Gabriel and the Hour Book - Evaleen Stein

The King's Illuminator

And to say that he was happier than even King Louis, is saying a very great deal; for King Louis spent the day most delightfully in Bretagne, in the castle of his bride to be, the Lady Anne. And then, just after the holiday season had passed, early in January, he and Lady Anne were married with great ceremony and splendour.

After the wedding, for three months, the king and queen lingered in Bretagne; enjoying themselves by night with magnificent entertainments in the castle, and by day in riding over the frosty fields and in hunting, of which both of them were very fond. And then in April, when the first hawthorn buds were beginning to break, they journeyed down to Paris to live in the king's palace.

Before long, King Louis and Queen Anne decided to make a number of improvements in this palace; and as they both were great lovers of beautiful books, they determined, among other things, to build a large writing-room where they could have skilful illuminators always at work making lovely books for them.

When this room was finished, and they began to think of whom they would employ, the first one they spoke of was Brother Stephen, whose exquisite work on the book of hours had so delighted them. But then, much as they wished to have him in the palace, they did not think it possible to do so, as they knew he belonged to the brotherhood of St. Martin's Abbey, and so of course had taken vows to spend his whole life there.

It chanced, however, soon after this, that King Louis happened to have a little talk with the messenger he had sent to the Abbey at Christmas time to see about Gabriel. And this messenger told the king that while there the Abbot, in speaking to him of Brother Stephen's work, had said that the latter really wished to leave the brotherhood and go into the world to paint; and that, though he had refused his request to be freed from his vows, yet the monk had worked so faithfully at King Louis's book that he thought he had earned his freedom, and that perhaps he, the Abbot, had done wrong in forcing him to stay at the Abbey if he wished to study his art elsewhere.

In short, he had as much as said that if Brother Stephen ever again asked for his freedom, he would grant it; and this showed that the Abbot had relented and unbent a great deal more than any one could ever have believed possible.

When King Louis heard what the messenger told him, he was greatly pleased; and after talking it over with the queen, he decided to send the same messenger post-haste back to the Abbey to ask for the services of Brother Stephen before the Abbot might again change his mind.

Now King Louis was a very liberal monarch, and both he and Queen Anne liked nothing better than to encourage and help along real artists. And so they thought that they would supply Brother Stephen with money so that he could travel about and study and paint as he chose, even if he preferred always to paint larger pictures rather than to illuminate books; though they hoped that once in awhile he might spend a little time in their fine new writing-room.

When the messenger started, they told him to explain all this to Brother Stephen, and let the latter plan his work in whatever way best pleased him.

But the queen gave particular orders that, if possible, the messenger was to bring the peasant boy, Gabriel Viaud, back to the palace with him; for she thought the lad's work on the page where he had written his little prayer showed such promise that she wished to see him, and to have him continue his training in the beautiful art of illumination.

The messenger, having thus received his orders, at once set out again for Normandy; and he found this second journey much more pleasant than the one he had made before, through the winter snows. For this time he rode under tall poplar-trees and between green hedgerows, where the cuckoos and fieldfares sang all day long. And when, after several days' travelling, he drew near St. Martin's Abbey, the country on either side of the road was pink with wild roses and meadowsweet, just as it had been a year before, when Gabriel used to gather the clusters of field-flowers for Brother Stephen to paint in the beautiful book.

Indeed, Gabriel still gathered the wild flowers every day, but only because he loved them; for though, since their better fortunes, he was again studying and working with Brother Stephen, the latter was then busy on a long book of monastery rules, with only here and there a coloured initial letter, and which altogether was not nearly so interesting as had been the book of hours with its lovely painted borders.

And so when the messenger reached the Abbey, and made known his errand, they were both overjoyed at the prospect King Louis offered them.

After talking with the messenger, the Abbot, true to his word, in a solemn ceremony, freed Brother Stephen from his vows of obedience to the rules of St. Martin's brotherhood; and then he gave both him and Gabriel his blessing.

Brother Stephen, who had been too proud to ask a second time for his freedom, was now delighted that it had all come about in the way it did, and that he could devote his time to painting anything he chose.

Gabriel, too, was enchanted at the thought of all that he could do and learn in the king's palace; and though he felt it hard to leave his home, Queen Anne had kindly made it easier for him by promising that sometimes he might come back for a little visit.

So in a few days he and Brother Stephen had made all their preparations to leave; and they set out, Gabriel going with the messenger directly to King Louis's palace in Paris; while Brother Stephen, taking the bag of gold pieces which the king and queen had sent for him, travelled to many of the great cities of Europe, where he studied the wonderful paintings of the world's most famous masters, and where he himself made many beautiful pictures. In this way he spent a number of happy months.

And then, just as a great many other people do, who find out that as soon as they are not compelled to do a certain kind of work, they really like it very much better than they thought, so, Brother Stephen, being no longer obliged to illuminate books, all at once discovered that he really enjoyed painting them more than anything else in the world.

And so it was that, by and by, to the gratification of the king and queen, and above all to the great delight of Gabriel, he made his way to the great writing-room of the palace in Paris. And there, in the doing of his exquisite artistic work, he passed the rest of his long and happy life.

And through all the years the warm love and friendship between himself and Gabriel was as sweet and beautiful and as unchanging as any of the white and golden lilies that they painted in their rarest books. For Gabriel, too, became one of the finest illuminators of the time, and his work was much sought for by the great nobles of the land.

Indeed, to this day, many of the wonderful illuminations that were made in that writing-room are still carefully kept in the great libraries and museums of France and of Europe. And some time, if ever you have the happiness to visit one of these, and are there shown some of the painted books from the palace of King Louis XII. and Queen Anne, if the work is especially lovely, you may be quite certain that either Brother Stephen, or Gabriel, or perhaps both of them together, had a hand in its making.