The Cloister and the Hearth is a Webnovel created by Charles Reade.
This lightnovel is currently completed.
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Read WebNovel The Cloister and the Hearth Part 157
He ran hastily in to scold her and pack both her and the boy out of the place.
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 Margaret.
Gerard ran up the stairs to her, and went to take her hand.
She drew back hastily.
He looked astounded.
“I am displeased,” said she, 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 precious life.”
“It is not so precious as thine,” said Gerard. “But let that pa.s.s; 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, dear Margaret?”
“Nay, then, we shall quarrel, Gerard.”
“Methinks I see Margaret and Gerard quarreling! 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 eye 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 abide, 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, trembling.
“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,” said she, 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. .h.i.ther 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; G.o.d 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,” said she, 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 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 G.o.d, 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.”
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