The Cloister and the Hearth is a Webnovel produced by Charles Reade.
This lightnovel is presently completed.
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Read WebNovel The Cloister and the Hearth Part 136
They slipped howling under the table, and crawled out the other side.
But, ere they could get to the door, the furious old man ran round and intercepted them. Catherine only screamed and wrung her hands; your notables are generally useless at such a time; and blood would certainly have flowed, but Margaret and Jorian seized the fiery old man’s arms, and held them with all their might, whilst the pair got clear of the house; then they let him go; and he went vainly raging after them out into the street.
They were a furlong off, running like hares.
He hacked down the board on which their names were written, and brought it in doors, and flung it into the chimney-place.
Catherine was sitting rocking herself with her ap.r.o.n over her head. Joan had run to her husband. Margaret had her arms round Catherine’s neck; and, pale and panting, was yet making efforts to comfort her.
But it was not to be done. “O my poor children!” she cried. “O miserable mother! ‘Tis a mercy Kate was ill upstairs. There, I have lived to thank G.o.d for that!” she cried, with a fresh burst of sobs. “It would have killed her. He had better have stayed in Italy, as come home to curse his own flesh and blood, and set us all by the ears.”
“Oh, hold your chat, woman,” cried Eli, angrily; “you are still on the side of the ill-doer. You are cheap served; your weakness made the rogues what they are; I was for correcting them in their youth: for sore ills, sharp remedies; but you still sided with their faults, and undermined me, and baffled wise severity. And you, Margaret, leave comforting her that ought rather to comfort you; for what is her hurt to yours? But she never had a grain of justice under her skin; and never will. So come thou to me; that am thy father from this hour.”
This was a command; so she kissed Catherine, and went tottering to him, and he put her on a chair beside him, and she laid her feeble head on his honest breast: but not a tear: it was too deep for that.
“Poor lamb,” said he. After awhile–“Come, good folks,” said true Eli, in a broken voice, to Jorian and Joan, “we are in a little trouble, as you see; but that is no reason you should starve. For our Lady’s sake, fall to; and add not to my grief the reputation of a churl. What the d.i.c.kens!” added he, with a sudden ghastly attempt at stout-heartedness, “the more knaves I have the luck to get shut of, the more my need of true men and women, to help me clear the dish, and cheer mine eye with honest faces about me where else were gaps. Fall to, I do entreat ye.”
Catherine, sobbing, backed his request. Poor, simple, antique, hospitable souls! Jorian, whose appet.i.te, especially since his illness, was very keen, was for acting on this hospitable invitation; but Joan whispered a word in his ear, and he instantly drew back. “Nay, I’ll touch no meat that holy Church hath cursed.”
“In sooth, I forgot,” said Eli, apologetically. “My son, who was reared at my table, hath cursed my victuals. That seems strange. Well, what G.o.d wills, man must bow to.”
The supper was flung out into the yard.
Jorian took his wife home, and heavy sadness reigned in Eli’s house that night.
Meantime, where was Clement?
Lying at full length upon the floor of the convent church, with his lips upon the lowest step of the altar, in an indescribable state of terror, misery, penitence, and self-abas.e.m.e.nt: through all which struggled gleams of joy that Margaret was alive.
Night fell and found him lying there weeping, and praying: and morning would have found him there too; but he suddenly remembered that, absorbed in his own wrongs and Margaret’s, he had committed another sin besides intemperate rage. He had neglected a dying man.
He rose instantly, groaning at his acc.u.mulated wickedness, and set out to repair the omission. The weather had changed; it was raining hard, and, when he got clear of the town, he heard the wolves baying; they were on foot. But Clement was himself again, or nearly; he thought little of danger or discomfort, having a shameful omission of religious duty to repair: he went stoutly forward through rain and darkness.
And, as he went, he often beat his breast, and cried, “Mea Culpa! Mea Culpa!”
WHAT that sensitive mind, and tender conscience, and loving heart, and religious soul, went through even in a few hours, under a situation so sudden and tremendous, is perhaps beyond the power of words to paint.
Fancy yourself the man; then put yourself in his place!
Were I to write a volume on it, we should have to come to that at last.
I shall relate his next two overt acts. They indicate his state of mind after the first fierce tempest of the soul had subsided.
After spending the night with the dying hermit in giving and receiving holy consolations, he set out not for Rotterdam, but for Tergou. He went there to confront his fatal enemy the burgomaster, and, by means of that parchment, whose history by-the-by was itself a romance, to make him disgorge; and give Margaret her own.
Heated and dusty, he stopped at the fountain, and there began to eat his black bread and drink of the water. But in the middle of his frugal meal a female servant came running, and begged him to come and shrive her dying master. He returned the bread to his wallet, and followed her without a word.
She took him–to the Stadthouse.
He drew back with a little shudder when he saw her go in.
But he almost instantly recovered himself, and followed her into the house, and up the stairs. And there in bed, propped up by pillows, lay his deadly enemy, looking already like a corpse.
Clement eyed him a moment from the door, and thought of all–the tower, the wood, the letter. Then he said in a low voice, “Pax vobisc.u.m!” He trembled a little while he said it.
The sick man welcomed him as eagerly as his weak state permitted. “Thank Heaven, thou art come in time to absolve me from my sins, father, and pray for my soul, thou and thy brethren.”
“My son,” said Clement, “before absolution cometh confession. In which act there must be no reservation, as thou valuest thy soul’s weal.
Bethink thee, therefore, wherein thou hast most offended G.o.d and the Church, while I offer up a prayer for wisdom to direct thee.”
Clement then kneeled and prayed; and, when he rose from his knees, he said to Ghysbrecht, with apparent calmness, “My son, confess thy sins.”
“Ah, father,” said the sick man, “they are many and great.”
“Great then be thy penitence, my son; so shalt thou find G.o.d’s mercy great.”
Ghysbrecht put his hands together, and began to confess with every appearance of contrition.
He owned he had eaten meat in mid-Lent. He had often absented himself from ma.s.s on the Lord’s day, and saints’ day: and had trifled with other religious observances, which he enumerated with scrupulous fidelity.
When he had done, the friar said, quietly, “‘Tis well, my son. These be faults. Now to thy crimes. Thou hadst done better to begin with them.”
“Why, father, what crimes lie to my account if these be none?”
“Am I confessing to thee, or thou to me?” said Clement, somewhat severely.
“Forgive me, father! Why, surely, I to you. But I know not what you call crimes.”
“The seven deadly sins, art thou clear of them?”
“Heaven forfend I should be guilty of them. I know them not by name.”
“Many do them all that cannot name them. Begin with that one which leads to lying, theft, and murder.”
“I am quit of that one any way. How call you it?”
“AVARICE, my son.”
“Avarice? Oh, as to that, I have been a saving man all my day; but I have kept a good table, and not altogether forgotten the poor. But, alas, I am a great sinner. Mayhap the next will catch me. What is the next?”
“We have not yet done with this one. Bethink thee, the Church is not to be trifled with.”
“Alas! am I in a condition to trifle with her now? Avarice? Avarice?”
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