ND it was well that the beautiful book was finished, for the very next afternoon a nobleman, with several attendants, arrived at the Abbey to see if the work were done. The nobleman was Count Henri of Lisieux, who had been sent by King Louis to bear to Lady Anne a precious casket of jewels as part of his bridal gifts to her; and the count had also received orders from the king to go to St. Martin's Abbey on his way, and if the book of hours were finished, to take it along to the Lady Anne.
Count Henri was greatly pleased when they showed the work to him, and he said that he knew both King Louis and his bride could not help but be delighted with it. And then, after it had been duly looked at and admired, the book was wrapped up in a piece of soft, rich silk and laid on a shelf in the chapter-house to wait until the next morning, when Count Henri would take it away. For he had come far, and the Abbot had invited him to stay overnight in the Abbey before going on with his journey.
While all this was taking place, and the book was being examined, Gabriel had been quietly at work in one corner of the chapter-house, grinding some gold; and when he heard that Count Henri was going away the next morning, he knew that if he expected to put his own little page in the book, he must do so some time before he went home that evening; and he did not quite see how he could manage it.
Late in the afternoon, however, a little before dusk, all the others left the chapter-house, Brother Stephen to go to his own cell, while the Abbot took Count Henri out to show him over the Abbey. And just as soon as they were gone, Gabriel hastily put down the stone mortar in which he was grinding the gold, and, going over to the work-table, opened the drawer in which he kept his own things, and took out the page on which he had written his little prayer.
He then went to the shelf and took down the book. He felt guilty as he unfolded the silk wrappings, and his hands trembled as he loosened the golden clasps, and hurriedly slipped in his piece of parchment. He put it at the very back of the book, after Brother Stephen's last page. Then carefully refastening the clasps, and again folding it up in its silken cover, he replaced the book on the shelf.
Poor Gabriel did not know whether he had done very wrong or not in taking this liberty with the painted book. He only knew that he could not bear to have it go away without his little prayer between its covers; and he thought that now God would surely notice it, as he had written it as nicely as he knew how, and had placed it next to Brother Stephen's.
By this time it was growing dark, and so Gabriel left the Abbey and took his way home. When he reached their forlorn little cottage, he found only a scanty supper awaiting him, and very early he went to bed; for they had but little fire and were too poor to afford even a single candle to burn through the long winter evening.
As Gabriel lay shivering in his cold little bed, he wondered how long it would be before God would grant his prayer for help. And then he wondered if God would be displeased because he had dared to put it in the beautiful book without asking permission from Brother Stephen or the Abbot. And the more he thought of the possibility of this, and of all their other troubles, the more miserable he felt, till at last he sobbed himself to sleep.
"Taking down the book . . . he unwrapped it and unclasped it"
The poor little boy did not know that after he himself had been sleeping for several hours, Brother Stephen, who had not slept, came out of his cell in the Abbey, and, carrying in his hand a small lamp, passed softly down the corridor and into the chapter-house. For Brother Stephen, like many another true artist who has worked long and lovingly upon some exquisite thing, found it very hard to part with that which he had made. He did not expect ever again to see the beautiful book after it left the Abbey, and so he felt that he must take a farewell look at it all by himself.
As he entered the chapter-house, he set the lamp on the table; and then taking down the book and placing it also on the table, he unwrapped and unclasped it, and seating himself in front of it, looked long and earnestly at each page as he slowly turned them over, one by one.
When at last he came to the end, and found a loose leaf, he picked it up in dismay, wondering if his binding could have been so badly done that one of the pages had already become unfastened. But his look of dismay changed to bewilderment as he examined the page more closely, and saw Gabriel's little prayer. He read this over twice, very slowly; and then, still holding the page in his hand, he sat for a long time with his head bowed; and once or twice something that looked very like a tear fell on the stone floor at his feet.
After awhile the lamp began to burn low; and Brother Stephen rising, gave a tender look to the loose page he had been holding, and then carefully put it back in the book, taking pains to place it, as nearly as he could, exactly as Gabriel had done. Then, with a sigh, he shut the velvet covers, once more fastened the golden clasps, and, replacing the silken wrappings, laid the book on the shelf, and went back to his cell.
The next morning Count Henri and his escort made ready for their journey to Bretagne. Count Henri himself placed the precious book in the same velvet bag which held the casket of jewels for the Lady Anne, and this bag he hung over his saddle-bow directly in front of him, so that he could keep close watch and see that no harm befell King Louis's gifts.
And then he and his soldiers mounted their horses, and, taking a courteous leave of the Abbot and the brotherhood of St. Martin's, they trotted off along the frosty road.