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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Monk and Father
By Charles Reade (1814–1884)
 
From ‘The Cloister and the Hearth’

HE staggered to his den. “I am safe here,” he groaned: “she will never come near me again,—unmanly, ungrateful wretch that I am.” And he flung his emaciated, frozen body down on the floor, not without a secret hope that it might never rise thence alive.  1
  But presently he saw by the hour-glass that it was past midnight. On this, he rose slowly and took off his wet things; and moaning all the time at the pain he had caused her he loved, put on the old hermit’s cilice of bristles, and over that his breastplate. He had never worn either of these before, doubting himself worthy to don the arms of that tried soldier. But now he must give himself every aid: the bristles might distract his earthly remorse by bodily pain, and there might be holy virtue in the breastplate.  2
  Then he kneeled down and prayed God humbly to release him that very night from the burden of the flesh. Then he lighted all his candles, and recited his psalter doggedly: each word seemed to come like a lump of lead from a leaden heart, and to fall leaden to the ground; and in this mechanical office every now and then he moaned with all his soul. In the midst of which he suddenly observed a little bundle in the corner he had not seen before in the feebler light, and at one end of it something like gold spun into silk.  3
  He went to see what it could be; and he had no sooner viewed it closer, than he threw up his hands with rapture. “It is a seraph,” he whispered, “a lovely seraph. Heaven hath witnessed my bitter trial, and approves my cruelty; and this flower of the skies is sent to cheer me, fainting under my burden.”  4
  He fell on his knees, and gazed with ecstasy on its golden hair, and its tender skin, and cheeks like a peach.  5
  “Let me feast my sad eyes on thee ere thou leavest me for thine ever-blessed abode, and my cell darkens again at thy parting, as it did at hers.”  6
  With all this, the hermit disturbed the lovely visitor. He opened wide two eyes, the color of heaven; and seeing a strange figure kneeling over him, he cried piteously, “Mum-ma! Mum-ma!” And the tears began to run down his little cheeks.  7
  Perhaps, after all, Clement, who for more than six months had not looked on the human face divine, estimated childish beauty more justly than we can; and in truth, this fair Northern child, with its long golden hair, was far more angelic than any of our imagined angels. But now the spell was broken.  8
  Yet not unhappily. Clement, it may be remembered, was fond of children; and true monastic life fosters this sentiment. The innocent distress on the cherubic face, the tears that ran so smoothly from those transparent violets, his eyes, and his pretty, dismal cry for his only friend, his mother, went through the hermit’s heart. He employed all his gentleness and all his art to soothe him: and as the little soul was wonderfully intelligent for his age, presently succeeded so far that he ceased to cry out, and wonder took the place of fear; while in silence, broken only in little gulps, he scanned with great tearful eyes this strange figure that looked so wild but spoke so kindly, and wore armor, yet did not kill little boys, but coaxed them. Clement was equally perplexed to know how this little human flower came to lie sparkling and blooming in his gloomy cave. But he remembered he had left the door wide open; and he was driven to conclude that owing to this negligence, some unfortunate creature of high or low degree had seized this opportunity to get rid of her child for ever. At this his bowels yearned so over the poor deserted cherub, that the tears of pure tenderness stood in his eyes; and still, beneath the crime of the mother, he saw the Divine goodness which had, so directed her heartlessness as to comfort his servant’s breaking heart.  9
  “Now bless thee, bless thee, bless thee, sweet innocent, I would not change thee for e’en a cherub in heaven.”  10
  “At’s pooty,” replied the infant,—ignoring contemptuously, after the manner of infants, all remarks that did not interest him.  11
  “What is pretty here, my love, besides thee?”  12
  “Ookum-gars,” said the boy, pointing to the hermit’s breastplate.  13
  “Quot liberi, tot sententiunculæ!” Hector’s child screamed at his father’s glittering casque and nodding crest: and here was a mediæval babe charmed with a polished cuirass, and his griefs assuaged.  14
  “There are prettier things here than that,” said Clement; “there are little birds; lovest thou birds?”  15
  “Nay. Ay. En um ittle, ery ittle? Not ike torks. Hate torks; um bigger an baby.”  16
  He then confided, in very broken language, that the storks, with their great flapping wings, scared him, and were a great trouble and worry to him, darkening his existence more or less.  17
  “Ay, but my birds are very little, and good, and oh, so pretty!”  18
  “Den I ikes ’m,” said the child authoritatively. “I ont my mammy.”  19
  “Alas, sweet dove! I doubt I shall have to fill her place as best I may. Hast thou no daddy as well as mammy, sweet one?”…  20
  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.  21
  “Gerard, you do not reject us. You cannot.”  22
  The startled hermit glared from his nurseling to Margaret, and from her to him, in amazement equaled 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,—maternal pride.  23
  He stared and stared from the child to her, in throbbing amazement.  24
  “Us?” he gasped at last. And still his wonder-stricken eyes turned to and fro.  25
  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.”  26
  Clement trembled. “What words are these?” he stammered; “this angel mine?”  27
  “Whose else? since he is mine.”  28
  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.  29
  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 color 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 O 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.”  30
 
 
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