Our Little Frankish Cousin of Long Ago  by Evaleen Stein

Rainolf in the Writing-Room

T HERE was one part of the palace in which Rainolf especially delighted, and this was the great writing-room. Here, always, were to be found a number of monks from the monastery by the cathedral who spent their time making the most beautiful books. It was chiefly the Bible and the works of the older Greek and Latin authors which they carefully copied out by hand so more people might read them. And all the while they were learning more and more how to decorate and make them beautiful with gold and color.

The King admired these beautiful painted books above all things, and in every way encouraged the monks to make them finer and finer. And they grew so skillful all over his kingdom that the painted, or illuminated books, as they were called, which were made during the reign of Charlemagne are still treasured and admired by everybody.

Rainolf used to spend an hour or two every day in this writing-room, for one of the monks, Brother Coplas, was teaching him to write, and he hoped some day to learn to paint also, for he longed to make a beautiful book all himself. And down in his heart he looked forward to the day when one of the books he made would be filled with his own songs. For all the while Master Einhard was helping him with his music and even encouraging him to make up little songs to sing.

Rainolf was thinking of this as he was busy at work in the writing-room a few days after the coming of the Caliph's messengers, when the door opened and in came the King. With him were two of the Bagdad strangers whom he had brought to see the writing-room, of which he was very proud. The visitors looked with interest at the queer high desks where the monks were working, at the rolls of parchment and the paints and gold and colored inks and goose-quill pens.

"Father Willibrod," said the King to the head of the writing-room, "will you not show us some of the finished pages?"

Father Willibrod hastened to open a great drawer in a desk nearby and displayed a number of large pages so beautifully written and surrounded by such brilliant and glowing borders of birds and flowers with here and there pictures on backgrounds of sparkling gold all so lovely that the strangers exclaimed with admiration and the King smiled with pleasure.

"Show us some of the covers, too, Father Willibrod," he said.

And in another drawer they saw covers already finished ready for the painted pages. For the finest books these covers were of wrought silver set with precious stones, and some of beautifully carved ivory. Others were of velvet, which had been embroidered by the ladies of the palace; while for the commoner books deer-skin would be used.

As the party was leaving the room, the King passed near the desk where Brother Coplas and Rainolf sat side by side. He paused a moment looking at the boy's work and "Good!" he said, "You are improving, lad," and then he sighed as he added, "I wish I had had such training when my hand was supple as yours!"

As he passed out Brother Coplas whispered to Rainolf, "The King would give anything to be able to write and paint books!"

"Why, he can write, can't he?" asked Rainolf in surprise.

"To be sure," said Brother Coplas. "But he wants to be able to do it evenly and regularly as we do in our books. One of his body servants told me he keeps a pen and tablet of parchment under his pillow every night, and often when he can't sleep he will get up and have a lamp lighted and will practice for a long time trying to write beautifully."

And this was not so easy, either; for writing then was more like printing, each letter being made separately, which, of course, was much slower than our way of joining them together; a simple little trick which no one as yet had thought of.

Before long Rainolf had finished his page, and as his fingers were tired he got up and strolled around the room, for he loved to look at what they were all doing.

"Oh, but that is beautiful!" he exclaimed as he stopped by a desk where a monk was writing a chapter from the Bible in letters of gold on a page of parchment he had stained a rich purple.


A monk was writing a chapter from the Bible in letters of gold.

"Master Alcuin says they have nothing finer in Tours," said another brother, who had paused to admire the page, "and in his monastery they do famous work."

"Yes," said Rainolf, "Brother Coplas told me Master Alcuin is having a wonderful Bible made there for the King."

"Why," he said, as he came to another desk, "I didn't know you were here, Master Einhard! What is this you are writing? It isn't Latin!"

"No," answered Master Einhard, who was carefully copying on neat pages something written on a number of loose scraps. "It is some work I am doing for the King, and I am writing it in our own language; for these are songs of some of the Frankish minnesingers. You know how the King likes songs."

"I know he likes yours!" said Rainolf warmly.

"Perhaps," said Master Einhard modestly. "But he likes other peoples', too. Sometimes, when minnesingers come on long winter evenings, he will have the fireplace filled with blazing logs and will wrap himself up in a big mantle of otter skins and sit up half the night listening to them. Some of these men come from the wilder parts of the kingdom up north, and they know old heathen song-stories that have been handed down nobody knows how long. The King is wonderfully interested in these, and whenever any of those people come he gets me to write down the words of the stories they sing, and as, of course, I have to write very fast, it needs to be copied plainly. I have written out ever so many, and the King is getting quite a collection." Here he pointed with pride to a pile of pages in a recess of his desk.

As Rainolf passed on, Master Einhard again bent over his work; for he could not possibly know that twenty years later, when King Charlemagne was dead and gone, his stupid son Louis would one day find those carefully written pages and, not dreaming of their value, would carelessly toss them in the fire!

Heigho! it is a great pity to be stupid!

Meantime, as Rainolf left the writing-room and went into the courtyard he almost ran into Malagis, who was standing on the toes of his good foot and whirling around like a weather-cock.

"Hey, youngster!" he said, "I was just taking some exercise. By the way, I have news for you. Didn't your horoscope say you were to see something of the world?"

"Yes," said Rainolf, puzzled.

"Well, I guess all of our stars must say the same thing, for we are all likely to go traveling."

"How?" asked Rainolf.

"Listen!" answered Malagis, pointing, with a wise air, to the highest palace tower. "Didn't I tell you youngsters a while ago that that big bronze eagle was turning a tiny bit to the south? And didn't I say it meant the King would be needed in that direction, most likely in Italy?"

"Yes, you did," answered Rainolf respectfully.

"Well," said Malagis, with a triumphant gleam in his strange bright eyes, "look at it now!"

As Rainolf gazed, with an awed expression, sure enough, the great bronze bird had veered more and more till it seemed to be looking straight to the south.

"Now, sir," said Malagis, "I happen to know that the King has received word that Pope Leo is in trouble in Rome and wants the most powerful king in Christendom—of course that's Charlemagne— to come and help him. And the King is going, and, as usual, when he can possibly manage it, he will take nearly everybody along. So there! What did I tell you!"

And Malagis again began his whirling, while Rainolf stared at the eagle with his head full of eager dreams.