Gateway to the Classics: Gabriel and the Hour Book by Evaleen Stein
Gabriel and the Hour Book by  Evaleen Stein

Gabriel's Prayer

dropcap image EANTIME, though they worked quietly, they were both very industrious; and at last one day, late in October, when the first snow was beginning to fall, Brother Stephen finished the last page of the beautiful book. He gave a sigh as he laid down his paintbrush; not because he was tired, but because in his heart he was really sorry to finish his work, for he knew that then it would soon be taken away, and he hated to part with it.

As he and Gabriel laid all the pages together in the order in which they were to go, Brother Stephen's heart swelled with pride, and Gabriel thought he had never seen anything half so lovely!

The text was written in beautiful letters of the lustrous black ink which Gabriel had made; and at the beginnings of new chapters, wonderful initial letters glittered in gold and colours till they looked like little mosaics of precious stones.

Here and there through the text were scattered exquisite miniature pictures of saints and angels; while as for the borders that enclosed every page, they wreathed around the written words such lovely garlands of painted blossoms, that to Gabriel the whole book seemed a marvelous bouquet of all the sweet flowers he had daily gathered from the Norman fields, and that Brother Stephen, by the magic of his art, had made immortal.

Indeed the little boy fairly blinked as he looked at the sparkling beauty of those pages where the blossoms were to live on, through the centuries, bright and beautiful and unharmed by wind or rain or the driving snow, that even then was covering up all the bare frost-smitten meadows without.

And so Gabriel turned over page after page shining with gold and purple and rose-colour, till he came to the very last of the text; and then he saw that there was yet one page more, and on turning over this he read these words:

"I, Brother Stephen, of the Abbey of St. Martin-de-Bouchage, made this book; and for every initial letter and picture and border of flowers that I have herein wrought, I pray the Lord God to have compassion upon some one of my grievous sins!"

This was written in beautifully, and all around it was painted a graceful border like braided ribbons of blue.

Now in Brother Stephen's time, when any one finished an especially beautiful illumination of any part of the Bible, it was quite customary for the artist to add, at the end, a little prayer. Indeed, no one can make a really beautiful thing without loving the work; and those old-time artist-monks took such delight in the flowery pages they painted, that they felt sure the dear Lord himself could not help but be pleased to have his words made so beautiful, and that he would so grant the little prayer at the end of the book, because of the loving labour that had gone before.

As Gabriel again read over Brother Stephen's last page, it set him to thinking; and a little later, as he walked home in the frosty dusk, he thought of it again.

It was true, he said to himself, that all the beautiful written and painted work on King Louis's book had been done by Brother Stephen's hands,—and yet,—and yet,—had not he, too, helped? Had he not gathered the thorny hawthorn, and pricked his fingers, and spent days and days making the ink? Had he not, week after week, ground the colours and the gold till his arms ached, and his hands were blistered? Had he not made the glue, and prepared the parchment, and ruled the lines (and one had to be so  careful not to blot them!), and brought all the flowers for the borders?

Surely, he thought, though he had not painted any of its lovely pages, yet he had done his little part to help make the book, and so, perhaps—perhaps—might not the Lord God feel kindly toward him, too, and be willing to grant a little prayer to him also?

Now of course Gabriel could have prayed any time and anywhere, and simply asked for what he wanted. But he had a strong feeling that God would be much more apt to notice it, if the prayer were beautifully written out, like Brother Stephen's, and placed in the book itself, on the making of which he had worked so long and so hard.

Gabriel was very pleased with his idea, and by the time he reached home, he had planned out just what he wanted to say. He ate his supper of hard black bread very happily, and when, soon after, he crept into bed and pulled up his cover of ragged sheepskin, he went to sleep with his head so full of the work of the past few months, that he dreamed that the whole world was full of painted books and angels with rose-coloured wings; that all the meadows of Normandy were covered with gold, and the flowers fastened on with white of egg and eel-skins; and then, just as he was getting out his ruler to rule lines over the blue sky, he rubbed his eyes and woke up; and, finding it was morning, he jumped out of bed, and hastened to make himself ready for his day's work.

When he reached the Abbey, Brother Stephen was busy binding together the finished leaves of the book; for the monks had to do not only the painting, but also the putting together of their books themselves.

After Gabriel had waited on Brother Stephen for awhile, the latter told him he could have some time to himself, and so he hurried to get out the little jars of scarlet and blue and black ink, and the bits of parchment that Brother Stephen had given him. He looked over the parchment carefully, and at last found one piece from which he could cut a page that was almost as large as the pages of the book. It was an old piece, and had some writing on one side, but he knew how to scrape it off clean; and then taking some of the scarlet ink, he ruled some lines in the centre of the page, and between these, in the nicest black letters he knew how to make, he wrote his little prayer. And this is the way it read:

"I, Gabriel Viaud, am Brother Stephen's colour-grinder; and I have made the ink for this book, and the glue, and caught the eels, and ground the gold and colours, and ruled the lines and gathered the flowers for the borders, and so I pray the Lord God will be kind and let my father out of prison in Count Pierre's castle, and tell Count Pierre to give us back our meadow and sheep, for we cannot pay the tax, and mother says we will starve."

Now in the little prayers that the monks added at the end of a book, it was the custom to ask only that their sins might be forgiven. But Gabriel, though he knew he had plenty of sins,—for so the parish priest of St. Martin's village told all the peasant folk every Sunday,—yet somehow could not feel nearly so anxious to have them forgiven, as he was to have his father freed from prison in the castle, and their little farm and flock restored to them; and so he had decided to word his prayer the way he did.

It took him some time to write it out, for he took great pains to shape every letter as perfectly as possible. Nor did he forget that Brother Stephen had taught him always to make the word God more beautiful than the others; so he wrote that in scarlet ink, and edged it with scallops and loops and little dots of blue; and then all around the whole prayer he made graceful flourishes of the coloured inks. He very much wished for a bit of gold with which to enrich his work, but gold was too precious for little boys to practise with, and so Brother Stephen had not given him any for his own. Nevertheless, when the page was finished, the artistic effect was very pleasing, and it really was a remarkably clever piece of work for a little boy to have made.

He did not tell Brother Stephen what he was doing, for he was afraid that perhaps he might not quite approve of his plan. Not that Gabriel wished for a moment to do anything that Brother Stephen would not like him to do, but only that he thought their affairs at home so desperate that he could not afford to risk losing this means of help;—and then, too, he felt that the prayer was his own little secret, and he did not want to tell any one about it anyway.

And so he was greatly relieved that Brother Stephen, who was very much absorbed in his own work, did not ask him any questions. The monk was always very kind about helping him in every way possible, but never insisted on Gabriel's showing him everything, wisely thinking that many times it was best to let the boy work out his own ideas. So Gabriel said nothing about his page, but put it carefully away, until he could find some opportunity to place it in the book itself.

Meantime Brother Stephen worked industriously, and in a few days more he had quite finished the book. He had strongly bound all his painted pages together, and put on a cover of violet velvet, which the nuns of a nearby convent had exquisitely embroidered in pearls and gold. And, last of all, the cover was fastened with clasps of wrought gold, set with amethysts. Altogether it was a royal gift, and one worthy of any queen. Even the Abbot, cold and stately though he usually was, exclaimed with pleasure when he saw it, and warmly praised Brother Stephen upon the loveliness of his work.

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