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HOW THE BLACK SHEEP CAME FORTH
FROM THE FOLD.
great bell of Beaulieu was ringing. Far
away through the forest might be heard its musical clangor and swell,
Peat-cutters on Blackdown and fishers upon the Exe heard the distant throbbing
rising and falling upon the sultry summer air.
It was a common sound in those parts--as common as the chatter of the
jays and the booming of the bittern. Yet
the fishers and the peasants raised their heads and looked questions at each
other, for the angelus had already gone and vespers was still far off.
Why should the great bell of Beaulieu toll when the shadows were neither
short nor long?
round the Abbey the monks were trooping in.
Under the long green-paved avenues of gnarled oaks and of lichened
beeches the white-robed brothers gathered to the sound, From the vine-yard and
the vine-press, from the bouvary or ox-farm, from the marl- pits and salterns,
even from the distant iron-works of Sowley and the outlying grange of St.
Leonard's, they had all turned their steps homewards. It had been no sudden call.
A swift messenger had the night before sped round to the outlying
dependencies of the Abbey, and had left the summons for every monk to be back in
the cloisters by the third hour after noontide. So urgent a message had not been issued within the memory of
old lay-brother Athanasius, who had cleaned the Abbey knocker since the year
after the Battle of Bannockburn.
stranger who knew nothing either of the Abbey or of its immense resources might
have gathered from the appearance of the brothers some conception of the varied
duties which they were called upon to perform, and of the busy, wide-spread life
which centred in the old monastery. As
they swept gravely in by twos and by threes, with bended heads and muttering
lips there were few who did not bear upon them some signs of their daily toil.
Here were two with wrists and sleeves all spotted with the ruddy grape
juice. There again was a bearded brother with a broad-headed axe and
a bundle of faggots upon his shoulders, while beside him walked another with the
shears under his arm and the white wool still clinging to his whiter gown.
A long, straggling troop bore spades and mattocks while the two rearmost
of all staggered along under a huge basket o' fresh-caught carp, for the morrow
was Friday, and there were fifty platters to be filled and as many sturdy
trenchermen behind them. Of all the throng there was scarce one who was not
labor-stained and weary, for Abbot Berghersh was a hard man to himself and to
in the broad and lofty chamber set apart for occasions of import, the Abbot
himself was pacing impatiently backwards and forwards, with his long white
nervous hands clasped in front of him. His thin, thought-worn features and sunken, haggard cheeks
bespoke one who had indeed beaten down that inner foe whom every man must face,
but had none the less suffered sorely in the contest. In crushing his passions he had well-nigh crushed himself.
Yet, frail as was his person there gleamed out ever and anon from under
his drooping brows a flash of fierce energy, which recalled to men's minds that
he came of a fighting stock, and that even now his twin-brother, Sir Bartholomew
Berghersh, was one of the most famous of those stern warriors who had planted
the Cross of St. George before the gates of Paris.
With lips compressed and clouded brow, he strode up and down the oaken
floor, the very genius and impersonation of asceticism, while the great bell
still thundered and clanged above his head.
At last the uproar died away in three last, measured throbs, and ere
their echo had ceased the Abbot struck a small gong which summoned a lay-brother
to his presence.
the brethern come?" he asked, in the Anglo-French dialect used in religious
are here; "the other answered, with his eyes cast down and his hands
crossed upon his chest.
and thirty of the seniors and fifteen of the novices, most holy father.
Brother Mark of the Spicarium is sore smitten with a fever and could not
come. He said that--"
boots not what he said. Fever or
no, he should have come at my call. His spirit must be chastened, as must that of many more in
this Abbey. You yourself, brother
Francis, have twice raised your voice, so it hath come to my ears, when the
reader in the refectory hath been dealing with the lives of God's most blessed
saints. What hast thou to
lay-brother stood meek and silent, with his arms still crossed in front of him.
"One thousand aves and as many credos, said standing with arms
outstretched before the shrine of the Virgin, may help thee to remember that the
Creator hath given us two ears and but one mouth, as a token that there is twice
the work for the one as for the other. Where
is the master of the novices?"
is without, most holy father."
sandalled feet clattered over the wooden floor, and the iron- bound door creaked
upon its hinges. In a few moments
it opened again to admit a short square monk with a heavy, composed face and an
have sent for me, holy father?"
brother Jerome, I wish that this matter be disposed of with as little scandal as
may be, and yet it is needful that the example should be a public one."
The Abbot spoke in Latin now, as a language which was more fitted by its
age and solemnity to convey the thoughts of two high dignitaries of the order.
would, perchance, be best that the novices be not admitted," suggested the
master. "This mention of a
woman may turn their minds from their pious meditations to worldly and evil
woman!" groaned the Abbot. "Well has the holy Chrysostom termed them radix malorum.
From Eve downwards, what good hath come from any of them?
Who brings the plaint?"
is brother Ambrose."
holy and devout young man."
light and a pattern to every novice."
the matter be brought to an issue then according to our old- time monastic
habit. Bid the chancellor and the
sub-chancellor lead in the brothers according to age, together with brother
John, the accused, and brother Ambrose, the accuser. And the novices?"
them bide in the north alley of the cloisters.
Stay! Bid the sub-chancellor
send out to them Thomas the lector to read unto them from the 'Gesta beati
Benedicti.' It may save them from
foolish and pernicious babbling."
Abbot was left to himself once more, and bent his thin gray face over his
illuminated breviary. So he
remained while the senior monks filed slowly and sedately into the chamber
seating themselves upon the long oaken benches which lined the wall on either
side. At the further end, in two
high chairs as large as that of the Abbot, though hardly as elaborately carved,
sat the master of the novices and the chancellor, the latter a broad and portly
priest, with dark mirthful eyes and a thick outgrowth of crisp black hair all
round his tonsured head. Between
them stood a lean, white-faced brother who appeared to be ill at ease, shifting
his feet from side to side and tapping his chin nervously with the long
parchment roll which he held in his hand. The Abbot, from his point of vantage,
looked down on the two long lines of faces, placid and sun-browned for the most
part, with the large bovine eyes and unlined features which told of their easy,
unchanging existence. Then he
turned his eager fiery gaze upon the pale-faced monk who faced him.
plaint is thine, as I learn, brother Ambrose," said he. "May the holy
Benedict, patron of our house, be present this day and aid us in our findings!
How many counts are there?"
most holy father," the brother answered in a low and quavering voice.
you set them forth according to rule?"
are here set down, most holy father, upon a cantle of sheep-skin."
the sheep-skin be handed to the chancellor.
Bring in brother John, and let him hear the plaints which have been urged
this order a lay-brother swung open the door, and two other lay-brothers entered
leading between them a young novice of the order. He was a man of huge stature, dark-eyed and red-headed, with
a peculiar half-humorous, half-defiant expression upon his bold, well-marked
features. His cowl was thrown back
upon his shoulders, and his gown, unfastened at the top, disclosed a round,
sinewy neck, ruddy and corded like the bark of the fir. Thick, muscular arms,
covered with a reddish down, protruded from the wide sleeves of his habit, while
his white shirt, looped up upon one side, gave a glimpse of a huge knotty leg,
scarred and torn with the scratches of brambles. With a bow to the Abbot, which had in it perhaps more
pleasantry than reverence, the novice strode across to the carved prie-dieu
which had been set apart for him, and stood silent and erect with his hand upon
the gold bell which was used in the private orisons of the Abbot's own
household. His dark eyes glanced
rapidly over the assembly, and finally settled with a grim and menacing twinkle
upon the face of his accuser.
chamberlain rose, and having slowly unrolled the parchment- scroll, proceeded to
read it out in a thick and pompous voice, while a subdued rustle and movement
among the brothers bespoke the interest with which they followed the
brought upon the second Thursday after the Feast of the Assumption, in the year
of our Lord thirteen hundred and sixty- six, against brother John, formerly
known as Hordle John, or John of Hordle, but now a novice in the holy monastic
order of the Cistercians. Read upon the same day at the Abbey of Beaulieu in the
presence of the most reverend Abbot Berghersh and of the assembled order.
charges against the said brother John are the following, namely, to wit:
that on the above-mentioned Feast of the Assumption, small beer having been
served to the novices in the proportion of one quart to each four, the said
brother John did drain the pot at one draught to the detriment of brother Paul,
brother Porphyry and brother Ambrose, who could scarce eat their none-meat of
salted stock-fish on account of their exceeding dryness,"
this solemn indictment the novice raised his hand and twitched his lip, while
even the placid senior brothers glanced across at each other and coughed to
cover their amusement. The Abbot
alone sat gray and immutable, with a drawn face and a brooding eye.
that having been told by the master of the novices that he should restrict his
food for two days to a single three-pound loaf of bran and beans, for the
greater honoring and glorifying of St. Monica, mother of the holy Augustine, he
was heard by brother Ambrose and others to say that he wished twenty thousand
devils would fly away with the said Monica, mother of the holy Augustine, or any
other saint who came between a man and his meat.
Item, that upon brother Ambrose reproving him for this blasphemous wish,
he did hold the said brother face downwards over the piscatorium or fish-pond
for a space during which the said brother was able to repeat a pater and four
aves for the better fortifying of his soul against impending death."
was a buzz and murmur among the white-frocked brethren at this grave charge; but
the Abbot held up his long quivering hand. "What then?" said he.
that between nones and vespers on the feast of James the Less the said brother
John was observed upon the Brockenhurst road, near the spot which is known as
Hatchett's Pond in converse with a person of the other sex, being a maiden of
the name of Mary Sowley, the daughter of the King's verderer.
Item, that after sundry japes and jokes the said brother John did lift up
the said Mary Sowley and did take, carry, and convey her across a stream, to the
infinite relish of the devil and the exceeding detriment of his own soul, which
scandalous and wilful falling away was witnessed by three members of our
dead silence throughout the room, with a rolling of heads and upturning of eyes,
bespoke the pious horror of the community.
Abbot drew his gray brows low over his fiercely questioning eyes.
can vouch for this thing?" he asked.
can I," answered the accuser. "So too can brother Porphyry, who was with me, and
brother Mark of the Spicarium, who hath been so much stirred and inwardly
troubled by the sight that he now lies in a fever through it."
the woman?" asked the Abbot. "Did she not break into lamentation and woe that a
brother should so demean himself?"
she smiled sweetly upon him and thanked him.
I can vouch it and so can brother Porphyry."
thou?" cried the Abbot, in a high, tempestuous tone. "Canst thou so?
Hast forgotten that the five-and-thirtieth rule of the order is that in
the presence of a woman the face should be ever averted and the eyes cast down?
Hast forgot it, I say? If your eyes were upon your sandals, how came ye
to see this smile of which ye prate? A
week in your cells, false brethren, a week of rye-bread and lentils, with double
lauds and double matins, may help ye to remembrance of the laws under which ye
this sudden outflame of wrath the two witnesses sank their faces on to their
chests, and sat as men crushed. The
Abbot turned his angry eyes away from them and bent them upon the accused, who
met his searching gaze with a firm and composed face.
hast thou to say, brother John, upon these weighty things which are urged
enough, good father, little enough," said the novice, speaking English with
a broad West Saxon drawl. The brothers, who were English to a man, pricked up their
ears at the sound of the homely and yet unfamiliar speech; but the Abbot flushed
red with anger, and struck his hand upon the oaken arm of his chair.
talk is this?" he cried. "Is this a tongue to be used within the walls of an old
and well-famed monastery? But grace
and learning have ever gone hand in hand, and when one is lost it is needless to
look for the other."
know not about that," said brother John.
"I know only that the words come kindly to my mouth, for it was the
speech of my fathers before me. Under
your favor, I shall either use it now or hold my peace."
Abbot patted his foot and nodded his head, as one who passes a point but does
not forget it.
the matter of the ale," continued brother John, "I had come in hot
from the fields and had scarce got the taste of the thing before mine eye lit
upon the bottom of the pot. It may be, too, that I spoke somewhat shortly concerning the
bran and the beans, the same being poor provender and unfitted for a man of my
inches. It is true also that I did
lay my hands upon this jack- fool of a brother Ambrose, though, as you can see,
I did him little scathe. As regards
the maid, too, it is true that I did heft her over the stream, she having on her
hosen and shoon, whilst I had but my wooden sandals, which could take no hurt
from the waver. I should have
thought shame upon my manhood, as well as my monkhood, if I had held back my
hand from her." He glanced
around as he spoke with the half-amused look which he had worn during the whole
is no need to go further," said the Abbot.
"He has confessed to all. It
only remains for me to portion out the punishment which is due to his evil
rose, and the two long lines of brothers followed his example, looking sideways
with scared faces at the angry prelate.
of Hordle," he thundered, "you have shown yourself during the two
months of your novitiate to be a recreant monk, and one who is unworthy to wear
the white garb which is the outer symbol of the spotless spirit.
That dress shall therefore be stripped from thee, and thou shalt be cast
into the outer world without benefit of clerkship, and without lot or part in
the graces and blessings of those who dwell under the care of the Blessed
Benedict. Thou shalt come back
neither to Beaulieu nor to any of the granges of Beaulieu, and thy name shall be
struck off the scrolls of the order."
sentence appeared a terrible one to the older monks, who had become so used to
the safe and regular life of the Abbey that they would have been as helpless as
children in the outer world. From their pious oasis they looked dreamily out at
the desert of life, a place full of stormings and strivings--comfortless,
restless, and overshadowed by evil. The
young novice, however, appeared to have other thoughts, for his eyes sparkled
and his smile broadened. It needed
but that to add fresh fuel to the fiery mood of the prelate.
much for thy spiritual punishment," he cried.
"But it is to thy grosser feelings that we must turn in such natures
as thine, and as thou art no longer under the shield of holy church there is the
less difficulty. Ho there! lay-brothers--Francis, Naomi, Joseph--seize him and
bind his arms! Drag him forth, and
let the foresters and the porters scourge him from the precincts!"
these three brothers advanced towards him to carry out the Abbot's direction,
the smile faded from the novice's face, and he glanced right and left with his
fierce brown eyes, like a bull at a baiting.
Then, with a sudden deep-chested shout, he tore up the heavy oaken
prie-dieu and poised it to strike, taking two steps backward the while, that
none might take him at a vantage.
the black rood of Waltham!" he roared, "if any knave among you lays a
finger-end upon the edge of my gown, I will crush his skull like a
filbert!" With his thick
knotted arms, his thundering voice, and his bristle of red hair, there was
something so repellent in the man that the three brothers flew back at the very
glare of him; and the two rows of white monks strained away from him like
poplars in a tempest. The Abbot
only sprang forward with shining eyes; but the chancellor and the master hung
upon either arm and wrested him back out of danger's way.
is possessed of a devil!" they shouted.
"Run, brother Ambrose, brother Joachim!
Call Hugh of the Mill, and Woodman Wat, and Raoul with his arbalest and
bolts. Tell them that we are in fear of our lives!
Run, run! for the love of the Virgin!"
the novice was a strategist as well as a man of action. Springing forward, he
hurled his unwieldy weapon at brother Ambrose, and, as desk and monk clattered
on to the floor together, he sprang through the open door and down the winding
stair. Sleepy old brother
Athanasius, at the porter's cell, had a fleeting vision of twinkling feet and
flying skirts; but before he had time to rub his eyes the recreant had passed
the lodge, and was speeding as fast as his sandals could patter along the
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