Gabriel and the Hour Book - Evaleen Stein

Brother Stephen's Inspiration

Gabriel knew nothing of Brother Stephen's troubles, and so was smiling happily as he stepped into the room, holding his cap in one hand, while with his other arm he hugged to him his large bunch of violets and cuckoo-buds. Indeed he looked so bright and full of life that even Brother Stephen felt the effect of it, and his frown began to smooth out a little as he said:

"Well, my lad, who art thou?"

"I am Gabriel Viaud, Brother Stephen," answered the boy, "and I have come to help you; for they told me Jacques is fallen ill. What would you like me to do first?"

To this Brother Stephen scarcely knew what to reply. He was certainly in no mood for work. He was still very, very angry, and thought himself terribly misused by the Abbot; and though he greatly dreaded the latter's threats, he had almost reached the point of defying him and the king and everybody else, no matter what dreadful thing happened to him afterward.

But then as he looked again at the bright-faced little boy standing there, and seeming so eager to help he began to relent more and more; and besides, he found it decidedly embarrassing to try to explain things to Gabriel.

So after a little pause, he said to him: "Gabriel, I am not ready for thee at this moment; go sit on yonder bench. I wish to think out a matter which is perplexing me." Then as Gabriel obediently went over to the bench and seated himself, he added: "Thou canst pass the time looking at the books on the shelf above thee."

So while Brother Stephen was trying to make up his mind as to what he would do, Gabriel took down one of the books, and was soon absorbed in its pages. Presently, as he turned a new one he gave a little involuntary exclamation of delight. At this Brother Stephen noticed him, and—

"Ah!" he said, "what hast thou found that seems to please thee?"

"Oh, Sir," answered Gabriel, "this is the most beautiful initial letter I have ever seen!"

Now Gabriel did not know that the book had been made a few years before by Brother Stephen himself, and so he had no idea how much it pleased the brother to have his work admired.

Indeed, most people who do good work of any kind oftentimes feel the need of praise; not flattery, but the real approval of some one who understands what they are trying to do. It makes the workman or artist feel that if his work is liked by somebody, it is worth while to try to do more and better.

Poor Brother Stephen did not get much of this needed praise, for many of the other monks at the Abbey were envious of him, and so were unwilling really to admire his work; while the Abbot was so cold and haughty and so taken up with his own affairs, that he seldom took the trouble to say what he liked or disliked.

So when Brother Stephen saw Gabriel's eager admiration, he felt pleased indeed; for Gabriel had a nice taste in artistic things, and seemed instinctively to pick out the best points of anything he looked at. And when, in his enthusiasm, he carried the book over and began to tell Brother Stephen why he so much admired the painting, without knowing it, he really made the latter feel happier than he had felt for many a day. He began to have a decided notion that he would paint King Louis's book after all. And just then, as if to settle the matter, he happened to glance at the corner of the table where Gabriel had laid down his bunch of flowers as he came in.

It chanced that some of the violets had fallen from the cluster and dropped upon a broad ruler of brass that lay beside the painting materials. And even as Brother Stephen looked, it chanced also that a little white butterfly drifted into the room through the bars of the high, open window; after vaguely fluttering about for a while, at last, attracted by the blossoms, it came, and, poising lightly over the violets on the ruler, began to sip honey from the heart of one of them.

As Brother Stephen's artistic eye took in the beauty of effect made by the few flowers on the brass ruler with the butterfly hovering over them, he, too, gave a little exclamation, and his eyes brightened and he smiled; for he had just got a new idea for an illuminated border.

"Yes," he said to himself, "this would be different from any I have yet seen!" I will decorate King Louis's book with borders of gold; and on the gold I will paint the meadow wildflowers, and the bees and butterflies, and all the little flying creatures."

Now before this, all the borders of the Abbey books had been painted, in the usual manner of the time, with scrolls and birds and flowers more or less conventionalized; that is, the artists did not try to make them look exactly like the real ones, but twisted them about in all sorts of fantastic ways. Sometimes the stem of a flower would end in the curled-up folds of a winged dragon, or a bird would have strange blossoms growing out of his beak, or perhaps the tips of his wings.

These borders were indeed exquisitely beautiful, but Brother Stephen was just tired of it all, and wanted to do something quite different; so he was delighted with his new idea of painting the field-flowers exactly like nature, only placing them on a background of gold.

As he pictured in his mind one page after another thus adorned, he became more and more interested and impatient to begin at once. He forgot all about his anger at the Abbot; he forgot everything else, except that he wanted to begin King Louis's book as quickly as possible!

And so he called briskly to Gabriel, who meantime had reseated himself on his bench:

"Gabriel, come hither! Canst thou rule lines without blotting? Canst thou make ink and grind colours and prepare gold size?"

"Yes, sir," said Gabriel, surprised at the monk's eager manner, "I have worked at all these things."

"Good!" replied Brother Stephen. "Here is a piece of parchment thou canst cut and prepare, and then rule it, thus" (and here he showed him how he wished it done), "with scarlet ink. But do not take yonder brass ruler! Here is one of ivory thou canst use instead."

And then as Gabriel went to work, Brother Stephen, taking a goose-quill pen and some black ink, began skilfully and carefully to make drawings of the violets as they lay on the ruler, not forgetting the white butterfly which still hovered about. The harder he worked the happier he grew; hour after hour passed, till at last the dinner time came, and Gabriel, who was growing very hungry, could hear the footsteps of the brothers, as they marched into the large dining-room where they all ate together.

Brother Stephen, however, was so absorbed that he did not notice anything; till, by and by, the door opened, and in came two monks, one carrying some soup and bread and a flagon of wine. As they entered, Brother Stephen turned quickly, and was about to rise, when all at once he felt the tug of the chain still fastened about the leg of the table; at this his face grew scarlet with shame, and he sank back in his chair.

Gabriel started with surprise, for he had not before seen the chain, partly hidden as it was by the folds of the brother's robe. As he looked, one of the two monks went to the table, and, with a key which he carried, unlocked the chain so Brother Stephen might have a half-hour's liberty while he ate. The monks, however, stayed with him to keep an eye on his movements; and meantime they told Gabriel to go out to the Abbey kitchen and find something for his own dinner.

As Gabriel went out along the corridor to the kitchen, his heart swelled with pity! Why was Brother Stephen chained? He tried to think, and remembered that once before he had seen one of the brothers chained to a table in the writing-room because he was not diligent enough with his work,—but Brother Stephen! Was he not working so hard? And how beautiful, too, were his drawings! The more Gabriel thought of it the more indignant he grew. Indeed, he did not half-enjoy the bread and savoury soup made of black beans, that the cook dished out for him; he took his wooden bowl, and sitting on a bench, ate absently, thinking all the while of Brother Stephen.

When he had finished he went back to the chapter-house and found the other monks gone and Brother Stephen again chained. Gabriel felt much embarrassed to have been obliged to see it; and when Brother Stephen, pointing to the chain, said bitterly, "Thou seest they were afraid I would run away from my work," the lad was so much at a loss to know what to say, that he very wisely said nothing.

Now Brother Stephen, though he had begun the book as the Abbot wished, yet he had by no means the meek and penitent spirit which also the Abbot desired of him, and which it was proper for a monk to have.

And so if the truth must be told, each time the other monks came in to chain him, he felt more than anything else like seizing both of them, and thrusting them bodily out of the door, or at least trying to do so. But then he could not forget the Abbot's threat if he showed disobedience; and he had been brought up to dread the ban of the Church more than anything else that could possibly happen to him, because he believed that this would make him unhappy, not only in this life, but in the life to come. And so he smothered his feelings and tried to bear the humiliation as patiently as he could.

Gabriel could not help but see, however, that it took him some time to regain the interest he had felt in his work, and it was not until the afternoon was half-gone that he seemed to forget his troubles enough really to have heart in the pages he was making.

When dusk fell, Gabriel picked up and arranged his things in order, and bidding Brother Stephen good night, trudged off home.