thou wilt, to her thou art but one thing; her child."
"Where is she?" murmured Gerard, in a quavering voice.
"At Gouda manse, wearing the night in prayer and care."
Then Margaret saw the time was come for that appeal to his reason
she had purposely reserved till persuasion should have paved the
way for conviction. So the smith first softens the iron by fire,
and then brings down the sledge hammer.
She showed him, but in her own good straightforward Dutch, that
his present life was only a higher kind of selfishness, spiritual
egotism; whereas a priest had no more right to care only for his
own soul than only for his own body. That was not his path to
heaven. "But," said she, "whoever yet lost his soul by saving the
souls of others! the Almighty loves him who thinks of others; and
when He shall see thee caring for the souls of the folk the duke
hath put into thine hand, He will care ten times more for thy soul
than He does now."
Gerard was struck by this remark. "Art shrewd in dispute," said
"Far from it," was the reply, "only my eyes are not bandaged with
conceit. So long as Satan walks the whole earth, tempting men,
and so long as the sons of Belial do never lock themselves in
caves, but run like ants to and fro corrupting others, the good
man that skulks apart plays the devil's game, or at least gives
him the odds: thou a soldier of Christ? ask thy Comrade Denys, who
is but a soldier of the duke, ask him if ever he skulked in a hole
and shunned the battle because forsooth in battle is danger as
well as glory and duty. For thy sole excuse is fear; thou makest
no secret on't, Go to, no duke nor king hath such cowardly
soldiers as Christ hath. What was that you said in the church at
Rotterdam about the man in the parable that buried his talent in
the earth, and so offended the giver? Thy wonderful gift for
preaching, is it not a talent, and a gift from thy Creator?"
"Certes; such as it is."
"And hast thou laid it out? or buried it? To whom hast thou
preached these seven months? to bats and owls? Hast buried it in
one hole with thyself and thy once good wits?
"The Dominicans are the friars preachers. 'Tis for preaching they
were founded, so thou art false to Dominic as well as to his
"Do you remember, Gerard, when we were young together, which now
are old before our time, as we walked handed in the fields, did
you but see a sheep cast, ay, three fields off, you would leave
your sweetheart (by her good will) and run and lift the sheep for
charity? Well, then, at Gouda is not one sheep in evil plight, but
a whole flock; some cast, some strayed, some sick, some tainted,
some a being devoured, and all for the want of a shepherd. Where
is their shepherd? lurking in a den like a wolf, a den in his own
parish; out fie! out fie!
"I scented thee out, in part, by thy kindness to the little birds.
Take note, you Gerard Eliassoen must love something, 'tis in your
blood; you were born to't. Shunning man, you do but seek earthly
affection a peg lower than man."
Gerard interrupted her. "The birds are God's creatures, His
innocent creatures, and I do well to love them, being God's
"What, are they creatures of the same God that we are, that he is
who lies upon thy knee?"
"You know they are."
"Then what pretence for shunning us and being kind to them? Sith
man is one of the animals, why pick him out to shun? Is't because
he is of animals the paragon? What, you court the young of birds,
and abandon your own young? Birds need but bodily food, and having
wings, deserve scant pity if they cannot fly and find it. But that
sweet dove upon thy knee, he needeth not carnal only, but
spiritual food. He is thine as well as mine; and I have done my
share. He will soon be too much for me, and I look to Gouda's
parson to teach him true piety and useful lore. Is he not of more
value than many sparrows?"
Gerard started and stammered an affirmation. For she waited for
"You wonder," continued she, "to hear me quote holy writ so glib.
I have pored over it this four years, and why? Not because God
wrote it, but because I saw it often in thy hands ere thou didst
leave me. Heaven forgive me, I am but a woman. What thinkest thou
of this sentence? 'Let your work so shine before men that they may
see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven!'
What is a saint in a sink better than 'a light under a bushel!'
"Therefore, since the sheep committed to thy charge bleat for thee
and cry, 'Oh desert us no longer, but come to Gouda manse;' since
I, who know thee ten times better than thou knowest thyself, do
pledge my soul it is for thy soul's weal to go to Gouda manse -
since duty to thy child, too long abandoned, calls thee to Gouda
manse - since thy sovereign, whom holy writ again bids thee
honour, sends thee to Gouda manse - since the Pope, whom the
Church teaches thee to revere hath absolved thee of thy monkish
vows, and orders thee to Gouda manse-
"Since thy grey-haired mother watches for thee in dole and care,
and turneth oft the hour-glass and sigheth sore that thou comest
so slow to her at Gouda manse - since thy brother, withered by thy
curse, awaits thy forgiveness and thy prayers for his soul, now
lingering in his body, at Gouda manse - take thou in thine arms
the sweet bird wi' crest of gold that nestles to thy bosom, and
give me thy hand; thy sweetheart erst and wife, and now thy
friend, the truest friend to thee this night that ere man had, and
come with me to Gouda manse!"
"IT IS THE VOICE OF AN ANGEL!" cried Clement loudly.
"Then hearken it, and come forth to Gouda manse!"
The battle was won.
Margaret lingered behind, cast her eye rapidly round the
furniture, and selected the Vulgate and the psaltery. The rest she
sighed at, and let it lie. The breastplate and the cilice of
bristles she took and dashed with feeble ferocity on the floor.
Then seeing Gerard watch her with surprise from the outside, she
coloured and said, "I am but a woman: 'little' will still be
"Why encumber thyself with those? They are safe."
"Oh, she had a reason."
And with this they took the road to Gouda parsonage, The moon and
stars were so bright, it seemed almost as light as day.
Suddenly Gerard stopped. "My poor little birds!"
"What of them?"
"They will miss their food. I feed them every day."
"The child hath a piece of bread in his cowl, Take that, and feed
them now against the morn."
"I will. Nay, I will not, He is as innocent, and nearer to me and
Margaret drew a long breath, "'Tis well, Hadst taken it, I might
have hated thee; I am but a woman."
When they had gone about a quarter of a mile, Gerard sighed.
"Margaret," said he, "I must e'en rest; he is too heavy for me,"
"Then give him me, and take thou these. Alas! alas! I mind when
thou wouldst have run with the child on one shoulder, and the
mother on t'other."
And Margaret carried the boy.
"I trow," said Gerard, looking down, "overmuch fasting is not good
for a man."
"A many die of it each year, winter time," replied Margaret.
Gerard pondered these simple words, and eyed her askant, carrying
the child with perfect ease. When they had gone nearly a mile he
said with considerable surprise, "You thought it was but two
"Why, you said so."
"That is another matter." She then turned on him the face of a
Madonna. "I lied," said she sweetly. "And to save your soul and
body, I'd maybe tell a worse lie than that, at need. I am but a
woman, Ah, well, it is but two butts' length from here at any
"Without a lie?"
"Humph! Three, without a lie."
And sure enough, in a few minutes they came up to the manse.
A candle was burning in the vicar's parlour. "She is waking
still," whispered Margaret.
"Beautiful! beautiful!" said Clement, and stopped to look at it.
"What, in Heaven's name?"
"That little candle, seen through the window at night. Look an it
be not like some fair star of size prodigious: it delighteth the
eyes, and warmeth the heart of those outside."
"Come, and I'll show thee something better," said Margaret, and
led him on tiptoe to the window.
They looked in, and there was Catherine kneeling on the hassock,
with her "hours" before her.
"Folk can pray out of a cave," whispered Margaret. "Ay and hit
heaven with their prayers; for 'tis for a sight of thee she
prayeth, and thou art here. Now, Gerard, be prepared; she is not
the woman you knew her; her children's troubles have greatly
broken the brisk, light-hearted soul. And I see she has been
weeping e'en now; she will have given thee up, being so late."
"Let me get to her," said Clement hastily, trembling all over.
"That door! I will bide here."
When Gerard was gone to the door, Margaret, fearing the sudden
surprise, gave one sharp tap at the window and cried, "Mother!" in
a loud, expressive voice that Catherine read at once. She clasped
her hands together and had half risen from her kneeling posture
when the door burst open and Clement flung himself wildly on his
knees at her knees, with his arms out to embrace her. She uttered
a cry such as only a mother could, "Ah! my darling, my darling!"
and clung sobbing round his neck. And true it was, she saw neither
a hermit, a priest, nor a monk, but just her child, lost, and
despaired of, and in her arms, And after a little while Margaret
came in, with wet eyes and cheeks, and a holy calm of affection
settled by degrees on these sore troubled ones. And they sat all
three together, hand in hand, murmuring sweet and loving converse;
and he who sat in the middle drank right and left their true
affection and their humble but genuine wisdom, and was forced to
eat a good nourishing meal, and at daybreak was packed off to a
snowy bed, and by and by awoke, as from a hideous dream, friar and
hermit no more, Clement no more, but Gerard Eliassoen, parson of
 I think she means prejudice.
Margaret went back to Rotterdam long ere Gerard awoke, and
actually left her boy behind her. She sent the faithful, sturdy
Reicht off to Gouda directly with a vicar's grey frock and large
felt hat, and with minute instructions how to govern her new
Then she went to Jorian Ketel; for she said to herself, "he is the
closest I ever met, so he is the man for me," and in concert with
him she did two mortal sly things; yet not, in my opinion,
virulent, though she thought they were; but if I am asked what
were these deeds without a name, the answer is, that as she, who
was, 'but a woman,' kept them secret till her dying day, I, who am
a man - "Verbum non amplius addam."
She kept away from Gouda parsonage.
Things that pass little noticed in the heat of argument sometimes
rankle afterwards; and when she came to go over all that had
passed, she was offended at Gerard thinking she could ever forget
the priest in the some time lover, "For what did be take me?" said
she. And this raised a great shyness which really she would not
otherwise have felt, being downright innocent, And pride sided
with modesty, and whispered, "Go no more to Gouda parsonage."
She left little Gerard there to complete the conquest her maternal
heart ascribed to him, not to her own eloquence and sagacity, and
to anchor his father for ever to humanity.
But this generous stroke of policy cost her heart dear. She had
never yet been parted from her boy an hour, and she felt sadly
strange as well as desolate without him. After the first day it
became intolerable; and what does the poor soul do, but creep at
dark up to Gouda parsonage, and lurk about the premises like a
thief till she saw Reicht Heynes in the kitchen alone, Then she
tapped softly at the window and said, "Reicht, for pity's sake
bring him out to me unbeknown." With Margaret the person who
occupied her thoughts at the time ceased to have a name, and sank
to a pronoun.
Reicht soon found an excuse for taking little Gerard out, and
there was a scene of mutual rapture, followed by mutual tears when
mother and boy parted again.
And it was arranged that Reicht should take him half way to
Rotterdam every day, at a set hour, and Margaret meet them. And at
these meetings, after the raptures, and after mother and child had
gambolled together like a young cat and her first kitten, the boy
would sometimes amuse himself alone at their feet, and the two
women generally seized this opportunity to talk very seriously
about Luke Peterson, This began thus:
"Reicht," said Margaret, "I as good as promised him to marry Luke
Peterson. 'Say you the word,' quoth I, 'and I'll wed him.'"
"Prithee, why poor Luke?"
"To be bandied about so, atwixt yea and nay."
"Why, Reicht, you have not ever been so simple as to cast an eye
of affection on the boy, that you take his part?"
"Me?" said Reicht, with a toss of the head.
"Oh, I ask your pardon. Well, then, you can do me a good turn."
"Whisht! whisper! that little darling is listening to every word,
and eyes like saucers."
On this both their heads would have gone under one cap.
Two women plotting against one boy? Oh, you great cowardly
But when these stolen meetings had gone on for about five days
Margaret began to feel the injustice of it, and to be irritated as
well as unhappy.
And she was crying about it when a cart came to her door, and in
it, clean as a new penny, his beard close shaved, his hands white
as snow, and a little colour in his pale face, sat the Vicar of
Gouda in the grey frock and large felt hat she had sent him.
She ran upstairs directly, and washed away all traces of her
tears, and put on a cap, which being just taken out of the drawer
was cleaner, theoretically, than the one she had on, and came down
He seized both her hands and kissed them, and a tear fell upon
them. She turned her head away at that to hide her own which
"My sweet Margaret," he cried, "why is this? Why hold you aloof
from your own good deed? we have been waiting for you every day,
and no Margaret."
"You said things."
"What! when I was a hermit, and a donkey."
"Ay! no matter, you said things. And you had no reason."
"Forget all I said there. Who hearkens the ravings of a maniac?
for I see now that in a few months more I should have been a
gibbering idiot; yet no mortal could have persuaded me away but
you. Oh what an outlay of wit and goodness was yours! But it is
not here I can thank and bless you as I ought. No, it is in the
home you have given me, among the sheep whose shepherd you have
made me; already I love them dearly; there it is I must thank 'the
truest friend ever man had.' So now I say to you as erst you said
to me, come to Gouda manse."
"Humph! we will see about that."
"Why, Margaret, think you I had ever kept the dear child so long,
but that I made sure you would be back to him from day to day? Oh
he curls round my very heartstrings, but what is my title to him
compared to thine? Confess now, thou hast had hard thoughts of me
"Nay, nay, not I. Ah! thou art thyself again; wast ever thoughtful
of others. I have half a mind to go to Gouda manse, for your
"Come then, with half thy mind, 'tis worth the whole of other
"Well, I dare say I will; but there is no such mighty hurry," said
she coolly (she was literally burning to go). "Tell me first how
you agree with your folk."
"Why, already my poor have taken root in my heart."
"I thought as much."
"And there are such good creatures among them; simple and rough,
and superstitious, but wonderfully good."
"Oh I leave you alone for seeing a grain of good among a bushel of
"Whisht! whisht! And Margaret, two of them have been ill friends
for four years, and came to the manse each to get on my blind
side. But give the glory to God I got on their bright side, and
made them friends, and laugh at themselves for their folly."
"But are you in very deed their vicar? answer me that."
"Certes; have I not been to the bishop and taken the oath, and
rung the church bell, and touched the altar, the missal, and the
holy cup before the church-wardens? And they have handed me the
parish seal; see, here it is. Nay, 'tis a real vicar inviting a
true friend to Gouda manse."
"Then my mind is at ease. Tell me oceans more."
"Well, sweet one, nearest to me of all my parish is a poor cripple
that my guardian angel and his (her name thou knowest even by this
turning of thy head away) hath placed beneath my roof. Sybrandt
and I are that we never were till now, brothers. 'Twould gladden
thee, yet sadden thee to hear how we kissed and forgave one
another. He is full of thy praises, and wholly in a pious mind; he
says he is happier since his trouble than e'er he was in the days
of his strength. Oh! out of my house he ne'er shall go to any
place but heaven."
"Tell me somewhat that happened thyself, poor soul! All this is
good, but yet no tidings to me. Do I not know thee of old?"
"Well, let me see. At first I was much dazzled by the sun-light,
and could not go abroad (owl!), but that is passed; and good
Reicht Heynes - humph!"
"What of her?"
"This to thine ear only, for she is a diamond. Her voice goes
through me like a knife, and all voices seem loud but thine, which
is so mellow sweet. Stay, now I'll fit ye with tidings; I spake
yesterday with an old man that conceits he is ill-tempered, and
sweats to pass for such with others, but oh! so threadbare, and
the best good heart beneath."
"Why, 'tis a parish of angels," said Margaret ironically.
"Then why dost thou keep out on't?" retorted Gerard. "Well, he was
telling me there was no parish in Holland where the devil hath
such power as at Gouda; and among his instances, says he, 'We had
a hermit, the holiest in Holland; but being Gouda, the devil came
for him this week, and took him, bag and baggage; not a ha'porth
of him left but a goodish piece of his skin, just for all the
world like a hedgehog's, and a piece o' old iron furbished up.'"
"Ay, but," continued Gerard, "the strange thing is, the cave has
verily fallen in; and had I been so perverse as resist thee, it
had assuredly buried me dead there where I had buried myself
alive. Therefore in this I see the finger of Providence,
condemning my late, approving my present, way of life. What sayest
"Nay, can I pierce the like mysteries? I am but a woman."
"Somewhat more, methinks. This very tale proves thee my guardian
angel, and all else avouches it, so come to Gouda manse."
"Well, go you on, I'll follow."
"Nay, in the cart with me,"
"Can I tell why and wherefore, being a woman? All I know is I seem
- to feel - to wish - to come alone,"
"So be it then. I leave thee the cart, being, as thou sayest, a
woman, and I'll go a-foot, being a man again, with the joyful
tidings of thy coming."
When Margaret reached the manse the first thing she saw was the
two Gerards together, the son performing his capriccios on the
plot, and the father slouching on a chair, in his great hat, with
pencil and paper, trying very patiently to sketch him.
After a warm welcome he showed her his attempts. "But in vain I
strive to fix him," said he, "for he is incarnate quick silver,
Yet do but note his changes, infinite, but none ungracious; all is
supple and easy; and how he melteth from one posture to another,"
He added presently, "Woe to illuminators I looking on thee, sir
baby, I see what awkward, lopsided, ungainly toads I and my
fellows painted missals with, and called them cherubs and
seraphs," Finally he threw the paper away in despair, and Margaret
conveyed it secretly into her bosom.
At night when they sat round the peat fire he bade them observe
how beautiful the brass candlesticks and other glittering metals
were in the glow from the hearth. Catherine's eyes sparkled at
this observation, "And oh the sheets I lie in here," said he,
"often my conscience pricketh me, and saith, 'Who art thou to lie
in lint like web of snow?' Dives was ne'er so flaxed as I. And to
think that there are folk in the world that have all the beautiful
things which I have here yet not content. Let them pass six months
in a hermit's cell, seeing no face of man, then will they find how
lovely and pleasant this wicked world is, and eke that men and
women are God's fairest creatures. Margaret was always fair, but
never to my eye so bright as now." Margaret shook her head
incredulously, Gerard continued, "My mother was ever good and
kind, but I noted not her exceeding comeliness till now."
"Nor I neither," said Catherine; "a score years ago I might pass
in a crowd, but not now."
Gerard declared to her that each age had its beauty. "See this
mild grey eye," said he, "that hath looked motherly love upon so
many of us, all that love hath left its shadow, and that shadow is
a beauty which defieth Time. See this delicate lip, these pure
white teeth. See this well-shaped brow, where comliness Just
passeth into reverence. Art beautiful in my eyes, mother dear."
"And that is enough for me, my darling, 'Tis time you were in bed,
child. Ye have to preach the morn."
And Reicht Heynes and Catherine interchanged a look which said,
"We two have an amiable maniac to superintend; calls everything
The next day was Sunday, and they heard him preach in his own
church. It was crammed with persons, who came curious, but
remained devout. Never was his wonderful gift displayed more
powerfully; he was himself deeply moved by the first sight of all
his people, and his bowels yearned over this flock he had so long
neglected. In a single sermon, which lasted two hours and seemed
to last but twenty minutes, he declared the whole scripture: he
terrified the impenitent and thoughtless, confirmed the wavering,
consoled the bereaved and the afflicted, uplifted the heart of the
poor, and when he ended, left the multitude standing rapt, and
unwilling to believe the divine music of his voice and soul had
Need I say that two poor women in a corner sat entranced, with
"Wherever gat he it all?" whispered Catherine, with her apron to
her eyes. "By our Lady not from me."
As soon as they were by themselves Margaret threw her arms round
Catherine's neck and kissed her.
"Mother, mother, I am not quite a happy woman, but oh I am a proud
And she vowed on her knees never by word or deed to let her love
come between this young saint and Heaven.
Reader, did you ever stand by the seashore after a storm, when the
wind happens to have gone down suddenly? The waves cannot cease
with their cause; indeed, they seem at first to the ear to lash
the sounding shore more fiercely than while the wind blew. Still
we are conscious that inevitable calm has begun, and is now but
rocking them to sleep. So it was with those true and
tempest-tossed lovers from that eventful night when they went hand
in hand beneath the stars from Gouda hermitage to Gouda manse.
At times a loud wave would every now and then come roaring, but it
was only memory's echo of the tempest that had swept their lives;
the storm itself was over, and the boiling waters began from that
moment to go down, down, down, gently, but inevitably.
This image is to supply the place of interminable details that
would be tedious and tame. What best merits attention at present
is the general situation, and the strange complication of feeling
that arose from it. History itself, though a far more daring
story-teller than romance, presents few things so strange as
the footing on which Gerard and Margaret now lived for many years.
United by present affection, past familiarity, and a marriage
irregular but legal; separated by Holy Church and by their own
consciences, which sided unreservedly with Holy Church; separated
by the Church, but united by a living pledge of affection, lawful
in every sense at its date.
And living but a few miles from one another, and she calling his
mother "mother," For some years she always took her boy to Gouda
on Sunday, returning home at dark, Go when she would, it was
always fete at Gouda manse, and she was received like a little
queen. Catherine in these days was nearly always with her, and Eli
very often, Tergou had so little to tempt them compared with
Rotterdam; and at last they left it altogether, and set up in the
And thus the years glided; so barren now of striking incidents, so
void of great hopes, and free from great fears, and so like one
another, that without the help of dates I could scarcely indicate
the progress of time.
However, early next year, 1471, the Duchess of Burgundy, with the
open dissent, but secret connivance of the Duke, raised forces to
enable her dethroned brother, Edward the Fourth of England, to
invade that kingdom; our old friend Denys thus enlisted, and
passing through Rotterdam to the ships, heard on his way that
Gerard was a priest, and Margaret alone. On this he told Margaret
that marriage was not a habit of his, but that as his comrade had
put it out of his own power to keep troth, he felt bound to offer
to keep it for him; "for a comrade's honour is dear to us as our
own," said he.
She stared, then smiled, "I choose rather to be still thy
she-comrade," said she; "closer acquainted, we might not agree so
well," And in her character of she-comrade she equipped him with a
new sword of Antwerp make, and a double handful of silver. "I give
thee no gold," said she, "for 'tis thrown away as quick as silver,
and harder to win back. Heaven send thee safe out of all thy
perils; there be famous fair women yonder to beguile thee, with
their faces, as well as men to hash thee with their axes."
He was hurried on board at La Vere, and never saw Gerard at that
In 1473 Sybrandt began to fail. His pitiable existence had been
sweetened by his brother's inventive tenderness and his own
contented spirit, which, his antecedents considered, was truly
remarkable, As for Gerard, the day never passed that he did not
devote two hours to him; reading or singing to him, praying with
him, and drawing him about in a soft carriage Margaret and he had
made between them. When the poor soul found his end near, he
begged Margaret might be sent for. She came at once, and almost
with his last breath he sought once more that forgiveness she had
long ago accorded. She remained by him till the last; and he died,
blessing and blessed, in the arms of the two true lovers he had
parted for life. Tantum religio scit suadere boni.
1474 there was a wedding in Margaret's house, Luke Peterson and
This may seem less strange if I give the purport of the dialogue
interrupted some time back.
Margaret went on to say, "Then in that case you can easily make
him fancy you, and for my sake you must, for my conscience it
pricketh me, and I must needs fit him with a wife, the best I
know." Margaret then instructed Reicht to be always kind and
good-humoured to Luke; and she would be a model of peevishness to
him, "But be not thou so simple as run me down," said she, "Leave
that to me. Make thou excuses for me; I will make myself black
Reicht received these instructions like an order to sweep a room,
and obeyed them punctually.
When they had subjected poor Luke to this double artillery for a
couple of years, he got to look upon Margaret as his fog and wind,
and Reicht as his sunshine; and his affections transferred
themselves, he scarce knew how or when,
On the wedding day Reicht embraced Margaret, and thanked her
almost with tears. "He was always my fancy," said she, "from the
first hour I clapped eyes on him."
"Heyday, you never told me that. What, Reicht, are you as sly as
"Nay, nay," said Reicht eagerly; "but I never thought you would
really part with him to me. In my country the mistress looks to be
served before the maid."
Margaret settled them in her shop, and gave them half the profits.
1476 and 7 were years of great trouble to Gerard, whose conscience
compelled him to oppose the Pope. His Holiness, siding with the
Grey Friars in their determination to swamp every palpable
distinction between the Virgin Mary and her Son, bribed the
Christian world into his crotchet by proffering pardon of all sins
to such as would add to the Ave Mary this clause: "and blessed be
thy Mother Anna, from whom, without blot of sin, proceeded thy
Gerard, in common with many of the northern clergy, held this
sentence to be flat heresy. He not only refused to utter it in his
church, but warned his parishioners against using it in private;
and he refused to celebrate the new feast the Pope invented at the
same time, viz., "the feast of the miraculous conception of the
But this drew upon him the bitter enmity of the Franciscans, and
they were strong enough to put him into more than one serious
difficulty, and inflict many a little mortification on him. In
emergencies he consulted Margaret, and she always did one of two
things, either she said, "I do not see my way," and refused to
guess; or else she gave him advice that proved wonderfully
sagacious. He had genius, but she had marvellous tact.
And where affection came in and annihilated the woman's judgment,
he stepped in his turn to her aid. Thus though she knew she was
spoiling little Gerard, and Catherine was ruining him for life,
she would not part with him, but kept him at home, and his
abilities uncultivated. And there was a shrewd boy of nine years,
instead of learning to work and obey, playing about and learning
selfishness from their infinite unselfishness, and tyrannizing
with a rod of iron over two women, both of them sagacious and
spirited, but reduced by their fondness for him to the exact level
Gerard saw this with pain, and interfered with mild but firm
remonstrance; and after a considerable struggle prevailed, and got
little Gerard sent to the best school in Europe, kept by one
Haaghe at Deventer: this was in 1477. Many tears were shed, but
the great progress the boy made at that famous school reconciled
Margaret in some degree, and the fidelity of Reicht Heynes, now
her partner in business, enabled her to spend weeks at a time
hovering over her boy at Deventer.
And so the years glided; and these two persons, subjected to as
strong and constant a temptation as can well be conceived, were
each other's guardian angels, and not each other's tempters.
To be sure the well-greased morality of the next century, which
taught that solemn vows to God are sacred in proportion as they
are reasonable, had at that time entered no single mind; and the
alternative to these two minds was self-denial or sacrilege.
It was a strange thing to hear them talk with unrestrained
tenderness to one another of their boy, and an icy barrier between
themselves all the time.
Eight years had now passed thus, and Gerard, fairly compared with
men in general, was happy.
But Margaret was not.
The habitual expression of her face was a sweet pensiveness, but
sometimes she was irritable and a little petulant. She even
snapped Gerard now and then. And when she went to see him, if a
monk was with him she would turn her back and go home. She hated
the monks for having parted Gerard and her, and she inoculated her
boy with a contempt for them which lasted him till his dying day.
Gerard bore with her like an angel. He knew her heart of gold, and
hoped this ill gust would blow over.
He himself being now the right man in the right place this many
years, loving his parishioners, and beloved by them, and occupied
from morn till night in good works, recovered the natural
cheerfulness of his disposition. To tell the truth, a part of his
jocoseness was a blind; he was the greatest peace-maker, except
Mr, Harmony in the play, that ever was born. He reconciled more
enemies in ten years than his predecessors had done in three
hundred; and one of his manoeuvres in the peacemaking art was to
make the quarrellers laugh at the cause of quarrel. So did he
undermine the demon of discord. But independently of that, he
really loved a harmless joke. He was a wonderful tamer of animals,
squirrels, bares, fawns, etc. So half in jest a parishioner who
had a mule supposed to be possessed with a devil gave it him and
said, "Tame this vagabone, parson, if ye can." Well, in about six
months, Heaven knows how, he not only tamed Jack, but won his
affections to such a degree, that Jack would come running to his
whistle like a dog.
One day, having taken shelter from a shower on the stone settle
outside a certain public-house, he heard a toper inside, a
stranger, boasting he could take more at a draught than any man in
Gouda. He instantly marched in and said, "What, lads, do none of
ye take him up for the honour of Gouda? Shall it be said that
there came hither one from another parish a greater sot than any
of us? Nay, then, I your parson do take him up. Go to, I'll find
thee a parishioner shall drink more at a draught than thou."
A bet was made; Gerard whistled; in clattered Jack - for he was
taught to come into a room with the utmost composure - and put his
nose into his backer's hand.
"A pair of buckets!" shouted Gerard, "and let us see which of
these two sons of asses can drink most at a draught."
On another occasion two farmers had a dispute whose hay was the
best. Failing to convince each other, they said, "We'll ask
parson;" for by this time he was their referee in every mortal
"How lucky you thought of me!" said Gerard, "Why, I have got one
staying with me who is the best judge of hay in Holland. Bring me
a double handful apiece."
So when they came, he had them into the parlour, and put each
bundle on a chair. Then he whistled, and in walked Jack.
"Lord a mercy!" said one of the farmers.
"Jack," said the parson, in the tone of conversation, "just tell
us which is the best hay of these two."
Jack sniffed them both, and made his choice directly, proving his
sincerity by eating every morsel. The farmers slapped their
thighs, and scratched their heads. "To think of we not thinking o'
that," And they each sent Jack a truss.
So Gerard got to be called the merry parson of Gouda. But
Margaret, who like most loving women had no more sense of humour
than a turtle-dove, took this very ill. "What!" said she to
herself, "is there nothing sore at the bottom of his heart that he
can go about playing the zany?" She could understand pious
resignation and content, but not mirth, in true lovers parted. And
whilst her woman's nature was perturbed by this gust (and women
seem more subject to gusts than men) came that terrible animal, a
busybody, to work upon her. Catherine saw she was not happy, and
said to her, "Your boy is gone from you. I would not live alone
all my days if I were you."
"He is more alone than I," sighed Margaret.
"Oh, a man is a man, but a woman is a woman. You must not think
all of him and none of yourself. Near is your kirtle, but nearer
is your smock. Besides, he is a priest, and can do no better. But
you are not a priest. He has got his parish, and his heart is in
that. Bethink thee! Time flies; overstay not thy market. Wouldst
not like to have three or four more little darlings about thy knee
now they have robbed thee of poor little Gerard, and sent him to
yon nasty school?" And so she worked upon a mind already
Margaret had many suitors ready to marry her at a word or even a
look, and among them two merchants of the better class, Van Schelt
and Oostwagen. "Take one of those two," said Catherine.
"Well, I will ask Gerard if I may," said Margaret one day, with a
flood of tears; "for I cannot go on the way I am."
"Why, you would never be so simple as ask him?"
"Think you I would be so wicked as marry without his leave?"
Accordingly she actually went to Gouda, and after hanging her
head, and blushing, and crying, and saying she was miserable, told
him his mother wished her to marry one of those two; and if he
approved of her marrying at all, would he use his wisdom, and tell
her which he thought would be the kindest to the little Gerard of
those two; for herself, she did not care what became of her.
Gerard felt as if she had put a soft hand into his body and torn
his heart out with it. But the priest with a mighty effort
mastered the man. In a voice scarcely audible he declined this
responsibility. "I am not a saint or a prophet," said he; "I might
advise thee ill. I shall read the marriage service for thee,"
faltered he; "it is my right. No other would pray for thee as I
should. But thou must choose for thyself; and oh! let me see thee
happy. This four months past thou hast not been happy."
"A discontented mind is never happy," said Margaret.
She left him, and he fell on his knees, and prayed for help from
Margaret went home pale and agitated. "Mother," said she, "never
mention it to me again, or we shall quarrel."
"He forbade you? Well, more shame for him, that is all."
"He forbid me? He did not condescend so far. He was as noble as I
was paltry. He would not choose for me for fear of choosing me an
ill husband. But he would read the service for my groom and me;
that was his right. Oh, mother, what a heartless creature I was!"
"Well, I thought not he had that much sense."
"Ah, you go by the poor soul's words, but I rate words as air when
the face speaketh to mine eye. I saw the priest and the true lover
a-fighting in his dear face, and his cheek pale with the strife,
and oh! his poor lip trembled as he said the stout-hearted words -
Oh! oh! oh! oh! oh! oh! oh!" And Margaret burst into a violent
passion of tears.
Catherine groaned. "There, give it up without more ado," said she.
"You two are chained together for life; and if God is merciful,
that won't be for long; for what are you neither maid, wife, nor
"Give it up?" said Margaret; "that was done long ago. All I think
of now is comforting him; for now I have been and made him unhappy
too, wretch and monster that I am."
So the next day they both went to Gouda. And Gerard, who had been
praying for resignation all this time, received her with peculiar
tenderness as a treasure he was to lose; but she was agitated and
eager to let him see without words that she would never marry, and
she fawned on him like a little dog to be forgiven. And as she was
going away she murmured, "Forgive! and forget! I am but a woman."
He misunderstood her, and said, "All I bargain for is, let me see
thee content; for pity's sake, let me not see thee unhappy as I
have this while."
"My darling, you never shall again," said Margaret, with streaming
eyes, and kissed his hand.
He misunderstood this too at first; but when month after month
passed, and he heard no more of her marriage, and she came to
Gouda comparatively cheerful, and was even civil to Father
Ambrose, a mild benevolent monk from the Dominican convent hard by
- then he understood her; and one day he invited her to walk alone
with him in the sacred paddock; and before I relate what passed
between them, I must give its history.
When Gerard had been four or five days at the manse, looking out
of window he uttered an exclamation of joy. "Mother, Margaret,
here is one of my birds: another, another: four, six, nine. A
miracle! a miracle!"
"Why, how can you tell your birds from their fellows?" said
"I know every feather in their wings. And see; there is the little
darling whose claw I gilt, bless it!"
And presently his rapture took a serious turn, and he saw Heaven's
approbation in this conduct of the birds as he did in the fall of
the cave. This wonderfully kept alive his friendship for animals;
and he enclosed a paddock, and drove all the sons of Cain from it
with threats of excommunication, "On this little spot of earth
we'll have no murder," said he. He tamed leverets and partridges,
and little birds, and hares, and roe-deer. He found a squirrel
with a broken leg; he set it with infinite difficulty and
patience; and during the cure showed it repositories of acorns,
nuts, chestnuts, etc. And this squirrel got well and went off, but
visited him in hard weather, and brought a mate, and next year
little squirrels were found to have imbibed their parents'
sentiments, and of all these animals each generation was tamer
than the last. This set the good parson thinking, and gave him the
true clue to the great successes of mediaeval hermits in taming
He kept the key of this paddock, and never let any man but himself
enter it; nor would he even let little Gerard go there without him
or Margaret. "Children are all little Cains," said he. In this
oasis, then, he spoke to Margaret, and said, "Dear Margaret, I
have thought more than ever of thee of late, and have asked myself
why I am content, and thou unhappy."
"Because thou art better, wiser, holier than I; that is all," said
"Our lives tell another tale," said Gerard thoughtfully. "I know
thy goodness and thy wisdom too well to reason thus perversely.
Also I know that I love thee as dear as thou, I think, lovest me.
Yet am I happier than thou. Why is this so?"
"Dear Gerard, I am as happy as a woman can hope to be this side of
"Not so happy as I. Now for the reason. First, then, I am a
priest, and this, the one great trial and disappointment God
giveth me along with so many joys, why, I share it with a
multitude. For alas! I am not the only priest by thousands that
must never hope for entire earthly happiness. Here, then, thy lot
is harder than mine."
"But Gerard, I have my child to love. Thou canst not fill thy
heart with him as his mother can, So you may set this against
"And I have ta'en him from thee; it was cruel; but he would have
broken thy heart one day if I had not. Well then, sweet one, I
come to where the shoe pincheth, methinks. I have my parish, and
it keeps my heart in a glow from morn till night. There is scarce
an emotion that my folk stir not up in me many times a day. Often
their sorrows make me weep, sometimes their perversity kindles a
little wrath, and their absurdity makes me laugh, and sometimes
their flashes of unexpected goodness do set me all of a glow, and
I could hug 'em. Meantime thou, poor soul, sittest with heart -
"Of lead, Gerard; of very lead."
"See now how unkind thy lot compared with mine, Now how if thou
couldst be persuaded to warm thyself at the fire that warmeth me."
"Ah, if I could?"
"Hast but to will it. Come among my folk. Take in thine hand the
alms I set aside, and give it with kind words; hear their sorrows:
they shall show you life is full of troubles, and as thou sayest
truly, no man or woman without their thorn this side the grave.
Indoors I have a map of Gouda parish. Not to o'erburden thee at
first, I will put twenty housen under thee with their folk. What
sayest thou? but for thy wisdom I had died a dirty maniac,' and
ne'er seen Gouda manse, nor pious peace. Wilt profit in turn by
what little wisdom I have to soften her lot to whom I do owe all?"
Margaret assented warmly, and a happy thing it was for the little
district assigned to her; it was as if an angel had descended on
them. Her fingers were never tired of knitting or cutting for
them, her heart of sympathizing with them. And that heart expanded
and waved its drooping wings; and the glow of good and gentle deed
began to spread over it; and she was rewarded in another way by
being brought into more contact with Gerard, and also with his
spirit. All this time malicious tongues had not been idle. "If
there is nought between them more than meets the eye, why doth she
not marry?" etc. And I am sorry to say our old friend Joan Ketel
was one of these coarse sceptics. And now one winter evening she
got on a hot scent. She saw Margaret and Gerard talking earnestly
together on the Boulevard. She whipped behind a tree. "Now I'll
hear something," said she; and so she did. It was winter; there
had been one of those tremendous floods followed by a sharp frost,
and Gerard in despair as to where he should lodge forty or fifty
houseless folk out of the piercing cold. And now it was, "Oh,
dear, dear Margaret, what shall I do? The manse is full of them,
and a sharp frost coming on this night."
Margaret reflected, and Joan listened.
"You must lodge them in the church," said Margaret quietly.
"In the church? Profanation."
"No; charity profanes nothing, not even a church; soils nought,
not even a church. To-day is but Tuesday. Go save their lives, for
a bitter night is coming. Take thy stove into the church, and
there house them. We will dispose of them here and there ere the
"And I could not think of that; bless thee, sweet Margaret, thy
mind is stronger than mine, and readier."
"Nay, nay, a woman looks but a little way, therefore she sees
clear. I'll come over myself to-morrow."
And on this they parted with mutual blessings.
Joan glided home remorseful.
And after that she used to check all surmises to their discredit.
"Beware," she would say, "lest some angel should blister thy
tongue. Gerard and Margaret paramours? I tell ye they are two
saints which meet in secret to plot charity to the poor."
In the summer of 1481 Gerard determined to provide against similar
disasters recurring to his poor. Accordingly he made a great hole
in his income, and bled his friends (zealous parsons always do
that) to build a large Xenodochium to receive the victims of flood
or fire. Giles and all his friends were kind, but all was not
enough; when lo! the Dominican monks of Gouda to whom his parlour
and heart had been open for years, came out nobly, and put down a
handsome sum to aid the charitable vicar.
"The dear good souls," said Margaret; "who would have thought it?"
"Any one who knows them," said Gerard, "Who more charitable than
"Go to! They do but give the laity back a pig of their own sow."
"And what more do I? What more doth the duke?"
Then the ambitious vicar must build almshouses for decayed true
men in their old age close to the manse, that he might keep and
feed them, as well as lodge them. And his money being gone, he
asked Margaret for a few thousand bricks and just took off his
coat and turned builder; and as he had a good head, and the
strength of a Hercules, with the zeal of an artist, up rose a
couple of almshouses parson built.
And at this work Margaret would sometimes bring him his dinner,
and add a good bottle of Rhenish. And once seeing him run up a
plank with a wheelbarrow full of bricks which really most
bricklayers would have gone staggering under, she said, "Times are
changed since I had to carry little Gerard for thee."
"Ay, dear one, thanks to thee."
When the first home was finished, the question was who they should
put into it; and being fastidious over it like a new toy, there
was much hesitation. But an old friend arrived in time to settle
As Gerard was passing a public-house in Rotterdam one day, he
heard a well-known voice, He looked up, and there was Denys of
Burgundy, but sadly changed; his beard stained with grey, and his
clothes worn and ragged; he had a cuirass still, and gauntlets,
but a staff instead of an arbalest, To the company he appeared to
be bragging and boasting, but in reality he was giving a true
relation of Edward the Fourth's invasion of an armed kingdom with
2000 men, and his march through the country with armies capable of
swallowing him looking on, his battles at Tewkesbury and Barnet,
and reoccupation of his capital and kingdom in three months after
landing at the Humber with a mixed handful of Dutch, English, and
In this, the greatest feat of arms the century had seen, Denys had
shone; and whilst sneering at the warlike pretensions of Charles
the Bold, a duke with an itch but no talent for fighting, and
proclaiming the English king the first captain of the age, did not
forget to exalt himself.
Gerard listened with eyes glittering affection and fun. "And now,"
said Denys, "after all these feats, patted on the back by the
gallant young Prince of Gloucester, and smiled on by the great
captain himself, here I am lamed for life; by what? by the kick of
a horse, and this night I know not where I shall lay my tired
bones. I had a comrade once in these parts that would not have let
me lie far from him; but he turned priest and deserted his
sweetheart, so 'tis not likely he would remember his comrade. And
ten years play sad havoc with our hearts, and limbs, and all."
Poor Denys sighed, and Gerard's bowels yearned over him.
"What words are these?" he said, with a great gulp in his throat.
"Who grudges a brave soldier supper and bed? Come home with me!"
"Much obliged, but I am no lover of priests."
"Nor I of soldiers; but what is supper and bed between two true
"Not much to you, but something to me. I will come."
"In one hour," said Gerard, and went in high spirits to Margaret,
and told her the treat in store, and she must come and share it.
She must drive his mother in his little carriage up to the manse
with all speed, and make ready an excellent supper. Then he
himself borrowed a cart, and drove Denys up rather slowly, to give
the women time.
On the road Denys found out this priest was a kind soul, so told
him his trouble, and confessed his heart was pretty near broken.
"The great use our stout hearts, and arms, and lives till we are
worn out, and then fling us away like broken tools." He sighed
deeply, and it cost Gerard a great struggle not to hug him then
and there, and tell him. But he wanted to do it all like a story
book. Who has not had this fancy once in his life? Why Joseph had
it; all the better for us.
They landed at the little house. It was as clean as a penny, the
hearth blazing, and supper set.
Denys brightened up. "Is this your house, reverend sir?"
"Well, 'tis my work, and with these hands, but 'tis your house."
"Ah, no such luck," said Denys, with a sigh.
"But I say ay," shouted Gerard. "And what is more I - " (gulp)
"say - " (gulp) "COURAGE, CAMARADE, LE DIABLE EST MORT!"
Denys started, and almost staggered. "Why, what?" he stammered,
"w-wh-who art thou, that bringest me back the merry words and
merry days of my youth?" and he was greatly agitated.
"My poor Denys, I am one whose face is changed, but nought else;
to my heart, dear, trusty comrade, to my heart," And he opened his
arms, with the tears in his eyes. But Denys came close to him, and
peered in his face, and devoured every feature; and when he was
sure it was really Gerard, he uttered a cry so vehement it brought
the women running from the house, and fell upon Gerard's neck, and
kissed him again and again, and sank on his knees, and laughed and
sobbed with joy so terribly, that Gerard mourned his folly in
doing dramas. But the women with their gentle soothing ways soon
composed the brave fellow, and he sat smiling, and holding
Margaret's hand and Gerard's, And they all supped together, and
went to their beds with hearts warm as a toast; and the broken
soldier was at peace, and in his own house, and under his
His natural gaiety returned, and he resumed his consigne after
eight years' disuse, and hobbled about the place enlivening it;
but offended the parish mortally by calling the adored vicar
comrade, and nothing but comrade.
When they made a fuss about this to Gerard, he just looked in
their faces and said, "What does it matter? Break him of swearing,
and you shall have my thanks."
This year Margaret went to a lawyer to make her will, for without
this, she was told, her boy might have trouble some day to get his
own, not being born in lawful wedlock. The lawyer, however, in
conversation, expressed a different opinion.
"This is the babble of churchmen," said he, "Yours is a perfect
marriage, though an irregular one."
He then informed her that throughout Europe, excepting only the
southern part of Britain, there were three irregular marriages,
the highest of which was hers, viz., a betrothal before witnesses,
"This," said he, "if not followed by matrimonial intercourse, is a
marriage complete in form, but incomplete in substance. A person
so betrothed can forbid any other banns to all eternity. It has,
however, been set aside where a party so betrothed contrived to
get married regularly, and children were born thereafter. But such
a decision was for the sake of the offspring, and of doubtful
justice. However, in your case the birth of your child closes that
door, and your marriage is complete both in form and substance.
Your course, therefore, is to sue for your conjugal rights; it
will be the prettiest case of the century. The law is all on our
side, the Church all on theirs. If you come to that, the old
Batavian law, which compelled the clergy to marry, hath fallen
into disuse, but was never formally repealed."
Margaret was quite puzzled. "What are you driving at, sir? Who am
I to go to law with?"
"Who is the defendant? Why, the vicar of Gouda."
"Alas, poor soul! And for what shall I law him?"
"Why, to make him take you into his house, and share bed and board
with you, to be sure."
Margaret turned red as fire, "Gramercy for your rede," said she,
"What, is yon a woman's part? Constrain a man to be hers by force?
That is men's way of wooing, not ours. Say I were so ill a woman
as ye think me, I should set myself to beguile him, not to law
him;" and she departed, crimson with shame and indignation.
"There is an impracticable fool for you," said the man of art,
Margaret had her will drawn elsewhere, and made her boy safe from
poverty, marriage or no marriage.
These are the principal incidents that in ten whole years befell
two peaceful lives, which in a much shorter period had been so
thronged with adventures and emotions.
Their general tenor was now peace, piety, the mild content that
lasts, not the fierce bliss ever on tiptoe to depart, and above
all, Christian charity.
On this sacred ground these two true lovers met with an uniformity
and a kindness of sentiment which went far to soothe the wound in
their own hearts, To pity the same bereaved; to hunt in couples
all the ills in Gouda, and contrive and scheme together to remedy
all that were remediable; to use the rare insight into troubled
hearts which their own troubles had given them, and use it to make
others happier than themselves - this was their daily practice.
And in this blessed cause their passions for one another cooled a
little, but their affection increased.
From this time Margaret entered heart and soul into Gerard's pious
charities, that affection purged itself of all mortal dross. And
as it had now long out-lived scandal and misapprehension, one
would have thought that so bright an example of pure self-denying
affection was to remain long before the world, to show men how
nearly religious faith, even when not quite reasonable, and
religious charity, which is always reasonable, could raise two
true lovers' hearts to the loving hearts of the angels of heaven.
But the great Disposer of events ordered otherwise.
Little Gerard rejoiced both his parents' hearts by the
extraordinary progress he made at Alexander Haaghe's famous school
The last time Margaret returned from visiting him, she came to
Gerard flushed with pride. "Oh, Gerard, he will be a great man one
day, thanks to thy wisdom in taking him from us silly women. A
great scholar, one Zinthius, came to see the school and judge the
scholars, and didn't our Gerard stand up, and not a line in Horace
or Terence could Zinthius cite but the boy would follow him with
the rest. 'Why, 'tis a prodigy,' says that great scholar; and
there was his poor mother stood by and heard it. And he took our
Gerard in his arms, and kissed him; and what think you he said?"
"Nay, I know not."
"'Holland will hear of thee one day; and not Holland only, but all
the world,' Why what a sad brow!"
"Sweet one, I am as glad as thou, yet am I uneasy to hear the
child is wise before his time, I love him dear; but he is thine
idol, and Heaven doth often break our idols,"
"Make thy mind easy," said Margaret. "Heaven will never rob me of
my child. What I was to suffer in this world I have suffered, For
if any ill happened my child or thee, I should not live a week.
The Lord He knows this, and He will leave me my boy."
A month had elapsed after this; but Margaret's words were yet
ringing in his ears, when, going on his daily round of visits to
his poor, he was told quite incidentally, and as mere gossip, that
the plague was at Deventer, carried thither by two sailors from
His heart turned cold within him. News did not gallop in those
days. The fatal disease must have been there a long time before
the tidings would reach Gouda. He sent a line by a messenger to
Margaret, telling her that he was gone to fetch little Gerard to
stay at the manse a little while, and would she see a bed
prepared, for he should be back next day. And so he hoped she
would not hear a word of the danger till it was all happily over.
He borrowed a good horse, and scarce drew rein till he reached
Deventer, quite late in the afternoon. He went at once to the
school. The boy had been taken away.
As he left the school he caught sight of Margaret's face at the
window of a neighbouring house she always lodged at when she came
He ran hastily to scold her and pack both her and the boy out of
To his surprise the servant told him with some hesitation that
Margaret had been there, but was gone.
"Gone, woman?" said Gerard indignantly, "art not ashamed to say
so? Why, I saw her but now at the window."
"Oh, if you saw her - "
A sweet voice above said, "Stay him not, let him enter." It was
Gerard ran up the stairs to her, and went to take her hand, She
drew back hastily.
He looked astounded.
"I am displeased," she said coldly. "What makes you here? Know you
not the plague is in the town?"
"Ay, dear Margaret; and came straightway to take our boy away."
"What, had he no mother?"
"How you speak to me! I hoped you knew not."
"What, think you I leave my boy unwatched? I pay a trusty woman
that notes every change in his cheek when I am not here, and lets
me know, I am his mother."
"Where is he?"
"In Rotterdam, I hope, ere this."
"Thank Heaven! And why are you not there?"
"I am not fit for the journey; never heed me; go you home on the
instant; I'll follow. For shame of you to come here risking your
"It is not so precious as thine," said Gerard. "But let that pass;
we will go home together, and on the instant."
"Nay, I have some matters to do in the town. Go thou at once, and
I will follow forthwith."
"Leave thee alone in a plague-stricken town? To whom speak you,
"Nay, then, we shall quarrel, Gerard."
"Methinks I see Margaret and Gerard quarrelling! Why, it takes two
to quarrel, and we are but one."
With this Gerard smiled on her sweetly. But there was no kind
responsive glance. She looked cold, gloomy, and troubled.
He sighed, and sat patiently down opposite her with his face all
puzzled and saddened. He said nothing, for he felt sure she would
explain her capricious conduct, or it would explain itself.
Presently she rose hastily, and tried to reach her bedroom, but on
the way she staggered and put out her hand. He ran to her with a
cry of alarm. She swooned in his arms. He laid her gently on the
ground, and beat her cold hands, and ran to her bedroom, and
fetched water, and sprinkled her pale face. His own was scarce
less pale, for in a basin he had seen water stained with blood; it
alarmed him, he knew not why. She was a long time ere she revived,
and when she did she found Gerard holding her hand, and bending
over her with a look of infinite concern and tenderness. She
seemed at first as if she responded to it, but the next moment her
eyes dilated, and she cried - "Ah, wretch, leave my hand; how dare
you touch me?"
"Heaven help her!" said Gerard. "She is not herself."
"You will not leave me, then, Gerard?" said she faintly. "Alas!
why do I ask? Would I leave thee if thou wert - At least touch me
not, and then I will let thee bide, and see the last of poor
Margaret. She ne'er spoke harsh to thee before, sweetheart, and
she never will again."
"Alas! what mean these dark words, these wild and troubled looks?"
said Gerard, clasping his hands.
"My poor Gerard," said Margaret, "forgive me that I spoke so to
thee. I am but a woman, and would have spared thee a sight will
make thee weep." She burst into tears. "Ah, me!" she cried,
weeping, "that I cannot keep grief from thee; there is a great
sorrow before my darling, and this time I shall not be able to
come and dry his eyes."
"Let it come, Margaret, so it touch not thee," said Gerard,
"Dearest," said Margaret solemnly, "call now religion to thine aid
and mine. I must have died before thee one day, or else outlived
thee and so died of grief."
"Died? thou die? I will never let thee die. Where is thy pain?
What is thy trouble?"
"The plague," she said calmly. Gerard uttered a cry of horror, and
started to his feet; she read his thought. "Useless," said she
quietly. "My nose hath bled; none ever yet survived to whom that
came along with the plague. Bring no fools hither to babble over
the body they cannot save. I am but a woman; I love not to be
stared at; let none see me die but thee."
And even with this a convulsion seized her, and she remained
sensible but speechless a long time.
And now for the first time Gerard began to realize the frightful
truth, and he ran wildly to and fro, and cried to Heaven for help,
as drowning men cry to their fellow-creatures. She raised herself
on her arm, and set herself to quiet him.
She told him she had known the torture of hopes and fears, and was
resolved to spare him that agony. "I let my mind dwell too much on
the danger," said she, "and so opened my brain to it, through
which door when this subtle venom enters it makes short work. I
shall not be spotted or loathsome, my poor darling; God is good,
and spares thee that; but in twelve hours I shall be a dead woman.
Ah, look not so, but be a man; be a priest! Waste not one precious
minute over my body! it is doomed; but comfort my parting soul."
Gerard, sick and cold at heart, kneeled down, and prayed for help
from Heaven to do his duty.
When he rose from his knees his face was pale and old, but deadly
calm and patient. He went softly and brought her bed into the
room, and laid her gently down and supported her head with
pillows. Then he prayed by her side the prayers for the dying, and
she said Amen to each prayer. Then for some hours she wandered,
but when the fell disease had quite made sure of its prey, her
mind cleared, and she begged Gerard to shrive her. "For oh, my
conscience it is laden," she said sadly.
"Confess thy sins to me, my daughter: let there be no reserve."
"My father," said she sadly, "I have one great sin on my breast
this many years. E'en now that death is at my heart I can scarce
own it. But the Lord is debonair; if thou wilt pray to Him,
perchance He may forgive me."
"Confess it first, my daughter."
"I - alas!"
"I deceived thee. This many years I have deceived thee."
Here tears interrupted her speech.
"Courage, my daughter, courage," said Gerard kindly, overpowering
the lover in the priest.
She hid her face in her hands, and with many sighs told him it was
she who had broken down the hermit's cave with the help of Jorian
Ketel, "I, shallow, did it but to hinder thy return thither; but
when thou sawest therein the finger of God, I played the
traitress, and said, 'While he thinks so, he will ne'er leave
Gouda manse;' and I held my tongue. Oh, false heart."
"Courage, my daughter; thou dost exaggerate a trivial fault."
"Ah, but 'tis not all, The birds."
"They followed thee not to Gouda by miracle, but by my treason. I
said, he will ne'er be quite happy without his birds that visited
him in his cell; and I was jealous of them, and cried, and said,
these foul little things, they are my child's rivals. And I bought
loaves of bread, and Jorian and me we put crumbs at the cave door,
and thence went sprinkling them all the way to the manse, and
there a heap. And my wiles succeeded, and they came, and thou wast
glad, and I was pleased to see thee glad; and when thou sawest in
my guile the finger of Heaven, wicked, deceitful, I did hold my
tongue. But die deceiving thee? ah, no, I could not. Forgive me if
thou canst; I was but a woman; I knew no better at the time. 'Twas
writ in my bosom with a very sunbeam. ''Tis good for him to bide
at Gouda manse,'"
"Forgive thee, sweet innocent?" sobbed Gerard; "what have I to
forgive? Thou hadst a foolish froward child to guide to his own
weal, and didst all this for the best, I thank thee and bless
thee. But as thy confessor, all deceit is ill in Heaven's pure
eyes. Therefore thou hast done well to confess and report it; and
even on thy confession and penitence the Church through me
absolves thee. Pass to thy graver faults."
"My graver faults? Alas! alas! Why, what have I done to compare? I
am not an ill woman, not a very ill one. If He can forgive me
deceiving thee, He can well forgive me all the rest ever I did."
Being gently pressed, she said she was to blame not to have done
more good in the world. "I have just begun to do a little," she
said, "and now I must go. But I repine not, since 'tis Heaven's
will, only I am so afeard thou wilt miss me." And at this she
could not restrain her tears, though she tried hard.
Gerard struggled with his as well as he could; and knowing her
life of piety, purity, and charity, and seeing that she could not
in her present state realise any sin but her having deceived him,
gave her full absolution, Then he put the crucifix in her hand,
and while he consecrated the oil, bade her fix her mind neither on
her merits nor her demerits, but on Him who died for her on the
She obeyed him with a look of confiding love and submission.
And he touched her eyes with the consecrated oil, and prayed aloud
Soon after she dosed.
He watched beside her, more dead than alive himself.
When the day broke she awoke, and seemed to acquire some energy.
She begged him to look in her box for her marriage lines and for a
picture, and bring them both to her. He did so. She then entreated
him by all they had suffered for each other, to ease her mind by
making a solemn vow to execute her dying requests.
He vowed to obey them to the letter.
"Then, Gerard, let no creature come here to lay me out. I could
not bear to be stared at; my very corpse would blush. Also I would
not be made a monster of for the worms to sneer at as well as feed
on. Also my very clothes are tainted, and shall to earth with me.
I am a physician's daughter; and ill becomes me kill folk, being
dead, which did so little good to men in the days of health;
wherefore lap me in lead, the way I am, and bury me deep! yet not
so deep but what one day thou mayst find the way, and lay thy
bones by mine.
Back to Full Books