The Cloister and the Hearth Part 160

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And even with that word--he fell asleep.

They laid him out for his last resting-place.

Under his linen they found a horse-hair s.h.i.+rt. "Ah!" cried the young monks, "behold a saint!"

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

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

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

"How may I know, father?"

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

"Certes it may be," said Basil sceptically.

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

He then carried off the lock of hair.

[Ill.u.s.tration: THE DEATH OF GERARD]

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

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

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

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

Thus after life's fitful fever these true lovers were at peace. The grave, kinder to them than the Church, united them for ever: and now a man of another age and nation, touched with their fate, has laboured to build their tombstone, and rescue them from long and unmerited oblivion.

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

No, put this story to a wholesome use.

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

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

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

Beati sunt qui in Domino moriuntur.

FOOTNOTES:

[N] He was citing from Clement of Rome--

'?? d?' ?a?t?? d??a???e?a ??de d?a t?? ?ete?a? s?f?a?, ? e?see?a?, ?

e???? ?? ?ate???asae?a e? ?s??t?t? ?a?d?a?, a??a d?a t??

p?ste??.'----_Epist. ad Corinth._, i. 32.

[O] Celibacy of the Clergy, an invention truly fiendish.

CHAPTER CII

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

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

Cornelis, free from all rivals, and forgiven long ago by his mother, who clung to him more and more now all her brood was scattered, waited, and waited, and waited, for his parents' decease. But Catherine's shrewd word came true: ere she and her mate wore out, this worthy rusted away.

At sixty-five he lay dying of old age in his mother's arms, a hale woman of eighty-six. He had lain unconscious a while; but came to himself _in articulo mortis_, and seeing her near him, told her how he would transform the shop and premises as soon as they should be his. "Yes, my darling," said the poor old woman, soothingly; and in another minute he was clay: and that clay was followed to the grave by all the feet whose shoes he had waited for.

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

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

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

"Haec est parva domus natus qua magnus Erasmus";

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

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

The Cloister and the Hearth Part 160

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The Cloister and the Hearth Part 160 summary

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