Part 2 out of 2
passed was empty, the open door showed a fireless hearth. At the
second he knocked and heard a sound of scuffling within. As no one
answered his repeated summons he pushed the door open; the low room
was desolate, but two bright eyes peered at him from a corner,--
'twas a rat. Hilarius turned away, sudden fear at his heart, and
passed on, finding in each hovel only empty silence.
Apart from the rest, standing alone in a field, was a somewhat
larger cottage; a bush swung from the projecting pole above the
door: it was the ale-house that he sought; here, at least, he
would find some one. As he came up he heard a child crying, and
lo! on the doorstep sat a dirty little maid of some four summers,
sobbing away for dear life.
Hilarius approached diffidently, and stooped down to wipe away the
The child regarded him, round eyes, open mouth; then with a shrill
cry of joy, she held out her thin arms.
At the sound of her cry the door opened; on the threshold stood a
woman still young but haggard and weary-eyed; at her breast was a
little babe. She stared at Hilarius, and then pulling the child to
her in the doorway, waved him away.
"Stand off, fool!--'tis the Plague."
Hilarius shrank back.
"And thy neighbours?" he asked.
"Nay, they were light-footed eno' when they saw what was to do, and
left us three to die like rats in a hole." Then eagerly: "Hast
thou any bread?"
He shook his head.
"Nay, I came here seeking some. Art thou hungry?"
She threw out her hands.
"'Tis two days sin' I had bite or sup."
"Where lies the nearest village? and how far?"
"A matter of an hour, over yonder."
"See, goodwife," said Hilarius, "I will go buy thee food and come
She looked at him doubtfully.
"So said another, and he never came back."
"Nay, but perchance some evil befell him," said gentle Hilarius.
"Well, I will trust thee." She went in and returned with a few
small coins. "'Tis all I have. Tell no man whence thou art, else
they will hunt thee from their doors."
Hilarius nodded, took the money, and ran as fast as he could go in
the direction of the village.
The woman watched him.
"Is it fear or love that lends him that pace?" she muttered, as she
sat down to wait.
It was love.
Hilarius entered the village discreetly, and adding the little
money he had to the woman's scanty store, bought bread, a flask of
wine, flour and beans, and a jug of milk.
"'Tis for a sick child," he said when he asked for it, and the
woman pushed back the money, bidding him God-speed.
The return journey was accomplished much more slowly, because of
his precious burden; and as he crossed a field, there, dead in a
snare, lay a fine coney.
"Now hath Our Lady herself had thought for the poor mother!" cried
Hilarius joyously, and added it to his store.
When he reached the cottage, and the woman saw the food, she broke
into loud weeping, for her need had been great; then, as if giving
up the struggle to another and a stronger, she sank on the bed with
her fast-failing babe in her arms.
Hilarius fed her carefully with bread and wine--not for nothing had
he served the Infirmarian when blood-letting had proved too severe
for some weak Brother--and then turned his attention to the little
maid who sat patient, eyeing the food.
For her, bread and milk. He sat down on a low stool, and taking
the child on his knee slowly supplied the gaping, bird-like mouth.
At last the little maid heaved a sigh of content, leant her flaxen
head against her nurse's shoulder, and fell fast asleep.
Hilarius, cradling her carefully in gentle arms, crooned softly to
her, thrilling with tenderness. She was his own, his little
sister, the child he had found and saved. Surely Our Lady had
guided him to her, and her great Mother-love would shield this
little one from a foul and horrid death. In that dirty, neglected
room, the child warm against his breast, Hilarius lived the
happiest moments of his life.
Presently he rose, for there was much to be done, kissed the little
pale cheek, noted fearfully the violet shadows under the closed
eyes, and laid his new-found treasure on the bed by her mother.
The woman was half-asleep, but started awake.
"Art thou going?" she said, and despair gazed at him from her eyes.
"Nay, nay, surely not until we all go together," he said
soothingly. "I would but kindle a fire, for the cold is bitter."
Wood was plentiful, and soon a bright fire blazed on the hearth.
The poor woman, heartened by her meal, rose and came to sit by it,
and stretching out her thin hands to the grateful warmth, told her
"'Twas Gammer Harden's son who first heard tell of a strange new
sickness at Caxton's; and then Jocell had speech with a herd from
those parts, who was fleeing to a free town, because of some ill he
had done. Next day Jocell fell sick with vomitings, and bleeding,
and breaking out of boils, and in three days he lay dead; and
Gammer Harden fell sick and died likewise. Then one cried 'twas
the Plague, and the wrath of God; and they fled--the women to the
nuns at Bungay, and the men to seek work or shelter on the Manor;
but us they left, for I was with child."
"And thy husband?' said Hilarius.
"Nay, he was not my husband, but these are his children, his and
mine. Some hold 'tis a sin to live thus, and perhaps because of it
this evil hath fallen upon me."
She looked at the babe lying on her lap, its waxen face drawn and
shrunk with the stress of its short life.
Hilarius spoke gently:-
"It is indeed a grievous sin against God and His Church to live
together out of holy wedlock, and perchance 'tis true that for this
very thing thou hast been afflicted, even as David the great King.
But since thou didst sin ignorantly the Lord in His mercy sent me
to serve thee in thy sore need; ay, and in very truth, Our Lady
herself showed me where the coney lay snared. Let us pray God by
His dear Mother to forgive us our sins and to have mercy on these
And kneeling there in the firelight he besought the great Father
for his new-found family.
Five days passed, and despite extreme care victuals were short.
Hilarius dug up roots from the hedgerows, and went hungry, but at
last the pinch came; the woman was too weak and ill to walk, the
babe scarce in life--there could be no thought of flight--and the
little maid grew white, and wan and silent. Then it came to
Hilarius that he would once again beg food in the village where he
had sought help before.
He went slowly, for he had eaten little that his maid might be the
better fed, and he was very sad. When he reached the village he
found his errand like to be vain. News of the Plague was coming
from many parts, and each man feared for his own skin. At every
house they questioned him: "Art thou from a hamlet where the
Plague hath been?" and when he answered "Yea," the door was shut.
Very soon men, angry and afraid, came to drive him from the place.
He gained the village cross, and prayed them for love of the
Saviour and His holy Rood to give him bread for his little maid and
her mother. Let them set it in the street, he would take it and
cross no man's threshold. Surely they could not; for shame, let a
little child die of want?
"Nay, 'tis better they die, so are we safe," cried a voice; then
they fell upon him and beat him, and drove him from the village
with blows and curses.
Bruised and panting, he ran from them, and at last the chase
ceased; breathless and exhausted he flung himself under a hedge.
A hawk swooped, struck near him, and rose again with its prey.
Hilarius shuddered; but perhaps the hawk had nestlings waiting
open-mouthed for food? His little maid! His eyes filled with
tears as he thought of those who awaited him. He picked up a
stone, and watched if perchance a coney might show itself. He had
never killed, but were not his nestlings agape?
Nothing stirred, but along the road came a waggon of strange shape
and gaily painted.
He rose to his feet, praying the great Mother to send him help in
his awful need.
The waggon drew near; the driver sat asleep upon the shaft, the
horse took his own pace. It passed him before he could pluck up
heart to ask an alms, and from the back dangled a small sack and a
hen. If he begged and was refused his little maid must die. A
minute later the sack and the hen had changed owners--but not
unobserved; a clear voice called a halt; the waggon stood fast; two
figures sprang out, a girl and a boy: and Hilarius stood before
them on the white highway--a thief.
"Seize the knave!" cried the girl sharply.
Hilarius stared at her and she at him. It was his dancer, and she
knew him, ay, despite the change of dress and scene, she knew him.
"What! The worthy novice turned worldling and thief! Nay, 'tis a
rare jest. What of thy fine sermons now, good preacher?"
But Hilarius answered never a word; overcome by shame, grief, and
hunger, sudden darkness fell upon him.
When he came to himself he was sitting propped against the hedge;
the waggon was drawn up by the roadside, and the dancer and her
brother stood watching him.
"Fetch bread and wine," said the girl, and to Hilarius who tried to
speak, "Peace, 'til thou hast eaten."
Hilarius ate eagerly, and when he had made an end the dancer said:-
"Now tell thy tale. Prithee, since when didst thou leave thy
Saints and thy nursery for such an ill trade as this?"
Hilarius told her all, and when he had finished he wept because of
his little maid, and his were not the only tears.
The dancer went to the waggon and came back with much food taken
from her store, to which she added the hen; the sack held but
"But, Gia," grumbled her brother, "there will be naught for us to-
"Thou canst eat bread, or else go hungry," she retorted, and filled
a small sack with the victuals.
Hilarius watched her, hardly daring to hope. She held it out to
him: "Now up and off to thy little maid."
Hilarius took the sack, but only to lay it down again. Kneeling,
he took both her little brown hands, and his tears fell fast as he
"Maid, maid, canst forgive my theft, ay, and my hard words in the
forest? God help me for a poor, blind fool!"
"Nay," she answered, "there is naught to forgive; and see, thou
hast learnt to hunger and to love! Farewell, little brother, we
pass here again a fortnight hence, and I would fain have word of
thy little maid. Ay, and shouldst thou need a home for her, bring
her to us; my old grandam is in the other waggon and she will care
Hilarius ran across the fields, full of sorrow for his sin, and yet
greatly glad because of the wonderful goodness of God.
When he got back his little maid sat alone by the fire. He
hastened to make food ready, but the child was far spent and would
scarcely eat. Then he went out to find the woman.
He saw her standing in the doorway of an empty hovel, and she cried
to him to keep back.
"My babe is dead, and I feel the sickness on me. I went to the
houses seeking meal, even to Gammer Harden's; and I must die. As
for thee, thou shalt not come near me, but bide with the child; so
maybe God will spare the innocent."
Hilarius besought her long that she would at least suffer him to
bring her food, but she would not.
"Nay, I could not eat, the fever burns in my bones; let me alone
that I may die the sooner."
Hilarius went back with a heavy heart, and lay that night with the
little maid in his arms on the settle by the hearth. Despite his
fear he slept heavily and late: when he rose the sun was high and
the child awake.
He fed her, and, bidding her bide within, went out to gain tidings
of the poor mother. He called, but no one answered; and the door
of the hovel in which she had taken shelter stood wide. Then, as
he searched the fields, fearing the fever had driven her abroad, he
saw the flutter of garments in a ditch; and lo! there lay the
woman, dead, with her dead babe on her breast. She had lain down
to die alone with God in the silence, that haply the living might
escape; and on her face was peace.
Later, Hilarius laid green boughs tenderly over mother and babe,
and covered them with earth, saying many prayers. Then he went
back to his fatherless, motherless maid.
She ailed naught that he could see, and there was food and to
spare; but each day saw her paler and thinner, until at last she
could not even sit, but lay white and silent in Hilarius' tender
arms; and he fought with death for his little maid.
Then on a day she would take no food, and when Hilarius put tiny
morsels in her mouth she could not swallow; and so he sat through
the long hours, his little maid in his arms, with no thought
beside. The darkness came, and he waited wide-eyed, praying for
the dawn. When the new day broke and the east was pale with light
he carried the child out that he might see her, for a dreadful fear
possessed him. And it came to pass that when the light kissed her
little white face she opened her eyes and smiled at Hilarius, and
so smiling, died.
The dancer, true to her promise, scanned the road as the waggon
drew near the place of Hilarius' first and last theft: he was
standing by the wayside alone. The waggon passed on carrying him
with it; and the dancer looked but once on his face and asked no
PART III--THE FRUIT
CHAPTER I--HOW LONG, O LORD, HOW LONG!
The Monastery by the forest pursued an even existence, with no
great event to trouble its serenity, for it lay too far west for
the Plague to be more than a terrible name.
True, there had been dissension when Prior Stephen, summoned to
Cluny by the Abbat, had perforce left the dominion to the Sub-
Prior. For lo! the Sub-Prior, a mild and most amiable man in his
own estate, had proved harsh and overbearing in government. Ay,
and in an irate mood he had fallen upon Brother William, the
Sacrist, in the Frater, plucked out his hair and beaten him sore;
whereat the Convent was no little scandalized, and counselled
Brother William to resign his office. He flouted the Chamberlain
also, and Brother Roger the Hospitaller, and so affronted the
Brethren that when he began to sing the Verba mea on leaving the
chapter, the Convent--yea, even the novices--were silent, to show
When Prior Stephen returned he was exceeding wroth, but said
little; only he took from the Sub-Prior his office, and all that
appertained thereto, and made him as one of the other monks; and
Brother William, who was a gentle and devout servant of God, he
made Sub-Prior in his stead; and the Convent was at peace.
Brother Ambrose, he to whom the vision was vouchsafed, had slipped
through the grey veil which once hid Jerusalem from his longing
gaze; Brother Richard was now in the land where the blind receive
their sight; and Brother Thomas the Cellarer--but of him let us say
little and think with charity; for 'tis to be feared that he
greatly abused his office and is come to judgment.
Two of the older monks, Brother Anselm and Brother Paul, who had
spent fifty years in the sheltered peace of the Monastery walls,
sat warming their tired old limbs in the south cloister, for the
summer sunshine was very pleasant to them.
"Since Brother Thomas died--" began Brother Paul.
"The Lord have mercy on his soul!" ejaculated Brother Anselm.
"Since Brother Thomas died," said Brother Paul again--a little
impatiently, though he crossed himself piously enough--"methinks
the provisions have oft been scanty and far from tempting,
"Ay, and the wine," said Brother Anselm. "Methinks our Cellarer
draws the half of it from the Convent's well."
They shook their heads sadly.
"No doubt," said Brother Anselm after a short silence, "our
Cellarer is most worthy, strict, and honest in the performance of
his office--while Brother Thomas, alack--"
"Methinks Brother Edmund is somewhat remiss also in his duties,"
said Brother Paul. "The Prior, holy man, perceives nothing of
these things. On Sunday's feast one served him with a most
unsavoury mess in the refectory, the dish thereof being black and
broken; yet he ate the meat in great content, and seemingly with
"He is but young, he is but young--sixty come Michaelmas--sixty,
and twenty-two years Prior--'tis a long term," and Brother Anselm
nodded his head.
"Ay, he is still young, and of sound teeth," said Brother Paul,
"whereas thou and I, Brother, are as babes needing pap-meat.
Brother Thomas--God rest his soul!--was wont to give savoury mess
easy of eating to the elder Brethren."
"Ay, he was a kind man with all his faults," said Brother Anselm,
fingering his toothless gums. "Think you 'twould be well to speak
of this matter to the Prior?"
"Nay, nay," said the other, "he is ever against any store being set
on the things of this world--''tis well for the greater discipline
of the flesh,' so saith he ever. Still he hath forbidden the
blood-letting to us elder Brethren."
"Methinks there is little to let, since Brother Thomas died," said
Brother Anselm ruefully.
"Nay, then, let us seek out the Cellarer and admonish him--maybe he
will hear a word in season," and the two old monks moved slowly
away to the Cellarer's office as Prior Stephen came down the
He looked little older, his carriage was upright as ever, but
government sat heavy upon him; the keen, ascetic face was weary,
and the line of the lips showed care. His thoughts were busy with
Hilarius. It was now full six years that the lad had left the
Monastery, and since the Christmas after his going no news had come
of him, save that he never reached St Alban's. Had the Plague
gathered him as it gathered many another well-beloved son? Or had
the awakening proved too sudden for the lad set blind-eyed without
He passed from the cloister into the garth where bloomed the lilies
that Hilarius had loved so well. He looked at the row of nameless
graves with the great Rood for their common memorial; last but one
lay the resting-place of Brother Richard, and the blind monk's
dying speech had been of the lad whose face he had strained his
eyes to see.
Prior Stephen stood by the farmery door, and the scent of Mary's
flowers came to him as it had come to Hilarius at the gate. He
stretched out his hands with the strange pathetic gesture of a
strong man helpless. It was all passing fair: the fields of pale
young corn trembling in the gentle breeze; the orchards and
vineyards with fast maturing fruit; the meadows where the sleek
kine browsed languidly in the warm summer sunshine. Peace and
prosperity everywhere; the old Church springing into new beauty as
the spire rose slowly skywards; peace and prosperity, new glories
for the House of the Lord; and yet, and yet, his heart ached for
his own helplessness, and for the exceeding longing that he had for
the boy whose mother once held that heart in the hollow of her
Ah well, blessed be God who had called him from the things of this
world to the service of Christ and the Church! Once again he
offered himself in the flame of his desires: he would fast and
pray and wait.
The Office bell sounded sharp and clear across the still summer air
calling to Vespers, and the Prior hasted to his place.
"Qui seminant in lachrymis in exultatione metent," chanted the deep
voices of the monks, and Prior Stephen's voice trembled as he
joined in the Psalmody.
"Euntes ibant et flebant mittentes semina sua. Venientes autem
venient cum exultatione portantes manipulos suos."
He had sown in tears, ay, and was weary of the sowing; but the
harvesting was not yet.
CHAPTER II--MARY'S LILIES
It came to pass upon a certain day scarce a se'nnight later, that
Prior Stephen was troubled in his mind by reason of a dream which
came to him.
It happened on this wise. He was sitting by his window after the
noon repast, musing, as he was wont, on his dear son. The song of
the bees busy in the herb-garden was very pleasant to his ear, the
warm, still air overcame him, and he slept. Suddenly he heard a
voice calling--a voice he knew in every fibre of his being and yet
could set no name to, for it was the voice of God. He arose in
haste and went out into the garth, and lo! under the lilies
Hilarius lay sleeping. The Prior stood fast in great wonder, his
heart leaping for joy; yet he could not cross the little piece of
grass that lay between the cloister and the farmery door.
As he watched, a woman, light of foot and of great beauty, came
swiftly from the gate to where Hilarius slept; and the Prior was
grieved, and marvelled that the porter had opened to such an one;
for it was a grave scandal that a woman should set foot within the
Monastery precincts. He strove to cry, but his voice died on his
lips, and his feet were as lead.
The woman stayed when she came to the sleeping lad, and stooped to
arouse him, but he slept on. She called him, and her voice was as
the calling of the summer sea on a shelving beach; but Hilarius
gave no heed. Then, in great impatience, she caught at the white
lilies under which he lay; and, as she broke the flower-crowned
stems, Hilarius stirred and cried out in his sleep, whereat she
plucked the faster. Of a sudden Prior Stephen was as one set free.
He strode to the woman's side: there was but one lily left. He
laid his hand on her shoulder, for speech was still far from him:
and she fell back from the one remaining blossom with a cry of
fear--and Prior Stephen awoke, for behold! it was a dream; but he
was sore troubled.
"Maybe," said he, "evil threatens the lad, such evil as slew his
mother, on whom God have mercy!" And sighing heavily he took his
way to the great Rood and made supplication for his son.
Far away, under a southern sky, in one of the great palaces of
Florence, there stood a woman of fair stature, with tight-clenched
hands, whose many jewels bit the tender flesh. Her russet eyes
flashed under threatening brows, her teeth held fast the curling
upper lip. Great, alack! was her fame: men crept to her knee like
spaniels craving favour. Great was her wealth: a golden piece for
every ruddy strand that hung a shimmering mantle to her knee. Her
beauty--nay, men had slain themselves gladly to escape the torment
of her look. She stood in the curtained doorway, a heavy purple
hanging at her back; and the man who awaited her paled as he saw
her vengeful face.
It was Hilarius. He drew himself up to the full of his slender
height, and bowed.
Panting a little, the woman came towards him across the many-hued
marble floors; and, as she passed, a vase of great white lilies
caught in her draperies of cramoisie and fell. She gave no heed,
but swept on, and faced him in the sunny silence. Across the pause
the Angelus sounded from a church hard by: Hilarius crossed
himself devoutly; and the stillness fled before a woman's scornful
"Nay, then, Signor," she cried mockingly, "is ours to be a war of
signs and silence? I have heard thy lips were ready enough with
judgment, though they halt at a love-phrase. By Our Lady, if all
that is said of thee be true, I will e'en have thee whipped at the
gibbet for thy gibes! Speak, fool, while thy tongue is left thee;
'tis a last asking. Wilt thou paint this face of mine that is, it
seems, so little to thy liking? Strain not my patience over much--
'tis a slender cord at best, and somewhat tried already. Speak, is
it yea or nay?"
Hilarius looked away to where Mary's flowers lay bruised and
scattered on the flag of blood-red marble; his answer came low and
"'It is nay.'"
She thrust her head forward, and looked at him wondering; there was
a stain where her teeth had been busy.
"'It is nay,'" she repeated after him, and her eyes mocked him.
"May a poor Princess ask the Signor's reason?"
Hilarius pointed past her to the fallen lilies.
"It lies there."
For an instant the hot colour splashed the angry whiteness of her
cheek; then, pale to the lips, she turned on him; and she stammered
in her wrath:-
"And dost thou--dost thou dare, say this to my face--to me, who
stooped to ask when I had but to command? I, with my unmatched
beauty; I, who hold the hearts of men in thrall to the lifting of
my eyes; I, to whom men kneel as to their God! Art thou mad, mad,
that thou canst set aside such a behest as mine? 'Tis small wonder
men say thy doublet hides a monkish dress; of a truth the tale they
brought savoured of little else. Hear me, thou prating, milk-faced
Modesty, I choose that thou shalt limn this face of mine: say me
nay, and I will teach thee a lesson hard of forgetting; for I will
silence thy preaching for aye, and lend my serving-men to whip thee
through the streets. Men, said I? Nay, thou art too much a cur to
make fit sport for men: rather my maids shall wield the rod and
lace thy shoulders."
She flung herself on a low couch by the open window, where the
peacocks on the terrace strutted in the sun; and Hilarius waited,
dumb as the dog to which she had likened him, for he had no word.
There was silence a while.
Then the Princess spoke, and her voice cut Hilarius like the sting
of a lash:-
"Bring me yon flowers."
"Set them at my feet."
He bent his knee and did so, wondering.
A moment, and she trod them under; their dying fragrance filled the
air, as their living breath had flooded the senses of the blind-
eyed lad at the Monastery gate.
One by one she set her heel upon the blossoms, and the marble was
yellow with stolen gold.
Hilarius held his breath; it was as if she did to death some living
thing, and yet he dared not bid her stay her insolent feet.
It was done; and she looked at him under questioning brows.
"So much for thy lilies! Dost still think that it will soil thy
brush to limn such an one as I? I, whom men call the Queen of
Love--but thy lips, say they, burnt with another name! Bethink
thee, faint heart, there is not a man in all this city but would
count death a small price to pay for my favours; and I ask of thee
one little service, and thou shalt name thine own reward. Surely
'tis churlish to gainsay!"
Her voice was suddenly sweet.
Stooping, she gathered to her the destruction she had wrought,
fingering the fallen petals tenderly, with a little sigh. She
glanced up at Hilarius through her lashes' net. "Maybe I was over
hasty," she said softly, and a sob swelled the round of her
wonderful throat--"and yet how couldst thou call me wanton?" Her
mouth drooped a little--she was very fair.
"Art thou still minded to set these poor pale flowers against the
roses in love's garden? For I love thee," she added, and then
suddenly she was still.
Hilarius looked from the dead flowers to the woman in her over-
mastering beauty, and all at once the passion that lies hid in the
heart of every man leapt to his lips. He desired this woman as he
had never before desired aught in all the world, and he knew, to
his shame, that she was his for the asking. The blood thudded and
rang in his veins; he feasted his eyes on the curve of her neck and
the radiance of her sun-swept hair. He stretched out his hands,
but ere he could speak she raised a white, terrified face, and
glanced over her shoulder.
"Who touched me?" she gasped, her voice shrill with fear, "who
touched me?" And she sprang to her feet.
There was no one: the two shared a common pallor as they stared
into each other's eyes across the dying lilies. Hilarius shrank
back and covered his face with his hands. Clear and distinct he
heard the Prior's voice: "A light woman--a light woman."
Then the Princess said hoarsely, "Go, go;" and without word or look
The Prior rose from his knees comforted. He had wrestled with the
devil for his son's soul, and knew that he had prevailed.
CHAPTER III--OPEN EYES AT THE GATE
Another year wrote its record on forest and field. The weeks
passed; summer sped to autumn, the ripe corn bowed to the sickle.
The Convent's lands were rich and heavy, virgin soil reclaimed; and
the Prior, watching the last great wain piled high with wealth of
golden treasure, saw the porter coming to him.
Now the porter was stout, short of breath, and of a hasty spirit;
and the Prior knew something was amiss by reason of his hurried
gait and wrathful countenance.
"Domine," he gasped, "Domine, there is a ragged man at the gate, a
vagabond by his own showing, and he craves speech of thee. I bade
him go to the guest-house, but he will not budge, and hath waited
already an hour despite my--"
The porter stayed, staring; he spoke to the wind; the Prior was
already halfway to the gate.
"This my son was dead and is alive again," sang his heart. The
porter, afraid, hasted after him with the keys, and had scarce time
to do his office ere the sunburnt vagabond was clasped in the
Prior's arms. It was a harvesting indeed.
That night Hilarius went across to the Prior's house to tell the
tale of his journeyings. He found him seated in a great oak chair
by the open window; the sky was ablaze with stars, and the flame of
the oil lamp jarred like a splash of yellow paint on the moonlight
which flooded the room; the Prior's eyes smiled measureless
content, and the murmured "Laus Deo" of his lips voiced the
gladness of his heart. Thus, in the shelter of peace and a great
love, Hilarius told his tale, while the forest waved a welcome to
him over the Monastery wall, and the late lilies burned white in
the garth below.
The Prior sat with his chin in his hand, his eyes fixed on the
lad's face, pale against the dark wainscot; and Hilarius told of
his journeyings, and all that befell, even as it hath been recorded
in this chronicle; and the Prior's eyes were wet as he heard of the
"And then, my son?" said the Prior.
"Then, my Father, I companied with the caravan folk as far as the
sea-coast; and, leaving them there, went overseas in the train of
my lord Bishop Robert Walter of Norwich, who was hasting to Rome.
He knew thee, my Father, and bade his people supply my needs."
"Ay, he knows me," said the Prior briefly. "The Lord reward him
according to his works, but show him mercy forasmuch as he had
compassion on my son!"
"Then saw I Rome, my Father, that great and beauteous city full of
treasure and many wonders; only the Holy Father I did not see,
being let. Methinks life in that country is as one long pageant;
but I marked that great holiness and an evil life, much riches and
much penury, dwelt there side by side, and men reeked little of
death but much of pleasure. Then one bade me go to Florence an I
would be a limner; therefore I hasted thither, and gave my last
coin for bread as I entered the city."
The Prior's brows contracted; the lad had seen some schooling.
"But thou didst learn to be a limner, my son?"
"Ay, my Father, in God's time: at first I must herd goats and sell
melons in the market-place for a lump of bread. Day by day I
strove to gain enough to buy colours, but could not, for the Lord
sent me ever a neighbour poorer than myself. Nevertheless I was of
good courage, knowing the Lord's ways are not as ours; and mindful
how Brother Ambrose held that inasmuch as the Heavenly City is laid
with fair colours 'twere no sin to deem that a man may limn perfect
pictures there, for the gift is from the Lord."
"My son, 'tis a great lesson thou hast learnt," said the Prior,
"for the Word was made Flesh; and as Blessed John hath it, a man
cannot love God unseen, if he love not the brother whom He hath
given him. What next, dear lad?"
"My Father, the Lord Himself sent a messenger to me. One day a
great limner, the Signor Andrea di Cione, whom men call d'Orcagna,
stayed by me where I stood with my melons in the shadow of the
Shepherd's Tower, and bade me follow him to his house, for he would
fain use me for an angel's head in the great Altar-piece he was
e'en then concerned with for the Church of the White Friars. Later
he heard my story; and when he found I had some small skill with
the brush, he kept me with him, and taught me as only such an one
can teach: him I served five years. And many times Satan desired
my soul; nay, once I was in peril of hell-fire, but the Lord was
with me, and plucked my feet out of the pit. But of that I will
speak anon, at my shriving, as is meet."
The Prior remembered his dream, but he said no word, and Hilarius
took up his tale.
"Then one day my master cried there was an end to teaching;
nevertheless he would have me bide with him in honour for the work.
But my heart was full of longing for home and the scent of the
forest; and, above all, for thee, my Father; therefore I set my
face north, that I might bring back my gift to St Benedict and our
Church; and should have been here long ere this, but I was let by
The Prior looked up a little anxiously, and Hilarius smiled at the
question in his face.
"'Tis a lawless tract, my Father, under the shadow of the great
mountains beyond Florence; and I was taken by robbers, who bore me
and others of our company to their fastness in the hills: there I
lay in a little cave many days; but what befell the rest I know
not. The robbers brought me forth to serve them, and by God's
mercy handled me kindly, though they thought little of
"Then one of them was troubled in his spirit, and minded to forsake
this evil manner of life. Therefore one night he fled, carrying me
with him, when the others had gone forth; and we made good our way
to Mantua. There Pietro, for so was the robber called, left me
that he might give himself to the service of God and men, inasmuch
as he had formerly abused them. Never saw I man so changed, my
Father; his speech, formerly profane, was all of God and the
Saints; he did penance and confessed his sins publicly; ay, by the
Justice's order he received one hundred lashes in the market-place,
and at every lash he cried with upturned face, 'Deo Gratias!' And
I was there, because he besought of me to stand in the crowd and
pray for him that his courage failed not. But it came to pass that
even the people marvelled at his joyful endurance; and indeed 'twas
more like a scourging of one of the blessed martyrs than of a poor
sinful robber. After this the Brothers of the Poor took him, for
such was his desire; and so I bade him farewell, and craved his
"The Lord fulfil all his mind!" said the Prior with clasped hands.
"Amen," said Hilarius.
"Didst thou not fear to journey further alone, my son?"
"Nay, my Father, I found for the most part good and kindly men by
the way, despite their somewhat evil seeming; but at Genoa I took
service with a merchant then beginning his journey, and travelled
with him through Flanders, a strange, flat country with many canals
and tall poplar trees; and so we came to Bruges in safety, after a
most prosperous course. There he commended me to a good friend of
his, a wool merchant travelling to Salisbury; and at first all
things went well with us; but later the winds proved contrary, and
we were driven hither and thither in great peril of our lives, but
at last made the Bristol Channel, and so came safe into port.
Thence I have come hither afoot begging my bread."
When Hilarius had made an end, the Prior took him in his arms and
blessed him for his dear son; praising God that the lad had come
back a child at heart, but hungering, loving, open-eyed.
Next morning, being shriven, Hilarius ate the bread and drank the
wine of the "wayfaring man," his heart merry for the joy of his
home-coming. When the Lady-Mass was ended he knelt on in her
"Great Light of Love, all praise and thanks be thine from thy poor
son," sang his heart; and then he prayed for his little maid.
CHAPTER IV--THE PASSING OF PRIOR STEPHEN
The Convent welcomed Hilarius gladly, and on the Feast of St
Michael he made his profession, for the Prior deemed that he had
served his noviciate and been found faithful; and the Brethren
assented eagerly, for they were fain to keep this wondrous limner
for the service of their own Church.
Then, by the Prior's command, Hilarius set himself to limn a great
picture for the High Altar. It was a Crucifixion, and all his
heart and all his love were in it. When the Brethren first saw the
fair proportion and fine colours that Hilarius brought to the work,
they rejoiced in that their Church should be glorified above other
Churches of the Order; but when the picture was near completing,
and they gazed up into the wondrous face of the Great King who
looked down from the throne of His triumphant suffering, with a
world of hunger and love in His eyes for those who had so enthroned
Him, they hung their heads for shame because of the emulation in
their hearts; and lo! the Cellarer, for very love, was careful for
the needs of the elder Brethren; and the monks, for very love, laid
hold gladly of suffering, and so the Convent was blessed, and lived
together in unity.
In one of the groups very near the Cross, Hilarius set a grey-eyed
girl, a woman with a babe at the breast, and clinging to her
skirts, a little flaxen-headed maid. None but the Prior knew the
meaning of these three, and their names, with that of a poor light-
o'-love, were ever on his lips when he offered the Holy Sacrifice.
Gentle Brother Hilarius painted and loved, and was beloved of all
his world. The years sped, and he became in turn Almoner, Novice-
master, and Sub-Prior: and no man envied him, for he reckoned
himself ever as least of all and servant of all.
Prior Stephen attained his fourscore years, ruling the Convent
wisely and well to the very end: ay, and never ailed aught, his
call coming as it might be straight from the mouth of the Lord.
On the Feast of Blessed Stephen he went into the chapter and said
as always: "The souls of the deceased brethren and believers rest
in peace!" to which the Convent replied, "Amen." Then with his
hands raised to bless he cried, "Benedicite," and again with loud
and joyful voice "Domine," and again, "Domine!" as of one who
answers to his name--and so passed to his place in the Kingdom of
The Convent elected Hilarius to be Prior in his stead, which
election the Abbat of Cluny confirmed with good grace.
Time passed, and the fame of the Monastery grew because of the
exceeding beauty of the Church, for Hilarius, with those whom he
taught, set fair pictures on the walls, and blazoned the roof with
the blue of heaven and gold of the wakeful stars. In the span over
the High Altar he set Blessed Benedict himself with the face of
Prior Stephen, and round him the angel virtues; even as one Giotto,
a shepherd lad, had limned them in the Church of the Little
Now Prior Hilarius desired greatly to set a picture of Our Lady
above the Altar in her Chapel. Long did he pray with ever-
increasing fervour and much fasting that this boon might be
vouchsafed him for her glory and the Convent's greater good. And
one day--'twas her Nativity--he set his hand to the work, for it
seemed to him that she would have it so; and he was greatly humbled
that such heavenly kindness should attend so vile a sinner. Day by
day he set apart some hours for this service; and he limned a face
so fair and radiant, with woman's love and light of heaven, that it
was whispered in the cloister walks that the Prior had surely been
blessed by a vision, else had he never pictured the Maid-Mother in
so wondrous a fashion: and of a truth a man might well give
credence to such a story, for the joy that shone in the Prior's
eyes and might not be hid.
Many other tales did the Brethren tell of Hilarius, but softly, for
he would hear no word of his own deeds or the favours vouchsafed
When he walked in the garth the pigeons circled round him crooning
their peace-note; and it was told that the kine in the meadows
ceased browsing when he passed, and needs must company with him a
Once it befell that a lay-brother was afflicted with heavy sickness
by reason of the sun's great heat; and Satan strove with him for
his undoing, so that the poor soul foamed at the mouth and roared
out blasphemy; yea, verily, and must be held with cords also, lest
he do himself or his fellows some grievous hurt. But when the
Prior laid his hand between the man's troubled eyes sweet sleep
came upon him, and his madness forsook him.
The poor also crowded to the Monastery gate and were fed, ay, even
if the Brethren went hungry; and if any man in all the villages
round had aught against his neighbour he would come to the Prior
for a just hearing.
Nevertheless, despite these things the Convent's peace began to be
troubled. Men sought the Monastery for its famous name, caring but
little for religion; there were many young novices within its
walls, and the strong hand of Prior Stephen was lacking. Hilarius
was of gentler build; he would speak ever in love, thinking no
evil, whereas it is not given to all men to understand that tongue.
So it came to pass that the younger Brethren waxed fat and kicked,
and the elder Brethren murmured.
CHAPTER V--"GABRIEL, MAKE THIS MAN TO UNDERSTAND THE VISION."--DAN.
One day the Novice-master, Brother Adam, a most worthy man, came in
sore trouble to the Prior and would resign his office.
"Surely never before did such an ill-conditioned brood find shelter
in a monastery!" he cried. "They grow fat, idle, insolent,
quarrelsome-never at peace among themselves; never a Pater or an
Ave too many, or a task fulfilled, save for fear of stripes. I
would that the time of blood-letting were here that their high
stomachs might be brought low. I am no longer young, my Father,
and this burden tries me sorely. Prithee, let it be shifted to
another and a stronger back."
The Prior listened with many an inward mea culpa. "'Tis a sad
hearing, Brother Adam, but young blood is hard of mastering; maybe
this ill mood will pass. The lad Robert is surely ever gentle and
decorous? He hath a most beauteous voice."
The Novice-master threw up his hands.
"Nay, Father, nay, he hath indeed the voice of an angel, but
methinks his body is surely the habitation of Satan. He will sing
an it please him--or when thou art by, my Father,--but, an it
please him not, he is silent; ay, even under grievous stripes. The
Precentor giveth him as negligent and ill-conditioned; and in
choir, when he looketh most like to one of God's Saints, he is but
plotting mischief for the day."
The Prior heard him sadly.
"And Hubert?" he said. "Hubert methinks hath a great love of
colour and a fine hand with the brush."
Brother Adam was almost speechless.
"Hubert! Nay Father, forgive me, Father, but even this very Hubert
but yesterday slipped a handful of pebbles into Brother Edmund's
mess, whereby he was like to break his teeth or take some more
grievous hurt. And indeed the peace of the Brethren is much
troubled, wherefore they complain bitterly."
"Young blood, young blood, but not of necessity evil," said the
Prior. Then, seeing the Novice-master's aggrieved face, he bade
him have patience yet a little, for he himself would speak to the
novices; and with this Brother Adam must fain be content.
The next day in the Chapter the Prior spoke.
It comes to pass oftentimes that men seeing a sign are made curious
by it; and then forgetting, find the clue thereto, it may be, long
after. Even thus it happened on this day in the Chapter; and when
Prior Hilarius was gathered to his rest the Brethren remembered how
they had marked and marvelled at the strange beauty of his face,
the beauty as of one who sees the face of the Lord.
"My children," he cried--"for my children ye are, though I see
among you many it were more fitting I should hail as father, but
that the ruling of the Lord cannot be gainsaid--my children, I am
minded to think that I have this day a message on my lips that is
not mine own.
"Last night a vision came to me as I slept. Blessed Benedict, our
Father, stood at my side, and his face was troubled.
"'Arise, my son,' he cried, 'arise, for the Lord is at hand and
hath need of thee.'
"And I, deeming it was of judgment that he spake, sprang up in
shame and fear that the Master should find me sleeping.
"Then cried Blessed Benedict again:-
"'If thou wilt serve the Lord, make haste, for He hath called thee
these many times,' and so saying passed from my sight.
"Brethren, I went forth as one bewildered, and made haste to the
Church lest peradventure I should find Him; but the lamps burnt dim
and all was silent. Then I turned aside and went out into the
night, and it was very dark, with no sound but the wind in the
"My heart was a-hungered, and I sought in cloister and garth; and
as I hasted to the gate I cried aloud, even as she cried who sought
Him in a garden--'They have taken away my Lord.'
"At the gate I stayed me, and besought the Lord for a sign; and lo,
in the darkness one came and led me by the hand away from the gate,
across the garth and up the dormitory stair, nor loosed me until I
passed within where the Brethren lay sleeping, and the chamber was
bright with exceeding radiance.
"I found myself by the pallet of my dear son Robert: his face was
wet with tears; and as he lay I saw upon his shoulder the mark of
"Again, one took my hand and led me from one to another of our
Brethren, and on every face lay the shadow of a great need, but in
every face there was somewhat of the Christ; and the lesson burnt
in my heart.
"Then One came swiftly and laid healing hands on the boy Robert;
but I fled, for I might not see Him; and I awoke sore troubled--ay,
and the trouble is on me still.
"My Brethren, I can but tell the vision as it came to me. Great is
the rule of Benedict, our Father, and in it stripes, grievous and
many as our sins, have their rightful place; but mayhap we forget
that love, and love alone, should strike. Ay, and I mind me how
Prior Stephen, my Father, said that to be monk a man must learn
before all things to hunger and to love. Love should draw the
water and build the fire, till the field and attend the sanctuary;
and hunger we should cherish in our hearts, hunger for
righteousness and for the souls of our brethren, for this is the
hunger of God.
"Men come over lightly to the Lord's work; and lo! pride and
emulation, jealousy and discontent, spring up and thrive, and the
end is shame and confusion.
"I speak as to my children; it is in my heart that the Lord is at
hand: let us see that we love while there is yet time."
Then he turned to the novices and stretched out his hands to where
they stood amazed, and it may be ashamed--not after this manner was
Brother Adam wont to rebuke them.
"And ye, who are, as it were, the babes of our Order, give heed to
your ways, neither bring unwilling hands to this service. Better
far go forth, yea, even to death, than mock the Lord with froward
feet and a heart that is full of vanity. Remember the sacrifice
which Cain offered and the Lord rejected, for he gainsayed the
voice of the Lord and disobeyed His Commandment; wherefore the
wrath of God fell upon him.
"I who speak now, speak in love; give ear to my words, and let fear
befriend you; for the coming of the Lord is as a thief in the
night, and lo! stripes bitter and many await that servant whom the
Master finds sleeping."
Then the Prior, having made an end of speaking, raised his hand to
bless, and went forth in silence; and no man stirred in his place,
for they knew that the Lord had spoken and were afraid.
CHAPTER VI--THE HUNGER OF DICKON THE WOODMAN
June was at an end, and men cried aloud for rain. The hedges were
white, the fields scorched and brown; the leaves fell from the
trees as at autumn's touch; the fruits scarce formed hung wry and
twisted on the bough; the heavens burnt pitiless, without a cloud.
Dickon, the woodman, sat by the wayside gnawing a crust and a scrap
of mouldy bacon. There was no sound but the howl of a dog from
some neighbouring farmstead, and he sat in sullen mood, his bill-
hook beside him, brooding over his wrongs; for the world had gone
contrary with him.
His wife was dead; she had died in childbed a month gone, leaving
six hungry, naked brats on his shoulders; and now a worse thing had
befallen him; his gold was gone--his gold to which he had no right,
for 'twas blood-money, the food of his children, ay, and something
beside; but Dickon loved that gold piece above all the world--above
Heaven and his own soul--and it was gone.
A neighbour had surely done it; marked the hiding-place which he
had deemed so safe, and made off with the prize; and i' faith 'twas
easy carrying. There was but one piece, and Dickon minded how he
had changed his petty hoard to gold scarce a month back at the
fair. Maybe it was Thomas the charcoal burner had served him this
ill turn; or William Crookleg, the miller's man; he was a sly,
prying fellow, and there had been ill blood between them.
He was fain to seek the Monastery that lay the other side the
forest, and crave justice of the Prior, but that the Prior might
say 'twas ill-got gain and well rid of.
Dickon rose to his feet and shambled homewards; he was ragged, ill-
fed, unkempt. The day's work was done, and on the village green he
found men and women, for the most part as ill-clad as himself,
standing about in groups gossiping. The innkeeper lounged at the
ale-house door, thin and peaked as his fellows; there was no good
living for any man in those parts, by reason of the over-lord who
sore oppressed them.
A little man, keen-eyed and restless, holding a lean and sorry
horse by the bridle, was talking eagerly.
"Nay, 'tis true eno', and three crows saw I this very day on the
churchyard wall--it bodes ill to some of us."
"Well, well," said the innkeeper, "have it thine own way. Methinks
the ill hath outrun the omen, for there will be naught for man or
beast shortly--but fine pickings for thy three crows."
The little man scowled at him: Dickon came up.
"What's to do?" he said curtly.
"Nay," said mine host, "Robin will have it that some further evil
is upon us--tho' methinks we have got our fill and to spare with
this drought--ay, and 'twas at thy house, Dickon, he saw the
"Better a corpse-light than six open mouths, and naught to fill
them," said Dickon surlily. "Whither away, Robin? 'Tis not far
this beast will travel."
"Right thou art, but my master will turn an honest penny with the
carcass," answered the little man; "give me my reckoning, friend
John. I must needs haste if I would see the Forester's ere
He pulled out a few small coins and a gold piece. When Dickon saw
it his eyes gleamed. Robin paid the reckoning and put the piece in
"Hard-earned money--'tis blood out of a stone to draw wages from my
master. Better it should light in my belly than in a rogue's
pocket. 'Tis as well for me that John o' th' Swift-foot swings at
the cross-roads. Godden, my masters!" And leading his weary
beast, he took the road that skirted the forest.
The moon was at full, and he had yet a good stretch of lonely way
before him, when the horse stumbled and fell and would not rise.
"A murrain on the beast!" muttered Robin angrily, tugging in vain
at the creature on whom death had taken pity. "I must e'en leave
him by the wayside and tell Richard what hath befallen."
He stooped to loose the halter, and as he bent to his task a man
slipped from the shadow of the hedge into the quiet moonlight.
There was a thud, a dull cry, and Robin fell prone across the
horse's neck--a pace beyond him in the moonlight shone the gleam of
Next day Dickon's child died, ay, and the other five followed with
scant time between the buryings. Another had fathered them and
filled the gaping mouths; but men shuddered at his care, for it was
the Black Death that they had deemed far from them.
Pale and woebegone they clustered on the green. News had come of
Robin--he was dead when they found him--but no man gave heed.
Death was in the air, death held them safe in walls they might not
scale. The heavens were brass, food failed for man and beast, God
and man alike had forsaken them. The forest lay one side, the
river, now but a shallow sluggish stream, lay the other; 'twas a
cleft stick and the springe tightened.
No evil had as yet befallen Dickon. He stood with the rest and
murmured, cursing. All at once he made for the ale-house.
"Fools that we are to stand like helpless brats when there is
liquor enough and to spare in yon cellars. He who is minded to go
dry throat to Heaven had best make haste; for me I will e'en swill
a bucket to the devil's health, and so to hell."
Half-a-dozen men followed him, pushing aside mine host who strove
to bar the door. Some of the women fell on their knees and
clamoured in half delirious prayer; the rest slunk dismayed to
their pestilent homes.
CHAPTER VII--THE VISION OF THE EVENING AND THE MORNING
Meanwhile, news came to the Monastery of the ill case of the
village, for it lay scarce a league away across the forest; but the
pine-trees stood as guardian angels in between.
The Prior summoned the whole Convent, according to the ruling of
Blessed Benedict when the matter is a grave one, and told the
Then he went on to give reason for their assembling.
"My Brethren, it is in my heart that we dare not leave these poor,
stricken sheep to die alone without shepherding; moreover, in their
fear and desolation, they may flee to other villages, and so the
terror and pest spread ever further. And I deem that, inasmuch as
Charity is greater than Faith or Hope, so it is greater than
obedience also. Wherefore I purpose to set aside the Rule of our
Order in the letter that I may hold to it in the spirit, and go
forth to serve these perishing brethren; and I will take with me
whosoever hears the call of God in this visitation."
When he had made an end, there was silence in the Chapter. Break
cloister, the Prior himself urging them thereto? The Convent might
scarce credit its ears.
Prior Hilarius watched his children with a tender smile on his
white face, and a prayer on his lips that love might have its
Five monks stood up, among them the Sub-Prior, and seven novices
sprang also to their feet.
"Nay, Brother Walter," said Hilarius, turning to the Sub-Prior,
"this flock must have its shepherd also; thy place is here. But I
will take with me Brother Simon and Brother Leo, who will doubtless
suffice at first for the ministry, and--" smiling at the novices--
"all these dear lads to tend the sick and bury the dead."
The Sub-Prior ventured on a remonstrance.
"Good Father, it is not fitting that thou should'st go on such an
errand; send me in thy stead, for my life is a small thing as
compared with thine. Moreover these novices, 'tis but the other
day the Master gave them as lazy and ill-conditioned, and--"
The Prior held up his hand.
"Dear Brother, I thank thee for thy love and care for me; but my
call has come. As for these--" he stretched out his hand towards
the waiting novices--"maybe they are in the wrong school, and the
Lord hath even opened the door that they may serve Him, perchance
die for Him, elsewhere. And shall I count myself wiser than Prior
Stephen, who set me without the gate to learn my lesson? Let us go
in peace, my children, for we are about the Lord's business."
Very early next day, having eaten of Heavenly manna, the little
band embraced their brethren and set out, laden with food and wine
and herbs from the farmery; and the Prior appointed a place to
which the Convent should send daily all things needed.
The shade of the forest was very welcome in the hot, breathless
sunshine, and the scent of the pine-needles, odorous, pungent, rose
at each footfall from the silent path. The Brethren chanted the
Gradual Psalms as they paced two and two through the sun-lit
aisles, full of the Prior's memories; and he looked up again to see
Our Lady's robe across the tree-tops. Then all at once the Psalm
broke, and Brother Simon, who was leading, stayed suddenly.
Under a bush beside the track lay a man, naked save for filthy
rags; his hair and beard matted with moss and leaves; his eyes
sunk, his lips drawn apart in a ghastly grin. Hilarius made haste
to kneel beside him, and lo! sudden remembrance lighted the fast-
glazing eyes, but his own answered not.
"My son, my son," said the Prior, and his voice was very pitiful,
"thou art indeed in evil case; let me shrive thee ere it be too
He motioned the others to stand back, and raising the heavy head
upon his shoulder, bent close to catch the whisper of the parched
At first no sound came, and then a hoarse word reached him.
"The Convent's hens!"
The Prior stared amazed; then once more the laboured voice -
"Hast forgot thy theft, and the dancer?"
Hilarius needed no further word; in a moment the years were wiped
"Lad, lad, to find thee again, and in such sorry plight! But see,
stay not thy shriving, for the time is short, and the Lord ever
ready to pardon."
The man strove in vain to speak. At last he said quite clearly:
"I hunger," and so saying died.
The Prior was greatly moved, and for a while he knelt in prayer,
while the Brethren, amazed, waited his pleasure. Then he rose, and
lo! before him lay the open glade where his schooling had begun,
and he had seen a flower incarnate dance in the wind.
He bade them lift the dead, and lay him in the hollow of the glade
under fallen branches until they could return and give him burial.
Then, as they went on their way, he told the tale of his little
maid; and when the telling was ended, the village they had come to
succour was in sight, and lo! they saw it through a mist.
CHAPTER VIII--"BEHOLD THE FIELDS ARE WHITE"
The Prior's heart was ready, and it seemed to him as he passed up
the village and saw the huddled, helpless people, that his little
maid led him by the hand.
Brother Simon, Brother Leo, and the novices turned aside to speak
comfort and carry succour to the sick and fearful, and to bury the
dead; for three unshriven souls had passed to judgment and mercy.
Hilarius made straight for the ale-house.
As he crossed the green, the door opened and Dickon stumbled
blindly down the steps. At sight of a monk he cried out, and
suddenly sobered, dropped on his knees, while the topers and
roysterers staring from the open doorway fell into silence.
Hilarius pushed back his cowl and stood bareheaded in the scorching
sun of that windless day; it came to his mind that he was very
"Hear, O my children, the Lord hath sent me to succour you, lest ye
go down quick into the pit. Return, every one of you, for the arms
of His love are still stretched wide upon the Rood, and the very
hairs of your head are numbered. Repent ye, therefore, and confess
each one of you his sins, that I may prepare him for the work of
the Lord; and take comfort also, for they that are with us are
One by one the men, sobered by the shock of great surprise,
confessed and were shriven under the summer sun: only the man
Dickon was not among them. Then the Prior bade them get to work as
he should direct; and he set a watch that no man should flee the
village; and all obeyed him.
Early and late the Prior toiled with the Brethren and his band of
workers, nursing the sick, burying the dead, and destroying the
Brother Leo was the first to whom the call came: he answered it
like a soldier at his post.
As the Prior rose from the pallet of his dead son, one bade him
come quickly, for a dying man had need of him. It was Dickon.
The Prior, bearing with him the Body of the Lord, made haste to the
hovel where he lay, and shrived him though he scarce could hear his
muttered words; but lo! when he would place the Host he could not,
for a gold piece lay on the man's tongue. The Prior drew back
dismayed, and behold, the Lord's hand struck swiftly, and Dickon
died with a barren shriving--on whom may Christ take pity!
Next day great grey clouds curtained the arid, staring sky; and at
even came the rain. All through the night it fell; and one of the
novices, who lay a-dying in the Prioir's arms, heard it as he
passed, and fell back, joy on his lips and a radiant smile on his
"'Esurientes implevit bonis,'" said the Prior, as he laid him down,
A second novice died, then a third, and yet another; but there was
no need to call further help from the Monastery, for the Plague was
stayed. Never had cloistered monks spent such a strange season;
rarely such a blessed one.
The Feast of the Transfiguration was nigh at hand, and the Prior
was minded to return on that day to the waiting, anxious Convent,
for his work was done.
Great was the joy and preparation at the Monastery when the tidings
reached them; joy too for those who lay not in the shelter of the
cloister garth, but, as it were, on the battlefield where they had
given their lives for their brethren.
The holy day dawned without a cloud. A strong west wind bowed the
pines in the forest, and they worshipped and sang for joy, because
of the face of the Lord. The sun burnt bright in the great blue
dome, and earth shone with pale reflection of his glory.
The monks paced the cloister walks, and waited and watched to catch
the signal from the lay-brother posted without. At last the word
came that voices were heard in the distance; and monks and novices
hastened two and two to the gate. On the wind was borne the sound
of a chant.
"'Tis a dirge for those that are gone," said Brother Anselm; and
crossing themselves, the Brothers chanted out the sonorous
"Et lux perpetua luceat eis."
As they reached the open gate, the little band they waited for came
slowly down the forest pathway.
Four Brothers, only four; and lo! on their shoulders they bore a
rude bier of pine-branches.
This was the gathering of Brother Hilarius. Sweet-scented boughs
for his last bed; Mary's lilies aglow for tapers tall; the censer
of the forest swung by sun and wind; and the glory of the face of
He had called his children to him in the late night-watches, and
having kissed and blessed them, he bade them turn him to the east,
for his time had come; and they obeyed in sore grief and perplexed.
Prior Hilarius lay and watched for the light, and as dawn parted
night's veil with the long foregleam of the coming day, he shut his
eyes like a tired child and went home.
It was his heart, Brother Simon thought; but the Sub-Prior cried
through his tears:-
"Nay, nay, it was God a-hungered for His dear son."
They bore the Prior into the white-clad Church, and laid him on his
forest-bed under the great Christ; and the novices, seeing the
tender smile on the beautiful face, whispered one to another, "The
Prior hath found his little maid." And the Convent made Hilarius a
wondrous fair tomb of alabaster inlaid with gold, and carved him
lying thereon with Mary's lilies across his breast.