WEEK 47 |
W ITHIN a few minutes the news had spread, and a dozen skiff-loads of men were on their way to McDougal's cave, and the ferryboat, well filled with passengers, soon followed. Tom Sawyer was in the skiff that bore Judge Thatcher.
When the cave door was unlocked, a sorrowful sight presented itself in the dim twilight of the place. Injun Joe lay stretched upon the ground, dead, with his face close to the crack of the door, as if his longing eyes had been fixed, to the latest moment, upon the light and the cheer of the free world outside. Tom was touched, for he knew by his own experience how this wretch had suffered. His pity was moved, but nevertheless he felt an abounding sense of relief and security, now, which revealed to him in a degree which he had not fully appreciated before how vast a weight of dread had been lying upon him since the day he lifted his voice against this bloody-minded outcast.
Injun Joe's bowie-knife lay close by, its blade broken in two. The great foundation-beam of the door had been chipped and hacked through, with tedious labor; useless labor, too, it was, for the native rock formed a sill outside it, and upon that stubborn material the knife had wrought no effect; the only damage done was to the knife itself. But if there had been no stony obstruction there the labor would have been useless still, for if the beam had been wholly cut away Injun Joe could not have squeezed his body under the door, and he knew it. So he had only hacked that place in order to be doing something—in order to pass the weary time—in order to employ his tortured faculties. Ordinarily one could find half a dozen bits of candle stuck around in the crevices of this vestibule, left there by tourists; but there were none now. The prisoner had searched them out and eaten them. He had also contrived to catch a few bats, and these, also, he had eaten, leaving only their claws. The poor unfortunate had starved to death. In one place, near at hand, a stalagmite had been slowly growing up from the ground for ages, builded by the water-drip from a stalactite overhead. The captive had broken off the stalagmite, and upon the stump had placed a stone, wherein he had scooped a shallow hollow to catch the precious drop that fell once in every three minutes with the dreary regularity of a clock-tick—a dessert-spoonful once in four-and-twenty hours. That drop was falling when the Pyramids were new; when Troy fell; when the foundations of Rome were laid; when Christ was crucified; when the Conqueror created the British empire; when Columbus sailed; when the massacre at Lexington was "news." It is falling now; it will still be falling when all these things shall have sunk down the afternoon of history and the twilight of tradition and been swallowed up in the thick night of oblivion. Has everything a purpose and a mission? Did this drop fall patiently during five thousand years to be ready for this flitting human insect's need? and has it another important object to accomplish ten thousand years to come? No matter. It is many and many a year since the hapless half-breed scooped out the stone to catch the priceless drops, but to this day the tourist stares longest at that pathetic stone and that slow-dropping water when he comes to see the wonders of McDougal's Cave. Injun Joe's cup stands first in the list of the cavern's marvels; even "Aladdin's Palace" cannot rival it.
Injun Joe was buried near the mouth of the cave; and people flocked there in boats and wagons from the towns and from all the farms and hamlets for seven miles around; they brought their children, and all sorts of provisions, and confessed that they had had almost as satisfactory a time at the funeral as they could have had at the hanging.
This funeral stopped the further growth of one thing—the petition to the Governor for Injun Joe's pardon. The petition had been largely signed; many tearful and eloquent meetings had been held, and a committee of sappy women been appointed to go in deep mourning and wail around the Governor, and implore him to be a merciful ass and trample his duty under foot. Injun Joe was believed to have killed five citizens of the village, but what of that? If he had been Satan himself there would have been plenty of weaklings ready to scribble their names to a pardon petition, and drip a tear on it from their permanently impaired and leaky water-works.
The morning after the funeral Tom took Huck to a private place to have an important talk. Huck had learned all about Tom's adventure from the Welshman and the Widow Douglas, by this time, but Tom said he reckoned there was one thing they had not told him; that thing was what he wanted to talk about now. Huck's face saddened. He said:
"I know what it is. You got into No. 2 and never found anything but whisky. Nobody told me it was you; but I just knowed it must 'a' ben you, soon as I heard 'bout that whisky business; and I knowed you hadn't got the money becuz you'd 'a' got at me some way or other and told me even if you was mum to everybody else. Tom, something's always told me we'd never get holt of that swag."
"Why, Huck, I never told on that tavern-keeper. You know his tavern was all right the Saturday I went to the picnic. Don't you remember you was to watch there that night?"
"Oh, yes! Why, it seems 'bout a year ago. It was that very night that I follered Injun Joe to the widder's."
"You followed him?"
"Yes—but you keep mum. I reckon Injun Joe's left friends behind him, and I don't want 'em souring on me and doing me mean tricks. If it hadn't ben for me he'd be down in Texas now, all right."
Then Huck told his entire adventure in confidence to Tom, who had only heard of the Welshman's part of it before.
"Well," said Huck, presently, coming back to the main question, "whoever nipped the whisky in No. 2 nipped the money, too, I reckon—anyways it's a goner for us, Tom."
"Huck, that money wasn't ever in No. 2!"
"What!" Huck searched his comrade's face keenly. "Tom, have you got on the track of that money again?"
"Huck, it's in the cave!"
Huck's eyes blazed.
"Say it again, Tom."
"The money's in the cave!"
"Tom—honest injun, now—is it fun or earnest?"
"Earnest, Huck—just as earnest as ever I was in my life. Will you go in there with me and help get it out?"
"I bet I will! I will if it's where we can blaze our way to it and not get lost."
"Huck, we can do that without the least little bit of trouble in the world."
"Good as wheat! What makes you think the
"Huck, you just wait till we get in there. If we don't find it I'll agree to give you my drum and everything I've got in the world. I will, by jings."
"All right—it's a whiz. When do you say?"
"Right now, if you say it. Are you strong enough?"
"Is it far in the cave? I ben on my pins a little, three or four days, now, but I can't walk more'n a mile, Tom—least I don't think I could."
"It's about five mile into there the way anybody but me would go, Huck, but there's a mighty short cut that they don't anybody but me know about. Huck, I'll take you right to it in a skiff. I'll float the skiff down there, and I'll pull it back again all by myself. You needn't ever turn your hand over."
"Less start right off, Tom."
"All right. We want some bread and meat, and our pipes, and a little bag or two, and two or three kite-strings, and some of these new-fangled things they call lucifer matches. I tell you, many's the time I wished I had some when I was in there before."
A trifle after noon the boys borrowed a small skiff from a citizen who was absent, and got under way at once. When they were several miles below "Cave Hollow," Tom said:
"Now you see this bluff here looks all alike all the way down from the cave hollow—no houses, no woodyards, bushes all alike. But do you see that white place up yonder where there's been a landslide? Well, that's one of my marks. We'll get ashore, now."
"Now, Huck, where we're a-standing you could touch that hole I got out of with a fishing-pole. See if you can find it."
Huck searched all the place about, and found nothing. Tom proudly marched into a thick clump of sumach bushes and said:
"Here you are! Look at it, Huck; it's the snuggest hole in this country. You just keep mum about it. All along I've been wanting to be a robber, but I knew I'd got to have a thing like this, and where to run across it was the bother. We've got it now, and we'll keep it quiet, only we'll let Joe Harper and Ben Rogers in—because of course there's got to be a Gang, or else there wouldn't be any style about it. Tom Sawyer's Gang—it sounds splendid, don't it, Huck?"
"Well, it just does, Tom. And who'll we rob?"
"Oh, most anybody. Waylay people—that's mostly the way."
"And kill them?"
"No, not always. Hive them in the cave till they raise a ransom."
"What's a ransom?"
"Money. You make them raise all they can, off'n their friends; and after you've kept them a year, if it ain't raised then you kill them. That's the general way. Only you don't kill the women. You shut up the women, but you don't kill them. They're always beautiful and rich, and awfully scared. You take their watches and things, but you always take your hat off and talk polite. They ain't anybody as polite as robbers—you'll see that in any book. Well, the women get to loving you, and after they've been in the cave a week or two weeks they stop crying and after that you couldn't get them to leave. If you drove them out they'd turn right around and come back. It's so in all the books."
"Why, it's real bully, Tom. I b'lieve it's better'n to be a pirate."
"Yes, it's better in some ways, because it's close to home and circuses and all that."
By this time everything was ready and the boys entered the hole, Tom in the lead. They toiled their way to the farther end of the tunnel, then made their spliced kite-strings fast and moved on. A few steps brought them to the spring, and Tom felt a shudder quiver all through him. He showed Huck the fragment of candle-wick perched on a lump of clay against the wall, and described how he and Becky had watched the flame struggle and expire.
The boys began to quiet down to whispers, now, for the stillness and gloom of the place oppressed their spirits. They went on, and presently entered and followed Tom's other corridor until they reached the "jumping-off place." The candles revealed the fact that it was not really a precipice, but only a steep clay hill twenty or thirty feet high. Tom whispered:
"Now I'll show you something, Huck."
He held his candle aloft and said:
"Look as far around the corner as you can. Do you see that? There—on the big rock over yonder—done with candle-smoke."
"Tom, it's a cross!"
"Now where's your Number Two? 'Under the cross,' hey? Right yonder's where I saw Injun Joe poke up his candle, Huck!"
Huck stared at the mystic sign awhile, and then said with a shaky voice:
"Tom, le's git out of here!"
"What! and leave the treasure?"
"Yes—leave it. Injun Joe's ghost is round about there, certain."
"No it ain't, Huck, no it ain't. It would ha'nt the place where he died—away out at the mouth of the cave—five mile from here."
"No, Tom, it wouldn't. It would hang round the money. I know the ways of ghosts, and so do you."
Tom began to fear that Huck was right. Misgivings gathered in his
mind. But presently an idea occurred to
"Looky here, Huck, what fools we're making of ourselves! Injun Joe's ghost ain't a-going to come around where there's a cross!"
The point was well taken. It had its effect.
"Tom, I didn't think of that. But that's so. It's luck for us, that cross is. I reckon we'll climb down there and have a hunt for that box."
Tom went first, cutting rude steps in the clay hill as he descended. Huck followed. Four avenues opened out of the small cavern which the great rock stood in. The boys examined three of them with no result. They found a small recess in the one nearest the base of the rock, with a pallet of blankets spread down in it; also an old suspender, some bacon rind, and the well-gnawed bones of two or three fowls. But there was no money-box. The lads searched and re-searched this place, but in vain. Tom said:
"He said under the cross. Well, this comes nearest to being under the cross. It can't be under the rock itself, because that sets solid on the ground."
They searched everywhere once more, and then sat down discouraged. Huck could suggest nothing. By and by Tom said:
"Looky here, Huck, there's footprints and some candle-grease on the clay about one side of this rock, but not on the other sides. Now, what's that for? I bet you the money is under the rock. I'm going to dig in the clay."
"That ain't no bad notion, Tom!" said Huck with animation.
Tom's "real Barlow" was out at once, and he had not dug four inches before he struck wood.
"Hey, Huck!—you hear that?"
Huck began to dig and scratch now. Some boards were soon uncovered and removed. They had concealed a natural chasm which led under the rock. Tom got into this and held his candle as far under the rock as he could, but said he could not see to the end of the rift. He proposed to explore. He stooped and passed under; the narrow way descended gradually. He followed its winding course, first to the right, then to the left, Huck at his heels. Tom turned a short curve, by and by, and exclaimed:
"My goodness, Huck, looky here!"
"My goodness, Huck, looky here!" exclaimed Tom.
It was the treasure-box, sure enough, occupying a snug little cavern, along with an empty powder-keg, a couple of guns in leather cases, two or three pairs of old moccasins, a leather belt, and some other rubbish well soaked with the water-drip.
"Got it at last!" said Huck, plowing among the tarnished coins with his hand. "My, but we're rich, Tom!"
"Huck, I always reckoned we'd get it. It's just too good to believe, but we have got it, sure! Say—let's not fool around here. Let's snake it out. Lemme see if I can lift the box."
It weighed about fifty pounds. Tom could lift it, after an awkward fashion, but could not carry it conveniently.
"I thought so," he said; "they carried it like it was heavy, that day at the ha'nted house. I noticed that. I reckon I was right to think of fetching the little bags along."
The money was soon in the bags and the boys took it up to the cross rock.
"Now le's fetch the guns and things," said Huck.
"No, Huck—leave them there. They're just the tricks to have when we go to robbing. We'll keep them there all the time, and we'll hold our orgies there, too. It's an awful snug place for orgies."
"I dono. But robbers always have orgies, and of course we've got to have them, too. Come along, Huck; we've been in here a long time. It's getting late, I reckon. I'm hungry, too. We'll eat and smoke when we get to the skiff."
They presently emerged into the clump of sumach bushes, looked warily out, found the coast clear, and were soon lunching and smoking in the skiff. As the sun dipped toward the horizon they pushed out and got under way. Tom skimmed up the shore through the long twilight, chatting cheerily with Huck, and landed shortly after dark.
"Now, Huck," said Tom, "we'll hide the money in the loft of the widow's woodshed, and I'll come up in the morning and we'll count it and divide, and then we'll hunt up a place out in the woods for it where it will be safe. Just you lay quiet here and watch the stuff till I run and hook Benny Taylor's little wagon; I won't be gone a minute."
He disappeared, and presently returned with the wagon, put the two small sacks into it, threw some old rags on top of them, and started off, dragging his cargo behind him. When the boys reached the Welshman's house, they stopped to rest. Just as they were about to move on, the Welshman stepped out and said:
"Hello, who's that?"
"Huck and Tom Sawyer."
"Good! Come along with me, boys; you are keeping everybody waiting. Here—hurry up, trot ahead—I'll haul the wagon for you. Why, it's not as light as it might be. Got bricks in it?—or old metal?"
"Old metal," said Tom.
"I judged so; the boys in this town will take more trouble and fool away more time hunting up six bits' worth of old iron to sell to the foundry than they would to make twice the money at regular work. But that's human nature—hurry along, hurry along!"
The boys wanted to know what the hurry was about.
"Never mind; you'll see, when we get to the Widow Douglas's."
Huck said with some apprehension—for he was long used to being falsely accused:
"Mr. Jones, we haven't been doing nothing."
The Welshman laughed.
"Well, I don't know, Huck, my boy. I don't know about that. Ain't you and the widow good friends?"
"Yes. Well, she's ben good friends to me, anyway."
"All right, then. What do you want to be afraid for?"
This question was not entirely answered in Huck's slow mind before he found himself pushed, along with Tom, into Mrs. Douglas's drawing-room. Mr. Jones left the wagon near the door and followed.
The place was grandly lighted, and everybody that was of any consequence in the village was there. The Thatchers were there, the Harpers, the Rogerses, Aunt Polly, Sid, Mary, the minister, the editor, and a great many more, and all dressed in their best. The widow received the boys as heartily as any one could well receive two such looking beings. They were covered with clay and candle-grease. Aunt Polly blushed crimson with humiliation, and frowned and shook her head at Tom. Nobody suffered half as much as the two boys did, however. Mr. Jones said:
"Tom wasn't at home, yet, so I gave him up; but I stumbled on him and Huck right at my door, and so I just brought them along in a hurry."
"And you did just right," said the widow. "Come with me, boys."
She took them to a bedchamber and said:
"Now wash and dress yourselves. Here are two new suits of clothes—shirts, socks, everything complete. They're Huck's—no, no thanks, Huck—Mr. Jones bought one and I the other. But they'll fit both of you. Get into them. We'll wait—come down when you are slicked up enough."
Then she left.
"The tomb of God before us,
Our fatherland behind,
Our ships shall leap o'er billows steep,
Before a charmèd wind.
"Above our van great angels
Shall fight along the sky;
While martyrs pure and crownèd saints
To God for rescue cry.
"The red-cross knights and yeomen
Throughout the holy town,
In faith and might, on left and right,
Shall tread the paynim down.
The burying place of God!
Why gay and bold, in steel and gold,
O'er the paths where Christ hath trod?"
—Crusaders' Chorus, Charles Kingsley.
From the first, the way in which the Brotherhood of Little Poor Men grew in numbers was a wonderful thing to see. Within a few years it had outgrown the settlement in the plain and was a vast company, like a great army sent out to make, not war, but peace. The groups of Grey Brothers were known all over Italy, and companies of them had gone to France and Spain and Germany, and even to the north of Africa. In foreign lands, just as in Italy, they preached their simple Gospel, and preached it best by caring for the sick and the poor.
Sometimes the Brothers were received kindly in the far-off countries; sometimes they were mocked and stoned, as they had been at home, and in Africa a brave little band was cruelly put to death.
It seemed to Francis that he could not bear to stay where he was known and safe, while his Brothers were enduring danger, and even death, in strange lands. Moreover, his heart yearned over the ignorant and miserable everywhere, and he longed to tell in other places what he had told in Italy, that men should love each other and live at peace, and that food and clothing and money should be for all, not for the few. It was only the Gospel of the Carpenter of Nazareth, but men had forgotten His teaching, though they built churches in His honour, and though they went to war in His name.
In the year 1219, one of the great wars called Crusades, or Wars of the Cross, was going on. The Crusaders were soldiers from Europe, who fought in the Holy Land to drive the Saracens away from Jerusalem, that the Holy Sepulchre where Christ was buried, and the hill where He was crucified, might not be in the hands of unbelievers, for the Saracens were not Christians, but Mohammedans. They were brave and able soldiers, however, and many times the knightly armies from England, France, Germany and Italy, suffered terrible defeats in Egypt or in Palestine.
Fifteen years earlier Francis Bernardone would have been the most eager of Crusaders. The thought of the long voyage, of the battles to be fought in Eastern lands for the rescue of the Holy Sepulchre, would have made him even happier than he had been when he rode out to his first fight. Now, Brother Francis, the Little Poor Man, was no less determined to go with the crusading army, but he went with only peace and pity in his heart. He knew that where there were battles there would be wounded and dying to tend and comfort, and he hoped that, in the midst of hatred and cruelty, he might find a chance to speak of love and gentleness. He even hoped that he might go among the armies of the enemy and preach to them.
The Italian Crusaders were to sail for Egypt from the port of Ancona, on the Adriatic Sea, toward the end of June. Francis and a company of his Brothers crossed the mountains from Assisi and reached Ancona in time to go about from ship to ship, seeking to find passage. Since they were not soldiers, and since they had no money, they were forced to trust to the friendliness of the ships' captains and, when the day of sailing came, places had been found for only Francis and eleven companions. It was a sad minute, for all wanted to go, and Francis could not bring himself to decide whom to leave behind. As he walked with them along the white beach, and looked away over the blue harbour where the ships rode at anchor, he spoke sorrowfully: "My Brothers, the shipmen will not take us all, and I have scarcely the courage to choose between you. Let us seek to know what is God's will." On the beach a little child was playing in the sand, and Francis called him to them. "Do you know numbers, little one?" he asked. "Can you count?" "Yes, Father," the child answered, proudly, "I can count more than twenty." "Then count me out eleven of these, my Brothers, to go to sea with me to-night when yonder ships set sail." The child did not understand what he was doing, but he went about solemnly among the company, and, with his small forefinger, told off eleven Brothers, and, at evening, these eleven sailed away with Francis and the Crusaders, across the southern sea.
On the water, the summer days were long and hot. Sometimes the wind died away, the sails hung empty, and the sun blistered the decks. The ships were crowded, and the soldiers were uncomfortable and discontented. Many fell sick of sunstroke and fever, and Francis and his Brothers found plenty of misery ready to their kind hands. At night, when the breeze freshened, and the great sails filled slowly; when the sky darkened and the stars came out; when the ship's prow and the long oars cut through waves of wonderful, shining light, all the wretchedness of the day was forgotten, and the voyagers made merry. The sailors sang at the ropes, the Crusaders, common soldiers and knights together, seated on the deck, listened while some one told a marvellous story of Tristram, or of Roland. Then a Troubadour would sing some brave or plaintive song, while his fingers made sweet music on an old Venetian lute.
Francis was soon known to all, and he found many new friends. Sometimes even the knightly tales were neglected, while the soldiers questioned the Little Poor Man and listened to the story of the Brotherhood of Assisi.
Francis was with the crusading army in Egypt for a long time, but we know little of what happened to him. A certain French bishop wrote home a letter which has, somehow, been kept all these seven hundred years. He tells in it of the wonderful "Brother Francis, whom every one reveres because he is so lovable; and who is not afraid to go even into the army of the Saracens."
Francis was so fearless and so gentle that, commonly, strangers and even enemies received him kindly, and he came to be almost as well known among the Saracens as among the Crusaders. But there were some who hated him because he preached a strange religion, which they feared, thinking that it might bring success to the Christian armies and defeat to their own.
One day Francis and Brother Illuminatus, who was his comrade at this time, were returning alone from the Saracen camp to that of the Christians. Their course lay westward, and, where the treeless plain rose toward the red sunset, they could see the line of the Crusaders' tents. The distance was short, and they had good hope of reaching their friends before darkness fell, when, suddenly, from the south, a band of mounted men appeared. As they came near, Francis could see that they were not Crusaders in heavy mail, but lightly armed Saracens, on swift Arabian horses. They swept across the plain like a flight of birds, and Francis watched them admiringly, for he loved all beautiful things. But the fleet riders had quick, fierce eyes. As they espied the grey robes, they wheeled sharply and fell upon the Little Poor Men, like wolves upon sheep, so the old story says.
Wounded and helpless in their cruel hands, Francis somehow made his enemies understand that he wished to be taken into the presence of the Soldan himself, their emperor. Perhaps they were afraid to kill a man who appealed to them in the name of their master; perhaps they expected a reward for their prisoners; perhaps even their hard hearts were softened by the sight of men who neither fought nor feared. At any rate, they finally bound the two Brothers and carried them off to the Saracen camp. The next day Francis had his wish fulfilled, for he and Brother Illuminatus were brought into the royal tent.
The Soldan sat on a splendid throne, and his dress was rich and beautiful. All about the throne stood armed guards, and, at the foot of it black Ethiopian slaves, with shining eyes and teeth. On one side were the Soldan's counsellors, his Wise Men, who could read in the stars the things that were to happen in the future; who could tell the meaning of dreams, as the magicians had tried to do in Egypt, since the day, and long before the day when young Joseph put them all to shame. The Wise Men wore turbans and long flowing robes. They had white beards, and deep-set eyes, and solemn faces.
In front of the throne stood Francis and his one Little Brother. They were bare-headed and barefooted. Their rough grey robes were dusty and torn and stained with blood. They seemed no match for the tall magicians, who looked down on them with scorn, thinking them madmen or fools. But the Soldan was grave and thoughtful. He wanted to know which spoke the truth, his learned counsellors, whom he had always trusted, or these simple, poor men, with their new teaching.
The Wise Men could give no help to their Sovereign, and, at last, Francis said: "My lord, bid your slaves build here a fire before you, great and hot; it may be that God will show us a sign." When the red fire blazed high, Francis spoke across it to the magicians: "If you love your religion better than your life, walk into the midst of this fire with me, that it may be seen which faith should be held most certain and most holy." Then the Wise Men cowered away from the flames with horror, and covered their faces in shame, knowing that they dared not go into the fire. And Brother Francis cried aloud to the Soldan: "Promise me, my lord, for thyself and thy people, that, if I come out unharmed, thou wilt worship Christ, and I will enter the fire alone." But the Soldan was afraid, for he thought that his people might revolt, knowing that they held the Wise Men in great dread and honour. Therefore he hastily sent the Brothers, with a safeguard, back to the camp of the Crusaders; but he marvelled much at the quiet grey-robed man who had no fear.
"The beautiful Mother is bending
Low where her Baby lies
Helpless and frail, for her tending;
But she knows the glorious eyes.
"The Mother smiles and rejoices
While the Baby laughs in the hay;
She listens to heavenly voices:
'The child shall be King, one day.'
"O dear little Christ in the manger,
Let me make merry with Thee.
O King, in my hour of danger,
Wilt Thou be strong for me?"
— Adapted from the Latin of Jacopone da Todi,
One night in December, a few years after his return from the East, Brother Francis, with one companion, was walking through the beautiful valley of the Velino River, toward Rieti, a little city where he came often on his way from Assisi to Rome. To-night he had turned somewhat aside from the main road, for he wished to spend Christmas with his friend, Sir John of Greccio. Greccio is a tiny village, lying where the foothills begin, on the western side of the valley. The very feet of Brother Francis knew the road so well that he could have walked safely in the darkness, but it was not dark. The full moon floated over the valley, making the narrow river and the sharp outlines of the snow-covered mountains shine like silver. The plain and the lower hills were pasture land, and, not far from the road, on a grassy slope, the Brothers saw the red glow of an almost spent shepherds' fire. "Let us stop and visit our brothers, the shepherds," said Francis, and they turned toward the fading fire.
There was no sense of winter in the air, scarcely a touch of frost, and the only snow was that on the silver peaks against the sky. The shepherds, three men and one boy, lay sleeping soundly on the bare ground, with their sheepskin coats drawn closely around them. All about them the sheep were sleeping, too, but the solemn white sheep dogs were wide awake. If a stranger's foot had trod the grass never so softly, every dog would have barked, and every shepherd would have been on his feet in an instant. But the dogs trotted silently up to the Grey Brothers and rubbed against them, as if they said, "We are glad to see you again," for they knew the friendly feet of the Little Poor Man, and they had more than once helped him to eat the bread that was his only dinner. Followed by the dogs, Francis walked about among the shepherds, but they slept on, as only men who live out of doors can sleep, and Francis could not find it in his heart to waken them. The sheep lay huddled together in groups for more warmth. Around one small square of grass a net was stretched, and, inside it, were the mother sheep who had little lambs. There was no sound except the faint cry, now and then, of a baby lamb. The coals over which the shepherds had cooked their supper paled from dull red to grey, and there was only a thin column of smoke, white in the moonlight. Francis sat down on a stone, and the largest of the white dogs pressed up against his knee. Another went dutifully back to his post beside the fold where the mothers and babies slept. The Italian hill-side seemed to Francis to change to that of Bethlehem, which he had seen, perhaps, on his Eastern journey; the clear December night seemed like that of the first Christmas Eve. "How these shepherds sleep!" he thought; "how they would awaken if they heard the 'Peace on earth' of the angels' song!" Then he remembered sadly how the armies that called themselves Christian had, year after year, battled with the Saracens over the cradle and the tomb of the Prince of Peace. The moonlight grew misty about him, the silver heights of the mountains and the silver line of the river faded, for the eyes of Brother Francis were full of tears.
As the two Brothers went on their way, Francis grew light of heart again. The sight of the shepherds sleeping on the grass had given him a new idea, and he was planning a surprise for his friends at Greccio. For at Greccio all were his friends, from Sir John, his host, down to the babies in the street. In the valley of Rieti he was almost as well known and as dearly loved as in his own valley of Assisi. The children of Greccio had never heard of Christmas trees, nor, perhaps, of Christmas presents. I am not sure that, in the thirteenth century, Italians had the beautiful custom which they now have, of giving presents at Twelfth Night, in memory of the coming of the three kings with their gifts to the Christ Child; but in the thirteenth century, even as now, Christmas was the happiest festival of the year. This year all the folk of Greccio, big and little, were happier than usual because their beloved Brother Francis was to help them keep their Christmas-tide. Next day Francis confided his plan to his friend, Sir John, who promised that all should be ready on Christmas Eve.
On the day before Christmas, the people came from all the country around to see and hear Brother Francis. Men, women and children, dressed in their holiday clothes, walking, riding on donkeys, crowding into little carts drawn by great white oxen, from everywhere and in every fashion, the country folk came toward Greccio. Many came from far away, and the early winter darkness fell long before they could reach the town. The light of their torches might be seen on the open road, and the sound of their singing reached the gates of Greccio before them. That night the little town was almost as crowded as was Bethlehem on the eve of the first Christmas. The crowds were poor folk, for the most part, peasants from the fields, charcoal burners from the mountains, shepherds in their sheepskin coats and trousers, made with the wool outside, so that the wearers looked like strange, two-legged animals. The four shepherds who had slept so soundly a few nights before were of the company, but they knew nothing of their midnight visitors. The white dogs knew, but they could keep a secret. The shepherds were almost as quiet as their dogs. They always talked and sang less than other people, having grown used to long silences among their sheep.
Gathered at last into the square before the church, by the light of flaring torches, for the moon would rise late, the people saw with wonder and delight the surprise which Brother Francis and Sir John had prepared for them. They looked into a real stable. There was the manger full of hay, there were a live ox and a live ass. Even by torch light their breath showed in the frosty air. And there, on the hay, lay a real baby, wrapped from the cold, asleep and smiling. It looked as sweet and innocent as the Christ Child Himself. The people shouted with delight. They clapped their hands and waved their torches.
Then there was silence, for Brother Francis stood before them, and the voice they loved so well, and had come so far to hear, began to read the old story of the birth of the Child Jesus, of the shepherds in the fields, and of the angels' song. When the reading was ended, Brother Francis talked to them as a father might speak to his children. He told of the love that is gentle as a little child, that is willing to be poor and humble as the Baby who was laid in a manger among the cattle. He begged his listeners to put anger and hatred and envy out of their hearts this Christmas Eve, and to think only thoughts of peace and good will. All listened eagerly while Brother Francis spoke, but the moment he finished the great crowd broke into singing. From the church tower the bells rang loud; the torches waved wildly, while voices here and there shouted for Brother Francis and for the Blessed Little Christ. Never before had such glorious hymns nor such joyous shouting been heard in the town of Greccio. Only the mothers, with babies in their arms, and the shepherds, in their woolly coats, looked on silently and thought: "We are in Bethlehem."
WEEK 47 |
EORGE III. died in January
George III. was called Farmer George, because he liked a peaceful country life, and would have been a very good farmer, although he was not a very wise King. He had reigned sixty years, including the last ten, during which he really did not rule.
George IV. was called "the
first gentleman in Europe," because he was
handsome, and had fine manners, very
different from those of his homely father. He tried to make
friends with all his people through his fine manners. Soon
after he became King he went to Ireland, where the people
received him with great joy. He made speeches to them, and
laughed and cried with them. He wore the order of
George next went to Hanover, for he was King of Hanover, as well as king of Britain. There he talked German, and wore a Hanoverian Order, sang German national songs, and told the people with tears in his eyes that he was truly German at heart; and perhaps the German people believed him too.
Next he went to Scotland. Since the time of
George had wept and laughed with his Irish subjects, yet when a chance came for him to prove that he loved them as he had said he did, he did not willingly take it.
In the fierce old days the Roman Catholics had killed and tortured the Protestants whenever they had the power and, in dread of them, an act had been passed forbidding Roman Catholics to hold any public office. Those days were long passed. No one was now killed or tortured because of his religion, yet the laws against the Roman Catholics still remained. No Catholic might be an officer in the army or navy, no Catholic might sit in Parliament, or serve his country in any way.
Yet nearly all the Irish people were Roman Catholics, and generous men for many years had felt these laws to be unjust. The younger Pitt had tried in vain to make George III. do away with them. Now wise men tried to make George IV. repeal them. But the King, who said he was Irish at heart, refused. "My father," he said, "would have laid his head on the block rather than yield, and I am equally ready to lay my head there for the same cause."
The great Duke of Wellington was Prime Minister at this
time, and as he had conquered Napoleon in war, so now he
George IV. died in June