Read The Cloister and the Hearth Part 110

The Cloister and the Hearth is a Webnovel made by Charles Reade.
This lightnovel is presently completed.

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Read WebNovel The Cloister and the Hearth Part 110

The pardoner denied the charge flatly. “Indulgences were never cheaper to good husbandmen.”

The other inquired “Who were they?”

“Why such as sin by the market, like reasonable creatures. But if your will be so perverse as go and pick out a crime the Pope hath set his face against, blame yourself, not me?”

Then, to prove that crime of one sort or another was within the means of all, but the very sc.u.m of society, he read out the scale from a written parchment.

It was a curious list: but not one that could be printed in this book.

And to mutilate it would be to misrepresent it. It is to be found in any great library. Suffice it to say, that murder of a layman was much cheaper than many crimes my lay readers would deem light by comparison.

This told; and by a little trifling concession on each side, the bargain was closed, the money handed over, and the aspirant to heaven’s favour forgiven beforehand for removing 1 layman. The price for disposing of a clerk bore no proportion.

The word was never once uttered by either merchant.

All this buzzed in Gerard’s ear. But he never lifted his head from the table; only listened stupidly.

However, when the parties rose and separated, he half raised his head and eyed with a scowl the retiring figure of the purchaser.

“If Margaret was alive,” muttered he, “I’d take thee by the throat and throttle thee, thou cowardly stabber. But she is dead; dead; dead. Die all the world; ’tis nought to me: so that I die among the first.”

When he got home there was a man in a slouched hat walking briskly to and fro on the opposite side of the way.

“Why there is that cur again,” thought Gerard.

But in his state of mind, the circ.u.mstance made no impression whatever on him.


TWO nights after this Pietro Vanucci and Andrea sat waiting supper for Gerard.

The former grew peevish. It was past nine o’clock. At last he sent Andrea to Gerard’s room on the desperate chance of his having come in un.o.bserved. Andrea shrugged his shoulders and went.

He returned without Gerard, but with a slip of paper. Andrea could not read, as scholars in his day and charity boys in ours understand the art; but he had a quick eye, and had learned how the words Pietro Vanucci looked on paper.

“That is for you, I trow,” said he, proud of his intelligence.

Pietro s.n.a.t.c.hed it, and read it to Andrea, with his satirical comments.

“‘Dear Pietro, dear Andrea, life is too great a burden.’

“_So ’tis, my lad; but that is no reason for being abroad at supper-time. Supper is not a burden._

“‘Wear my habits!’

“_Said the poplar to the juniper bush._

“‘And thou, Andrea, mine amethyst ring; and me in both your hearts, a month or two.’

“_Why, Andrea?_

“‘For my body, ere this ye read, it will lie in Tiber. Trouble not to look for it. ‘Tis not worth the pains. Oh unhappy day that it was born; oh happy night that rids me of it.

“‘Adieu! adieu!

“‘The broken-hearted Gerard.’

“Here is a sorry jest of the peevish rogue,” said Pietro. But his pale cheek and chattering teeth belied his words. Andrea filled the house with his cries.

“Oh, miserable day! O, calamity of calamities! Gerard, my friend, my sweet patron! Help! help! He is killing himself! Oh, good people, help me save him!” And after alarming all the house he ran into the street, bareheaded, imploring all good Christians to help him save his friend.

A number of persons soon collected.

But poor Andrea could not animate their sluggishness. Go down to the river? No. It was not their business. What part of the river? It was a wild goose chase.

It was not lucky to go down to the river after sunset. Too many ghosts walked those banks all night.

A lacquey, however, who had been standing some time opposite the house, said he would go with Andrea; and this turned three or four of the younger ones.

The little band took the way to the river.

The lacquey questioned Andrea.

Andrea, sobbing, told him about the letter, and Gerard’s moody ways of late.

That lacquey was a spy of the Princess Claelia.

Their Italian tongues went fast till they neared the Tiber.

But the moment they felt the air from the river, and the smell of the stream in the calm spring night, they were dead silent.

The moon shone calm and clear in a cloudless sky. Their feet sounded loud and ominous. Their tongues were hushed.

Presently hurrying round a corner they met a man. He stopped irresolute at sight of them.

The man was bareheaded, and his dripping hair glistened in the moonlight: and at the next step they saw his clothes were drenched with water.

“Here he is,” cried one of the young men, unacquainted with Gerard’s face and figure.

The stranger turned instantly and fled.

They ran after him might and main, Andrea leading, and the princess’s lacquey next.

Andrea gained on him: but in a moment he twisted up a narrow alley.

Andrea shot by, unable to check himself; and the pursuers soon found themselves in a labyrinth in which it was vain to pursue a quick-footed fugitive who knew every inch of it, and could now only be followed by the ear.

They returned to their companions, and found them standing on the spot where the man had stood, and utterly confounded. For Pietro had a.s.sured them that the fugitive had neither the features nor the stature of Gerard.


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