St Rigobert and his Goose
In the year 696 there lived in Rheims a Bishop named Rigobert. It was he who in the Cathedral had consecrated Dagobert II, Chilperic II, and Theodoric II, kings of the Franks. When Charles Martel was waging war against Rheinfrid he came at a certain moment to the gates of Rheims and claimed admittance. Rigobert refused to open them and would not be prevailed upon to admit him, saying with great prudence: "How know I which of you shall prevail, whether thou, Charles Martel, shalt overthrow Rheinfrid, or he overcome thee? Neither one, then, will I admit to my city."
Charles, incensed by the Bishop's obduracy, vowed vengeance upon him should he come out victorious over his enemy. When, therefore, he later vanquished his adversary, unforgetful of his old injury, he sent Rigobert into exile in Gascony.
When Pepin the Brief succeeded Charles, he recalled the old Bishop from Gascony, but the see had been given to an abbot named Milo, and to Rigobert's lot fell only the church of the small and poor parish of Gernicourt.
He used, however, to go occasionally to officiate at a Mass in neighbouring towns and even in Rheims, at the altar of St Mary's.
It happened once that he had gone to visit the Church of St Cyriac in the little town of Courincy.
After Mass, as he was conversing with the comptroller of Rheims, this man, Wilbert by name, invited him to dine with him.
"Alas," said Rigobert, inwardly rueful, for invitations to dine were welcome and by no means frequent events, "I may not dine with you this day, for I must hasten home to hold Mass in my church of St Peter at Gernicourt. I must therefore be on my way betimes."
At this moment an aged woman came toward them carrying a goose which she had brought to the governor. When she had made her gift and withdrawn, Wilbert, turning to Rigobert, said:
"My father, since you may not dine with me to-day, take this goose; it shall serve as your dinner to-morrow at home."
With thanks Rigobert accepted it, and having taken leave of the governor was soon on his homeward way.
The good man walked with hands clasped before him in an attitude of pious meditation, his head bowed over up-pointing joined fingers, and eyes fixed upon the ground. All the way he either whispered prayers to himself, or chanted hymns in a subdued voice.
A few paces before him went a figure with silhouette of very different cut from his own. His little serving lad strutted along in no devout and humble mood or attitude. He hugged under his right arm the white goose which was to serve on the morrow for his master's dinner. She was heavy; so much the better; might not a brave boy who had carried her so far the more surely expect from his master a generous share of that same goose? She was heavy and she was fat; he poked an appreciative finger among her soft feathers. Ah—what a dish she would make, roasted all brown and crisp and hot. . . . Oh, the good smell . . . .
He walked, not feeling the distance, with head thrown back, his little lean front protruding in anticipation, his gait martial; but his eyes—his hungry eyes so filled with the vision of the morrow—were dreamy, and his brain engrossed with the thoughts of the treat—the smell, the sight, the taste of roasted goose—ceased sufficiently to concern itself with the living goose under his arm. And geese, along with every other animal, have an uncanny sense of the intentions toward them of the mortals dealing with them. In this goose's fat-encased heart doubtless was dawning a feeling of impending doom. What so easy as to disengage herself from the arms of a small boy? One push of her powerful foot, one flip of her powerful wing, and she was off, flying upward over the road, into the wood and out of view.
Farewell, the kind old Bishop's dinner! Farewell, the dreams of his little servant! The boy ran helplessly in the direction of his escaped prisoner with arms outstretched, uttering cries of dismay. Then a sudden thought checked his steps and brought tears to his eyes. What would the Bishop say, the dear master who was doubtless almost as hungry as himself? He turned back; Rigobert was approaching at his moderate gait.
"What has happened, child, that thou art so distraught?"
"The goose—" the boy hesitated.
"Where is she?"
"She is gone, she has flown away!"
"How came she to fly away?"
"I was not paying attention. I let her go!"
"And of what wast thou thinking?"
"Of how good she would be to-morrow, when you ate her."
"When I ate her?" the Bishop smiled.
"And I—a little, little piece—"
"And that 'little, little piece' of goose so engrossed thy mind and thy heart that now the loss of it fills thine eyes with tears, thy throat with sobs, and thy soul with despair! How came we by the goose, my little one? By God's good bounty. And if the Lord has taken her out of our reach, is it not as well done as when He gave? And then, my child, there is the goose also to be remembered. Thou hast lost thy 'little, little piece' of roasted goose—and I have lost my dinner, and we are both hungry, but the goose . . . the goose has saved her life. Shall we not then rejoice for her? She was about to die to furnish us food, and now she is free! She may range the sky and the earth singing the praises of her Creator and Deliverer. Rejoice, my son, and tell me that thou art happier in the thought of a free and happy bird, than in that of a toothsome morsel."
"Yes . . ." agreed the lad, reluctantly.
"And the good God who sent us food yesterday will undoubtedly provide us with food to-morrow," added the Bishop.
At that moment a flapping of heavy wings was heard overhead. Both looked up. It was the goose. She came to earth directly at St Rigobert's feet. The little servant would have pounced upon her had not his master caught him by the skirt of his tunic.
"I forbid thee to touch her!" he cried, and then: "Welcome, my sister! And shall we now all proceed on our homeward way? It grows late and Gernicourt is still far." With a gentle forward push to the boy, Rigobert relapsed into prayer, while the goose, with an assenting clack, struck into a comfortable waddle at his heels.
There, it is said, she ever after remained. Whether he stayed at home, or walked abroad, she was his inseparable companion. Even when he went to Rheims to perform his Mass at the altar of St Mary, the goose accompanied and contentedly awaited him on the steps outside.
As to the people of Gernicourt, they looked upon the goose as a miraculous creature, and realizing how the Saint had spared her when she was manifestly intended for his dinner, and he undoubtedly hungry, they saw to it that he should never after, for any reason whatsoever, lack food.